How Google, Facebook and Amazon Handle Office Romances -- and How You Should Too
Transparency and employee buy-in are key to setting up policies that make everyone feel safe and heard.
In any relationship you have, there is a chemistry and a power dynamic at play. But when you mix professional and personal, the stakes can get even higher. When you are spending most of your time at work, it makes sense that office romances could occur. According to recent data from job search platform Comparably, 34 percent of men and 35 percent women report that they have dated a co-worker. And according to a recent poll of more than 1,800 Entrepreneur readers on Twitter, 39 percent said they had dated a co-worker.
Have you ever dated a co-worker?— Entrepreneur (@Entrepreneur) February 7, 2018
But in the wake of the #MeToo movement and sexual harassment allegations that have come to light across multiple industries over the past several months, it's on every company to assess whether their HR policies in this arena make it possible for everyone to feel safe at work.
So how do some of the biggest companies handle it?
According to a Google spokesperson, the company strongly discourages employees from involving themselves in relationships with colleagues that they manage or report to, or if there is any question whether one individual has power over the other. The search giant has moved employees to different roles in the event that the latter does occur.
Google provides regular training to executives in order to best address the topic. As of 2013, the company updated its policies to require all vice presidents and above to disclose any inter-office relationships that might have a conflict of interest attached to the company’s general counsel and People Operations department.
An Amazon spokesperson told Entrepreneur that the company does not have a strict policy about office romances unless there is conflict of interest, for example, managers must disclose relationships with direct reports. The spokesperson also shared that there are many marriages within the company.
Regarding Facebook’s guidelines for workplace relationships, “We train that if you ask a co-worker on a date and they say no, you don’t get to ask again -- and beyond that we make it clear that an ‘I’m busy’ or ‘I can’t that night’ is a ‘no’,” said Heidi Swartz, the company’s global head of employment law.
Facebook has internal "Managing A Respectful Workplace" training sessions in which the nuances of employee interactions and what is considered to be appropriate behavior are examined. For example, Swartz says they make sure to discuss examples such as “Someone telling a coworker: ‘nice dress.’ The group discusses the different ways this comment can be perceived based on tone of voice, and frequency of use.”
Since 2017, Facebook has publicly shared its policy on dealing with harassment on its website. COO Sheryl Sandberg explained why in a blog post, noting “These are complicated issues, and while we don’t believe any company’s enforcement or policies are perfect, we think that sharing best practices can help us all improve, especially smaller companies that may not have the resources to develop their own policies.”Related: Sheryl Sandberg's 6 Steps to Make Sure Everyone Feels Safe at Work
So with Sandberg’s aim in mind, how should companies develop policies that make the most sense for their employees, especially if you have a growing a business and are too small to retain the human resources capacity that a big corporation would have?
Heather Huhman, a workplace expert and the founder and president of Come Recommended, says that regardless of what policies you put into place, employees need to be involved from the beginning.
Even if there is no official set of rules, Huhman says if the situation does arise, it is on the individual to think about the ramifications of a workplace relationship. If the relationship didn’t work out, would you still be able to work with the person? If it did go well, and one of you got promoted over the other, how would that impact things?Related: From Judgy Co-Workers to Office Romances, Here's How to Deal With 20 Tricky Work Situations
Ultimately, Huhman recommends transparency. Even if it might feel a little uncomfortable to disclose when you first start dating, it's better to get it out in the open than to have it affect your work in ways you might not expect. “When people find out about any type of secret, they feel misled and there's then a trust issue and people start to question all the decisions that you've made in the past.”
And for any HR policy, not only ones relating to office romance, Huhman suggests holding an annual company-wide event to revisit rules to see if they still make sense and so that every employee feels that they have a voice.
“If everyone decides that we want to have these hard and fast rules that there is no dating in the workplace, then there you go, you have your policy,” Huhman says. "But I do think that there should be a broader discussion. It shouldn't just be up to one person to make that decision. You should see any HR policy as fluid.”
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.