Valentine’s Day: Minimize Conflicts of Interest from Office Romances
Jeffrey Meyers researched and edited this article.
Coworkers and colleagues spend so much time together, often more time at work than at home. As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s helpful to recognize that office romances are difficult to avoid – it’s hard to intervene when there’s a spark. The most important concerns resulting from office romances are conflicts of interest and work distractions. The extent to which you can manage and minimize these problems will keep your operations running effectively and drama-free.
Office romances will happen, so it is imperative that businesses establish policies for relationships among coworkers. For those involved to realize that for the sake of their careers, it is important to remain mature and professional.
All companies should have policies on sexual harassment. Communicate your policy on office romances and relationships as you remind employees about sexual harassment. Consider these types of relationships and their effects when crafting your position:
1. Manage Conflicts of Interest
When two people are romantically involved at work, it can be difficult to remain objective when necessary.
- Boss-subordinate relationships. For what should be obvious reasons, if a relationship begins between a manager and one of their employees, something needs to change. Performance reviews, pay and merit raises, choice of work assignments, and other opportunities for preferential treatment arise too often. Even if you can be legitimately objective, you don’t want to give the appearance of impropriety or give others reason to question your decisions or work. Depending on the situation, it would probably be best for one (the subordinate) to transfer to another department or function.
- Coworkers should be separated. Not as drastic as the boss/subordinate relationship, but potentially more distracting. If coworkers are working on projects together, managing budgets, or contributing to team assignments, the potential that not all focus is on the work to get done and some on the relationship is likely. As before, it would be prudent to separate these two employees to avoid problems. Assuming both stay with the company, consider which person has the greater opportunity in their current role and find a suitable role for the other in another area of the business.
- Worker-vendor romantic relationships. When an employee who is responsible for managing a vendor relationship becomes romantically involved with that vendor, something needs to change quickly. (In some businesses, I suspect that this type of relationship could also be illegal.) This presents a significant conflict of interest that can be easily dealt with by reassigning someone else to manage the vendor relationship. If this is not possible, then you might need to change vendors in order to maintain objectivity.
- The "work spouse." A phrase that’s gained popularity in recent years describes a relationship between two coworkers who often know more about each other than their respective spouses. They spend breaks together and know the other’s tics and intimate details. While it’s good to have a kindred soul, these relationships can also cause problems at home as well as introduce conflicts of interest when objectivity is called for. These relationships work best when the work spouses don’t work directly together.
2. Manage Your Reputation
While it’s desirable to have a friendly, warm work culture, a good rule of thumb is to avoid sharing TMI: Too Much Information. When everyone at work knows your business, that’s often not good. Wearing your relationship issues on your sleeve at work can diminish respect others have for you and hurt your chances of being considered for promotions or other advancement opportunities.
- Drama-prone. It’s okay and normal to talk about your personal life, but be weary of getting too personal too often. People want to know that you’re in control. If your personal life is a mess, then it’s logical to assume that the work you’re doing could be subpar. Don’t give a reason for your work to be questioned by keeping your drama at home.
- The affair. The number of people involved in affairs would seem to indicate that you probably work with some of them. Whether they are married and cheating, or the “other” person, someone involved in this deceit can be distracting for them as they cover up their actions. And if someone is good at lying to their spouse, it wouldn’t be a stretch for managers to wonder if the person is lying about their work.
3. When Relationships Go Sour
No relationship is perfect all of the time. Whether going through a rough patch or navigating the end of a relationship, tumultuous times mean distractions and ineffectiveness at work.
- Breaking up is hard to do. When an office romance ends, hopefully both sides are mature enough to carry on without having it affect their work. But that can be a challenge when emotions are involved. Coach managers on how to handle employees going through a break up and airing their dirty laundry out at work. Managers may want to be compassionate, but they should also be diligent in keeping the employee focused on performance.
- Feuding spouses in a family-owned business. How about this wrinkle? This can take awkward to a whole new level for bystanders. You might be encouraged to take sides, but it’s best to avoid being sucked into the vortex and remain as neutral as possible. If it’s truly affecting business and you hold enough clout, you’d be best to ask them to resolve their differences or at least keep them outside the workplace for the sake of the company.
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