Office romances – good or bad idea?

It’s natural to find love at work. It’s where people spend most of their time. But an office romance can be risky for the lovebirds and their company. Employers are concerned that the sweethearts will fall behind in their work or that the relationship could sour and lead to sexual harassment charges. Some companies prohibit romantic relationships altogether; an employee who falls in love could get fired. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

- What is love?
There isn’t one way to define a relationship. Everyone has a different view, including your employer. Some bosses believe a one-time fling after the annual holiday party counts as a relationship, especially if a supervisor and subordinate are involved. Others might argue that it doesn’t matter unless there’s a longer-lasting courtship.

Employees may contend that what they do in their personal lives shouldn’t be their employer’s business. But it can be if it presents a financial or legal risk to the company. The way employers see relationships at work focuses on the legal and morale issues. They worry about charges of favoritism and harassment.

The concern is that office romances can lead to workplace distractions, and not just for the lovers. Co-workers may complain if a colleague who’s involved with a supervisor gets a promotion or is given coveted assignments. The resentment is likely to have an effect on teamwork and productivity.

- Then What are the Rules?
Many companies try to create rules for how far workplace social connections can go. Some ban bosses from dating anyone at a lower rank. Those that allow dating might require employees to disclose when they are in relationships. At Goldman Sachs Group Inc., you must tell your manager if you are involved with a co-worker, spokesman Gia Moron said. If you don’t and the relationship is discovered, you risk being fired.

Some companies require “love contracts,” a legal document that both employees sign declaring the relationship is consensual. It also might lay out the company’s sexual harassment policy. Once an employer is told about a relationship, managers could decide to move one employee to another division to avoid potential conflicts of interest that could come from having the couple working together.

- Be Mature!
Co-workers who are having a relationship need to be circumspect. That means no giggling in the break room or making eyes at each other across the office. Even if your boss and co-workers know you’re together, you must be discreet. You don’t want anyone complaining to management that they can’t work with you because you’re being too touchy with your mate or aren’t acting professionally.

A survey sponsored by the work-life consulting firm Workplace Options found that 44 percent of the 623 respondents had observed other romantic relationships or acts of romantic affection at work. And more than a third of those who witnessed the romance said it made them uncomfortable or affected their work.

- The LashBack!
Relationships can be great when you’re in them but disastrous if they blow up. And the disaster can extend to your job. It’s hard to focus on work if you have to see your former mate each day. That can affect productivity and morale — yours and that of your co-workers, who may sense the animosity between you. There’s also a risk that a scorned mate will sabotage a former lover’s work or professional reputation.

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