How to date re­spon­si­bly at work!

Stay sane – and em­ployed!

Glamour (South Africa) - - Contents -

sarah*, a 30-year-old graphic de­signer, met Matt* at the tech com­pany where they both worked. “I didn’t no­tice him at first be­cause he had a beard, and beards weren’t my thing,” she says. But they ex­changed mes­sages then had friendly lunches. Even­tu­ally Matt asked Sarah on a date, and they stayed so long that the restau­rant had to kick them out. “We took things slowly as we were both very aware of working in the same of­fice,” she re­calls. The cau­tion was worth it: five years af­ter that first date, he pro­posed.

A decade ago their ro­mance would have been for­bid­den. But as more peo­ple de­lay mar­riage while grow­ing their ca­reers, and hours get longer, with smart­phones blur­ring the lines be­tween work and play, it makes sense for at­ti­tudes to change.

Re­nee Cowan, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor who stud­ies of­fice re­la­tion­ships notes that “now, work and life are in­te­grated”. Hence re­sults of a ca­reer­builder.com sur­vey: 37% of peo­ple have dated a col­league and 30% of those re­la­tion­ships led to mar­riage (of­fice ro­mance is not al­ways a dis­as­ter!).

Still, dat­ing at work can be a mine­field. “I hate to be the buzz kill here, but there can be prob­lems,” says Lisa Green, the au­thor of On Your Case (Harper­collins Pub­lish­ers; R319). Com­pany poli­cies vary, re­la­tion­ships don’t al­ways end well and two jobs are on the line.

We spoke with real-life of­fice daters and work­place ex­perts to de­vise the ultimate dat­ing-at-work sur­vival plan. Be­cause se­ri­ously, where else are you go­ing to meet some­one these days?

Avoid the boss! No, re­ally

Ac­cord­ing to HR con­sul­tant Lau­rie Ruet­ti­mann, most writ­ten poli­cies pro­hibit em­ploy­ees from dat­ing only a di­rect boss or sub­or­di­nate. Which brings us to a cru­cial point: try not to. Ex­perts dis­cour­age man­ager­sub­or­di­nate ro­mances be­cause they cre­ate the per­cep­tion (or re­al­ity) of favouritism; in a worst-case sce­nario, both par­ties could be fired or dragged through a ha­rass­ment law­suit. And women are dis­pro­por­tion­ately judged, whether they’re the boss – “With great power comes great re­spon­si­bil­ity,” warns Lisa – or es­pe­cially if they’re the un­der­ling. “Even to­day a boss­sub­or­di­nate re­la­tion­ship is viewed as strate­gic on the woman’s part,” says Rebecca Chory, a pro­fes­sor who stud­ies work­place in­ter­ac­tions.

Re­la­tion­ships with co-work­ers at your level or in dif­fer­ent de­part­ments are less of a headache, and poli­cies tend to re­flect that. Nick*, 29, was sur­prised but pleased to be hired by his girl­friend’s me­dia com­pany, where sev­eral other cou­ples worked to­gether. “The pol­icy seemed to be: if you’re dat­ing and still do­ing your job, we don’t care,” he says. The truth: “Even if the rules are against it, peo­ple hook up any­way,” ad­mits Lisa.

Be di­rect

So what to do if you lust af­ter the project man­ager down the hall? The rule: you have one shot at ask­ing a col­league out. Ask re­peat­edly and you could cre­ate a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment for your crush, which can be de­fined as ha­rass­ment. And if a col­league asks you out and won’t take no, that may be ha­rass­ment, and you should con­sider talk­ing to HR. As for the ca­sual hookup? If you make out with some­one at the

Work / Of­fice an­tics

of­fice party, bite the bul­let and ask about the per­son’s in­ten­tions af­ter­wards.

“I did not ask, and I spent the next six months won­der­ing if ev­ery email he sent was a sub­tle in­vi­ta­tion to get at it again,” says Mia*, 30, a man­age­ment con­sul­tant. “None were, and my work life would’ve been bet­ter if I’d known that.”

Don’t flirt (too much)

If you do start a re­la­tion­ship, know that oth­ers will pick up on the sparks. As Anna*, 27, who dated a co-worker for seven months, notes, “It’s hard to pre­tend you’re not dat­ing some­one for eight hours a day.” But you can do your best to make oth­ers com­fort­able by nix­ing the ‘we’re so cute’ act. “Peo­ple are out with long knives for the happy cou­ple,” says Lisa. So act pro­fes­sion­ally and keep the door open when you’re to­gether. “Oth­er­wise,” says work­place con­sul­tant Ni­cole Wil­liams, who mar­ried – and later di­vorced – her boss, “peo­ple won­der what you might be plan­ning.” Stephanie*, 30, an at­tor­ney, works with her hus­band at a law firm, and they obey a strict no-touch­ing pol­icy. “He needs, like, one me­tre of space in the lift,” she jokes. But their co-working is go­ing smoothly as a re­sult.

Tell your com­pany

Another rule of of­fice re­la­tion­ships: if things get se­ri­ous, dis­close. Yes, it’s em­bar­rass­ing, but you’ll be glad you did. “Re­port­ing a re­la­tion­ship im­proves your odds of avoid­ing an awk­ward sit­u­a­tion when word gets out,” says Lisa. It might even make things eas­ier. Jen­nifer*,

“Re­port­ing a re­la­tion­ship im­proves your odds of avoid­ing an awk­ward sit­u­a­tion when word gets out.” – Lisa Green

25, an ac­coun­tant, kept quiet about her re­la­tion­ship – un­til she and her boyfriend were as­signed to the same project. “HR re­as­signed one of us due to ‘sched­ul­ing’. It ac­tu­ally let us tell peo­ple when we were ready, and any stress we felt went away.”

Be ag­gres­sive about bound­aries

It’s nat­u­ral to con­sider how an of­fice ro­mance will af­fect your ca­reer, but working to­gether also af­fects your re­la­tion­ship, so draw a line be­tween your work and love life. Jes­sica*, 25, moved in with a co-worker and re­alised that the re­la­tion­ship-job combo was dom­i­nat­ing her life. “We had to sit down and say, ‘We need to spend less time to­gether’,” she says.

And be pre­pared to stick to those bound­aries, even in ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tions. When Lau­rie was working in cor­po­rate HR, she heard ru­mours that her nowhus­band’s depart­ment was go­ing to be out­sourced. “I just shut the hell up,” she re­mem­bers. Sounds harsh, but shar­ing the in­for­ma­tion could have got­ten her fired. For­tu­nately, their re­la­tion­ship sur­vived, but it’s a re­minder that mix­ing ro­mance and work can get com­pli­cated. “But,” she says, “the heart wants what it wants.”

Pre­pare an exit strat­egy

The big­gest haz­ard of work­place re­la­tion­ships is the big­gest haz­ard of all re­la­tion­ships. They end. Take Lau­ren*, 28, a video editor who se­cretly dated a co-worker for weeks. He flaked on a week­end get­away, then stopped mes­sag­ing. You could call it ghost­ing, ex­cept she sees him ev­ery day in the of­fice kitchen. “It’s so dis­tract­ing,” she says.

The take­away? When two ca­reers are tan­gled, a what-if plan is key. “Have the con­ver­sa­tion about what hap­pens if you break up,” says Ni­cole. Then re­al­ity-check your­self. “If some­one quits, it’s of­ten the woman, be­cause men aren’t as worried about post­breakup drama. Ask your­self, ‘What if I do have to quit?’”

Don’t for­get to en­joy it

Here’s the good news: when work­place dat­ing goes well, it goes re­ally well. Hap­pily cou­pledup work­ers re­port higher job sat­is­fac­tion, says Re­nee. And the of­fice is a great place to vet a fu­ture part­ner. “You can learn a lot about some­one’s tem­per­a­ment and goals,” says Ni­cole.

Plus, some­times you can fall in love even more when you watch some­one ex­cel. Nick, the dig­i­tal me­dia editor who dated a col­league, now works some­where else, but he left with an in­tense ap­pre­ci­a­tion for his girl­friend. “She’s do­ing the job she’s al­ways wanted, and she’s su­per good at it,” he says. “I’m in awe of her.”

“HR re­as­signed one of us due to ‘sched­ul­ing’. It let us tell peo­ple when we were ready.” – Jen­nifer*

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