5 Tips for Managers to Deal with Personal Relationships in the Workplace

Romantic relationships can be a complex mix of chemistry and attraction. If you add your occupation to the formula, it can create a volatile combination. Traditional business models may have stifled the workplace flame, but with new company cultures emerging, the heat is on the rise.

With the demand for longer hours and the trend of welcoming, flexible environments, people are more prone to feel the spark at work. Surveys indicate that one in three romantic relationships begins in the office. 84% of millennials reported they would be open to dating a co-worker versus only 36% of generation X.

While it's usually not wise to mix business and pleasure, sometimes there's no avoiding it. If you find yourself growing closer to a co-worker, or discover your employees are canoodling, follow these best practices to avoid a chemistry calamity.


Learn Company Policy


A 2013 SHRM Survey reported that almost half of all companies have a workplace-romance policy.   Most policies forbid superiors and subordinates from romantic involvement. Some policies prohibit co-worker relations and some even go as far as restricting third-party vendors, consultants and clients. These rules are designed to protect the company from conflicts of interest and harassment lawsuits.

If you happen to work for a more lenient company, it's still important to check if there is a protocol for reporting new relationships. If you find yourself flirting with a manager in another department, take a moment to weigh the pros and cons before you take a step further. Are you willing to disclose your personal feelings to your superior? Are you willing to go on record about your intentions?

If you have questions about office "love-contracts," ask an HR professional. It's better to clarify ahead of time versus trying to clean up the mess afterward.


Prioritize Fairness


In the event that you're allowed to date another manager or even an employee, you need to learn to compartmentalize. When you're at the office, you're co-workers. When you're at home, you're partners. Don't mix the two. You must be able to do your job without any interference from your relationship. 

If there is no official regulation for romance etiquette, (most companies don't train their employees on how to handle relations even if they do have a policy) you should prioritize treating everyone fairly above all else. You will have to learn to objectively evaluate every situation based on what's best for the company. You'll have to put aside your feelings and may have to make decisions that might not be the most ideal for your relationship. Other people's jobs are at stake so do what is right for everyone, not just your significant other.


Prohibit PDA

If you discover that your employees are romantically involved, communicate that you will not accept any public display of affection. Even if your company is lax on the issue, you must enforce it within your team. If you want to cultivate a productive environment, it's your responsibility to ensure everyone feels comfortable. PDA can make others feel alienated, or even worse, disgusted. 

Be explicit with your romance policies. You can even list what particular physical interactions are acceptable such as high-fives or fist-bumps. Make sure everyone understands that anything else is not tolerated. If you're the one in the relationship, ask a co-worker to keep you accountable. 

Establishing finite physical boundaries will help everyone work more efficiently. You and your employees should be able to work without displaying affection. If you or anyone has special issues to work through, step off company property first.   


Avoid Gossip

There's nothing more irresistable than hot office gossip. Everyone loves to chat about how so-and-so hooked up with what-his-name or how that one girl has a crush on that other dude. It's all very addictive, but also extremely damaging to your team.

If you find your employees engaging in office gossip, politely remind them to shift their focus back onto their actual responsibilities. In Respectful Relationships, we learned that honest, open communication and professional boundaries are essential to productivity. Your job is to ensure that your team is working efficiently, not necessarily think you're their favorite boss. Save the girl talk for after hours.


Establish Break-Up Boundaries

If you end a relationship with a co-worker, it can complicate matters even more. If it was a bad break-up, tensions are high and emotions can be off-the-charts. Emotional baggage can prevent you from objectively evaluating circumstances or rationally responding to situations.

You'll need to communicate with your ex and establish what your new work boundaries are. You both should agree on how to interact with each other moving forward. If you need personal space, but are required to work with your ex, try to find a solution that benefits the group as a whole. 

If the situation is severe, consider rational alternatives such as switching projects or transferring to another department. In these extreme cases, make sure that you make healthy choices both for yourself and your employees.

If your employees wind up breaking up with each other, once again make sure to prioritize fairness. You may secretly choose a side, but as a leader you can't let personal feelings cloud your judgement. Communicate to your employees that you support them, but won't allow any poor behavior. Encourage them to stay focused on their duties.

Successful personal relationships are all about a balance between the heart and the brain. If you can't deny your heart, try your best to use your head too. If you learn this balance, then you can master chemistry set that is your office.

Want more tips on managing relationships? Stronger relationships start with a stronger you. Learn to reshape your thinking and master confidence with The Power of Self-Talk.