Feeling bold and looking for love in the New Year? Well, if your heart's desire ends up being a little closer to the office than you may have originally intended, all is not lost. According to Human Resources expert Kimberly Saunders, having a consensual (emphasis on consensual) relationship with a coworker is perfectly normal! Personal Space got the low-down on how to handle office romances and breakups, as well as what personal information not to share with coworkers!
Personal Space: Are relationships in the work place considered taboo?
Kimberly Saunders: People meet and fall in love in the workplace all the time. Making it "taboo" is asking for trouble. Having a dating policy in place can help avoid complications down the line. The one rule companies should hold as a top-line is the reporting structure issue; if either partner can influence the other partner's career, HR should work on a solution to change that, which isn't an easy task, hence that is why this should be the one unbendable rule.
PS: What happens if a workplace romance goes sour?
KS: I have to say, the relationships I have seen that didn't work out (and those are actually very few) both people behaved very professionally. However, this won't always be the case. It can be difficult to detangle a work romance to the satisfaction of both parties. HR must remain neutral and propose solutions. It might be to offer both people the opportunity to work in other departments, creating additional distance between them to allow for healing time. Another option would be to suggest a "cooling-off" break where either employee can take vacation or work from home for a short period of time giving them the freedom to process their feelings and decide if they want to continue working along-side their now ex. In the end, HR can only make suggestions and follow best practices.
PS: How do you define appropriate boundaries? Can a person talk about their marital issues in the workplace, or recreational drug use?
KS: The trickiest question of them all. This is something that I have wrestled many times over my long career. It starts at the top. The leadership team sets the tone. When I mentor other executives about oversharing they tend to push back, wanting to remain transparent and connected to the employee base. However, there are subjects that can hurt people when they openly discuss them at work and also put the company in a difficult position. Management needs to be mindful that there are times you have to have boundaries, remain the "boss" and steer the conversations in a different direction. Not an easy skill, but HR keeps working on helping employees understand what healthy boundaries are while allowing them a safe place to have honest conversations. Like, I said, tricky!
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