People spend about a third of their lives at work, so it’s no surprise that some become romantically connected with colleagues – but workplace dating isn’t as simple as it can look in TV shows or movies. Power dynamics and office politics are a part of any workplace, and they can lead to scenarios that lead to discomfort at best and abuse at worst.
The reality of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace means employers need to set clear expectations regarding what is inappropriate in terms of pursuing dating or romantic relationships at work. Though the risk factors vary by industry, RALIANCE has a few general tips for employers trying to foster a safe working environment:
- Polices that strictly prohibit employees from dating coworkers are not always effective. Strict bans can contribute to secrecy around workplace relationships that enables abuse. Effective policies encourage employees at all levels to disclose relationships and establish boundaries on how relationships are conducted during working hours and in the working environment. This level of transparency can also help avoid workplace conflicts of interest.
- Policies should include clear guidelines that highly discourage people in positions of power from pursuing relationships with a subordinate. Supervisors, managers or leaders should have explicit guidelines and training on how power dynamics impact consent, respecting the personal and professional boundaries of employees at all levels, and why they as leaders are responsible for meeting these expectations and promoting them within the workplace culture.
- Implementing a clear and supportive process for reporting misconduct is central to a health workplace culture. No business is immune to sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse, and a reliable reporting channel is vital to protecting employees. If employees have consented to a relationship, there should be a disclosure process for transparency and record keeping in case harassment or abuse take place in the future. Alternatively, in the event one party has clearly expressed to another that they are not interested in a relationship and subsequently face harassment and abuse, there should also be a means of tracking the offender’s behavior and issuing appropriate consequences.
Ultimately, the best-written policies are no substitute for the cultural norms of the workplace – that means employers need to lead by example to show employees how to build an inclusive, supportive culture that welcomes healthy relationships but rejects inappropriate dynamics.
RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.