As Valentine's Day beckons, love is on the mind of the nation and according to recent research by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), the workplace is still a key meeting place. Spending eight hours a day, often five days a week with the same people, it's not uncommon to find someone you're attracted to. What is key is how the workplace relationship is handled- both individually and by employers.
At one end of the spectrum, some couples find their romantic relationship can lead to successful professional collaborations, as their performance and creativity increases. However, what can start as a harmless fling, can result in reputational disasters for companies if confidential information is disclosed by hurt parties who leave the workplace. This has led to some companies such as American Apparel banning workplace romance altogether. But instances like this is where clear guidelines and policies can come in very useful.
So how common is it? A recent survey by ILM found that, despite the recent developments in finding new relationships, such as dating apps and speed-dating events, romance in the office is still surprisingly prevalent. In fact, more than two in five workers have had a workplace dalliance, with 27% of the relationships resulting in a marriage or civil partnership. With more than 40% of the workforce engaging in romantic relationships with their co-workers - and two thirds claiming they would consider doing so in future - it seems that UK employers could really benefit by colleagues who go on to form deep and lasting romances. These couples may well energise workplace morale and if relationships are discussed openly and honestly, then trust and ethics in the office can increase.
Romance in the workplace does not necessarily spell trouble. As with many workplace issues, communication is key - for both the employer and the employee. In an organisation in which workplace romance is banned or discouraged, employers run the risk that their staff will keep their relationships secret. Our survey found that 30% actively hid their office romance. This can lead to a working culture of secrecy and deception, which is a much greater problem to tackle.
While there is no need to encourage romance, organisations may be wise to accept that they are a reality and have a clear policy in place as to how they are handled. More than 70% of managers surveyed said they had no problem with workplace romance as long as those involved acted professionally. However, workers' fear of exposure suggests that many are unaware of this. By communicating that employees can be honest about their relationships, managers are more likely to stay in the know and be able to adapt their teams accordingly.
However this works both ways - honesty from staff is also key and should be encouraged. It's also important that staff use their judgement: while a discreet relationship with a co-worker can cause no issues, there can be serious repercussions if a team leader has a fling with one of their junior reports.
As always, a fair policy, applied consistently is critical. Social aspects of work can improve productivity and team building and should therefore be encouraged. However, managers must be sure to keep channels of communication open to make sure it's just Cupid 's bow, and not lightning, that strikes in their office.