The Tangled Web We Weave: The Top 4 Examples of How Personal Relationships Policies Save Employers from Heartache

I should start placing bets on it. The more horrifying the HR nightmare, the more likely there’s a love story in there somewhere. It has completely ruined my appreciation for those cheesy “All Because Two People Fell in Love” signs at HomeGoods. I no longer imagine a multi-generational family smiling in reunion photos, but rather picture a train wreck of corporate culture that leaves its survivors scarred for life.

When I talk to employers about their personal relationships policies, they often do not see the need to be so restrictive with their people. “But I’ve got GREAT people…no need to be so controlling.” I know, I know, these policies can seem a tad draconian (especially coming from a Human Resources executive and employment lawyer who met her husband at work). The fact is, they are a buzzkill and probably slight overkill…if you’re feeling lucky.

Here are my Top 4 examples of how personal relationships policies (when properly enforced, of course) save your business from heartache.

1) “They were the best of times…”

Couples are epic for creating a hostile work environment without even knowing it. When they are happy, their workplace interactions are their daily “normal,” so they have no idea that they are creepy weird to Anxious Annie. Even though Annie probably shouldn’t be triggered by a wink, a quick squeeze of the hand, and peck on the cheek, guess what? She should be able to expect to come to work without being subjected to it. Oh, and guess what happens when Annie is over here experiencing a hostile work environment and you, the employer, have done nothing to say about it other than “they better name their firstborn after ME!” Yep, you’re on the hook. Take a lesson from my high school homeroom teacher who used to shout during passing period, “Move along, this is NOT Lover’s Lane.”

2) “They were the worst of times…”

And then there are the times when they are NOT happy. Recently, I got to assist a client after the tides turned and I can tell you, Hell certainly hath no fury like the scorned woman in this scenario. It started with the hushed arguments, then there was the loud confrontation of the mistress (who also happened to be a customer…), ultimately followed by louder and angrier arguments with video cameras running on both sides and random employees being sucked in, chewed up, and spit out. Employees described physically “shrinking back” when the parties to the relationship were present. This is NOT what we at HRE would call an exceptional workplace. Given the number of relationships that don’t work out, is it really worth taking the risk?

3) And sometimes, love stinks.

Sometimes people are adorable in relationships. Sometimes everything is hunky dory. Sometimes people just seem adorable in relationships but are actually psychotic stalkers full of insane jealousy and rife with abusive text messages. Here you are thinking that hiring Cassie Cashier’s boyfriend wins you all kinds of cool points. However, you don’t realize that your opinion of the relationship is based upon very limited information (i.e. censored workplace behavior). Your laissez faire attitude toward your personal relationships policy may make the abused party feel stuck. She can never get away from her abuser, even at work. Throw in a couple of kids and now the common employer means that she cannot so much as vent to a coworker because she can’t risk getting her abuser fired and losing the income that the family needs to support itself.

4) Finally, you are running a business, not a dating service (unless you are in fact running a dating service…but, you get it).

Allowing romantic relationships in the workplace may ultimately limit your ability to make important business decisions without having to consider irrelevant personal dynamics. Businesses need agility, not a soap opera of blurred lines between employees’ personal and professional matters. Let’s say you have a new client in Boston, and you know that Beantown Ben would be the perfect fit to lead the multi-million dollar project. The problem is, Ben’s wife, Dallas Alice (your DFW area sales leader) has made it clear that they are spending a fortune on fertility treatments and he is NOT allowed to travel outside of a 50 mile radius of the Big D. How dare you try to keep them from getting pregnant?! You are left wondering, how did giving Ben a wonderful work opportunity somehow make you the bad guy?

Man, love hurts, but executive-level HR assistance and proactive legal advice can ease the pain. Contact Human Resources Experience to learn more about culture-driven human resources initiatives including updating and enforcing your personal relationships policy.