Love on the job: The
new rules of office romance
You and your co-worker have a secret: love on the job.
Can coming clean help or hurt your career?
When their on-the-job love
affair tanked, Kevin and Julie, both air
traffic controllers in San Diego, whipped
out the "How to mess up an office romance"
game plan and executed it, play by play.
Sharpening their claws and
daggers, they plotted ways to make each
other jealous. They formed enemy cliques,
and flamed each other with scathing gossip.
And when they worked the same shift in
the control tower -- a stressful environment
in the best of times -- the round, 15-foot
room seethed like a boiling kettle with
the lid on too tight. They were miserable
--and so were their co-workers. Kevin
eventually transferred, but not before
both he and Julie were reprimanded by
Typical end to an office romance, right? Wrong.
The stereotypical office affair that explodes into
disaster is no longer stereotypical. In fact, a number of workplace
romance myths have evaporated over the past 20 years, according
to Dennis Powers, author of The Office Romance: How to Play with
Fire Without Getting Burned.
Myth: Most workplace
liaisons involve an older, male boss and a younger, female subordinate.
Fact: With the proportion
of women in management now approaching half, the demographic recipe
for office romances is as varied as for those cooked up at the gym,
on the beach or in the personal growth section at the bookstore.
Myth: Most office affairs
are sleazy little flings.
BUZ-Z-Z-Z. (Thank you for playing.)
Fact: In today's corporate-driven
society, the office is the most likely place for a person to meet
and meld with his or her one true love.
According to Powers, Americans have been socialized
into thinking about intimacy and work as separate compartments of
"That is simply not true," says Powers, a Harvard
MBA who interviewed for his book more than 150 people who had found
love on the job. "Given the hours men and women are working, the
job now has the greatest opportunities for meeting someone, with
the exception of college and universities. If you haven't met someone
in college, the job is the next logical place to find your ideal
But the fact that office romances are
increasingly kosher doesn't mean they are without career and personal
risks. Close quarters, office busybodies and professional competition
can still jam up the gears of an on-the-clock courtship. Powers
offers the following advice to make sure a hot romance doesn't end
in a nuclear meltdown:
1. Know what you want from
the relationship. If your philosophy is "girls just want
to have fun" and he's ready to rent a church, there could be trouble
ahead. Decide in advance whether temporary fun is worth working
together later as exes.
2. Check out the corporate
climate. What are your company's written and unwritten rules?
How will your co-workers react? Maintain your professional image
by leaving both squabbles and public displays of affection at home.
3. Establish clear "exit routes"
in the beginning. Be candid with each other about how you'll
handle working together if your togetherness doesn't work out. And
even if it does work out, will you both continue at the same company?
4. Create a joint partnership.
Recognize upfront that an office romance carries with it special
considerations. Strive for equal decision making and mutual responsibility.
Establish priorities and strategies for tackling critical issues -- such as whether to go public.
That's what Steve and Renee did when they worked together
at America Online. Both public relations professionals at AOL, the
pair decided to keep their personal relations private.
"There were two aspects to the relationship," says
Steve, who dated Renee for a year-and-a-half. "The personal part
and the business part. We had to figure out how to keep those separate."
In business meetings, for example, the two often had
conflicting viewpoints. "We just had to hash that out and figure
out how not to take it home with us," says Steve.
With the office rapidly becoming the No. 1 source
of date-producing encounters, that kind of maturity and foresight
is critical for maintaining both a satisfying personal life and
a healthy career.
If you go into a relationship prepared to deal with
potential obstacles, says Powers, you can have your career
and date it, too.
-- Updated: Jan. 27, 2005