The office romance* – it’s a scene ingrained in our cultural psyche. And, how could it not be? People in the U.S. spend more time working than anywhere else in the industrialized world. Unlike most European countries with their siestas and month-long summer vacations, Americans spend a most of their time at work. So, it’s only natural that you would form connections with the people you spend the most time with, right? Wrong. No matter how logical or convenient an office romance seems, 99% of the time it’s a very bad idea.
Whenever I think of “office romance” scenes from the 1950s-1960s pop into my head with married business men having affairs with their secretaries. Times have changed, and now women are the executives and have much, much more to lose. Whenever you mix business with pleasure, the result is usually disaster. So, why is this so wrong?
The situation in the workplace has gotten so sticky that we now have sexual harassment laws in place to regulate behavior. What you think is innocent flirting, can actually get you into lots of trouble, especially when you are not on the same managerial level. If one person is more senior, then you’re getting into murky territory and you’re entering quid pro quo territory, i.e, go out with me, and I’ll give you a promotion. Most companies these days have resources and meetings explaining the sexual harassment policies, and many others prohibit them entirely. If you do decide to fling all logic aside, at least proceed with caution and stay within legal bounds.
Legalities aside, there are subtle ways that an office fling can hurt your career. For one, if word gets out (it always does), you will instantly lose credibility. Unfortunately this is directed more toward the ladies. One fling and you will be labeled the “office tramp” – not so with your male counterpart. Sorry ladies, I didn’t make the rules. I don’t like them and don’t think they are fair but that’s how you will be perceived. Ignoring that will not will it out of existence.
All of the hard work that you put into advancing your career has the potential of slipping away with one office fling. You can lose credibility, and your achievements won’t look merit-based but reward-based – regardless of whether that’s true or not.
If you are the more senior person in the relationship then people will suspect that you can’t stay impartial and are playing favorites. If you’re a manager you need to have your team’s respect and they can’t feel that you favor one person because of personal relationships. Even if you don’t favor one person, there are definitely people who look for excuses to cause trouble and will perceive it that way.
Like any rule, there are exceptions, and you always hear about that couple at work that fell madly in love, got married and lived happily ever after. That does happen – rarely. It’s understandable. If you work in the same place, chances are you have some similar interests and goals. My advice? Take it very slow and be very discreet. If romance is prohibited in the workplace, and the relationship is that serious, one of you may consider finding another job.
The mind never rule affairs of the heart, if it did, it would be affairs of the mind (and that doesn’t sound like any fun). You can’t control who you take an interest in. My main advice is to play it smart and proceed with caution. Before you act on any impulses, think about whether your serious or if it’s a fling. Think about whether it’s worth the risk to the career you’ve worked long and hard at building. Save the flings for outside the office and “Don’t get you honey where you make your money.”
* I use the term “office romance” loosely and can be interpreted as workplace romance
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