With the majority of us spending most of our waking hours at work or with colleagues, it’s easy to see why 22% of people meet their romantic partners at work.
After sleeping for more than 25% of the week, this leaves 124 waking hours, of which we spend over a third of it working – the longest hours in Europe, in fact. According to a study from Barclays, a third of our socialising is done with colleagues or at work get-togethers too.
It’s not uncommon for many businesses to be family-run or have married (or not) couples at the helm. But, when it comes to the rules – written or unwritten – how should intimate relationships be handled at work in the early days?
If you’re in the workplace relationship
There is no law against office romances so don’t instantly assume you’re going to get fired just because you’ve fallen for someone at work. Instead, ensure you have read any company policies, code of conduct documents and employee handbooks, if they exist. They’ll soon shed light on whether there are any bans (unlikely) and if there’s a recommended way to handle the situation.
What can lead to you losing your job, however, is poor performance, gross misconduct and anything that could be seen as unfair treatment or that brings the business’s reputation into disrepute. Any of these can obviously occur outside of scenarios where a personal relationship is involved, but the risk potentially increases.
Avoid getting caught in any compromising situations in the photocopier room; having a domestic by the coffee machine; or constantly gazing at each other longingly instead of working. Likewise, don’t turn business talk into pillow talk. Not only is it probably rather boring, but you should not be sharing any sensitive and potentially confidential information with your other half.
Whether you tell your colleagues, or more specifically, your line manager, is really up to you. It really depends on how serious the relationship is, how closely you work together and whether it is likely to impact your work.
If you work for a huge organisation in completely different department and on the opposite side of the building to each other, will anyone really notice? On the other hand, if you are on the same team or one of you is more senior or directly managing the other, then you should tell your line manager.
You do not want either party being accused of favouritism or abusing their power, and you might have to consider changing roles or moving departments, if that is an option. Although it’s unlikely your company can force you to do that.
If you manage people in the workplace relationship
All employees have the right to privacy and a family life. Equally, you have a duty to protect the interests of the company and ensure nothing jeopardises service levels or operations. Having said that, employees in a relationship should not be treated differently or discriminated against – this can lead to legal disputes.
At the end of the day, two or more people spending far too much time talking about personal matters happens every day and you can’t single out a couple because their romantic relationship has gone public.
As a manager, it is not your job to moralise or condemn the relationship. It is your job to ensure productivity doesn’t suffer and that everyone continues to act fairly and professionally. This includes not allowing intimate or personal relationships to influence any decision-making.
Where this becomes more difficult is under circumstances where there is a senior-junior professional relationship, as mentioned above. Each case is best reviewed on an individual basis and in line with any company policies, but you shouldn’t rush to enforce a ‘love contract’ – widely adopted in America to avoid any lawsuits or sexual harassment claims in the event that things turn sour!
If you haven’t been told directly by those involved, should you bring it up in the first place? Again, that depends on how closely the pair work, likelihood that it will negatively affect their work or make people around them gossip or feel uncomfortable, and if you’re going to need to do anything about it. Trust your instinct, and if you’d rather get it out in the open, let them know that you know.
Match made in office heaven?
You will be pleased to know, though, that romances formed at work are more likely to end in marriage and often, one half ends of moving jobs eventually anyway!