A Publication of WTVP

In my June column, we focused on the challenges presented when office relationships become hot and steamy between two people who are married to others. The article discussed some of the tensions and business problems that can develop between married couples who work in the same office. We also talked of the ethical dilemmas that can arise from not being able to separate a working relationship from a personal relationship.

In that column, I said “Romance truly can cause workplace problems—even if the two people are happy in their relationship. That’s the easiest of all ethical issues, because both parties are consenting to the relationship. As a church pastor, I have known many couples who met at work and found a lot in common with each other. If they are mature and sensible people, they can build a good relationship.”

Well, finding those mature and sensible elements in people can be a tall order. Relationships, while often practical and fun, are emotional and sometimes highly charged. Even the strongest relationships can be emotionally draining. As people start to live together—whether in marriage or otherwise—it can be difficult to leave work behind to go home to a relationship, or to go to work with something happening at home, whether positive or negative.

Many workplaces have no policies on romantic involvement between peers. The overview, if any, is given to a manager or supervisor who determines whether the relationship is causing some discomfort or distraction for other employees in the office. After all, there are few workplaces today that have a policy statement that declares, “Employees shall not be friends.”

I remember in my first job the parties that department employees would attend for birthdays, pre-marital celebrations, baby showers and workplace promotions. Sometimes they would go late into the night and become pretty raucous. (Ah, to be young again!)

But employees can become very nosy, jealous or gossipy about romantic relationships, even when those relationships are honest, above-board and, appropriately, private. Perhaps these employees are unhappy at circumstances in their own lives or are fearful of change. Or, they feel special because they are the first ones to have information (whether accurate or not) about the workplace couple. This discomfort can be detrimental to a workplace even when the couple handles their relationship discreetly, and it is not interfering with the workload.

Other workplaces have a “separation policy” which transfers employees out of departments once there is an engagement or a marriage. It is easy to commingle marriage and work; ethics become challenging when the newly married couple realizes their opinions and practices are different. How one person handles a situation may be very different from another. Once a couple moves towards marriage, the overall direction of the workplace is to separate work relationships from personal relationships.

What workplace ethical issues occur when two co-workers move towards marriage? One is the ability (or lack of it) to separate a relationship at work from a work relationship. Put another way, a couple may not be able to independently assess situations and make good judgments and sound decisions. There also is a lot of competitiveness between the love and support for each other and the need to stick by company policy.

So, even when a couple can separate work from their personal lives, there is always the challenge between one’s own feelings and company policy. When a couple cannot conquer that—at least not easily—then one might have to leave the employment. It can be tough to be objective in a marital relationship and in one where people live together in the same household. Again, if they are going to continue to work together, people have to be willing to separate personal feelings from objective business decisions (unless they match up). It’s not easy, and it does require a lot of maturity.

For many people, the maturity comes with the growth of a relationship. Over time, a husband and wife can be of one mind and make solid decisions with similar temperaments. Often, this pattern happens in small businesses where the husband and wife can have equal roles with different responsibilities. When a couple says they will stay together “’til death do us part,” they may also have to say, “even if we are parted in employment.” In the ethics of workplace relationships, this may be the best and fairest outcome between two employees who become much more than that in life. IBI