Six Signs that John and Mary have become star crossed lovers:
They Avoid Eye Contact
When John was first hired and met Mary from the office, there was a bit of competition between them, which at times led to team tension. It was only natural as an employer to be relieved when they became cordial with each other and finally clicked as colleagues.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly, until suddenly they became extremely formal with each other. Now they barely make eye contact in public any more. In fact, when found in a room together, Mary blushes, John looks pale, and they both suddenly leave.
They Never Leave the Office Together
“OK, I'm out of here,” Mary announces loudly, making sure everyone in the office can hear.
“Lucky you! It will be a late one for me.” John answers just as loudly. “See you tomorrow”.
Regardless of office size, most employees tend to leave work around the same time. However lately, for some odd reason, John and Mary make a point of letting everyone know they are leaving individually.
They're Both Putting in an Awful Lot of Overtime
John and Mary have always been good employees, but they used to have lives outside of work. Now (when they aren't making sure everyone knows they are leaving separately) they are both the first into work in the morning and the last to leave, and when someone is needed to put in some overtime, John and Mary will be the first to volunteer.
Their Annual Leave and Sick Days Keep Matching Up
The first time John and Mary took time off at the same time it seemed to just be a coincidence, however when they also began calling in sick on the same days, office gossip started. In fact, it has become more surprising to see one of them in the office on a day when the other is out, even more intriguing, if either one of them is asked what they did on their time off, they reply with a vague answer.
They Start Fiercely Defending Each Other
Your business may be known for imaginative, brainstorming sessions, with no hard feelings and employees being able to enjoy the freedom of engaging in lively debate and witty banter. They are confident and skilled, and everyone knows it's nothing personal if an idea doesn't get backed.
At the last development meeting, Mary offered an idea that was immediately shot down by other team members, however when John adamantly defended her position beyond any logic, it created a strange tension amongst the group.
They Both Look Great
Mary was always pretty, but there were days when it looked like she had just rolled out of bed and wasn't too put together. Now her make-up is always perfect, she's sporting a new hairstyle and she wears stylish new outfits.
John was a good-looking guy, but a bit of a couch-potato outside of work. Then he started jogging at lunch time, and instead of eating his usual crisp sandwich he was suddenly discussing benefits of protein and eating lean chicken and salad. Soon Mary started going for a lunch time run too and they both joined the same local gym which they now attend regularly after work.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
Before potentially facing sticky situations like above, it’s important to consider factors that come into play when co-workers begin to mix their personal lives with professional responsibilities on the job.
In addition to the legal consequences that could arise, more often than not, office relationships have an overall negative impact on the workplace, as workplace relationships may spur gossip, rumours and innuendo, which can be disruptive to the office and can negatively impact the reputation of the company if customers or clients are exposed to it. The same activity can make the affected couple feel bullied, which can lead to harassment charges from them.
Whilst office romances are not ideal, the most potential to cause problems are those that involve a supervisor and one of their subordinates. Often, fellow team members believe favouritism is occurring between the two, and that the supervisor is not being fair and objective when delegating responsibilities in the work place. It could be questioned that the lower level employee is being given special consideration by their partner when it comes to handling tasks or completing job requirements.
Another matter to take into consideration would be that other employees may believe they can’t discuss or complain about their team member to the supervisor involved in the relationship. If this is the case, issues that would generally be discussed will remain unspoken and un-addressed, which could lead to a decline in moral, and quite possibly filing of a discrimination suit.
Issues can become even more complex when you consider the likelihood of the supervisee having a certain influence over the supervisor that other employees wouldn't have. In addition to this, potentially due to the relationship, employees could accidentally disclose information to their partner, which could easily happen when sharing events of the day with one another.
Perhaps two of the most important factors to consider are when the couple has an argument or splits up. It would take a very professional employee to be able to keep their personal life separate from business matters and it could be possible that the couple may act out their feud on an employer’s time. Potentially, co-workers may be pulled into the argument and feel they need to take sides. This in turn may detract from the team’s productivity as a whole.
As office romances that end badly can roll into the daily work environment, employers may find themselves dealing with concerns such as diminished productivity or mediating between employees who are no longer co-operating with each other. This may also affect other employees, who could potentially feel hostility towards one of the team members in the former relationship, creating a negative tension in the workplace environment.
Additionally, there is the potential for employees to seek out employment elsewhere when relationships come to an end, which means employers risk losing strong employees who feel that they can no longer work at the company because of the breakup.
Finally, the most harming factor to consider as a result of an office romance breakup, especially if there is a difference in rank between the two individuals involved, is a sexual harassment claim. There could come a point where one person wants the relationship to continue and the other person doesn't, which in turn may lead to an employee seriously considering filing a sexual harassment lawsuit.
TAKING THE RIGHT STEPS
Simply speaking, the best way to avoid negative repercussions on office romances is to forbid employees from dating and never hire married couples, however in today’s world, the is unrealistic and would prove very difficult to sustain.
It is critical to work closely with an HR professional to anticipate problems and set solutions. All employers, regardless of company size, should have formal policies on office relationships in place, which should include what is allowed and what the consequences are if rules are broken. In every policy, it should be stated that any office relationship, regardless of rank, should be disclosed to the employer.
The employer should also reserve the right to decide on which type of employment action, if any, needs to be taken due the relationship, whether it is transferring an employee to another department or termination of employment.
However, just having a company policy in place isn't enough; companies need to ensure there is regular training available, particularly on the topic of sexual harassment. Often employees don’t know the extent of liability that could potentially arise from office romances, and how disruptive they could be in the workplace.
It is also imperative that the policy needs to be consistently enforced at every level of the organisation. Whether it is a CEO or an Assistant Executive that violates the policy, the same rules should apply. If not, team morale will be dampened and no one will follow the policy. Employers may even open themselves up to potential lawsuits from employees who believe they have been discriminated against.
At the end of the day, the goal of an employer is to provide a professional atmosphere where company targets can be achieved. Ideally, the working environment should be pleasant enough that your staff can enjoy themselves while being as productive as possible.
Interpersonal relationships between employees are unavoidable, so being aware of the potential downsides and types of relationships that are developing will go a long way to sustaining as much of a "hazard free" environment as possible.
The contents of this article are necessarily expressed in broad terms and limited to general information rather than detailed analyses or legal advice. Specialist professional advice should always be obtained to address legal and other issues arising in specific contexts.