The State of Office Relationships
Published July 10, 2018
The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have empowered survivors of sexual harassment and assault to name their abusers, who were often in a position of power over them professionally. In the wake of this phenomenon, more companies are reviewing their policies on sexual harassment and taking a harder line on workplace romance, according to an update to a survey conducted by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. in January.
The new survey found that over 52 percent of companies reviewed their sexual harassment policies since the beginning of the #MeToo movement, which effectively began last October. This is compared to 34 percent who said they reviewed their policies in January. Forty-two percent of companies reported that they are comfortable with their policies in June compared to 63 percent who claimed this in January. Another 2 percent reported they created new policies in June, while no companies reported this in January.
Related: Challenger Survey Jan 2018: The State of Office Romances Post #MeToo
“Companies are responding to the cultural movement and recognizing that most of this abuse occurred in the workplace. Calls to make the office a safer place and free from any kind of abuse were overwhelming, and seeing companies respond is heartening” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
Of the companies that reviewed their policies, 58 percent updated them, compared to 25 percent who did the same in January.
“Employers reported adding and clarifying reporting avenues and instituting ‘zero tolerance’ and anti-bullying policies when it comes to workplace harassment,” added Challenger.
The survey was conducted among 150 HR executives in June. The respondents were from companies of various sizes and industries nationwide.
The new survey asked respondents if they observed any changes in the behavior of their staff in light of these movements. Nearly 55 percent saw no demonstrable change in behavior, 14 percent observed a more respectful atmosphere, and 2 percent reported more women were asking for raises and promotions.
Nearly 17 percent of employers saw an increase in complaints of inappropriate behavior. Over 7 percent reported that men were more cautious in their interactions with their female colleagues, while just over 2 percent said they observed that women were more cautious.
“It is not surprising that companies are seeing more people come forward in the wake of #MeToo, as workers feel supported and empowered to do so. Likewise, it makes sense that there would be some caution when it comes to interactions at work in order to keep from crossing any lines,” said Challenger.
“However, it is imperative that employers create an environment where this cautious approach to employee interaction does not keep women from having a seat at the table or otherwise compromise the advancement of worthy workers,” he added.
The survey also found that slightly more companies have formal or informal office romance policies than reported in January. While slightly fewer companies report a formal, written policy (57 percent in January compared to 51 percent in June), nearly 9 percent report they give managers discretion to handle relationships, compared to 3 percent in January. Just under 5 percent of employers are currently working on an office romance policy compared to no companies reporting this at the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of employers require all relationships be disclosed to the company, compared to 17 percent who required this in January. More companies discourage dating between a subordinate and a manager: 78 percent in June versus 70 percent in January. Twenty-seven percent of companies are taking relationships on a case-by-case basis, fewer than the 33 percent who reported this policy in January.
“Fewer companies want to take office romances on a case-by-case basis, suggesting employers want to get ahead of potential problems by creating an overarching policy. By prohibiting relationships between managers and subordinates, companies can minimize the power dynamics that could lead to the abuse of a manager’s position,” said Challenger.
“That said, the answer does not lie in banning office romances altogether. Many strong relationships have been built in the workplace. Attempting to forbid office relationships will only keep those who do begin dating from taking appropriate avenues to ensure professionalism,” he added.
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See the June 2019 Survey Update: More Companies Work On, Update Sexual Harassment Policies After MeToo
Elon Musk’s Relationship With Employee May Have Violated Tesla’s Ethics Code, Experts Say
Rashi Shrivastava, Forbes Staff & Michaella Huck, Contributor
Employment practices experts recommend that companies have policies on consensual relationships because, they say, such relationships can impact morale and professionalism in the corporate culture. According to a survey conducted by executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 78% of companies have formal policies on consensual relationships that discourage them between a manager and an employee.
That number had increased from 70% in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which brought to light a number of high-profile incidents of sexual harassment after allegations were made against film producer Harvey Weinstein. Since that time, some high-profile CEOs of major public companies have paid a heavy price for engaging in relationships with subordinate employees and violating their own companies’ policies.
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