An AmericanLaundryNews.com Exclusive
CHICAGO — A generation or two ago, relationships and dating in the workplace were frowned upon. In the wake of sexual-harassment lawsuits, most companies put specific policies in place. Anyone choosing to date someone from their workplace would be advised to follow such policies if they want to keep their job.
But people have become more accepting of the fact that co-workers sometimes date, fall in love and even end up getting married.
How accepting? Surveys have shown that an overwhelming 75% of respondents contend that it’s perfectly fine to date a co-worker — as long as the relationship doesn’t interfere with either person’s job performance, and if the folks are not married to others.
The other 25% of those surveyed sang a different tune, and not without sound reasoning. Many respondents think that office/workplace dating is never a good idea and point to the potentially disruptive nature of such a relationship on the work force.
If two people who work closely become romantically involved, they are taking not only the personal risks that come with entering a new relationship (opening up one’s heart, making oneself emotionally vulnerable, etc.), they are taking significant professional risks as well.
DATING ‘ABOVE’ OR ‘BELOW’
One tricky area is dating someone who is not a colleague at the same level within your company but, rather, your boss or a subordinate. This situation can work out, but it can also present the dating partners with yet another set of personal and professional challenges.
People may start gossiping … perhaps not in a terribly flattering way. Even if the two people involved make every effort to behave professionally at all times, and work hard to not allow their personal relationship to interfere with their work responsibilities, they may have to accept that not everyone in the company will approve.
Knowing the insidious nature of workplace gossip, it can often be in everyone’s best interest to not discuss such a relationship with anyone there unless it becomes quite obviously serious.
Another potential complication for the manager who dates a subordinate is that the employee may end up — justly or unjustly — accusing the manager of sexual harassment if things sour. This possibility should throw up a big red flag, because such accusations and possible lawsuits can get extremely ugly and messy for everyone involved. The organization’s reputation can rest upon such actions.
But there are times when a boss and subordinate fall in love, and both decide they are willing to accept the risks that come with embarking on such a relationship.
Yet another potential problem is that you may end up being perceived by employees and/or colleagues as foolish, flighty, impulsive, unprofessional, immature, unreliable … or worse.
If you are seriously thinking about dating someone at work, ask yourself this: Is this a person whom I could really see myself getting serious with at some point? If your answer is no, then you may want to reconsider. Full-fledged office relationships are one thing, but office flings are another story altogether.
So, when is it worthwhile to pursue a workplace relationship despite the risks?
As unromantic as it may sound, at the beginning, the two people involved must discuss the fact that their relationship could conceivably come to an end at some point. Both need to agree that if it does end, they will not allow it to affect their job performance.
But a break-up can lead to a lot of discomfort, and one or both parties may ultimately feel that they can’t stay at their workplace. You could end up feeling compelled to give up a job that you enjoy and/or need to hang onto from a purely financial perspective.
MAINTAIN PROFESSIONAL DECORUM
We all want to be comfortable in our work environment, and forming friendships is basic human nature. The best way to avoid problems with other people at work is to maintain a professional decorum every day.
This doesn’t mean that you hold yourself aloof from co-workers, but, rather, that you make it clear by your behavior that you are first and foremost a professional, and that you take your job and position in the organization seriously. Be friendly but not overly personal.
Secondly, set an example. People who get in trouble at work are generally those who engage in workplace gossip and complain endlessly with co-workers. Avoid getting involved in petty discussions. If you find yourself in the situation, try to steer the conversation in a more positive direction.
Most importantly, if you are married, stay away from such relationships or even perceived relationships. These situations can lead to lawsuits being filed against the employer who permits or supports such behavior. If you manage personnel who are involved in such activity, step up and stop it, as you are at risk for looking the other way.
Best practice seems to dictate setting a company policy and following it. This results in better protection for all concerned.