Hi - I’ve been trying to research workplace dating policies that protect both the people involved and other people in the work place from power dynamics that inevitably come up - and as well as ways of handling relationship disclosures and potential impact of breakups - and just codes of conduct around romantic feelings that can arise.
Hi Lauren, we haven’t specifically written one of these at People Support Co-op yet, but if it helps at all (not sure it will tbh!) here’s a mainstream HR one for you to have a look at as a possible starting point - or at any rate, an example of perhaps what not to include in yours.
In mainstream HR, the main points these types of policies cover are conduct at work and conflicts of interest (including breaches of confidentiality). So it might be worth thinking how that applies in your co-op, and if so what you’d all like to see in terms of mutual accountability agreements.
You may well know this already, but just for info, relevant employment law here is mainly the Equality Act 2010, under which married people (and those in civil partnerships) have protection from discrimination. So any policy/procedure on relationships at work couldn’t for example say no-one in a relationship may work on the same project, as if that were to be applied to a married / civil partnership couple it could be deemed to be discriminatory.
There’s also the Human Rights Act Article 8 and right to a private life, so asking for disclosure of relationships can be tricky. Although that’s not to say that you can’t ask people to disclose it, if it’s for a justifiable reason.
Anyway, good luck with writing yours and look forward to seeing it in the RadHR library at some point
If you are involved in a close personal relationship with a colleague, contractor, client, customer or supplier, you must not allow that relationship to influence your conduct while at work.
You must ensure that any personal relationship at work does not have an adverse effect on your work, give rise to a conflict of interest, or provide any other workplace advantage.
Intimate behaviour during work time, such as holding hands, kissing, other close physical contact and discussions of a sexual nature is not permitted. For the avoidance of doubt, this applies during any period that you are working, whether that is at the [office/workplace], at home, at any other remote location, or if you are visiting a clients’ premises.
You must ensure that any confidential information that you have access to is protected at all times. Any breach of confidentiality will be treated very seriously, and even inadvertent disclosure will be dealt with under our disciplinary policy.
If you enter into a personal relationship with a colleague working in the same [department/section], an individual that you supervise, a manager, or with any individual which may give rise to a conflict of interest, you must declare your relationship to [your line manager/the HR department].
Any information that you disclose will be treated sensitively and in confidence.
Where one party has access to confidential information or is in a position of authority over the other, or there is a potential conflict of interest situation, we reserve the right to transfer one or both of the individuals involved in a personal relationship to an alternative post either temporarily or permanently.
In such circumstances, we will consult both of the individuals and seek to reach a satisfactory agreement regarding the transfer of one or both of them.
These principles apply to an individual who begins a close personal relationship with a client, customer, contractor or supplier.
If a personal relationship at work has broken down and you find yourself in a situation where you are treated unfairly at work as a result, you should raise this with [name of individual/the HR department]. In the alternative, you can raise it formally under our grievance policy.
This is really helpful thank you!
This is a good question for the forum, Lauren!
I feel like these types of policies often create a real gap between HR and the people in an organisation, as they talk about relationships in ways that seem to range between clinical and institutionally hostile. I remember my first experience reading one and feeling like: ‘if this is how this employer understands human relationships, why would I trust them with anything else?’
There are obviously a couple of really important elements to these policies that you mentioned: power dynamics of those in relationships and conflicts of interest raised by them. However, I’ve often found that these are either buried in some mix of moral judgments (rules against hand-holding, for example) and utterly unenforceable ‘rules’ (‘these rules still apply if you’re working at home’).
Additionally, one of the biggest problems with these kinds of policies is that those elements (power dynamics and conflicts of interest) are just as likely to be issues with any other type of relationship within a workplace (even if some of the ways they manifest can be different). By treating romantic relationships in a totally different light, it allows other relationships (friendships or active conflict histories between staff) to be glossed over by default, because there is no policy around how to address those (though they are inevitably far more common).
I’d really like to see a policy on workplace relationships that starts with: ‘Hey! you met someone you like here! Good for you!’ rather than ‘Your relationship may negatively impact your job and others’ jobs! Don’t hug or kiss!’
I’d also like to see one that acknowledges just how messy relationships are and encourages the need to talk about things that can go wrong together and work out possible plans around that, without resorting to generic and punitive assumptions about what should be done when to colleagues get together.
I realise this isn’t an actual policy and don’t know if it’s helpful framing at all, but would be super-keen to see what you come up with, given a lot of the defaults in this area don’t seem to be very people-friendly!
yeah I hear you - maybe a policy isn’t what I’m looking for.
It’s hard to say, really… I think it’s an area where we could try to reimagine what we mean by policy… the way it’s written could be much more flexible, caring, empathetic… could recognise the uncertainty and the messiness of human relationships - but still lay out some of the worries that they bring up, organisationally, and some of the ways that people might able to have useful conversations around them, while recognising the limits of what the organisation is likely to be able to actually do if colleagues end up in relationships together?
I feel like it’s an interesting area to think about policies, as they’ll actually play out in practice, which is something that even really radical ones can often struggle with. It’s likely more process than policy, but can still lay out some of the underpinning principles and approaches in a more policy-like way?
Anyway - definitely keen to hear where you land with it, if you feel like sharing!
Enjoying reading your comments Liam
Lauren - I think a policy could still be a really good starting point for this, and it could reference other policies and/or processes, and I really like Liam’s suggestion to celebrate relationships. One thing that comes to mind for me is decision making, and maybe setting out that in co-ops we celebrate forming strong bonds of friendship and solidarity (and people finding love in the co-op too), and we want to recognise that it can be hard to navigate decision making sometimes when we feel conflicting loyalties and tensions, and how we want to address that e.g. through a decision-making accountability agreement of some sort.
I’d also recommend thinking about the legal stuff and making sure if there are confidentiality issues involved that you have explicit agreements with one another about info sharing.
At People Support we’re always big fans of encouraging people to work these things out together and get them onto paper and review them regularly, so there’s a framework to support everyone when things get challenging.
Also, just to add, I think there are potential issues at play with the law on harassment - it would be important to create clear guidelines on what’s acceptable and what isn’t so you make sure that you mitigate against anyone feeling that there’s scope for “creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”. Arguably this is why mainstream HR does have guidance on appropriate conduct - so while you don’t need to copy the ‘thou shalt not…’ approach, it would still be worth addressing these things.
In the context of above, there are all sorts of things to think about e.g. religious sensibilities is often a good example. Beyond this, there could be various other complex issues involved, such as thinking about trauma-informed policies and processes.
Hope that helps!
Well this has turned out to be an interesting discussion! And an area that we don’t usually talk about in ‘radical HR’ so thanks so much Lauren for bringing it up. Both Liam and Abbie’s posts have given me lots of new perspectives and had a couple of thoughts to add.
- Although I definitely agree with Liam’s point that romantic relationships aren’t the only ones where all sorts of dynamics can arise (and that in general as a society we don’t have enough language/frameworks for thinking about e.g. friendships), I do think there are some differences with romantic/sexual relationships in terms of how power and shame can play out. In terms of people feeling pressured in some way to engage in a romantic/sexual relationship, and in terms of people not feeling confident to disclose if they feel they are being treated unfairly if one ends (I think this partly reflects shaming dynamics in our society, particularly for women, around sexuality in general - I’ve seen a number of situations where, in particular, younger women, haven’t wanted to say out loud ‘so yeah i had sex with my line manager then ended it and now i think he’s treating me unfairly’ because of fear of judgement of them rather than the line manager). In general I think this stuff can (though doesn’t always) play out along some gendered lines and so is worth thinking about.
I guess one way of thinking about this is looking at what work needs to be done within the group to ensure everyone feels able to hold their own and each other’s boundaries, and to ensure the needs of survivors of sexual harm are centred in any policy/principles/guidelines around romantic/sexual relationships in your workplace (to make sure the space feels inclusive and safe for survivors). This org might (or might not) have some useful stuff around this https://www.consentcollective.com/
- My other thought is around hand-holding/hugging/kissing etc. as you mention Liam. Although I don’t think this should be an enforced rule thing, I think there are all sorts of issues to consider around it in terms of other people’s comfort. For some people this may feel uncomfortable to have happening in the workplace for cultural/religious reasons. For others, e.g. survivors of sexual violence it may be triggering - as Abbie says we need to think about this in terms of trauma-informed policies and practices (am asking around for examples of these, Lauren, will share if I get any). There are also numerous personal reasons why it might be upsetting for some people to have public displays of romantic affection in their workplaces.
Which is not to say that there should be a blanket rule around displays of affection I don’t think. Just some sort of mutual accountability agreement, as Abbie suggests in her original post - where a group could maybe talk about how these things make everyone feel and agree ways of being that aren’t punitive or didactic, but are conscious of how different actions might make others feel. Is about collective care in that sense maybe. (* Though this sort of process would prob require a lot of existing trust in the group and would need to be done carefully to ensure everyone felt able to voice opinions, especially ‘unpopular’ ones. - maybe some one to one chats and anonymous opinion-giving could be built in)
Yes. This is great. Our coop is very small with a great deal of interpersonal/activism related history - which I suppose is why I thought that maybe policy per say is not what I was looking for. I think I was hoping some kind of policy could help support everyone in feeling safe given our history and the situation that is arising - but probably it all comes down to open and compassionate communication which is not always easy or what folk are used to in traditional professional environments - or even life really. Very nice to hear that there are other working environments where this kind of communication is encouraged/supported.
Hey Lauren. That sounds like a really tricky and potentially upsetting situation you’re dealing with. Sorry if all our long comments just confused things more! I think you’re right that sometimes policies where lines between things that are okay and not okay are clearly mapped out can help make people feel safe (@Abbie_PeopleSupport probably knows more about that). I also think that, as you say, open and compassionate communication is the ideal - but not always easy to do when people are already feeling hurt, scared, defensive etc. Not sure exactly what the situation is in your org, but I do know someone who’s done a lot of work around preventing sexual harm in activist groups and creating safety after it’s happened - I could ask them for info about processes and practices if helpful (though it sounds like that’s not quite the issue in your group). If you think it could be helpful though, feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Good luck with it all - I really hope you get to somewhere that feels safe for everyone in your group
No - I don’t think that sexual harm is a worry in this instance - which I am grateful for! BUT that being said - surly these kinds of interpersonal dynamics (really hearing everyone on romantic feels not being the only power dynamics at play) do muddy things up in all work spaces so it’s been really great to read everyone’s thoughts.