Love in the Workplace
By Rebecca Shalomoff
Q. I’ve been working late in the office with a new colleague, and we’re finding ourselves very attracted to one another. We haven’t acted on our feelings yet, because I’m worried about getting involved on the job. Is it worth risking my position for love?
A. The popularity of finding love through the internet obscures an unadvertised, but equally promising way to meet a mate – on the job. Today, most offices are awash in romance. According to several studies, more than half of employees have either observed or been in a romantic relationship at their workplace. A Vault 2005 study found that 58 percent of employees say they have been involved in an office romance. Future spouses have just as good of a chance to meet at work than they do at school, social, or neighborhood settings.
It’s no surprise that the office beats the bar scene or a relative’s insistence on setting you up on a blind date. It is a sensible place to find a suitable partner. Coworkers share common ground. They are familiar, have similar interests, and can keep up with office gossip. Meeting through work as opposed to a website also sounds better when telling friends the “how we met” story.
But mixing business and pleasure isn’t always a good idea.
“Getting involved with a fellow worker is dicey,” says Pepper Schwartz, PhD and author of Prime: Adventures and Advice about Sex, Love and the Sensual Years (Harper Collins, 2007). “If you break up you still have to see each other, perhaps collaborate, and that could be awkward and even emotionally painful. If someone is spiteful, it could make work and staying there impossible.”
The prevailing corporate attitude has long been that office romances are nothing but trouble, a swamp of favoritism, sexual harassment, and fatal attractions. Some companies go as far as prohibiting employee dating to avoid the numerous types of liability they might otherwise confront. Though there are no federal or state laws that prohibit employee dating, there are no laws preventing employers from forbidding it.
Even if the relationship is permitted and actually does work out, it can make it harder to concentrate on getting the job done. Office romance blurs the distinction between your private and public lives and invites inappropriate curiosity from fellow coworkers. It can also be psychologically and emotionally unbearable – like having to collaborate on a project the day after getting into a nasty fight.
“Still, many people fall in love at work and end up marrying – so it may be worth the risk,” says Dr. Schwartz.
Many of the romantic relationships forged in the office are long lasting – just read the Times wedding announcements. A relationship in the workplace could not only have a positive impact on employees – by enhancing creativity and raising morale – but on the company itself. Once employees get past the dizzying, infatuation stage of new love, office romance has been found to increase performance and boost productivity.
As rewarding as it may be, an office romance should not be pursued lightly. Before the first date is set, you should carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks. Though the attraction may be strong, a romantic relationship that goes sour between coworkers has a greater impact than usual – you still have to see the person every day or find a new job.