From colleagues to lovers: dos and don’ts

Relations at work

Good contacts between co-workers have a considerable impact on job satisfaction. The results of a poll conducted by recruitment agency Hays in 2018 are not surprising: 65% of participants attach great importance to friendship in the workplace. Only four percent think that friendship in the workplace is not important at all. Some companies try to enhance social relations between employees to help them identify with the company (even though we don’t see a lot of clear examples of conscious company policies in this regard in Flanders). However, the situation changes completely if two direct or indirect colleagues fall in love.

Suspicion of relationships in the workplace

Relationships inevitably create an appearance of bias (as does friendship for that matter), have a real or imagined impact on professional focus and are unpredictable in nature: all this is not conducive to ensuring a serene, stable working atmosphere, especially in case those involved are members of the same team or work within the same hierarchical structure. It is therefore not surprising that the employees who work together with the couple and their employer are often wary of the influence of a romantic relationship on their professional cooperation.

Need for a general framework

Employers often respond on an ad hoc basis, depending on whether they see the relationship as problematic or not. Employees often experience this as arbitrary. Suddenly and out of the blue, management comes up with rules, and the relationship even appears to be a stick to beat them with. Someone is transferred, a promotion is denied or in exceptional cases, people are fired because the love relationship would have professionally unacceptable consequences.

Employees want to know where they stand, so they can make informed personal choices: questions range from “Will this be a serious, long-term relationship?” to “Do we discuss this at work or keep it a secret (for the time being)?”. Employees therefore benefit from a transparent agreement framework which, apart from concrete cases, determines how the company should deal with romantic relationships between co-workers. Of course, this framework should take into account the corporate culture, the activities and the requirements connected to the concrete working conditions. The following questions may be useful in establishing such an agreement framework:

  • Can partners be members of the same team?
  • If there is no direct hierarchical working relationship, can somebody be part of the hierarchy when their partner is an employee?
  • And what about partners who do work in the same hierarchical structure?

Employees benefit from a transparent agreement framework which determines how the company should deal with romantic relationships between co-workers.

Clarify the situation

If codes of conduct have been drafted unilaterally without any social dialogue or involvement of the employees, they risk serving only to provide legal cover to the employer. For instance, the latter can use such a code to oblige employees to report a relationship between colleagues (the validity of this obligation can be challenged if there is no demonstrable impact on professional effectiveness) or assess difficulties after a breakup as ‘professional errors’.
Employees primarily want clarity as to the impact of a relationship with a co-worker on their current and future career opportunities. Is such clarity lacking in your company? Then encourage your employee representative to put this topic on the agenda. You can also address your ACV contact discretely to hold your individual situation up to the light so that you know where you stand.



Auteur: Lieveke Norga | Photo: iCloud