Say Yes to ‘Responsible Romance’ in the Workplace


What’s your policy on workplace romance? Chances are, any rules or policies you put into place will be no match for the human heart.

As a CHRO with 30 years of experience in the field, I can assure you that rules do little to change human behavior when it comes to mutual attraction in the workplace.

New research from SHRM finds that 27 percent of American workers have had a workplace romance, 41 percent have been asked on a date by a co-worker and 23 percent have asked a co-worker on a date.

Love is alive and well at work, so how can we manage it better?

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., sees it this way: “Employers simply can’t forbid the reality of romance within the workplace. Instead, they should reflect on their culture and ensure their approach is current, realistic, and balanced in ways that protect employees while leaving them free to romance responsibly.”

What does “romancing responsibly” mean?

First of all, if workplace relationships are banned outright, the “outlaws” will go underground, contributing to a culture of dishonesty and secrecy. If they are discovered, you are faced with the choice of firing one or the other, or both, and you have lost key talent.

Instead, you could follow a policy of disclosure when two co-workers become involved. Think of it somewhat like a conflict-of-interest disclosure. Allowing them to come forward without fear of reprisals gives them another pathway—honesty. And honesty is a key element of a healthy culture.

Of course, there are circumstances when an office romance is too risky to ignore, such as when a supervisor and a subordinate become involved. While a majority (53 percent) of workplace romances involve co-workers at roughly the same job level, 27 percent report dating a superior, and 20 percent are dating a subordinate.

Such relationships are especially troubling when one party reports to the other, or a powerful leader is involved with someone at a much lower level. This can create conflicts of interest that work against workplace culture, and it’s why some companies require couples to sign a “love contract” confirming the relationship is consensual and that neither will engage in favoritism or take any legal action against the employer.

Transparency is essential. When a risky relationship is identified, HR can work with managers to make sure the couple never works together on matters where one is able to influence the other or take action for the other.

Matters such as hiring, firing, promotions, performance management, compensation decisions and financial transactions are examples of situations that may require reallocation of duties to avoid any actual or perceived reward or disadvantage. In some cases, it may be necessary to transfer one or both parties to other positions or departments.

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day this week, it’s a good time to take stock of your organization’s policies when it comes to romantic relationships between co-workers. Strive to make sure your approaches are fair, realistic and protective. SHRM’s Sample Policy is a great place to start.  





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