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Is it time to review your personal relationships policy?

This article focuses on personal relationships of a romantic nature between colleagues, although aspects could apply to personal relationships defined by a family connection (for example, annual leave and preferential treatment). 

Does your company have an up-to-date personal relationships policy? When you consider how much time your workforce spend with each other, it’s inevitable that the occasional intimate relationship will form amongst colleagues. However, without a rigid policy in place, a seemingly harmless relationship could turn into a rom-com gone wrong! 

A personal relationship policy will protect the best interests of your organisation and its employees, outlining its position on personal relationships between employees. Similarly, your policy will highlight the expectations placed on employees and their managers to ensure that the company isn’t negatively affected by a relationship.

When circumstances change between two employees, it can be difficult to navigate how this may impact their working relationship. With this in mind, Eleanor Taylor, People and Culture Manager at EKW Group explains:

“It is really important that businesses have a robust policy in place when it comes to workplace relationships. Sending out a clear message on what is and isn’t acceptable from the start means all parties will be fully aware of what is expected and the relationship shouldn’t impact on the day-to-day aspects of work life.”

We would highly recommend conducting a regular review of your policy, to make sure that it is in line with the changing face of office working. When doing so, there are a number of things to take into consideration; conflicts of interest, inappropriate office interactions, and preferential treatment being just a few…

What might your personal relationships policy be missing?

In recent years, the increased use of Microsoft Teams has made it easier for employees to communicate covertly using company software during working hours. It could be valuable to add a clause outlining the company’s policy on inappropriate or excessive use of the organisation’s IT or communication systems for personal use between those in relationships at work. Emphasise that sharing inappropriate content using the organisation’s systems will lead to disciplinary action.

It should go without saying that harassment of any kind is a strict disciplinary offence. However, since the emergence of the #MeToo movement in 2017, it’s important to clarify the organisation’s stance on workplace harassment, to ensure that employees feel supported enough to speak up, should it occur. It should be made clear that personal relationships will not influence an individual’s career stance, either positively or negatively. 

What should be included in your company’s personal relationships policy?

We would recommend setting out some guidance separately for both employees and managers, to outline their responsibilities in the case of a personal relationship forming.

Responsibilities for employees

The policy should begin by making it clear that employees have a responsibility to inform their line manager of any relationship which may affect their work or the business – this must be treated with confidentiality. If the relationship occurs between an employee and their line manager, then both have a responsibility to inform senior management.

It’s important to include a reminder that professionalism must be maintained by both employees in all professional settings, including work-related events. This should also cover the responsibility to treat all colleagues consistently, without the relationship influencing preferential or unfavourable treatment. This is of particular importance where relationships occur between a manager or senior member at the organisation, and an employee in a significantly less senior position. 

Overall, this aspect of the policy should convey an expectation that nothing should change for the organisation or its workforce as a result of the relationship.

Responsibilities for managers

Once a line manager has been made aware of a relationship amongst colleagues on their team, then they also have a responsibility to ensure there are no conflicts of interest for the team as a whole. If a complaint is made by another member of the team, then the manager has a responsibility to take action, perhaps by moving one of the employees in the relationship to another department or team. This should be dealt with carefully, seeking advice from the company’s HR department if any movement is required.

If the relationship occurs between a line manager and someone on their team, then a more senior manager will be responsible for certain operational matters, including but not limited to:

  • dealing with disciplinary or performance concerns 
  • signing off over-time
  • authorising leave.

Speaking of leave, it’s important to make sure that annual leave requests within the team are dealt with consistently, regardless of any relationships that have formed. If two people in a relationship have requested time off together, this must be considered in line with the needs of the business and the requests of other employees.

At EKW Group we are qualified CIPD advisors; if you would like further advice about your company’s personal relationships policy, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with Eleanor Taylor at [email protected].

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