The Dangers of Workplace Fraternization

fraternization at work

You spend so much time with co-workers during business hours, it’s very likely that friendships will naturally blossom. You may go to lunch or grab a coffee with a few colleagues. That may lead to meeting up with them over the weekend to see a concert, go to dinner, or catch a ball game.

Leaders within a company often like to see co-workers become friends. In general, workplace friendships can boost employee morale, improve teamwork, and increase productivity.

It’s no surprise that workers like having friends at work as well. Recent polls revealed that almost 60% of employees say that having a friend at work makes their workday more enjoyable.

However, workplace fraternization can become problematic if platonic friendships develop into romantic relationships.

What are the Dangers of Workplace Fraternization? 

Office romances are often romanticized in pop culture. We all loved watching Jim and Pam’s friendship blossom into a full-fledged romance and eventual marriage on The Office.

But, that was a TV show. Here are some real-life situations in which romantic relationships in the workplace could lead to big problems for you and the company.

Dating between managers and direct reports

fraternization at work

When a manager begins a romantic with someone who reports to them, the manager puts themselves and the company at risk.

If the relationship is going well, then the manager may be tempted to show favoritism to their subordinate. The manager may be more lenient when their romantic partner makes mistakes, or they can make sure their partner gets the best projects. You can be sure this will cause frustration and resentment among the other team members.

Now consider what happens if there’s a breakup. The manager and their “ex” now have to put their personal feelings aside and work together. That’s not easy to do. The tension between the former couple will be felt by others and damage employee morale. They may want to avoid talking to each other, which means a breakdown in communication, which can negatively impact every facet of a business.

Finally, a subordinate who is dating their manager can claim they are being sexually harassed at any time. This puts stress on the company in a few ways. The company may have to pay lawyers to help them deal with the allegations. And, if word of the harassment accusation goes public, a company’s reputation can be damaged.

Dating between co-workers

fraternization at work

You may think that co-workers fraternizing with each other isn’t as problematic as managers and subordinates dating each other. You’re right, to an extent.

But there are still several issues that you need to look at if you’re fraternizing with a co-worker. For example, if you’re dating a co-worker, then you’re more likely to talk to each other and exchange pleasantries. This may cause others on the team to feel excluded.

Consider personal displays of affection between you and the person you’re dating. Holding hands at lunch or a quick peck on the check may seem harmless. However, even the simplest displays of affection can make others feel uncomfortable.

And, similar to when managers date their direct reports, the workplace environment can turn ugly when dating co-workers have a fight or break up. The tension between the former lovers can spill out into the workplace and reduce morale and the team’s productivity.

Can Employers Prevent Workplace Fraternization?

fraternization at work

Employers cannot issue a strict “no dating amongst co-workers” policy. Such a policy would infringe upon your personal freedom to engage in lawful acts. Your employer may not want you to date your co-workers, but it’s not illegal for you to do so.

Instead, many employers put non-fraternization policies or personal relationship policies in place. While these policies cannot forbid dating, they can put guidelines in place that employees must adhere to.

Here’s what you might find in a standard non-fraternization policy:

  • Who the policy applies to. You’ll likely see language that clearly states the policy is for all employees of the company, regardless of gender, gender-identity, or sexual orientation.
  • Who should know about the relationship. For example, co-workers who start dating may be required to disclose their relationship to human resources and/or their respective managers. They may also be asked to discuss how any potential conflicts of interest that could arise as a result of the relationship may be avoided.
  • What behavior is not acceptable. The company can set rules against public displays of affection on company property or at off-site work functions. There may also be a rule to prevent couples from spending too much time together discussing non-work issues during work hours.
  • What the consequences of fraternization may be. A good non-fraternization policy should be progressive. For example, you may be given a verbal warning if you go against the company’s non-fraternization policy the first time, then you may receive a written warning if there’s a second incident. If there’s a third incident, then you might be terminated. However, a company may assert their right to immediately terminate an employee who’s been accused of or found guilty of sexual harassment.


How Do I Avoid the Dangers of Workplace Fraternization?

fraternization at work

Here are some tips to help you avoid the dangers of workplace fraternization.

  1. Don’t date in the workplace. The easiest way to avoid the dangers of dating in the workplace is to simply not do it.
  2. Don’t date subordinates. Do not date someone who directly reports to you. Doing so only leaves you open to accusations of sexual harassment and all the legal entanglements that go along with it. 
  3. Understand your company’s non-fraternization policy. Knowing your company’s policy and adhering to it will decrease the chances that you’ll break those policies.
  4. Take no for an answer. If you ask a co-worker on a date and they say no, then leave it at that. Do not continue to ask or try to persuade them to date you.
  5. Disclose your relationship. If you start dating someone within the company, then disclose your relationship to human resources.
  6. Discuss workplace behavior with your partner. Have a discussion with your significant other about how you will act towards each other in the workplace. Agree to avoid all public displays of affection, and to keep discussions about personal issues to a minimum. You may also want to discuss how you will handle a break-up. These may not be comfortable conversations, but agreeing on how to behave early in the relationship may help you avoid problems in the future.
  7. Consider asking for a transfer. If you’re getting serious with your significant other may want to ask to be transferred to another department. That way, you can be sure to avoid any conflicts of interest.


Fraternization is Fun, But May Be Frowned Upon

There’s a good chance that you’re going to meet someone you develop feelings for at work. While having a workplace crush can be fun, there are many problems that may arise if that innocent crush develops into a full-fledged office romance.

Worst case scenario, you’re workplace romance causes strife between you and the company. In this case, it may be best to look for a new job. Just be sure you’re prepared and have a great resume ready to go as needed. 

Only you know if you have the patience and maturity to pursue a workplace romance and withstand the consequences, both good and bad. Be sure to use the tips and suggestions outlined in this article to avoid the dangers of workplace fraternization.

Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.

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