Crazy Little Thing Called ‘Work Love’


Author: CODE HR Advisor, Kelly Games

Love itself is as close as human beings can come to being selfless. People will make sacrifices for love. They will make compromises. They feel connected with this person on another level to the point where that individual becomes a part of them. Sometimes this chemistry, attraction and romance can happen in the very walls of our workplace. So, how do we manage that? Love may be in the air this Valentine’s Day making workplace relationships a new priority on HR’s agenda.

Be careful

Employers are warned of the risks of implementing policies about workplace relationships. Some employers take this too far by banning relationships altogether. However, human rights’ risks complicate your right to implement this type of policy as this has an impact on those two individuals lives outside of work.

What needs to be addressed is the behaviours of the employees and what is expected from each individual, and that should apply regardless of the employees relationships. Under the Human Rights Act, employees have a right to a private and family life, and this includes personal relationships. As an employer, if you implement a policy that affected this right it could consequently be very problematic.

Encompassing approach

McDonald’s fired its CEO for breaching its policies after undertaking a relationship. The board had decided he had violated company policy and “demonstrated poor judgment involving consensual relationship with an employee”.

Office romances can come with real and perceived conflicts of interest with the potential of influencing decision-making, especially if one individual is in a more senior position than the other. Although workplace romance is just one potential influential risk, looking at all types of relationships requires an all-encompassing approach. Employees have various other relationships at work, like friendships, family and foes which equally present just as many conflicts of interest. Neglecting to address these risks may have a detrimental effect.

It’s working life

While office romance can cause disruption or problems for businesses, they should be viewed as a fact of working life. HR and leaders need to balance employees’ rights to a private life with the broader interests of the business in mind. You spend a lot of time with your colleagues and it’s not surprising that in some cases work friendships become something more. Employers need to have clear standards of behaviour and clear policies and processes for addressing inappropriate behaviour.

Implementing guidance

Incorporating guidance into your existing policies is HR’s preferred option. You’re not imposing on your employees private life choices, as an employer you’re incorporating guidelines on how to respectfully approach (not manage, restrict or monitor) the complications or conflicts that arise from workplace relationships. This can be seen for alcohol consumption – the night before work could be potentially more merry than it was originally planned. This could result in sickness absence or negatively impact the employee’s productivity, yet we don’t restrict the amount of alcohol employees can drink in their private lives.

Look at your existing policies and procedures and decide where best to include instructions or guidance.

Sexual harassment

Knowing the difference between a consensual relationship and sexual harassment is an important message to promote to your staff members. A formal, written policy that is available for all of your employees is important to establish what is and isn’t consensual and the zero tolerance the organisation has for such behaviour. At the same time, employees need to understand that it is okay to ask a colleague out on a date – yet harassment occurs when unwanted attention continues after an employee indicates no interest.

Are you in a workplace relationship?

Should cupid strike and you find yourself attracted to a colleague, it’s important to know the company policy on workplace relationships, behave appropriately for work, do not let your relationship affect decision-making or impose favouritism (essentially, remain professional during work hours) and discuss as a couple what potential impacts this may have on your work.

A little love note

As a business owner or a leader, you need to look at your employees as advocates and take care of their well-being and morale. You don’t want to be enforcing rules and interfering in their private lives, just ensuring your employees are aware of the implications should their behaviour or attitude present serious threat to the conduct of work or group morale through pursuing a workplace relationship.

We all know of a great couple that have met through work and to prevent what could be a fairy-tale romance, could also have a detrimental impact to the business by employees resigning in order to pursue their new love interest.

As with all things policy, providing principles and guidance is just one piece of the ‘love story’, to ensure the policies are implemented fairly, you need to follow through with a consistent and reasonable approach and look at the root cause of any problems, not the relationship.

Our Total HR team can help guide you through the challenges and pitfalls involved in creating effective policies around sensitive topics within the workplace. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you call 01409 254 416, email or book a demonstration at a time to suit you.