Are rules for office romance getting easier?

by Gregory Lay, Heartily WorkingTM columnist

Not enough problems with
normal workplace relationships?
Try dating a colleague!

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From: Tempted to Fall

It looks like the rules for office romances are somewhat relaxed from the past. What’s the modern rule for romantic involvement on the job? I want to explore a relationship with one of the managers in our office who’d make an ideal partner. If it worked out, he’d be worth changing jobs for, but I don’t want to change before I have to.

We look at each other during meetings and he always manages to touch my arm or wink at me, so I’m sure he’s interested. We’d have to keep it a secret for a while to avoid the gossip and complaints. But is there any formal problem these days with developing a relationship with somebody you work with?

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To: Tempted

There’s no problem at all with workplace romance these days – as long as you’re willing to double your heartbreak, damage careers, and undermine your organization.

You aren’t looking for a true report on the “current rule,” you’re fishing for a loophole to do what you want.

As it’s always been for as long as people have worked for a living, the ‘rule’ is whatever the organization says it is – and enforces. If you’d have to keep your relationship a secret from your human resources manager, it’s against the rules. If the company would have no reaction to your behavior, then it isn’t against the rules.

If it isn’t against the rules, then you’re left with your common sense. An ideal partner is hard to find – but then, so is an ideal job.

Statistically, workplace romances are bad gambles. New jobs and new relationships always start out looking attractive. With hard work, some of them turn out as good as they looked. Most jobs and most relationships, however, hit rough spots that cause people to give up and go looking for something better. It’s tough enough to endure the discomfort of your job or your relationship going bad – and your pain is multiplied when the two are hopelessly entangled.

Who Sets Your Rules?

So the workplace rule is secondary to your personal standards. What do you want – for you and for this other person? If you start your internal dialogue with what you want romantically, you’ll make a predictable decision. But if you hold this private discussion with yourself about your professional standards first, then you’ve got a chance of getting to the ‘feelings’ portion of your considerations with a stronger sense of self-worth.

You’re already in the danger zone, and it is too late to keep your feelings a secret. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that others haven’t noticed the looks and touches you’ve exchanged with your special colleague.

As with any challenging work relationship, it’s time to have an honest conversation with this manager and chart a safe course through your professional waters. Here are some phrases to try out, and see if any of them fit your career needs:

  • “I’d like to clarify some of my feelings, because I really enjoy working with you and I want to make sure that I don’t damage a worthwhile professional relationship with mixed signals.”
  • “This job is important to me, and I’d like to make sure that I keep my immediate focus on my career until I’ve reached some specific goals I’ve set.”
  • “To make sure that we maintain appropriate respect for ourselves and each other, I’m setting some boundaries for myself, and I just want you to know why I’m maintaining a safe distance.”

If you make a decision to keep your job and love life separate, do so with the comforting knowledge that if the two of you are really meant to be, that can and will happen when the time is right. You will then build your future relationship on the solid foundation of respect and self-control that you exercise now.

The Other Set of Questions

Or, if you decide that love conquers all and you’re going to ‘go for it,’ then here are some questions to ask each other during an early romantic moment:

  • “If we have a tiff outside of work, how will we handle it at work? Can we maintain a level of detachment necessary to get our jobs done in spite of what may be happening in our personal lives?”
  • “If we have a problem in the work environment, how will we handle it outside of work? Can we be loving in one arena and objective in the other?”
  • “If the worst happens and we end the romantic relationship, what will happen to our working relationship?”

If you can’t have those discussions, then you aren’t anywhere near close enough to being in love. Enjoy your career.

Love is the most precious gift you can give yourself, just don’t confuse convenience for love.


Memo from Ambrose Bierce: “Love: a temporary insanity, curable by marriage.”

JobWise: Save time, energy with templates

Creating templates gives you a head start to efficiently complete similar tasks. Using them requires two hard questions. First, does the template keep you doing things the same old way and missing opportunities for creativity and growth?

Second, do you have a double-check process to ensure that everything you’re about to turn in is current? The dangerous mistake in using templates is leaving information from a previous event in place and accidentally submitting outdated data.

One sloppy failure to update can outweigh dozens of accurate reports.

© 2009 Heartily WorkingTM


Gregory Lay’s Heartily WorkingTM responds to your questions about workplace concerns. Send your questions to Ask@HeartilyWorking.com.

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