With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, offices want to enjoy the holiday, but not veer into territory that can make staff feel uncomfortable. Two HR experts offer tips to help Valentine’s Day stay fun and appropriate.
If your office is going to celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s often fun for staff, but it can also be a time when some employees can cross the line and make their colleagues uncomfortable. HR professionals say employers can celebrate the festive day without worrying about behavior that makes staff uncomfortable by following a few simple tips.
Do celebrate, if that’s your thing. “Some employers have said no Valentine’s Day, and there has been backlash against that,” said Angela Hall, Ph.D., J.D., an associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations. “The advice I tell people is to encourage people to have fun and celebrate the day.”
Yana Rodgers, Ph.D., faculty director of Rutgers University’s Center for Women and Work, notes that celebrations are going to depend on your work environment. “If other holidays are not acknowledged, then there is no reason to single out Valentine’s Day,” Rodgers said. “But if it’s clear the staff like the acknowledgement of holidays, and it promotes a sense of community, and they like chocolates in the breakrooms, then sure, celebrate.”
Do remind employees of policies. “Valentine’s Day is a good time to think about your harassment policy and an opportunity to remind employees about certain things,” Hall said. “For example, tell the employees about giving unwanted attention and gifts and things that aren’t appropriate.”
Also, be sure that staff not only have access to these policies but also remind mind them what they say.
Don’t overstep boundaries. Those in management positions need to be careful about how their acts are construed. “One problem in particular, could be someone with a position of power singling out an employee and giving him or her special treatment, like chocolate or an awkward card, and that could make the person feel uncomfortable,” Rodgers said. “Valentine’s Day does not give anyone license to do that. A safe environment does not take a holiday. And that includes Valentine’s Day.”
Don’t leave anyone out. “If [organizations] are going to acknowledge Valentine’s Day, make it inclusive,” Rodgers said. “Everybody at the office gets the chocolates or gets the additional way of acknowledging Valentine’s Day—whether it’s cards or chocolates or flowers. Make sure everyone is included in the gesture. Don’t just single out the women.”
Also be inclusive with the treats you bring in. “Bring in fruit, too, for people who have dietary restrictions and can’t eat the sweet stuff,” Hall said.
Do keep romance outside the office. The recent Workplace Romance in America study found that 4 percent of employees are currently dating a coworker, and 25 percent said they have dated a coworker in the past. While office romances happen, employees should not use Valentine’s Day as the linchpin to woo their coworker.
“Valentine’s Day is not time to give something to your secret crush,” Hall said. “They may feel awkward about it.”
“Office dating is not against the law, and again this comes back to companies establishing their policies about sexual harassment,” Rodgers added. “This is where the training modules come into play. Emphasize that [harassment] is unwanted attention.”
How does your office plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Please share in the comments.