Cubicle couples

Office relationships shouldn't be avenue for career advancement

Posted: Sunday, February 12, 2006

The concept of workplace relationships is somewhat inevitable, particularly today when workers often spend a large portion of their time at the office. In a recent study conducted by engage.com, 6 percent of the 1,000 couples surveyed said they first met their spouse while working together. What's more, an additional 6 percent said a co-worker is most likely to fix him or her up on a date, second only to a friend.

While the temptation might be there, it's important to remember that office romances will never be a viable option for getting ahead in your career. So before you ask out that cute guy or girl from accounts payable, be sure to weigh the pros and cons thoughtfully.

Ethics count

"Hard work, not workplace romance, should be the primary tool to get ahead in your career," explains Jeff Cohen, a dating and relationship expert for About.com. "Sleeping your way to the top is a Hollywood cliché, not a viable option for advancing your job prospects."

Cohen adds that, while flirting with a co-worker or supervisor is practically commonplace on TV and in the movies, it is hardly an accurate depiction of real life.

"Flirting is more subjective than sex," he continues. "What one person calls flirty, another might describe as friendly. There's nothing wrong with being outgoing, friendly and likeable. These traits will typically help your career. When it crosses over into unwanted sexual advances, that's when it clearly crosses the line."

Beyond the relationship complications, however, there are also possible legal ramifications, not to mention potentially career-threatening consequences. Ruth Houston, author of "Is He Cheating on You? 829 Telltale Signs" (Lifestyle Publications, $29.95) says that while 56 percent of employees claim to have dated a co-worker, doing so can elicit some unwanted circumstances.

"You force co-workers and colleagues to take sides, no matter how neutral they try to be, and they will form negative opinions about your judgment," she says. "If the relationship ends badly, your best bet is to move on. If you remain in that department or with that company, productivity will suffer - yours as well as that of your co-workers."

Houston adds that even though both parties involved might agree to keep the relationship under wraps, never underestimate the power of the grapevine if you decide to proceed with the interoffice romance.

"Keep it low key, don't flaunt the fact that the two of you are romantically involved," Houston says. "Avoid public displays of affection - it's highly unprofessional. Do not exchange embarrassing or ostentatious flowers, cards or gifts."

Though small, discrete and tasteful gifts are OK, she says, gossiping or allowing your relationship to interfere with your work in any way is highly frowned upon.

Starting a relationship with a manager or direct supervisor may have more complexities than it's worth, suggests April Masini, author of "Think & Date Like a Man: Be the Woman Who Gets the Man She Wants... and Keeps Him!" (iUniverse Inc., $15.95).

"Dating your boss may be a lightening rod of trouble, but the truth is it's natural to fall in love with someone you work with that you admire," she explains. "And if you're a terrific asset to the company, you're going to catch your boss's attention with your work. If you're attractive, and there's chemistry between the two of you, it's natural for a relationship to become possible. Dating the boss is taboo only if you let it be."

If you do decide to have a romantic relationship with your superior, keeping the relationship professional while you are at work is vital to both your personal life and career life. Open communication is key, says Masini. If the two of you are serious about making the relationship work, it's important to acknowledge the fact that others may perceive your love interest in a different way, so don't let who you're dating cloud your professional judgment.

- Lisa Radke



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