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Susan M. Heathfield

Is an Office Romance Okay?

By January 27, 2014

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Love is in the air around Valentine's Day each year. So, it's also the time of year when readers ask me about non-fraternization policies that forbid dating coworkers or bosses at work. My response? In most cases, go for the love.

I'm a huge believer in prohibiting employees from dating their boss or any person who reports to them or who has any impact on their pay, performance rating, or promotions. In fact, if an employee has any impact on the working conditions or rewards of an employee, the two should not be dating. Period.

Love is in the air at work these days, though, as work expands to fill the majority of the hours in a day. Speaking realistically, where else do people meet others who share so many common characteristics? They have similar incomes, similar interests, and similar ages. They live within dating proximity and have their common interest in the company. Where else will any employee meet a person with whom love is more likely to bloom?

Consequently, I do support office romances between unmarried employees who are discreet. If the romance overflows into the office and causes tension, conflict, or impacts work in negative ways, then I have to intervene.

But, the dating couple needs to be aware of potential fallout in the future and factor the fallout into their dating decisions. When loves fades at work, the parties still need to be able to work together. And, the possibility always exists that one will report to the other or have to work closely together in the same department. As an employer, my advice to the person in this situation is, get over it. This potential existed when you dated, and it is not up to me to affect careers, responsibilities, and promotions because of your dating decisions.

What's Love Got to Do With an Office Romance?

Quite a lot, actually. To answer Tina Turner's proverbial question, I checked out current research on workplace romance. If the office romance is just about sex, if the romance is an extramarital affair, or if the relationship's goal is personal gain at work, coworkers and companies frown on love relationships in the office.

In our offices, we have experienced a number of serious love relationships. Several couples have married and those marriages have spawned additional relationships that have also ended up in marriage.

Several earlier marriages are working and couples have added children to our extended work family. In the research I highlight in a related article, Human Resources managers said that the most likely outcome of office romances that they have experienced is marriage.

So, if a couple is genuinely serious about dating and building a relationship, popular opinion is more favorable. And, these days, with the number of hours employees spend on work-related activities, they are likely to meet their friends and eventual spouses at work - even, if this can cause problems for employers.

If one employee is managing another employee and they are dating, one employee's job needs to change. What if performance problems arise later with one person in a married couple? I once worked with a client who opened a branch in another state and sent twenty married couples to staff the new location.

As you can imagine, when one partner was angry, two people were unhappy. The life and work balance was hurt also, because couples went to work together, worked together, went home from work together, and talked about work - together, all the time.

Learn more about dating, sex, and romance in the office. I've provided advice for both the dating couple and for HR staff and managers who are occasionally, and unfortunately, called upon to deal with problems that result from an office romance - gone good - or bad.

Image Copyright Susan Stewart

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