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How Managers Should Handle Office Relationships

By: Garry Crystal - Updated: 28 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Office Relationships Managers Romance

Office relationships can become a minefield of problems for a manager, especially if the employees involved split up. But not every office relationship ends in disaster and in some cases they can be good for the workplace.

Relationships in the Office

The office is a breeding ground for relationships between co-workers, excuse the pun. Managers are often dragged in as peace keepers when two co-workers who are in a relationship fall out. Even worse, some companies do have ‘no relationship between employees’ policies set in place, and some employees do choose to ignore this rule. Disruption in the office caused by co-workers in a relationship who fall out can mean the manager will have to step in. But the other side of this coin is that co-workers in a relationship may actually be more productive in the office and should be encouraged.

Why Employers are Partly Responsible for Office Relationships

Whether it’s a drunken fling at an office party or a long-term romance the office is an environment conducive to relationships. Employers often hire people of similar personalities and thinking who will work well together as part of a team. They then stick employees together for eight or more hours a day and employees can soon get to know every detail of each other’s lives. A survey undertaken by one of Britain’s biggest banks found that almost 70% of employees have conducted a relationship with someone they have worked with. It’s no surprise that from time to time relationship counselling skills can seem like part of a manager’s job description.

When Office Romances go Wrong

Co-workers in a relationship who fall out can mean arguments and a bad atmosphere in the office, especially if they work in the same team. Managers should step in quickly to try to avoid conflicts between co-workers but many will simply consider this outside of their remit. But conflicts such as these can cause a decrease in productivity and can end with employees barely talking to each other. Reminding employees of the requirement of professionalism in the office may be needed. If the situation does look long-term then moving the employees apart during a cooling off period may be a solution.

No Employee Romances Office Policy

It may seem out-dated but many companies do still operate policies that forbid relationships between employees. For many employers this is simply a way of avoiding trouble such as conflicts in the workplace caused by break-ups. If employees do choose to ignore this rule they can face disciplinary procedures and in extreme cases, dismissal. Manager should try to be sympathetic if this does occur and try to come to an agreeable solution. It is unlikely that employees would choose their jobs over a long-term relationship and moving the employees to separate offices may be a solution.

Managers and Encouraging Office Relationships

Many companies and managers do not have a problem with office relationships and know that this will and does occur in a working environment. Office relationships can help to provide a more relaxed and forward thinking environment. If employees are not treated like children with strict office rules they are more likely to have more respect towards the management. A good atmosphere in the office between employees can lead to increased productivity. Office romances will usually happen whether managers disapprove or not. Encouragement will mean employees do not have to use deception to keep relationships hidden.

Considerations for Managers and Office Relationships

Managers do need to tread carefully where office relationships are concerned. Points to consider should include:

  • If a ‘no office relationships’ policy exists, employees should be made fully aware of the rules and the consequences
  • Think very carefully before dismissing an employee over an office relationship; this can be end up as unfair dismissal
  • If couples do fall out the manager should never take sides or lay blame as this will not bring about a solution
  • Remind employees that the office is a place of work and not a place to bring personal or home life problems
  • Managers who feel out of their depth should be able to consult the Human Resources department for advice

Relationships between employees should not be viewed by managers as a problem waiting to happen. In a lot of cases employees are mature enough not to allow any personal disputes to affect their work life. Managers may find that having an encouraging attitude rather than frowning upon office relationships will produce positive results.

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