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Office Romance: When Does It Make Sense to Mix Business With Pleasure?

Maybe you're not the type to pursue online dating, but have you considered office romance? Romance at work can be tricky, and maybe you've looked at office romance advice before. You may want to give office romance another try — four out of every 10 people meet their spouse at the office through office romance.

A study by Vault.com shows that almost half of us have been romantically tied to someone at work and that workplace relationships often can be successful; roughly one-quarter result in long-term relationships and even marriage.

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Dennis Powers, author of The Office Romance: Playing With Fire and Not Getting Burned (AMACOM, 1998), says it's time that businesses acknowledge that office romances are acceptable and normal. He predicts that many businesses will lighten up and establish guidelines that allow employees to manage workplace dalliances.

Yet, when it comes to office romance, most experts, particularly human resources managers and employment lawyers, believe that romantic liaisons in the workplace can be a lose-lose situation if you're not careful.

According to a poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 58 percent of executives view office romances as unprofessional; 38 percent believe they end in disaster; and many more believe that they wreak havoc on morale. And, let's not forget that office affairs have the potential to lead to sexual harassment lawsuits.

So, if you're going to mix business with pleasure, heed some advise from the experts.

Maintaining the Balance

Joni Johnston, Ph.D., CEO of WorkRelationships.com, says you need to be on your best behavior when you're involved with someone at work. Keep your relationship as professional as possible during the day. That means no public displays of affection. Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than seeing co-workers smooching.

If you find it difficult to keep your hands off your office amour, just remember how hard you've worked at your career. You don't want to jeopardize it. The time spent flirting or sending e-mail back and forth can affect your job. The Society for Human Resource Management advises employees to remain focused at work.

The Rules Girls, Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein, authors of The Rules For Online Dating: Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right in Cyberspace (Pocket Books. 2002), advise women to respond to only one out of every four non-business e-mails while in the office. You never know who may have access to your e-mail.

Don't Date the Boss

Not all office romances are created equal. According to Lisa Mainiero, author of Office Romance: Love, Power and Sex in the Workplace (Rawson Associates, 1989), the best office-dating scenario is when peers from different departments date. Her research shows that co-workers generally accept peer relationships within their departments. However, she adds that it's important to remember that, down the road, the two of you may be competing for promotions and raises. You also may have to worry about the boss's approval.

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Fifty-five percent of employers and employees polled by Vault.com think it's unacceptable for a manager to date a subordinate. Even if a boss-subordinate relationship is not forbidden, think of the ramifications:

  • Your colleagues may turn on you. There's always a double standard at play. You may be a competent worker, but as soon as you start dating the boss, the perception will be that your relationship is fueling your career. This is especially true if you're receiving promotions or given a corner office or other perks that may appear to be the result of favoritism.
  • You could jeopardize your career. If you dump your boss, think how your career could be affected. Your boss could find endless ways to make your workday miserable, or even jeopardize your success in the company.

If you're still unsure about the "Don't date your boss" rule, Advice Sister Alison Blackman Dunham, co-author of Recruiting Love: Using Business Skills You Have to Find the Love You Want (Cyclone Books, 1998), says you need to determine if you'd be willing to leave your job if the situation became too uncomfortable after a breakup. On the other hand, says Lisa Mainiero, if you can't live without each other, get your reporting structure changed.

Five Ways to Mix Work and Romance

  1. Date someone you already have a relationship with. Johnston says that you'll have some form of trust if you have a working relationship before you date. If you must date the cute guy in another department, take things slow until you determine whether you both have the emotional maturity to handle a workplace relationship.
  2. Be honest. Powers says that when dating at work you need to have similar expectations about where the relationship is going and communicate them to one another from the start. If one party is looking at having a long-term relationship, and the other one is looking for a fling, that relationship will have problems.
  3. Set boundaries. If you become involved with someone at work, discuss how you'll handle office situations. Will you tell anyone? Will you discuss personal matters at work or work matters on a date? It may seem unromantic, but it'll help keep your professional life and love life on track.
  4. Maintain relationships outside of work. Enjoy activities away from the office. If your job goes sour or your relationship falls through, you'll be glad to have other support mechanisms and sources of satisfaction in your life.
  5. Break up gently. Let's face it, most dating relationships end. Discuss how you will handle a breakup from the beginning, advises Powers. Show some consideration. It's easier if you're the one who initiates the breakup. And, if you're going to break up, do it on Friday, don't wait until Monday.

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