Managing Workplace Relationships

Workplace Relationships

Acceptable conduct in the workplace is an essential element in what makes a truly cohesive and supportive workplace. Sadly, this is not always achieved and no-one could have missed extensive media attention into allegations that some key figures have abused their position.

Positive personal relationships, of course, have been formed in the workplace for years and no doubt will be for years to come; and as it is Valentine’s Day this week, which may well prompt deliveries of cards, flowers, chocolates, and so on. So is this something to be concerned about?

Generally, Valentine’s Day should be regarded as a bit of fun and should not have any impact within the workplace. Having said that, there is always the possibility of employees being distracted if: flowers are delivered at work, (bringing a smile to the recipient and colleagues’ faces (or a grimace from jealous colleagues or the “bar humbug brigade”)).

Receiving a card / flowers / chocolates tends not to create too many problems when it is from a known admirer and is a welcome gift; but when it is from an unknown admirer or is an unwelcome gift from a colleague, that problems may arise. The recipient might feel apprehensive or concerned until the unknown admirer is identified. If the secret admirer turns out to be from within the same workplace, or the gift is unwelcome from a known colleague, then it falls to an employer to try and amicably resolve any misunderstanding, or – more seriously – investigate any allegations of inappropriate behaviour and/or possible sexual harassment.

Relationships at Work

Whilst it may be unrealistic to attempt to stop work relationships from blossoming in the first place, an appropriate policy can help avoid the negative consequences that might otherwise grow from an office romance. 

There are various provisions you could set out to avoid future problems, including:

  • Behaviour at work (i.e. no public displays of affection during working hours or on company premises).
  • A requirement to disclose the relationship (perhaps limited to appropriate situations, such employees within the same team, or where regulatory issues may arise), with an assurance of confidentiality.
  • Your right to reallocate responsibility for certain procedures (for example, appraisals, disciplinary or grievance hearings) to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Obviously, an employer or anyone in a managerial or supervisory position behaving inappropriately towards a junior member of staff on this Valentine’s Day (or any other day for that matter) can cause problems within the workplace.

Showing amorous affection towards a colleague or a junior member of staff, when it is unwanted, amounts to sexual harassment if it has the purpose or effect of violating the recipient’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Harassment is considered to be behaviour which is not sought by the recipient, is personally offensive and which fails to respect the rights of others. Within the workplace it can be disruptive, divisive and can be extremely upsetting, seriously offensive and can potentially harm the health and well-being of the recipient or any third party who witnesses such conduct; and gone has the cohesive and supportive we opened with.

Employers will be vicariously liable for any harassment, unless they can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent it. An employer’s best protection is to have an appropriate Equal Opportunities, Equality and Diversity Policy, which specifically deals with sexual harassment. The policy should be clearly communicated to all employees, and staff should be given training in the policy.

By having good standards that are well understood then you will be well on the way to creating the harmonious workplace that is good for business.

Support in Managing Workplace Relationships

If you need advice on how to handle situations that might occur in your workplace, or you have any other HR related issues, our dedicated team can help support you throguh whatever you’re facing.

You can learn more about our HR services here, or talk to our team to find out more.