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Conscious coupling

What to do when Cupid’s arrow lands at work

It’s no secret that happy employees make for positive and productive workplaces. But what if that happiness includes a budding romance with a colleague down the hall? Or an upcoming marriage to the CFO in the corner office? Then, Cupid forbid, the sizzle subsides and couples break up, but the work must go on? Here are a few tips to help credit unions tend to the flames — and ashes — of in-office romances.

Though figures vary, love is clearly in the workplace air. Toronto based Happy Worker recently reported 42 per cent of Canadians had dated someone they work with — with 25 per cent of interpersonal relationships eventually ending up in marriage. Not a big surprise, considering many people spend much of their weekday hours together in a work setting, where they’re likely to share common interests and lifestyles. Yet it all prompts the question: how to handle this blushing elephant in the room?

While some companies have gone as far as imposing a no-dating ban, the Complete Guide to Canadian HR Compliance cautions there’s no legal basis for it. Not only does such a policy intrude upon privacy, it can also lead to human rights complaints or claims of constructive dismissal by employees. Indeed, a manager of a Vancouver-based credit union, who asked not to be identified, says her company doesn’t have a policy in place and instead takes “a common sense approach to this very delicate topic.” (Apparently, workplace romances are a hot-button item for many companies, with the eight approached for this story either declining interview requests or not responding by press time.)

Let’s face it, employees are going to get bit by the love bug no matter the house rules. As such, managers are increasingly turning to more pragmatic and workable solutions. The HR Compliance guidebook recommends addressing the problems that romances potentially could create. Strategies range from including examples of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in the company’s code of conduct to drafting a love contract to be co-signed by the dating employees.

Employees are going to get bit by the love bug no matter the house rules

For those lovebirds working in the same departments, management would be wise to look at ways to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest. This is especially true when it comes to signing authority, says Baldev Gill, chief operating officer at the Human Resources Management Association.

“There must be adequate delegation of signing authority and procedures,” says Gill. “In particular, it is advisable to segregate the signing duties in that both spouses are not authorizing and signing certain transactions, so as to limit risk.”

Overall, it’s best to keep things simple. Barbara Bowes of Winnipeg’s Legacy Bowes Group suggests in her blog that a manager could “have an informal meeting with each member of the liaison party, spell out the expectations going forward, monitor the behaviour, and intervene if they must.” And this goes for when broken hearts replace boardroom bliss. As Bowes concludes: “A manager’s motto is always, ‘expect the unexpected.’” Good to know when it comes to whims of the heart. ◊

♥ by the numbers: Counting Cupids

How common are workplace romances? Ranstad Canada surveyed employees in 32 countries.

  • 33% Japan

  • 36% Luxembourg

  • 59% Canada

  • 70% China, India, Malaysia

source: Global Workmonitor 2012, Randstad Canada