What is the fraternization culture in your organization?
I was affiliated with an organization where cross-ethnicity fraternizing was frowned upon, with another where there was an anti-fraternizing policy for employees within the same department and one where there was a written policy, but it was not enforced because most of the people who were getting involved with subordinates were leaders within the organization. Fraternization is described as social interactions between people who are employed at the same organization. However, in most instances, anti-fraternization policies focus on romantic relations between managers and subordinates and/or romantic relationships between co-workers but, as was previously established, it varies from one organization to the other.
Personally, I frown on fraternization at work because of the performance and other related problems it creates. For one, allegations of nepotism increase. Co-workers complain that a subordinate’s behaviour is usually the first telltale that something amiss is going on with a manager because the subordinate is allowed to come in late, leave early or miss work frequently without being reprimanded. Even platonic friendships between managers and subordinates create problems when managers share confidential information across levels to their subordinate friends who should not have been privy to the information. When these issues go unaddressed, they create a negative work environment that leads to low morale, disengagement and high employee turnover.
Over the past two weeks we looked at the pros of organizations anti-fraternization policies and shared excerpts from a Harvard Law School forum on Corporate Governance in an article titled “Companies’ Anti-Fraternization Policies: Key Considerations”, posted by Arthur H.Kohn, Jennifer Kennedy Park, and Armine Sanamyan, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.
Today, we share an excerpt on the “con” side…. “May create a perception of paternalism: Recent survey data suggests that around 35- 40% of employees have had a consensual romantic relationship with a co-worker, and 72% would do so again.  Most notably, 22% of employees reported having dated someone who supervised them.  Thus, romantic relationships do form and often times flourish in the workplace, and an employer’s efforts to discourage them may be perceived by employees as paternalistic and as an encroachment on their personal lives. This is especially likely to be the case for a company that has a more hierarchical organizational structure with many levels of supervisors, because a large portion of its employees would be affected by an anti-fraternization policy, even one limited to close personal relationships among supervisors and subordinates. This could also be a concern for less formal workplace cultures, in which the paternalistic aspect of the policy might cut particularly hard against the grain of the overall culture.
Calls for difficult line-drawing: Defining what constitutes a close personal relationship in the workplace is not an easy task. It requires making judgment calls about highly subjective and fact-specific questions. Moreover, it requires grappling with topics rarely discussed in the workplace. Having HR professionals who are willing and able to answer these questions is critical to an effective policy.
Is difficult to “police”: Given the highly private nature of the subject, instituting an anti-fraternization policy also raises complicated questions about what types of steps an employer may or should take—both from a legal and practical perspective in monitoring for policy violations. For example, do supervisors have to certify compliance with the policy? How do companies demonstrate to stakeholders that the policy is enforced? Does the company do any monitoring for compliance, for example, reviewing email or social media of supervisors?”
As we conclude this series, I must reiterate that not all workplace romance ends badly and whether an organization has anti-fraternization policies is up to its leaders and dictated by its culture. If employees in workplace romance are discrete and do not negatively impact the business operation, the least you can do is to have a policy where employees are required to declare their relationship, so it is monitored to manage allegations of harassment, favouritism or any other problems.
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