When is office romance appropriate and when is it a really bad idea?
I recently found out that two of my friends, both of whom will remain un-named, are dating! They are co-workers, so have kept their relationship a secret since November! When I first found out, the initial response in my head was “why the secrecy, it’s not that big of a deal?” However, when I started considering the situation I could understand, after all many workplaces discourage office relationships, and sometimes it’s better not to alert co-workers to the daily news of your love life.
This got me thinking, “when is an office relationship OK, and when is it a bad idea”? Also, what are the rules to dating a co-worker?
Having worked at fashion companies for the last 5+ years, office relationships were an urban myth – after all it was 95% girls in my office. However, back in my accounting days, office relationships were a way of life. There were countless stories of partners marrying associates or administrative assistants; two associates or managers dating or fooling around, etc. It actually became a joke trying to figure who had dated whom, and who was now hooking up, especially after an April 15th party.
I by no means was innocent in this perplexing situation. Yes, I definitely dated a couple of my co-workers, and had a long-term relationship with one of them. It never really crossed my mind as being against firm policy, or that I was violating any rules. Though I will admit, at the beginning of the relationship we decided to keep it secret, much like my friends mentioned earlier are now doing.
However, no matter how ‘secret’ you think it is, there is bound to be gossip. For one, you are probably going into each other’s offices more than usual, also running out together at lunch, and leaving at the same time at night. People are bound to notice and question what is going on, and so it was with my situation. After a couple months of gossip we decided not to hide it any longer. Although we did not make an official announcement – didn’t see a need in doing that, we didn’t deny that we were seeing each other when people asked.
Our relationship was filled with lots of bumps which were highlighted when we were out drinking with other co-workers. This lead to rumors about how poorly one of us was treating the other, or what a terrible match we were. Luckily by the time we ended things once and for all, I had made my transition into the fashion world and was working at another company. There was nothing easy about the break-up and I definitely would not have wanted it to become an office spectacle.
Unfortunately, for a friend of mine who worked at a bank downtown, her office relationship and break-up became an office exhibition – in a bad way! She had been seeing Jonathan, one of the lead managers on her project, for about a month. They jumped into the sack pretty quickly. Due to her integrity and strong feelings for the manager, she requested a move in projects. She got placed on a new project which was pretty bland and boring, and looked nowhere as good on her resume as the original project. However, she was falling hard and didn’t want to hide the relationship, she also knew that it would be damaging for her career if anyone found out about the affair since she was technically working for the manager.
My friend had moved through the motions so quickly she never once stopped to question what their relationship meant to Jonathan, which would have been smart given his reputation as an office flirt (putting it nicely). She jumped in with her heart and not her head.
Jonathan insisted that they still keep the relationship quiet – he had married one of the HR girls from the bank 2 years earlier and was now in the process of a sticky divorce. Although his ex no longer worked there, he thought it would be bad for his reputation and career track if people learned he was already romantically involved with someone else from work. My friend naively went along with the request believing that in another couple months he would be ready to be together publicly.
That was not the case! Instead he started to distance himself from her, and act aloof and overwhelmed when she asked him what was going on. His excuses included that he was overworked ever since she left the project (to make her feel like it was her fault), the divorce proceedings were going slowly and that was distracting him, etc. There was always a new excuse.
One night after my friend had pulled a 14+ hour work day and was leaving the office, the floor appeared to be empty as everyone had left hours before. She had the not-so-bright idea of sneaking into Jonathan’s office, just to see if she could find anything. She was worried that perhaps he had decided against the divorce, and him and his ex had reconciled. When she walked by his office she noticed the light on in the conference room and the door shut. She decided to walk over and turn the light off, however she heard noise coming from the room…she was pretty sure two people must be hooking up in there, and started wondering who it could be.
Curiosity got the best of her and she decided to catch them in the act! When she opened up the door – she saw Jonathan’s naked ass! He was banging the office receptionist!
The next few weeks were terrible – rumors of the night started to spread. Never good at keeping calm, my friend had numerous yelling debates with Jonathan with everyone in the office as spectators. Humiliated, she decided to take a leave of absence from work and search for a new job. She made it her personal mission to never return to that office.
From these stories, I have concluded the following list of ground rules for office romances:
1. Make sure the person who you are romantically involved with is not the same person you report into! Even working on the same team or project can be a bad idea. Too much time together!
2. Make sure there is not a policy against office relationships at your place of work, or follow any rules to make sure you are not breaking office policy.
3. Keep the drama at home – of course there is bound to be office gossip about you, but don’t give your co-workers material to feed on.
4. Be resolved to be professional at work – despite fights, break-ups, etc…if you can’t keep things professional or if you let yourself get too emotional when it comes to your relationships, then it’s a terrible idea to get involved with anyone from your office.
5. Before you are willing to risk your career or potential, make sure that both you and the other person are on the same page with how you feel about each other and what you want from the relationship. If it’s just a fling, realize that and be smart about it.
6. If you do break-up, I would highly suggest not making your rebound or your next relationship another co-worker. However, if common sense is lacking, do not flaunt your new relationship in front of your old one.
Have you ever had an office romance? Share your thoughts, stories, and office romance rules with me!