This Valentine's Day, consider this: more than 30 percent of respondents to a recent survey admitted to some form of "hooking-up" at the office. No, not just with someone at the office. At the actual office itself, or at least somewhere on company property.
Indeed, February 14th may make you see your co-workers through rose-colored glasses, and you're not alone. According to this same survey, almost 60 percent of respondents reported having taken part in some kind of office romance.
It's not unexpected that you'd fall in love with a co-worker -- after all, you're around them for forty-plus hours a week and presumably share some interests. But tread lightly. Make the right moves, and your love life and work life could both be sweet. But make the wrong ones and you could find yourself without either a date or a job. The key? Separating church and state, or in this case, your love life from your work life.
"It's called an office romance because you met at the office, but you [shouldn't] actually conduct your romance at the office," says Stephanie Losee, author of Office Mate: Your Employee Handbook for Romance on the Job. For a look at the potential downsides of mixing work with pleasure, look no further than this week's episode of The Office, in which Michael Scott's colleagues react poorly to his renewed office romance (warning: The PDA-fest is not pretty). After that, heed some of these tips from Losee:
- Date with discretion. Love letters are best kept private, Losee says: "Don't record your romance by sending emails, IMs, or texts using company technology -- it's company property and they monitor your transmissions whether they say so or not. I'm still amazed couples [don't realize this]." Bottom line: Let your lust cloud your good judgment and you could get laid off.
- Keep your private life private. Facebook should really be re-named "Instant Career Suicide Button." A lover scorned can take to social media with napalm-like intentions, but it's less likely to happen if you never bring your relationship into the online arena in the first place. "My co-author and I have heard of employees breaking up with people they dated at work by changing their Facebook status to Single, and the ensuing storm can result in a lot of interoffice melodrama," says Losee.
- Confirm that you have more in common than just work. While working next to someone is a great way to get to know them, if you have nothing besides your mutual hatred of your boss in common, your relationship will fizzle fast, says Losee. And if you're going to continue working with this person, a break-up is far from an ideal outcome.
- Keep your corporate expense accounts separate. Even if you share a bank account at home, do not use office funds for a "working date" or anything that could be construed as such. All you need is one eagle-eyed accountant to raise a red flag, and your relationship gets a red flag, too. Having lunch with a beautiful woman and fudging the expense reports afterward is what brought down former HP CEO Mark Hurd. "When you're romantically involved with a co-worker, you have to maintain the highest standards of decorum," says Losee.
- Stay sober at your office party (or close to it). A holiday party or company picnic means libations are flowing freely, which could make you feel a little freer with your relationship, but that's when you need to be extra-careful. An office party is still the office, even if there's music and an open bar. "Don't have sex at the office or climb all over each other at an office function or party. Do people need me to tell them that?" says Losee. Judging by the large percentage of office exhibitionists cited above, it looks like she just might.
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