The Dos And Don’ts Of Workplace Romances


The column below is from an article written by Lollie Barr in BODY & SOUL magazine.

As stated in  my book ” Behind enemy survival tips for Black men in the  workplace” relationships should be handled with care if there are to take place at all Behind enemy lines.  🤞🤞🤞

Lollie Barr

 Got your eye on Joel from accounts? Read this first.

Malcolm Turnbull’s “bonk ban” means federal ministers are no longer allowed to get sexy with their staffers but what about the rest of us?

In this post #MeToo era, are you even allowed to chat up a colleague?

It would be naive to imagine that bunging red blooded humans together for 40 hours per week (and the rest) wouldn’t result in people forming romantic bonds.

But most of us aren’t dumb or immoral enough to have affairs with attached colleagues.

However, if you’re both single …

“Work is a very viable place to meet a partner, especially if you’re in a big organisation, as it can be a big social experience as well as a work experience,” says Elizabeth Shaw, a psychologist and the CEO of Relationships Australia.

“It’s no surprise that it goes from flirtation to meeting their life partner at work. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. The key issue isn’t whether it’s wrong but whether it’s managed effectively.”

But what are the rules when it comes to dating a colleague?

According to Peter Wilson, the Chairman of the Australian Human Resources Institute, when it comes to consensual sexual relationships, most Australian businesses favour a realistic approach.

“Intimacy in the workplace is common. Smarter employers adjust rather than putting bans on their employees,” he says.

“It’s estimated 40% of long-term relationships start between co-workers. I worked on a study convened by the Family and Work Institute in the USA, which would have comparable results in Australia. It showed 47% of people have had an intimate sexual relationship with a co-worker at some point during their career.”

Is it flirting, or is it sexual harassment? Photo: iStockSource:Whimn

Wilson is in full agreement with Shaw when it comes to dealing with it.

“You can’t stop it, but it’s how you manage it,” he says. “In a large organisation, the disclosure should be a confidential discussion between the employee and their Human Resources Manager, who decides whether any necessary changes need to made to the minimize risk of future problems.”

Oh God, I’ve fallen in love with Ben from IT Services

But how soon do you disclose that you’re in a relationship? Obviously, you don’t want to be confessing to HR after a Domino’s pizza, two episodes of Sons of Anarchy and a dive under the doona.

Wilson’s advice is it is when you realise that you’re in a substantial relationship.

“As soon as it is practicable, essentially,” he suggests. “Your co-workers are excellent detectives, they’ll see something going on from body language or worse, and then the rumour mill will take over. You’d be better off to take the lead and declare you’re in a relationship. Most reasonable companies will accept it as long as the relationship doesn’t have the potential to create conflicts of interest.”

What if I’m banging the boss?

While peer to peer relationships don’t often pose too much of a problem, those between a manager and his/her subordinate can create a real HR headache.

Facebook and Google employees are allowed to ask each other out, but only once. Image: Getty.Source:Whimn

According to the Fair Work Commission, these relationships have the potential to create conflicts of interest.

Wilson says HR managers have to look as to whether the relationship constitutes a potential threat to the rights of other workers in the organisation.

“Will other workers in the organisation feel pillow talk compromises their rights?” he says. “At a senior level, they have to ascertain whether they have joint sign off on job promotions; expenditure on contracts and finally, are the companies resources likely to be compromised in extended travel and hospitality.”

And remember, if you’re the junior partner in the relationship, your organisation will most often favour keeping the most senior partner in their position, and you’ll be reassigned or worse, let go. So, you can say bye-bye to your job.

“In my experience in this scenario, 90% of the time the boss is a male and the subordinate is female and usually the hierarchy circles the wagons around the male and the female is reassigned or left looking for a new job,” explains Wilson.

“If the relationship goes wrong, usually the boss fights on and the organisation protects him, and he’ll have an army of lawyers at the ready. They dig in.”

Pressure on a fledgling relationship

Relationships can be tricky at the best of times, let alone when you’re working with someone with whom you are intimately involved.

Elizabeth Shaw says the usual course for romance and discovering each other becomes trickier.

“It puts a lot of pressure on the relationship. In the early days, work is a part of your bond. However, over time, that connection can mean you don’t have much space, because you’re doing everything together.”

Gossip is your enemy. 

She also makes the pertinent point that you and your partner are not in a relationship in isolation, you’re in it with your colleagues.

“Effectively you’re under observation, or if people suspect something is going on from the beginning, it begins to skew office relationships. You can lose friendships and collegial relationships, when people feel you’re starting to move closer to another party.

“Then alliances and allegiances form. People love a drama, and they can get quite preoccupied with office romances. It’s fun and titillating. You may think you’re being secretive, but others can often pick up on it quite quickly. It starts negative gossip, and it can affect careers.”

The real reason office romances are frowned upon

Interestingly, one of the reasons companies aren’t so hot about the colleagues-to-lovers jam is that it impacts productivity, especially when the relationship hasn’t been declared and the rumour mill starts grinding its gears.

“People perform their best when they’re confident about their working environments, and they feel it’s a safe and a protected place where they can do what they need to do” explains Wilson.

“However, if it’s intensely political and there are relationships including intimate relationships, where people feel they have to spend a lot of time worrying about how they are going to protect themselves. Then the employee is not focusing on their job as much as they could be.”

While falling love is all kittens and fluffy clouds, relationships don’t always go seamlessly and can quickly turn into alley cats and storms.

“Any difficulties means you have to face the person the next day in a work environment,” says Shaw. “You can’t get away from something you may regret or are sorry about or where there is contention. Or worse, you can break up and still have to work together. That’s when things can get complicated.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom, many a happy long term relationship has formed over the water cooler and ended up down the aisle.

Elizabeth Shaw says it’s worth remembering in modern day job market, people often don’t stay in their jobs for a long time. Employees usually move on, so it is manageable. “Relationships are hard to regulate,” she say. “The public demand for black and white clarity and definitiveness doesn’t follow the course of human relationships.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *