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Is your Valentine a co-worker?
Feb 8, 2015

Is your Valentine a co-worker?

Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.

- Plato

Office romances are as old as, well, office buildings.  It is hardly a surprise given the numbers of people who work, and the amount of time they spend there.  Often people spend more time with work colleagues than with anyone else, including partners and children in some cases.  Throw in a stressful job, a work colleague who understands the pressures, common interests, and romance is sure to follow, at least for those who are otherwise unattached or in committed relationships.  One of the most successful relationships that started in the office is that of Michelle and Barack Obama. Michelle Robinson as she then was, was assigned to mentor the young Barack Obama, as a work experience student. On the other side of the Presidential coin however is the more infamous office romance between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

A recent survey by Vault.com called 'Love is in the Air' has some interesting statistics for us on office romances.  For both men and women, 8% said they found their permanent partners at work, while about 50% of each (slightly more men) admitted to having a relationship with a work colleague.

So office romance and relationships are here to stay, but unfortunately can give rise to many and varied problems in the workplace - not least of which of course is the secret relationship that is found out in the most embarrassing of ways by ending up on the front page of the newspaper, and as the latest youtube hit.  For this unfortunate couple, they learned the hard way (pardon the pun), that  in the current technologically literate world, a  sexual interlude after business hours, can be caught on camera and shared. Even more regrettable is the fact that the partner and former partner of the two involved (and in one case, children) have been embarrassed by the publicity.  And while as a general rule relationships are no one else's business, in this case their employer has been embarrassed as well, by being named.  It is likely that because of the way Google works, this article may well be the first that comes up when one searches Marsh Ltd.

While it is unlikely, according to news reports,  they will lose their jobs over this incident, it is said that they will no longer be able to work together (and they may still face disciplinary action).  Of course the embarrassment and identification of the parties involved may mean that they leave the workplace voluntarily.

Leaving aside infidelity for the purposes of this article, working together is one of the most difficult aspects of office based romances. The emphasis is on the word work, because you are still expected to be able to do your job, while conducting a personal relationship. This is largely because those involved in office romances try to keep it a secret.   

So consider this - what is the reason for it being kept a secret?  The very fact that you don't want anyone to know indicates that perhaps you think there may be a perception of impropriety.

If you are considering throwing caution to the wind, consider these problem situations:

Is one of you in a position to affect decisions about promotion or salary?

In this situation you need not just to decline to  participate in a discussion about promotion or salary, you need to absent yourself from the room.  Other people may feel that they can't speak freely if you are in the room.  So clearly this is difficult to do if the relationship is a secret.

Can you honestly avoid allegations of favouritism?

Imagine if you have contributed to an important decision about your lover - and it comes to light after the event that you were in a relationship at the time.  Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the decision, there will always be a perception of impropriety.

Are you in a situation where one reports to the other?

This situation can also lead to accusations of favouritism - the best work, always good feedback, favourable treatment re leave, taking holidays together. Allegations of conflict of interest may arise.   Sadly, if the relationship doesn't last, it will be unworkable unless both parties are extraordinarily mature.

If you want to be part of the 8% who meet their permanent partners at work, honesty is the best policy. On that note, be aware that use of company funds to conduct a relationship with a co-worker can lead to summary dismissal.  So beware the conference attendance together, flights and miscellaneous lunches that get put on the company credit card, or exorbitant phone bills including texts and phone calls between you.  If your employer is looking for a reason to dismiss you, this will be the reason, not the relationship itself.

'Secrecy, once accepted, becomes an addiction' - Edward Teller