Think of your 10 closest friends… there is a good chance that you met at least one of them on the job. And it’s no wonder: with so much of our time spent at work, many of our personal relationships are bound to have started in the workplace. This also applies to workplace romance. According to a 2017 Career Builder survey, 41% of survey participants dated a colleague and one-third of those relationship led to marriage. A 2017 dating survey by Report Linker found that 15% of participants met their spouse/significant other at work (second only to meeting through friends).
But it’s not all wine and roses: that was then (2017) – this is now. In the wake of Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo, employees are shying away from workplace romances. A 2018 Career Builder survey reports that office romance is at a 10-year low.
Navigating Workplace Romance post-Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo
It goes without saying that not all office romance crosses into the territory of sexual harassment (even between co-workers with different organizational ‘power’). And there is no need to prohibit office romances all together. However, the workplace is a complex system of differing personalities, views and tolerances: chances of crossing the harassment line is far greater. So, whether you are an in a romantic workplace relationship or about to ask out that special co-worker, here are my office romance top 3 things to do.
1. Keep it professional
Don’t use the workplace as a singles bar and don’t use your work assigned email or team messaging system as an online dating app. Most people are at work for professional and financial reasons – very few people are at work for the purpose of finding love. Being mindful of this fact should set a far more professional and proper tone in your interactions with your co-workers (even the ones you really, really like).
Remember also that the legal definition of sexual harassment includes comments or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome. Overtures of an intimate or personal nature and/or repeated requests to ask out your co-worker fall squarely in the definition of harassment when the co-worker is not receptive to your requests. Facebook and Google have addressed this potential problem by creating a workplace policy, which limits an employee to asking out a coworker just once. If the answer is not an unequivocal ‘yes’, the employee does not get to ask that co-worker out again.
If you are in a romantic workplace relationship, don’t blur the lines between the personal and professional. Respect your coworkers and the workplace by refraining from public and seemingly private acts of affection. That ‘private’ email or text that you send on your work assigned computer or phone may ultimately fall into the hands of IT, creating an awkward situation for everyone.
2. Disclose the existence of the relationship
The 2017 Career Builder survey found that 2 out of 5 workers who have dated someone in the workplace kept the relationship secret. Though it is understandable why workers do this, I believe that the parties to an office romance should privately disclose the existence of the relationship to HR or the person responsible for human resources. Disclosing the existence of an intimate workplace relationships enables HR and management to keep you and your significant other in separate working groups or teams, which helps to manage the optics of nepotism and perceived unfairness from co-workers.
Keeping a romantic workplace relationship secret is also fraught with risk: an allegation of harassment or an allegation that the relationship was not consensual or coerced is far more believable when shrouded in secrecy. To address this risk, some workplaces have gone as far as instituting ‘love contracts’: documents in which co-workers in a relationship confirm that they weren’t coerced into dating the other and that they agree to behave professionally while at work. Personally, I think that a love contract is extreme: the private disclosure of the relationship would suffice in limiting the risk of a possible harassment or poisonous workplace complaint.
3. Stay away from romantic relationships between managers and subordinates
It goes without saying, but people in an office romance should never be in the same managerial chain. The power dynamic in the manager-subordinate relationships puts the consensual nature of the office romance in question. Further, even if consensual, the appearance of favoritism as it relates to promotions, work assignments, compensation and other perquisites can create a poisonous work environment and impact morale of other employees. And given that only one-third of workplace romantic relationships lead to marriage, it follows that the rest break-up: romantic relationships between managers and subordinates can be far trickier when a break-up occurs as one party may feel that they are being professionally sidelined by their former lover.
Using these 3-tips, you can make love in the workplace work for you.