How to manage an office romance

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You know you shouldn't. It's a bad idea. And yet ... you just can't help yourselves. Office romances happen, but they're not easy to handle. Sarah Ivens, author of numerous Modern Girl's etiquette guides, has some tips for sailing the stormy seas of office romance.

How to manage an office romance

Office romances are pretty common in America. You usually spend more time with your co-workers than anyone else, so sometimes it's inevitable to develop a crush or even fall in love at the workplace. Just make sure you play it right. Sarah Ivens provides excellent advice on how to avoid the potential pitfalls of an office romance.

  • If the office you both work in has a rule forbidding office romance, it is best to come clean to human resources and your boss. It is one thing to break office policy, it is worse to get caught lying about it. It isn't necessary to tell other co-workers, however.
  • Don't have any kind of sexual relations in the office.
  • Avoid having a relationship with someone you have to report to or someone who reports to you. The power dynamic will be different at work than at home and could cause tension.
  • Jealousy can be a problem in the office among colleagues. Keep the relationship low-key. Don't go out for lunch together every single day or hold hands in front of others or be making out at office parties.
  • Don't gossip about the relationship with colleagues if you want to keep the relationship private. Talk about an office romance can very quickly become public company information.
  • If the relationship becomes very serious, it is best to consider relocation for one or both of you. Whether you change teams, departments, or location, it could be good to make a move.
  • Married couples who work together sometimes lose their working identity and become simply "the company couple". Maintaining your individual identity is important in general, but is particularly important in the workplace.
Transcript LISA:  For howdini.com I’m Lisa Birnbach talking about office romances with Sarah Ivens of OK magazine. Okay, it is a temptation, these are the people you see everyday there. How are you not supposed to fall in love with your co-workers?

SARAH:  I don’t think you can, you can’t decide who fall in love with, and your right you spend more time with people in the office then you do with anyone else. And new statistics show that fifty percent of American people do fall in love with people at the office, and end up going out with them, getting married, whatever. So you just have to be careful how you play it, you just can say to yourself, no this will never happen. Because then you know this whole Romeo and Juliet thing, it will happen eve more. You just have to be sensible about how you carry yourself in the office.

LISA:  Now do you recommend, if you fall in love with a co-worker, and the office has a policy forbidding office romance, what do you do then?

SARAH:  That’s an awful policy to have anyway. I can’t bare that but, I think you have to kind of come clean to your human resources person, because you don’t want them to come back with knowing not only did you have an office romance, which you shouldn’t, but you’ve been lying about it.

LISA:  Right.

SARAH:  So you don’t want to tell the world. I mean don’t send out a company wide e-mail, “Oh guess who I fancy, we’re getting it on.” You don’t want to do that. If it is company policy then you do need to tell your boss and the human resources person.

LISA:  Now it seems like it is going to be very exciting because you’re going to be trying to be discrete, and even secretive. Right, but there must be some rules that are off limits, I would say don’t have sex at the office.

SARAH:  Oh gosh no, please.

LISA:  Okay.

SARAH:  I mean you have those Hollywood movies scenes where you’re sort of like, all kinds of shenanigans are going on, on people’s desks, and you know, papers are being thrown on the floor. That’s not really realistic cause there’s always a cleaner popping around, or someone staying late at work. Not very romantic, not very sexy in reality.  

LISA:  Almost the comic, comics little foil. Someone always finds you.

SARAH:  Exactly. So avoid that, take it to your apartment. Don’t do it in the office, definitely not. There’s a few things that you won’t, you know, it’s difficult, because if you’re the boss and your having a fling with someone you know in your team, or whatever. Automatically, if people find out, they’re going to think this person is getting special favors, because you’re carrying on with them. Or the person your having the fling with will be treated like a toy boy, or not taken seriously being laughed at, and that’s not good for their career or yours. Trying to be the boss treating everyone the same, where everything is supposed to be neutral.

LISA:  It would be better, I suppose, to have an affair with someone who is not in your direct line of reporting.

SARAH:  Absolutely. Absolutely. Because you shouldn’t be even carrying around with your boss, really, because then things get mud on them. You might have an equal relationship at home, but how can you do it at work? How can you expect that you will still be treated the same as the other members of your team. It’s going to cause a lot of problems. The best thing to do, if you can help it, can we help it, if we can then don’t go for someone in your team or your department. And then, you know, there’s no conflict with other people within the department, and you have more of a chance keeping everything separate.

LISA:  Jealously is going to be a problem isn’t it?

SARAH:  Yes.

LISA:  How do you manage the jealously of your colleagues if your in fact having a relationship with someone at the office?

SARAH:  You just have to play it all down. I mean I have had a relationship with someone in the office once before, and I did notice the other girls were kind of jealous, or weird, or asked to many…suddenly it became almost a company wide public property romance, rather then being something private. You just really have to play it down, and not go to every office party together holding hands. Certainly not at Christmas parties spending the whole night snuggling each other. You know, keep it really low key, and don’t even go out for lunch together every day. Try and keep it where your still friendly with your other colleagues, and you don’t spend all your time talking about them. And definitely don’t make inappropriate comments about your boyfriend that you may perhaps not make if he didn’t work for the same company as you.

LISA:  That’s a very good point.

SARAH:  Yeah. Because we’re tempted to gossip about a man, he bought me this, he did this, and we did that. Don’t do that because that’s not fair for him.

LISA:  Now if your involved with someone at the office, how do you not manage to spy on them, or not, you know, notice that he talked to someone some pretty girl for way to long.

SARAH:  You know what, you can spy on them. We’re women, we spy even if we’re not in the same office. We’ll have ways and means to find out what our boyfriend’s are doing. Oh Yeah, Facebook, Myspace, anything we can do it, so your going to do it. That’s natural, we’re nosy, and he shouldn’t be flirting with a girl and the canteen.

LISA:  Okay

SARAH:  Absolutely not. Carry on, carry on.

LISA:  Now what if the relationship becomes serious? Could you stay at the same place of business do you think?

SARAH:  I think its healthier if you can get changed to a different location, or certainly ask to move teams if your in the same team. But try to move to a different location, then maybe its time for one of you to move on anyway. Its kind of healthy to change jobs every few years, move up the ladder. So, a romance that’s getting too much, certainly suggests its time to move on for one of you.

LISA:  And do people who are married, and work together seem to enjoy that?

SARAH:  I’ve only worked with a few married couples, and they kind of become, and this is kind of rude, they’re kind of like the sad sacks of the office. Because they do take in there packed lunches together. And they go off into the park and sit on a bench together and its kind of, they almost become like comical figures. They’re kind of regarded as kind of  he funny little couple. They stop being their own individual people in the workplace, and become the couple.

LISA:  It’s not as sexy as when they were dating?

SARAH:  Its not sexy, its kind of sweet. And I suppose it’s a good way of spending more time with your partner. Cause we all moan these days we don’t get enough time to spend with our beloveds because we are chained to our desks. So it’s a good way of getting around that, just make sure that you remain individuals, and don’t just become the company couple.

LISA:  That is true, little gnomes.

SARAH:  Yes, exactly.

LISA:  Thank you Sarah, for howdini.com I’m Lisa Birnbach.
meet theexpert
  • Sarah Ivens

    Sarah Ivens Author and Former Editor-in-Chief of OK! Magazine Sarah Ivens, author and former Editor-in-Chief of OK! Magazine, is a born and bred Londoner who moved to New York to launch OK! Weekly Magazine in April 2005. more about this expert »

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