What HR professionals can do to manage fallout from office affairs

LOVE is in the air. At least in many offices it is. With employees spending so much time at work, it is no wonder it has become an incubator for office affairs. About 41 per cent of Americans between ages 25 and 40 admitted to at least one office romance, according to a survey from Lawyers.com and Harris Interactive.

But office affairs are much more than simply fodder for the cubicle gossip mill. There are very real consequences when Cupid strikes co-workers. Here are just a few office romance-related problems that can and will create headaches for human resource professionals and supervisors:

The boss-employee love affair
For many HR professionals, this is the trickiest of office affairs. A supervisor or manager who becomes involved with a direct report can create major problems for themselves as well as the company.

For example, the relationship might change how other employees perceive the boss (“Is she giving him better assignments because they're involved?”). It may also alter how colleagues view the subordinate (“Is she trying to ‘sleep’ her way into a promotion?”). Perhaps the worst — and most expensive — possible outcome of a boss-employee romance is when the relationship ends badly and the employee files harassment charges.

The distraction
Why slog through that 30-page report when you can slip away to meet your sweetheart in accounting? Office affairs are productivity drains that affect the romantic parties and those who work with them.

The double standard
Even now, women can be subjected to double standards regarding office romances. Colleagues may ask questions like: “Is she really serious about her career?” These dynamics can create distracting workplace tension and drama.

The infidelity
While some office romances are between two single people, some of them involve at least one married person. The fallout might range from distracted co-workers who take moral issue with the romance to angry spouses who show up at the workplace to confront the lover.

The messy end
A “Bad Romance” is not just a Lady Gaga hit; it’s a reality for many office affairs. A relationship gone wrong potentially generates tension and conflict affecting the involved parties, co-workers, and even customers.

So what is a supervisor to do?
Of course, your job is not to control every waking moment of your employee’s life. But there are strategies to reduce the impact office affairs have on the work environment:
• Ensure workers understand the company’s anti-harassment policy.
• Implement a “romance policy” that states the expectation that relationships between co-workers will be conducted completely outside the office environment.

Office affairs can, and often will, affect the way team members work together. Start considering how you will handle office relationships now, so you don’t find yourself stuck with cleaning up a mess later.