What’s Love got to Do With It?

Question:  I am the CEO of a small startup and am sick and tired of the office drama around dating.  Don’t get me started on the headaches that come when there is a break up.  I sometimes think I am running a High School, not a business.  I want to institute a policy that prohibits dating work colleagues.  Can I do that?

Alice Waagen says:  Sure, you’re the boss, you can do anything.  But good luck enforcing such a policy.  Soon you will have your HR folks turned into the Dating Police which will drive them nuts!

The whole issue of having personal relationships with coworkers is a murky minefield.  The only policies I’ve seen that come close to dealing with workplace relations are nepotism policies that prohibit folks with family relations from reporting to each other.  So let’s tackle your dilemma in a different way.  Rather than pen a bunch of unenforceable policies, clearly communicate what you consider the appropriate ways to handle an office romance.  Here’s my short list of the Do’s and Don’ts of Office Romance.  Feel free to copy it and post it in your break room.

  • DO. Build warm and supportive relationships with your co-workers.  Do have drinks after work, go to movies together and do any other social activity that helps build the team.  Positive work relationships go a long way to get us through tough times.
  • DO. Date and get romantically, involved but only if you can keep the romance part out of the office.  During work hours, you two need to look like coworkers, acting professionally, respectful and restrained.  If you’d be embarrassed to do something in front of your mother or grandmother, it probably does not belong at work.
  • DO. Handle disagreements, fights, and breakups out of the office.  No one wants to witness a relationship on a rocky road.  If need be, take a day off to resolve issues (but personally I would find that a real waste of a vacation day).
  • DON’T. Allow work to become your only avenue of social interaction.  Seek out other avenues to build social networks and relationships.  They will serve as a way to escape the work world when you need a break.
  • DON’T. Flaunt any PDAs (public displays of affection) at work.  Folks who who publically display romantic behavior at work are behaving unprofessionally, truly annoying their boss and HR—both not good long-term career moves.
  • DON’T. Gossip, speculate, or add to the office rumor mill around romance.  Or as I like to put it, don’t feed the beast of romance drama and it won’t grow.

Romantic relationships are going to happen whether you like it or not.  Being clear about how you expect your employees to act while under the influence of Cupid is a much better approach than trying to outlaw the inevitable.