Our workplace has become a bigger part of our lives. Our work hours are longer, and we spend much of our waking hours in the work environment.
Developing personal relationships with work colleagues can improve your health and creativity, enhance your skills and knowledge, lift your spirits, and make you feel more collaborative.
And from an employer's perspective, you are likely to stay longer and be more productive when you feel a part of a team.
Inappropriate relationships in the workplace
Employees are encouraged to socialize and develop professional relationships in the workplace. However, most argue that these office relationships should not interfere with the following:
- the work performance of either individual
- the effective functioning of the workplace or
- workplace responsibilities.
We want people to focus on their professional responsibilities first and foremost. However, want them to ensure that people they favor as friends don't cross over to favoritism or conflict of interest.
There is the built-in bias that assumes that if you are friends with your boss, you've going to get preferential treatment (at least when no one is looking.) Public favoritism is so feared it might result in bosses being biased against the friend if only to look impartial.
And if we should begin to feel an emotional connection to one another? That varies from place to place. In some, we're asked to talk to our boss, Human Resources, or the Employee Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Disability Services (EAD). In other workplace settings, you aren't required to do anything.
Your work's rules: Are affairs allowed in the workplace?
With regard to office affairs, companies appear to fall into three camps regarding affairs at work:
- It's explicitly forbidden. "You both will be fired if you become physically or emotionally involved."
- Fess up. "Report it to your HR department or immediate manager."
- Anything goes. "This is not an appropriate place for an employer to get involved."
How does it impact the entire office?
Even office workers who are peers can get into hot water when there are public displays of affection. Physical or even emotional affairs can create gossip. How will that impact your career if the truth is distorted?
While we all want our relationships to work out, it takes maturity and proper boundaries to conduct yourself like coworkers when they don't. Retaliation and rumors quickly escalate when immaturity and a workplace romance combine.
Discuss the following with the people involved:
- Will you be able to treat your ex like you do any other co-worker once it ends, or
- will emotions prevent you from being pragmatic and neutral?
- If you are married, assume this will dramatically impact your family as well as your work environment.
Knowing ahead of time if this is a casual thing or if marriage potential is tough for any new relationship. However, when one or both of you is married, expect this conversation to be not only necessary but painful.
If you aren't with me, you are against me.
Another human frailty is the notion that friends can't remain unbiased. In a conflict with a coworker, if you aren't taking my side clearly and unflinchingly, you're against me.
When you are married and engaged in an extramarital affair, the issue is an obvious hot button. And it's not just your spouse who can feel betrayed to learn of the romantic relationship. It can also be your affair partner learning, for example, that you are still having sex with your partner when a pregnancy is announced.
When you're engaged in a workplace romance and married, however, this notion of loyalty becomes multi-layered. As mentioned above, your workplace affair partner can expect loyalty when it comes to bonuses and promotions. You, however, might be particularly sensitive about appearing biased.
Your job also expects loyalty, honesty, and a long-term commitment to a calm workplace. Will you both appear in from of HR, proclaiming your love, or does that risk you being up for disciplinary action or put your promotions in jeopardy?
What is the nature of your work relationship?
When managing a romantic relationship with someone at work, consider the power dynamics at play.
- One of you promotes, demotes, or can impact the other's income
- One of you reports to the other one in any form
- You are on the same committee making decisions about co-workers, management status, and the like.
Make sure that any decisions you make about this new relationship are based on free will rather than perceived control. If the relationship is with someone in a higher position, it is generally best to remove yourself from the situation and, if possible, have one of you change departments.
Those in power can be remarkably insensitive to their position when they consider whether to cross the line into an affair. Sexual harassment is a real phenomenon, as the #metoo movement has wisely pointed out. There is no such thing as "consensual" when one controls the other's livelihood.