How to manage romance in the workplace

Love is in the air in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, but with a large proportion of the UK workforce spending a significant amount of time in work, Jo Bostock, business adviser at the Forum of Private Business suggests establishing clear policies at work can avoid any nasty fallout later.

It’s a well-known fact that a large number of personal relationships are formed at work. Depending on which survey you look at, the number of people who have been involved in workplace liaisons is anywhere between 30 to 70%, and most employers will admit to coming across it at some point.

There is no law against office romances, and while you may not like it doesn’t mean you can pull the plug on it legally.

However, as an employer, you do have the right to expect that people you employ should behave in a professional manner at work and should bear in mind that any romantic liaisons they may have may raise issues of a conflict of interest.

Such issues can include:

  • The effect on the trust and confidence of colleagues in relation to a conflict of interest, fair treatment or their own ability to discuss issues openly with, for example; their line manager.
  • The perception of the other employees, clients or customers in relation to professionalism and fairness of the business and its employees.
  • Conflicting loyalties and breaches of confidentiality.

While some organisations do introduce rules that employees in the same department must not enter into romantic relationships, many employers find the best approach is to put a policy in place which deals with relationships in the office.

This often includes:

  • Defining a close personal relationship.
  • Requirements to disclose a personal relationship (on application forms or to the line manager to flag up any potential conflict of interest issues that may arise).
  • Changes in operating procedures that may be required as a result of the relationship, such as changes to line management supervision, shift or work patterns, conflicts of interest that may impact on perceptions or employee relations within a team.
  • What to do if is relationship breaks down.

Ms Bostock adds: “While love may just be waiting by the water cooler, getting some advice on an office romance policy can help make things clear from the start and help to avoid any trouble in the workplace later!”