Office-based television shows would have you believe that the only place you can possibly find love is at work. And you'd also think that HR spends all day monitoring the romantic relationships at work.
None of this is true. People do find love at work--15 percent of people met their significant other at work--but that means most people don't find love at the office. And frankly, HR has better things to do than monitor your romance. But, some companies do monitor the romance going on. And some companies prohibit it altogether.
I have no problems with two single people who have no reporting relationship and no influence over each other dating. But, even that can become sketchy if things start to fall apart. But, we take chances for love, right?
But, when managers start dating their direct reports, it can become problematic. When senior executives date anyone within the company, it can be problematic. It doesn't even matter that technically, the CFO's love interest is in marketing and reports up to the Chief Marketing Officer, and not the Chief Financial Officer. None of us doubt that the CFO has the power to make everyone's life miserable if wanted.
And when you have people cheating on their spouses or significant others, it gets worse. Nobody at the office wants to play morality police, but there is such a high potential for drama here. It's not worth it.
But, let's be practical. As HR Consultant Laurie Ruettimann pointed out to the Wall Street Journal:
"There's no management training where HR tells leaders, 'The moment you have consensual sex with someone you need to come into our office,'" Ms. Ruettimann said.
The rules are often unrealistic, too, she added. For example, in the case of two people having an affair, "If you're not disclosing it to your significant other, why would you disclose to your HR lady at work?" Ms. Ruettimann said.
Your policies can protect you from lawsuits, and give you guidance on what to do when a romance goes south. And this is why I advocate a strict no dating anyone in your line of authority rule. This is what this rule does for you.
People will date behind your back
They will. You can't stop it. And having the rule doesn't change it--it just puts it behind the scenes. If everyone is an adult, it doesn't cause problems if they break up. They can break up quietly and without workplace drama, and no one ever need to know.
But, if it goes south, or if the relationship pops up at work, you have clear guidelines on what should happen. And that is, that the manager gets the punishment. Easy, peasy, done. Just be fair about it--as soon as you find out about a romance, it's the manager who gets called to the carpet -- every time.
The power dynamic is real
For a relationship to be genuinely consensual, the partners have to be equal. And I know, I know, many people married their bosses/direct reports and lived happily ever after. I'm so pleased. But, at the moment, in the HR department, we can't predict what's going to happen 50 years, four kids, and 23 grandkids later. We can only see the here and now.
And if a manager or executive is dating someone lower in the hierarchy, at any moment, that person could claim they felt pressured to begin or continue a relationship. Then you've got a sexual harassment complaint on your hand. And how do you prove that there was no pressure? Do you want to be digging through texts? No, you don't. So, your policy of the boss is the one in trouble makes it easy.
Yes, this does reverse the power dynamic, making the direct report the one with the power. It's a nice flip and encourages managers to just say no.
Your company isn't the only place with jobs
Unless you're under contract (most Americans are not), you are an at-will employee who can quit at any time. If you are convinced that Steve in marketing is your soulmate, he will still be your soulmate six months from now. Go find a new job and then ask Steve out.
It's easier to find a job when you have a job, so find one and then pursue your dream relationship. If you're thinking, "it's not worth it!" then this probably isn't your soulmate.
It's not just about protecting the company
Sure, HR doesn't want to get the company embroiled in a sexual harassment lawsuit. But, we also don't want people to be uncomfortable at work. With clear boundaries, there doesn't need to be stress about dating the boss. It's just not going to happen. We want work to be pleasant for everyone. Making hierarchy busting romance off limits makes it easier for everyone.