Watercooler romance

February 15, 2011, 1:12 AM GMT+0

Today may be Valentine’s Day, but employers have been advised to think twice before forcing employees to disclose any romantic involvements with colleagues. New research highlights that 44% of workers, who are not self-employed, would be outraged if their boss decided to introduce a ‘love contract’.

An online YouGov survey commissioned by Croner, the UK’s largest provider of workplace information, software and services, exposes furious feelings among British workers after it was revealed that a district council is planning to introduce an office romance policy.

Fenland District Council had planned to bring in a policy under which ‘intimate behaviour’ during work time would be deemed unacceptable. It was also proposed that employees who embark on a close personal relationship would need to reveal this to their manager in writing. If employees were found to be in breach of the proposed policy, it would be classed as gross misconduct and result in disciplinary action. Local Councillors have since unanimously rejected the idea.

  • When YouGov asked British workers, who are not self-employed, how they would feel if their company introduced a love contract, over 2 in 5 of the respondents (44%) admitted to being outraged, agreeing that it is unnecessary for their boss to know what they get up to out of work hours
  • Over a fifth (22%) say they would be disappointed and that it would be bad for staff morale
  • 23% of respondents were understanding, saying that when colleagues split up there may be real and problematic tension in the workplace
  • But only 3% of workers surveyed think that their boss would need to be made aware of the situation

The research also reveals that 30% of all respondents have admitted to having had a relationship with a colleague. Amy Paxton, Senior Employment Consultant at Croner says: ‘The impact and importance of office relationships are perennial workplace issues and we get calls to our employment helplines looking for guidance on how to deal with issues like these.

‘Situations where one partner has line management responsibility for the other, or an influence on the other’s promotion prospects, or where the end of a relationship causes difficulties at work, do arise. But the fact that so many people meet their life partners in the office and continue to work together shows that workplace romances aren’t necessarily always a problem.

‘In the case of Fenland District Council, there would have been nothing legally to stop them introducing a love contract. However, there are a host of questions about how such a policy could be enforced fairly and safely through a disciplinary procedure and whether the potential benefits of introducing it outweigh the probable impact on staff morale.

‘From a basic human rights point of view, unless an office relationship is having a negative impact on the employee’s ability to perform their day-to-day tasks, in accordance with their contract of employment, there would be a strong argument for saying that their relationship has absolutely nothing to do with their employer.’

See the survey details and full results