Few employers have a written policy on romantic relationships between staff, although many believe they harm teamwork.
A survey from employment analysts IRS has found most employers choose to tackle the problem by having a quiet word with the couple. This task is usually split between the line manager and the HR department. But in one in five companies nobody has taken the lead in resolving the issue.
The survey questioned 94 private and public sector organisations about consensual sexual and romantic relationships in the workplace, and what policies were used to deal with them.
Most respondents believed there was little impact on workplace performance, but 36 per cent believed teamwork would be adversely affected, and 27 per cent considered that the working environment and atmosphere were likely to be damaged.
Respondents felt this was a “fraught” issue, and many said they wanted it handled better. More than a third of those questioned said they are planning to make changes during the next five years.
Angela Baron, employee resourcing advisor to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said she is not surprised at the lack of formal policies dealing with romantic relationships at work.
“It is an area which is impossible to legislate. The advice we give is that if someone is in a relationship and not performing their job adequately, the issue should be dealt with under disciplinary relationships, which is about avoiding bringing personal activities into the office,” she said.
Baron believes companies are cautious about how they act in this area since they do not want to drive relationships underground, particularly if company security could be threatened as a result.
“For employers such as banks there are solid business and security reasons for having policies. The important thing is not to legislate against it, but to manage the consequences,” she said.
How many workplace relationships take place is still unclear. Anecdotal evidence indicates that 50 per cent of people meet their partners at work, although recent statistical evidence seems to refute this.
But for one respondent the issue is a live one. “This organisation has an astonishingly high rate of relationships. It does not seem to affect the workings of the business, except where there is a line-management issue,” was the comment.
• IRS Employment Trends, 020-7354 5858
web link www.irseclipse.co.uk
Some views on work relationships
“The manufacturing sector is very traditional in that many families work in the same environment. Consensual relationships are accepted as commonplace and not necessarily discouraged.”
“This is such a difficult area – personal life versus private life versus work life. There should be guidelines HR can give to managers, including on working arrangements if the two parties work together.”
“In an ideal world it would not happen, but it does, and is a problem which all managers will have to address at some point”
“We do not find relationships unacceptable as long as professionalism is maintained and the business is not compromised.”
“We have found these types of relationship usually end with one of the parties leaving the workplace when it finishes.”
By Kathy Watson