Office romance: the dos and don’ts
Whether you’ve fallen for the boss or been making eyes at your desk mate, check out our top tips for avoiding awkwardness in an office romance
Finding a new flame is always exciting, but when it’s three desks down and must be kept under wraps it can feel utterly irresistible. After all, there is no better way to spice up the daily grind. And like friends dating, you already know you’ve got masses in common. But imagine the tension at the water-cooler should things go wrong, not to mention the escalation in office politics. Plus, you could even lose your job.
So are those trysts on the stairwell best kept a fantasy? Or could this be the long-term relationship you’ve longed for? Before you proceed, keep these points in mind:
Do . . .
. . . think about the impact on your work
Aside from the obvious complications if they are your boss or vice versa, office relationships make managers uneasy because they almost certainly reduce productivity. New love is distracting enough without the object of your affection being right in front of your eyes all day long.
. . . make sure the feeling is mutual
It should not have required the prolonged furore of #metoo to educate us on the basics of respectful boundaries in the workplace, but now there’s even less of an excuse. If you have ambitions of a romantic relationship with a colleague then you need (a) to be very confident they feel the same way and (b) find a way to cultivate it outside the office. Sensitivities vary greatly between individual’s and one person’s flattering compliment by the photocopier is another’s lewd come-on. Sexual harassment allegations can destroy a career overnight and crying ‘banter’ as an excuse no longer cuts it. Even if it doesn’t go that far, do you really want a reputation as the office sleaze?
. . . consider your other colleagues
There are few things more irritating in the workplace than an newly smitten couple who spend their day mooning across the desks while giggling at in-jokey WhatsApps. While at work, keep it entirely professional, respect your colleagues and save your expressions of devotion for later. When your colleague eventually find our they’re likely to be a lot more supportive as a result.
. . . check the rulebook
Could a relationship jeopardise your jobs? Increasing numbers of companies have explicit rules about workplace affairs, particularly where one of the protagonists is in a position of seniority. If such rules exist, you can find them in your employees’ handbook; if not, ask your HR department for the company’s written policy.
. . . have a plan if it all goes wrong
At best, a fizzled-out fling will be a mild source of irritation at work. But if hopes were high and emotions were strong it could be a harrowing experience. Before entering into a workplace romance, it’s important that you both have the same expectations for the relationship. If someone is misled or badly burnt they could become embittered and perhaps even vindictive.
The aftermath of failed relationship can make the workplace absolute hell as there is no escape from each other. There’s also the danger of falling for the office serial dater. If you’re new to the office, do you homework. Look out for dagger-filled glares from previous conquests.
Don’t . . .
. . . move too fast, too soon
Even more reckless types might think twice about an office romance given the potential for trouble. Even if you’re pretty sure of mutual attraction, take it very slow indeed and make sure there’s longer-term potential: a short-lived fling that ends acrimoniously might be the worst outcome of all. Workplace relationships provide an immediate test of endurance: you probably already spend a lot of time together and will do for the forseeable future, so what’s the rush?
. . . mistake professional enthusiasm for personal
A lot of people are passionate about their jobs and it can be easy to mistake professional exuberance on a shared project for something more personal. This is why it’s critical to develop the early stages of an office romance outside the work environment: if it’s going to work, you need to be able to separate the ups and downs of the job from those of your personal lives outside.
. . . treat an expense account like pin money
An upcoming work trip that would see both you and the object of your affection staying in the same hotel? A perfect opportunity, perhaps, but it is not part of your employers’ responsibilities to finance your love life. On no account should you engineer work scenarios so that you can see more of each other, nor should any time together that doesn’t involve work be billed to the company tab. Any evidence of pushing the boundaries on this could easily get you both sacked.
. . . be too secretive
Unless you are both brilliant actors, it will be easy for your colleagues to spot the signs. Pretending absolute professionalism is a blatant giveaway and will be tricky to maintain. Confiding the details of your intimacy to other colleagues is potentially a huge breach of trust with your partner and could leave them (and you) vulnerable to malicious gossip. Keep it quiet initially, until you have at least established some medium-term potential for the relationship, but after that be as honest as possible with your colleagues. Be open about potential conflicts of interest and recuse yourself from professional situations where it’s within your power to favour your partner over another employee.
. . . let fear win every time
Despite these warnings, there are circumstances where an office romance can lead to unbreakable bonds. Everybody knows someone who met their spouse at work. It will certainly add extra pressures – there’s no escaping an argument, one of you might get promoted at the expense of the other. But they will always know what you’re going through and understand your stresses.
Just remember that the same rules about dating apply: compatibility and chemistry are key. So, make sure the basics of a good relationship exist.
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