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Office Romances: Not Always a Happy Ending in the Workplace

Updated on October 20, 2012
ChrisMcDade8 profile image

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 18 years in the public sector.

The fires of love often start in the office.

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Romance often blossoms from workplace relationships.

When you ask couples how they met, it is not surprising that many people say that they met and fell in love at work. If you think about it, we spend a lot of our time at work. For the average full time employee, you spend approximately 40 hours of your week with people that you form relationships with. The majority of these relationships are cordial, professional in nature. You get through your day by interacting pleasantly with these folks to get a specific job done for your company. From time to time, the relationships build and you start spending non-business hours together. Inevitably, real friendships form. When it is more than friendship, you might find yourself in a romantic relationship. At this point, all rules of the game change.

Secret, Secret, I've Got a Secret.

Some couples choose to keep their love life to themselves. In fact, some will go to a lot trouble to prevent their personal lives from becoming fodder for gossip at work. They consider such information as private, not open for discussion between coworkers. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to keep such information under cover, and the news that "so and so" are dating eventually becomes the buzz at the water cooler. It may even get shared through social media. Suddenly, the relationship is out in the open and the subject that should be very personal is now being scrutinized and judged by those who work with you. Moreover, many of your coworkers will believe that nothing in the relationship is off-limits for those around you in the workplace to discuss.

Whatever the situation, it is quite likely that this very personal information will become some sort of topic for discussion for coworkers who work with a couple who are in a relationship. It is important to remember that many companies have policies to address these situations. In fact, some workplaces forbid office romances altogether. To prevent potential workplace issues, some coworkers may be reassigned to prevent any conflicts of interest. If two workers choose to marry, it may even be the company's policy to ask one employee to leave the company. The challenge to maintain fairness is even more difficult when a supervisor marries a subordinate. A recipe for disaster from office romances can have many ingredients.

Common Problems

There are some reading this hub who might not think there is not much to worry about when it comes to two grown ups becoming romantically linked at work. However, I must point out the following:

  • Distraction - Work is a place where people go to earn a living by performing a job they have been hired to do. Distractions that can disrupt an employee's work means the job is not getting done. While people are not robots and it can be a natural thing to happen to two people who spend a lot of time together, it is important to remember that business is business and your personal life must not disrupt your ability to function successfully in that position. It should also not disrupt those around you from doing their job.
  • Favoritism - When two people are in a relationship at work, there is likely to be the reluctance for a supervisor to render discipline or honestly evaluate an employee with performance issues if there is a chance they will offend the employee's significant other. by not addressing the performance issues of a problem employee, others in the workplace will resent this perceived "favoritism" being granted to this employee.
  • Break up - What happens if the couple's romantic relationship ends? Not only do they have to deal with the break up during their private time, but they also have to go to work and see each other all day long. Furthermore, there could be "picking sides" by the coworkers of the separating couple that creates further distraction. It can be an awkward situation made even more awkward due to the nature of having to deal with a break up of a couple who works for the same employer.
  • Perception - The appearance of nepotism can be an issue that plagues a company when couples work together. For example, nepotism can be a problem in the workplace for married couples if there is an appearance of some kind of favoritism being granted to one of the married employees. It might be tempting to not discipline an employee who happens to be married to another coworker who is doing a good job. The promoting of an applicant simply because that person is married to another employee may shut the door on otherwise qualified individuals who are of a protected class and, therefore, be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Some Last Thoughts...

Please do not take my concluding words as coming from someone who does not believe in the magic of love and romance that can occur between two people. People find one another in a variety of ways, including at work. It is always prudent, however, to be aware of pitfalls that can occur when coworkers are romantically involved. Supervisors will want to be aware of policies and rules about dating in the workplace. The appearance of favoritism as mentioned above will lead to problems for the employer. Addressing any issues that arise due to gossip or discussion of personal matters will be most important to maintain a healthy and productive work environment for all employees.


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    • ChrisMcDade8 profile image
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      Christine McDade 5 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Gossip is definitely an ugly activity that often becomes part of the workplace atmosphere. It can be hurtful and very disruptive for employees. Thanks for your comments.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Some companies have explicit rules about office relationshipos. Other just play it by ear. What's nasty is the gossip that goes around especially if one is married. It can ruin an professional relationsip in the workplace.

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