HR must play the role of third umpire in office romance
To ensure fair treatment to every team member, a transfer option can be given to one of the two involved people
HR managers need to step in when office romance affects productivity and makes other workers uncomfortable
Astha Behl and Varun Varma both marketing executives in a Delhi-based media organisation, were at the wrong end of the stick when they decided to go public with their romance. Within weeks, friendly pestering by their peers made them staple of office gossip and two months later the HR head called them for a meeting. Behl says, “It wasn’t a disciplinary action. Still, we were taken aback when our team leader suggested that we move to different teams.” After a chat about the company’s office romance policies, the couple decided to accept the offer.
Office romance is prevalent in many places, though most companies are not against it according to a US survey conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management. Writer Tanya Farber quotes the survey in her article “Do Companies Have Office Romance Policies?”, in which she mentions that, only 13 per cent of companies have a workplace romance policy.
A February 2013 survey by CareerBuilders gives an idea of the prevalence of workplace romance. The survey reveals that almost 39 per cent of workers have dated a co-worker in their career. Out of this, almost 17 per cent workers admitted to dating their co-workers at least twice. In her article, Farber quotes an anonymous representative from Hagel and Company, a US human resource and payroll systems company, as saying that often HR managers regard a formal romance policy as being too intrusive towards employees’ personal lives. Policy or no policy, there is little doubt that workplace romance changes the team dynamics and the chemistry between team members. Depending on the people involved, it can cause a conflict of interest at the workplace thus requiring attention from HR. Though an official conversation may not be required with every couple in office, HR should be ready to take cognizance of situation in a few cases:
1. When romance goes against company’s policies:
Most of the Indian companies do not have stringent office romance policies. Often they do not approve of a romantic relationship between an employee and a reporting boss. This is fair considering the possibility of favouritism and sexual harassment concerns which may arise in case the relationship isn’t proved consensual. Such cases require clear conversation about company’s anti-sexual harassment and office-romance policy. An article on the website entrepreneur.com quotes workplace expert Di Ann Sanchez as saying that companies encourage signing of ‘love contract’ by the employees clearly stating that the relationship is consensual. To ensure fair treatment to every team member, a transfer option can be given to one of the two involved people.
2. Too much public display of affection:
Workplace romance between two people doesn’t become a discipline problem unless love birds do not make a spectacle of themselves by indulging in too much of public display of affection (PDA). In some cases, HR may need to remind employees to exhibit responsible behaviour in office. Cuddling, non-stop conversations and personal chemistry can make other workers uncomfortable. At this point, the HR needs to step in and have a conversation with the involved people and alert them against showing unprofessional behaviour in office. This extends to online behaviour as well. Constant chatting, texts, inappropriate emails from official email id etc also fall in this category.
3. When personal chemistry starts affecting professional goals:
The CareerBuilders study revealed that three in 10 office affairs result in marriage, but the fallout of the failure of other seven relationships cannot be ignored. Break-ups are the worst part of workplace affairs. Resulting bitterness and urge to avoid each other doesn’t only affect productivity of people involved but also makes the atmosphere uncomfortable for their peers and supervisors too. In some cases, one of the two involved members also quits the job thus causing the loss of a useful resource to the company. An HR professional needs to step up and handle such situations efficiently. Transfer option, counseling etc may come as a handy option in such cases. Similarly, cases where people start to badmouth their ex need immediate attention too.