Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Developing Policies to Effectively Manage Workplace Relationships

Organizations range from having no workplace relationship policies to possessing strict guidelines that do not allow any type of workplace romance. The general consensus of human resources professionals states that instead of banning relationships in the workplace, companies should focus on managing these relationships properly, efficiently, and in a legal and ethical manner. The most successful policies minimize risk and maximize rewards of workplace relationships. Policies should encompass legal concerns, but also extend beyond them to protect personal and culture interests as well.

It is important to distinguish what types of control that the company can exert over these relationships. They obviously cannot control attraction or employees’ behavior outside of the office, but they can create rules and policies and a corporate culture that fosters appropriate behavior regarding workplace romances.

Some companies choose to rely on anti-harassment policies and codes of ethics already in place in order to mitigate workplace relationships. Others create policies and procedures specific to the handling of workplace romances. There are positives and negatives of strict, lean, and non-existent workplace romance policies. Strict policies that ban workplace romance are largely ineffective and lead to low employee morale. Furthermore, a problem with developing policies on workplace relationships is that they often infringe on the employees privacy rights regarding their personal lives.

In order to create and efficient and effective workplace relationship policy, a company needs to protect themselves from litigation and lost productivity, while protecting employees privacy and benefiting from the positive effects on work productivity.  This can typically be achieved by limiting relationships between supervisors and subordinates, maintaining standards for appropriate office behavior, covering legal bases, and monitoring of office relationships by management and human resources.
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Does Your Sexual Harassment Policy/Training Cover Workplace Relationships?

Although sexual harassment policies previously were only thought to be applicable to unwanted advances by a boss or co-worker, they now need to include protection from backlash after a failed office relationship. 

Some employers do not have a specific on office romances in place, and rely on their sexual harassment training and policies to cover any issues that may arise due as a result of an office romance.  However, whether or not a company has a specific policy regarding office relationships, their sexual harassment policies and training should cover this subject.

The main point associated with sexual harassement policies and office relationships deals with the aftermath of a failed relationship.  If one party feels particularly scorned by the outcome of the romance, they may resort to sexually harassing their former paramour.  It is important that companies protect the victim of this harassment, as it involves different nuances from the harassment caused by an individual they were not previously in a relationship with.

The person causing the harassment may be doing so in a vindictive fashion, but they also may just be intending to "win" their former partner back.  But if this physical or emotion attention is unwanted, it is still sexual harassment, and can cause suffering on the part of the victim and costly litigation for the company.

It is important that companies review and update their sexual harassment policies and training in order to incorporate information regarding office relationships.  Human resources professionals and managers should be on hand to address and grievances or questions that an employee may have regarding these policies.
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Managers: Are You Being Fair to Those in a Relationship?

Managers must be actively involved in the management of office relationships during all stages: prior to the relationship’s conception, during the relationship, and if applicable, after the relationship ends.

Workplace romance policies do not only affect those involved in the relationship. These relationships put managers in an interesting position. If policies are to prohibit workplace relationships, managers must enforce this non-fraternization policy among co-workers, which can often be awkward and ineffective. However, if workplace relationships are permitted, supervisors must maintain the relationship within the bounds of the company’s policy, as well as assuring that it does not affect the employees’ work or productivity.
Managers can take important steps to inform, assist, and support their employees regarding the subject of workplace relationships. Through managing the inevitability of workplace romances in a positive way, companies can alleviate some of the concerns and negative outcomes created by romantic involvement in the office setting. They can promote a culture that understands and acknowledges the presence of workplace romances, as well as maintaining an atmosphere that is flexible and trust-based.

Allowing employees to make informed decisions regarding their personal relationships can foster an environment that is understanding and trusting. Furthermore, managers and human resource professionals can create a guide to workplace relationships to be used as a supplement to the legal policies and procedures governing such partnerships. They could also implement support systems to resolve issues between workers coping with the aftermath of a failed workplace romance. It is important for both members of the former relationship to feel “in control” and that they are supported by managers and protected by policies at the company.

Tips for Professionally Maintaining a Workplace Romance

Those involved in an office relationship can maintain it effectively without affecting job performance, co-workers, or their career. Research conducted by CareerBuilder in 2010 shows that employees no longer feel the need to keep office romances secret. 67 percent of over 5,000 employees surveyed that they feel no need to hide an office relationship. This figure is up significantly from 54 percent in 2005. Offices are often coming up as the “number one” place to meet a potential love interest, and companies are realizing that they have to accept the inevitability of co-workers becoming romantically involved with one another.

However, that does not mean that all pairings at work are considered acceptable. If one or both partners are married, the relationship is off-limits. And the general consensus at most companies is that relationships between bosses and subordinates are hands-off.

Due to the possibility of retaliation post-breakup, those interested in pursuing a workplace relationship are advised to take it slowly. A long corporate courtship can lead to a more stable relationship that is less likely to have a negative impact on the career of either person involved.   Employees involved in relationships should adhere closely to their company’s policies and procedures regarding workplace romance. If they are required to report the relationship to the human resources department, they should do so as soon as possible.

Additionally, employees should practice appropriate behavior towards each other in the workplace. Public displays of affection should be nonexistent and the couple should address each other as co-workers, not romantic interests. Those involved should take care to not exclude members of their team or department by being too involved with each other.

If the relationship ends, the individuals previously involved in the relationship need to maintain a professional demeanor in the office. Neither of those involved should attempt any sort of revenge, sabotage, or retaliation. One of the caveats of becoming involved in a workplace relationship is that if the relationship ends, both members need to continue to work together and remain professional.

What Does Steve Phillips Mean for Workplace Relationships?

In the case of Steve Phillips, he was fired after admitting to a relationship with a much younger production assistant. This affair had a much more sordid twist, as the staffer appeared at Phillips’ house and confronted his wife. Phillips claimed that Brooke Hundley became “obsessive and delusional” after he ended the affair. It was also noted that Phillips had a history of sexual involvement with fellow employees and subordinates.

These incidents have created focus on workplace relationships, mostly on those between supervisors and subordinates. The incidents sparked discussion and debate on the consequences of even consensual relationships between manager and employee. Experts stated that even if both parties agreed to the relationship, co-workers could accuse the supervisor of favoritism towards the employee involved in the relationship. Furthermore, the employee could feel as if they have to remain in the relationship to avoid retaliation from the manager.

The case of Steve Phillips served to solidify the fact that it is unwise for supervisors to be romantically involved with subordinates.  Especially when it is a case of a married supervisor involved with a young and single subordinate.  Although workplace romances remain acceptable and even beneficial, relationships between married supervisors and unmarried subordinates typically result in negative consequences.  

Why are Workplace Romances More Common Than Ever?

Although relationships between co-workers were once considered taboo, they are now more common than ever. With more women in the workforce than at any point in history, people working longer hours, and the office being cited as a great place to meet a mate, romance in the workplace is now inevitable as opposed to off-limits.

Workplace romances have been completely transformed due to more relaxed working environments, proximity of employees working together, and technology that allows co-workers to communicate more frequently and efficiently. Studies show that there are several motives attributed to becoming involved in a workplace relationship: love (people truly wanting to be together), ego (the desire for excitement and adventure), job (pursuing work-related benefits), and power (seeking to achieve power and visibility in-and-out of work).

Whatever the motive, workplace relationships disappearing anytime soon.  Companies that have been slow to adopt policies regarding such relationships are getting on the ball and working them in to their existing policies.  Workplaces will only continue to grow as a place to meet a potential love and it seems many people are taking advantage.

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How Workplace Romances Can Positively Affect Productivity

While workplace romances can have negative affects on productivity, they can also have positive results.  Office romance can actually foster productivity and create a more positive working environment.

Positive work performance and motivation is often directly related to an involved person’s loving feelings toward someone in the same organization. In fact, those involved in a successful workplace romance tend to be happier, enthusiastic, and more motivated in the office. Furthermore, those involved will often be determined to alleviate a managers’ fears that the relationship will have a negative affect on their performance.  Therefore, they will work harder to demonstrate that the relationship is not having a negative affect on their work.

Additionally, co-workers may be happy to see a successful couple in love, and with a renewed enthusiasm for their job and performance. Groups can become happier and more cooperative together with the introduction of a new social aspect in the group. If a couple maintains professional demeanor in the office, then co-workers are likely to be much more accepting of the relationship.

If the relationship continues into something more serious such as marriage, the positive affect can grow even stronger.  There are many examples of couples working happily and productively together.  This relationship can foster teamwork and closeness in the office and have positive results.

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