For a lot of people, dating in the workplace is a very important topic, indeed, it’s also one that I’ve been asked about a number of times in my various companies. While the logic is obvious — we spend more time at work than just about anywhere else, so where better to find a potential mate than in a professional setting? — the dangers and risks are quite high too.
I remember those halcyon days when I was young and single (well, they weren’t that halcyon, in retrospect) and I hated trying to find venues where I could meet eligible singles in a pleasant environment. Bars? Health clubs? Community college courses? Church or temple? Outdoor activities? It’s no wonder that like most of my colleagues, my eye wandered at work, checking out others in the firm during lunchtimes, afternoon breaks, conferences, workshops and other events.
But there’s danger lurking in office romances, genuine risks to your career and credibility, along with your mental health…
The greatest problem with office dating is that it’s impossible to avoid the power aspect of your relationship. Ask someone who is a subordinate to go out on a date and you’ve crossed the line, you’ve compromised your professionalism and put them into an extremely difficult situation.
Do they say yes because you’re higher ranked (or, worse, their boss)? Do they say no and then fear for their job and/or evaluations thereafter? Do they say yes, then drop you after a date or two, hoping that you’ll subsequently be able to differentiate between pleasant social interaction and sexual harassment at work?
And what about the opposite? If they’re higher ranked than you, aren’t you putting yourself in an inferior position by asking them to go out on a date? That’s not the basis of a long-term successful relationship for most people nowadays.
The trite cliché of the boss and his secretary (rarely the boss and her secretary) is problematic for exactly this reason: is the secretary saying yes because she fears for her long term employment prospects or because she thinks the boss is wonderful?
Boeing’s ex-CEO Harry Stonecipher knows what I’m talking about here. Indeed, I know of another situation where a CEO and one of his department heads started their relationship while he was still married, and by the time everyone else in the company realized what was going on, he’d moved out, leaving his wife with their three kids, and was inviting this other woman – who reported to him at work – to move into his new house.
While this situation might possibly work for the two of them, I suppose, one can only imagine the overall opinion of the rest of the company. “Gold digger” only scratches the surface of the reputation that this woman, otherwise a highly competent professional, would quickly have gained as her work hours became less important, her travel schedule instantly synchronized with the boss, she received a substantial raise, and so on.
Then there’s the all-important question of what happens when the relationship ends?
It’s a bit much to expect that your co-worker, boss, or employee can keep their feelings out of the office, and it won’t take long for the rest of the group to push both parties out or raise a red flag to top-level management, or even just leave, en masse, in disgust.
In the end, I can’t blanket say “never date anyone in your office”, but I will offer a few words of advice: first off, don’t date anyone in your direct chain of corporate command. Just don’t do it. Secondly, if you do encounter each other in frequent meetings, client presentations, or similar, one of you should go find a job with a different company. If neither’s willing to make that level of sacrifice for the blossoming relationship, well, that might be an important statement about the value of the relationship to both parties, mightn’t it?
Finally, just go and get a life instead. Spend less time working and more time doing other stuff, things that expand your horizons, enhance your life, improve your health and that increase your chance of finding and meeting nice people outside of a professional setting. Me? I met my wife fifteen years ago through an event sponsored by the Sierra Club.
Your mileage will vary. In fact, I’m sure this is a pretty controversial subject, so what’s your opinion and experience with office romance?