Friday, February 15, 2013

Love Is in the Air at Work. What Can You Do?

You'll be hard-pressed to extinguish office romances. Here's how to ignore them (and why you want to).

Office Romance

What should you do if your employees fall in love with one another?

Most people have very strong views on this subject. Those who are opposed argue that romantic attachments disturb the equilibrium of the workplace, interfere with professionalism, and unnecessarily confuse work and pleasure. They are right about all of this, of course. Work-based romances do get complicated. But is work so important that you can expect those working for you to sacrifice their emotional well-being for it? If your vice president of sales fell in love with a cubicle neighbor, could you seriously contend that work must come first?

According to's annual romance-in-the-office survey, 39 percent of workers have dated a colleague and 30 percent of those got married. I'm just surprised the number is so low. We know that similar people (not opposites) attract. Statistically, you are highly likely to marry someone whose eyes, hair, height, body shape, and life experiences closely mirror your own. It's what psychologists call positive assortative mating, and all it means is that humans are drawn to people who are similar to themselves--those who make them feel comfortable and safe. Though straying out of that comfort zone may happen occasionally, such forays rarely end in matrimony.

Add to all that the fact that occupation choice says a huge amount about people: what they enjoy and value. As such, your employees are all highly likely to find they work alongside people who share their tastes and preferences. Who would be surprised that some of those people are attractive in other ways, too?
I met my first husband at work. I'm afraid we conformed to all the statistics: roughly the same everything, including initials. Dating while working in the same department was stressful because it felt so visible, because meetings were tremendously distracting. When we got married, we felt we had to invite the whole department. And when, years later, my husband died, I felt as though there was nowhere I could go that would not remind me of him.

But I wouldn't change a thing. There's no job or salary that would have dissuaded me from our relationship and denying it for the sake of work would have been preposterous. Our romance didn't undermine my work or lessen my commitment; if anything, just the opposite. I was so driven to prove that I wasn't merely lovelorn that I worked even harder than usual. After we got married, the one smart thing we did was to change departments. It was boring talking about work all the time, at the office and at home. But we were still devoted to the company and to our colleagues.

So if you find there are multiple valentines in your company this week, here is some free advice for them (and how you can help them handle it from a distance).

1. Try to keep the relationship private until it is secure.
You really don't want the ups and downs of the romance to be a matter for public discussion. According to the survey, 35 percent said they had to keep their relationship under wraps. The acid question is: How will you feel about work if the relationship peters out? If it would be embarrassing or awkward, keep quiet until you're more confident.

2. When at work, focus on work.
Nobody will object to the relationship if your professionalism is uninterrupted.

3. Don't lie.
Efforts to stay private can get complicated, but lying about the relationship causes a lot of bad feeling later.

4. Don't ever go out with the boss.
The power issues are too complicated. If he or she is the love of your life, change jobs now.

5. Don't forget the outside world.
Living, breathing, talking work all day and all night is tedious and makes you boring. When you get a love, don't forget also to get a life.