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Office romance: dos and don’ts

ar5l5n76kcf6ttqh77jsWith more of us working long hours – leaving less time and energy for dating – should we really be surprised when co-workers’ eyes meet across the water cooler?

‘When people spend eight hours a day, five days a week, together, it’s only natural to form close friendships, which can sometimes develop into something more,’ says business and personal relationships coach Susan Quilliam.

While many happily married people met at work, office romances need careful handling.

‘Office romances can – and do – work out, but some don’t or are fraught with problems. A badly handled, messy affair could seriously jeopardise your career, as well as leaving you heartbroken, so take care to go into any relationship with your eyes open,’ warns Susan.

If you’re already dating someone in the office, here are the dos and don’ts to consider.

Don’t: date a co-worker to escape office boredom

You see his name ping into your inbox and get a shiver of excitement. She sits next to you in the meeting and you can forget concentrating on the latest sales figures.

‘The thrill of attraction can be exhilarating but if your mind is no longer on the job, take a step back,’ advises Susan. ‘Could the frisson be a way to liven up a dull work day?

‘If the best thing about coming to work is seeing a particular colleague, could it be you’ve fallen out of love with your job? Even if the flirtation is mutual, would a relationship between you survive outside of the office? If not, you may need to have a closer look at how you feel about your job – rather than your co-worker.’

Don’t: date your boss

Office romances can be a minefield at the best of times – but date someone who is directly above or below you in the chain and you’re asking for trouble.

‘Rightly or wrongly, questions of impartiality will be raised,’ says Corinne Mills, Managing Director of Personal Career Management.

‘Your team mates may suspect you’re being given an unfair advantage, while top management will question how you can effectively manage an employee you’re romantically involved with.

‘There’s also the potential of harassment charges. Even if this outcome seems unlikely to you, Human Resources may see a legal landmine in the making. When a relationship ends badly, it’s not unheard of for the junior person (often younger and female) to start a sexual harassment case, or suggest the more senior individual abused their position of authority.

‘If you’re really in love, one of you needs to think about moving to a different department or start looking for another job – and the sooner the better.’

Do: tell your manager

Most office romances start out a secret but not many stay that way.

Corinne says: ‘Your private life is your business – and should be kept that way – but there is one person you should consider telling, and that’s your boss.

‘Ask for a meeting and keep it simple. There’s no need to go into detail – just demonstrate your ability to show professionalism regarding the subject. If other workplace relationships have gone bad, reassure your manager that there will be no conflict of interest.’

Don’t: fight in front of your co-workers

Want to undermine your professional integrity at work? Playing out your domestic dramas during business hours is a sure way to go about it.

Susan says: ‘All couples have disagreements and even full-blown arguments, if handled the right way, can be healthy for a relationship. Unfortunately, those who work together don’t have the luxury of escaping one another to cool off.

‘If things are getting heated, leave the office for 10 minutes – go for a walk or call a friend (preferably one that’s not a colleague). Don’t carry on the argument with snippy emails or worse still, out loud. Agree to talk about it when you get home – and make sure you do.’

Don’t: snog during corporate functions

If you want to be known for your professional ability, be professional at all times – and that includes at team-building events and corporate functions.

‘People are more relaxed on business trips but don’t be naïve enough to think that what happens offsite won’t be remembered once you’re back in the office,’ warns Corinne.

‘Behave inappropriately and you risk tainting others’ perceptions of you. In addition to being the main topic of conversation on Monday morning, you may well have undermined your chances of promotion or be less likely to be recommended for other positions.’

Do: develop an exit strategy

Breaking up is never easy, as they say, but when you work together it can be even tougher – and that’s something which shouldn’t be underestimated.

‘The end of a relationship isn’t something couples think about when they first get together, but when you’re dating someone at work, it’s a conversation worth having,’ says Susan.

‘Think about how you will cope seeing each other on a daily basis should you break up. Have you escaped heartbreak in the past by throwing yourself into your work? If so, are you prepared to find another job in order to fully move on?

‘Just as business partnerships have an exit strategy, think about how you will handle things when one party wants out of the relationship. If you’re serious about each other, it may prove beneficial – for lots of reasons – for one of you to seek employment elsewhere now.’

Image: © stefanolunardi –


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