Relationships in the workplace

Relationships in the workplace

Where is the line with relationships in the workplace? McDonalds announced this week that the UK CEO was sacked for having a relationship with a colleague. Steve Easterbrook is 51, divorced and has a right to date who he wants as long as it is a mature, consensual relationship. Right? Apparently not.

Many US companies ask employees to sign a waiver to state they are agreeing to the fact that there are no private relationships to be carried out between colleagues. This may seem harsh, but the reasoning behind it is sound, in theory.

Experience has taught many businesses that work romance can go very, very badly. Not just for those involved, but it can damage a brand when it gets out of control. In an ideal world, when a relationship ends, everyone is mature and doesn’t allow it to get in the way of being at work, but this is not always the case and when a recently uncoupled couple is working with each other in close proximity, it can prove to be uncomfortable for everyone in the vicinity.

But is a blanket ban, and a sackable offence the right path to take when thinking about relationships in the workplace? Surely that would just push potential relationships ‘underground’, or a business could lose a valuable member of the team if they leave, so the relationship they have chosen to embark upon can continue. Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair has lambasted the decision, and its reasoning. Mr O’Leary has stated that Ryanair will never have a policy like that, as he trusts his employees not to act inappropriately.

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There are reasons both for and against company relationships, and let’s be honest, there aren’t many couples that can work with each other on a long-term basis. Arguments, disagreements, slights real and imagined are all areas where romantic colleague relationships can be detrimental to the two individuals involved and those surrounding them.

So, what is the best option moving forward as a business? Do you state that colleague relationships are ok or not?

The idea of preventing relationships has come from America primarily, as businesses try to protect themselves from potentially litigious activity. The #MeToo movement has also left US businesses feeling vulnerable as more and more people have spoken out about their experiences at work.

There are some businesses who have come up with a way around the blanket ban, and yet still retained an element of control around employees and their romantic assignations. We believe this to be the most sensible option.

The ‘love contract’ started as a document between romantically entangled colleagues whereby they made managers aware of the relationship and agreed to not let it interfere with their working environment. This is a much more sensible way to monitor relationships between colleagues, and ensure the business is protected. Now known as a Relationships at Work policy if there are any problems between the couple, and it spills out into the workplace, then the couple can be reminded as to the agreement they made and signed.

We do recommend that businesses have and maintain a Relationship at Work policy, as this will ensure there are no problems in the future. It can also be combined with any Declarations of Interest that the company has in situ. These documents will be able to prevent many issues before they arise, and the expectations between the company and employee are in the open for all to understand.

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Steve Easterbrook signed a document waiving his right to any romantic relationships at work. In this instance he knew what he was doing and therefore cannot complain about his treatment, and in all fairness to him, he is taking the decision on the chin, and agreed McDonald’s acted in the correct way, as per its policy.

For more information on how to deal with issues such as workplace relationships, contact us here.

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Sandra Berns

Sandra Berns

Centric HR was founded by Sandra Berns, a confident and versatile Human Resources and Organisational Development Practitioner with 25 years demonstrable experience and a Fellow of the CIPD. Sandra has both Operational and Strategic HR expertise across Public and Private sectors and has assisted senior teams in meeting challenging workforce objectives in many corporate environments.