When is It Appropriate for Employees to Mix Outside the Workplace?

There is a simple answer to this question and a complicated explanation of said answer. The simple answer is, anytime it does not create an issue for the business, employees should be free to mix outside the workplace. The complicated explanation is that there are known scenarios that must be avoided and there are unknowns to look out for. There are levels of power to take into account. There is legal reasons to worry about employees mixing outside work. This is what is meant by, "Complicated."

Separation of Powers

Entry-level employees spending time together can create an occasional drama/hassle for a business. Chances are, that kind of bonding will actually increase the enjoyment of the work atmosphere. As soon as you introduce an employee in a supervisory position into that mixing, problems will likely come along. The mixing of management and associates at events that are not company sanctioned is never a good idea. There are, of course, many managers with the maturity and relationship skills to have a few social drinks with lower-level employees, but you need to set policy according to the managers that do not possess those qualities. In order to protect your business, fraternizing with employees is a no-no for managers.

Company-sanctioned events that involve activities other than drinking alcohol, such as a softball or volleyball tournament, should be the only form of social life managers should have that involve the people they manage. There is too much that can go wrong. When the company has an event, the rules of the company are in place. If a group of employees and management are at Happy Hour every Friday night, things will inevitably get complicated. If you have managers sleeping with the people they manage, those employees automatically gain a couple of advantages over other employees. Perceived treatment differences can lead to complaints and even lawsuits. An employee can use that information to cause problems legally. It is never good. It does not lead anywhere productive for the company as a whole.

Rules & Regulations

Now, the rules should be based on the kind of staff you have. If you have an older crowd in your office, there is probably not a huge need for a hard and fast set of rules. If you have a young staff, the rules should be clear and concise with no blurry lines. When a manager is hired they are told, and should sign a document agreeing that they will not date or fraternize with employees under them. If they break that agreement then you should follow through with the agreed-upon punishment. A warning is generally sufficient to stop the activity in its tracks.

Everyone wants to be liked. Your managers and staff are no different. If they are young and have the need to fit in with the young employees, they might not be the right choice for management. Although, they can be a great help in setting up some company-sanctioned events that everyone will enjoy. If there is going to be alcohol involved, there must be limits. There must be a clear outline of what is allowed and what is not.

Relationships and friendships are going to happen no matter what rules you have in place. The ones you never know about are not an issue until they are. Make clear to your management the perils of fraternizing through appropriate and rigorous training. When they understand exactly when it is appropriate for employees to mix outside of the workplace you will get the cooperation you need in most cases.

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