With the average employee spending more than a third of their life at work, it’s almost inevitable that at least a few workplace romances will develop between individuals in any given business. While these relationships may seem benign on the surface, there are a number of pitfalls that can follow in their wake. Here are some steps that you and your HR team can take to help navigate the potential minefield of workplace romances.

Ban or manage?

Some employers choose to adopt policies forbidding workplace romances outright, but this hardline position can’t and won’t prevent them from developing. While these policies may seem like the right choice, they can also lead to greater risk for your company.

With more than 22% of married couples having met at work, these policies clearly don’t discourage all romances in the workplace. Instead, they can often lead employees to break workplace rules as they try to conduct their relationship in secret. Instead of banning workplace romances outright, many employers choose to accept the inevitability of these situations. Employees are encouraged to discuss their relationships with HR reps and supervisors in hopes of preventing personal issues from invading the workplace.

Address issues before they arise

Behaviors that are unacceptable, distracting, and even dangerous can often follow in the wake of workplace romances. Instead of waiting until these relationships make life at work untenable, develop policies that address the potential side effects before they become an issue.

PDA can be a major distraction no matter how secretive employees try to be. Rather than waiting until an incident has occurred, your HR team should consider developing a proactive policy to address these issues. Policies should be included as part of a larger section on employee relations, including sexual harassment and hostile work environment policies.

Keep it separated

While workplace romances can never be prevented outright, it is important to draw a hard line when it comes to romances between employees and managers. The balance of power inherent in the boss-subordinate dynamic makes relationships between members of these groups particularly dangerous for employers.

Since supervisors and managers hold power over an employee’s job, pay rate, and promotion potential, there exists a real possibility of coercion or threats. Even when workplace entanglements between employees and their supervisors begin as consensual, the situation can quickly escalate and become predatory or even lead to charges of sexual harassment, intimidation, and hostile work environment.

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