This is about a situation that isn't strictly an employed workplace, but is similar. I am on project team at a university. It is supposedly a 'professional environment', though as we are all university students, and are for the most part only accountable to ourselves, things are a bit more lax. There is no official HR policy for example; beyond the campus policy on harassment/etc. It is a people management question, however, and I think that that should stand in this forum. If not, please feel free to delete/put on hold/exterminate this question.

This team is separated into working groups, each focusing on a different aspect of the project.

I have been made aware that there are two members of one of the working groups who are dating. This is not a massive issue, they are both professional and do good work. They say that it doesn't matter so long as it doesn't effect the work, which I think is a valid point. However, I think that team dynamic also needs to be considered.

One member of the relationship has chosen to keep it secret from the rest of the team (and their partner has obliged). They think that if the relationship comes to light, their work might be diminished because of it. I am of the opinion that this team member is outstanding, and that no one would care that they're dating someone else in the team, their contributions stand more than well enough on their own.

Currently, favouritism is not an issue, the work from both of these members is overseen by a third, more experienced person on the team. However, as time goes on and more responsibility is taken on by these team members, this could become an issue. The bigger issue is dynamic within the team. These people care for each other, and are pretending that that does not exist during the time spent within the team, something that I feel cannot be healthy for either person. As well, the relationship cannot be considered during decisions made by the meagre management that does exist (see below). Though it doesn't actively effect anything right now, it is some interpersonal factor that should be taken into account when making personnel decisions/managing the (relatively high-stress) environment we do our work in. Their decision to be in a relationship, but act like they aren't at all while working on the team, introduces a weird dynamic between them. I have not had to work with them and cannot comment on if it effects those around them in any manner.

The org chart is very flat, with only a small number of people (<5) that hold any recognizable authority over the rest of the team (although there are varying levels of experience on this particular project, which serves as pseudo-authority). As such, I am at the same level as both of those in the relationship, that of 'team member'.

I am stuck on what I should do. As I see it, my options are:

  1. Nothing. I am in a different working group, and the issue does not directly effect me, I can let them to their business and focus on doing my best on my portion of the project. Their portion of the project likely will not suffer drastically on this iteration of the project, though it may further up the road (on the scale of months/years). I have been asked to participate in the secrecy from the team, a point in favour of this option.

  2. Discuss with a fourth team member who is already aware of the situation. I could consult another person who already knows what is going on, and might have better insight into the relationship, or at least information (or influence) I do not have. This could expose me as planning to do something when it's been requested I don't, however, which could burn bridges or harm friendships.

  3. Discuss the issue with the 'people manager' of the team. This is the option I am leaning towards the most. I want to bring up the situation in the abstract (in similar terms as discussed here), and see what they have to say. They are possibly already aware of it, or would be able to figure out specifics anyhow, which does worry me. However, they aren't the manager for no reason, and are likely better equipped to deal with it than I am.

  4. Out the relationship completely, likely to the people manager first, and let them deal with it from there. A bad option that I am disinclined from.

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    Their decision to be in a relationship, but act like they aren't at all while working on the team, introduces a weird dynamic between them. I wouldn't be so quick to assume that. There's a fine line between explicitly pretending to not be in a relationship, versus just acting "normally" around someone with whom you have a relationship. Many couples work together and it's not always obvious, and doesn't always cause a "weird dynamic." If anything, it shows some level of maturity and health for them to be able to separate their personal lives from their work lives.
    – dwizum
    Sep 23 '19 at 16:53
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    So, two people that you don't work with are in a relationship that no one knows about, and you're wondering what to do? The most professional thing to do, when you hear gossip list this, is nothing at all. It doesn't involve you, it doesn't affect you, you have no direct knowledge or observations of it. There is no basis for you to do anything at all. Sep 23 '19 at 20:23
  • To the best of my knowledge, even the most stringent work place policies do not prohibit dating within the workplace. Universities can be a terrible place to work because they can be quite lax and forgetful in ensuring that work place policies are implemented, followed, and trained.
    – AdamO
    Sep 23 '19 at 21:25
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    What business is it of yours? (is a question that I expect you will hear a lot as you go through life) Sep 24 '19 at 6:51

Do nothing.

Only do something if the relationship actually causes a problem within the team or their work they're doing.

If all is fine within the team, leave them alone. If they want to disclose their status to the rest of the team (or individuals), let them make their choice on their own terms.

Don't get involved.

  • 2
    This answer might be different if this was a real workplace, but for a university project it's absolutely right. Sep 23 '19 at 15:42
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    I wouldn't write a different answer if it related to a real workplace. People have a right to their personal lives, even if they overlap in the workplace. I know of several relationships in my own team and the wider company and there's probably more that I don't know about.
    – user44108
    Sep 23 '19 at 15:46
  • 2
    Some companies actively have policies against relationships in the workplace, and I've seen some teams very adversely affected by them. But the right answer here anyway. Sep 23 '19 at 15:49
  • 1
    Some relationship situations are clearly unacceptable, even if they don't appear to be causing a problem within the team and the people seem to be behaving in an entirely professional manner. For example, if one person is reporting directly to the other, or one person is signing off work done by the other - justice has to be seen to be done. But that is not what the OP is describing.
    – alephzero
    Sep 23 '19 at 23:57

Do nothing unless the situation affects the project and your team's part of the project in a significant way, and in a way that you can prove (so that it's not just your word vs theirs).

Even in a real job, doing something about it would be iffy at best, and it would depend on the type of the job, on the environment and other people etc. On some jobs, yes. On others, better to let it be.

In a university, as a group of students? Hell no. Do nothing. No one will seriously expect that students won't form relationships.

Expecting that would be... something like alcohol prohibition in the USA back in the past. As in, introducing a rule that you know most people will not respect, so it cannot be effectively enforced, not without creating more problems than it solves.

And in your situation, if you do anything, chances are that you would create more problems, both for yourself, for the team, for the project, and for your relationship with people involved, than you would solve.

If it starts actively harming your project, especially the aspects where you are involved, and in a significant way (as in, not like -1% efficiency), it will be another story, and perhaps the answer will be different.

As it is, do nothing.

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