Love is in the Air… Recommendations for Managing Workplace Romances

Topic: Sexual Harassment, HR Policy
Publication: Human Resource Management (MAY/JUN 2009)
Article: Moving beyond a legal-centric approach to managing workplace romances: Organizationally sensible recommendations for HR leaders
Authors: C.A. Pierce, H. Aquinis
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Although work is not the most romantic of places, (“I just love the way you handle those memos”) workplace romances are very common. But because workplace romances can lead to potential problems for the organization, (e.g., sexual harassment lawsuits) many companies take a legal-based approach to managing workplace romances (e.g., discouraging them, make employees sign legal documents, etc.).

In opposition to this trend, Pierce and Aguinis (2009) argue that this approach is much too narrow and neglects the possibility that workplace romances can be beneficial in some cases.

In their recent paper outlining research-based recommendations for managing workplace romances, Pierce and Aguinis argue that a sensible, broad approach to managing workplace romance can minimize the negatives and maximize the positives. A few of their recommendations include:

1.    Develop and enforce a written workplace romance policy. It is important that this policy be created within the already established codes of ethical conduct (which differs among organizations).

2.    “Prohibit direct-reporting, supervisor-subordinate romances.” This can reduce the potential for favoritism, exploitation, and quid pro quo sexual harassment (e.g., a date for a raise!).

3.    Permit romances between power-balanced employees and employees who “have an indirect-reporting, hierarchical relationship.”

4.    Continuously monitor workplace romances to find out if they relate to important individual and organizational outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction, commitment, job performance).

5.    Train HR leaders to (1) counsel employees engaged in workplace romances and (2) respond appropriately to harassment complaints.

In conclusion, Pierce and Aguinis suggest that a strictly legal approach to workplace romances is too narrow and should be broadened to address the many potential advantages and disadvantages. Their  research-based recommendations can help organizations minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of workplace romances.

Pierce, C.A. & Aguinis, H. (2009).  Moving beyond a legal-centric approach to managing workplace romances:  Organizationally sensible recommendations for HR leaders.  Human Resource Management, 48(3), 447-464.