What About Workplace Romance?

ON VALENTINES DAY AND BEYOND

It can send you to the Honeymoon Suite or land you in the Heartbreak Hotel.

I‘m talking about romance at work. Is love in the air at your office? Has Cupid’s Arrow struck you at work? If so, your reaction can have a consequential impact on your professional and personal life, ranging from merriment to misery and everything in between. This is an especially important consideration for Millennials who might be new to the workforce, not to mention Gen Z on their first jobs.  That’s because workplace harassment of teens and 20-somethings has been trending upward in recent years, based on litigation, research, and anecdotal evidence. This begs the obvious question: Is workplace romance a good or bad idea? Opinions run the gamut.

❤️ What are the upsides and downsides?
❤️ Are the potential positive accruals worth the risk to your job, career path, and personal well-being?

Many people, like me, abide by the age-old adage of not mixing business with pleasure. Of course, I’ve worked closely with some very attractive women in my career — as many men have, and vice versa — yet I always strive to maintain professionalism within the workplace. However, views sharply differ depending on whom one asks. Although some co-workers end up dating and getting married, others end up with broken hearts and a pink slip — ouch!

Pros & Cons

In today’s hyper-paced Information Age, more employees are working longer hours and developing closer interpersonal relationships. I’m actually reminded of the lyrics sung by Sting to the epic song, “Message in a Bottle” by The Police:

Love can mend your life but love can break your heart...” — The Police

Despite the inherent risks, workplace romance persists in the 21st century corporate culture — in the USA and beyond.

While this universal truism applies any place, it carries added significance in the workplace — as your job and livelihood can be on the line. Is this really worth the risk? Despite the inherent risks, workplace romance persists in the 21st-century corporate culture — in the USA and beyond. Although the traditional work paradigm is slowly shifting to remote work and the virtual workplace, most people are still employed in a brick-and-mortar office environment. However, even in a virtual work environment, legal issues can arise when romance turns sour – such as harassing emails, tweets or Facebook posts. Therefore, let’s consider the pros and cons of workplace romance.

When Cupid’s Arrow Strikes

Even if you’re not looking for love, there’s no telling when a budding workplace romance might arise, due to the intensity of work and close contact for a long duration. A positive workplace romance might even elevate work performance in some instances, causing a boon in productivity. On the other hand, getting caught in a bad romance can cause employee performance and productivity to plummet, in addition to a host of other potential problems (some of which are noted below).

When I wrote about this topic on LinkedIn Pulse some time ago, the feedback was broad and varied. To wit: here’s a sampling of reader reaction to last year’s blog post.

“In many ways, work is the ideal place to meet your life partner…” – Vivian Chapman “You can get to know the whole person, gradually,” noted Ms. Chapman, “as opposed to the purely physical characteristics — then find out after they are horrid. It’s perfectly possible for responsible adults to keep their hands off each other during working hours and perhaps the relationship even benefits from it.”

“I met my wife at work…” — Gary Rush  “She was assigned to work with me. I met her, proposed, and we got married while working together,” Mr. Rush wrote. “We are now business partners and work together every day. My advice is to be respectful and keep personal issues separate from work issues — i.e., don’t fight at work.”

“Love between two people will occur regardless of the location…” – Paul Tolley “The times when I managed staff, if I was privy to internal relationships, I would talk to the couple discreetly, requesting they keep it professional and away from the office,” Mr. Tolley observed.  “I would advise them if indiscretions were reported to me, then I would be required to take the necessary action appropriate to maintain the team dynamics,” he continued. “This approach appeared to yield positive results, as I never had any problems in this area.”

Caught in a Bad Romance

While the upside of workplace romance is clear – falling in love and, hopefully, living happily ever after – the downsides are multifaceted. First, no one wants to get caught in a bad romance at work, of all places. A workplace romance gone wrong can have a negative impact on the entire office, as the situation grows more awkward and adversarial in a public way. What if other employees become involved, choose sides or act as witnesses if one party files a complaint?

Second, picking up on the last point, there can be administrative or legal implications if one or both sides of a bad romance become so nasty that it results in unlawful conduct.  This might involve allegations of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, gender discrimination, equal pay, and promotions, or favoritism in terms and conditions of employment. In a worst case scenario, one or both parties might be subjected to an in-house or government investigation, sued, demoted, forced out or just plain fired.

Here’s a sampling from readers who cautioned against workplace romance:

“It’s bad for business, bad for the company and ultimately bad for the players…” – Martin Alianelli  “There are millions of potential partners outside of work that it seems childish at best to entertain an office relationship,” Mr. Alianelli concluded.

“I met a few women at work. I had a couple of relationships… ” — Bob Davidson “From my side, the relationships were intense at the time,” he continued. “They were highly distracting.  I was not giving my employers my best and I felt wrong about that. Yes, never say never, but IMO it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid such involvements. Usually, they don’t end well.”

My Take

There will always be pros and cons to workplace romance. There will always be potential risks and rewards. However, as mentioned above, workplace romance is sometimes unavoidable. With that being said, the conventional wisdom appears to be that it’s always best to tread lightly and try to keep romance out of the office. Try to focus on work when you’re at work. Professionalism counts and pays dividends. The perennial problem, however, is that work and romance are not always mutually exclusive and often overlap. Moreover, sometimes Cupid’s Arrow sticks. Therefore, regardless of whether you get struck by Cupid’s arrow at work — or you’re shooting the arrow — always think before you act.  Consider both the short-term and long-term consequences.

“Assess your feelings; make sure it’s not lust but is in fact love.”  — Amanda Blakeman

This leads us to again ponder the perplexing question:

❤️ Does workplace romance really work?

In essence, remember that many jobs are temporary in the new economy and many romances are tenuous. On the flip side, true love can last a lifetime. Choose wisely.

What do YOU think?

David B. Grinberg
David B. Grinberghttps://www.linkedin.com/in/davidgrinberg-pr/
DAVID is a strategic communications consultant, ghostwriter and former federal government spokesman based in the Washington, DC-area. In 2018, he was named by Medium.com as a "Top Writer in Journalism, Government, and Social Media." In 2017, he was selected as a global brand ambassador by beBee.com and an advisory board member for AmericanDiversityReport.com. David is also a featured contributor for PRDaily.com, ThriveGlobal.com, SocialMediaToday.com, and GovLoop.com. His work in government and politics includes the White House for President Bill Clinton, OMB, EEOC, Congress, and global consulting firm GQRR.com. A native New Yorker, David has a journalism degree from the University of Maryland and was a reporter for BNA.com and U. Magazine (Colleges.com) prior to his public service.

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  1. It is a dicey topic and you did well to cover both positions; both opposing and proposing sides.

    few years ago, I would say a big NO to office romance, but I have seen people nurture their office romance to something solid and enviable. my best take would that for anyone involved to wise and thotougky think it through. Apply caution, it could flop or become solid, just don’t let it come in the way of your work and progress. Also do not use it as a chip to gain promotions or unmerited favours…that, is sickening.

  2. I’m not sure how I missed this one, David, but as always you manage to take a topic and poke into corners that I’ve never considered before. I’ll be honest, I’ve never engaged in workplace romance – mostly because I don’t think I ever worked with someone who generated that kind of spark. But, I think it’s worth noting that there is absolutely no way I could spend every waking moment with someone. Wake up and have coffee, drive to the office together, work together all day, drive home together, and then spend the evening together? No thank you, no way, no how, no chance! LOL… that’s just me.

    Thank you for sharing another great piece here! I always enjoy your work!

    • Many thanks for your meaningful engagement, Melissa, for which I’m always grateful. You make a great point. Whie I don’t work with my wife, we do I opposite schedules. Maybe that factors into why we get along so well — or it could be her patience in putting up with me (lol).

    • Many thanks for your meaningful engagement, Melissa, for which I’m always grateful. You make an excellent point, as usual. While I don’t work with my wife, we do have opposite schedules (she’s an early bird whereas I’m a night owl). Maybe that factors into why we get along so well — or, more likely, it’d because of her infinite patience in putting up with me (lol).

  3. I believe this one remains in the hearts and minds of those who choose this path-or experience that “spark” at work. What I’ve learned that seems the most important is a good fit relationship with another human being. You might work well together, but that may or may not translate to loving well together. Alignment with values, languages of love, acceptance, and the brave work of self-discovery, self-awareness, deep acceptance remain some of the critical criteria for an enduring, healthy, love relationship. Where you meet seems less important than the deep dive journey to know if you two are a “good fit.” or not so much. And, I agree, that holding clear boundaries about work staying at work and other aspects of your life staying in those domains seems reasonable, useful, and grownup. To view the workplace as a “dating site” or a “pick up bar scene” would probably not be optimal for professional interactions. Thank you for this article on a very real dynamic of romance in the workplace, David!

  4. The relationships within the work environment have always worried both those who find themselves experiencing them in the first person, but also the colleagues who in some way feel touched by this relationship. The first thing to know is that falling in love with a colleague, or just starting dating, is not an exception.
    Starting a relationship with a colleague can indeed have a positive impact on us and the environment around us. It can lead us to be more confident of ourselves and therefore proactive and assertive, it can stimulate our creativity.
    Anyway, when starting a relationship in the workplace there are small precautions to consider, especially to prevent a whole series of problems in which we could be involved above all if the link were to end in the worst way.

  5. David, thank you for writing this article and sharing these insights with us. I’ve never engaged in a workplace romance, but I know a few people who have done so. It didn’t bode so well for some and blossomed for others. I’ve also known about situations where misleading signs led to uncomfortable situations. I don’t think that there is an easy answer, and each person will approach it in their way. We do spend a lot of time at our workplace, so in some cases, it may be inevitable.

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