Romance in the Office

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“My only relationship policy is don’t bring your dirty laundry to work, no sex on company furniture, and don’t let it affect your work” – Paula Graves

Valentine’s Day conjures images of roses, chocolates, champagne, and romance. But what happens when the “romance” takes place in the office. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) “Valentine’s Day is a time to express love and affection with potentially inappropriate gifts and cards, verbal declarations, and physical advances.” Love might be in the air; however, some people often mistake this day as license to behave in an unacceptable manner, outside everyone’s comfort zone. Take the more mature route on Valentine’s Day and tame your baser instincts because this behavior may be career ending.

Let’s say you have a crush on a co-worker. What’s the best way to approach him or her? If you want to avoid a possible sexual harassment charge, making your move in the office isn’t a good idea. Best to approach the object of your affection outside of work. It’s wise to establish relationships elsewhere in and in your off hours. And make a point of reading your company policy regarding dating office mates. Your company may frown upon relationships among co-workers. One couple I know were working in the same place and were in the middle of getting a divorce. The boss called the woman into his office and told her that her next assignment would be somewhere else, not in that building. She had no choice but to comply.

Other situations create even more problems. Another couple met in the workplace and started off with flirting. Their romance bloomed and got more serious as time went on. However, the man in the relationship was married! This fact caused much consternation among other co-workers, even if the couple was oblivious to the controversy. One time, the woman was approached by another employee who asked her to confirm the rumors about her relationship. When she verified the story, the employee became visibly upset and bellowed, “Don’t you know he’s married?” The relationship continued, and eventually, the couple married, but the whole dating period was fraught with scandal, gossip, and speculation.

            Even worse is when couples who work closely together break up. The anger and resentment can cause workflow problems. Say both people work in a factory where parts are manufactured. Take a look at some of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission harassment cases over the years, and you’ll find that Valentine’s Day has played a major role in some rather bad judgment calls by supervisors and subordinates alike What if one partner’s work depends on the other partner’s cooperation. If the partner decides that he or she isn’t going to help his or her ex-boy or girl friend get his/her work done, he or she can hold up the process and impede production, endangering the schedule, and other people’s work further into the process. One person’s bitterness can impact a whole department, section and even the company. What is the company’s position on this behavior? Eventually, a supervisor will step in and make some changes, even to the point of putting the offender’s job in jeopardy.

            When it comes to office romance, it’s best to analyze the pros and cons before jumping into the pond. You may meet the love of your life, or worst-case scenario, be hit with a sexual harassment complaint, or your office fling may cause you to lose your job. Your tryst will also impact the entire work environment and could lead to poor performance by one or both distracted people involved. Read your company policy, keep your connection outside of work, and behave in a way that doesn’t engender gossip or legal entanglements. And show some class if you are presenting someone with a gift. No one wants to find some explicit material on their desk placed there by you.

“Even though most workplaces don’t forbid relationships between consensual, non-coercive relationships between colleagues, it can still be a perilous landscape. “ – Elizabeth Renzetti

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Mary T. O'Sullivan

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, Member, International Coaching Federation, Society of Human Resource Management. Candidate, Master’s Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In additional, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education, and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area.