Article: Office Romance and HR: The Blessing

Employee Relations

Office Romance and HR: The Blessing

The last of a three-part series that aims to explore the different approaches of HR, on Intra-Office Romance.
Office Romance and HR: The Blessing

Just as Sashwat and Irene announced to their colleagues that they were engaged to be married, both of them got an e-mail from the HR Department, for a meeting scheduled to discuss ‘important issues and events’. Scared and apprehensive initially, the office couple who had been dating for 2 long years was relieved to find out that the ‘important issue’ wasn’t a very serious one. The couple’s organisation disallowed married partners to work in the same department, and hence one of them was asked to shift. However, some organisations have stricter policies. What would have been Sashwat and Irene’s fate in such a situation? 

We’ve already established in the first and second part of this series that office workplace is a conducive environment for romance among employees to foster, and no matter the policy of the organisation, such relationships exist. One could assume that such relationships are doomed, and will never survive the workplace politics, but there is a good chance they just might. According to a CareerBuilder survey, office dating has a fairly high success rate--of the 38% of people surveyed that dated a co-worker at least once, 31% went on to marry that co-worker! In such an event, the organisations’ take on a marriage between the employees becomes of critical importance. Let’s explore different scenarios.

Marrying a Colleague: Go for It!

Some organisations are of the view that employees marrying within the organisation are not a concern, but in fact if used carefully, can benefit the organisation. Retention of talent and greater loyalty of couples towards the company are the two biggest reasons given in this favour. Several organisations have couple-friendly policies, and some organisations consciously seek referrals of spouses. Furthermore, in addition to sharing the understanding of work culture and ethos, and practical benefits such as sharing holidays and transportation, couples in an organisation are expected to balance their work and life outside of work better. In 2004, Wipro launched a service called ‘Channel W’, which acted as an intra-office matrimonial service for its employees. Several tech companies are also known to provide gifts like cars, honeymoon packages etc to newly-wed couples from their office, since the company expects the couple to work harder, for all their eggs, namely, income, health insurance and benefits, lie with the organisation. Additionally, in cases of transfer, the couple knows that the partner will also be accommodated. 

As beneficial as the arrangement might sound to both the entities, some organisations do come up with riders to this policy. For example, several companies that allow marriage among its employees, ensures that the two employees are in different teams, departments, or do not have to directly report to each other. The matter complicates a little further, if one of the employees is from HR. The logic is simple, that if power dynamics is at play in the office, it might lead to tensions, both in the relationship and workplace setting. In a similar fashion, if one of the employees works in HR, a closer scrutiny to appraisal and benefits is present.

Marrying a colleague on the cards? Better clear you desk first!

Some organisations have strict Anti-nepotism policies in place to discourage any kin, including spouses, from working in the same organisation. The policies are formulated to avoid issues of employees’ perceptions of favouritism or prevent marital discord from manifesting into problems at workplace, therefore effecting productivity. Additionally, instead of transferring employees who intend to marry, such companies simply prefer to not to have the option on the table. Such organisations view the process of transferring or relocating as the tipping point to as host of several other issues, which are beyond the control of the employer. Ego hassles, power equation, professional relationships and friendships, all come in the way work efficiency and ultimately effect employee morale.

In addition to disallowing employees marrying within, several organisations do not allow partners of employees to join the organisation, even if they have been married previously. Some also extend this prohibition to the immediate kin, and even relatives of the employee. Interestingly, several employers do not object to employees dating, and consider it a temporary association, but, put their foot down on the idea of marriage, because the nature of the association is permanent. Hence, they ask one of the employees to quit the organisation, before or within a stipulated time frame of the wedding.  

These two approaches to marriages within the office have their own pros and cons. While the former might be an opportunity to invest in, and hone valuable talent, the latter clears the employer of the liability of complains and issues that might come up later. From the employees’ perspective, the former is obviously a winner. Though the two approaches have been explained in their essence, organisations often customize them, in order to best suit their needs. At the end of the day, the employer wants the work of the employee to remain consistent, and gives a carrot and a stick respectively, in both these different approaches to ensure the same.

Final Word of Advice

Romancing in the office is treading dangerous waters, no matter what. It can spell trouble on both the employee and employer’s end. However, the outcome of such romances, whether it results in a marriage or dissolution, is dependent on the nature of the two individuals in the relationship. No matter how strict or lenient the policies maybe, unless the individual employees do not understand how to balance the two aspects of their lives, it is bound to be problematic. That being said, it is strongly advised to all employees on the cusp of a relationship to thoroughly understand the policies of their organisation before they commit. 

Office Romances have existed, and will continue to do so, and every once in a while, people do find their soul-mates in the next cubicle. But make sure you check with the HR, before the cupid strikes!

 

Part 1: Office Romance and HR: The Approval

Part 2: Office Romance and HR: The Objection

Topics: Employee Relations, Employee Engagement, Culture

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