HR Hot Topics: February 2023 Edition

Hello, and welcome to the February edition of HR Hot Topics!


So it being February and the month of romance, I know this is coming to you on Valentine’s Day. A quick reminder folks, if you haven’t gotten your loved one a little something for Valentine’s Day, do so before you get home today!


It being Valentine’s Day, I thought a great topic would be romance in the workplace and also friendship in the workplace. And then I also wanted to give you an update on some of the survey results that are coming in from the request that HRM had sent out in January, asking for feedback on topics that you might like to see us do some deep dive videos on. So I’ll give you a quick update as to where that stands. And then a reminder on a recent court of appeals ruling that affects paid sick time and minimum wage, just in case you didn’t see my video reminder at the end of January on that one. Let’s jump right in here!


Romance in the workplace is not new


We spend many hours of our lives at work and oftentimes we’re working with people who might have similar interests as us if we’re working in a similar industry – and romance happens. A recent SHRM survey, SHRM stands for Society for Human Resource Management, found that 26% of those in the workplace have experienced a workplace romance or are currently in a workplace romance. This happens, it happens quite often. I think any sort of policy that tries to prohibit or outright ban it is a farce. It’s never going to work. And all that does is promote secrecy, which is the absolute opposite of what we’re really looking for in a leadership role. We don’t want to tie people’s hands in terms of who they can see socially and if it evolves into romance, you know, who are we to stand in the way of love?


But we do have some obligations if we sit in a leadership role to minimize negative impacts of workplace romance around others. The first one that I would say is we need to make sure that we have really clear boundaries and that we push transparency. The reason for that is because, one, we want to make sure that we don’t have two individuals that are involved romantically together, that have a leader-subordinate relationship going on. That is just a recipe for disaster. I’m not saying that if a relationship’s happening in the workplace, you have to fire those involved. Rather, I am saying that if you learn about a relationship in the workplace and the reporting dynamics are such that those two individuals have a subordinate-leader dynamic, I think you’re going to need to look at temporary or perhaps long-term change to that reporting relationship so that the subordinate does not report directly to the individual that they are romantically involved with.


Certainly, even if those two individuals could behave above board at all times and remove any appearance of favoritism, that doesn’t mean that those working alongside them will really believe that the subordinate is being treated in the same way that they are. We don’t even want the appearance of preferential treatment or special favors; it’s a harassment nightmare. So, we want to make sure those reporting relationships are clearly defined. If we find out that two individuals are dating and one reports to the other, it’s important we make a change there, and have that individual report to someone else instead. The other place where workplace romance really becomes a problem, is when the relationship ends. I have been called in specifically to conduct a harassment investigation. The harassment really stemmed from a consensual relationship that had ended poorly. After the relationship had gone off the rails, one coworker was feeling like the other coworker was mistreating them. One was in favor of the relationship ending, the other was not. It didn’t end well for either. It turned into a sizeable, toxic, hostile workplace claim. The employer had to spend a lot of money to have us come in and conduct a very extensive investigation and put forth some recommendations. That is the one potential risk of workplace romance. Being able to have a conversation on the front end to ensure we in fact have a consensual relationship is important. This goes back to the importance of transparency in the workplace. The first step is to make sure there is not a reporting dynamic that we have to alter. After that, clear expectations must be established about how they will behave in the workplace while they are together. Lastly, it is important to have conversations around how they will behave if this relationship ends.


As an employer, you have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all of your staff. Having advanced, proactive conversations can help achieve this. So, that’s on the romance side of things.


Earlier I mentioned friendships. I think friendships are somewhat underrated, In terms of focus from an HR perspective. The risk is not high if somebody has a friend at work. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Again, a recent SHRM survey found that 85% of workers who have a close friend at work say that it’s had a positive impact on their career. 80% of people that have a close friend at work feel a stronger sense of belonging to the organization. 86% of folks experience more job satisfaction. Certainly, having a friend at work is a very good thing. We’ve known that for a long time. It’s actually one of the things that you’ll often see asked and measured on engagement surveys. It has to do with workplace culture. It makes a world of difference when you’ve got somebody who is walking in your shoes, sees the same things you’re seeing, provides validation, and is there to be a listening ear during struggles. Hopefully that relationship binds those two individuals, not just to each other, but to the organization as a whole and makes it a more desirable place to work. So, retention is definitely impacted by this as well. Discussion of employee engagement and employee culture leads me to some important survey results.


In January, we sent out a survey to everyone subscribed to our HR Hot Topics videos. We explained that we are going to do 4-6 deep dive videos this year for free, but on topics that are of most interest to our subscribers. We provided a list of 10-15 topics. The survey found workplace culture to be the number one topic our audience would like to hear more about. This was followed by employee engagement, team building and managing different generations in the workplace. Those are currently the top four results. The survey is still open, so if you would like to register your thoughts we would love to hear them.


We’re going to keep the survey open through the end of February. Then, we will make our programming and content decisions based on what you have to share with us. We also asked how long our subscribers would like the videos to be. Currently, the dominant answer is 45 minutes or less. 30 to 45 minutes seems to be the sweet spot, and that’s what we’ll aim for if that continues to be the dominant answer. Finally, I asked about how our audience would like to receive training. I gave options of online on-demand only, in-person only, or a hybrid option. The hybrid option would include online consumption of content, as well as a real-time facilitated call from one of our trainers to help apply the content to a specific workplace. Not surprisingly, most respondents said they liked all three options. So, we will continue to include all of those options as we develop our training calendar. We do plan to focus on more online on-demand options for everyone building out the HR Hazmat training platform, so stay tuned.


Finally, I will close with a reminder that at the tail end of January, a three Judge court of appeals overturned a lower court decision that required employers to both get ready for an increase to minimum wage and a significant change to paid sick leave. Court of Appeals did not agree with the decision, and believed the legislature acted within their constitutional authority when they made significant amendments to both pieces of legislation in 2018. As of now, no changes are required by employers. This decision will most likely be appealed up to Michigan Supreme Court.


If you have any questions on anything I’ve shared with you, feel free to reach out to me; I will include in the links some additional articles around increasing workplace culture and engagement, specifically how to create more opportunities for friendship and bonds at work. I’ll also include some sample policy language around romance in the workplace, and how an employer can protect themselves and their staff if a romantic relationship goes awry. I look forward to being with you next month. Until then, have a great week!