The Feasibility of Workplace Romances


The world is changing, cultures are evolving and workplaces are becoming mixed gendered. When genders are mixed in a workplace it is only natural for workplace romances to occur. Dating in the workplace can be described as: “A mutually desired relationship that includes physical attraction between two members of the same organization” (Lickey 122). Workplace romances usually occur because of the increased number of hours spent at work. Workplace romances are also due to the fact that people are working with others of the same background, education, experience, goals and inspirations. According to Lickey, the author of “Responding to Workplace Romance: a Proactive and Pragmatic Approach” (103) there are two main types of dating in the workplace:

Vertical (Peer to peer)

Hierarchal (manager to subordinate)

Some sources claim that a hierarchal romance should never occur (Lieber 113; Pierce 458), while other sources believe a hierarchal romance can become feasible under certain conditions (Lickey 103; Karl 433). Workplace romances are becoming more and more of an occurrence nowadays, and unfortunately companies are stuck in their legal centric-cost minded ways of dealing with them (Pierce 448). The goal of this research paper is to examine the risks and rewards of having a workplace romance and to come to an informed solution about whether or not a workplace romance is, or can become, feasible in a business setting.

What are the possible risks of dating in the workplace?

Dating in the workplace can have negative outcomes for the company such as: giving the company a bad reputation, increasing legal liabilities, possible sexual harassment lawsuits, decreased productivity, lowered job satisfaction, increased turnover rate, and increased costs. If a romance ends badly it may lead to fighting or arguments within the workplace, these arguments may be witnessed by co workers, managers, customers and may become gossip and topics of discussion within and outside the company. This may give the company a bad reputation among workers and customers. This problem may even cause investors to decide to put money into other companies because they find this one too risky and unstable (Pierce 448). Case study one in “Responding to Workplace Romance: A Proactive and Pragmatic Approach” (Lickey 107) shows that a workplace romance which ends badly can destroy a company’s reputation, which consequently causes the entire organization to falter. Because of the bad reputation the company received, it caused investors and many current and future customers to invest elsewhere. All sources seem to agree that legal liabilities are the largest risk factor for dating in the workplace (Karl 432; Lickey 106; Pierce 453; Powell; Lieber 112). A person may sue for invasion of privacy, alienation of affection, wrongful discharge, or unfair treatment for having a workplace romance (Lickey 110). But the most expensive legal issue that sometimes results from a workplace romance is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be defined as “A crime that violates the inviolability of the private life of a person by way of pursuit (telephone calls, letters, stalking, etc.), bothersome pestering and unwanted advances; generally committed with sexual motives.” (Stuchevskaia 67). There are two different types of sexual harassment:

“Quid pro quo”: when a person is given unwanted sexual advances and the submission to, or rejection of, is used for employment purposes. (Willness 131)

“Hostile work environment”: when a person is given unwanted attention that has the negative effect of disrupting the work habits or creating a hostile or fearful environment. (Willness 131)

Both of these types of sexual harassment are used in the workplace. The one difference between sexual harassment and workplace romance is that one has mutual consent and the other has consent of only one person. In some occasions a workplace romance can begin with mutual approval from both, but after a break up if one person continues to approach the other and begins to force the approval it would become harassment (Pierce 453). Sexual harassment lawsuits are feared by all companies because of the high payouts that could bankrupt a business and the horrible reputation which may follow them for years afterwards. Furthermore, 75% of CEO’s feared that a sexual harassment claim would come from a person who was invested in a workplace romance. (Pierce 453). A workplace romance can lead to a decrease in productivity in the organization. Concentration will falter because the workers will not be thinking about the work at hand and will be thinking about the romance. Managers will spend valuable time trying to address issues and concerns related to the romance, co workers will be discussing the possible unfairness if one of the persons in the relationship becomes promoted, others in the business may become vehement and jealous of the couple. It is also important to note that some employees have strong beliefs against dating in the workplace, and may find it inappropriate within a work setting; this problem may decrease their productivity for the company. (Powell 423) If the couple decides to end the romance, it may lead to one or both employees increase in absenteeism, the persons involved may not be eager to come to work and may eventually decide to quit. An ended relationship could severely affect levels of job satisfaction for not only the employees involved but for all employees who have encountered it. There will also be a decrease in company morale, and a lessened feeling of community the workplace. (Lickey 109). Another risk of a workplace romance is the increased turnover rate. If the two employees decide to terminate their relationship, one of them may not want to continue to work with the other, this could cause the company to lose some valuable employees and therefore, put a strain on the company. A major cost to the company would be the wasted time due to the distraction from this workplace romance. The time wasted includes not only the two employees involved, but also, managers and co-workers who work within the company. The two employees who are dating will spend more time talking on the phone with each other, emailing, and face to face. The manager will waste time worrying about the possible lawsuit scenario, and co-workers will be wasting time discussing and gossiping about the relationship. Relationships in the workplace are distracting for not only the people who are directly involved but also other employees in the company that are not involved. This can happen in the form of overhearing sexual discussions, inadvertently seeing sexual emails, witnessing inappropriate touching or kissing in the workplace. In addition, if the couple is experiencing problems with their relationship, coworkers may have to deal with the negative attitudes, fighting, or in the worst circumstance: violence. However, in order to come to an informed decision both sides must be examined.

What are the possible benefits of a workplace romance?

Many people believe that workplace romances can only have a negative outcome, but in fact there can be some benefits to having a romance in the workplace. A workplace romance can add the benefits of: increased job performance, increased productivity, increased involvement in the organization, reduced stress, lower turnover and have a possibility for marriage. In “Moving Beyond a Legal-Centric Approach to Managing Workplace Romances”, Charles Pierce states that contrary to the common beliefs that a romance in an organization can be harmful to the company, it can actually increase the job performance of both people involved and increase the productivity within the organization (Pierce 455).the employees who are in the relationship will show signs of decreased stress and be more excited to come to work everyday, in order to see their significant other. the co workers may also feel the effects in a positive way, being nearby a new relationship can give you feelings of love and comfort, which will reduce the stress in the workplace (Karl 432). having a romance in the workplace means that the two employees may become less likely to quit their job, because now they have a significant other and they do not want to disturb the relationship. The employees involved may have a greater commitment towards the company and may try harder to reach company goals. (Karl 432) The greatest benefit of a workplace romance is that the outcome may end in marriage. In “Responding to Workplace Romance: A Proactive and Pragmatic Approach” Lickey states that “…55% of workplace romances end in marriage”. After reviewing the risks and benefits of romance in the workplace, it is obvious that there needs to be a balance between these. Therefore, it is necessary to find a solution to these problems.

Solutions for Romance in the Workplace

In order to understand what must be done in the future we must understand the faults of the past. Workplace romances are nearly impossible to prevent but some managers who are untrained on how to deal with a workplace romance will likely do one of two things:

Prohibition, non-compliance results in termination or transfer

Ignore the issue, hope it will be resolved by itself

Both of these solutions have extreme risks involved and all sources reviewed believe that they are not advisable approaches in dealing with a workplace romance (Karl 432; Lickey 101; Pierce 456; Powell 423). If a workplace romance is ignored, then the manager does not know whether or not the romance is mutually desired, and this could lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit. If there is a termination policy for workplace romance then this may cause employees to have a secret relationship which may lead to a sexual harassment and the victim may not want to tell the authorities because they will be fired for not complying with the policy. Usually companies only look at the legal standpoint and see workplace romance as a risk that should be ‘nipped in the bud’ but workplace romances are something that cannot be prevented they are something that will happen even if it is strictly prohibited. Therefore, it is necessary to have a clearly defined solution, which is pro-active and not re-active. There are three things that should be done to decrease the possibility of a negative workplace romance, and increase the likelihood of a positive one. First, create a workplace policy, Second, create a dating contract and third, managers and staff should be informed about how to handle dating in the workplace situations.

Create a Policy

Having a policy is the best way to prevent lawsuits, protect employees and organize the business in a functional way if a workplace romance does occur. A policy should be created for the company and should include:

Maintain work production standards

No inappropriate emails

Emotional problems should be left outside workplace

No fighting or arguments unrelated to work

Should describe appropriate behavior within the workplace

No public displays of affection

Limit amount of face to face contact in the workplace

Limit amount of phone calls on company time

No breach of confidentiality between different sectors in the company

If the policy is not followed, disciplinary action may be taken such as termination, transfer, decrease in bonus, etc. A policy should also state whether or not a hierarchal relationship is appropriate within the workplace. If a hierarchal relationship is allowed there should be strict policy regarding it such as:

Supervisor of manager must be informed when the relationship is created

Subordinate cannot be evaluated by the significant other in higher position

Manager cannot discuss or decide promotion possibilities of subordinate

Subordinate cannot be directly supervised by the significant other in higher position

Having a policy will communicate to all parties involved what is expected of them, and what the effect will be if they do not follow the rules. The second thing that can be done to decrease the negative outcomes and increase the positives are to create a dating contract.

Dating/Love Contract

“A love contract is a legal document in which the organization and the employees involved acknowledge the romance. The contract also recognizes the continued professional and personal relationships, and the employees involved further state that the relationship is mutual and consensual and is not in violation of the organization’s sexual harassment policies.” (Lickey 112). Having a dating contract can protect the company and employees from legal liabilities and ensure that all parties involved have a clear understanding of what is allowed and what is not and the punishments for non-compliance. For a dating contract to be affective it will require the signatures of both employees, it will also require the full understanding that they are in a mutual relationship and that if the romance begins to disrupt their work performance they will have penalties. Furthermore, if the romance doesn’t work out one or both may be fired or transferred to a different area in the company. The third solution to having a work-place romance is to keep managers and staff informed about how to deal with a workplace romance.

Managers should stay informed and should insist on informing all the employees

A manager’s involvement is very crucial to having a workplace romance. The manager must maintain communication with the employees during the entire relationship and continue communication after the relationship has ended. The manager is also recommended to have all staff trained on the workplace romance policy, and have it understood that if a romance occurs the manager is to be informed as soon as possible. One source believes that a manager should only interfere with a workplace romance when there has been a loss of productivity (Karl 439). However, (Lickey 112; Powell 445) disagrees and believes that a workplace romance should be discussed as soon as it happens and that all employees should be informed about the policies as soon as they are hired. The manager should understand how to deal with all aspects of a workplace romance, before, during and after the relationship has ended. One source believes that the manager should also be available to council the couple or, if the manager is unable they should provide a human resource specialist who will be able to counsel in the case of a break-up.

Conclusion/Team Opinion/Team Recommendations

This essay has just examined the possible risks and benefits involved in a workplace romance. Possible risks include: giving the company a bad reputation, increasing legal liabilities, possible sexual harassment lawsuits, decreased productivity, lowered job satisfaction, increased turnover rate, and increased costs. On the other hand, possible benefits include: increased job performance, increased productivity, increased involvement in the organization, reduced stress, lower turnover and have a possibility for marriage. The conclusion is that as long as there are these three things: workplace policy; to explain to all employees’ rules and regulations while in a workplace romance, a dating contract; to decrease company and employee liability, and proper training to all new and old employees; so everyone knows what is expected. The company will be able to tolerate a workplace romance. The risks and rewards have been examined and this team has come to the conclusion that, as long as there are strict policies enforced, all employees are equally well informed, and the business has little to no liability, then a workplace romance can indeed be feasible in an organizational setting.

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