Workplace Relationships: An analysis of concerns and policies

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While many express sympathies for those in the higher chain of command, there is a universal consensus that “rules are rules” and workplace companionship policies (also identified as dating or workplace romance policies) or even non-fraternization policies are made to protect workers and any workplace harassment, mostly from those in authority.
McDonald’s code of conduct exhibits that “in order to avoid situations in which workplace conduct poorly impact the work environment, workers who have a direct or indirect reporting connection with each other are prohibited from dating or partaking in any sexual relationship.”
Once credited with turning the company’s fortunes around since taking over the leadership in 2015, Steve Easterbrook, the former CEO of McDonald, got dismissed for violating the company policy and demonstrating poor judgment comprising a recent consensual relationship with an employee.
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Easterbrook, in his part, said that the relationship was a slip and agreed, “it is time for me to move on.” McDonald’s didn’t offer any further details on the relationship.

According to experts, there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to policy (or policing) of romantic associations within organizations. However, it’s no strange that most employees prefer discretion when it comes to romance in work settings.

implications of romantic relationships at workplace

A study on workplace romances, published on jobs website Totalijobs Tuesday, featured that majority (76%) of the 5,795 British surveyed would much like to keep their workplace relationships a secret – yet one in five (22%) of those observed said they had met their partner through work – more so than through online dating, friends or while at a bar or club.
The UK study further showed that two-thirds of workers (66%) have either dated a co-worker or would reflect it, but a third of people (34%) would rule it out. Over half (50%) of those who had dated a co-worker experienced gossip from peers, a factor that cultivates a culture of silence that surrounds workplace romances.

There are many reasons why workplaces might want to avoid romance, aside from any significant concerns over potential accusations of sexual harassment.

Studies have suggested relationships that cultivate at workplaces could prompt concerns over individual productivity and objections of favoritism, which in turn can make it challenging to maintain a professional and comfortable working environment, especially in the event of a breakup.

Workplace interactions

“There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to workplace policies on relationships,” says Kerry McGowan, managing director of The HR Specialists.

“The problem is often that there are challenging requirements; you have the business requirements as well as the personal ones. In a sizable organization, it might not be such a problem if two workers involved in a relationship because if they work in separate departments, it won’t harm the business. However, issues can happen when two people work in some department or when there is a subordinate bond (with a senior co-worker),” McGowan said.

While organizations don’t need to have a specific policy on romantic relationships in the work settings, it’s good to give out rules to employees on what standards of behavior are expected within the organization, McGowan saying while pointing out that relationships between colleagues can go sour enough to lead problems in the work settings.

romance at workplace and favoritism

Colin Ellis, the author of Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work,” says that while he has “some sympathy” for Easterbrook, but “rules are rules,” and that workplace culture, and even good work, rely on those norms being properly followed.
“It is mentioned quite clearly in the company policy manual that employees aren’t permitted to start or have consensual relationships with their colleagues. You may think this is unfair or even irrational; however, it applies to everyone. That’s particular about corporate culture, and it belongs to everyone and therefore relates to everyone,” said Ellis when further elaborating the workplace relationships.

He added that as soon as an organization starts having one rule for one person and another for someone else, they create “unusual” people who are above the law. “This is the type of action that destabilizes workplace cultures around the world and continues to falling engagement, productivity, and profitability,’ says Ellis.

What was the MeToo movement?

Employers, in particular, have rushed to keep an eye on and strengthen workplace policies aimed at avoiding workplace harassment and sexual misconduct in recent times, mostly in the light campaigns to prevent sexual harassment like the #MeToo movement, which raised accusations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

workplace harassment and Metoo movement

The Weinstein scandal might very much set against a backdrop of Hollywood glamor, but it also put a light on everyday workplace relationships and complex issues encircling authority and power, influence, and consent.

Legal experts tend to approve that some work settings are bound to have turn stricter in recent years. Stephen Woodhouse, an employment solicitor at Stephensons Solicitors in the UK, stated on Monday that McDonald’s non-fraternization strategy was “impacted, at least in part, by the recent MeToo movement.”

“There’s nothing in law which restricts employees from getting engaged in relationships. However, complications can occur, more particularly, when there is an imbalance of power or where co-workers complain of favoritism as an outcome of these close relationships,’ Woodhouse said in an emailed statement.
“A few companies may look to impose a policy which aims to balance the rights of individual workers, against the need to ensure that their business and employees are protected. In such policies, employees can be asked to declare a relationship if one arises. Stricter employment guidelines may need one of the employees to move departments or even leave the organization, Stephen Woodhouse added.

Woodhouse said the stance from McDonald’s does look to be a strict one, “but as we know very little about the other individual, we’re not a party to all factors in the decision.”

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