Romance In The Workplace: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

A look at the pros and cons of an office romance

office-romanceAhh, Monday morning; that annoying time to get up early, schlep into the office and get back to the stresses of the job. Who looks forward to that? An office romance may make Monday mornings easier and more fun. But is adding a bit of excitement to your work life worth the risk?

This article looks beyond the first heady weeks of office romance and gets down the nitty gritty. Before you accept the offer of a date from that cute new guy in accounting, learn a little more about navigating the minefield of workplace romance.

Romance in the Workplace – The Good

These days, people spend the bulk of their time at work, which makes the temptation to start an office romance strong. After all, these are the people you see everyday. You have a lot in common with them. When you spend this much time with someone, you get to know them on an intimate, day-to-day level. You get a feel for their intelligence, personality and ethic and this can create a type of chemistry that could lead to something more.

Also, when you date somebody at work, they “get” you and the pressures of your job.

Dorothy Tannahill Moran puts it this way: “There are groups like law enforcement and the investigative agencies that have had great success actually encouraging relationships because the demands and pressures being put on them are often unique to their professions.

Being in a relationship where someone knows those demands and how that can likely impact time and availability is vital for any kind of relationship growth. People inherently understand and are attracted to others who “understand” that part of their life.”

Another draw of getting involved with a co-worker is the excitement coupled with the “safety” of dating somebody you’ve already gotten to know. Gregg Ward, Workplace Consultant puts it this way: “There are a lot of “creeps” (both men and women) out there in the world; dating and falling for someone you work with is a lot easier/safer than trying to meet someone in clubs, bars, etc.

And, once the romance starts, it can be very exciting “pretending” to your colleagues that you’re not dating.  Practically speaking, two people in an office romance can also be a force for good; sharing notes/ideas and collaborating well together.”

Romance in the Workplace – The Bad

There are also a lot of “cons” to dating your co-worker.

The most common one being, if it doesn’t work out, you still have to see your ex and work with him or her everyday. This is especially hard on the person who didn’t want the relationship to end. This type of situation can lead to poor performance, increased absenteeism, workplace drama and a possible hostile work environment.

Also, workplace romance rarely, if ever, stays between two people. Soon the rumor mill gets started and it’s everybody’s business. Now your love life is the subject of gossip around the water cooler and all eyes are on you and the person you’re dating. Relationships need time to grow between just two people before being brought out into the open. Constant scrutiny can drive a quick wedge between you.

Another reason work and romance rarely mix is it can put a serious hamper on job performance. You may find yourself taking longer lunches together or finding ways to sneak off to be alone. This could lead to jealousy among co-workers who may view this behavior as “slacking off”.

Romance in the Workplace – The Ugly

Aside from creating a tense office environment, having an office romance can also lead to potential legal consequences. For example, if one party wants to end the relationship but the other one doesn’t, a sexual harassment claim may come up.

Another potential ugly consequence of workplace romance? The person you’re dating may already be in a committed relationship. Imagine the embarrassment of finding this out through a nasty phone call or email from a furious significant other!

Susan Llewellyn Deniker offers another sobering thought: “Romances gone wrong can lead to workplace violence.”

Remember this; just because you work with somebody doesn’t mean you really know them. The person you’re dating may have a serious mental illness or some type of emotional instability you’re not aware of. The closeness and intimacy of a romantic relationship and the subsequent loss of this relationship could trigger a sudden and violent response.

The Supervisor/Subordinate Relationship – Double Trouble?

The supervisor/subordinate relationship is one of the trickiest office romances to navigate since there are so many potential pitfalls. For one, favoritism is going to be an issue.

Think of it this way: If your supervisor has ten other employees under him but he’s dating you, your coworkers are going to start treating you differently. Whether he is or isn’t offering you any special “perks”, such as raises or time off, people are going to believe he is. You may even risk turning into the office outcast.

As a supervisor dating a subordinate, you may run into some issues as well. Say you’re the supervisor and the person you’re dating suddenly believes they no longer have to work as hard or even do their job at all. Normally, you would reprimand the person but considering the relationship, your hands are now tied.

Supervisor/employee office romances may also lead to legal consequences. Senen Garcia, Esq. explains, “Now, in addition to the awkwardness the relationship undoubtedly will create, there is a legal issue with respect to potential harassment or discrimination claims. For example, giving raises/promotions to a subordinate simply because of a relationship he/she has with a superior or the perception of the relationship having an impact exists.”

And don’t forget about sexual harassment. Especially in a case like this. Even if the relationship was consensual, you always run the risk of a sexual harassment claim from the subordinate who can claim feeling pressured to continue the relationship out of fear of losing their job.

However, Janet Blair Page, PhD sees this type of romance in a slightly more favorable light: “The up side is that if the relationship works either as a romance or closer friendship, the subordinate wins more intimacy with no downside and the subordinate wins a lover and/or friend and possibly protector and mentor as well.”

What to Do When Romance is Unavoidable

Some office romances go beyond the excitement of a mere fling; they’re the real thing. If you and the person you’re dating believe this is something lasting, it’s best to disclose the relationship with a supervisor or management above both your positions for a fair analysis of the situation.

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP  explains how some companies are taking office romance policies a step further, “Many companies today are creating “Love Contracts” for people that are dating each other from the same company. The purpose of these contracts is to clearly outline specific guidelines and acknowledgements by both parties in the relationship. This protects the company, as well as defines the responsibilities and behavioral guidelines of the parties involved when they are at work.”

When it comes to workplace romance, it’s best to weigh the pros and cons first. You might find the love of your life or lose the best job you’ve ever had. At the very least, an office tryst will change the dynamic of your working environment. It could lead to diminished job performance, gossip and possible legal issues. Be sure to think it through before jumping right in. That way, you’ll at least be able to keep your head above water!

About Jaime A. Heidel

Jaime A. Heidel is a freelance writer with a passion for helping others. She enjoys writing articles on all subjects and is also a published fiction writer.

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