On Tuesday morning, author Kate White will chat with Kathie Lee and Hoda about workplace romances and ways to tell whether a relationship may be problematic. Vote on the questions below and tune in to the show at 10 a.m. for tips on navigating this situation.
“It was an authentic connection with emotional intimacy, frequent visits, plans made, phone calls and gifts exchanged.”
The woman who wrote that is talking about an intense, sexy relationship she had with a man she met at work. Sounds nice, doesn't it — the kind of connection anyone might want? Except those words come from Monica Lewinsky, writing in the June edition of Vanity Fair about her affair in 1998 with President Bill Clinton. And she says she’s still feeling the sting from that fling.
According to a recent study of 8,000 workers by the job-search website CareerBuilder.com, four out of 10 employees have dated someone at work. It’s easy to understand the appeal of interoffice romance. There’s something intensely exciting, even a bit naughty-feeling, about the moment you glance over at a colleague you've shared the trenches with for weeks or even months and suddenly realize there’s a real sexual attraction between the two of you. Plus, you already have a good sense of who the other person really is, which isn’t the case when you first grab drinks or dinner with someone you met through an online dating site — or at a local bar. And you won’t have to worry about getting a conversation off the ground since you already have tons to talk about. According to the CareerBuilder survey, three in 10 people who had office romances actually ended up marrying their co-workers.
Though dating a colleague can have its rewards, it also has the potential to blow up on you — maybe not the same way it did for Monica Lewinsky, but still with career-damaging results.
Before you say yes to that drink date
Check your employee handbook to see whether your organization prohibits fraternizing among employees. If it’s against company policy, it can be grounds for termination. Even if your organization doesn't forbid interoffice relationships per se, management almost always frowns on an affair between a boss and a subordinate.
And if one or both of you is married? Oy, you’re really courting trouble then.
Love among equals
Let’s say he’s NOT your boss or your subordinate. He’s a peer, you’re both single, and there’s no anti-fraternizing policy. Shouldn’t be a problem. A human resources consultant I know points out that some companies actually encourage such relationships and celebrate “company marriages” and the babies they produce.
But that doesn’t guarantee there won’t be repercussions.
Your boss, without even being fully aware of it, may feel uncomfortable about the relationship, and end up boxing you out of important projects or denying you opportunities. When one of the female staffers at a magazine I ran got involved with a new guy we’d hired (in a position slightly junior to hers), I was surprised to find that I felt slightly disconcerted about the whole thing. Their romance threw off the office dynamic (for instance, she suddenly went mute in group meetings, as if she was worried about outshining him), and because I was conscious of the pillow talk they must be having at night, I felt reluctant to share certain info with her that she would have ordinarily been privy to at her level.
Even if your boss is cool about your courtship, your co-workers can get weird on you. A 2009 study published in the Western Journal of Communication revealed that most employees have negative perceptions of workplace romances, even though many of them have taken part in them themselves. Co-workers can find these relationships distracting and disruptive (especially if you rub it in their faces). They may make you the unwilling and beleaguered star of the rumor mill. And if you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship, there’s a chance you could sustain more damage than you might expect. That 2009 study about negative perceptions found that people largely direct their annoyance or anger at the woman in the relationship.
Don’t kid yourself
You may be thinking that none of this matters because you will keep your romance under wraps. I’m here to tell you that people almost always find out, no matter how discreet you are. A former colleague of mine had her affair with her boss exposed after a security camera caught them having sex on his desk.
If you evaluate the situation and decide that your chances for trouble are slim, it’s still important not to bring any hints of your romance into the office. Don’t be flirty with each other and don’t engage in p.d.a.’s, even if you think no one is looking. And don’t share personal details about your relationship with co-workers, even someone you trust completely. Remember, in terms of myths, the so-called “cone of silence” ranks right up there with the existence of unicorns.