Office romances have been going on forever. Nothing new there. According to a study conducted by Vault.com, almost half the office-going population has been romantically linked to someone at work and many more would like to find love in the adjoining cubicle! Yet another study by employee benefits provider, Workplace Options, points out that 84 per cent of employees between the ages of 18 to 29 say they would definitely date a co-worker and 71 per cent think that workplace romance is a very positive thing that improves performance and morale.
But the question is – does cupid really find a place in the office? Most people interact with their colleagues on a daily basis, in an environment that is perceived as safe and dependable. And because of common interests, common gossip, shared office humour – which may or may not take place over several cups of tea or cocktails – a sparkcan be ignited. But should that spark light into a conflagration? This is a matter of choice. Or is it?
Reconciling your personal and professional life to everyone’s satisfaction is a truly formidable task. One that almost always leaves one partner wishing they’d never bitten off what they couldn’t chew! In the initial stages dating a colleague or co-worker may not seem such a bad idea after all. Those who work long hours don’t have the time to find a potential partner and those who have partners at home may find a distraction at office a big of fun. New relationships also bring with them some semblance of excitement. A look exchanged, a bit of fun and drama. All these no doubt add spice to the everyday drudge of the workplace. But as one unfortunate girl put it, “Working with my boyfriend was simply wonderful. He made me laugh and we shared some great times together. I of course realized too late that he was in it for fun and I got deeper and deeper into the relationship only to discover that I had fallen in love with him. He was married. That should have warned me in the first place. But, I guess I made a mistake. He chose his wife over me and who can blame him. But he made me suffer a kind of hell I never wish to go through again. When things got bitter our mutual colleagues got to know and I eventually had to leave my great job.”
Inevitably, people fail to think about what will happen when the relationship ends. There are far more stories about people getting romantically involved where things just do not work out. So is the person important enough to risk your job for? This is the question you have to ask yourself, advise experts. Pamela Baack, co-author of the bestseller, The Everything Romance Book, advises couples to be smart about this. “You have to really think about what you’ve got to lose and what you’ve got to gain.” For some the worst case scenario would be that you would lose your professional reputation that you worked so hard at. You could also end up being the butt of office gossip. And if you did not change your job – some companies do not have rules against office romances – you would have to keep working together in not so cordial circumstances. According to the Vault.com study many people do end up marrying the people they `date’ at work. This probably holds true for professions such as the media or advertising where long working hours are the norm. Most young journalists concur when they say that it’s not just the hours. It’s also the rapport that is shared and the understanding that when they get home late the partner would understand why. That out of the way, what is important in a workplace relationship is that you have to be able to maintain a balance between professionalism and romance. For instance while some office connections may be acceptable, dating the person you report to, or someone who reports to you, is not. If you really can’t live without each other – get your reporting relationship changed, advise the experts. Transfer to another department or try switching jobs. There are some companies that have strong policies on dating and actively discourage romances because if there is a breakup it affects everyone else in the office.
Experts advise that dating within the workspace must be done with a great deal of caution. One must be relatively sure of the person one is getting involved with and ask a few relevant questions – is he reliable, married, perceived well etc? Of course in the end it is an individual decision but at least one must go into something with one’s eyes wide open. Experts say that it’s best to set some ground rules that will help keep your work life professional and your social life unburdened by office issues. The excitement of the romance seems to throw most people off balance. Some try and finish work as rapidly as possible with no focus on quality just so that they may have that extra time with their partner. Some skip deadlines or assume a `don’t care’ attitude. The task on hand is pushed to the side and so on. “The time that you spend flirting or sending your signals at work is obviously time that you’re not working, so it can affect your job performance,” says Pamela Baack.
Of course there are others who are far better at hiding things and keeping their relationships under wraps. But these are a handful, say experts. Most spend long hours at work chatting or sending each other SMSes or even e-mails. “You don’t want to be sending each other romantic e-mails while you’re at work,” advises Pamela Baack. As far as the risks go, it depends on the size of the company. In a smaller company where everyone knows one another, it would be incredibly difficult to hide a relationship. At larger corporations with multiple departments or floors, it could be easier to hide a romantic entanglement. However, office romances are not like fairy tales where people live happily ever after. They can lead to a lot of nastiness as well – sexual harassment and much worse. So, the mantra here would be to go slow and think things out repercussions and all before you take the leap.
Here is some advice by Marty Nemko:
* Be Honest with Your Prospective Partner: If you’re only looking for a quick fling, don’t make long-term-relationship noises in your efforts to seduce.
* Think Twice Before Starting a Relationship with Your Boss: In some workplaces, this is strictly verboten, but even if it is permissible, beware. If later on, you dump your boss, he may retaliate.
* Think 10 Times Before Starting a Relationship with Your Direct Report”: That’s risky even if the relationship is working well. For example, your honey begs you for a plum assignment that, from a business perspective, you believe should go to someone else. But you feel forced to say yes to your special friend…
* Keep It Quiet: When you’re in love, it’s tempting to tell everyone in the office. That’s a mistake. From then on, the two of you will be under the microscope. It’s even dangerous if the two of you are peers.
* Have Fun: Actually, the office is a pretty darn good place to meet a romantic partner. Unlike in a bar, where you pick mainly on impulse and an alcohol-impaired chat, at work you get to see more of what a person is really like.
Nemko is a contributing writer with Monster.com and author of “Career Center: Cubicle love: Tips for workplace dating.