Navigating the unsteady waters of an office romance can be more than a little tricky, so here are some things to keep in mind.
It’s a brave new world for office romance, especially among young cubicle rats. Used to be, workplace nookie was not only frowned upon, the rules regarding dating co-workers were rigidly enforced, helped along by a self-policed corporate culture built around harsh water cooler gossip, embarrassing graffiti scrawled on bathroom stalls, and the fear of sexual harassment suits.
Boy, the boundaries of what’s acceptable has since changed drastically. Especially among the Millenial generation, a great majority of whom apparently think that dating in office is de rigeur, even expected, almost.
The Huffington Post recently discussed the results of [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/office-romances-on-the-rise-among-millennial-employees_n_1412190.html] a survey in the US by stats group Workplace Options that said that 84 percent of workers aged 18-29 said they would have a romantic relationship with a co-worker. A truly high number, standing in stark contrast compared to just 36 percent of Generation X workers (ages 30-46) and 29 percent of Boomers (age 47-66). Get this, too: 40 percent of Millennials also said they would have no problem dating their supervisors. Gen Xers and Baby Boomers only clocked in at 10 percent on that scale.
â¨It’s a tricky situation all around, whether you’re dating your colleague or one of the bosses.
If you’ve decided to take the plunge and are still wary of the legalities and social ramifications, we’re here to help you out with some tips on how to keep your departmental desires on the down low, and still manage to keep up appearances.
Keep the PDA out of office and off-desk
People like to snoop and gossip. Like your desire to hook up with your officemate, it’s just human nature. But keep the longing glances, flirtatious talks mid-corridor, and any excuse to touch each other out of office premises. Ditto goes for any kind of fooling around on company equipment (read: your desks).
This is definitely that time when bringing home your “work” is the best thing to do.
To be extra safe, also get the low down on what constitutes sexual harassment in your office. Some offices have it loose and easy, especially in creative industries like media and advertising; in other offices, even green jokes can be construed as bad form.
The employee ethics manual is your friend
There’s likely an ethics section in your company-issued employee manual. Peel the shrink wrap off that thing and read up! This is useful, not only to know what really makes up a sexual harassment offense but also in case that even if the company culture itself may be tolerant of love among co-workers, it’s best to know what their OFFICIAL stand will be if situations get in a bind (say, massive PDA in front of a client [but really, things should never get to that point]).
And, as for you, it’s always good to know your options, whether it’s an exit strategy with a service payout or a defense involving your legal counsel or union rep.
Stay frosty when among co-workers
If you take a public commute to work and homeward like 80% of the work force, the excessively touchy-feely couple in the corner is always (ALWAYS!) a blight in Pinoy eyes.
It may be the predominantly Catholic sensibilities that turn us red with any lip-locking that lasts more than 10 seconds, but it’s never a good thing to inflict your ardor for each other on your co-workers. Again, depending on the industry, there’s a general rule that a stone cold professional demeanor must be observed when among colleagues, especially during meetings and corporate pow-wows of any kind.
There’s a good reason for this, even if it’s an open secret that you’re bumping uglies on your days off: Pinoys cherish face value, and your fellow cubicle rats can conveniently deny anything is happening if you meet them halfway and not hold hands during the weekly inter-departmental staff assembly. And that goes double if you’re dating the boss – or, heaven forfend (but we’re not judging), you ARE the boss.
You may not care about the backlash of office politics with unproven gossip but any kind of intimacy among co-workers may mean favoritism and unprofessional behavior to your colleagues’ eyes.
“There is a lot of potential liability if one party in a relationship reports to the other," explains Merry Campbell, co-chair of the employment law practice at a Washington, D.C. legal firm, as reported in a Fortune Mag piece [http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2013/06/07/office-romance/]. "One concern is, what about the people who are not in the relationship? Employers are responsible for making sure there is no perceived, or actual, favoritism -- where, for example, the boss' sweetie gets better assignments than everybody else.”
Keep the sweet nothings on text and off the social networks
Unless you work on a far-flung farm without analog landlines, water cooler talk has since gone the way of the dodo, only to be replaced by gossip in social networks. If you want to keep your office sizzle going and away from prying eyes, your online life needs to be as squeaky clean as IRL. The best thing to do to get busted is to change your relationship status on Facebook and tweet a picture of the two of you sharing a single ice cream cone. Zuckerberg may want all of us to be more connected and close, but nothing says red flag like a close-up of two suspiciously familiar-looking limbs twixt your hips. Hey, there’s always texting and MMS.
Do use code words
No one can fault you for asking snoo snoo on the Ides with a ton of ice and chips over eggs benedict. Get my drift? Your own private code can do wonders even within the earshot of bosses or colleagues. Points go for more inventive and totally non-leading or onomatopeically-linked terms for getting some. Try it. You can totally invent your own code for such and such and wink wink nudge nudge. Jesus, do I have to spell it out for you?
Do be aware of security cams
If you think no one’s looking, think again. In any corporate workplace worth its salt, but especially in BPOs, media corporations and financial institutions, you need to remember that there’s always someone watching the security footage. Even if it is just the resident office ghost. You can thank the heightened security on post-9/11 paranoia and the terrorists. They ruin everything, even your office romance.
If you get caught, confess to your boss ASAP
Ah, here’s the tricky part. Whether we’re talking small fry cuddling in the pantry or in flagrante naughty secretary play-acting on your desk (degenerates!) it’s always best for both of you to approach your boss as soon as you can, a day after you’ve been caught, and confess it all. That you guys are dating, I mean. Spilling everything else is optional.
Again, depending on the industry, this may be met with smiles of understanding, a document of suspension, or simply moving you two to different departments. Trust me, though, whatever punishment (or lack thereof) that is meted out will be several shades less harsh than if you didn’t confess at all, and your boss had to hear it from whoever caught you – especially if that someone is in a security uniform.
In a growing number of industries, management is understanding of office romance and all you get is a session with HR that wants you to sign some form of what’s now called a "cupid contract" or "love agreement."
What does this mean? Well, what you’ve been asked to sign not only spells out the company’s policy on sexual harassment, it’s also a failsafe waiver on the company’s part in case you guys break up and the fallout ends up affecting the company on legal terms.
It covers most of the bases, including whom you can call for help if your ex-office boyfriend starts stalking you at staff meetings or threatening to get you fired. The cupid contract confirms in writing that your relationship is voluntary, giving the company a defense later on if you try to sue them on the grounds that you were forced, coerced, or intimidated into accepting your boyfriend's advances.
Again, this is especially relevant if one of you is in a higher position than the other.
Strategizing MOMOL is half the fun
Think about it: there’s nothing better than building up the keen edge of anticipation and grabbing a quick smack in the alley behind the smoking area. Strategizing where and when you can snuggle or make out is the kind of alluring fun that got you guys dating each other within office proximity in the first place.
After all, there’s no better way to observe a person day in and day out than seeing him or her at work, relating to others in a professional setting, sharing their victories, and seeing them at their most stressed.
As the Workplace Options study states: 40% of the surveyed Millennials have no problem getting involved with a boss, and even think it’s good for morale. So in this brave new world of dating from your office pool the only difference between your cubicle and a singles bar is the lack of loud music, bad lighting, and alcoholic beverages.
It’s a tricky situation all around, whether you’re dating your colleague or one of the bosses.