Everyone knew that Lisa and Colin had something going on.
Most of the time, they behaved very professionally, and in a meeting no one would have suspected that they were seeing each other. But there were the furtive glances exchanged in the lunchroom, hands brushing against each other in the elevator, and leaving within 3 minutes of each other after Friday Happy Hour, that gave it away to anyone who was paying attention. And of course, everyone was paying attention.
And then it was clear that something had happened.
Lisa learned that she wasn’t cc’d on an important email that Colin sent to the group, and missed an important conference call. Colin was doing final preparations for a major presentation, and while reviewing the power point that his assistant had prepared for him, discovered that two slides were missing. His assistant, who is a good friend of Lisa’s, said she never saw those slides. And that was just the beginning. Soon everyone in the office had taken a side and was going to the boss to complain. And in four weeks they had a major international trade show that they were all scheduled to attend.
Flirting, hookups or full blown romance in the office is nothing new.
Even when there are employment policies trying to prevent office romance, it still happens. (And, many of us confess that we found our soulmate in the cubicle around the corner.)
But love affairs in the workplace do not always continue to blossom and when this happens, it can shift the dynamic in your office and create big problems. Of course there are the legal problems- allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, hostile work environment. And then the more subtle, yet challenging issues such as distracting gossip at the copy machine, communication breakdowns, and ruined work relationships. This creates a toxic and unproductive environment for your team.
So, what can you do to manage the romance that goes awry in your office so your team can get back to work?
Here is some advice:
- First – Understand the Law and Consult with your Attorney. You need to fully understand what behavior may be rising to the level of potential legal action. Don’t assume you know all of the updated sexual harassment and discrimination laws and policies. Be prepared with current information and check in with your attorney before you attempt to manage the situation.
- Second – Know Company Procedures – for exactly the same reason you should know the law. Print out company policies and have it on hand when you meet with the parties involved. Follow all procedures and document your actions.
- Outline a Plan of Action to get people back to work – At a minimum, we suggest that this include a) individual meetings with the parties involved in the office romance and clearly describing behavior that is expected b) if necessary, a team meeting with others involved outlining behavior expected from the team, and c) a plan for what happens if the unprofessional behavior does not stop. This can include a range of options such as executive coaching, workplace training, and even department transfer or termination.
- Manage Your Emotions – Workplace romance can be emotionally charged for managers as well as employees. Your response requires a calm, logical, steady managerial approach that is well thought out in advance. When we work with managers, we help them identify potential triggers to their own emotions so they can effectively resolve this complicated office conflict. Taking the time to prepare and strategize can be the difference between exacerbating a high conflict situation or de-escalating it.
Love affairs in the office are inevitable. Yet, as we all know too well, the new romance does not always last, and managing the fall out can be extremely challenging. It can break down your team and its productivity. But, there are strategies to effectively manage this situation so you can get everyone back to work.