HRM Five: Office relationship policies

In this special Valentine's Day edition of HRM Five, we dive into the topic of love - at the workplace.
By: | February 14, 2018

It’s February 14, and love is in the air – or is it? In the wake of the #MeToo movement, employees are perhaps more conscious of keeping working relationships as “business only”.

This year’s edition of CareerBuilder’s Annual Valentine’s Day survey, as conducted by The Harris Poll, claims that office romance has hit a 10-year low, stating that only 36% of workers surveyed reported dating a co-worker, down from 41% last year.

But this doesn’t mean that office romance is going away.

“Office romance is experiencing a dip and whether it’s impacted by the current environment around sexual harassment or by workers not wanting to admit the truth, the fact remains that office romance has been around forever and will continue to be,” says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

For this special Valentine’s Day edition of HRM Five, here are a few considerations for any HR managers looking to implement fraternisation policies in their workplace:


  1. Have a formal policy  
    To best protect your company from liability, it’s a good idea to establish a policy around the topic of relationships between co-workers in the office.

    If your organisation already has a policy, remind your employees that it exists.

    If workplace relationships are prohibited, your policy needs to outline how (or even if) it will be enforced – be specific about the disciplinary process and consequences faced by workers who flout it.


  1. Establish clear boundaries
    Don’t become the HR police – your employees aren’t your children, or bonded servants, after all.

    However, your policy should distinguish between consensual relationships and harassment in unambiguous terms.

    Any employee who has received inappropriate behaviour should also feel that they have multiple safe avenues to report their experience.


  1. Decide if workplace relationships must be reported
    If they should be reported, consider formalising the reporting process and lines of communication.

    It might not be a bad idea for both HR and the line managers to be aware of the situation, so that it can be appropriately monitored.


  1. Be mindful of power differentials
    Some organisations have a blanket policy forbidding workplace romances, but it might be more practical to consider restrictions on specific types of relationships. For example, between supervisors and subordinates, which can lead to favouritism.

    If the relationship goes sour, it can also leave your organisation liable to harassment claims, since a supervisor is in a position of power over their subordinate — and we are not living in the movie “Secretary“.


  1. Draw a clear line between the personal and professional
    Perhaps your organisation is amenable to relationships between employees – but most employees and managers will likely frown upon public displays of affection, or the use of office time or property to get “lovey-dovey” instead of, well, working. After all, no one wants to open the supply closet and find two of their colleagues making out.

    HR might also want to communicate clear expectations regarding behaviour during free time (for example, lunch or tea breaks) and off-site engagements.


Yamini Chinnuswamy offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.