Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

4th Jul, 2023

Victoria Sartain
Victoria Sartain
Job Title
Senior Content Writer

With over 60% of adults being involved in a romantic relationship at work, what’s the best way to conduct a relationship that begins in the workplace and to what extent should employers be involved?

Mary Asante, CEO of HR Independents, the UK body for independent HR and People Professionals, answers our workplace romance questions:

Mary Asante

Q: What should workers consider before embarking on a relationship with a colleague?

A: A recent survey by Forbes Advisor reports that over 60% of adults have been involved in a romantic relationship at work – with 43% leading to marriage. The flipside of the percentage, however, is perhaps indicative of any number of awkward outcomes. Workplace romance can get complicated, so employees should carefully consider the risks associated. Some considerations may include conflict of interests, which may arise where an employee may be dating their manager or a senior manager within their team or department. Such relationships may lead to preferential treatment and potentially impact on decision-making when it comes to performance and pay reviews, and other employee relations issues.

Office romances may also affect colleagues’ perceptions of an individual’s progress in the workplace, which can be negative or positive depending on who they are in a relationship with.

Everyone should understand the workplace policy on romantic relationships. Firstly, does it allow for dating colleagues, customers or suppliers? Do employees have to report romantic relationships to their manager and/or HR?

Q: What are the fundamental ‘no-nos’ of office romance? And when a relationship is common knowledge, do managers have the right to keep tabs on those involved for purposes of damage limitation?

A: In all cases, it is important to establish that the relationship is totally consensual, and an individual has not been harassed or bullied into the connection. No means no, not maybe.

The challenge is keeping a relationship professional and establishing boundaries when at work – which could result in having to accept some practical changes to ways of working – especially if individuals are on the same team. Moving to different projects or departments might be required.

If the relationship goes sour, the individual needs to be able to manage the fallout professionally. Although no one would expect a big announcement that it is over, people not knowing may fuel office gossip if any awkwardness is sensed.

It is not a manager’s responsibility to keep tabs on people’s relationships. Only if it causes disruption to those involved and others, the manager and HR would need to address the impact on the workplace.

Q: Trying to hide workplace romances may seem a good idea at first. When’s a good time to tell your boss/HR?

A: Typically, people may want to know their relationship is serious before disclosing it to their employer, but it is important they are informed as soon as possible to help mitigate any potential issues that the relationship may present. Both parties must of course agree on the best time to disclose the relationship.

Keep in mind that hiding a workplace romance from a manager, HR and colleagues may later raise issues of trust.

Q: What should employers consider when devising policies about workplace relationships? Is a formal reporting system recommended for those entering a relationship, to avoid potential sexual harassment claims?

A: When devising policies about workplace relationships, employers must be clear about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour from employees. The relationship must not result in either party being treated differently by management.

The employer must provide information on how to declare any workplace relationship and outline who should be informed – either the manager, HR, or both. It must also clarify whether one of the individuals involved may be expected to change their role if they happen to work closely.

In extreme cases, a policy may prevent employees from having workplace romantic relationships altogether.

Q: Without a dedicated company policy in place, what action can employers take if a workplace relationship seems inappropriate?

A: Employers must investigate any such concerns of inappropriate relationships and document their findings and any necessary actions they may have taken.

Likewise, if an employee becomes aware of an improper relationship, they must be able to report it without fear, and it is the employer’s responsibility to clarify this process to all staff. The culture of the organisation must empower employees to raise such concerns.

Above all, workplace relationships must be managed to avoid conflict of interests, favouritism, abuse of power and harassment.

Looking to take the leap into an exciting new role, or find professionals for your team? Get in touch with one of our recruitment specialists today.