Office Romance – Should You or Shouldn’t You?
Back in the early 80’s when I worked for a Provincial Government Department I watched an office romance unfold. He was a Senior Director in one area; she an admin in another. Both were married. She and her soon to be ex-husband as well as both families, were quite involved in a small, very religious group who saw adultery as one of, if not the worst, the 7 Deadly Sins. This meant that there were phone calls at work from her mother, her mother-in-law, and her pastor, and even, as far as I could tell, some senior member of their congregation imploring her to a) go back to her husband, and b) give up her sinful ways.
It was not until I asked my Admin where she kept disappearing to that I learned about the affair, and why so many of the admin staff spent so much time in the bathroom. Not all the staff, of course. Some were highly offended by what they perceived to be a highly immoral act, while her friends commiserated with her over the behaviour of her in-laws and own family and supported her decision to leave her husband. Needless to say, not a lot of work got done while this soap opera played out.
Today, some 35 years or so later, there is a high degree of ambivalence about Office Romances but the trend (at least in the U.S.) is clear. Vault Careers does a Office Roman Survey, and in 2015 they found: “Indeed, the most striking statistic from this year’s Vault Office Romance survey is that just 5 percent of respondents believe that no office romances are appropriate, down from 9 percent in 2011. Additionally, more respondents than ever (29%) are of the opinion that all romantic connections in the workplace are appropriate—including those between managers and their direct reports”.
While some companies may have policies regarding continuing to employ people who are engaged, for example, or married, others will have no official policy on this except for those who are in a direct or hierarchical reporting relationship. That may be a no-no for a variety of reasons – fear of charges of sexual harassment if the relationship turns bad; office gossip and charges of favouritism around salary increases or position enhancement. An article in the Globe & Mail states that 42% of companies now have polices on office romances.
Well, as Selena Gomez puts it: The Heart Wants What It Wants . . . However, before you plan on leaving cupid’s arrow firmly embedded in your heart, you might want to consider these reasons for NOT engaging in an office romance.
- As frequently as not, office romances do NOT work out, and then what? Remember that person you had a mad crush on when you were in eighth grade? And how mortified you were in tenth when you realized how awful s/he really was? And you asked yourself, “how could I have ever thought that I loved her/him? If, after the split, your feelings changed, how will it feel to have to work along side that person now, day after day after day? What was once ecstasy is now agony!
- Are you willing or anxious to be the centre of office gossip? Think you can keep it a secret? Highly doubtful. Infatuated people give all sorts of hints and signs, everything from lingering looks, to spending an increased amount of work time together in one another’s company, to increasing the amount of physical contact – brushing up against the shoulder, touching hands when you pass them something, to spending time together outside of work, and then telling your friends in the office about it.
- If one, or both of you, are in a current relationship, are you willing to cause pain to the partner of the other? What about the impact there may be on children? And if your current crush is willing to deceive his/her partner, what makes you think that the same thing won’t happen to you after the initial thrill has worn off? Some people are “serial romancers”. They are energized and excited by infatuation, not by the hum drum of every day life.
Office romances are not evil, or even inappropriate, of course. Spending a third of a day or more with someone who understands the jobs and the stresses is almost an aphrodisiac. Working with someone prior to hopping in to bed with them can save a lot of future problems. It can be a whole lot safer than picking up somebody in a bar. So, if you do find yourself in a situation where “Romance is in the Air” at the office, here are some tips that may prove useful.
Start by keeping the relationship as undercover as possible until you have a feeling that this may be headed toward some degree of permanence. This means that you don’t arrive at the office together, wearing the same clothes you had on yesterday! It also means that you don’t disclose this on your Facebook, or change your relationship status.
For the future professional success for both of you, you should have a conversation after you have gone out 3 or 4 times. The discussion should cover how you would both handle things if the relationship ended, how you’re going to treat each other at work, and if either of you would consider leaving the company, if needed. (One of you might have to.)
Do spend time with others at work – coffee, lunch, chatting in the morning. Do not spend all your break time with your new interest.
Do NOT engage in any public displays of affection (let alone sex on top of the copier!).
Once you have decided that this has the possibility of a long-term relationship, do tell others in the office that you are now a couple. This will stave off possible future problems (someone else hitting on your partner, for example) and put any gossip to rest.
If you are asked (before you are ready to disclose) about your relationship, don’t lie. You may not have to tell the “whole” truth, but when the truth comes out (as it undoubtedly will) then people will lose trust in you.
Since only 20% of people involved in office romances go on to commit to marriage with that person, the odds are against this having a happy ending. But, the heart does insist on jumping in where the head advises us not want to go.
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