What to Do When Employees Date

Employee should keep it professional when dating a co-worker.
Employees should keep it professional when dating a co-worker.

Valentine’s Day is here, and people are dropping serious money to express their affection. This year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that consumers plan to spend $27.4 billion celebrating, which is an average of $196.31 per person, up 21 percent from last year ($161.96). Most of that money will be spent on significant others, but some people plan to share the love with their co-workers (an estimated $1.8 billion).

Workplace romances aren’t unusual — people spend a large portion of their time at work, after all. And even in the #MeToo era, interoffice relationships are common. Sixty-one percent of workers have been on a date with a colleague, and 55 percent have met a romantic partner on the job, according to Cosmopolitan.

Interestingly, employees who work in the human resource department are most likely to date co-workers — 42 percent of HR survey respondents compared to 25 percent of all respondents — as reported by the Workplace Romance in America survey from Blind.com, a community where more than 3.2 million verified professionals worldwide “share advice, provide honest feedback, improve company culture and discover relevant career information.” Currently, 8 percent of HR employees are dating a co-worker, compared to 4 percent of all respondents. Other departments most likely to date co-workers were marketing, communications, sales, service and support.

While overall, 38 percent of employees talk about their dating life at work, the survey found that people in certain industries are more likely to do so. Those who work at tech and consumer goods companies, for instance, are more tight-lipped; at one car manufacturer, however, 65 percent of employees openly trade dating stories and share advice.

If employees enter a consensual, romantic relationship with a colleague, employers should remind them of a few things.

First, employees should know their company policy about dating co-workers. Some companies have strict policies against dating in the workplace while others don’t. Whatever your company policy is, make sure your employees know it — including whether (and at what point) they must fill out a consensual relationship agreement.

Second, remind employees to keep it professional and that their conduct must be consistent with the company’s harassment, discrimination and retaliation prevention policy. While other employees may be aware of the relationship, the focus should be on their work — not their co-workers’ public displays of affection. Tell them that being discreet and professional while on the job will both help other employees feel less awkward and keep office gossip to a minimum.

Finally, because not all relationships last or end amicably, you’ve got to prepare for the worst-case scenario — the breakup. It can be especially difficult for employees who previously dated to continue working together, so connecting with each of them post-breakup to review the signed consensual relationship agreement could help all of you figure out how to manage potential awkward or uncomfortable situations. And, going back to item No. 2, remind the exes that they must remain professional post-breakup.

While love can blossom almost anywhere, it’s especially likely to bloom where people spend so much time together each week — so establishing and enforcing rules for interoffice dating will help employers handle co-worker coupling (and potential uncoupling) not only during Valentine’s, but throughout the year.

Vannessa Maravilla, Editor, CalChamber

CalChamber members can download a Consensual Relationship Agreement for their employees and read more Considering Personal Relationships and Off-Duty Conduct on HRCalifornia. Not a member? See what a membership can do for you.

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