Dating Co-Workers – Romancing your Cubical Buddy

Except for the rumor mill going at full speed, dating a co-worker spells convenience, support and close supervision, although you may not want to make the third that obvious. A romantic partner that’s over-possessive could suffocate the other. Don’t pick up the phone and dial his extension 13 times a day, don’t hang out in her cubicle too long, and watch those revealing, perverse e-mails you send. You’re being read, heard and watched. Corporate espionage shouldn’t come as a surprise, what with the rampant abuse of corporate resources.

Dr. Lou Harris wrote on the subject of office romances. He’s from the Criminal Justice Department of Faulkner University and he offered interesting insights on how first line supervisors in the police department should intelligently manage this issue. He was referring to the time when the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1972 began assigning female officers to the field. That was when romance in the FBI workplace increased by leaps and bounds. Because the trend of officers romancing other officers was on the upside, policies had to be formulated to deal with specific problems. Still, first line supervisors at the FBI were sometimes caught off guard with situations they had no experience handling – romance break-ups was one such situation.

In the case of two officers breaking up, Dr. Harris suggested mediation. He said the knee jerk reaction of a first line supervisor might be to transfer one of the officers to another department or fire that officer outright. Harris, however, believes that a more equitable manner of dealing with a romance gone sour would be to talk to the parties to see if they can make an effort to continue their work relationship.

Harris then mentioned a survey in 1998 conducted by Dennis Powers (The Office Romance: Playing with Fire and Not Getting Burned, 1998) which showed that more than half of office romances in the private sector end in marriage, so he believes that whatever policies arose from that survey could apply as well to the police enforcement field.

Is a Company Policy Imperative?

In some corporate enclaves, personal relationship policies enforced by the company’s Human Resources Department are already in place. This was in response to the fact that office romances cannot be avoided and are inevitable. Policies are designed to deal with any problems arising from romance in the workplace.

The story of Boeing’s Chief and Executive Officer Harry Stonecipher and his affair with another executive, Deborah Peabody, is a clear illustration of how a company might view a romantic relationship between workers as a violation of its Code of Ethics. The Conference Board Inc publication featured an interview with Lisa Mainiero, a management professor regarding the Boeing case. According to Dr. Mainiero, Boeing is known for its strict Code of Ethics, and by requesting Stonecipher’s resignation, it demonstrated the need for executives to be role models for the company. It was also a reminder that their behavior is being observed and evaluated.

This is one of many areas where a company policy on office relationships would serve a worthwhile purpose. The policy must include the company’s position that public displays of affection, for instance, are considered unprofessional and unethical. Public displays of affection, regardless of frequency or intensity, could also be a source of annoyance and discomfort for other employees. Some companies even state clearly that such behavior is subject to disciplinary measures.

Janet Lever of the Conference Board, a respected organization whose publications are read by executives of Fortune 500 companies, says that company policies must draw up well-defined confidentiality rules and regulations to earn the trust and respect of office employees. They must also be enforced rigorously and must be accompanied by penalties or punishments if they are violated. In addition to a written policy, a company must make managers and executives aware of their personal risks and obligations.

We believe that a well-defined company policy can contribute to the company’s productivity long term. By enforcing rules, employees are aware that their romance is fine, but must be carried out during non-working hours. And as Coulson Duerkson cites, most experts believe that office affairs could be seen as a “lose-lose situation” if workers aren’t careful.

Advantages of Dating Co-Workers

Dating co-workers offers advantages, of which there are many. Here are some:

Getting to know you…better – If you’ve had a working relationship with your love interest for a year or two before your relationship turned more personal and romantic, then you already have a fairly good idea of what he/she is like. From the working relationship, you were able to gather clues as to personality type, moods, diligence at work, ability to handle stress, inter-personal relations and professionalism. When you’re attracted to someone at work because of what you’ve learned from working together, it is only logical to want to take this to the next level. And by working in the same company, this process of “getting to know you” is facilitated.

Convenience – With today’s rising gas prices, it would be more practical to go out for lunch in one car rather than two, or if it’s blowing snow outside, you could have a lunch date in the office cafeteria. And if you forgot your wallet at home or at stuck in your cubicle and can’t go down to get a sandwich, well…

Support – If you’re having a bad day in the office, having your romantic partner close is good for your soul. You’d have someone to confide in, and you can “spill out” your anxieties and frustrations. Sometimes, having someone who listens to you during good and bad days is sufficient therapy.

Being molded from the same corporate culture enhances understanding – Some couples who work in different companies argue because they don’t understand each other’s company policies. “That’s just how the company operates, I can’t do anything. I go against them and I’m out the door.” High-power and high profile corporations who wheel and deal at full throttle have certain expectations of employees. In exchange for perks and above industry average financial compensation, they expect you to dedicate 110% of your life for the good and survival of the corporation. We once worked with such a company in Canada. We sometimes worked until 2 or 3 in the morning, only because the CEO did not start his working day until 5 pm. When everyone else was scampering for the door at that time, we in Mahogany Row (the code for executive offices) were just starting our second shift for the day. To be fair, we were more than adequately compensated. And the perks would make anyone salivate. But imagine what kind of thoughts our mate (who worked for the government, by the way) had when we’d come home at 2 AM!

Disadvantages of Dating Co-Workers

Ah, we’re coming to the crux of the matter – the “beware” sign is up and you proceed at your own risk.

You could jeopardize your career – You’ve worked hard (perhaps “slaved” is the more appropriate word) to get where you are, so you’re not going to let an office romance ruin it. Some of us will admit unashamedly that we’re married first to our career and to our spouse second, so if your exciting and romantic office liaison is potentially a barrier, you’ll want to take some action before it gets out of control.

You’re the talk of the town – Not because of your special skills and impressive corporate strategy, but because you’re carrying on an affair with someone in the office. Tongues are wagging (“I read the e-mail he sent, boy was he hot to trot”), and when tongues start to wag, you know that half of what is being said is already embellished.

Productivity diminishes – Fine, you’ve set boundaries. Still, when she’s having a rough day at work and becomes upset at the harsh words of her supervisor, how long will it take you to comfort a weeping willow (no offense intended)?

Comfort time:

5 minutes – for fact gathering (“tell me exactly what happened and what he said to you”)

3 minutes – to fetch her a glass of water, to find a more discrete place for her to weep

15 minutes for soothing comfort (“not to worry, this too will pass”, “do you think you can go back to your desk and put on a brave front”, “you can do it”, “we’ll talk some more about this when we get home”).

Equivalent in: Productivity Lost 23 minutes spent away from your desk.

This means:

4 new sales calls and 2 follow-up calls you could have made;

2 paragraphs you could have added to conclude your presentation;

10 minutes with manager to discuss strategy for dealing with irate customer;

15 minutes answering e-mails about technical support

Now you know why the gods get angry!



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