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How Can You Prevent Dating In The Workplace?


by Larry Sternberg, President at Talent Plus, Inc.

Numerous organizations consider it unprofessional for employees to date each other. Some even have rules against it, accompanied by possible disciplinary consequences. I hope my discussion in this post helps you decide what position you’ll take as a leader.

Whether this is simply an unwritten cultural value or a written rule, here’s the main problem: employee dating cannot be prevented. In an organization where dating is frowned upon, employees go to great lengths to avoid detection. And the dating couple’s friends don’t want them to be punished for this. This group considers it okay to hide the truth about this. There’s a lot of winking (actual or virtual) involved.

Look what’s happening here. Formal cultural disapproval fosters deception and lying, which detracts from building a transparent, high-trust culture. Those who don’t know the truth about the dating — usually management — will justifiably wonder, “What else are they hiding from me?” Once you start down this path it becomes a slippery slope. It becomes easier to condone the next deception. Trust is eroded, which generates more dysfunctional behavior.

Please note. I’m not criticizing couples who hide the truth because they wish to keep their relationship private for personal reasons. That’s their privilege. I’m discussing cases where the couple would be open about it, but are afraid of negative consequences if they were to make it public.

Also, I’m not discussing dating situations that create risks of sexual harassment claims. It’s just plain stupid to date someone if you’re creating the risk of a law suit. Don’t date subordinates. Don’t date superiors. If you intensely want to start dating a subordinate or a superior, eliminate the sexual harassment issue by getting a job in a different organization.

It seems to me the solution here is to make it safe for employees to state publicly that they’re dating. So why would an organization frown on employee dating?

I think all reasons can be reduced to fear at some level. For instance: If their personal relationship is having a problem, they won’t be able to work together effectively. Their loyalty to each other will be stronger than their loyalty to the company. They’ll spend too much work time discussing personal matters. They’ll play favorites for personal reasons.

I have two responses to all these concerns. First, remember that dating cannot be prevented. Second, in any community each person has closer relationships with certain people than he or she does with others. If you have a best friend at work, all of those behaviors can occur. So these undesirable behaviors will occur whether people are dating or not. Dating is not the root cause. The behaviors mentioned in the previous paragraph occur because we’re human beings. As leaders we all have to manage through these situations every day.

Disapproval of dating leads to deception, which erodes trust. Why would you want that?

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

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