Does Your Valentine Work in the Next Cubicle? Trouble May Be Brewing

heart valentines day love public domainThere’s a standard scene in many movies where a woman becomes involved with a man but wants to keep the budding relationship secret. Invariable, either at work or a social gathering, a close friend will say, “Something’s different about you. Are you seeing someone?”

You’ve probably been in this situation, as either the primary subject or the astute observer, and with more women at all levels of business, it’s becoming increasingly common a work.

Often the “tells” aren’t all that subtle:

  • Co-workers who previously were casual friends start to avoid each other or exhibit awkwardness.
  • A pair of co-workers start to log a lot of the same overtime hours as well as the same days off from work.
  • New “inside” jokes start popping up.
  • The couple seem to be enjoying their time at work when everyone else is in crisis management mode.

If you’re any kind of student of human nature, I’m sure you can add several more clues to my little list and they’re fun to watch for when you aren’t the one involved in the new office romance. However, a far more important subject involves the reasons why we all need to be very cautious before we step into those treacherous waters.

The Google canoodle

One of the most devastating public cases that demonstrates some of the dangers was when Google co-founder Sergey Brin hooked up with an employee (who herself had been involved with another Google employee), breaking up his marriage to Anne Wojcicki. The couple have two children. Although Wojcicki wasn’t working at Google, her sister was senior vide president of advertising. By the way, Google had invested in his former wife’s company, which (conveniently) sells home DNA testing kits.

I wonder how many lawyer salaries were funded for a year or more sorting out all of these legal entanglements.

Work romance is widespread

Surveys differ on the number but somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of all workers way they have dated a colleague. About a third of those say they married the person they met at work, Career Builder says.

By the way, if you’re looking for a career and a spouse, according to the Career Builder survey, the five top industries for office romance are:

  • Leisure and Hospitality
  • Information Technology
  • Financial
  • Health Care
  • Professional & Business Services

But I digress. Despite those marriages, it is still far better to be extremely wary of office romance. Here are some of the reasons:

  • A sexual harassment suit is never out of the question.
  • Workplace gossip can undermine your authority, credibility and ability to advance.
  • Arguments can spill over from your personal life to your business.
  • It can be a major distraction for everyone at work.
  • If a third of these romances ended in marriage, two thirds didn’t. It can get ugly at breakup time.

Not only is it wise to be very cautious on the personal level, it’s smart to establish policies and train your employees on them. This is especially critical for any employees in supervisorial roles; the line between flirting and harassment can be very blurry and you don’t want it to suddenly come into sharp focus when an angry employee shows up in your office with an attorney.

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