The workplace has changed and evolved dramatically during the last 25 years. With a shift in the economy and a new generation prioritizing personal and business values alternatively to those of previous generations, employees today are much more comfortable blending the lines of their personal and professional lives. This shift has caused significant change and disruption in the workplace, manifesting itself in the reduction of boundaries and a corresponding increase in interoffice romance.
For HR professionals, this has presented an increased need for sensitivity when conducting conversations and implementing disciplinary measures. In some cases, employees crossed lines inadvertently, and often these mis-steps occurred because of a lack of policy and education. While a policy will not completely eradicate the possibility of office romance, clarity regarding what behaviors are acceptable will significantly reduce uneasiness and unnecessary conflict within an organization.
Lack of Policy Creates Confusion
The current competitive business environment necessitates enhanced creativity in the attraction and retention of top-talent. However, employers must remember that despite how desirable the company benefits are, employees care very deeply about the culture within the company. Accordingly, an organization operating without a specific policy addressing fraternization, does so at great peril.
The workplace is comprised of persons from all walks of life, and these varied backgrounds color how employees behave within, and understand, interpersonal activities. Consequently, individual perceptions often vary dramatically and a behavior that may appear to be common sense to one employee, likely is not at all intuitive for another. Furthermore, as the workplace floods with a new generation of workers directly out of college, an organization must not assume that the notion and inherent characteristics of an anti-fraternization approach to business is common knowledge and that every employee has the same understanding of the concept. Consequently, it is imperative that HR leaders create a policy from day one and walk each new hire through the agreement. Most organizations include this policy in their employee handbook, with new hires signing an acknowledgement sheet, stating they reviewed and understand the policy.
Key Elements of the Policy
It is vital that the organization is clear that fraternization between a manager and a direct report is strictly prohibited. In fact, it is prudent to further prohibit fraternization between employees who are separated by at least two levels in the organizational chain of command, regardless of their functional reporting relationship. This component of the policy is integral as romance between senior leaders and less experienced staff create the perception of favoritism or “special treatment” within the employee population at large. There is also an increased likelihood of other employees bringing allegations concerning inappropriate use of authority or even sexual harassment. The policy must further stipulate what specific behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable, as well as the consequences of violating the policy. And above all, there can be no ambiguity around the fact that any behavior which compromises workplace harmony and or negates a culture of teamwork, will not be tolerated.
Every proficient HR executive knows that they must always strive to identify and minimize potential areas of conflict and to eliminate challenges before they happen. At the end of the day, employees want to feel valued and respected at work. By establishing a friendly and clear anti-fraternization policy, you can help eliminate office gossip, drama, and allow employees to focus on the role-specific duties of their position.