People Leadership

When personal employee relationships affect the workplace: Tips for employers 

March 21, 2023

Relationships are at the heart of every company. From interacting with colleagues to working with clients, most of us manage relationships daily. While most of these relationships are professional, what should you do when your employees develop personal relationships? 

Employees spend a good portion of their lives at work with colleagues, so it’s natural that relationships may blossom. This can include both romantic relationships and close friendships. When professional relationships turn personal, it’s important for employers to consider how to properly manage these relationships. 

The shift in workplace relationships 

There’s no doubt the pandemic changed the nature of work relationships. People you used to see in person daily became images on a screen whom you saw weekly. Remote work made it easier for employees to hide relationships and potential conflicts of interest. For companies that are returning to more onsite work, this may mean that unknown relationships become public. 

After years of remote work, professional standards for onsite work may also have eroded. This can result in, for example, inappropriate banter among friends seeping into the workplace. If left unchecked, this can lead to other interpersonal issues. 

At the same time, more face-to-face work means more in-person interaction. Personal relationships may develop more quickly than they have in recent years. 

With all this to consider, now is the time to really assess your company’s position on workplace relationships and how to ensure equitable treatment for all. 

The potential challenges of workplace relationships 

Personal workplace relationships can be very tricky to manage. They can affect the dynamic of working groups if other employees notice romantic or other elements of personal relationships within their team. This can lead to real or perceived conflicts of interest, favouritism, and unprofessionalism. 

Many people keep romantic relationships with colleagues private regardless of company policies for these reasons. Other reasons include fear of different treatment at work, punishment, and reputational harm. 

But the fact is that personal relationships do develop at work. It’s important to note that no legislation prohibits consensual workplace relationships. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore your employees’ behaviour in the workplace. Workplace relationships are a delicate matter that need to be addressed with clear rules and standards. 

How to manage workplace relationships 

It’s important to have a thorough and comprehensive policy on workplace relationships so you can take a standardized, equitable approach in each situation. 

You need to strike a careful balance: employees in a relationship should not be put at a disadvantage, but you do need to manage the real and perceived conflicts of interest that can result from these relationships. 

There are important factors to consider as you review your company’s position on workplace relationships. To help you with this process, we have put together a FREE Guide to Managing Workplace Relationships. In this guide, you will find important information and tips on how to: 

  • Remain non-discriminatory; 
  • Implement and regularly review policies; 
  • Take a contextual approach; and 
  • Make sound decisions. 

Download the guide