The workplace has always been about more than just work. It’s where people make lifelong friends and, often, find love. The statistics prove it: almost a quarter of Americans met their spouse through their job and more than half of employees have had an office romance. In the past couple of decades, though, the number of couples who meet through work has dropped fast. With more and more work happening remotely, employee dating is likely to become even less common.
For HR leaders, this will sound a lot like good news. Romantic relationships among colleagues can mean a lack of focus on work, accusations of favoritism and, if things end badly, unhappy employees.
How Should HR Respond When Employees Date?
In recent years, many businesses have imposed blanket bans on employee dating. They fear allowing any relationship in the workplace opens the door to the possibility of sexual harassment. Then, there’s the risk of disturbing your company culture with colleagues who are overly close or (after a breakup) don’t speak at all.
The problem with this strategy is, there’s only so much HR can do. Employees spend hours each day in close contact—it’s inevitable some will develop feelings for each other. When you ban employee dating, what you’re really doing is forcing couples to keep relationships secret, which can do more harm than good.
How an Employee Dating Policy Can Help
HR leaders can’t stop employees from dating. What they can do, though, is put in place clear instructions for couples. Keeping relationships out in the open avoids conflicts of interest and other inappropriate behavior.
Employees should know that if they begin dating an employee:
- They have to reveal the relationship to their HR representative
- The office code of conduct must be adhered too at all times
- Neither employee can be responsible for important decisions relating to their partner
- One employee may be required to move to another team or department
How to Write an Employee Dating Policy
When creating an employee dating policy, remember your ultimate goal—to create a safe and welcoming workplace for all employees. Harassment cannot be tolerated in any form, but consenting relationships shouldn’t be treated as a crime. You aren’t trying to legislate against love. Instead, you’re laying out the special responsibilities employees have when they begin dating a colleague.
The easier your policy is to understand, the more chance employees will be honest about their workplace relationships. It’s natural for employees to be hesitant about going public—but they should know the consequences of hiding a relationship will be far worse.
What to Include in an Employee Dating Policy
The structure of your policy will depend a lot on the size of your company. In a large team, where colleagues in different departments begin dating, the process may simply be a formality. A smaller organization, who can’t simply reassign one partner to a different department, faces different challenges.
Here’s what all policies should do:
- Define Acceptable Conduct
Relationships are okay, but PDA in the workplace is not. Employees must behave professionally at all times. However, outside the workplace, employees are free to date whoever they please.
- Putting a Process in Place
Employees need to know who to tell when they begin dating a colleague. Consider implementing an anonymous process to save any embarrassment.
- Explaining the Consequences
By explaining what is and isn’t allowed, you are helping employees in a relationship, but also calming the fears of colleagues who may worry that they’ll lose out. Partners cannot supervise each other or contribute to decisions related to hiring, terminations, promotions, performance management or compensation.