Management Issues Regarding Office Relationships
The contemporaneous era is with any doubt the most challenging one in which to be an organizational leader. Managers are faced with the necessity to cope with a wide series of challenges, such as the changing role of the staff members, the opening of boundaries and the incremental forces of globalization, the advent of technology, the incremental emphasis on environmental awareness and so on. The management of these issues is divided into two sets of actions — those regulated by law, and those which do not fall under the incidence of judicial legislation.
The management of the staff members is a relevant example in this sense. The offering of equal employment opportunities, the insurance of the minimum wage, the respect of the resting times or the offering of a minimum paid leave days are for instance regulated by law. The offering of promotional opportunities, training programs or the management of office romance are however not regulated by law, but fall under the incidence of internal practices and policies. This paper argues that the management of office relationships should be minimal.
2. Office relationships
Today’s individuals spend most of their time in the workplace, meaning as such that they will often become attached to their fellow workers and social relationships would develop. Additionally, emotional relationships would also develop and they could lead to marriages or long-term partnerships. Today, most couples are formed in the workplace, rather than in bars or other places of social gatherings.
In the incipient stages as the existence of office relationships was recognized at the level of the overall business community, managers strived to ban employees from dating. The measures materialized in a series of law suits filled against employers, and the ultimate impact was that of renouncing the respective bans. Now, employers strive to reduce the parts of office relationship which can generate negative impacts upon the business (Reh, 2010). “Research carried out by Roffey Park, a UK-based executive education and research organization, suggests that the decline in command and control-style leadership has meant that managers have had to become far more adept at influencing, negotiating and navigating organizational networks — playing politics, in other words- in order to get things done” (Amble, 2007).
3. The impact of office relationships on management and organizations
The positive outcome of an office relationship is that of the formation of a long lasting marriage between the two staff members. Nevertheless, the odds for this to happen are decreased. “Most dating relationships end. Think of the number of people that we date and the number that we end up marrying — the odds are not good” (Joni Johnston, president and CEO of WorkRelationships.com, an interpersonal risk management firm in San Diego, Calif, quoted by Denise Kernesten, 2000).
Given this context, the negative outcomes can generically be divided into two categories — legal actions and internal tensions. In terms of the legal actions, these would materialize in accusations of harassment or favoritism. At an internal level, the outcomes would be those of internal tensions and frictions among the employees. It is even possible for the break up of the couple to materialize in the rest of the employees taking sides. In such a situation, the employees’ focus on the professional tasks would significantly decrease. The company would as such suffer loses in terms of financials, as well as productivity.
4. Pro-or con
The most common argument for developing and implementing an office relationship management plan is that of protecting the company from the potential negative impacts of an ending relationship. A 1998 survey by the Society for Human Resources Management estimated that 55 per cent of all office relationships end in marriage. The remaining 45 per cent however end with accusations, complaints or dissatisfactions. “28% of these office relationships may result in complaints of favoritism from coworkers, 24% in sexual harassment claims, and another 24% in the decreased productivity of the employees involved” (Fennel, 2003). These not only cost the company in legal actions, but also decrease the company’s reputation, as well as operational efficiency, productivity and overall results.
On the other hand, the argument against the development and implementation of a strong internal policy regarding office relationship is constructed around the two main issues:
Office relationships are a constant of the modern day business community. People spend more than one third of their lives in the workplace and people working long hours do not have time to socialize in different scenes. This virtually means that office relationships cannot be avoided, but need to be accepted and integrated within the business life.
A strong internal policy excessively regulating — or even striving to forbid — office relationships would generate a series of economic disadvantages for the firm. It would for instance generate low employee morale, low levels of on the job satisfaction, and as such low performance levels. Additionally, it could materialize in judicial trials which bring about damages for the organizational reputation and financial loses.
Given these arguments in favor and against the strict management of office relationships, a conclusion is formed around the necessity to accept the office relationships, but approach them in a constructive manner which reduces the potential risks associated with fraternizations in the workplace.
5. Implementation plan
As it has been so far noted, this paper argues for a minimal involvement in the management of office relationships. These represent natural processes of life and cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, the companies need to take an official stand regarding office relationships. This stand should be clearly detailed in a fraternization policy which would be handed in to all employees. The staff members would be required to read, understand and apply the notions in the policy. Additionally, as part of the training and integration within the organization, the new employees would be introduced to the company’s policy of fraternization in the workplace. The basic components of this policy would refer to the following:
The realization of the possibility for office relationships to develop in the workplace and the acceptance of the fact
The clear mentioning that the relationships can only be formed with the mutual consent of both parties
The distinction between courtship and harassment
The construction and explanation of a strong organizational stand of condemning and punishing harassment
The embracement and promotion of transparency and impartiality
The statement of the fact that the relationship — as it develops, grows or ends — is not, in any way, to impact the professional tasks and responsibilities of the staff members
The promotion of discretion when office relationships are in development
The clear statement that relationships between employees and direct supervisors or direct subalterns are to be avoided.
The modern day organizational leaders are faced with a series of new challenges, including the management of on the job fraternization. The initial response to this challenge was that of forbidding employees to date, but the result was the opening of numerous judiciary trials. Today, managers are no longer focusing on preventing office relationships, but they strive to better manage them in the meaning of reducing their potential negative impacts in the professional community.
Office relationships are a natural process in the contemporaneous society where people seldom have time for other types of interaction. Most long-term relationships are formed in the workplace and they set the basis of future families. But in the cases when the relationships break apart, the company could face both financial loses, as well as internal tensions which translate into lower levels of productivity. In order to reduce such loses, it is advisable that the firm developed and implemented an internal policy in which the issue of office fraternization is discussed in a clear and transparent manner. The employees would be formed to accept this policy since their entry within the organization.
Ultimately, the internal policy regarding office relationships would not eliminate the stress which comes with office relations, but would help the company better manage the situations. “A well-written, widely publicized, strictly enforced fraternization policy won’t prevent office romances from developing. It will, however, make life a lot easier, and less litigious, for you when you have to deal with it” (Reh, 2010).
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