The Realities of Workplace Dating….

The Realities of Workplace Dating….

by Jeanne Knutzen | February 7, 2019

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PACE Staffing Office RomanceBefore and After the Rose!

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner and the events of 2018 and the #MeToo movement still fresh,  it’s a great time to revisit the issues of workplace dating.    Conversations on this topic are likely happening more often and sound a bit different today than they did even a few years ago.

Now that we’ve had an eyeful of what can go on behind closed doors in a workplace setting where no one’s looking and no one seems to care,  we have a new understanding of what happens when personal and professional boundaries cross.   We’ve also seen some new consequences for those who have participated in these behaviors but also the people who have allowed them to go unnoticed, unreported, or uninvestigated.   Who would have thunk?

While the situations that surfaced in 2018 were (hopefully) extreme, the #MeToo movement has had impact.

  • HR leaders are taking a second look at their employer’s fraternization, harassment, conflict of interest and privacy policies – making sure that all employees feel safe – even those employees who work in the C suite.
  • We’ve all been put on notice re: how easy it is for one person’s perception of consent to turn into another’s perception of coercion or harassment – either before, during or after the relationship.
  • We’ve certainly seen the price go up for companies and individuals who either ignore or abuse power differences – culturally, financially, and legally.
  • A new cautionary light has been shined on the risks of even the most innocent workplace flirtations.   Bosses, coworkers and subordinates are all on notice – “participant be aware”.

How Often Do Bosses, Employees or Co Workers Date?

We did some quick research to enlighten our readers on just how often workplace dating is happening.  What we found is that despite all the cautions, workplace dating hasn’t gone away and isn’t likely to go away soon.   Career Builder’s 2018 Valentine’s Day survey reported that although office romances had reached a 10 year low,  over one third of the people they polled reported that they had dated either their boss or coworker at some point in their careers.  In a separate study conducted by noted local sociologist, Dr. Pepper Schwartz, 22% of the people she surveyed had dated their boss.

We shouldn’t be surprised.  With work dominating such a big part of people’s lives it’s a pretty safe to assume that all types of relationships- some of them personal, even intimate – will develop at work.

The Upside of Workplace Dating…

The lure of a positive outcome from a workplace romance isn’t that far off.  Dr. Schwartz  data revealed that 31% of workplace daters ended up marrying the person they dated.   Here in Seattle, the workplace romance of Bill and Melinda Gates has become folklore.

The Downside of Workplace Dating ….

What isn’t talked about often enough is the downsides of workplace dating – people’s whose careers get sidetracked over accusations of poor judgement;  some bosses and employees end up losing their jobs.  Dr. Schwartz found that 9% of the females and 3% of the males who she uncovered had dated someone from work, ended up leaving their jobs – particularly after their romance ended.

While breaking up is hard to do, its even worse  when its  done in front of coworkers and HR.  What happens “after the rose” – when the relationship is either cooling or ended – can often be the most career damaging point in an office relationship.

Should workplace romances be banned?

Although from the perspective of “what’s best” it might be tempting to answer yes, most companies avoid that stance.  From a legal perspective, an employee’s personal life is still considered private, prompting companies to take the position that “no fraternization” policies are not only a violation of that privacy but are difficult if not impossible to enforce.

A more popular approach is to focus instead on policies that would protect the employee and their employer from claims of conflict, harassment or misconduct.    If, for example, a romance develops between a manager and a direct report, a policy that would require both parties to report the relationship, even going to so far as to affirm it is consensual, might be all that’s needed.  Companies would be given a chance to rearrange “report to” assignments to avoid concerns about conflict or the potential for harassment.  Workplace standards for productivity and contribution would be left in tact, as would an employee’s rights to voluntarily enter into a relationship of their choice.  

Do’s and Don’ts…

As you might guess the issues surrounding workplace relationships are not always easy to navigate.  If you are the boss, coworker, or a subordinate of someone you are thinking of dating, here are some do’s and don’ts we’ve gleaned from our research on this topic….

Check the Rules.

Know your company’s policies on “fraternization”.  Each company is different, so don’t  assume that the policies of your current employer are the same as your last employer.  (Checkout this article from Entrepreneur about how Google, Facebook and Amazon approach this topic)

Think Ahead.

Depending on if you’re thinking about dating up, laterally or down, be aware of the issues that might get put into play by entering into a dating relationship. How will that relationship impact you, your dating partner and  your coworkers.  Can you handle the downside?

  • How will I handle this relationship if it turns out to be long term? How public or private will I want it to be?  Obviously the more private you keep your relationship, the better.
  • Is there a third party who will be impacted by this relationship? Setting the morality chip aside, if either you or your dating partner is married or is in another relationship inside or outside of work, your chances of relationship success is more limited, your risk of workplace drama increased.  Are you willing/able to take those risks?
  • How will my coworkers or my boss view this relationship? Are jealousies likely to surface?  Gossip?  Drama?   Being the source of disruption in a team’s performance is grounds for termination.
  • How will I handle myself if the relationship doesn’t work out – if we break up?  Something that looks like fun and games at the beginning, may not end up that way down the road.  Will you stay calm?  Can you avoid the temptation to involve others?  How will you deal with your relationship at work when your personal relationship has gone south? Letting a personal issue get in the way of work performance is job threatening.   And if your personal issue involves someone you work with, you are on a very slippery slope.
  • How will this relationship change my professional goals? Will this relationship get in the way of my own success?  Think about this issue carefully.

Go Public.

Once you know there is a relationship in play, let your boss or HR know you are having a consensual relationship with another employee – even if policy doesn’t require you to do so.  Particularly if that relationship involves your boss or someone you supervise you are going to need help navigating the “conflict of interest” issue.

Set Clear Boundaries for All Your Workplace Relationships 

Never accept or tolerate any unwanted attention, behavior or requests from anyone in your workplace – including your boss or someone higher up in the authority chain.    If you found someone’s behavior offensive or even it makes you uncomfortable, make sure they know you consider their behavior unwanted.  In some cases, you may need to let them know what you will do if the unwanted behavior continues…which,  of course,  is to report that behavior to a higher authority even if you need to go outside your company for legal consult.

Clarify Intent.

Before you decide to accept a request to date, have a conversation with the other participant to clarify your shared intents.   If you only date casually and they date more seriously, identify those differences up front.  Yes, it may take the bloom off the rose, but those “up front, sign this before we proceed” agreements can be invaluable IF the relationship takes a sour turn.

Be Discreet.

Avoid any overt forms of affection in the workplace – even on your lunch break.  Please – no roses at work!

Speak the Truth.

If your relationship is questioned by your employer, never lie or try to cover up the truth.

With February 14th close by its very possible that you may be one of those who get an unexpected Valentine’s Day invitation to lunch or dinner.   We hope this blog gives you background information on how to respond.

PACE best of staffing 2019Pace Staffing

PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping  Northwest employers find and hire the right employees for over 40 years.  A  3 time winner of the coveted “Best of Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction.

PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire placement services, and Employer of Record (payroll) services.

To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference to how you find and hire employees,  contact us at 425-637-3312 or e mail our Partner Solutions  team  at infodesk@pacestaffing.com.


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