The Effects of Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

Romance in the workplace blends home life and work life.
Romance in the workplace blends home life and work life. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Workplace settings place a range of people in proximity for long hours each day. It is unavoidable in any workplace setting that employees will develop their own personal relationships outside of a work context, and some people will develop romantic relationships at work. Romantic relationships in the workplace cannot help but influence companies in some way, whether positive or negative. Understanding the possible effects can guide your human resources policy development.

Coworker Relationships

The most straightforward romantic relationships in an organization develop between workers in different departments or who work in different locations on the same premises. These relationships can have the same effects as an employee dating someone outside of the organization and involve the least number of additional complications.

On one hand, romantic relationships at work, just like any romance, can make the employees happier, more personable and more productive. On the other hand, employees can become less productive if they spend extra time emailing, chatting and taking lunch breaks together.

Manager/Subordinate Relationships

A range of challenging issues arises if a manager and a subordinate develop a romantic relationship. In these cases, favoritism can become a serious issue, as the manager could favor a single employee in compensation decisions, advancement and job duties.

Even if a manager can act completely professionally at work while supervising a significant other, nothing can stop other employees in the office from believing and spreading the word that favoritism exists in the department. Forbidding these relationships entirely can be an effective HR policy; you do not have to force employees to break off their relationships, but you can ensure that subordinate employees are moved to different departments under different managers.

Team Dynamics

Romantic relationships among coworkers in close-knit team settings introduce additional complications beyond dating coworkers from different areas of the business. As with other settings, romance can either significantly improve or hinder team effectiveness. Some couples work extremely well together, communicating effectively and treating all other team members equally. On the other hand, some couples cause other team members to feel excluded or uncomfortable if romance continually surfaces in group interactions.

When relationships in small teams go sour, team productivity grinds to a screeching halt. Team dynamics become extremely awkward and uncomfortable when other team members have to deal with a lovers' quarrel.

Owners and Executives

Romantic relationships between company owners or executives bring the same range of issues to the table as employees in teams, but with deeper and further-reaching consequences, both positive and negative. When a couple works well together as owners or executives, the company can thrive over a long term. If relationships go sour, however, the consequences can damage the entire organization.

The best way to manage a romantic relationship between top-level managers is to assign each partner completely different job duties and responsibilities, ensuring that they do not have an opportunity to argue or step on each other's toes, and that they spend considerable time apart during work hours.

Marriage in the Workplace

The dynamic changes a bit when two coworkers commit to each other in marriage. Notwithstanding the rising trend of divorce in the United States, marriages are generally more mature relationships wherein each person understands how to communicate and manage conflict with the other. Married couples often act more professionally at work than dating couples, keeping romance and personal conflict at home.

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