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Personal Relationships in the Workplace – Are they good or bad for business?

Employees spend a lot of time at work and with their colleagues in the workplace. This can lead to personal or intimate relationships forming.

Personal relationships that develop in the workplace can cause disruption to businesses, especially if the relationship breaks down for any reason or it creates a divide where employees can be perceived as receiving favourable or unfavourable treatment because of such a relationship.

Personal relationships can include, family, sexual, extremely close friendships and close business, commercial and financial relationships.

It can be deemed that it is unrealistic for a Company to have a total ban on personal relationships within the workplace, however certain personal relationships could be inappropriate if one employee has authority over the other, these relationships should be discouraged, or where possible employees moved.

Any personal relationship that develops in a Company must be disclosed. Employees do have the right to a private life, however in line with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1988 employers do have a right to act when a relationship at work has a detrimental effect on their business.

Are there any benefits to personal relationship’s in the workplace?

Close personal relationships do not always mean issues for businesses, in fact they can:

  • Create a higher commitment to the Company
  • Mean there is a wider business knowledge, as the people in the relationship will discuss things and daily events
  • Can reduce costs of recruitment to a Company by introducing a family or friend to the company
  • Usually anyone who is recommended to a Company are like-minded to existing employees

What are the challenges of personal relationship’s in the workplace?

  • If they are not managed properly then they can have a detrimental impact on the Company
  • If a relationship ends the situation could cause issues especially if it didn’t end on good terms
  • Abuse of authority, if it occurs where one employee is responsible for managing the other employee
  • They can cause a conflict of interest
  • Can lead to subjective and unfair recruitment if not managed correctly and fairly, e.g. a family member should not be part of the recruitment process for a family member or even a close friend
  • Preferential treatment if both parties are in the same department and other employees are not treated the same or given the same opportunities
  • Confidential breaches could occur
  • Bullying and Harassment
  • Inappropriate behaviours
  • Lead to an increase in grievances being raised
  • Unfair treatment of other employees

Are there processes in place that Companies should have?

It is vital that any processes in place to manage or know about personal relationships in the workplace must be fair and not discriminate against anyone. These measures must be manageable and applied to all employees.

Some measures employers can put in place include:

  • Ask candidates to declare if they know anyone at the Company when completing a job application form
  • Request that employees inform the Company of any personal relationships that develop and explain the reasons why. Meet with the employees to discuss how this will be managed moving forward
  • Ensure that anyone involved in the recruitment process and has contact with an applicant, is removed from the process
  • Identify action that may need to be taken, i.e. move one employee if the relationship is between a manager and employee
  • Beware of the responsibility under GDPR of holding any personal data on employees and that the information would be disclosable if a subject access request was submitted

Do employers need a policy?

Having a policy in place which outlines the standards of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour is recommended.

In the policy it is important to include:

  • What is a personal relationship
  • What happens if there is a breach of the policy and the consequences
  • Employees responsibilities under the policy
  • How to manage personal relationships

If as an employer you find that your Company is suffering a detriment due to a personal relationship at work, then the issues an be addressed using the Company disciplinary procedure as you can with any other conduct issue.

We offer support to a broad spectrum of businesses across different sectors, including manufacturing, nonprofit and accounting. Don’t hesitate to contact us at 0121 516 0299 or send an email to info@cloverhr.co.uk for additional guidance.

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