Workplace Romance Words of Wisdom For HR

Four experts share important insight.

Everyone has an opinion on workplace romance. Here are some thoughts from experts.

Dr. Joy Browne, media psychologist who hosts a daily syndicated radio talk show (“The Joy Browne Show”) to more than nine million listeners in 300 markets responds to this issue often in her daily broadcast. She cautions against romance in the workplace, but also agrees that establishing policies to forbid it can be very hard to enforce for the employer:

“My major concern for both men and women is that work is about competence — and there’s nothing about love affairs that has to do with competence. Affairs have to do with charm, passion, excitement. Anything at work that disrupts other people’s perception of your competence is dangerous. However, I think it’s very hard to implement in policy. Just as I believe that personal life doesn’t belong at work, I don’t think work has the right to determine the personal policy. But work has the right to hold people to a professional standard. That’s where the problem lies, and that’s where the enforcement lies. All you really have to do is take them aside, and say, ‘Look, your personal life is your own, but it can’t occur on company property. If anything that you do is disruptive at work — from stealing paper clips to having an affair, you’re going to be held accountable for it.”

A. Michael Weber, managing partner, New York office of Littler & Mendelson, Fastiff, Tichy & Mathiason law firm:”HR can ensure that a company’s sexual-harassment policy is clear and well distributed. There should be a specific individual to whom someone could go to in the event of a claim and there’s a mechanism for resolving claims.

HR also can provide seminars for managers to educate them about laws and protections and what’s permissible in the workplace. Finally, in the event of a claim, they should promptly conduct a thorough investigation and, if necessary, take remedial action. Objectivity often goes a long way in diffusing the feelings of someone who’s being subjected to harassment.”

Michelle Brackin, human resources manager, Auxiliary Services Corporation, State University of New York, Cortland:

“We have romance issues in the workplace all the time, and they aren’t always issues surrounding people dating. They can be about husbands and wives working for the same employer. They can be about live-in significant others. Some of the issues revolve around the reactions when the relationships sour — fighting in the workplace, verbal abuse — we’ve also had domestic-violence issues. These all pose interesting challenges to the HR department. How do you protect your employees in the workplace when things are occurring outside of work?”

Chris Hargreaves, director of human resources, Chicago Partners Inc.:

“Clearly, some people are responsible enough to have a valuable relationship at work and it may even become more significant over time. They never create any problems for their employers. But, if you’re not a mature person and you don’t understand the downside of it, you can create innumerable problems, and it’s hard to escape when it goes bad. It makes a significant impact on your career with that particular company because you can’t keep the turmoil out of work.”

Workforce, July 1998, Vol. 77, No. 7, p. 46.