Relationship in the workplace

A smile. A whisper. A shared joke. An affectionate hug. Where do you draw the line for relationships between members of staff?

According to new rules set by Ipswich Borough Council local government offices in the UK, a kiss at the staff Christmas party may have to be reported to a line manager. They have told employees short-term relationships of a ‘romantic’ nature with colleagues should be declared in order to prevent conflicts of interest in the workplace.

They say it is part of broader rules that ‘close personal relationships’ between staff should be made known to line managers. These include not only short-lived affairs, but anything that could be construed as anything other than totally professional. The council plans to ensure work is not compromised by moving staff into different jobs where necessary.

But employment lawyers believe this could be unlawful under European human rights legislation. Statistics suggest that this will be very difficult to manage, too, since somewhere in the region of 40-50% of people have been involved in some form of workplace relationship at some point in their careers.

What is the best way of managing this? Should managers turn a blind eye unless workplace efficiency is compromised? Or should it be kept under tight control as Ipswich Council is seeking to do? Are there guidelines to follow? Or does it not matter anyway? Should businesses keep their noses out of private relationships?

Regarding another type of engagement, a recent discussion was “Are employees unhappy at work”. Many members responded with very interesting perspectives. Dan Evetts suggested the reasons for disengagement is overworking employees and lack of involvement in, or understanding of, the employee’s lives, while Michael Jones believes employees don’t feel valued.

Judy Wortsman felt the quality of the relationship between the employee and manager is the biggest predictor of engagement, but Jacob Andrews says employees by default are motivated and demotivated at a later stage. John Low had a simple formula: Negative manager = negative recognition.

There were also common themes for increasing engagement: autonomy; communication, gratitude, utilize skills, respect, give responsibility and expect accountability, mental focus, and emotional connection.

Underlying it all was a strong recognition this is a three-way street between management, HR & the employee.

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