Work fills up a large part of our day as we meet people, work on the same projects, share the same office space, share our meals in the cafeteria and likely also share our life stories. What if they find shared values, lifestyle and goals to give a shot at a relationship? What if two people decide to explore sharing lives together?
One out of four relationships that started at the workplace led to marriage, as per a study conducted in the United States.In the startup world where people spend most of their productive hours at work, surrounded by coworkers who get to witness their highs and lows throughout the day, it’s only natural that humans will bond over mutual interest and shared contexts. This may result in platonic to romantic relationships. After all, the HR has already vetted these folks before onboarding and this background verification exercise is way better than most of the dating apps out there. So nobody is a total stranger hiding behind a screen you know nothing about.
Let’s take the case of the girl I met on a morning flight out of Bengaluru. She was seated next to me and upon knowing what I do for a living, she opened her entire secret dating life in front of me. To ensure her privacy, I’m going to call her by a different name, Bharti. She worked in a media organisation where workplace dating was a strict no-no. Through a series of episodes, she and her direct reporting manager got closer and started dating. To ensure nobody gets a whiff of it, they never interacted outside work in the office or exhibited any signs of intimacy. Even after they moved in together, they ensured that their entry and exit times in the office do not overlap all the time. They never entertained colleagues at home, so there was no social life to give away. The only time coworkers teased them was when both of them brought similar food in the tiffin, until one of them stopped bringing lunch to work so as to avoid public lens. They eventually got married in a tight-knit ceremony and asked friends to not share anything on social media. A few weeks after that, he switched jobs to another company. His wife took over his role in the office. Months later, they disclosed for the first time that they are married. By then, it was time for her to move to the next company.
Sounds unbelievable? It’s not. It’s 2023. People have jobs that pay the bills. While they may not want to violate the norms, they also can’t help falling for someone who’s accessible and a nice human.
So the question is not ‘Should we have a Dating Policy in our organisation?’, it is ‘How to create a Dating Policy?’ Here we go:
- Legal liability - The aim of creating a policy like this is to reduce the potential legal liability. For instance, edtech startup UpGrad has a document that talks about employee personal conflict of interest and dating policy. The organisation does not restrict employees from dating each other, but they do want to ensure that relationships do not cause awkwardness or problems at the workplace.
- Consensual relationships - Companies are in the business of running their own business and wouldn’t really want to get into someone’s personal business. Non-consensual relationships are explicitly prohibited and mentioned upfront. Companies like Google and Facebook mention that you can ask a coworker out once and only once. If you receive a clear Yes, good to go. If it’s anything but a Yes, it means a No.
- Power structure - To avoid favouritism and the chances of affecting each other’s appraisal process, eCommerce company, Flipkart mentions that you cannot be in the same line of hierarchy, i.e. you cannot date your manager or your reportee. Dating is neither encouraged, nor discouraged here. Though a lot of couples are formed or happen to be in the same company eventually.
- Remote environment - Work from home became mainstream during the pandemic and it continues to be the norm while some companies are going hybrid and some returning to office environments. While everyone is behind a screen and serendipity has reduced, sparks can still fly. So be clear about what is acceptable and what is not in your organisation.
- Disclosure - Early stage startups do not have enough bandwidth to place people in different teams. This has led to shunning dating, being asked to leave or firing on occasions. As a founder or people manager, please state what you expect as a disclosure. In the absence of this, employees continue to date and switch jobs without citing the real reason - fear of getting laid off because of their relationship.
- Change in teams - Sources say that eCommerce company, Amazon witnesses dating and marriages. However, it is large enough to ensure a change in the team you work in, so as to avoid any conflict. In fact, couples often seek a transfer together to go from Bengaluru to Seattle office and this works as a good retention mechanism for the company.
- Transfer - Government services accommodate transfer requests immediately after marriage. That’s the reason some couples do a court marriage while they are dating, so one of them could apply for a transfer and let the grande Indian wedding happen at its own pace. This holds true for a defence professional who could seek transfer from Jamnagar to Bengaluru after presenting legal proof of marriage.
- Start and Stop - Informing the HR after a first date makes no sense because the people involved are not sure of where they are heading with this. Companies typically suggest keeping the HR in confidence and making a disclosure if two people are dating for more than two months. Also, in case it does not work out, informing the HR that they are no longer together is a good practice. This ensures nobody gets to sabotage your work or create disruptions at the workplace.
- Incentive - Some companies offer a Dating allowance, remember NIIT back in the days? Some offer reimbursement of dating app subscription, say hello to social metaverse startup, Flam. Sources say Deloitte and ShareChat have been supportive of dating.
- Resources - Technology giant, Microsoft provides Learning Resources for women that includes How to find a life partner. Sources say this helps women in choosing rather than waiting to be chosen, and enables them to make better decisions. Finding a supportive life partner would also translate into staying in the workforce and climbing the corporate ladder.
It’s a wrap on how to craft your company’s dating policy to honour your employee’s wellness needs. After all, we are social beings who crave connection and sometimes, it could lead to a ‘kismet connection’.
Did I tell you my favourite story of workplace dating? It is of two people who worked together in a tech startup in Pune. While the woman in her late 20s was attending to arranged marriage proposals, she realised how much she’d talk about this one colleague across all her meetings with total strangers. Though two years younger, he was helping her deal with the stress and anxiety that these meetings gave her. She owned this infront of him, They officially dated, thanks to their families and a conducive environment at work. Eventually got married and now is blessed with a two-year-old daughter. TL;DR: How I Met Your Mother - at work.