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'Setting guidelines around relationships at work is a wise and obvious next step for employers'

Fraternisation policies are a welcome addition and should not be trivialised, writes Stephanie Regan.

Stephanie Regan Clinical Psychotherapist

RECENTLY, BRIAN KYRZANICH, CEO of Intel resigned because of a previous fully consensual relationship with a coworker. The affair contravened Intel’s non-fraternisation policy that applied to all managers.

The questions arise swiftly in the media. Is this fair? Is this right? Is it a ridiculous attempt to ban romance at the workplace when it is common knowledge that romance can thrive there, shown by recent surveys stating that 45% of workers had at some time dated a work colleague?

Fraternisation policies

Fraternisation policies are an acknowledgement of the complexities of romance at the workplace.

Coworkers get together and when it all works out and marriage bells chime. What is there to worry about? Nothing is the answer, but in reality there are many romances that do not travel that happy route.

Romances that start clumsily amidst a cloud of alcohol haze at the office party or on an overnight, can then be swiftly regretted, causing all sorts of atmosphere and relationship tensions on the work floor. When that romance is between a manager and one who reports to him/her, the complexities from all sides amplify.

Feedback on work performance, allocating work or annual leave, become fraught with the imperative of fairness and showing no favouritism real or perceived. Then there is the spurned lover or broken hearted one. This too has to be processed in the glare of colleagues and with the challenge of getting the work done.

An obvious next step

Setting guidelines around relationships at work is a wise and obvious next step for employers.

Some companies like Google do not have an explicit rule but do discourage relationships with an imbalance of power. Facebook on the other hand allow staff to ask each other out, but have a once only request policy, guarding against awkwardness in the ongoing relationship.

Other companies insist on disclosure of the relationship especially if there is any conflict of interest.

Those who, in the past, suffered silently have now told their stories, shared their pain and indignity. The #MeToo movement has let it all be said. It has been cathartic and it has opened a cauldron of abusive experience within many work settings, where the balance of power was very much abused.

Cost to lives

Given the now known cost to lives and careers of harassment and the abuse of power at the workplace as exposed in the movement, we ought to welcome and encourage these policies or stop complaining.

It is worth remembering that rules and policies reflect the ethos of a company but they are also in place to reduce risk of the behaviours that can lead to legal actions.

So if we can welcome the many human resources policies around bullying and harassment, respect and dignity then fraternisation policies are a welcome addition and should not be trivialised.

Stephanie Regan is a Clinical Psychotherapist, EAPA Ireland President and a regular contributor on Newstalk.

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Stephanie Regan  / Clinical Psychotherapist

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