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Updated 05 September 2013

The dangers of office romances

One in three South Africans has had sex with a co-worker somewhere along the line, but getting romantic with a co-worker is a road with many potholes.

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One in three South Africans has had sex with a co-worker somewhere along the line, according to Health24’s Great South African Sex Survey, so we should know by now that sex with a colleague – or the boss – isn’t just about stolen kitchen kisses and paperclip hearts.

Get it wrong, and your workplace romance could sicken and die all too easily.

“Office romances most often end in grief, and are always highly complex, with unforeseen complications, and not a good idea,” warns Professor Michael Simpson, aka Cybershrink. But of course few of us are strictly sensible when it comes to romance and that cute guy in the IT department. “If you're determined to explore a relationship with him, take your time, get to know him, and flirt a little to see how he feels,” says Cybershrink.

Here are some of the ways in which mixing your job and your romance could be a recipe for disaster.

Playing favourites

If one of you is the boss, it’s inevitable that colleagues will scrutinise your every move for signs that you are favouring your loved one. It may even mean that you end up offering less attractive assignments to your romantic partner, just to make sure everyone knows you are not giving him or her special treatment.

“Be cautious,” warns Cybershrink. “Office romances very often cause problems, especially when one of the pair is more senior / more powerful in the organisation than the other.”

Don’t even think of getting involved with a more senior staff member with the hope of advancing your career. You are just as likely to end up looking for a new job, with your reputation and your self-esteem in tatters.

The office party hook-up walk of shame

Not every office hook-up is the stuff of romance novels. In fact, all too often Jim the Accounts guy looks much less attractive hunched over his calculator than he did last night at the bar after three Jagerbombs.

Just as potentially embarrassing is the eagle-eyed colleague who notices that you are wearing the same dress as yesterday, or are trying to pass off your dancing shoes as corporate wear. Discretion is the better part of office romances, and unless you enjoy being the topic of everyone’s lunchtime gossip session, try not to make it too obvious that you never quite made it home from the work do.

Losing focus

If you’re spending more time sending heart emoticons on the office instant messenger than actually working, you need to shake yourself out of it. Your colleagues will probably turn a blind eye to your fling, but not if you start getting wooly-headed in meetings or spend too much time wandering to the other side of the office “to fetch ink for the printer”. Most people are not bothered by office romances, unless they have a negative effect, says a study done by Canadian researchers.

According to the study, people believe that managers should take action over office romances only in specific situations, namely when the performance of co-workers is hindered; when the workplace environment is tainted; when negative emotion from a breakup affects the workplace; and when there's a romance between a manager and employee in the same department.

So if your romance starts making the workplace uncomfortable for others, expect intervention from above.

Post break-up awkwardness

It was great, but now it’s over, and this is when things can go horribly pear-shaped. Those cosy chats in the afterglow, where you shared how you really feel about the company’s policies and your colleagues’ work ethic, can come back to bite you horribly if you are not able to break up smoothly and without rancour.

If you sob ever time you see him, or shoot down every idea she has in meetings, you are going to have to do some quick and serious sorting. If counselling is necessary, get it, and if that doesn’t resolve matters, you might have to seriously consider asking for a transfer to another department.

 Legal hassles

If all goes horribly wrong and you end up hating each other, there is also the scary possibility that a lawsuit might ensue, especially if you are not equally powerful colleagues. Sexual harassment accusations aren’t good for anyone’s reputation. It’s probably best to be very clear upfront what your intentions are and that you are not offering a quid pro quo trading sexual favours for workplace advancement.

The definition of sexual harassment includes not only unwanted actions of a sexual nature, but also “creating a hostile environment”. That’s why it’s important to be sure that your attractive employee finds your compliments heart-warming, not just creepy and unsettling. And above all, no means no. Always.

(Picture: office romance from Shutterstock)

 

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