Education

Love (gone bad) in the office


We spend more than a third of our lives in the office so it's not surprising that office romances are common. I know quite a few people, in fact, who met their future spouses at the office. Those are the happy endings. But for every one of those, there are probably 20 that ended not so happily. In fact, in particularly bad instances, soured office romances can end up on the legal arena, bringing their companies with them.Companies have tried in the past to ban dating between employees but found that the restrictions are not always legal. So they've attempted to restrict dating in instances when it could be harmful to the business (where one party can claim sexual discrimination or harassment against another). For example, companies can mandate that those who date cannot report to one or the other, a situation that could result in career favors or the perception of career favors.

But one thing that companies (and indeed the employees who date each other) have little control over is how to handle an office romance that goes bad. I blogged a while back about when I once, as a manager, had to deal with the fallout of an office romance. It's not fun for anyone involved and it can put a company in a bad legal situation if it doesn't respond properly to any complaints regarding what's happening between two formerly dating employees.

Of course, this is one of those dicey situations that requires a good deal of common sense and objectivity. Ironically, when a romance goes bad, those are two of the first qualities to hit the dust. Some people who deal with HR issues think that the pain of failed relationships can be alleviated by the use of "love contracts." I found a sample love contract that makes pre-nups feel like dinner and a movie. It contains the line:

It is very important to me that our relationship be on an equal footing and that you be fully comfortable that our relationship is at all times fully voluntary and welcome.

If you want to see the whole thing, you can click here (sorry, but free registration is required).

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

31 comments
mtnman28715
mtnman28715

Simple answer - don't get your honey where you get your money.

Marc 85902
Marc 85902

It definitely CAN be a bummer! The best course is to avoid getting VERY intimate - you know what I mean. That way, if things go sour, there is a minimum of bad and hurt feelings.

florh
florh

What if the lady who hires you is also the owner of the business and she makes the proposition, full speed ahead, she consumates the "relation" and then she invites you to live with her? She didn't ask for any commitments at that point. A year later, "she wants a "partner in live' including a partership in her business (sharing the expenses, of course)which is going terribly bad. Hothat situation can be handled?

Tig2
Tig2

I found myself in a situation in which I had worked at the same company with the man I am now engaged to. At the point where we decided that we would like to date, I quit the job. He is still with the company. It really can work for some people but I agree that it is difficult at best. I would make the same choice again- if you want to pursue a relationship with a co-worker, one of you should have the resume out and commit to moving on. In our case, it made much more sense for me to be the one to do so as he has a significant number of years with the company and I hadn't. I've seen the fallout when a relationship goes south. Not pretty at all. Edited to change the title.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

This is a good topic for discussion. In my career I have felt tempted to pursue romance in the office, because as you say it's where we spend a lot of our lives, people mingle, etc. Something's always told me though that it's a bad idea, and I think your article illustrates that well. Yes, it can work out, and that thought has crossed my mind, too. I've heard plenty of stories of people who've met at the office, dated, and married. Everything was peachy. What I always keep in the back of my mind is what if it doesn't work out? What then? I value my work and the people I work with. I'd hate to lose the trust of my colleagues or hurt people's position (including my own) in the company because of a romance. When I've worked full-time jobs it's always been at small companies that are very close knit. Everybody knows everybody else, and everyone counts on others to pull their own weight. It's a bit like a family. Something like this has the potential to be very disruptive. I agree with another post-er here that it's better to pursue romance outside the office, or if you work for a conglomerate, to date people who are in different divisions with whom you don't have a direct working relationship.

skitter
skitter

Last year our department merged with another local department. We had two teams set up to do the merging of the email systems and networks, one on our side and one on their side. In the team from the other department were a married couple and he was her manager. During every meeting they would run side conversations with little inserts of their private lives. Who had to pick up the kids, what they needed to pick up from the shops after work etc etc. It was horrible, maybe for the team from the other department it wasn???t so bad because they were used to it, but for us it was totally bizarre. These were pretty tense meetings to begin with, there was a lot of political power at stake depending on who ended up running each component of the new network. Wit this thrown into the mix it made for pretty awful atmospheres in the meetings. Eventually he stopped coming to meetings, but they she would just defer any decisions until she had spoken to him. We got it done in the end, but relationships between the two departments are pretty fragile now.

SaintGeorge
SaintGeorge

I think there was a total absence of common sense and objectivity from the beginning getting involved in an office love affair. So, good luck with the aftermath.

tnfrench
tnfrench

Dipping your pen in the Company Ink is never a good idea. If circumstances arise where activities willingly may progress... Somebody get a new job. Impacts, include: internal respect, division of labor, code of condut, and most inportant -- business in the bedroom! Arrgh! That is not what it is for!

wrlang
wrlang

Brick and mortar business is an integral part of the cause of these office romance problems. Psychologists will tell you that putting men and women in close proximity every day is the prime factor in people getting "romantic". That's one of the reasons that the military didn't want men and women side by side in the same places - natural human sexual attraction. This natural attraction on the job causes weak marriages to fail and weak individuals to have affairs. It is also inevitable that singles will become involved and that many or most of those relationships will go bad. There's nothing anyone can do, or should do, to prevent it, other than make a policy that if two employees can't get along afterwards they both get fired. Some businesses do this with physical altercations - two people get into a boxing match and they both get the boot. No one wants to hear about or get involved in these petty office romances gone bad, so termination is the only real answer. Have your romance, but if you let it interfere in you job, you're fired..

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

I guess I never considered that the problem with relationships and romances is lack of formal documentation. Do we need a Romance Maturity Model?

pwtsmith
pwtsmith

I have had 2 office relationships. 1 lasted 2 years and carried on after we both left the company and proved to be no issue. I married the second one. We no longer work together either. With both, we were totally professional at work and it never became an issue.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

You will have to figure out the relationship side yourself, but I would look at the financial aspect very carefully. If the business is not going very well, why would you want to become a full partner? If the business fails, it can only harm your credit rating and involve you in any bankruptcy or other legal situations. Even if you continue the relationship, it may be better for both of you to remain at arms length from the business itself; be an employee not an owner.

tokunbo007
tokunbo007

What if the lady who hires you is also the owner of the business - OK, and she makes the proposition, - NO SWEAT full speed ahead - STILL NO SWEAT she consumates the "relation" and then she invites you to live with her? - SHE 'CONSUMATES THE RELATIONSHIP'? I thought it should be 'we' or...

jerie
jerie

Office romance shows and everyone knows about it, and coworkers will use that knowledge every way they can to turn the workplace into Peyton Place. Best thing to do, if you want to maintain professional relationships and standing, is to leave before the insanity starts.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

you followed Best Practices for romance! ROmance IL (ROIL?) Last Saturday I followed best practices for a long term partner and got married! In the gazebo at Laguna Beach in a lovely park. I'm sure will have to continue following best practices to keep it working out. Including: Avoidance of ticking her off. Refering to her as wife, not gal-friend or fiance (just when I got used to that has to change :) Telling her how beautiful she is No, that she doesn't look fat my fav - "I bet you'd look good in that!" as long as it isn't to sleazy looking. and one more - "Angelina Who?"

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

Enough of the platitudes. Life happens, people meet and fall in love. I have mostly seen the upside of office romances, ones that have resulted in solid marriages. I'm sure there are some that result in office dramas, but there are a myriad of issues that result in office dramas, so you just have to deal with the situation when it arises. My feeling is to ignore office romances and rely on professionals to act professionally. If someone is acting less than professionally, for whatever reason, take action.

stepmonster
stepmonster

Yes, even in the military, romance abounds. (not in foxholes though). My work romance ended in a happy marriage, but I do want to say that not only romantic people have the issues brought up here. Working with relatives is just as tricky, if not more so. Working with your spouse requires a clear understanding of who you both are, and at what level you both are in the workplace. We all know who the boss of the home is, but defining who the boss is at work is very important. I worked in a family biz for 8 years, but of my 4 siblings, I was the only one that worked for "daddy" successfully. I loved working with my boyfriend. I had a coworker that was dating her boss though, and that didn't turn out so well. He died, and she had to use vacation time to attend to his funeral, kids, house, etc... because she wasn't his spouse. When she returned to work, she found out all of the resentful feelings people had towards her "sleeping with the boss" and received zero sympathy from her coworkers. She also realized a big loss of conceived power she had before. Incidentally - she's dating the janitor now.

Eoghan
Eoghan

I was transferred from NW-BigCity to E-BigCity and given a promotion. I needed a dozen or so people to work for me in the field. While doing the interviews I met a lovely woman in a SW-BigCity who worked for our BigCo already and didn't want the job, she was happy doing her current role. She interviewed only because her manager insisted. I hired someone else for the spot in that city. Well, we didn't work together and weren't even on the same coast. So for a year we would date whenever we were in the same city together. Eventually, we became engaged. One business trip to the SW-BigCity her manager told us - "I don't want you two in the same room with the door closed". Yeh, sure, okay, we said, and forgot about it. We didn't go in for pda anyway. After lunch we came back and sat down to talk about a customer. I told the desk chair and sat at her desk, she sat across from me. We were talking business, with the door closed. The door bursts open, manager screaming "I TOLD YOU I DIDN'T...." he stopped, and finally asked - "What are you doing?" It turned out that the folks at the NW-BigCity I had come from had a reputation for sex in the office, during the day, after hours, you name it. It was all news to me, but the reputation of NW-BigCity office was quite a revelation. I checked with some friends there, and yes, it was true. Lovely lady and I married and we are quite happy together, decades later.

Labrat636
Labrat636

My dating policy: 1. Do not date a woman who works for the same company that you do. 2. Do not date a woman that is your neighbor. 3. Do not date a married woman. 4. Do not date a woman again after a break up.

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

Well, I could certainly do with a written contract at the outset of a personal relationship, which details every promise and expectation. I am sure I would have had a better success record if I had done. But that discussion is for a Mars/Venus blog, rather than here. Most companies seem to leave this minefield well alone. If your behavior to a colleague is unprofessional, you will be chastised for it, regardless of any emotional relationship. The general attitude (here in the UK) is that personal relationships are for outside the office, when you are on company time the only relationships you should have on your mind are professional and/or business. Oh, and MY contract requires me to declare any involvement with a client or supplier, but not with colleagues.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Have "no fraternization" policies with violation being cause for termination.

stepmonster
stepmonster

You've lived together and worked together for over a year - but you didn't mention love at all. ??? It looks like decision time, jump ship or drop anchor for the log haul.

Tig2
Tig2

Somehow, I think you will both be fine. And I know the Laguna Beach area- a beautiful location for a wedding! I have another to add to your list- tell her every day that you love her. My fiance and I tell each other every day. We use terms of endearment more often than we call each other by name. There is never a day that we don't email each other from work just to check on the other's day. It is the smallest of things that make the greatest difference. My very best to you and your lovely wife. May you be blessed with peace in your home.

rob.easton
rob.easton

The phrase, in your post, "My work romance ended in a happy marriage" struck me as funny, as if the romance ended when the marriage began.

tokunbo007
tokunbo007

cool, nice story. Im thinking....it could make a good movie.

tokunbo007
tokunbo007

talking of contracts. What about one that classifies as conflict of business interest a 'relationship' with someone from a rival company.

rocky
rocky

I was 15 years in the US military and at one time took command of a unit with moral issues. I arrived to learn that my first seargent was sleeping with a subordinate and had just finished with an investigation. My first conversation with my first seargent was that if it ever happened again, then he would be out of my unit. He couldn't promise me it wouldn't happen again and I couldn't promise him that I wouldn't bust him down a pay grade or two. Personally, I would have fired him on the spot just for that remark, but certain "politically correct" guidelines would not allow me the good fortune. You go into combat, you don't have room for love or love triangles in the fox holes (those dirty little holes soldiers dig to hide in to avoid being a bullet-stopper) and night patrols. Business and business survival is tough enough without the drama of a love gone sour. There are plenty of places like www.match.com or getting a foreign spouse or what ever (My wife is from outside the U.S. and it worked well for me - just celebrated 7 years anniversay this week). I'd say keep the personal relationships outside of work and get the relatioship needs fulfulled elsewhere unless there is a large copropation involved and the two parties aren't required to interact for business.

Ollie J
Ollie J

I have seen policies where people can "fraternize" but not in the office and only on their own time. If they are seen to be "together" in the office it can lead to a trip to HR for a warning. Quite who decides what "together" encompasses I never found out though.

jdclyde
jdclyde

You have two extremes. One, people that are harassing towards others. Results in a suit to stop behavior. Two, leaches looking to cash in. People out to strike it rich at the expense of everyone else. Where do the mindless jurors think the money comes from?

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

In a way, I can't blame the corporations. I have to go to a 'mandatory sexual harassment' seminar next week. Gotta love paying the price for people who can't keep their hormones in check! Thanks to sexual harassment lawsuits, companies are now pressured to make sure nobody gets frisky at the office, or be on the hook for a multi-million dollar lawsuit if they dont'

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