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When Work Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

by Dan King

Photo of workers in office romanceOh, how your heart aches with desire for the little “hottie” in the next cubicle. Or maybe you harbor passionate cravings for the gorgeous “hunk” that services the copier. Perhaps you fantasize about both of them — “not that there’s anything wrong with it.”

What can you do? Should you keep a professional distance, stifle your lust and just yearn in silence? Or would it be better to seize the heat of the moment, bare your soul and unleash your wild abandon in a private encounter in the office supply closet?

Be still your beating heart. Hit the water cooler before you do something crazy — or just plain stupid! The employee handbook doesn’t explicitly say “no sex on the job,” but it’s a good bet that it’s not okay to circle the bases. Think about the impact on your job, your career and your professional reputation. Will your colleagues still respect you in the morning?

News about the proliferation of sexual harassment lawsuits has been spreading like wildfire for years. More and more companies, fearful of complaints, are adopting non-fraternization policies prohibiting romantic relationships at work, especially between managers and employees.

In spite of this, a 2010 survey by Vault.Com revealed that 59% of respondents have had an office romance. Of these, 19 percent said they had dated a boss.

As American workers spend more time at work, the office seems to be one of the few places to meet potential mates. Sure, there are (and always have been) the occasional post-holiday party flings, but the data suggests that many office romances today actually blossom into long-term relationships, and often marriage.

Since dating a boss or co-worker has been taboo for so long, most people still try to hide their romances — or at least keep them “supply-closeted.” Still, trysts within the workplace are widespread.

According to the Vault survey, the most common location for a rendezvous was someone’s office, followed by the restroom, then the stairwell, the elevator, the copy room and, of course, the supply closet.

So what to do about your uncontrollable urges for the hottie and/or hunk? Here are a few tips:

  • Decide in advance whether you will have a romantic relationship in the office if the opportunity arises. If you wait until you are involved, it will be too thorny to extricate yourself easily.
  • Don’t have a relationship with someone in your company unless you can stay far enough away from each other so that your work won’t be influenced by the other person.
  • Make sure the corporation realizes you are spending your time on business, even if you have a romance. No notes or messages on your computer system.
  • Tie yourself into a support network to find out how other people have handled romantic situations within your company. Know what the precedents are so you don’t make mistakes.
  • Understand that there are two elements to career success. One is your actual performance; the other is how you are perceived. A flirtatious person who is not having an affair may incur harsher judgment than a discrete person who is.

The majority of companies don’t have policies about dating in the office, but some companies are beginning to react to the rise in workplace romances by clamping down on them; for example, requiring employees to sign so-called “Love Contracts” acknowledging that their relationship is consensual.

Love Contracts? (Is it just me, or is Barry White singing in the background?)

A love contract not only memorializes the parties’ agreement that the relationship is consensual, but also serves to remind the parties of the company’s policy prohibiting sexual harassment.

Many courts have validated the common-sense notion that supervisors can be prohibited from dating subordinates due to risk of perceived favoritism and potential sexual harassment liability. Whether courts will extend that idea to requiring consenting parties to enter into a love contract remains to be seen.

So for the time being, wild thing, you probably ought to just stay away from the office supply closet!

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