Do you work with the man or woman of your dreams? Or have the same employer as your spouse?
If you do – great! It can be comforting to have a loved one around for moral support when you’re feeling stressed, or to help you to celebrate when you’re on top of the world.
But how do you avoid co-workers gossiping about your relationship, or accusing you of favoritism? And, if you are attracted to someone, should you make your feelings known?
The workplace is a professional environment so, no matter who you work with, you’ll want to maintain that professionalism during working hours. In this article, we look at how you can preserve both your business reputation and your relationship.
Avoiding Workplace Problems Caused by Relationships
If you are in a relationship with a co-worker or thinking about starting one, there’s plenty that you can do to avoid embarrassment, hurt, or disruption for yourself and your colleagues. Here are six things to consider. (To keep things simple, we refer to your “significant other” as your “partner.”)
1. Be Aware of Legal Penalties
Workplace relationships can be subject to some draconian regulations, despite being “personal.” These can be national or state laws, or religious rules. Make sure that you research how these apply to your situation.
For example, the state of Utah in the U.S. has a Nepotism Act that makes it unlawful to “appoint, supervise or make salary or performance recommendations” for anyone with whom you have a “close, personal relationship.”
In some parts of the world, breaking laws regarding relationships can have serious consequences for citizens and visitors alike, from fines and imprisonment through death.
For example, in the United Arab Emirates, all sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are a crime, including living with someone of the opposite sex. And in several countries, including Nigeria and Russia, any suspected lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) activity or identity can be violently punished.
2. Check Your Organization’s HR Policy
Even if the law doesn’t forbid your relationship, or dictate how you conduct it, some organizations have their own strict policies on workplace relationships. For example, some companies frown upon one partner managing the other.
As we mentioned above, legal and financial institutions and other highly regulated environments may have rules about workplace relationships, to ensure that they don’t expose the organization to breaches of compliance, conflicts of interest, or inappropriate collusion.
The safest option is to ask your HR department if it has a policy in place, and to let your HR advisor know if you are in a workplace relationship.
3. Consider Your Company’s Culture
Even if it’s not written into HR policy, you need to get a feel for your organization’s cultural view on workplace relationships. You can do this by developing Cultural Intelligence , and by making an effort to understand the backgrounds, beliefs and attitudes of the people around you.
This is especially important if you are working abroad, or in an organization with a different culture from your own.
4. Agree an Approach With Your Partner
Chances are, your colleagues and co-workers already know that you “have a crush” on the redhead in the sales team or the “hunk” in communications, and they may already suspect that it has blossomed into a relationship!
So, you have to decide with your partner how you’ll behave at work. Do you “come clean” and let your colleagues know what’s going on? Or, as the CareerBuilder survey mentioned above reveals, do you join the third of workplace couples who decide to keep their relationship a secret?
Discuss whether to set some boundaries at work, such as not spending too much time alone together, or agreeing not to use your “pet names” for one another. (You can find other useful tips in our article, Managing Friends and Family Members .)
Of course, you need to agree on what approach you will take. It’s no good one partner flaunting a relationship if the other is trying to “keep it under wraps”!
5. Stay Professional at Work
Your colleagues might approve of your office romance, and think you’re the best-matched couple since Romeo and Juliet, but you still need to tread carefully.
Indulging in in-jokes, private conversations, and public displays of affection can make your co-workers feel awkward. And if you and your partner are eating lunch together in the staff restaurant, other colleagues may not know whether you want privacy or would welcome the extra company. Why not invite a few more people along? Even if they decline your invitation, you have made the offer.
If you discuss business matters together – or, worse still, make business decisions – while your co-workers are absent, it will likely cause resentment. If you’re managing your partner, you need to be especially mindful of your professional interactions, and be seen to be extra careful to treat your other team members equally and fairly.
Having some sensitivity and empathy about how other people perceive your relationship can go a long way toward keeping everyone onside. For example, be sure to avoid inadvertently excluding people by creating an in-group of two.
6. Be Prepared for Gossip!
Human beings are social animals, and we connect with one another by sharing stories and experiences. And the more exciting or shocking those stories, the more engaging they become. So, even if you rigorously follow the suggestions above, some people may be quick to make assumptions and to see favoritism or nepotism that’s just not there. It’s a kind of fake news.
Be prepared! Keep careful notes on any potentially sensitive actions or decisions that you take, such as any pay raises or promotions that you approve or recommend, and be scrupulous in mentioning any potential conflicts of interest. This will provide evidence should you ever need to counter any claims of unfair treatment.
If you remain professional and fair in your workplace interactions and behavior, people will less likely concern themselves with your relationship.