ITV, one of the UK’s most prominent television networks, has made headlines by introducing a comprehensive “relationships-in-work” policy, aimed at encouraging employees, including freelancers and contractors, to disclose all types of relationships, including friendships, to their superiors.
Failure to adhere to this policy could result in dismissal.
This move has raised eyebrows, with many questioning the implications and definitions of friendship within the workplace.
Defining Friendship and Relationship
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director, offers insight into the implications of such a policy. She states, “Many employers will likely have a ‘relationships at work’ policy already in place, typically focusing on expected standards of behavior and disclosure requirements when colleagues are in a romantic relationship. However, requiring employees to disclose friendships takes it a step further.”
The fundamental issue, she argues, is defining what exactly constitutes a friendship that necessitates disclosure. The organisation needs to be explicit in its definitions of both “friendship” and “relationship” to ensure employees understand what falls under the disclosure mandate. Defining the boundary between personal and professional relationships is crucial, and transparency is paramount.
Enforcing the Policy
Enforcing such a policy presents another challenge. How will employers know if staff members socialise outside of work? Privacy concerns become significant, as employees are entitled to their personal lives outside of the workplace. Any requirement to disclose out-of-work friendships must be proportionate and justified.
Moreover, there’s the potential for this policy to breed discord among staff. If one person considers a colleague a friend and discloses this, while the other party does not reciprocate the sentiment, it could lead to hurt feelings, discomfort, and even discrimination. Employers must tread carefully to avoid inadvertently fostering an environment in which employees feel degraded or harassed.
What does the future look like?
ITV’s new policy has ignited a conversation about the fine line between professional and personal relationships in the workplace and the extent to which employers can delve into their employees’ private lives.
As organisations consider implementing similar policies, the need for well-defined parameters, transparency, and respect for individual privacy becomes increasingly vital to strike the right balance between disclosure and personal boundaries.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.