Two veteran HR consultants weigh in on the pros and cons
Inquiring singles at this tech giant are one and done.
Facebook employees get just one opportunity to ask out a coworker — and can’t try again post-rejection, the Wall Street Journal first reported. Vague replies like “I can’t that night” or “I’m busy” constitute a “no,” Facebook global head of employment law Heidi Swartz told Moneyish in a statement. While Facebook doesn’t prohibit relationships involving different seniority levels, a spokesperson added, it trusts employees to report potential conflicts of interest.
While the Journal reports Google employs similar training, a spokesperson for the company said there was no such rule. Google has had a workplace-relationships policy in place since 2004, the spokesperson added. “(R)omantic relationships between co-workers can, depending on the work roles and respective positions of the co-workers involved, create an actual or apparent conflict of interest,” the company’s code of conduct states in part. “If a romantic relationship does create an actual or apparent conflict, it may require changes to work arrangements or even the termination of employment of either or both individuals involved.”
Facebook’s one-ask cap comes to light as employers increasingly struggle to curb workplace sexual harassment, prevent abuses of power and draw boundaries around consensual employee romances. “I’m glad to see effort being made to try and solve this serious problem that’s unfortunately existed for way too long,” said PGHR Consulting founder Phyllis Hartman, who boasts 25-plus years in HR consulting.
Hartman, an ethics adviser to the Society for Human Resource Management, says this particular approach “gives permission for people to say no.” “This is saying the control is on you — you don’t have to say yes,” she told Moneyish. “And you, the person asking, should never assume that the control is with you. It’s with the person you’re asking, and they have a perfect right to say ‘no’ or ‘go away.’”
Back when Hartman was a “youth,” she added, the prevailing attitude was that women played hard to get and that “no means maybe.” “There was that kind of mindset out there at the time,” she said. “Well, this is saying there isn’t: If somebody says no, you don’t ask again. And if you do, you’re in trouble.”
The policy could also make it easier for more introverted askees to rebuff advances, Hartman said. After an anti-harassment training session about 15 years ago, she recalled, a distraught male employee brought her a female coworker’s letter telling him to stop asking her out. The woman, Hartman said, had been politely inventing excuses to spare her colleague’s feelings — but seemed to realize, after the training, that “she could say no.” A one-ask quota, Hartman suggested, “might have prevented something like that” by taking the guesswork out.
Not everyone is a fan. Such a policy seems aimed at preventing lawsuits, HR consultant and Exaqueo CEO Susan LaMotte told Moneyish, and suggests the company is “less concerned about culture and values and more concerned about any (legal) ramifications.” She argued the rule runs counter to Facebook’s “Be Open” core value, questioning whether organizations implementing these rules would see a change in their brand perception and, in turn, job candidates’ decisions to work there.
Companies, LaMotte said, should “treat people like adults and spend more time educating.” That might mean teaching employees to “be more communicative and say, ‘I’m sorry, are you asking as a date or are you asking as a friend?’” she said. It also might mean outlining “why it’s not appropriate to be persistent and ask someone out a million times at work” or why it’s inappropriate to pursue an uninterested coworker.
Leadership should communicate what, exactly, happens when an employee pursues HR or legal action; similarly, it should lay out the investigative process and ramifications for someone accused of harassment, LaMotte said. “You’re giving people visibility into what they normally don’t see: ‘OK, this does happen — here’s our company approach, here’s what we can tell you, here’s what we can’t tell you.’” Facebook took the rare step in December of publicizing its company harassment policy, laying out reporting procedures, the investigation process and advice on harassment training.
Since “relationships are going to form,” LaMotte said, “you need to give (employees) guidance and help them understand how to maintain and manage those relationships in a corporate environment.” “We can’t even get managers to complete performance reviews,” she added. “How are we going to get them to track who’s dating whom?”
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