Thursday, October 18, 2007

Office Romances- Good or Bad?

According to The New York Times there's an increasing trend in corporate America toward the acceptance of office romances. The NYT article tells the stories of couples who met through work and then went on to get married, with their boss's blessing, which is very sweet, but I have to wonder what happens to the other 96% of couples who end up in a messy breakup, forced to see and work with each other during a painful, awkward and uncomfortable time. Only 34% of workers are keeping office relationships a secret (source: Some human resource departments are even encouraging these kinds of relationships between employees, as it strengthens their commitment to the company and makes going to work more enjoyable.

The way I see it, office romances are almost always a bad idea. It changes the group dynamic to have two people who obviously have feelings for each other, and it can lead to charges of favoritism or bias when you're working together. It can also just make others uncomfortable, particularly if the couple in question is affectionate at the office. Even if the couple is hiding the relationship from others, it's very difficult to fully keep it a secret, and regardless of whether others know, you're going to treat your love interest differently than you treat others, and that's not fair to your co-workers.

But the real trouble arises during and after the breakup stage, which for the majority of office romances, is essentially inevitable. Being the subject of office gossip is never fun, but working with someone who's deeply hurt you is nearly impossible, and will most certainly hurt your job performance, in addition to making you miserable for most of the day. Even if the relationship ends on positive terms, you're still in a tricky position in trying to treat the other person as if the romance never happened, and convincing others of the same.

These are fairly mild problems, but what if during the relationship, you realize that the other person is a little crazy? They could report that you sexually harrassed them, sabotage your projects, or if they're your superior, try to get you fired or demoted. If you realize this while you're still together with the person, you might be put in the position of fearing for your job if the relationship ends. I think there are just too many risks to office romances to make them worthwhile. If you find the person you think you'll be together with for a long time, you could always wait until one of you switched jobs to take your relationship to the next level.

I think this growing acceptance of office romances follows the trend of increasingly blurring the lines between our home and work lives. Both men and women are working longer hours than ever, and companies are trying to keep their workers happy so they'll continue to work hard and not burn out. I see a lot of similarities between policies like this one and the increasing number of offices that have amenities like gyms, fancy cafeterias, inter-office parties and events and other features that have the dual intention of keeping employees happy and staying at the office longer. If your office has everything you need, you rarely have to leave. But keeping these two lives separate is healthy, and it's far better for individuals and their co-workers to keep their romances outside the office.

Do you think office romances are a good thing? Should they stay private or become public?


Andi O'Rourke said...

I've never worked in an office- just restaurants and swim teams. Inter-work romances were inevitable and always explosive. I've just found out that work and romance don't mix, and that I'm happy to keep love and work as far away from wach other as possible.

laura said...

I met my husband at work. But that said, my boss was ALL OVER the situation and went to great lengths to keep the relationship from affecting the business adversely. This was a catering company and my husband was a chef while I was an event coordinator who also worked/ ran events (my own and those of the more senior planners and coordinators.) They got a lot of mileage out of being able to set the two of us together to work a two person event at 4 am knowing that we'd both show up, only bring one vehicle (less need for parking!) and work extraordinarily well together. HOWEVER we never worked an event that had several staff that I was running because the boss thought it would adversely affect my authority (that people being what they are, they might defer to the "senior male" there and not to me especially knowing about the relationship.) It was in her best interests for me to have as much authority with the staff as possible. There were lots of times we co-coordinated large events with my boyfriend running the kitchen while I ran the front of the house. We had great communication so the usual kitchen/ FOH glitches never happened for us. By the time we got really serious about each other, I decided to get a different job so that we would have separate lives at least part of the time and so that we could have a life (because catering meant we both worked nearly 80 hrs a week. Together, yes, but who would have done the laundry and grocery shopping? (Seriously-- SOMEONE needed to get a little time off.) The huge personal plus for me was that we developed a really effective working style that has translated well into our married life. We make a great, efficient, equal team, and we know each other's problem solving strengths and weaknesses very well.

m. said...

Pursuing relationships at work is unwise, in my experience, and can be avoided with some discipline. Yes, there are attractive, interesting people with whom you work (if you're lucky!), and there are many, many more people in the world with whom you don't work, and some of them must be attractive and interesting and viable dating options.

That said, if you work at an enormous company, it's less bad, in my book, to date someone you don't work WITH but who works in a very distinct division of the same company.

Elle said...

I think you're absolutely right, Meg, and I think you've listed some very good reasons why getting involved with someone at work is a bad idea.

One that you didn't mention is status differences: your examples assume the romantic partners are peers. What happens if one gets promoted? Or what if one is a supervisor to begin with? Bad, bad idea, and no responsible, ethical HR department would encourage it.

Anonymous said...

I can name at least 10 couples from work who met at work and who are happily married.

I met my love at work and we have been going strong for years. When we started dating, we approached a close colleage and asked him how to avoid any conflict of interest. He (who was in a management position) informed us that everything was OK so long as one of us wasn't supervising the other. So far, this hasn't been the case. We have worked on projects together, however, but again, no problems.

The perception at our workplace is that this is acceptable. Given the prevalence of married couples at work, this attitude seems only natural.

At times, your heart *just knows* and this may indeed happen at work!



Anonymous said...

If Jim Halpert worked at my office, I would be pro-office romances, is all I'm saying!

Marie said...

I met my husband at work and we did keep it a secret for a while (until we knew we could keep personal and work separate). The key to making relationships last the distance at work is to be as professional as possible. I Usually I didn't waltz into my partner's office and expect stuff to happen straight away. I'd email him and ask (like everyone else), at the end of the day we'd asked each other how our days were. It's great way to vent because our office was small (about 30 people) so we knew each others bosses and co-workers. If anyone of us was working on something confidential we'd just say "can't talk about what I did today - you'll know shortly." and we'd respect that. I found that most of our co-workers weren't able to get over the the fact that we were working and dating each other but we made it work and I'm very glad we did.

lisa said...

I second M. and Elle's comments. I work in an environment where it's not that big a deal to date someone from your workplace, and one of the HR coordinators who used to work here loved to play matchmaker. I know about three couples that met and got married/engaged in my workplace.

I think if the company is sufficiently large and you're part of distinctly different teams or divisions, and one partner isn't the other partner's supervisor, it doesn't cross any ethical boundaries or create uncomfortable situations.

On the flip side of the coin, being in the same environment day in day out for 40-60 hours a week, how else are some office workers going to meet people they can date?

k-spice said...

I actually met my fiance at work... He's a high school english teacher and I was a paraprofessional (now a special ed teacher). The kids actually fixed us up, with comments like, "gee, miss, don't you think Mr. McC is cute??" and doing the same to him!!! Because we work with high schoolers, we kept things on the down-low, which was kind of hard when we started running into students on our dates... a unique situation, I suppose, but a workplace romance success nonetheless!

k-spice said...

PS--I forgot to mention: one of the best parts of dating a co-worker is that I already knew we had at least one passion in common--working with kids! We don't work at the same school anymore, so that we can have separate lives (like laura), but we share the same drive and investment in our profession and can enjoy that together.

Anonymous said...

I recently broke up with someone I work with & it is not fun to see him every day. We have managed to stay pretty good friends but the first couple of weeks were pretty rough. My advice is to make sure its something you really think will go somewhere. If its just a fling, save yourself the trouble, there are plenty of guys that you don't work with.

Jo said...

Oh, God, this is my nightmare.

Two of my coworkers, already married to other people, began a fling a couple of years ago, and *everything* suffered: unit cohesion, patient care, professionalism.

It's difficult to work a 12-hour shift with people who are paging one another with sexy messages, especially when those messages go awry. It's hard to ignore snarky comments from people in other departments about their behavior. It's impossible to go through something that messy without loss of some teamwork.

They're both divorced now and living together, and both got promoted, so they're not working in the same department any more...but that year was at best annoying for everybody else.

If you're going to canoodle with a coworker, at least try to keep it professional.

Lisa said...

I've only had one office romance and I would never do it again. Even though our parting was amicable, i just didn't want to see him everyday afterwards. You have to be willing to deal with the aftermath at work.