A colleague seems to be in a romantic relationship with another colleague. Is it inappropriate? Should you tell anyone?
A relationship between colleagues is considered inappropriate if it involves romantic or sexual involvement in a professional setting, especially if they have a supervisor-subordinate relationship, said Ms Linda Teo, country manager at ManpowerGroup Singapore.
“This is because such relationships may lead to conflicts of interest and breaches in professionalism, and can affect work performance and other issues,” she said.
Even if both parties keep things professional at work, others aware of their relationship may perceive the manager to be showing favouritism to the subordinate, which can undermine the couple’s abilities and the effort they put into their work, she said.
Another example of an inappropriate workplace relationship, Ms Teo said, is if there is a power imbalance or significant age gap between the two.
“In this case, this may raise concerns about ethics and the relationship may be viewed as exploitative.”
However, workplace romances are not considered inappropriate by default, Ms Teo said, adding that whether workplace romances are accepted or frowned on depends on the company and circumstances.
In firms that have policies restricting office romance, dating a co-worker or being involved in a sexual relationship with one will be considered inappropriate, she said.
Companies that do not forbid workplace romances may require employees to disclose to the human resources (HR) department if they are involved to address any potential fallout.
“If one or both parties are married to other people, then the relationship is considered unacceptable as well,” said Ms Teo.
A workplace romance is also inappropriate if it affects the couple’s or their colleagues’ work performance.
Asked what is the threshold at which an employee should consider reporting what they witnessed to a supervisor or HR, Ms Teo said the employee should first refer to any company guideline and policy that regulate workplace romances.
“Employees should also report to HR what they had witnessed if the behaviour involves harassment or poses a safety risk.
“For example, if the employee sees that one of them is not interested in engaging in a romantic relationship yet the other colleague persists, then the employee should report it to HR, as it can be considered harassment.”
As for the impact of inappropriate relationships on the workplace, Ms Teo said such relationships could attract gossip and rumours among co-workers, creating a negative work environment that distracts from job tasks.
There is also the potential fallout and tension that can affect the workplace if the couple break up.
“The company’s overall productivity may also take a hit, as the couple may be more focused on their personal interactions instead of their work.”
Ms Teo said employers that want to respect their employees’ autonomy in their personal lives and also prevent inappropriate relationships from impacting work should set and share clear policies on when, if ever, workplace romances are acceptable.
“Employers can also consider having a policy whereby employees need to inform their supervisors or HR if they enter a romantic relationship to ensure there are no potential conflicts of interest.”
This article was originally published on The Straits Times.