Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 18th 2014 Contents The recently held Breakfast
Seminar on the topic, Frater-
nisation in the workplace,
which was hosted by the
Human Resource Management
Association of T&T
(HRMATT) seemed to have generated signif-
icant interest among many business and man-
agement professionals. Some of us might view
this as something that we should not speak
about, but in T&T there is the need to have
meaningful discussions on issues that are
impacting on our environment.
The word "fraternise" means to be friendly
with someone, to spend time with someone
in a friendly way especially when it is con-
sidered wrong or improper to do so. Do you
think that improper behaviour among people
who work together has a negative or positive
effect to the organisation? Research and best
practices seem to suggest that in some
instances it can be a good thing.
Dr Natalie N Humphrey, clinical psychologist
at Elder and Associates, explained the psy-
chological point of view, and how the fallout
from an office romance gone bad will impact
the working environment.
Sue Shellenbarger, writer for The Wall Street
Journal, conducted research in 2004, and found
that 40 per cent of employees may be involved
in a workplace romance at some point during
their career. This can be a peer-to-peer rela-
tionship, supervisor and sub-ordinate and
marriage. Dr Humphrey outlined three reasons
for these types of relationships:
1. Love: sincere affection, love, respect, and
companionship. Employees motivated by love
seek a long-term commitment from the
2. Ego: the desire for excitement, adventure,
and ego gratification.
3. Job related --romantic relationship for
purposes of job advancement and security,
financial rewards such as promotions and
bonuses, increased power, and easier or more
The characteristics of the fraterniser are
people who view workplace romance as
acceptable and are more likely to engage in
the behaviour themselves, as well as those
who have more autonomous roles are more
likely to engage in fraternisation.
The Society for Human Resource Manage-
ment (SHRM), 1988 and Weilston, 2003 list
the consequences of fraternisation as follows:
• Inappropriate sharing of confidential or
• Time utilisation for work-related activities
• Fear of sexual harassment claims if rela-
tionship ends badly.
• 45 per cent of workplace relationships
end with conflict.
• 51 per cent of filed sexual harassment law-
suits were after failed consensual relation-
• 55 per cent of workplace relationships end
• Hierarchical fraternisation:
• Viewed as inappropriate or unfair.
• Specific assignments, promotions, pay
raises and bonuses are seen as inequitable.
• Power and authority makes it difficult to
• Potential for abuse of power or psycho-
• Increases organisational liability.
What is the effect of all of this on produc-
Research again has suggested that produc-
tivity declines with employees taking longer
lunches, holding intimate conversations behind
closed doors and excessive chatting. This
decline in productivity is more likely to do
with work-related romance and as it relates
to differences in hierarchy.
On the other hand, productivity increases
if there is an attraction that is not acted upon.
Attorney and employment relations spe-
cialist, VanessaA. Thomas Williams spoke on
the legal issues.
She began her presentation by explaining
what is sexual harassment; the term sexual
harassment is not looked at as an offence, but
rather an aspect of sexual misconduct. The
term is seen as expressing an idea which has
come into public consciousness and not as
signifying a well-defined workplace "offence."
Quoting from a trade dispute between a
prominent bank and the bank employees union:
"when we speak of sexual harassment or any
derivative thereof, we mean no more than sex-
ual misconduct, directed, in the workplace,
at an unwilling victim to whom that miscon-
duct is offensive, unsettling, upsetting, psy-
chologically damaging or otherwise stressful."
Thomas Williams looked at the relevant laws
The Occupational Safety and Health Act,
as amended: Section 6 (1) "it shall be the duty
of every employer to ensure, so fat as is rea-
sonably practicable, the safety, health and wel-
fare at work of all his employees."
The Equal Opportunity Act: Section 9 "an
employer shall not discriminate against a per-
son employed by him (a) in the terms or con-
ditions of employment that the employer
affords the person; (b) in the way the employer
affords the person access to opportunities for
promotion, transfer or training or to any other
benefit, facility or service associated with
employment, or by refusing or deliberately
omitting to afford the person access to them;
or (c) by dismissing the person or subjecting
the person to any other forms of discipline."
She concluded that there is a common law
obligation on an employer to provide for his
employees a safe system of working. In the
modern commercial office that obligation may
well not be limited to the provision of a work-
place and a system of working which protect
the employees against physical harm.
The obligation may well extend to the pro-
vision of a work environment which is free
from the threat or the application of sexual
pressure by one employee towards another.
There is therefore a need for policies to be
implemented by the employer to address these
issues. The sooner this is done, the better for
Employer perspective and policy
Dr Hyacinth Guy, senior human resource
professional, quoted from an article by the
Society for Human Resource Management
(SHRM): Workplace Romance September 2013.
The findings from this paper suggest that
workplace romance is very common:
• 24 per cent of employees reported they
have been or are currently involved in a work-
• 43 per cent of HR professionals reported
current incidences of workplace romance at
• 53 per cent of workplace romances take
place between employees in different depart-
ments (most common) and 8.0 per cent of
between a supervisor and a direct report.
What did the survey say about a policy to
handle romances in the office?
• 54 per cent of organisations do not have
a written or verbal policy that addresses work-
• 99 per cent of employers indicated that
romance between a supervisor and a direct
report is not permitted
• 45 per cent of employers indicated that
romance between employees of a significant
rank difference is not permitted
• 35 per cent of employers indicate that
romance between employees who report to
the same supervisor is not permitted.
Research conducted by SHRM also found
that in 2001 and 2005, 70 per cent of organ-
isations did not have a policy, either written
or verbal, concerning office romance. Organ-
isations can protect themselves from liability
by implementing a policy governing office
When developing a corporate policy, there
are several steps that the employer needs to
take to ensure its effectiveness.
First managers need to recognise that office
Employees should notify management when
a romance begins and ends.
Maintain disciplinary action (warnings,
transfers and termination) should there be a
hierarchal romance of serious implications.
Create the path for which employees can
confidentially express concerns or problems
with certain romantic relationships.
Offer mediation or counselling services and
ensure that seminars are occasionally available
on the topic of office romance.
Employers should communicate openly with
employees regarding office romance and create
an environment of trust and support.
A policy should be job-related, matching
corporate actions with disruption in office
workings. Moreover, policies should be updated
often and in a timely manner.
Corporate policy should also be put in infor-
mation packages and distributed from time
Managers should be trained how to effec-
tively administer the policy fairly and consis-
Employers need to make sure that the policy
as well as the efforts of managers remain ongo-
ing, by continually updating the policy, pro-
viding training and ensuring the clarity and
conciseness of the policy.
In conclusion, the reality is workplace
romance is happening and according to Dr.
Hyacinth Guy, "organisations cannot control
your feelings, but they can control how you
behave within your working space."
Nashroon Mohammed, BA (Hons), Dip
LC, CCC, CLTMC, is a workplace coach
SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt MAY 18 • 2014
Addressing office romance
Time to protect employees
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