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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Anti-Fraternization Policy

I took an entry level position in customer service at an inbound call center (inbound! not evil! well, mostly) a couple years ago, and have gradually been broadening my experience. I've taken classes at the local college and accepted every opportunity for job-related training. I transferred departments at the beginning of last year with a pay raise, but was still considered to be at basically the same rank. Hey, I mostly answer the phone for a living. It takes knowledge, and skill, and no small amount of diplomacy.

Now I'm applying for a promotion that, if granted, will take effect within the next couple weeks. I don't know if I'll get it (trying not to count chickens here) but I know I got their attention in the interview. Even if I don't get this position, I expect to qualify for advancement fairly soon.

Employees above the rank I currently hold are collectively tagged with the moniker "support staff," and there's a strict anti-fraternization policy between support staff and the customer service reps such as myself. This is company-wide, not restricted to people in direct chain of command. I have no interest in dating my co-workers, but I'm not sure how to handle pre-existing friendships. The policy applies not only to romantic or sexual intent, but to all socializing outside the context of work. If support staff encounter non-support staff at the grocery store, or the pub, or the local folk festival, there is to be no interaction at all.

I have no interest in dating my co-workers. But I do have friends here. Part of the reason I kept this job (I originally expected to stay for a few months and then move on) is because I really like the people I work with. I know it isn't easy, but I think I'm aware of the potential conflicts and can work to keep my job and my personal life separate. But I'd be expected to have absolutely no outside interaction at all with people I've known for years, who I've invited to my home, who I have friends in common with outside of the company, and who are part of my attachment and commitment to this company in the first place. This is not a big city. And I've been working at this company most of the time I've lived here. Most of my social network is connected to my time at this company in some way, and my family lives on the other side of the country.

I understand the reasons for having an anti-fraternization policy, but I think that the way it's handled - in a company that makes a big deal about hiring and promoting internally - is at best awkward and at worst harmful. They have split their staff into two classes, and I'm feeling a little rebellious this weekend.

I'm not sure how to handle this. I've considered looking for work elsewhere, but I hesitate to jump ship when advancement here seems just within my grasp. Any suggestions?


I don't really have any suggestions (but since when has that stopped me in the past?), but I'm boggled. You are supposed to pretend that your former co-workers don't exist if you so much as run into them in the grocery store? What a bizarre policy.

I'm guessing that in a "support staff" role, you have some sort of supervisory role over the customer service reps. You may not be writing their performance appraisals, but you may be giving input. I don't know how work is assigned, but if you have some role in determining what the customer service reps do, they may be concerned that you will favor your old friends.

Usually the fear of promoting from within is that you will not be able to manage people who used to be your peers. It looks like fear is driving this policy as well.

So, now is the part where I make suggestions. Once you're actually offered the job, ask for clarification on the policy. (Don't do this before, as it may make them re-consider you for the job!) Explain your concerns--"I've worked with these people for 2 years and I don't think I can just treat them like I don't know them"--and see what is said.

It may be a policy in name only--that is, it's only enforced if there is a problem. They may be able to give you better insight into the "whys." Their stated reasons may actually make sense to you. If they don't, then that will help you in your decision of whether to stay or go.

I can see somewhat where they are coming from--it's so easy to favor your friends. I can also see that this would be a very difficult policy to enforce.

Good luck on you promotion!

6 comments:

William the Coroner said...

That's really quite nuts. I can see no doinking or dating, but no existence? And remember, when you meet people from work, you're at work.

BTW, I tagged you.

HR Wench said...

The only non-fraternization policy that I agree with is supervisors/managers cannot be romantically involved with their direct subordinates as this is too risky for sexual harassment claims. Barring any other very specific exceptions, non-fraternization policies are pretty dumb in my opinion.

It is smart to be professional at work. Let work be work and play be play. Don't give others the impression that you would break a rule for anyone.

BUT

If someone has input on one of their friend's performance reviews and it makes management nervous then perhaps management needs to:

1. Keep performance reviews as quantifiable as possible. Have a competent HR rep review the review before it is presented to an employee.

2. Trust people to do their jobs. LET people do their jobs. They will do them!

3. Revamp your recruiting program if you are consistently hiring people you cannot trust. Recognize it is not their fault if you WON'T trust them though.

Managing by fear is so very, very sad and limiting to the success of the company and its employees.

another hr rep said...

Are we sure that's what the policy's intent is? It would be inane AND insane. If it's true, I'd love to see how this policy is written!

Productivity Guy said...

What an absurd policy. I have been friends with people I manage, and there has never been an issue. Not socializing with people you work with in general... that's just weird.

Just another HR lady... said...

Anti-fraternization policies are sticky at the best of times. I don't know if I've ever seen a "written" one? I can honestly only see the validity when there is a conflict of interest in some way...financial impact, separation of duties (i.e. the payroll person's spouse managing payroll!), supervisory authority, etc.

I would tend to agree with EHRL, if you get the job, just ask for some clarity on the policy. My guess is that the "grapevine" has built this policy up into something it wasn't intended to be originally. Funny how rumours tend to become fact when they are repeated often enough. :-)

Anonymous said...

Lol, I know this is an old blog and not sure if you're even still following it or not but I was in a similar situation. Worked food service on a college campus and the company handbook said I could never date or socialize with the students(unless I was a student, which I obviously wasn't). Unfortunately I DID have interest in dating a few of them, and some of them may or may not have shared my interest, but I just trudged along until I finally just said screw it and quit. Anyway, how'd things go for you, assuming you read this?