How do I ensure the office romance doesn't affect team morale?

I’ve just heard on the office grapevine that employees X and Y are dating. Already my team are starting to speculate and grumble about the impact of this relationship at work.

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I’ve just heard on the office grapevine that employees X and Y are dating.  I suspected as much and was dreading this confirmation.  He is more senior than she is.  Already my team are starting to speculate and grumble about the impact of this relationship at work.  What should I do? 

As he is in the more senior position, the starting point is to speak to him to confirm whether or not the relationship exists and if he does, set your expectations for their behaviour. 

What should those expectations be?

There are no hard and fast rules but as a starter for 10:

  • Confidentiality should be maintained – sensitive information should not be inappropriately shared during pillow talk.
  • They must behave professionally at work – no kissing in the stationery cupboard!
  • They must be mindful and respectful of the potential impact of the relationship on their peers who may need some time to get used to a new dynamic within the team which could result in some awkwardness for a while.
  • There must be a separation of their work and personal lives. He may be naturally inclined to confide in her and to seek her opinions when making decisions. If this starts to creep into decisions that he makes at work she may start to have more of an influence on the direction of the team than her colleagues. This could lead to resentment and feelings of unfairness among their colleagues.      

Do I need to speak to her too?

It is worth exploring whether there has been an abuse of power here as she is in a more junior role and there is a responsibility on you, as her employer to protect her health and safety and prevent harassment.

Providing you have no concerns, it is still worth speaking to her to make sure she is aware of your expectations. You shouldn’t just take it for granted that this will be filtered down through him.   

What steps can be taken to minimise the impact of this?

  • The options available for you to respond to this situation will depend on the size of your organisation, the type of work done by those involved and where they fall in the pecking order, but you may want to consider the following:
  • Moving one of the couple to a different department where they could easily transfer their skills.
  • Where it is not possible to move either party, can you rearrange the line management of the team so that she does not report directly to him?
  • Ensure that responsibility for allocation of work, pay rises, promotions etc are moved away from him.
  • Think about how to reduce the risk of favouritism and the negative impact that could have on the team. Success and reward should be based on ability rather than personal relationships and decisions should be made that benefit the team as a whole not just the chosen few.  

Can I tell them to stop their relationship?

You might be able to but do you really want to? This is unlikely to make them break up and may even push them closer together with a joint resentment for you. Treat them like adults and give them the opportunity to behave appropriately. You never know, you may get an invitation to the wedding and they may live happily ever after.   

Nickie Elenor

I have been an employment law solicitor for 15 years.

I set up Your HR Lawyer as I was fed up with the call centre models and poor service provided by the big HR support providers. So my mission is to provide the creditable alternative. I am passionate about helping employers navigate through the sometimes complex world of Employment law in a commercially savvy and straight talking way.