How To Handle an Office Romance

There are a number of compelling reasons why companies tend to discourage office romances.  If the working relationship is boss/subordinate, a personal relationship can expose the company to charges of sexual harassment or favoritism.  Even among equals, an office romance can create tension or jealousy among co-workers, which leads directly to a lowering of morale and productivity.  There is always the possibility that a couple's personal breakup could turn into a office shakeup as either one or both resign their positions or request transfers.

On the other hand,  the modern workplace would seem to be an ideal place to meet potential romantic partners.  A company employing hundreds of single people in various offices and departments should expect at least a few of them to meet and socialize outside of work.  It would be unrealistic to expect employees to deny their human instincts completely, especially when it comes to the laws of attraction.  An office romance can indeed work if both parties are willing to develop some self-discipline and keep their private and public lives as separate as possible.  Here are some tips on making an office or other workplace romance work.

  1. Respect the company policy, even if you don't agree with it.  If the company officially discourages physical relationships between employees, then that is the law of your land for eight hours a day.  Your romantic relationship depends on a mutual understanding that a policy against it does indeed exist. This should be enough moral incentive to keep you and your partner from exposing your relationship during working hours.  While companies may issue all sorts of policies against fraternization or office relationships, they also tend to keep an unofficial 'Don't ask, don't tell' philosophy in practice.  Don't give your superiors any reason to ask or tell.
  2. Make an effort to leave work at work.  Working in the same office with the same set of irritants can make this even more difficult on a couple.  It would be unrealistic to expect your partner not to bring up a few issues of mutual interest from the workday, but try not to dwell on work to the exclusion of an enjoyable relationship.  If you must decompress by venting, find other friends who don't have to go back to that office with you the next day.  Spending your quality time together complaining about your mutual boss will get very old quickly.
  3. Maintain professional standards during office hours.  It's perfectly natural to be caught up in the excitement of a new romance, but remember you are both still professionals working in a professional environment.  Keep public displays of affection to an absolute minimum.  Employers will start to notice if the same two employees are constantly away from their desks or are spending too much time on the phone.  An occasional pat on the back or quick conversation in passing may be acceptable, but avoid that secret rendezvous in the copy room.  It only takes one embarrassing situation to convert an office romance into an office joke.
  4. Don't pull the company into your personal arguments.  Even the best couples can have major disagreements from time to time, but that's not why the company hired you.  You still need to maintain your workload and your partner still needs to interact with you on a professional basis.  The workplace shouldn't become the next arena for a personal dispute.  You may think co-workers are interested in your outside life, but you'd be wrong.  Asking them to take sides or share gossip or pass along messages is unprofessional and petty.  The argument won't last nearly as long as your jobs.
  5. Try not to stir up bad feelings among co-workers.  Romantic relationships can be very political at times, so it would be a good idea to avoid escalating the tension.  Another co-worker may have had an interest in your partner before you were even hired at the company.  Someone else may have an unspoken interest in you, and will do things to compromise or expose your office romance.  Violation of an office policy is a serious offense, and you are placing a large amount of trust in people you barely know.  The more low-key you keep your relationship at work and at office social functions the better.
  6. If the romantic relationship does end, don't be a martyr.  If you cannot continue to work around an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, take steps to alleviate the problem.  Ask for a transfer to a different department, or actively seek employment elsewhere.  Your employer doesn't need to know all the details, but if working together after a breakup becomes emotionally toxic, then you need to break the cycle yourself.  It isn't going to be any easier seeing your ex-partner every day or watch him or her pursue another office romance.  This is the risk you assumed when you started an office romance, so it falls on you to decide if you can work around this person or not.  Some former romantic couples can still maintain a professional relationship, so you may want to give it some more time before doing anything drastic.

 

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