Office romance stands at the intersection of logic and emotion, one’s work and personal life. Logic tells you the workplace is the wrong place for a romantic relationship. However, your heart might not feel that way. You work hard all day. Your career is in a good place, but sometimes you get lonely. It’s not easy to meet people outside of work. You might not like the club scene and heard some wild stories about internet dating.
You’ve told yourself you’d never date anyone in your office, but what’s the harm in meeting a colleague for coffee? Absolutely nothing – unless it crosses the line. The people in a budding relationship are the last to know they’re in one. When colleagues start making comments, the involved individuals deny anything is going on. By the time they realize the truth, they’re in too deep. Remember the story of the frogs who ended up in boiling water? When they first got in the pot the water is room temperature. It would be easy for the frogs to get out. But as the temperature slowly rises energy is zapped which makes it much harder to get out. At that point, the frogs are literally in hot water.
By now you have heard about the CNN CEO who stepped down because of an office romance. He and his romantic partner were single, and the relationship was consensual. Yet the senior executive had to step down, but the subordinate participant did not. Now you might be thinking, wait a minute, Bill Gates was in a senior position when he started courting Melinda, a subordinate who he eventually married. What’s the difference you might ask? Answer: policy and perception.
The best way to get in trouble is to violate your own company’s policies. CNN policy states that employees are required to disclose relationships that cross the romantic line. The CEO was ultimately responsible for ensuring all policies are followed but failed to do so. Microsoft didn’t have a policy like that when Bill and Melinda got together. So would it be better not to have a policy? No!
Having policies that address romantic office relationships are necessary for myriad reasons. When there is a power differential the potential for sexual harassment claims exists. Perceived favoritism could impact employee morale and the bosses’ pet could be ostracized. And how does disciplining one affect the other? If the smitten couple are peers, productivity could actually increase during the infatuation phase as long as they are not sneaking into empty boardrooms for afternoon delight. The downside of peer romantic relations is how it could affect the larger work team.
If the couple breaks up that’s when the organization’s heartaches begin. Information doesn’t flow as well, or things could get really ugly if the exes engage with each other spitefully.
I think and believe most psychologists would agree, emotions have power over logic. In my opinion, romantic relationships in the workplace have more downside risk than upside gain. Nevertheless, I do not advocate for a No romance policy. I suggest the following: if a romance develops, require employees to disclose it, adjust reporting lines if warranted, and set relationship and post-relationship expectations contractually.
Feel free to share your thoughts about romance in the workplace. To learn more about my coaching practice visit www.ProDestinyCoaching.com