How an Office Romance Can Affect Your Work Environment

Career & Workplace Work/Family Balance

When you spend a third of your day at work, it is easy to become close to those with whom you share close quarters. When this blossoms into a romantic relationship, things can go downhill quickly. Office romances are frowned upon in many workplaces, with good reason; when two people break up and have to see one another every day, the tension can be felt among those around them. People can take sides, resulting in a decline of employee morale. When one party is particularly bitter, even lawsuits can ensue. I’ve written about this before, but it always intrigues me… probably because my office is in my home and the only other living being I see is my dog, Abbie.

One of the biggest problems facing companies is the threat of third-party lawsuits that arise over an office romance. In most cases, these lawsuits are launched as a result of a third-party employee feeling that he or she was treated unfairly due to someone else being favored. So, if a manager decides to give one of two people a raise and the one who receives it happens to be his girlfriend or wife, this might trigger a lawsuit filing from the party who did not receive the raise.
You also may want to consider your work mates and how they will react to this, as well as how it will affect those you are friends with who know about the romance, and how they will be treated. While putting myself through college, I was a nail technician (formerly known as “a manicurist”). One of my clients was a high-powered exec for one of the leading medical suppliers. She got me a job at her company selling medical supplies. She was also sleeping with the president of the company, who was married. At first, knowing her/him worked in my favor– it got me the job and well, it also got me a better sales position, selling some of the higher priced products versus the lower ones, so I made more commission. This wasn’t fair to the other reps and I soon realized that being associated with her meant not much work social life for me.
Another problem with an office romance is that if the romance does go sour, it can lead to false accusations or sexual harassment charges. Someone who is bitter about a failed relationship might retaliate by spreading rumors around the office or trying to make other coworkers take his or her side. Uh-oh. Not good. If you are on the receiving end of this type of treatment, it can lead to a damaged reputation or even the loss of your job. Also, if a woman decides to break up with one of her coworkers and he continues to pursue her despite her requests, it can lead to a sexual harassment claim.
All of these points are not to say that an office romance cannot work. For the most part, workplaces have rules in place for those who have established a romantic relationship. Many companies have addressed romantic relationships by implementing stricter rules, holding mandatory training sessions and even making involved employees sign a “love contract” in which they promise that their romance will not influence their job. Really?? In just about any scenario, though, try not to become involved with a boss or subordinate.  However, if this does happen, you might consider changing whom you and your significant other report to so that there will not be any accusations of favoritism.
Before pursuing an office romance, it is important to weigh the risks versus the benefits. It might seem like an appealing idea at first; after all, the two of you already have one thing in common. The added advantage of seeing each other throughout the day might lead you to believe that an office relationship is a good idea. However, only you can decide how much you are willing to put at stake for that relationship.  If it ends up poorly or your coworkers become jealous of the relationship, it can seriously affect your work environment to the point that one of you must quit or risk getting fired.