The reality of work relationships: To ban or not to ban
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
There are 168 hours in a week. Assuming a modest seven hours of sleep per night, removing those 49 hours leaves us with 119 waking hours. Working a full-time job, we commit more than a third (approximately 37 percent) of our waking hours going to, being at and returning from work. Thus, it is understandable why and how we develop personal relationships with our co-workers.
However, problems can arise when relationships become intimate. This series will take a look at workplace relationships from three perspectives: the employer, the high-risk employee and the in-love co-workers.
We have discussed love at work from the perspective of two different groups of employees — co-workers in love and those who are dangerous clichés. Now, we will close out the series with a look at relationships from the employer perspective.
Should employers just implement a policy banning relationships altogether? In most situations, that is not practical. While the policy may be simple to write and clear to everyone, it is usually the consequences of infractions that are challenging to implement.
For example, if the policy bans relationships but then one develops, how likely is it that anyone (inside or outside of the relationship) will report it? If it is not reported, then the policy becomes useless. If it is reported, a whole host of other issues can arise.
Specifically, if it is reported by someone outside of the relationship, then someone is likely going to have to investigate to determine the truth. If it is reported by the people in the relationship, it is either because it already ended and there has been an impact on someone's work environment, or it has gotten serious enough that it had to be brought to someone's attention.
In all cases, the employer then has to do something about it. And what are the options? Fire, transfer, ignore it? Reprimands? Demands that it stop? None of those will end well for the employees, employer or the work environment.
The most successful environments I have seen are those where the employer clearly bans troublesome, high-risk relationships (see Part II of our series) because they are fraught with the potential for sexual harassment, hostile work environment and disparate treatment claims.
Then, aside from a policy banning those risky relationships, the employer creates an environment that supports camaraderie as well as transparency. Specifically, employees are encouraged to report their relationships to HR so potential issues can be discussed and addressed by putting a plan in place that everyone agrees to up front.
By creating an environment that encourages communication, human resources professionals can get a handle on potential intimate relationship issues before they blossom into a problem for the employer. In addition to the potential claim issues, social media is a quick and public way word of relationships — and potential issues if they come to a bad end — can spread uncontrollably. Any tiny bit of advanced notice can help HR control the grapevine.
Further, by providing open communication on the policies, everyone is clear about what is and is not acceptable. Setting this type of standard helps support a fair and cooperative culture that also supports positive relationships among employees.
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