Thursday, May 13, 2010

Extending Beyond Legal Approaches to Managing Workplace Relationships

The typical legal-centric approach to workplace relationship management and policies focuses on minimizing risk.  However, there are ways to manage these relationships by both minimizing risk and maximizing reward.

There are several risks of office romances, including sexual harassment, unethical relationships, unfair interventions, and disruptive breakups.  Most "traditional" policies focus on the ramifications of these issues. 

However, there are also many rewards to workplace romances.  They can result in successful long-term relationships, enhanced job performance, increased job satisfaction and a stronger organizational commitment.  In order to minimize the risk and maximize the reward of office relationships, a company must take a balanced and sensible approach.

First, they should create an effective policy towards workplace relationships, along with an ethics code and efficient performance management system.  With all of these elements in place, a company can create a workplace environment that is sensible and understandable for their employees.  Second, the policies should focus on cost-management.  A company can become involved in expensive litigation as a result of a workplace relationship gone wrong.  To minimize these costs, experts recommend prohibiting relationships between direct-reporting supervisors and subordinates.  "Love contracts" between dating employees can also minimize any possible future litigation.

Companies should also focus on managing the benefits associated with workplace romance.  By allowing relationships between "power balanced" employees, a company can reap the positive results discussed above.  Finally, a company should train human resource leaders effectively to manage workplace relationships in an appropriate manner.

By extending beyond a legal-focused approach to workplace romances, a company can reap the positive rewards of such relationships while warding off possible negative consequences.

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