How to handle your office romance (professionally).

With the amount of time that we generally spend with our colleagues, it comes as no surprise that love may sometimes blossom in the workplace.  Increasing exposure and familiarity to our fellow coworkers can increase the risk of attraction which may culminate into a relationship. Employers, on the other hand, do not typically promote office romance and are more inclined to discourage it. They also realise that it is probably unrealistic to police peoples feelings and ban office romance entirely.  The approach taken by most companies is to outline and set guidelines around acceptable behaviour during working hours for couples, as well as address potential conflicts of interest.

Six things to consider if you find yourself involved with a coworker.

If you are one of the people who happen to have found love in the workplace, here are some tips on what you should do.

  1. Check your company policies. Once you feel that things could get serious, check what rules and policies your employer has around romantic relationships at work. Read and understand the guidelines, in particular, any implications you need to consider. If there is nothing in place, speak to your HR for guidelines.
  2. Disclose your relationship to the employer. This may feel intrusive, but disclosure could be the difference between saving your job and potentially getting fired if the relationship particularly presents a conflict of interest. In many cases, employees are not permitted to make any business decisions that may impact a romantic partner. These are decisions such as hiring, firing, disciplinary enquiries, promotions, performance ratings, bonuses and increases as favouritism may be raised as a concern. In cases where there is a direct reporting relationship, one of you will often have to be moved and in some cases leave the company if no provisions for a transfer can be made. Even if your work does not intersect, it may happen that a transfer or promotion takes place in future and you end up working under your partner. You do not need to disclose every date you go for with a coworker, it is probably only necessary if it is getting serious.
  3. Plan for your breakup. As unpleasant as this sounds, it is important to have a frank discussion with your partner about how your relationship will potentially impact your work dynamics and what you will do in the event of a breakup. Look at the worst case scenario where the separation is not amicable, how will you handle this particularly if you have to work with each other. What may happen is that one party ends up being forced to leave the company if the breakup dynamics make it unbearable to be around the person at work.
  4. Keep issues separate. As much as possible, avoid work discussions in your personal time and try and not let what is happening in your relationship impact your work and vice versa. You have to agree on the best way to approach this as a couple. Also, do not disclose confidential information that your partner is not privy to in their role at work.
  5. No Public Display of Affection (PDA) at the office. Keep professional boundaries during work hours. Do not hold hands, kiss, or do anything you would not do with a fellow colleague during work hours. Avoid incessantly hanging out with each other, people already know you are a couple and may be inclined to give you privacy if they see you together. By all means, function independently and not as a duo.
  6. Be prepared to sign a love contract. Love contracts are declarations that companies can make employees in a relationship sign. A Love Contract can;
    • Restate the guidelines on sexual harassment and make the couple acknowledge that the relationship is consensual and does not violate any sexual harassment or company dating policies.
    • Provide parameters for professional conduct during working hours for the couple.
    • Serve as an agreement to refrain from any acts of retaliation if the relationship ends.

Office romance comes with potentially complex dynamics and it is important to manage it professionally. Finding out your company rules and guidelines is important to ensure that you are not in breach of any policies. As uncomfortable as it may be, disclosure to HR should be a strong consideration if things are getting serious, particularly where potential conflicts of interests may arise.