What do you do as a manager when love notes are flying as fast as donuts on a Monday, gossip is traveling faster than a middle school snapchat, or when that relationship-fostering you did as a part of onboarding worked a little too well? When love is in the office air – it’s all about communication.
With a high potential for conflict, drama and hurt feelings, office romances are hard for everyone to navigate – the lovestruck themselves, their teammates and managers. But the truth is, many significant relationships start in the office. In fact, according to a survey cited in the Wall Street Journal on March 27, 2014, about one in 10 Americans meets their spouse through work. There’s even evidence to suggest that relationships that start in the workplace are more likely to end in marriage, according to a survey cited in the Daily Mail. So despite conventional wisdom, workplace relationships can be more than a taboo romp — they can actually end in happily ever after.
Just because something can work out, though, doesn’t always mean itwil. Office romances are tricky, and as such, need to be handled with care. Here are our tips for keeping employee engagement high when the rules of romantic engagement are fuzzy.
Make sure your company dating policy is clear
Instead of having employees guessing about the propriety of dating colleagues, make sure your policy is spelled out in the office handbook. “Certain companies have strict policies that prohibit dating at any level, or require employees to inform their supervisor or HR,” says Erica Perkins, Director/Human Resources Business Partner at Glassdoor. “Some have less restrictive policies that allow romances to happen between individuals, but not between direct reports and managers or other relationships where there would be an inherent conflict of interest.” Since it’s not terribly romantic to thumb through your HR department’s dating policy in detail before accepting a dinner invite, it’s key to make sure employees are aware of your policies upon taking a job with your organization. If you don’t have an HR function to back you up, consider drafting policies for your small business yourself.
Ask for and model appropriate behavior
If you’re the manager of one or both of the employees in a relationship, be sure that you coach your team member(s) to be subtle with their in-house interactions. You want to make your team members as comfortable as possible, and you want to make it clear that they are expected to keep all outward signs of their relationship to a minimum. We recommend sharing U.S. News and World Report’s 5 Cardinal Rules of Office Romance with colleagues in an office relationship.
And, just as it’s critical for the two people involved in the relationship to stick to the utmost model of propriety, it’s key for you as their manager to be discreet about your awareness of their relationship. While there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging their relationship publicly if they are “out” with colleagues, don’t ever contribute to the gossip mill. Instead, stay focused on business goals and team-building efforts.
Nope, we’re not talking about workplace marriage proposals – not *that* kind of engagement. We’re talking about making a concerted effort to keep morale high when there’s a team romance brewing. Any time you see one strong alliance forming – whether it’s professional or personal – you run the risk of having others feeling marginalized. So it’s key to make sure your team feels chemistry as a whole. Look for opportunities to reinforce team bonding with off-site events, team parties, and even just by encouraging positive feedback with one another.
Look out for conflicts of interest
When you’re assigning projects to subordinates, be sure that you minimize any potential for conflicts of interest. If both members of the relationship are on your team, try to have them work on separate projects as much as possible. And if your direct report is dating someone on another team, work with his or her manager to make sure that all cross-functional activity is set up in a way that would sidestep competing interests.
As long as you’re following all the right steps to stay compliant with your company policy, making sure everyone conducts themselves appropriately, encouraging large-group engagement, and delegating projects to eliminate any conflict of interest, it’s safe to let Cupid do his thing.