Personal relationships within a lab. What Would You Do?

Romantic relationships have developed among doctoral candidates working in a large university laboratory on several occasions. Invariably these relationships have led to bad feelings, either among those involved or among their colleagues in the lab, and productivity has suffered as a result. The director seeks to establish a policy that would sustain morale in such cases, preferably by requiring that at least one party to any such relationship must leave the lab. Is this appropriate? How should the director proceed?

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The intimate workday atmosphere can facilitate personal relationships. Indeed, the long term outcome is often excellent. I can't agree with the statement that  "Invariably these relationships have led to bad feelings." That is simply not true in my experience.

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It is not appropriate for a lab director to try to control the non-lab activities of her students, colleagues or employees.  The institution will generally have a policy that romantically involved persons should not supervise, grade, or evaluate each others' work, and that is, I believe, as far as it's safe or sane to go.  Mandating that one person leave the lab has the potential to be enormously unfair, fosters secrecy and dishonesty, and will not actually stop people from having relationships. 

It's perfectly appropriate to create standards for professional conduct in the lab and require all students, colleagues and employees to follow them.  If done well this can cut down greatly on the "bad feelings" described in the original post.  But such standards should stick to the lab.  What people do on their own time is their own business.

(Disclaimer:  I have been married for 20 years to someone I met in the lab.)

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