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.