How to handle office romance: quick guide for SMEs | HR blog

Published on February 10, 2020 by Kate Taylor
Office romance

A recent study conducted by TotalJobs found that we’re more likely to meet our partners at work than we are from friends, nights out, or online dating. Those who either have or would consider dating somebody they work with varied from industry to industry, with 66% of the 5,795 surveyed saying that they would be up for dating a colleague.

An older survey carried out by found that nearly six out of ten workers in the UK had been “intimate with a colleague.” Just 3% of those surveyed by TotalJobs said they would consult HR before dating a colleague (leaving 97% who wouldn’t!).

With the prevalence of office romance not diminishing any time soon, how should owners and managers of small businesses handle office romance?

What effects might an office romance have on your business?


Office romance poses a risk to productivity levels if two employees begin dating, as their preoccupation with each other begins to overshadow their preoccupation with work. Colleagues, too, might turn to gossiping about the newly developing relationship. Of those surveyed, 1 in 3 said they thought that a breakup between colleagues would negatively affect workplace dynamics.

While it might be tempting to dismiss office romances as irrelevant to business, the possibilities of a workplace relationship going wrong threatens to disrupt both productivity and collegiality - a disruption that is likely, ultimately, to harm your bottom line.

There is also the more serious risk of becoming embroiled in a grievance issue after an uncordial breakup.

Should you have a workplace romance policy?


Since there are no laws prohibiting employees from dating each other, owners and managers of small businesses are under no obligation to enforce an office romance policy (though it is worth noting that employers are obliged to treat employees fairly, which means not discriminating against employees involved in workplace romances on the basis of protected characteristics such as gender or sexual orientation). For more on this, read employment solicitor Catherine Wilson's blog post: Are romantic relationships in the workplace illegal?

However, given the potential perils of allowing office relationships to develop unchecked, implementing an office romance policy might be the best way of protecting your business from the all-too-likely messy outcome of a workplace love affair. If putting together a whole HR office romance policy strikes you as too burdensome, there are a few quick and easy things you can do that will protect your business from workplace affairs gone wrong:

1. Say something about office romance in your company handbook

You might want to encourage employees to declare a relationship between themselves and another employee - but it’s worth noting that employers are obliged to treat employees fairly, which means not discriminating against employees involved in workplace romances on the basis of protected characteristics such as gender or sexual orientation.

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2. Train managers on how to navigate workplace relationships

Owners of small businesses can train line managers on how to handle office romance. Then, if a line manager notices a relationship developing between two members of their team, they can take the steps necessary to act in the business’s best interests.

3. Consider a company reshuffle if a relationship develops that might compromise the business

If a relationship begins to develop between a senior member of staff and a junior member of staff, especially when the senior member of staff has power or influence over the junior, it might be in the company’s best interest to consider a reshuffle in order to avoid charges of favouritism and discontent amongst other members of staff.

If there is a power imbalance within the relationship, there may be a potential risk of sexual harassment – which is an important issue to explore in itself. Ensure your business is adhering to HR best practice concerning sexual harassment by reading employment solicitor Jennifer Smith's article on addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.

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Written by Kate Taylor

Kate is a Content Marketing Executive for myhrtoolkit. She is interested in SaaS platforms, automation tools for making HR easier, and strategies for keeping employees engaged.

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