Yes, office romances can work − but there are a few things to keep in mind

05 May 2019 - 00:00 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER
Chef Shaun Munro and his hotel manager wife, Nicole.
Chef Shaun Munro and his hotel manager wife, Nicole.
Image: Thuli Dlamini

Shaun Munro and his wife, Nicole, don't only share a home but a workplace. He's an executive chef and she's a hotel deputy general manager.

But the couple, who work at the Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani hotel in Durban, say there is no flirting at the water cooler as they keep their personal and work lives strictly separate.

They met while at hotel school 28 years ago and have since often shared a workspace. But the Munros steer clear of workplace fraternising to maintain an air of professionalism.

A new study by recruitment website Career Junction found that while most South Africans shun love at the workplace, others look for it.

"With many South Africans sharing office space, one can't help but wonder how many manage to keep their private lives private," said the research.

Experts warn that such relationships are often detrimental to workers and employers, but the Munros maintain a clear separation between their work and private lives.

"When we walk through those doors, we keep it strictly professional. People have teased us about us working together," said Nicole.

Shaun said: "There is no favouritism and we are highly professional when it comes to work. We are clear, open and honest. I suppose we have got to show them rather than tell them."

A University of Pretoria study of the effect of failed workplace romances on the functioning and productivity of workers found that while office love "could be beneficial … like long-lasting marriages … some employers might find them problematic".

Researchers in the university's department of social work & criminology said workplace relationships had the potential to end badly, opening a "Pandora's box of possibly complicated legal, emotional, ethical or productivity consequences".

You can't just stop your feelings for someone
An office worker, on banning office romance

The study concentrated on the experiences of a group of clothing factory employees in Cape Town who had experienced failed work romances. Most reported that their productivity was affected and that office gossip was an enormous issue for them.

Researchers also found that some said they were unaware of company policies prohibiting workplace romances, and felt that even if they had been aware, "it would not have been a deterrent".

One worker said: "I don't think it should be a rule, because you can't just stop your feelings for someone."

While some companies, such as Discovery, do not have specific policies on office romances, they are aware of the problems they can bring.

"Employees are cautioned against office romances and encouraged to disclose any close relationships so that the business is able to review any possible conflicts of interest and explore appropriate solutions to minimise these," Discovery said in a statement.

Shamala Moodley, a human resources executive at FNB, said there was no formal policy to govern romantic relationships between employees.

"As an organisation, we do not prohibit intimate relationships. However, we ask that these relationships are managed responsibly, and under certain circumstances reserve the right to intervene," said Moodley.

Vodacom requires its employees to declare conflict of interest situations, including working in the same department as their partners.

"To avoid accusations of favouritism and abuse of authority, we strictly prohibit managers or supervisors from dating their team members or those who report to their team members, either directly or indirectly," said a spokesperson.

"In these instances, employees could potentially face disciplinary action should such allegations be proved."

Anli Bezuidenhout, of the business law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, said: "In a workplace where performance assessments are done or continuous feedback given, a romantic relationship may further complicate an already complicated dynamic."

But a blanket prohibition is not always necessary. "In some instances, employers prefer to only prohibit relationships between colleagues who work closely together or in the same team or department."

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