Workshop: What to do when love blossoms

Office relationships are common, but they can affect workplace performance.

Ever worked with someone who is in a relationship with another colleague or had a difficult management situation because of such a relationship?

We often socialise with colleagues outside work. But we must understand work and social boundaries and have a good sense of what is appropriate.

Sometimes people get into sexual relationships or find long-term partners at work, and this can have all kinds of ramifications. Discretion helps everyone; indiscretion can cause strong feelings that are not always favourable towards the people concerned or good for workplace relations.

If this is happening but the two people have not yet declared that they are formally a couple, what needs to be considered?

Colleagues can feel unsettled if they think workplace issues and decisions are being discussed elsewhere by these two people and outcomes influenced as a result. The gossip machine will probably be in overdrive and there will be conspiracy theories, depending on the working relationship of one person to the other. If one is a line manager to the other, this can create distrust among colleagues if they suspect preferential treatment or find themselves excluded from decision-making.

A manager's role is to observe and make judgements about when it may be necessary to take action, informal or formal. Informally, a couple might need to be reminded of the effect of their relationship on the wider workplace. Certain behaviour is just not acceptable at work.

Formally, some larger organisations have policies that say staff in relationships cannot work in the same department. In smaller organisations this is not really practical - and if performance is being affected, a manager needs to take formal steps.

If people are able to successfully steer a course of discretion before formally announcing the relationship, your task as manager will be to lead the way in celebrating your colleagues' success and happiness.

Elaine Willis is a consultant - willweb@easynet.co.uk.

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