Awkward! I've just found out my employees have slept together. What should I do?
Uh-oh. Yep, it can definitely feel awkward if members of your staff are sleeping / or have slept together 😍
Believe it or not, I get a fair few calls from small business owners, looking for advice on how to manage “romantic relationships” in the workplace.
Affairs of the heart shouldn’t cause you problems per se. Especially if both parties are single (and one doesn't manage the other), and it's evolving into a potential relationship! According to YouGov research – nearly a fifth of Brits met their current or most recent partner at work, so it's going to happen in some businesses.
But whether it's an affair, a one-night stand or a relationship, if you find out, it does need to be handled delicately. You need be level-headed and play by the rules and not be inclined to sack one of them immediately. Unless of course, you want to end up in an employment tribunal for discrimination or unfair dismissal.
Your job is to strike a balance between protecting your business, whilst remembering your employees have the right to choose who they date, marry, or spend the night with.
REMEMBER, IT CAN BE A LOVELY THING
It isn’t a crime for your employees to get it together on your watch. There aren’t many laws – that can and should – stop this from happening. So, as much as you might despise it, you’ve gotta accept it and avoid doing anything rash, like sacking your employees 🙅
Don’t get me wrong, I'm sure you’ve got enough on your plate, without having to deal with this. But a romance amongst your employees can be a joy – causing you absolutely no bother at all.
PROTECT YOURSELF WITH A POLICY
Part of the issue when it comes to things like this is your employee's not being honest or open from you. If they have tried to keep it a secret, you may think what else are they keeping from me. But with things like this, your employees may just not know whether to tell you, and if so when. They be afraid of being judged / penalised or fired.
This is why having a Personal Relationships at Work policy can be super important to have. Why? Because they help you and your employees to understand what’s expected of each other – in what can feel like – an awkward situation for both parties.
Usually referred to as Personal Relationships at Work Policies – they tend to stipulate things like:
- Whether or not you want your employees to tell you if they’re romantically involved with one another. And if so, when and who they should tell. I would highly recommend you encourage your employees to disclose matters of the heart! 📣
- The behaviours you do or don’t want to see at work. And what happens if this is ignored. After all, work environments are professional settings. You don’t want domestic scenes spilling out onto your sales floor 🚫
- What changes you might make, once you’re aware of the situation. For example, if one half of the couple is responsible for deciding what bonus the other half gets – that’s not right. So, you may have to move them to a new role, or change their job description ▶
WHAT TO DO IF THINGS TURN SOUR 🤔
One-night stands, office flings, workplace relationships – whatever you want to call them – can occasionally cause you headaches.
For example, when the relationship goes through a rocky patch, or comes to an end. It can cause animosity between the couple – and their peers too – who may choose to get involved or take sides. It can also be a distraction for your other employees who are getting embroiled in gossip about the relationship.
If there’s favouritism or special treatment going on – this can cause upset in the ranks. For example, if the couple are passing the best sales leads to each other to increase their chances of a getting a big, fat sales bonus.
Another issue might pop up when a senior person is seeing a more junior employee. The subordinate staff member might feel like they can’t say no to the relationship, fearing repercussions at work, or even losing their job. 👂
So your role is to stay vigilant and nip any behavioural or performance issues in the bud as you normally would. And always refer to your policies, if you have them. It’s not too late to get them in place now.
Unacceptable behaviours can lead to disciplinary procedures and even dismissals. To avoid this, not only do you need policies in place, but you also need your people to understand why they exist, and what they actually mean.
Remember, you also have a duty of care to your employees, so there are safeguarding issues to watch out for. For example, bullying and harassment, unwanted attention, and verbal or physical abuse.
👉 By the way, if you do ever feel the relationship is unwanted, this could lead to dismissal so make sure you download my Disciplinary Toolkit.
👉 Also, check out my Employee Handbook Template – a bunch of all the super important HR policies for your business (including Personal Relationships at Work).
WHEN ROMANCE AFFECTS PRODUCTIVITY
Dips in performance need to be addressed in the usual way. In other words, by having a performance conversation. You need to share your concerns, and ask your employee if they think there are any reasons why this is happening. Then, you need to agree what actions you’re both going to take to fix the problem.
If you haven’t been told about the relationship – or what is happening – you are allowed to ask if you have your suspicions. But you shouldn’t accuse your employee of having a relationship with another member of staff.
WHAT NOT TO DO
To avoid upset, complaints being made against you, or even being sued, DON’T:
- View personal relationships at work as an issue in themselves. Most of the time, they won’t affect your business.
- Lose your head and make rash, emotional decisions. Like sacking employees to get rid of the problem. It won’t work. The problem is more likely to come back and bite you in the bum!
- Act unfairly. For example, treating the woman in the relationship, differently to the man.
- Let bad behaviour go unchecked. You’re the boss, so take-action to stamp out wrong-doing and take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
- Be policy-less. They exist to protect you and your staff.
TO SUM THINGS UP THEN
🙈 Some business owners freak out when their employees start dating or sleeping with each other. But in the main, it’s unlikely to cause you grief.
💑 We spend loads of time working in this country. So, don’t be shocked to discover that romantic relationships can blossom at work. My advice to you, is to learn to expect it so you're not surprised if it happens. But of course, jump in when it’s causing problems.
📖 A Personal Relationships at Work Policy is an absolute must. So, stop faffing about and get one in place.
🍐 Yes, things can go pear-shaped when affairs of the heart spill out into the workplace. Stay vigilant and don’t let poor behaviours go unchecked
⏰ When productivity is affected, treat the situation as you normally would. If you haven’t been told about the relationship – but you already know – don’t accuse. Just ask.
⚠ There are loads of things you should avoid doing to keep you out of bother. Make sure you know what these are.
Still baffled? Fear not. If you need more help, reach out and book a free consultation with me.