When it comes to crossing the lines of friendship in the workplace, it’s easy to ride down a slippery slope. Before embarking on a relationship, no matter how tempting it might be, take the advice of experts and slow down to adhere to the caution signs.
Employees are naturally very connected to co-workers, and close proximities and long hours together make it easy to be enamored by a colleague.
“Workers are being asked to do more, and that means they stay at the workplace longer and see their co-workers far more than friends or even significant others,” explains David Couper, a Los Angeles career coach and author of “Outsiders On The Inside: How To Create A Winning Career... Even When You Don't Fit In!” (Career Press, 2010).
With technology, it’s easy to feed the chemistry with ongoing communications via instant message and other social networking.
“It's understandable why office love connections flourish. People spend most of their waking hours at work and end up sharing hobbies, personality quirks and intimacies,” explains Mary Hladio, president of EmberCarriers, a human resources and leadership consulting company in Cincinnati, Ohio.
But office romances can lead to break-ups, which can complicate a volatile workplace. Disastrous love affairs may damage morale and productivity. Hladio adds that some workplace romances can lead to sexual harassment cases, which can carry serious legal and financial consequences.
Most companies realize that across-the-board dating ban may also be impossible to enforce, but some do have policies in place. Make sure to find out where your company stands on office romance.
Hladio says that many HR professionals approve of banning romances between supervisors and subordinates in their direct chain of command because the status of the couple is unequal. “These relationships may spark favoritism charges and evoke concerns about breached confidentiality. Even where they do not, other employees may perceive that they do. They also call into question a supervisor's judgment,” Hladio adds.
This creates a work atmosphere that is the equivalent of a ticking time bomb waiting to blow.
But even if a company does not have a policy about these types of work relationships, consider the consequences should the relationship charge go south. A career and financial stability may be at risk.
Inappropriate relationships can lead the rejected partner to file a sexual harassment claim against the employer, alleging that he or she was "pressured" into an unwanted relationship. “This is the type of relationship that you should avoid,” Hladio adds.
Also risky are those dangerous liaisons involving two married individuals. Not only are they unethical, but they place supervisors and colleagues who know about it in an awkward position. Former Cosmopolitan Magazine editor-in-chief Kate White, author of” I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know” (HarvardBusiness, 2012) says extramarital affairs have a halo effect.
“You’re seen as someone who had made an immoral choice and you open yourself to having others ask what else you might be capable of doing,” White explains.
White suggests that married workers guard themselves from the possibility of falling into an affair. Too often colleagues will start spending more time talking over lunch or breaks. When one starts to experience difficulties at home, he or she may find solace in that special co-worker.
“Before you know it, that emotional and mental infidelity can turn to physical infidelity,” she says.
White, the former Cosmo editor, says that when put into perspective, the office is a great place to meet prospective mates. Unlike a bar or an on online dating service, you know more about the person that you have met. The trick to make it work is to think it though.
Start by learning about the policies in place and respecting the restrictions. Other tips from White:
• Keep your romance low profile. You should be cautious with public displays of affection, which have no room in the workplace. You undermine your professionalism when others see you focus more on your romance than your job.
• Assume that everyone will find out. Be prepared to deal with how you will respond – and, more importantly, how you might feel should the romance subside.
• Control all electronic communications as you would with someone who is not in the office. Don’t send ongoing emails or instant messages while at the office. These could be monitored in some way.
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