All Work No Play?
Should you date a coworker -- or even think about hooking up with the boss?
You work in technical support. He/she is a hotshot in the sales department. Every time you find yourselves in the same elevator, your clothing seems to brush up against each other’s. Simple static electricity -- or are romantic sparks responsible for that familiar tingle?
We’ve been warned, over the last decade, to think twice before dating a coworker. With today’s stringent sexual harassment policies and management’s fears of decreased productivity when two coworkers achieve consensus in bed, companies may take a hard line about office romances.
But dating a coworker is “not as taboo as it used to be,” says Dr. Joyce Morley-Ball, a marriage and family therapist in Decatur, Georgia, and author of “Seeds for the Harvest of a Lifetime: Increasing Self-Awareness, Self-Esteem and Improving Relationships.”
“Society is more tolerant of persons who work together dating each other,” she tells AdamandDrew.com. “The shame and guilt that were previously associated with workplace romances have pretty much dissipated.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that no rules apply. As Dr. Morley-Ball points out, many companies list myriad guidelines in their employee handbooks, including regulations that govern dating. She encourages anyone who is considering an office romance to review these policies and, if there’s any doubt, check with the company’s personnel or human resource department.
“An employee can call the human resource department anonymously to ask about any policies governing coworker romances,” she says.
But even if no policies exist, you need to exercise some basic common sense. Don’t, for example, allow your personal relationship to interfere with business. Avoid overt flirting and locking lips in public. In fact, it may be advisable to alert the boss to the relationship.
“This move not only protects the coworkers, but also protects the boss and the company from future allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment,” Dr. Morley-Ball says. “By ‘going public’ with the romance, coworkers protect themselves from allegations of misconduct that usually occur when they sneak and secretly engage in romances.”
The real danger in dating a coworker, however, is what happens if you break up -- and are still forced to work together.
“Inevitably, the one who ends the dating relationship is perceived as the villain, and the one who is left, so to speak, winds up feeling rejected,” says Dr. Jackie Black, a California psychologist and relationship coach. “It often becomes so uncomfortable for one or both that someone is forced to leave their job,” she tells AdamandDrew.com.
Who’s the Boss?
Life becomes even more complicated when you’re dating the boss. The boss at work will most likely want to be the boss at home, says relationship expert Mary Jo Fay, author of “Please Dear, Not Tonight...The Truth About Women and Sex.”
“If you like domination, then go for it,” she tells AdamandDrew.com. “If, however, you want to feel like two equal players in your intimate relationship -- always wise for the basis of any healthy relationship -- then odds are not in your favor that he’ll leave his boss hat at the door.”
You also run the risk of alienating your coworkers, when “any raise you ever get, better office or great assignment will easily be attributed to you being the boss’ arm candy, instead of anything to do with your own talents or abilities,” she says.
Dr. Black believes such relationships are never advisable, setting up a “power disparity.”
“The high drama from engaging in taboo and dangerous behavior -- the risk of losing one’s job and the respect of colleagues -- is often mistaken for love and passion,” she says. “While there are a few rare success stories, most are nightmares.”
Such was the case with one of her clients: a woman who had an affair with the company president. It didn’t last long, and he soon left the company. Eight years later, when the woman was walking down the hall at her latest job, she spotted her ex talking to the chairman of the board. He was interviewing for a senior position -- and he spilled the intimate details.
“Boys will be boys -- and he told all,” Dr. Black recalls. “It was literally the end of her career with these folks, and a long, hard fight back to respectability in her industry. My advice? Don’t mix apples and oranges. Work is work, and those boundaries should stay firmly in place and not be bent or violated. It really isn’t worth it.”