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Secret Lovers: HR Guide to Employee Relationship Management

Posted by Ryan Howard on Mon, Apr 29, 2013

Successfully managing your human resources requires the ability to practice effective employee relationship management. 

Employee Relationship Management

This is, of course, easier said than done at the best of times.  The issue becomes even thornier when employee relationship management involves "managing" romantic relationships employees have with each other.  There's actually a technical H.R. term to describe such a scenario:  Yikes!  

We're not going to weigh in on whether your organization should permit such relationships, nor will we be making personnel policy recommendations per se.  Chances are this landscape has been well-traveled by your lawyers and senior management and that you have policies in place. 

We will, however, suggest some things you should remember if (likely) and when (soon, if not already) your enterprise finds itself having to engage in balancing the rights and privacy of employees who are in a relationship with the greater issue of actually running a business.  And then there's that whole thing of having to comply with laws and regulations governing sexual harassment, discrimination and even wrongful termination, for example.  To download sample compliance forms, click here.

Unless your company flat out prohibits romantic entanglements between employees (good luck with that scenario, by the way*), the most you can hope for is to minimize the influence such a relationship has in the workplace, especially if the relationship eventually goes south.  As is the case with virtually all relationships, the most important component in dealing with such a situation is honesty. 

Honesty is, of course, a two-way street.  Your company's culture should, therefore, foster an environment where employees feel free to express themselves (within reason, of course) without fear of reprisal.  Remember, though, that if you expect employees to be upfront about a romantic relationship with a coworker, they should not be made to feel uncomfortable when they do. 

By definition, if your firm doesn't prohibit such relationships, it permits them and, because they're permitted, they should be dealt with in a professional, civil and, yes, adult manner.  No kidding.  No, seriously, we mean no kidding.  Not about the employees or with them.  Humor has it's place but it isn't in this situation. 

Employee relationship management is difficult because it's hard to be objective about what's going on between the individuals involved and with those who work with them.  Is there animosity?  Jealousy, perhaps?  Is the relationship impacting job performance?  These are just some of the issues you have to monitor to avoid being blindsided by a problem down the line. 

To minimize the effort required, management should display courage as well as honesty.  Courage may seem like a strange word in this setting, but we think it applies.  Simply put, the company can't dance around the issue but should, rather, make the policy regarding such relationships crystal-clear.

Everyone should also know what will be expected if such a relationship occurs, not just for the people in the relationship but also for those who work with them.  Make it clear that gossip, teasing or any other conversation, conduct, behavior or treatment that is deemed to be in response to or because of such a relationship will not be tolerated.  At all.  A charge of sexual harassment based on an allegation that a hostile and offensive workplace exists isn't limited to the victim of some overt action but can extend to any employee offended by something that occurs in the workplace, even if not directed at them. 

Employee relationship management can be a tough job when your human resources get really human with each other.  If done correctly, it means never having to say you're sorry. 

*An estimated one-third of American workers are involved in an at-work relationship. 

Topics: employee relationship management