How to Navigate the Office Romance


What Does ‘Me Too’ Mean for the Office Romance?

In an age when society is becoming ever more technology focussed when it comes to social interaction, and we spend less and less time with friends, work is one of the few places in which we socialise on a day-to-day basis, and thus, inevitably, it becomes an environment for potential romantic interest to ferment and an office romance can begin.

However, in the wake of the “Me Too” movement, many businesses leaders are revaluating their company’s sexual harassment, anti-fraternisation or dating policies. The ‘Me Too’ has forever altered the landscape in which we all work, and had helped raise awareness about the magnitude of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. As a result, many people are questioning whether you should date in the workplace today, and if you do, what rules should be followed.

It is unrealistic for a company to adopt a policy that completely bans dating a co-worker, client or business associate. People spend a majority of their day at work, which is why roughly 40% of people have dated a colleague, according to an annual survey by CareerBuilder, and a whopping 16 per cent of people met their spouse or partner at work. Yet workplace romances do not always have a happily-ever-after ending. The fallout can lead to a lawsuit, loss in productivity or tension among the staff.

So how do you navigate the office romance minefield without harming your career or suffering serious emotional damage? 

The Things you Need to Consider

Firstly, you must be completely familiar with the ethos of the company within which you work. The company culture of every office is different – some companies may have a relaxed attitude; some may adopt a completely no-go attitude to office romances – this may be especially the case within the public sector – although note that in Australia, you cannot specifically ban people from dating their co-workers; what you do with your personal life is none of your employer’s business. 

Your company’s primary concern will be minimising the fallout should a relationship go south and avoiding any allegations of impropriety or bias (especially if you are the boss of your colleague or vice versa). Burgeoning romances between staff of different hierarchies may cause wider issues that you may want to consider. If there are no hard and fast rules in place, you are the best judge of what kind of environment you’re working in. 

Is It the Real Deal?

Being thrust together eight hours a day or more with a common goal can create an environment where you feel you are a natural fit with your colleague. You have bonded over late nights and gruelling deadlines. You feel that there could be a real connection and be tempted to think that you have found ‘the one’. But once that big contract is in the bag, what is keeping you together? 

It is the great contradiction of workplace friendship – we foster super-intense relationships with individuals with whom we might otherwise believe we have zero in common. So, see if the bond you have formed exists outside the work bubble. Have a coffee outside work, meet their friends.

In short, see if the bond you formed in the hothouse arena of work is more than just having been thrust together with a common goal. You may find that it was not what you imagined. But perhaps it was. Either way, you need to be absolutely certain before you forge a stronger bond at work. 

The office romance and conficts of interest

The Office Romance & Conflicts of Interest

The most obvious source of issues is when one employee starts dating his or her direct superior. If you or your significant other manages groups of people, conflicts of interest can arise no matter how careful you are about treating your partner fairly. Even if you do everything perfectly, your company will not want to deal with the inevitable complaints from people who see a situation differently. If you are your partner’s supervisor, talk to your employer about changing positions or departments if possible.

Obviously, this depends a great deal on the environment at your office and your company policy. However, keeping your work-life professional and treating your significant other as you would any other co-worker will go a long way towards ensuring you don’t end up in trouble with the company.

Summary

There are many people who successfully date co-workers or businesses associates and maintain their work integrity – even when those relationships end. The key is open communication from the start. After the recent Christmas parties, you may have been asked to have dinner or drinks with a colleague. 

Just remember, do not agree to a date with a co-worker if you cannot have an honest conversation about where the relationship is headed. Have the talk first, because ultimately you need to feel safe in the workplace.

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