Falling in love at work

Drew Mendoza
Drew Mendoza

What rules, if any, should address what happens if you and / or other members of your family who own stock in the family business fall in love with an employee?

We’ve seen cases where that employee becomes an in-law and ascends to the highest offices of the company and then:

  • The couple divorces and the now divorced key non-family executive leaves a gaping hole in the management team after leaving the business;
  • The couple divorces and the now divorced key non-family executive remains in place and life goes on;
  • The couple never divorces and is a strong and positive influence on the business and the family.

Can having a written policy really trump the tidal pull of love?  How can you legislate feelings?  What are the risks inherent to this situation? 

While there may not be a simple answer to these questions – we find the very best multi-generational business families are proactive.  They do what they can to anticipate likely eventualities – while realizing they do not have a crystal ball. 

Ideally families would have a policy around ‘relationships in the business’ in place before the next generation is 16.  The best policies we find are those crafted and adopted by the family council – with broad involvement of family members, and a thoughtful preamble that explains the policy’s rationale.  In cases where the family is too small for such a governance body, it falls to mom and dad to put the policy in place; again, before the next generation hits their mid-teens.

Whether or not the family permits or prohibits any kind of office romance depends on the family – and possibly the business culture.  However, failure to think about these issues can lead a family to feel ‘blindsided’ when confronted with an actual relationship, which would then exacerbate the risk to the business and the family.

 What is your family’s policy on love in the workplace?

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