Workplace relationships and friendships – should they be declared?

Oct 30, 2023 | Blog, HR

Where do you stand on workplace relationships and friendships – should they be declared?

ITV have recently been in the news as their new workplace relationship guidelines are issued to staff. This comes in the wake of Phillip Schofield’s decision to step down after having a relationship with a younger colleague.

In brief, ITV are saying that if there is a personal relationship between the employee and another colleague (whether it started before or during the course of employment), it must be disclosed at the earliest opportunity.

The rules are not just specific to romantic relationships either. Employees are expected to declare “sexual, romantic or close relationship or friendship (whether short or longer term)” or face disciplinary action including dismissal if they fail to do so.

Will we see other businesses follow suit or is it something that ITV are being a little over zealous about?

Is it something you’d consider in your business? Read on for my thoughts as to why you may not want to immediately jump on THIS particular bandwagon!

My analysis

I have more questions than answers about all of this.

  • What would a business do with information provided by any such declaration?
  • Would it mean a note on the two individuals’ personnel files?
  • Who has access to the information?
  • Is a business potentially providing gossip fodder for other colleagues if they don’t keep such a declaration confidential?
  • Who’s going to keep track of any friendships or relationships?
  • What happens if or when friendships end and relationships fizzle out? Are employees also then expected to declare breakups?
  • How does a relationship get defined? When does a drunken snog in the corner at the Christmas party become something that needs to be declared?

And my biggest question

Why does it matter? It feels it me like this is a step too far. It’s not showing a great deal of trust in your employees to behave like grown-ups after all.

In my experience, many business owners know too much anyway! Not only that but we can spend a reasonable amount of time wishing to “un-know” certain information. Really, the fundamental message for me is to ensure that employees know that any personal relationship, irrespective of its nature of it, needs to be confined to personal lives and not brought into work. Friends outside work? That’s fine – be professional at work. Lovers outside of work? We don’t care as long as you don’t bring the ups and downs of your relationship to work with you!

In short, a policy like this, in my view, gives employers more information that they wish they didn’t have and don’t really know what to do with.

If you’re considering a personal relationship policy at work, give me a call and let me tell you why it’s really a bad idea!


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