In Part 1, we go further into the second millennium and more and more people are spending a lot of time at work. As a result, they are dating, and falling in love with partners they’ve met at work. Yet, as research shows, workplace romance can be a rather tricky affair because these romances have both positive and negative effects on work performance.
Part 2 will consider the implications of the research on job behavior and what to watch out for.
Given the kinds of potential risks and benefits noted above, if you are thinking about the possibility of having an office romance, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons. Imagine what the best and worst case scenarios might be. Could you live with the worst case? If your job were on the line because of your romance, would you be willing to end the relationship or be transferred? Would you have no regrets about it? Don’t forget to examine how the relationship will affect your partner’s career as well.
You also need to ask yourself how the relationship at its peak would affect your ability to get the job done. How would it affect your co-workers? Would they be positive and support the relationship or would they try to undermine it including claiming that your romance is creating a hostile work environment?
Of course, one’s heart tends to lead in these kinds of affairs, but you, at least, need to be aware of the potential consequences. These things should not be entered into lightly.
How to Manage the Relationship
If you are already in a relationship at work, the following steps in managing the relationship are recommended. The first thing to consider is whether or not you are willing to go public about the relationship. In Quinn’s study, two-thirds of the people involved in an office romance tried to keep them secret. Yet, most of the people surveyed were well aware that a romance was, in fact, happening. In other words, they’ll probably find out anyway. By being up front about it, you can more effectively deal with the feelings that your manager(s) and coworkers will probably have anyway.
Mainiero suggests that you might consider writing a contingency plan with your partner about how the relationship will be handled by each of you and how it will be resolved if it ends. It should deal in a straightforward manner with the potential personal and performance fallout of the relationship. Some businesses call these agreements a “Love Contract” and they have both people sign it.
It is also recommended that you be particularly careful in the way that you relate to your partner when you’re at work together. Don’t express intimate feelings or use “pet” names at work. Avoid touching your partner in a suggestive manner. Don’t schedule long lunches together or after-hour meetings at the office with just the two of you. Keep your office door open when you’re together. Make sure that your manager and coworkers see that your work is getting done and that the relationship is not having a negative effect on your productivity.
If you’re a manager who has become aware of an office relationship, you should not shy away from the issue. Quinn’s survey found that over half of the managers who knew about an office romance did nothing about it.
The best thing to do in this situation is to openly discuss it with the two people involved. However, you must approach the participants with sensitivity and empathy. Interview each person separately. Ask open-ended questions and allow them to talk. Quite often one or both partners are glad to get it out in the open because they realize they’ve entered into a difficult situation.
If they decide they want to continue the romance, you must focus solely on their work performance. Make sure they are aware of the potential consequences of their relationship; i.e., if their work performance begins to suffer, they could be reprimanded, transferred or terminated. Explore with them the ways in which they should exercise caution. Finally, don’t forget to review the situation periodically with them.
Quinn’s study acknowledges that where termination occurs, the woman is twice as likely to be fired as the man. Be particularly careful that you are not making the woman the scapegoat or you may be faced with a wrongful termination suit.
Love in the office can be very difficult for all concerned. You can’t really prohibit it. All you can do is attempt to be honest and open about it. That can go a long way toward resolving the problems that arise when you’re coping with romance in the office.