Supervisors and subordinates in the RCMP who engage in intimate relationships may soon have to disclose details of their relationships under a draft policy.
The “interpersonal relationships policy” states relationships of this nature raise concerns about potential conflicts of interest, preferential treatment and sexual harassment, according to media reports, which could be damaging to morale, productivity and public confidence in the force.
The policy comes after several allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at the RCMP.
“The workplace relationship policy is not designed to control or regulate people’s relationships, it’s just to engage the organization at the appropriate level of knowledge about relationships where there is relative power imbalance, and it’s the industry standard, frankly,” said Bob Paulson, RCMP commissioner.
In Canada, six in 10 (59 per cent) employees said a romantic relationship between colleagues occurs from time to time at their organization, according to Randstad’s 2012 Global Workmonitor which surveyed 400 Canadians. And two-thirds (66 per cent) said this need not be problematic.
“People spend a tremendous amount of time together at work and they often have a lot of common values and ethics and principles, because companies hire based on certain personality dimensions that are in common,” said Hanna Vineberg, vice-president, central region, at Randstad Canada in Montreal. “So, it’s not surprising that a romance can spark between employees.”
While they may be fairly common, employees and employers have concerns around workplace relationships. More than one-third (37 per cent) of employees believe a romantic relationship with a colleague interferes with performance at work, found the survey.
“Make sure you don’t bring your personal life into the workplace,” said Ted Mouradian, president of the 2% Factor, a workplace relations consultancy in St. Catharines, Ont. “The concern would be you’re having a fight at home, you bring that fight into the workplace and, especially if you have to work together, you don’t want to be throwing pieces of equipment around or not talking.”
There can also be concerns around favouritism.
“If there is a power imbalance between the two partners, that could create jealousy if the rest of the workers don’t feel they’re being dealt with on an equal plane,” said Mouradian.
Drafting a policy
To address the concerns and possible issues that could arise, it’s a best practice for employers to have a workplace relationship policy in place, said Vineberg. And the first component should be around disclosure.
“There are policies on dating and many companies are open to the idea but they want you to notify the manager in the event that there is a relationship brewing,” she said.
And that should apply to all intimate relationships at an organization, not only those between supervisors and subordinates, said Vineberg.
It’s also important to define the term “relationship.” The RCMP’s draft policy defines an interpersonal workplace relationship as “ongoing or singular consensual, intimate, romantic or sexual relationships.”
But even with a policy in place, not all relationships will be disclosed. For example, disclosure is unlikely if the relationship is an affair, which is probably where many of the concerns around workplace relationships surface, such as harassment, said Claire Sutton, principal of counselling firm Claire Sutton Consulting in Vancouver.
For some companies, it may be best for the policy to ban boss-subordinate relationships, she said.
“No one is being judgmental here but it’s how it’s impacting the morale of the company and productivity,” said Sutton. “The bottom line is companies would prefer it not happen but they understand relationships can occur in the workplace and it’s best to have the boundaries set.”
The policy should also state displays of open affection at the workplace are not acceptable, said Vineberg.
“If they’re sending love notes or dropping off flowers, then it becomes in everybody’s face and what happens is the rumour mill will start, and once the rumours start, the gossip starts… and it can affect productivity,” said Sutton.
But workplace relationships may be better dealt with on an individual basis rather than with a policy, said Mouradian.
“If you have a respectful workplace and a respectful workplace policy, that’s key,” he said. “Deal with the two people and bring them in — do it more as a code of conduct between the two instead of making some sort of blanket policy that may not work.”
Some employers may need a more stringent policy in place than others, such as those that are in the public sector and are viewed to a higher standard, such as the RCMP, said Sutton.
“The strict rules they want to put into place now around workplace relationships are necessary,” she said. “They need to set the standard to deal with what’s been happening in the workplace, a number of sexual harassment issues, look at how to make it more equal opportunity for both men and women in the force and among civilians as well.”
The RCMP’s draft policy states that once notified of a relationship, managers would work with HR to discuss whether an intervention is needed. This may include transferring one of the employees or reassigning duties.
Four in 10 (42 per cent) Canadian employees believe that in the event of a romantic relationship at work, one of the two people must be transferred to another department, according to Randstad’s survey.
“It’s going to depend on the organization. There are so many organizations that this is just part of their culture, that they’re OK with it,” said Vineberg.
“But in organizations where they feel favouritism, biasing, interference or risk in performance, once they’ve had a discussion with the manager, they can lay out some options.”
The various options and when they would be considered should be clearly outlined in the policy, she said.
But employers should be cautious when developing a policy because it could impact the privacy of employees, said Mouradian.
“What I do in my private life, as long as it’s not adversely affecting my ability to do my job, is none of your business — that’s the stand I would take.”
Workplace relationships can benefit an organization by adding to a sociable environment, which is desirable to many employers, said Vineberg.
“If you build positive, co-operative relationships between employees, you’re going to build a trust factor and increase production, co-operation is going to increase and customer service will increase,” said Mouradian. “And all those things will be nothing but a positive for the workplace.”
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