Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

Dylan Loughlin

This Valentine’s Day we are discussing an often-debated topic of romantic relationships in the workplace. With employees spending most of their day in the workplace, it is natural to develop close relationships with fellow colleagues and sometimes these relationships develop into the romantic kind.

A survey by Totaljobs of nearly 6,000 UK workers revealed that 66% had dated or considered dating a colleague and 22% met their current partner/spouse at work.

With such high figures it is inevitable that as an employer, office romance is an issue that will likely occur in your workplace. It is therefore important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of this type of relationship before deciding how best to manage those involved.

Benefits of Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

Office romance can create a positive work culture as employees are able to explore and develop stronger relationships with each other. Happy couples often have a warm buzz around them which can spread to other workers, creating a happy and productive ambience.

Entering a relationship with a colleague can improve each party’s commitment to the business. Colleagues will want themselves to succeed but will also try to aid the success of their partner. With employees supporting one another, company targets are more likely to be met. Employee retention may also be improved as employees in a relationship may not want to leave each other so will remain working at the company.

A workplace relationship where the couple work in different departments can increase business knowledge. The couple are likely to share information about their role with their partner, painting a better picture of the overall business. Couples could also combine their business knowledge to generate better business ideas.

Drawbacks of Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

Office romances can create a conflict of interest, especially if one employee has more power than the other. The more powerful employee may be tempted to offer their partner a promotion or give them preferable attention – better shift assignment or accepting all holiday requests. This could create a tense atmosphere as other employees witness the favouritism but feel like they cannot complain.

Workplace relationships can result in displays of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace which may make surrounding employees feel uncomfortable. In certain cases, for example where the romance is not reciprocated, issues of harassment or sexual assault can also arise.

Breakups can cause a tense and awkward atmosphere at work. This will not only affect the former couple but also other members of the office who feel they must pick a side. This can create a large divide in the company where employees may refuse to work with one another.

Managing Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

There is no specific law in the UK that bans or governs relationships in the workplace. An outright ban on workplace romance is very unrealistic given the statistics mentioned at the beginning of the blog and could breach employees’ rights to a private life under article 8 of the Human Rights Act of 1998.

However, it is important for managers and employers to consider what measures could be taken to reduce the potential drawbacks mentioned above.

Personal Relationships at Work Policy

A policy could be created which sets out an employer’s approach to managing personal relationships in the workplace. This may include:

  • what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace
  • an action plan for when problems in the relationship arise
  • the ramifications of breaching the policy.

Declaring the Relationship

A personal relationship declaration form is becoming more common in workplaces. This is where employees are encouraged to notify their managers if they enter into a relationship with another employee.

Employers can then meet with the employees to discuss:

  • how the relationship may affect others in the workplace
  • expected standards of behaviour during work hours
  • a plan for any areas where a conflict of interest may arise

Making Workplace Adjustments

Some relationships may be more frowned upon than others, such as when a manager is dating an employee directly below them. In this case, employers may need to consider making appropriate adjustments to remove conflicts of interest. For example, changing reporting lines to ensure an employee is not reporting to their partner.

Final Point

Employers must ensure that any action taken to manage relationships in the workplace does not violate the Equality Act 2010. For example, a sex discrimination claim could arise if a female employee in a workplace relationship is moved to another department rather than the male employee. Employers must also ensure that homosexual couples in the company are not treated less favourably than a heterosexual couple as this could result in a sexual orientation discrimination claim.