HR should take responsibility for office romances

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Organisations are unwittingly creating a perfect playground for relationships to flourish

HR should take responsibility for ensuring the wellbeing of their staff during the course of office romances, according to Chantal Gautier, visiting lecturer at Cass Business School and author of Psychology of Work: Insights into Successful Working Practices.

Gautier said that the way businesses recruit is responsible for creating an atmosphere where attraction is likely. “We recruit people who are a good organisational fit,” she told HR magazine. “We want candidates who hold a similar belief system to the rest of the team, who fit in with the culture of the organisation. However, if we recruit on that basis, we’re creating a solid situation where attraction can occur.

“When we add the amount of time we spend at work, the exposure effect, the fact everyone is working towards a shared goal, and the similar education levels, then it's no surprise that workplace romances are so common.”

According to Gautier, the same effect is known to happen during the interview process, where employers are likely to look favourably on the candidates they relate to.

“Organisations are unwittingly creating a perfect playground for relationships to flourish,” she added.

Workplace romances are common. In February 2015, research from Approved Index found that 65% of office workers have been involved in at least one workplace romance, with 48% of respondents claiming they had been involved in two or more. Half (50%) of those romances involved at least one person who was in a relationship or married.

Office romances can become problematic when a relationship ends while both employees involved are still working together. Gautier said HR departments should demonstrate an understanding approach without showing favouritism.

“You need balance,” she said. “Ask both parties what they need separately, and find out how they want to go forward. Maybe you could arrange for them to work from home sometimes, or change their shift pattern for a while. It’s a small thing, but could lead to better engagement.”

Gautier is adamant that enforcing a ‘no relationships’ policy will not help to solve the issue. “That just drives it underground, and when things go wrong employees feel they can’t go to HR, as they have been breaking the rules,” she said. “They need to have the opportunity to voice how they feel, and to be able to talk about what they need, right now, to ensure they can maintain their effectiveness."

“HR needs to take responsibility for these workplace relationships," she concluded.

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