Office Romance Demystified
Office romance occurs when colleagues become attracted to each other and have romantic relationships. Romantic office relationships, when mishandled, are known to result in a catastrophic impact on colleagues, teams, entire departments and sometimes careers.
Even with this knowledge, office romance still thrives in many workplaces. It could be between individuals from the same department or from different departments. While professionals advise on people keeping their professional lives separate from their personal lives, office romance creates a blur in that thin boundary.
Many offices have strict HR policies governing the conduct of employees with each other and the management. This is not to say that office romance is absent in these offices. The thing with human emotions is that they traverse all codes and regulations set and can bloom anywhere. This is why you will find that office romance secretly thrives even in the sternest of environments.
Impact of office romance in the workplace
Fluctuations in performance curves
Love is a very powerful emotion that can have a huge impact on a person’s perception of the world around them, their moods and output in whatever they set out to do. This will be experienced in the case of staff who have a relationship going in the office, especially if it is common knowledge to the rest of the office. When the relationship is in a good place, the two members of staff involved are likely to bring on their A-game to work and performance in their respective tasks will significantly improve.
On the other hand, when these two people are undergoing issues in their relationship, their performances is likely to take a hit. While personal lives tend to affect everyone in the workplace and performance is affected depending on the magnitude of the issue, the situation is dire when it is within the workplace.
Social relationships within the office space
Human beings are social beings, hence the need to interact and share ideas and opinions whether in a professional or social setting. Where no exclusivity is stated, it is easier for instance, for anyone to approach Jim in finance and get help with a certain finance-related issue. However, since the rumour of his romantic relationship with Janet in Customer Service started doing rounds, other ladies in the office have to watch how they talk, laugh etc with Jim. Janet is always hovering around Jim’s desk and giving other ladies ‘the eye’ when they spend what she considers more than necessary time around Jim.
Office romance puts a strain on office relationships and the rest of the staff members find themselves treating the alleged couple with suspicion, new-found interest and sometimes disdain.
Supervisor and junior situation
Office romance opens a door to so many complexities within the office space. An example is when two people in department start dating then a promotion comes for either of them in such one becomes the supervisor of the other. A relationship between a supervisor and a junior is always a tricky one since the supervisor will have to conduct reviews, correct and reprimand where necessary, advocate for promotions and bonuses, monitor performance etc. Chances are that the rest of the team members will feel disadvantaged when their supervisor has a romantic interest within their team, no matter how hard the supervisor tries to be fair.
Increased office gossip, conflict and politics
Office romance has the potential of being a catalyst to several issues in the office including; providing fodder for office gossip, being behind major office conflicts and igniting negative office politics. When two people in the office begin relating with each other in a romantic way, they become the focal point of interest for other members of staff and their relationship is followed closely.
When jealousy and possessiveness kick in, it results in conflicts and tension within the office space. This is not a healthy environment to achieve set business objectives and targets.
Negative office politics feed off gossip, rumours and tension within an office.
Legal and HR consequences
When an office relationship hits a rocky bottom and the members involved have nothing close to love for each other, the human resource and legal functions of the business are left putting out the unnecessary fires.
Some office relationships end so badly that one or the two members involved decide to leave the company altogether to ‘get away’ from the bad situation. This is usually a big blow to the human resource department especially if their contribution to the company’s growth was a valuable one.
Where the ending of an office relationship is not on mutual agreement by both parties, one party may decide to retaliate by suing the other on grounds of sexual harassment. When such happens, not only does it strain an already tense environment, it shifts the company’s focus from the ongoing pursuit of set goals to solving personal issues.
With all this in mind, it is clear that office romance is something to steer clear from, or if necessary, approach with extreme caution. Below are some of the questions everyone, regardless of what stage of career, should ask themselves before entertaining office romance.
- Can you set boundaries?
Setting boundaries means that you should be able to compartmentalise the different areas of your life and keep the apart. Keeping your professional and private life separate is not easy. It is even more difficult for someone who has their professional and private lives in close proximity. You should be able to keep the line that separates these two clear.
- Are you mature enough?
Romance is characterised by high and low extremes. Are you mature enough to keep your head when either of these situations occurs? Or are you the type that will steal every free moment to pass by their desks, wink from across the room or talk for hours on end on office extensions when happy? Are you also the type that will rush every 30 minutes to the bathroom to cry, tell everyone who cares to listen during coffee breaks what a jerk Tim is?
Maturity is office relationships is what allows other members of the staff work in a healthy, tension-free environment. It is key to have it.
- What are the HR policies in your company?
Have you read your employee handbook? The whole of it? Please go back and read the part that gives direction on office relationships and staff conduct. If this part is not covered in the handbook, read the culture of the organisation or even talk to the hr professional in the office. Ensure that you are aware what the policy is on office relationships. Some companies have a zero tolerance approach when it comes to office romance while others are easy. It is recommended that your actions and approach be within the confines of these policies.
- How do you handle breakups?
Yes, you think you found the one – the best version of your soul mate. However, it is advisable to be practical and think ahead, especially if you value your current job or employer. One way to be practical is objectively considering how you react to breakups. If you always need time off from everything, or you throw all your energies to work in order to dull the pain, do you honestly feel an office romance is ideal? Because the person you just broke up with will be walking by your desk everyday, or will soon start dating the new secretary. Worse still, the only place you could use to get away is tainted by the same person you are trying to get away from.
While we cannot say that office romance is wrong or right, and we cannot advise for or against, we can only show you what to expect when you engage in one. Who to love and where to love them is all at your discretion, just like most of your other personal decisions. You are however empowered to make a more informed decision.