The amount of time we spend at work, coupled with shared interests and unstoppable pheromones means that workplaces have become one of the most common places to meet a significant other, fostering couples from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt downwards (upwards?). However, one in twenty employees has had an office romance either banned or specifically discouraged by the Boss, according to a recent survey conducted by UK based office design company Maris Interiors LLP.

Whilst it is true that workplace relationships can sometimes lead to difficult situations for employers, including distractions, tension, potential bias or discrimination issues and/or poor performance (particularly if the couple split up!), taking such a dim view of work-based romances is these days perhaps a little unrealistic.  Trying to manage people’s  personal relationships can easily create more problems than it seeks to solve, let alone actually does, and a better route is not to try and manage the relationship but to manage the resulting behaviour in the workplace.  

As long as there has been no misconduct, such as sharing of confidential data, and no issues of inappropriate behaviour or bias, there is no immediate reason for the employer to become involved where a relationship forms between co-workers.  If a workplace relationship develops between a supervisor and a subordinate, however, there may be a more pressing need for the employer to step in, since then the damage may be done as much by the perception of bias or favouritism as by the reality of it.

Such situations can normally be defused by having a “word to the wise” with the parties involved, telling them that, whether knowingly or not, their secret is out and that they risk making a spectacle of themselves. More often than not, that approach works as individuals will tend to comply once they understand that their jobs may be on the line if they don’t conduct themselves entirely professionally – perhaps even more so than they would need to if there were no relationship at all. Dismissal should only be considered as a very last resort if the relationship is having a demonstrable adverse impact on the employee’s performance or conduct or that of others at work and no heed has been paid to prior warnings. 

Whilst romance is personal, employees should be aware of the way in which the company expects them to conduct themselves at work, should a workplace romance develop. It is also a good idea to encourage employees to let their immediate line manager know if love blossoms (or withers), particularly where this gives rise to an actual or potential conflict of interest or breach of confidentiality.   Any policy on the subject should make it clear that in the event a workplace relationship starts to affect an individual’s performance or conduct at work, disciplinary action may be considered.  This way employees know where they stand from the outset.