Blog: Office dating policies in the age of #MeToo

Life @ Work

Office dating policies in the age of #MeToo

McDonald's zero-tolerance policy against fraternizing may be a cautionary effort as a result of the #MeToo movement, which has created tension between male and female coworkers over the last year.
Office dating policies in the age of #MeToo

To some, meeting your potential match in the workplace seems like a viable dating option. But following Steve Easterbrook’s departure as CEO of McDonald’s, the modern workforce is wondering why office romances are now a fireable offense. McDonald’s zero-tolerance policy against fraternizing may be a cautionary effort as a result of the #MeToo movement, which has created tension between male and female coworkers over the last year. 

The #MeToo movement is more than necessary and raises awareness about sexual harassment at work. Instead of enforcing strict policies to deter workplace relationships, though, can those companies try to make the work world a safer place for women by building out office dating policies that are flexible without putting their businesses at risk? 

Hiding a workplace relationship only makes an office romance more scandalous, and they're happening regardless of zero-tolerance policies

#MeToo has changed the workforce

Workplace policies, in general, have evolved since #MeToo garnered global attention. Its effect on workplace relationships is another story, with recent research showing the movement has caused men to feel unsure about how they interact with female coworkers. They’ve become hyperaware of their actions when attempting to engage with female colleagues, considering potential consequences of their demeanors and body language ahead of time. 

The #MeToo movement has put increased pressure on managers and employers to make sure they’re setting a good example, abiding by the rules, and fostering a work environment that’s safe and comfortable for all employees without exception. A prime example of a #MeToo measure is the love contract, the latest trend in offices where dating is allowed, but monitored closely. These contracts detail the stipulations of engaging in a romance and covers legalities pertinent to the objectives of the #MeToo movement. Love contracts include copy on the Equal Opportunity Employment Act, biased favoritism, performance and productivity standards, as well as mutual consent. 

Paper-written policies and written agreements help HR and employers safeguard the behavior within and intentions behind workplace relationships, allowing employees the chance to understand the space and boundaries required between genders in a professional setting; whether they’re courting each other or respecting someone’s rejection wishes. 

Companies can build stronger dating policies

An SHRM workplace romance survey found that only 42 percent of companies have developed a formal, written, workplace dating policy. A solid, company-wide dating policy enforced by HR can do wonders for workplace relationships; it’s crucial to build out a policy that suits the values and morals of your business’ vision. After all, dating policies don’t have to be zero-tolerance, but they do need to protect the integrity and comfort level of all employees. 

Ironclad dating policies dictate the appropriate boundaries between personal and professional relationships, and the fine print should address an employee’s obligation to report active office relationships if gone noticed. When a new couple goes public, though, what happens next? Dating policies should outline the prohibition of physical contact or PDA between employees during work hours, and host a dedicated section on anti-harassment policy and harassment-reporting mechanisms. 

A strong policy typically underlines the employer’s decision to either discourage or forbid fraternization between managers and their team members, as well. In these trickier circumstances, it’s the employer's right to modify reporting and org chart structures. The goal of any office dating policy is to ensure the professional satisfaction and growth of each employee, by providing a plan workplace romance plan of action that aligns with #MeToo values. 

Transparency is key in the modern workplace

Hiding a workplace relationship only makes an office romance more scandalous, and they’re happening regardless of zero-tolerance policies. As of 2017, 57% of employees responding said they engaged in a romantic relationship at work. The good news is that 55 percent of HR professionals questioned in similar surveys said that marriage was the most likely outcome of the office romances they experienced or mediated. 

Transparency in a modern work setting is critical when addressing a phenomenon directly impacted by the #MeToo movement. Why? Because companies must be transparent about the rules and open with their teams and should demand the same transparency from employees engaged in relationships as to avoid legal and ethical complications. 

What #MeToo means for the modern workplace is that a carefully curated policy is necessary to ensure respectful, appropriate, and fair treatment for women at work

What #MeToo means for the modern workplace is that a carefully curated policy is necessary to ensure respectful, appropriate, and fair treatment for women at work. The way employers and management address employees has certainly changed under the influence of the movement, informing male colleagues on how to be aware of their actions when engaging with a female coworker. Implementing these policy best practices is in the interest of everyone, creating a forward-thinking and respectful work culture, with both budding relationships or none at all.  

Instating an office dating policy that protects the wellbeing and professional development of employees doesn’t limit the possibility of people finding love. Instead, it just helps protect the company and the comfort level of those involved.

 

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Topics: Life @ Work

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