Work relationships between colleagues can be difficult at the best of times.
Whilst a company may endeavour to hire a certain type of person (despite its desire to promote diversity), invariably people work differently, live differently, think differently. All these factors can lead to unrest in the workplace. That being said, what happens when staff do get along and better than most? Research suggests that four out of ten employers have experienced difficulties posed by close personal relationships between staff members. Yet, many employers still do not have a written policy in place to deal with the issue. It remains a bit of a taboo subject in some respects.
There are a number of difficulties that may arise out of close personal relationships between colleagues. The most popular is that of perceived favouritism. Certain staff members can easily be seen as being treated more favourably by not being given the more boring and monotonous tasks for example, or getting away with more mistakes than others. This might be the case whilst the relationship is still going well, but what happens when it ends? There can often be feelings of reduced motivation, particularly if a previous relationship had existed between a staff member and someone in authority. There can be a reduced desire to do what they want. Similarly, there is a higher likelihood that a past love could be subjected to bullying treatment, intense criticism of their work for example. Perhaps the most disturbing result would be a claim for sexual harassment. All these things are possible during and following an office relationship.
Given its nature, it can be a difficult subject to tackle for employers. Many do not actually place a ban on such relationships, nor would they advocate a complete ban. However, some employers believe it necessary to have in place some guidelines outlining the particular relationships which would be considered prohibited. In addition, most employers agree that any overtly sexual behaviour in the workplace would be heavily discouraged and an act worthy of discipline. Clearly, there are many potential difficulties that could arise if others in the workplace are subjected to witnessing their colleagues' constant flirting whether verbal or physical. An employer has a responsibility to all their staff to ensure that they are not placed in an environment that they feel uncomfortable or offended by.
The best approach would be one of clarity. Although it may not be the most comfortable of subjects to discuss and consider, it is important that employers seek to promote clearly defined barriers. A written policy that is available to all is a good step for any employer and shows that they have at least made an attempt to ensure no one is unaware of policy or made to feel uncomfortable in their workplace. Having a clear policy in place and following it is also the best preventative measure should disciplinary action be needed further down the line. For help with creating your own relationships at work policy please see our template: Personal Relationships at Work Policy.