Q: Once again love and romance is in the air as we anticipate the annual arrival of Valentine's Day. It's prompted us to unwrap our "fraternization" policy and reassess whether or not it's advisable, or even possible, to regulate who may associate with whom in our work environment. We're tired of refereeing petty conflicts as our employees navigate various on-again, off-again social engagements. Any suggestions on a wiser path we might take to avoid these counterproductive distractions?
A: Assuming your company doesn't employ a kindergarten cop or cruise ship social director, let's see if we can get you back into the role of business manager.
Your focus should not be controlling who associates with whom in your workplace but how your employees treat one another on the job.
In most instances, you may want to restrict supervisor-subordinate dating relationships, for obvious reasons.
And of course, you'll need to continue being prepared to intervene and correct situations in which sexual or other forms of workplace harassment may occur.
But when it comes to workplace relationships in general, you might also consider adding to your policy—or emphasizing a general requirement—that everyone perform their assigned work in a responsible, productive manner and, in all business environments, behave with civility, respect, and professionalism.
That way, any disruptive or disrespectful behavior becomes a "conflict of interest" in relation to this assigned responsibility and a trigger for possible disciplinary intervention.
Admittedly a highly subjective standard—one that is often assumed based on common sense—it nevertheless needs to be put into writing as a reminder.
It may take some initial effort to get everyone on board, but if you can get them to sign on, you may find people acting more like responsible grownups, possibly even policing themselves.
With this approach you may find a powerful platform from which you can address and effectively drive out some of these unacceptable, typically self-centered behaviors that suck you in like quicksand and hijack your energy and attention from more important matters.
It may be a bit simplistic and pollyannaish, but wouldn't it be wonderful, for a change, to be able to get on with running your business and not get snared in your employees' business?