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Managing office romances: what to do when your staff get amorous

by Karen Gately on November 4, 2015

Are things getting personal in your office? Faced with a couple of love-struck people distracting the team and wasting time? Do some people seem too focused on work social affairs and less interested in getting the job done? Chances are if you’re a leader of people, at some point or another you will be faced with the challenges that can come with office romances.

Being attracted to or even romantically involved with a colleague isn’t necessarily a problem. How people go about it can be. The reality is that in workplaces everywhere people involved are in personal relationships with colleagues and even their boss. Some cases will lead to life long commitments and others will be short lived. Irrespective of the outcome for the couple concerned the consequences for the business can be significant.

Among the most important steps managers can take to respond are these:

1. Call it early

People caught up in the excitement of a new relationship can at times struggle to see how others perceive their behaviour. Bring any concerns you have to their attention as soon as you become aware of them. The sooner you take steps to correct behaviour, the more likely you are to avoid issues arising.

2. Expect discretion

Don’t allow personal relationships to encroach on company time or disrupt the office environment. Ask people to refrain from flirting or bickering at work, talking excessively about their partner and public displays of affection. Remind them if necessary that other people aren’t likely to be as interested in their relationship as they are.

3. Address impacts

Be aware of the time people generally spend engaged in personal conversations. Of course be flexible and give some degree of latitude but nip it in the bud when you see unreasonable amounts of time being spent or inappropriate conduct arising.

Dealing with distracting issues, emotions and fallout from office romances is draining for everyone involved.   Let people know when their romance is impacting on others. Encourage those affected to speak directly to the people involved, but be prepared to step in where required.

4. Understand and mitigate risks 

Apply policies your organisation has in place and workplace laws. While there are no specific laws that prevent office romances sexual harassment legislation may apply. Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. Sexual harassment is not interaction, flirtation or friendship, which is mutual or consensual.

Ensure all staff understand their obligations and take firm steps to address concerning behaviours and manage risks. Consider risks of inappropriate disclosure of sensitive information, favouritism and conflicting priorities. For example, its neither appropriate nor accepted in most circumstances for someone to report to a person they are romantically involved with. No matter how much you or the parties involved believe they can act responsibly, its unwise to allow this arrangement to remain in place.

5. Coach and mentor

While it’s not your job to manage the personal affairs of your staff, when you can see that the relationships people have at work are impacting their credibility and career, its important to raise concern. Help people to understand if they are putting their careers at risk by behaving the way they are.

If someone appears to be just looking for a good time and leaving a trail of broken hearts and trust in their wake, let them know that its unlikely to do anything good for their reputation or career. Encourage people to think carefully about what it says about their ability to conduct themselves respectively if they choose to date a lot of different people at work or get involved in an extramarital affair.

There is no need to unreasonably stand in the way of two consenting adults finding love at work. Understand that people will and do find partners among their colleagues but take reasonable steps to ensure your business and team are not adversely impacted. Educate, coach and manage people to ensure everyone behaves with respect, focus and integrity. 

Karen GatelyKaren Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical guide to getting the best from people (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people. For more information visit www.karengately.com.au or contact [email protected]

Karen Gately
Karen Gately is a highly-regarded author, speaker, advisor and educator in the field of human performance and leadership. She brings a fresh and down to earth approach, advocating a methodology focused on leveraging both talent and energy to drive great results. Karen is passionate about guiding women to reach their full potential and to step up to the challenges of the business world.Karen founded HR consultancy Ryan Gately in 2006, after 8 years as Human Resources Director – Asia Pacific with The Vanguard Group. She is the author of two leadership titles, The Corporate Dojo and The People Manager’s Toolkit (Wiley, 2013). Her approach is deeply rooted in the 25 years spent training and teaching karate. She was the youngest person in Shukokai karate awarded a 1st Dan black belt at age 14 and won multiple state, national and international titles.
 
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