Workplace romance shouldn’t be taboo this Valentine’s Day

Romance in the workplace has been something of a hot and steamy topic over the last 12 months, with tales of illicit rendezvous between colleagues taking up almost as many column inches as Brexit.

Most will have read about McDonald’s boss, Steve Easterbrook, who was forced from his role amidst claims of “poor judgement” following a consensual relationship with an employee, and plenty will have clicked on the story revealing that former British Airways chief executive, Willie Walsh, was involved with a colleague – something the airline insisted had nothing to do with his subsequent departure. A quick google shows that even everyone’s favourite daytime presenters, Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, have admitted to workplace flings – albeit not with each other.

Given these headlines, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s safe to say bosses around the country may be nervously eyeing any flirtatious tête-à-têtes around the water cooler in the hope of avoiding such high-profile romance fueled headaches.

When it comes to office fraternisations a blanket ban on love is not the way forward. While a romantic relationship between colleagues undoubtedly comes with certain strings attached, it’s important that HR departments and senior management take a pragmatic and realistic approach to the issue. By following some basic romance rules, employers should be able to let love blossom without fear of recrimination or damaging headlines.

Have clear and reasonable policies

Like a left or a right swipe, everyone likes to know exactly where they stand, and things are no different in an office environment. Companies should have a clear set of guidelines that are issued to employees when they first join the business. A line in the contract isn’t enough though and employees should be given effective training where the guidelines are clearly explained.

The allure of power

As recent headlines suggest, things become trickier where one person is more senior or manages the other. Steve Easterbrook left his post, not because of the relationship itself – which was consensual – but because it was not in accordance with the company’s workplace policies.

In the #MeToo era, it is more important than ever that guidelines are put in place to manage the murky waters of consent, especially in a boss - subordinate relationship. Employers might want to consider moving the manger to another department to avoid any conflict of interest – whether real or merely perceived.

Encourage openness

Secrets lead to gossip which can be massively damaging in the office. Not only is it a distraction and a waste of time but it can also affect morale and lead to distrust and resentment between colleagues.

Employees should be encouraged to be open about relationships. A culture of secrecy is only likely to lead to more problems further down the line. That being said, love is anything but black and white, so don’t panic at the first rumours of a first date. Be clear who employees should inform and at what point in the relationship they should do so.

Keep doing the job

Having your significant other sat a desk down for you while you’re trying to hit your targets can certainly be distracting – especially in the early stages of a relationship. Employers should make it clear what is expected of their workers and any drop in performance should be treated in exactly the same way as any other performance related case.

It’s not always happy ever after

Spoiler alert! In real life things don’t always have the fairytale ending. Relationships break down all the time for a huge number of reasons so it’s important that, when it don’t work out, procedures are in place for you and your staff to follow to ensure a breakup doesn’t impact the work environment.

Heather Maclean

Heather Maclean