Office romance: what to do if it happens to you
“The people you work with are people you’re just thrown together with – you don’t know them, it wasn’t your choice, and yet you spent more time with them than you do with your friends and family. But probably all you’ve got in common is you walk around on the same bit of carpet for 8 hours a day. So, obviously, when someone comes in who you have a special connection with, then, yeah – Dawn was a ray of sunshine in my life, and it meant a lot.” -Tim in ‘The Office’
You might know someone who’s just all wrapped up in love with a work colleague, or you might be head-over-heels roly-poly yourself. It’s no surprise workplace frissons are pretty common – hey, just like Tim and Dawn in The Office, if you spend the best part of 8 hours a day sat next to someone you’re probably going to end up hating them or…well, fancying the absolute pants off them.
Workplace relationships come in all shapes and sizes. From super-intense, passionate trysts that are completely cupid but end as quickly as they start, to illicit affairs, real love and even marriage: the workplace can be a bit of a battleground for (potentially) Dangerous Liaisons.
In popular culture, the work romance is well documented. Whether its the high drama of Jerry Maguire and Bridget Jones, to the relationship between Tim and Dawn (gawd, we had tears in our eyes when Dawn opened that paint set in the taxi from the Christmas bash), we see an awful lot of happy endings. Movies and TV are movies and TV, though. They end – problem is, real life’s an ongoing thing. And when things go wrong, they can go very, very wrong indeed. Just ask Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky – that titillating tale was told all around the world.
So, if you’re in a workplace relationship, could your employer prohibit you from doing so? And how do you keep your work life together should it all end in tears? Let’s go beyond the strictly professional.
All shapes and sizes, then, but very rarely without rhyme or reason. What are the reasons behind office trysts? Traditional psychological studies point towards 3 driving forces:
1. Real love – I actually love them and it’s just amaaaaaaaaaaazing!
2. Ego – So…this is exciting and fun! For me, mind
3. Career – Hmm hmm…maybe this could help me get somewhere!
There’s been a lot of research into the scale and impact of workplace relationships – from employers to job applicants and HR teams, there are many people with a vested interest in understanding the intersection of the personal and professional.
56% of business professionals have participated in some type of workplace relationship, according to Vault
31% of office-romancers get married, says Careerbuilder
Top industries for workplace romance include fashion, transportation, logistics and construction (Approvedindex)
Industries where it’s less common include publishing, security and insurance (Approvedindex)
The legal stuff
There’s no legislation governing workplace relationships. Phew-ee. But that doesn’t necessarily give you carte blanche. As Tara Daynes, HR consultant and trainer, points out, organisations are free to have their own (reasonable) policies in place that employees are expected to comply with. These could include:
banning relationships between managers and staff
prohibiting relationships between staff in the same department
requiring staff to disclose any relationships
“These days there is more of an expectation that people will have relationships at work – the social and professional lines are often quite blurred, so to rule them out altogether would be unrealistic,” Tara says.
“But there is the risk of inappropriate behaviour, distractions, claims of favouritism, indiscrete pillow talk, etc. This is why there are often policies in place to manage things.”
The trouble and the strife
Sometimes office romances work out. People end up getting married and living happily ever after. Hooray. But for many others, things don’t work out. At all. How do you deal with a crash-and-burn scenario?
“The real problem is when relationships break up,” Tara explains. “If it’s an acrimonious split, this can often mean the risk of grievances, disputes and claims, such as harassment, victimisation etc. I once had to deal with a situation where one person had a restraining order against the other – difficult when they work in the same office!”
If you’re involved in a workplace relationship, Tara advises:
discussing with your partner what to do in the event of a split
agree how to make the professional relationship work
We might call it the politics of romance. For Rasheed Ogunlaru, a life coach, speaker, business coach and author, if a workplace romance collapses, it’s important to keep a level head.
“First and foremost, remember that the workplace is about work,” he says. “Do any tears, tantrums or therapeutic conversations outside of the office. Talk the situation through with your former love interest. Agree that you’ll be pleasant, personable and professional. Decide if anything needs to be said to others. What’s key is that your work does the talking. Ensure that you do a great job.”
While employers might be able to set policies governing workplace relationships, romance is never an objective thing. It’s hard to see how red tape could ever truly manage the course of true love, or lust.
Have you ever been in a workplace relationship? Not too mortified to tell us about it? Share your experiences below!
By: Ian Burke
Ian Burke is a director at totaljobs.com. One of the UK’s biggest job boards, it advertises roles across a range of sectors and attracts over 6m jobseekers, 110,000 live job ads and 2m applications every month. Totaljobs.com is part of Totaljobs Group Ltd; the UK’s largest and fastest-growing online recruitment company that comprises of five job boards.