Jeff Zucker’s departure from CNN a couple weeks ago, has stirred up talk about office romance. Writing in The New York Times, Joanne Lipman, author of That’s What She Said: What Men and Women Need to Know About Working Together, and Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management, say the situation “points out how difficult it is to regulate office romance and how unevenly corporate policies around consensual relationships are enforced.”
When it comes to trying to manage this issue “the rules are all over the place” and “enforcement is inconsistent.” A 2021 survey for the Society for Human Resource Management found that more than a third of Americans have or have had a workplace relationship, and the majority did not disclose it to their managers.
There is no consensus in corporate America about what is considered acceptable. Most companies do not allow relationships between a supervisor and a direct report, “but that is just a baseline for a reasonable policy.” A 2019 Vault.com survey found that 41 percent of employees aren’t even sure what their company’s position on workplace romance is, and so don’t report an office relationship for fear of being penalized. What’s more, the beginning of any relationship can be tenuous. If employees aren’t even ready to tell their friends about it, can they be expected to know when to tell their supervisors? Is one date or one flirtatious email exchange the threshold?
Companies owe their employees clarity, contend Lipman and Sonnenfeld. “Organizations need to specify what constitutes a relationship, to whom and when to report it, and in what circumstances it requires an adjustment in position for one or both people.” What's more, the rules need to apply to everyone.
Office romances have existed for as long as offices have been around. It's time to figure out how to deal with them.
Do you know your organization’s policy on office relationships, and do you think it is clear and reasonable? To join the conversation, click "comments" just below the picture above. We'd love to hear your feedback!