I understand that ITV is the latest in a series of companies to demand that their staff notify them of any inter-company relationships. How awkward and embarrassing is that? At what stage do you notify your manager or HR – “I fancy x in Sales”? or “y and I went for a drink last night”? What does it all mean and why should a company tell its staff what relationships it considers appropriate or not? It makes me think of Orwell and the thought police or, worse, the morality police. Don’t we need to be careful of such policies being over-reaching of a member of staff’s freedoms?
All this in an era where Diversity is supposedly celebrated, with the concept that more diverse voices equal creativity and greater problem-solving capacity within departments and teams. Yet the reality seems to be that despite this supposed message there is more groupthink today than there ever was a decade ago. For anyone who expresses concern at aspects of gender critical ideas or critical race theory or certain political ideas, flirts a little, or dares to make a joke can be silenced, limited, even lose their jobs. So they don’t really want you to be free, do they? They really to want you to conform, which is the opposite of what stimulates creative thinking.
And limiting your ability to fall in love is restricting indeed. This trend began back in around 2005-6 when I had the following letter published in the People Management edition of 31.8.06 entitled ‘Let Love Blossom’, written in response to an article on the problems of office relationships in their edition of 10.8.06.
The “Working Ardour” article made me wonder how realistic it is for companies to have policies that try to prevent office romances. Love is where it falls – you can’t always choose a neat and tidy place; it seems to choose you. With people working long hours, making relationships outside work can be difficult. As a coach many people tell me that they are too tired at the end of the working day to have the energy to go looking for love. With a falling birthrate and many more single people it seems to me that organisations should be supportive of romance for the health and wellbeing of the individuals concerned – and also our society.
If a genuine professional or regulatory reason exists where an actual or perceived conflict of interest between the private and professional lives of a couple might occur, then there should be a mechanism to enable the couple to make a confidential disclosure of the relationship to a senior manager or compliance officer.
Where relationships are discouraged, dishonesty is bound to occur, and the chances are that the organisation risks losing or alienating two talented people. An organisation can realistically expect that the couple concerned will act professionally and with discretion. Beyond that I would say it is none of their business. Helen Whitten, Managing Director, Positiveworks Limited”
I would stand by what I wrote then. We are not talking here of sexual predators, stalking or bullies, who obviously should be stopped but where all too often there is wilful blindness, especially where a senior member of staff is concerned. We are talking about consenting adults, people coming to work, working hard and falling in love with someone who is likely to share some of their interests. Why should there be some kind of school register for these relationships? It seems to me to be thoroughly intrusive.
The birthrate is falling dramatically across Europe and the world. If relationships, heterosexual or gay, are limited through authoritarian red tape hampering their natural course, there will be even fewer babies born or adopted. Then AI will really need to take over!
So many successful relationships and marriages have started in the workplace. Who are HR to stop them? Isn’t it time for a rethink on why this is necessary for the majority when it is likely that only a small minority might cause a problem? Similarly, I would argue that it is time for a rethink on the whole diversity and creativity issue as removing freedoms will inevitably limit creativity and lead to groupthink. Time to stop these overbearing regulations and treat people as responsible adults able to express opinions and choose their own partners without nanny interfering.