Office Romances and The Hazards of Workplace Dating

If Work Is the Best Place to Get to Know Someone, Then Why Should I Not Date Someone From Work?

That's one of the best workplace and dating questions I've heard. Some dating advice columns in the past 50 years of newspaper clippings and old magazines I've looked through tells readers that the best way to get to know a potential dating partner or spouse is to work with that person in a volunteer or civic project or in an actual workplace. On an intuitive level, that makes sense, given the number of hours people work together in America - when they are employed (reference: Recession 2008 - 2010 job losses). When you observe another person for 30 or 40 hours a week, that helps deliver insight into his or her personality and character.

Other advice and workforce related columns are vehemently against dating coworkers, bosses, and subordinates. Given the availability of both types of advice, many people are confused about which to follow. Some workers feel that it is not the employer's concern, but employers purchase employees' time at work and have major authority over how that time is spent. One hopes a middle road compromise could be achieved.

Since the latter part of the 20th Century and the strengthening of EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) regulations and enforcement programs, increasing numbers of workplace dating relationships have unfortunately transitioned to sexual harassment cases. I have witnessed a few of these that have destroyed employee morale to the point of company closure, but these are extreme casses in smaller companies.

Some individuals have decided that a potential sexual harassment or even sexual imposition case (whether real or falsified) is not worth the risk of dating someone at work. Others feel that workplace dating is unprofessional and choose not to participate in it as a matter of choice.

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Reason #1: Written Policy

Read your Employee Manual immediately upon hire, if you have such a manual. Look for specifics about dating coworkers, bosses (a basis for American sexual harassment claims), and subordinates (another basis for sexual harassment claims). If the company prohibits dating among the supervisors and subordinates, then it is not wise to challenge that policy. Adhere to your manual and if the language is not clear enough, then consult with your HR representative. 

Some companies are stricter yet and prohibit fraternization between all management and all the subordinates. This means that a manager and a subordinate may not associate socially in the workplace or outside of the workplace.

When I attended high school, school board regulations were strict enough to require that,  when two teachers in my school married, the wife was transferred to another suburban school district. It was fortunate that each of these teachers owned a car, but their outlay for gasoline increased substantially. Thus, workplace dating can lead to large increases in daily expenses, 

Some written company policies prohibit dating and even fraternization among coworkers (all the subordinates) as well as between management and subordinates. This is difficult to enforce and largely unreasonable, but I have seen some smaller companies attempt it with carying success rates. 

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Reason #2: Unwritten Policy

In a large corporate culture down to a family operated small business, etiquette and behavioral rules may be unwritten and you need to find out what these entail in your company. Ask a Human Resources representative or a supervisor you feel you can trust. If you cannot find a clear answer, then refrain from workplace dating, because the hazards are unknown.

Unwritten codes of conduct, including for dating, may be even more important in your company if you are a minority entering the workplace inhabited by a different majority - say, an American Protestant working abroad in a company that is largely a Muslim organization. In this case, familiarize yourself with the relevant cultural rules through your Embassy before reporting for work. They are prepared to help you in this regard. Then study your employee manual. Ask HR and/or your supervisor any question you have that are still unanswered.

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Reason #3: Office Politics and Hysteria - Gossip

Some sort of politics is operational in every workplace - a pecking order and a system of Who's Who and Who's Not. Part of the usual workplace dynamic is workplace gossip. Even if you mind your own business and just work - or especially because of this trait - some few others may create rumors about you. If you date someone from work, the gossipers' ammunition has increased exponentially. It potentially can cause your termination from employment or interfere with your career advancement.

If rumors are that you as a subordinate are dating a supervisor or company owner, other subordinates may assert claims of favoritism as you progress in your career within the company. Accusations of sexual favors or sexual imposition at work can be insidious in destroying reputations and careers.   

In a few cases, the employee you date will add to the ammunition with true or false stories of his/her own - a throwback to middle school behavior, perhaps. For additional information and advice, see the link below:

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Reason #4: The Klingon Job Promotion System

If you recall the Klingon "job promotion" methodology on Star Trek®, you remember that K-cruiser promotions occurred by death. Specifically, one Klingon killed the next highest ranking superior and took the resulting vacancy.

While gaining the target's job is not the most frequent reason behind workplace dating, occasionally it is the reason. One coworker may approach another for dating with the hopes of undermining his or her work performance in order to have that person fired. I would especially advice against coworkers dating if they are in competition for the same job promotion.

More usually, a workplace dating pair breaks up and one or the other retaliates by attempting to undermine the other's work with distractions, arguments, gossip, false accusations, etc. The disagreement may lead to sexual harassment charges in the case of superior-subordinate dating.

In my state, some of the actions in a relationship - or a broken-up relationship - in the workplace may be objected to by other workers and used as grounds for sexual harassment and hostile work environment. This includes touching in front of other workers, public displays of affection, "lovers' quarrels", and a number of others. If one of the workers puts the worksite "On Notice" by formally announcing that he or she does not want to hear any mention of or see any sex, sexual jokes, double entendres, discussions about dating or relationships, etc. etc.; then that rule is be followed unless and until the announcer breaks it himself/herself.

So, if you date a coworker, there is a chance that you might be sued for sexual harassment by other workers.

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Reason #5: Other Ulterior Motives

Boston Legal was the first television series in my view that was so outrageous that viewers could immediately recognize that it was an over-the-top parody of office politics and dating, woven in between serious topics. I'm collecting the full-season DVDs and feel they are better than classic cartoons -- in a drama, many of the situations would be offensive, but in Boston Legal, they are hilarious.

Real life is not always easy to interpret as such TV shows.

Ulterior motives can enter the approach of coworkers, bosses, and subordinates to other employees for dating, sex, and/or romance. Consider the statement of one of my first anthropology professors: "There is no such thing as love; people only use one another for various purposes." That brought a volcanic reaction from some students, but many humans do need other humans. People band together for a lot of reasons in 2's, 3's, families, villages, and nations - survival, food gathering, protection, reproduction, status provided by the best mates, etc. The next time a coworker approaches you for a romantic or sexual liason, think about the possible motivations for it. Some examples: 

POWER AND CONTROL

In one small company that employed me, we worked with an International coworker that felt he could control the company by having relations with all the female workers and abandoning them, with the envisioned result that all the women would quit. In cutting to the short summary, few of the females succumbed, he was fired, and company revenues more than doubled the first year thereafter. I hope you never encounter a similar situation.

SECONDARY GAIN

It is possible that some coworkers date another that is a hard worker and produces top results, in order to benefit from that association. The person may believe that he or she will receive raises and promotions for being associated with the top producer on the way up the corporate ladder - like a sort of groupie, perhaps.

If you have noticed other ulterior motives in workplace dating, please feel free to share them in the Comments section below. We'd like to see them.

Work is stranger than fiction.

it may be possible to meet someone at work and have a successful long-term relationship, even marriage, with that someone, but I think it rare. If you are such a couple, please share that in Comments as well.

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© 2011 Patty Inglish

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Comments 20 comments

Erin LeFey profile image

Erin LeFey 5 years ago from Maryland

Interesting points, and I'm not sure how I feel about workplace dating. I've been in government offices (large professional workplaces) where people in the same office were dating but because we all carried ourselves in a professional and responsible manner - no one really knew until they would announce a relationship, usually when one or the other was departing for another assignment. My experiences have been positive, I believe it can be done with discretion, work is work - regardless of one's relationship to another - the time for friendships and relationships was always when the shift was over. But the nature of my job was always more critical as well, that might have something to do with it, we had to rely on each other as a team - no time for drama, high school games or personal meltdowns. Maybe that's what made all the difference.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Hi Erin - It's good to hear about some positive results of workplace dating with mature, professional behavior. Thanks for giving us some hope!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Hi Patty-I'm in the camp of the "not so positive". In fact, it was disasterous, but a learning experience where I really got the message. Great subject.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA

Hi Patty - I read your interesting article to learn what it taught, and it taught a whole lot. Because I am retired and now work at home, the good advice it proferred will not have to be used here, but I have kids and grandkids to whom I can refer your article. Thanks.

Gus :-)))


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Every single workplace romance I have witnessed (thank goodness never involved in 1 myself) has ended poorly. Great advice and rated up!


Tinsky profile image

Tinsky 5 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

Hi Patty, My husband came to work at the same company I do 6 months ago and I actually think my workplace got a great deal because we often continue working together on projects at home! I believe as long as two people in a relationship are professional about their work and their commitment to their job (and their relationship) then personal lives can be kept out of the work place.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago

From the couple's perpective, I think if the couple works out well, it'd be fine and lovely. If the relationsip didn't work out, the company will risk losing one of the them.


ImChemist profile image

ImChemist 5 years ago

I don't like to date some one from work.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

Great sensible advice - well written and discussed. Some useful pointers on policy too. voted up & useful.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

A superbly written hub but as for commenting there is nothing I can contribute like the others. I never dated anybody from work.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California

Outstanding work Patty! And your remark, "If you date someone from work, the gossipers' ammunition has increased exponentially" speaks most loudly. Well thought out and presented. Up and Awesome!

K9


Terry 5 years ago

I dated a man in my office. We've been married 9 years this week and still in love!!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for that report Terry! I'm smiling.


ryokowaren profile image

ryokowaren 5 years ago from USA

Workplace dating is definitely a big "no, no" in my opinion. Not a good idea.


Sylvia Leong profile image

Sylvia Leong 5 years ago from North Vancouver (Canada)

As per usual, another interesting & inspiring Hub! Thank you, Patty.

My “two cents” worth …

Work can be the perfect place to meet a life partner. Sit back & watch & you’ll gain incredible insight into your future prospect’s morals, values, habits, hygiene, work ethic, sense of humour, performance under pressure, ability to accept criticism & probably the most powerful of all – reputation.

Bide your time & all this will happen completely risk free - before the first dance of the dating ritual.

What is the definition of dating?

Dating: is a form of human courtship consisting of social activities done by two persons with the aim of each assessing the other’s suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or as a spouse. (Wikipedia)

In other words dating one person after another until your supply of future prospects runs dry is not the idea.

By the time you accept that first date, you should have an excellent idea whether or not this is the partner for you. If there happens to be someone in your workplace that you totally “click” with & you both know it. WHY WOULD YOU EVER GIVE THAT UP!

For corporate loyalty? A thing of the past. Spending too much time within one corporation has become a career-limiting move.

To further yourself in your career? Being one person professionally & another person privately is an outdated strategy. Now it’s all about presenting yourself as a whole, well-rounded person.

Today I read a book review done by The Art of Education on “Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire” by Mireille Guiliano. Amongst the strongest takeaways from this book:

“There is no such thing as a work-life balance - You are the same person whether you are at work or at home. Don’t wait for the weekend to enjoy your home life and vice versa. You are not two people. You are one person who does many things.”

My husband & I met at work. Yes, I believe we did supply the rumour mill for quite some time. However, dating while working within the same corporation hasn’t hindered us in the least. Fifteen years later we have a wonderful marriage & we each run our own successful businesses.

Where are all those gossip kings & queens that were so interested in our relationship all those years ago? I have no idea!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Being self employed, I am not subjected to the workplace dating issue. But I don't date anyway - I prefer courtship that occurs after all the observations that you mention above occur at work or in another group setting, then the two in a couple choose each other to pursue a course specifically toward marriage. I think this does not happen often, but I have even recently seen it occur and it makes me happy to see it.

The best story I know of a couple working together was Terri and Steve Irwin and they began courting the day they met. From that day, they had only 15 years, but they were the best.


Support Med. profile image

Support Med. 5 years ago from Michigan

Guess it can work for some. Not sure it's meant for everyone. v/r


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Glad to hear about a Happy Ending!


ajayshah2005 profile image

ajayshah2005 4 years ago from Mid Asia

I don't like to date someone from work place.Great hub!I even don't want to see the face of work place at off work time.


htodd profile image

htodd 4 years ago from United States

Great post..Thanks

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