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And They Lived Happily Ever After

Reprint From Column in Palm Beach Post, Toby Chabon Berger

They first met in the elevator, or bumped into each other as they exited their cubicles, or perhaps, they both worked late on a looming deadline. And they lived happily every after.  A popular theme for the movies and TV series? A budding romance with a co-worker can really spice up your life at the office.  Romance does bloom in the workplace and it might even be a happy ever after, but there are also some caveats.  If an office romance seems to be in your present or future, examine closely the do’s and don’ts of work and relationships.

Check with company policy first. Strict guidelines do not mean the organization is anti romance, but through experience and knowledge of potential risks, written procedures protect everyone from many of  the dangerous slings of cupid’s arrow.

Marilyn C. Durant, SPHR, Vice President of Client Relations of Right Management Consultants and District Director of the Florida Society of Human Resources says, “in today’s workplace, everyone works more closely together and spends long hours on the job, so this issue has become more common.  It is no longer the stereotypical problem of the boss having an affair with the secretary.  Company policies have evolved because there is a need to protect everyone from potential conflict, harassment and exposure to power issues  Long work hours leave little time for meeting people and there is also the comfort in knowing that the people you meet in the workplace are who they say they are.

Durant also says, “once the relationship is disclosed, it can also become challenging to co-workers in terms of morale and productivity. In a worst-case scenario a break up could injure your professional reputation, cost you your job or result in sexual harassment charges. She advises people to think long and hard about the potential consequences if the relationship doesn’t work out. Office gossip, tension and jealousy come into the picture as well as the uncomfortable possibility you'll have to continue to working with your old flame once the fire has burned out.

That said, sometimes a special someone is worth the potential peril.

Working together gives you something in common and a mutual group of friends. Working with someone before a relationship becomes a love affair is a way to find out what he or she is really like in advance. Shared coffee breaks or lunch together is a great way to develop a friendship before romance.

There are advantages to having partners work in the same office. The couple may show a lower absenteeism due to eagerness to be together in the work place.:  The downside is having both  incomes dependent on a single employer which is not the most risk-free financial situation. Eventually one or the other may have to moved on to a different company.

The following guidelines will assist in maintaining balance between professionalism and romance

Steer clear of your direct boss or subordinate. While some workplace connections may be acceptable, dating the person you report to, or someone who reports to you, is not.  “The difficulty here is the perception of preferential treatment," says Durant.

Company policy will dictates whether a relationship is an appropriate one. The major concern, important to managers, is that that the workplace romance is an appropriate one. When both individuals are single, unattached, at the same level and their relationship does not interfere with workflow or productivity. it may be acceptable.  However, it is increasingly more important that an employer have specific policies that are sensitive to any potential behaviors that may arise.

Henry Wolf, shareholder, Carleton Fields Law firm, West Palm Beach, who practices in the area of labor law says, “not only must there be policies covering these issues, the policies must be implemented, enforced, and training must take place.  All employees must be sensitized to what is appropriate in the workplace, because different cultures have varying levels of comfort.

Juan….met his wife, Rhonda,  when they both worked for a……. “There were no rules or written policies, but common sense told us both that they had to do their jobs without holding hands or smooching in the back room. Young as they were at the time, both he and his wife realized that they had to establish their own guidelines. Today, when Juan is not scheduled to fly with American Airlines, as a certified fitness trainer, he often fills in at Absolute Fitness, where is wife is a partner in the personal training center in Boynton Beach. “Appropriate professional behavior is important to both of us. Clients are aware we are married, but we know there must never be any references or personal discussions at the center. That includes disagreements. Although we do discuss business at home, it is not the main focus of our relationship.  It is important to balance these things.”

Survey of Workplace Romance

How do other organizations handle workplace romances? That’s what the Society for Human Resource Management’s foundation wanted to know when it surveyed human resource professionals nearly two years ago. Here are the highlights based on responses from 617 HR professionals.

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Nearly three out of four respondents (approximately 72 percent) say their organizations do not have a written policy addressing workplace romance, while 13 percent do. Another 14 percent say they have an unwritten, yet widely understood policy.

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For organizations where there is a policy, either written or implied, more than half of those respondents say their policies “permit, but discourage” workplace romance, and nearly a third (32 percent) say their policies simply permit romance. Workplace romance is prohibited at 7 percent of respondents’ organizations.

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Among organizations prohibiting or discouraging workplace romance, 88 percent say they do so because of the potential for claims of sexual harassment; 75 percent are concerned about the potential for retaliation if the romance ends; and 60 percent are concerned about the morale of coworkers.

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In organizations allowing workplace romances, according to 70 percent of respondents with some type of romance policy, romances cannot occur between supervisors and subordinates. Nearly four out of 10 respondents (37 percent) say their workplace romance policies prohibit public displays of affection.

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Among organizations with written or implied romance policies, the majority say that violators of their policies face consequences for doing so. Respondents say violators may be transferred within the organization (42 percent), terminated (27 percent), asked to attend counseling (26 percent), formally reprimanded (25 percent), or demoted (7 percent). Twenty-five percent of respondents say there are no official consequences.

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When asked about outcomes stemming from workplace romances, 55 percent of all respondents say some people who were romantically involved at their organizations married. Other outcomes were less favorable, including complaints of favoritism from coworkers of those involved in the romance (28 percent), claims of sexual harassment (24 percent), and decreased productivity of the people involved in the romance (24 percent).

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Most respondents (86 percent) report their organizations do not train supervisors regarding how to manage workplace romance. Twelve percent of respondents say their organizations do train supervisors on how to handle such relationships, and the remaining respondents were unsure

   

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