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Chances are if you work with a group of people, you know someone who is having or who has had an office romance, or, perhaps, it’s you who’s had the experience. Either way, you may already know some of the situations that can arise from being an observer or a participant. And make no mistake—if you are having an office romance, you have observers, no matter how discreet you think you are being, and that is just one of the potential problems.
For many of us, people at work become like a family of sorts. After all, at times we might spend as much, if not more, time with our coworkers than our family. Laurie Puhn, couples mediator and bestselling author of Fight Less, Love More says, “You get to know them [coworkers] better than you would have if you met him/her at a bar.” You are often able to read your peers like you read friends or family members, and Pugh says, “This level of emotional intimacy lends itself to sexual feelings. Emotional intimacy is the main part of falling in love.”
Emily Bennington, Author of Effective Immediately and Who Says It’s a Man’s World, says, “While company policies vary, it’s obvious why office romances are so commonplace. Where else can you observe–without actually committing to a date–someone’s communication style, habits, leadership ability, and interpersonal skills? It’s almost too convenient really.” And according to Mary Hladio, Founder and President of Ember Carriers Leadership Group, working closely on projects can create an emotional bonding, and “if they’re not paying attention, Cupid’s arrows can fly amid the flow charts and balance sheets.”
The workplace is apparently the perfect place to find romance, or is it? Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka Dr. Romance) psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again, believes, “It’s way too easy to begin an extramarital affair at the office—it’s an affair incubator.” So apparently, the jury is in on the “why’s” of office romances.
If you’ve observed or participated in an office romance that ended badly, you might be saying to yourself, “There are no Pros to office romances,” but according to Halley Bock, Leadership, Development, and Training expert, CEO and President of Fierce, Inc., romance at the office is here to stay. “I think we’ve begun to accept, and even embrace, the fact that romantic relationships will happen in the workplace and all managers and employees need to be aware and prepared and focus on the positive aspects rather than worry about what could go wrong.”
Susan Shapiro Barash, author of The Nine Phases of Marriage, has seen that an office romance can lead to a happy marriage, and “so it becomes the way that the couple met.” Both Bock and Barash report that productivity can increase with Barash saying, “The level of production can increase by the pheromones that are released during a period of intense love affair.” Women who are in relationships have reported to Barash that “meeting someone in the workplace gives them a sense of what they have or don’t have with their husbands or boyfriend.” Single workers report that “working together gives them insight into their love interest’s character.”
Barash reports, “The cleanest and easiest office romance is one in which both parties are single. But this isn’t always the case and many of these romances are about a married person and a single person. Or two married people who fall for one another at the office.” So facts are that office romances can often be a dirty business. There are several predictable scenarios that can occur in office romances, and the romance between a supervisor and staff member puts up the most red flags.
Scott I. Barer, Labor and Employment Law Attorney, says, “Any time there is a workplace relationship between a manager and a subordinate, there exists the possibility that the subordinate will later claim she or he was coerced or forced into the relationship.”
One way to bring attention to your relationship, not that you want to do that, is to skip over the hierarchy inherent in a supervisor-subordinate relationship which can cause your coworkers to notice. Barash says “If this relationship blows up, in most cases one person will stay and one will leave. This is a double whammy since the relationship falls apart and then there is also how it affects one’s career at the company.” Puhn adds another dimension, “There is no way for a supervisor to be objective in his/her review of a loved ones’ work, because the review affects his/her ability to have sex with you that night.”
There are also pitfalls in relationships between two staff members: “secrets,” says Puhn, which can sabotage the workplace for colleagues. “Efforts to keep the romance a secret leads to lies about where you are at lunch, after work, as well as hushed conversations and the appearance that the two of you are allied against others at work. It is bad for morale.” There’s nothing like a hushed conversation to draw everyone’s attention and curiosity in your direction.
Even two single people will face problems in an office romance. Things might be going along nicely, and then, for instance, one of them is promoted. “This is not a problem for the office,” says Puhn, “but it is for the romance. How the couple deals with that will be a sign of how they would handle a real marriage, which has its own life obstacles.” Barash says this situation can cause friction between the couple as the person left behind “feels snubbed and it alters the balance of the relationship while underscoring how delicate a situation it is to be having this romance at all.”
Eventually, a romantic couple may find themselves with a third party in the relationship—Human Resources.Jonathan Segal, attorney and executive director of the Duane Morris Institute, says there are two scenarios when HR might insert themselves into the relationship: “The first is where HR wants to make sure that any romance which may exist is consensual. This most likely is to be the case where the relationship is between a supervisor and a subordinate.” Segal says the second situation “is when there are complaints by or concerns expressed by coworkers. This may take the form of coworkers believing that the subordinate paramour is receiving preferential treatment. It also may occur where coworkers are uncomfortable with the public displays of affection.”
Office romance can be especially difficult in small businesses. Hladio observes that “many workers there have overlapping responsibilities and frequently interact. Love affairs are quickly noticed and co-workers are especially sensitive to favoritism, whispered confidences, and tensions and hostilities, all of which may affect morale and even performance.”
Don’t forget that if you do opt to find true love in an office romance, and if it does not work out, you are faced with seeing that person every day at work. You may end up having to find another job.
Hladio believes that “Instead of banning relationships in the workplace, employers should focus on properly managing them” by taking “an offensive approach.” Attorney Barer says, “Employers should consider policies forbidding managers from getting romantically involved with subordinates. It’s critically important that employers train their employees (managers and staff) regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.”
If you have fallen in love with someone in the office and “you’ve made a legitimate connection with a (ahem, single) colleague,” says Bennington, “the best course of action is to be very discrete about your relationship in the beginning. If you beat the odds and things turn serious, share your good news tactfully and professionally.” Otherwise she suggests if you’re just looking for a little fun, find that somewhere else besides the workplace.