advo HR Adviser, Louise Herring, takes a closer look at issues that can occur with relationships at work, the positives and areas that could lead to concern.
Louise Herring, advo HR Consultant
With Valentine’s Day almost here, we are reminded that research shows that one in three (33%) people have had a relationship with a colleague at some point in their careers, and that one in five (22%) of people who are married or in a long-term relationship met their partner at work.
At advo, employers often contact us for guidance where there have been issues with personal relationships at work and this is an area which can require sensitive management.
It is important to remember that personal relationships at work may not just be limited to romantic relationships but can also include family and very close friendships, any of which can complicate the workplace dynamics.
With such a broad definition, it would generally be considered unrealistic to interfere with an employee’s rights to a personal life by imposing an outright ban on work personal relationships.
In most cases, relationships in the workplace cause no problems for the employer, and they can in fact bring many benefits, such as:
- Increased personal interest in the business’s success.
- Greater commitment towards the business
- Aiding recruitment by allowing “refer a friend” schemes. Recommendations from existing staff will usually be for like-minded people who are more likely to fit into the culture of your business
- Reduces costs for couples, such as halving travelling to work expenses, or saves doubling-up on medical insurance.
However, workplace relationships do have the potential to be detrimental to a business in the absence of clear rules or boundaries or effective management. The risks of personal relationships at work include:
- Preferential and inconsistent treatment of employees, e.g. where the same annual leave is requested or opposing shift patterns are requested.
- Confidentiality breaches, e.g. where a relative may discuss employment details that should be treated confidentiality.
- Inappropriate behaviours and where boundaries may become blurred, e.g. relatives having an outside of work disagreement and then refuse to work together.
- Gossip and rumours may also abound and there may be claims of favouritism.
Personal relationship issues can be very tricky to manage and an appropriate policy setting out the standards for what is expected and acceptable behaviour with details of actions to be taken if problems arise will help to ensure such situations are handled effectively and consistently.
A written policy also assists all employees to understand the rules and supports line managers in understanding their responsibilities and role in managing personal relationships within their team.
Whilst everyone is entitled to a private life, a policy is also very helpful for occasions when complications arise which expose your business to claims of harassment and sex discrimination if the relationship ends acrimoniously.
The HR team at advo would be more than happy to help you draft an appropriate policy and provide you with advice and guidance.