The Politics of Love When it Happens in the Workplace
When Amy took a new job at as an Asset Manager last December, she never thought she could fall for a quirky guy like Stuart, her new supervisor, who was just not her type. But less than two months and several business trips later, the man she jokingly referred to as her “work husband” was all she could think about.
It’s not unusual for people to find love in the workplace; in fact some, like Los Angeles based Career Counselor and Strategist, Daisy Swan of Daisy Swan & Associates, believe it makes sense. That’s because according to Swan “proximity has so much to do with who we get to know and love.” The tendency for people to grow attracted to people they see and interact with regularly is known as the “propinquity effect” and may explain why people like Amy’s feelings can go from cold to sizzling hot, the more familiar they become with someone. And when that means daily meetings, working lunches and late night deadlines, it can become next to impossible to fight those laws of attraction.
As for the repercussions, “love at work can become a tangle of politics, awkward social issues and gossip,” says Swan, as she spells out the dangers of inter-office dating. So how can you avoid an attraction which may have career repercussions and what should you do when the person in the next office may be the right one for you?
There will always be people who have poor intentions, others who simply get off on special attention and those who take a unique approach to climbing the corporate ladder. “No company wants to face sexual harassment charges that grow out of flirtations gone awry,” says Swan. To avoid this and other types of dangerous office dating scenarios, understand the person with whom you are dealing as well as the source of their emotions. If someone has a professional track record of dating down/up, don’t ignore the warning signs.
As for yourself, take time to figure out if the attraction is situational or real. It’s easy to fall for someone when that person is a superstar in the office, but would they still rock your world if you pulled them off the pedestal and interacted with them outside of their own element?
If trust and all sensibilities are in check, “it is possible for couples who work together to manage the situation tactfully and intelligently so that both people can keep their reputations and professionalism intact,” advises Swan. Here are her tips to help you proceed safely and smartly:
- Before getting involved with anyone at work, review any office or company policy about intimate relationships within the organization. Some companies have had so many issues with co-workers becoming involved that their policies may actively discourage these entanglements.
- Recognize that if you are getting romantically involved with someone who is senior to you, you will most likely end up leaving your job, whether or not your relationship flourishes or ends. Most companies aren’t comfortable with the politics of relationships and eventually it becomes clear that someone needs to move on; rarely is it the person who has more seniority. Facing this, whether you think it’s fair or not, is important and mature. While it can be exciting and flattering to be attracted to a senior manager or executive, the relationship can take more of a toll on the person who has less to leverage in the way of company clout.
- Finding a way to transfer to another area within a company can be an excellent strategy, or look for another job in a different department. A manager who has established trust with their staff may become a helpful ally should a romantic situation call for some workplace changes. But, remember that this could be a sticky situation too as they have obligations to protect the company. It’s just so easy for romance in the workplace to become the target of gossip and misconstrued communication.
Lastly, remember that companies have the right to monitor electronic communications of their employees to ensure that all messages are legitimate and clean. If you want to protect your job and your relationship, be sure to avoid sending any dirty, flirty text messages, emails and instant messages on the company time or dime.
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