Business owners routinely face challenges, but nothing makes them squirm as much as finding out they have a workplace romance on their hands. If you have found yourself inadvertently playing Cupid and are hosting a loved-up duo in your office, you’re probably wondering what – if anything – you should do.

Here, company formation agent Rapid Formations look at what you need to know about workplace relationships and share their tips for dealing with them, as a business owner.

Love is in the office, everywhere you look around

According to a study from Forbes, an astounding 60% of adults have been involved in a workplace romance, so if you’re running your own business and employing staff, it’s a scenario that you’re going to come across sooner or later.

As the study suggests (and as you would expect) office romances are legal – with no laws in the UK prohibiting them. Whilst a business could take steps to prevent them through policies stipulated in company documentation, such as contracts and handbooks – this is somewhat sticky ground, legally and from a place of simply being a ‘good boss’.

For example, if you were to impose an outright ban on workplace relationships, you:

  • May be breaching the human rights of your employees
  • Could have a detrimental effect on your company culture
  • Will ostracise any employees who are currently in workplace relationships
  • Have set yourself the (probably unwanted) task of having to enforce your rules

So, let’s agree that you are not going to hand Cupid his P45. But do you need to do anything at all? As you’ll see from the issues outlined below, sometimes taking action is necessary.

Potential problems caused by workplace relationships

Actively ignoring any gossip of office romance will probably be the most popular approach that you can take for all parties involved. However, there will be situations when you will need to step in. Here are the main ones.

Claims of preferential treatment

Perhaps the most common problem caused by workplace relationships is the issue of preferential treatment. This is specific to when a manager is engaged in a relationship with a subordinate.

If a relationship is out in the open, all decisions made by the manager in relation to their partner will be questioned by the rest of the team. Why are they working that shift pattern? Why have they been given that piece of work? Why have they been recommended for that promotion?

If preferential treatment is taking place that is obviously a problem, but even if it isn’t, the suspicion that it will cause disharmony amongst your team.

Disruption of the company culture

Fostering a positive company culture is all about inclusivity. If you run a smaller business, a relationship taking place within the workforce can be disruptive to the culture that you are trying to cultivate. You have the couple and then the rest of the office.

Cliques develop in most companies. However, intimate relationships bring a different level of intensity and it’s easy for a couple to essentially remove themselves from the culture that you are trying to achieve – impacting their relationship with you and their colleagues.

What’s more, in the event of a couple breaking up, you will have two employees on your team who have suffered a collapse in their relationship. This could result in them not being able to work (well) together and may even split your office in two, with employees taking sides.

Impact on work

The focus of all workplaces should obviously be the job. However, for people involved in an office romance, it’s easy for priorities to shift and for the quality of output to be impacted.

All employees are different, but getting involved in a workplace relationship can test the professionalism of even your best team members. Especially if the couple work closely together.

If work has taken a backseat because of a relationship, this can have a trickle-down effect on colleagues, who may have to pick up the pieces and do extra work, which in turn can result in resentment on their part.

This can also lead to changes in how you treat the individuals involved, with you having to give extra thought to how you manage the couple and whether they can work efficiently together. Not the best use of your time.

Ways you can manage workplace relationships

So now that we’ve highlighted some of the problems you may encounter if your work environment is playing host to a romantic relationship, here are some ways that you can handle them in general.

1. Only talk about it if appropriate

If you become aware of an office relationship but it’s not impacting the people involved, their colleagues or their work – there’s generally no need to say anything at all. Calling the couple in for a ‘quick chat’ will be remarkably embarrassing for everyone. Let their private lives stay private until it becomes a ‘work’ issue that you do need to raise.

2. Introduce policies

Clearly set out what behaviours you do and don’t deem suitable via your employee handbook (no public displays of affection in the meeting room!) and the ramifications for not adhering to these policies. If you do want to impose a ban on relationships between managers and the people who report to them – the only scenario in which we would recommend placing restrictions – here’s the place to do it.

3. Have couples sign ‘love contracts’

This one is controversial, but an option, nonetheless. A love contract is when the parties involved sign a document confirming that they are in a consensual relationship. This then protects the company from getting embroiled in sexual harassment claims. If you are considering introducing these, we recommend only doing so for the superior/subordinate relationships and importantly, seeking the advice of a solicitor first.

4. Treat everyone fairly

Do not handle the couples within your workplace any differently than your other team members. No preferential treatment – such as shared shift patterns. No unfair treatment – such as making them work separately. The only situations in which you need to take action are when the quality of work is suffering, other employees are being negatively impacted, or your policies are being broken.

5. Confront problems

If your business is experiencing issues caused by a workplace relationship, do not ignore these simply because dealing with them will be uncomfortable. Hold 1-2-1 meetings with all parties involved, stressing your concerns, clarifying your expectations, and setting out the consequences if the problems persist (for example, moving the people involved into different departments or carrying out disciplinary action).

Thanks for reading

So there you have it, how employers can manage workplace relationships. We hope you find this article helpful as you look to steer your business through the most passionate of potential problems, love.

Are you sitting on a brilliant business idea? Rapid Formations can turn that great idea into a business reality by helping you set up a limited company. What are you waiting for, start your own business today, from as little as £12.99

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