Culture Operational

Workplace romance

Workplace romance

Steve Easterbrook, chief executive of the fast food chain McDonald’s, has been removed from his position after discovery of his romantic relationship with an employee.

Easterbrook, who has been in his role since 2015, is said to have ‘violated company policy’ by entering into this relationship, which outlines that management within the organisation are prohibited from being romantically involved with their subordinates. In light of the #MeToo movement, which has seen a great number of women come forward with claims of historical workplace sexual harassment over the past two years, many organisations will likely be concerned over what could happen if employees do become romantically involved. Whilst it appears that Easterbrook’s relationship was entirely consensual, the response by McDonald’s is a high-profile example of the steps that some organisations will go to in order to limit, or ban, workplace relationships.

Employee romance could result in a distraction from work that leads to dips in performance and attention, which could cause careless mistakes that would otherwise not have happened. Additionally, if the relationship involves individuals in different positions with the organisation, as seen with Steve Easterbrook, this could create perceptions of favouritism. The situation has the potential to be even more serious if the relationship ends. Break-ups can result in tense, uncomfortable atmospheres, something that can be detrimental to productivity overall and even lead to claims of harassment if either party does not take the situation well.

Legally, there are no laws preventing office romances and it is usually left to organisations to determine how they are going to respond to them. In an attempt to avoid the problem altogether, some organisations may choose to impose a complete ban on relationships with colleagues. That said, this can be difficult to enforce in practical terms and could, in extreme circumstances, be seen as an infringement of an employee’s human rights. Even with the best of intentions, human nature is bound to take over at some point, leaving employees with a difficult decision to make between a potential romance and their job which they may have worked extremely hard to get and keep.

A more flexible way to deal with the issue could be the implementation of rules regarding disclosure of workplace relationships so that they can be managed appropriately. Employees can be told that, if they begin a workplace relationship, this must be communicated to senior management or the HR department. From here, steps can be taken to assess the situation and potentially separate the two individuals if necessary to avoid any potential repercussions.  

For further information on how to ensure your workplace is clear on workplace romances or how to handle a current situation please get in contact with Shivani on: 07913 180 220 or [email protected].