Psychology Melbourne Blog

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Office romances: an organisational psychologist's warning

Edited by Jill Wright,

Helping businesses sort out thorny issues is all in the day's work for Psychology Melbourne's corporate psychologists. Here's one that was tossed up by The Age yesterday: "Should someone resign when an office romance turns toxic?"

One of our corporate experts, Warrick Arblaster, was able to tell the journalist just how common the issue of office relationships is - between 30 and 40 per cent of all romances - and what the potential repercussions are for employers and employees.

Warrick says that businesses have to proceed with caution when co-workers get involved in a relationship.

He pinpointed a number of potential issues:

If the relationship becomes the subject of gossip among other staff, it could cause a major distraction that could affect productivity ... particularly if the gossip causes internal friction.

The potential for problems is increased if there is a perceived imbalance of power in the relationship, and a superior is dating someone who reports to them.

If an office liaison ends badly, Arblaster says there are a number of implications for employers and the career prospects of those involved.

Jilted parties could use workplace regulations to make claims of sexual harassment. They may also claim their workplace is an unsafe place while their ex continues to work at the same business.

If one employee decides to leave - by no means an uncommon event - the company could lose a key staff member in whom they have invested a lot of money. That loss is compounded by the additional cost of hiring a replacement and training them.

Warrick says the best way to deal with office lovebirds is to encourage them to be as open as possible. He says it's difficult to establish workplace protocols around workplace relationships, but bosses have a right to expect the same level of professionalism from staff.

This includes:

  • Maintaining confidentiality about sensitive work issues
  • Being discreet and avoiding public displays of affection that make other staff feel uncomfortable
  • Leaving personal issues at home
  • Keeping productivity levels high

As Warrick told The Age, “Early disclosure puts it up front early and causes less gossip and less perception of inequality, especially in terms of a subordinate and superior.”


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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.