Here you are, a partner in a fancy law firm. A far cry from where it all began.
You love working cases. Work is amazing.
A while back, you got paired with a male attorney with complementary specialties to work on a big case.
Since then, you have crisscrossed the state taking depositions and building the case together.
You share meals, grueling work schedules, and endless conversations in airliners. If it were it not for the work badges. You could be mistaken for a couple.
A few months in, and you've developed an irresistible attraction towards him. Yes, you didn't cultivate the feelings but here they are, and they are here to stay – or so it seems.
Deep down you'd love to explore the heart affair further. Heck, your case partner had already expressed some interest.
However, part of you doesn't want to rock the boat.
So, do you steer clear?
Should you do what's right career-wise? Override what could be best for your personal life?
Well, I'm here to help you amidst the confusion. Or rather, to provide you with thorough, in-depth research on rules of workplace affairs, especially when you cannot resist the chemistry.
But first, let's appreciate that dating your workmates is always frowned upon. And for reasons.
Reasons Why Office Relationships Are Often Forbidden
Joe Flanagan, a senior career advisor at Los Angeles-based Mint Resume, claims that an extramarital affair – one of the most rampant office relationships – significantly affects the serene working environment.
He explains, "That's because an extramarital affair is a controversial issue that may lead to employees gossiping and backstabbing, which is never good. It may affect the performance of both the involved and uninvolved employees."
His sentiments are seconded by Mark Kluger, the founding partner at employment law firm Kluger Healey in Fairfield, N.J…
Kluger, while discussing workplace affairs, said, "People have lots of opinions about things like that—moral judgments about whether it's right or wrong. To the extent that this affects the workplace … [that may] have some impact on how an employer deals with it."
Workplace affairs "often result in turmoil and can disrupt the workplace for years," encored Chris W. McCarty, an employment attorney with Lewis, Thomason, King, Krieg & Waldrop in Knoxville, Tenn.
From These Experts
Office romance can ruin workplace productivity or morale. More so when there are inappropriate PDAs (public display of affection), gossip, back-stabs, favoritism from seniors dating junior staff, and a bad break-up that can lead to sexual harassment or employees choosing 'sides.'
Also, there can be a loss of respect for the executive members, who can then reiterate with poor performance reviews, among other revenge plans that aren't healthy for the workplace.
Employees can also lose respect for their junior colleagues who they perceive to only be doing well because they're dating an executive member.
On top of that, the 'office couple' can avoid each other, which is unhealthy, or keep their affair a secret that will consume energy that would have otherwise been used productively.
Once discovered, the affair can ruin careers, families, and established relationships.
And in an event of a break-up, a workplace romance can lead to awkward moments, tension, and simmering resentments.
Despite the negatives, office affairs still happen.
Yes, instances of workplace romance have declined, as depicted by a recent CareerBuilder's survey. There has been a decline of 4% in 10 years. From 40% in 2008 to 36% in 2018. However, workplace affairs still exist – and experts have an explanation for that.
Causes Of Workplace Attraction According To Experts
There are solid reasons why workmates fall for each other, claim Art Markman, a marketing and psychology professor at the University of Texas.
"You spend a tremendous amount of time at work and, if you put people in close proximity, working together, having open, vulnerable conversations, there's a good chance there are going to be romantic relationships," he explains.
Markman's sentiments are seconded by Amy Nicole Baker, an author and associate psychology professor at the University of New Haven. She says, "The more familiar you are with the person, the more likely it is that you'll become attracted to one another."
Her claim is backed by numerous research which shows that we tend to be attracted to people similar to ourselves.
Nicole does warn us to proceed carefully when pursuing office romance.
In reality, workmates find themselves in relationships that mimic dating, courtship, and marriage. They become interdependent and ride the emotional roller coaster of success and terrible failures together. They think alike and share common values, and meet common goals through mutual efforts.
Their relationship is de facto a marriage without the kids problems, mortgage payments, and the morning breath.
One, men and women are put together on a task, sharing the workplace equally and as professional peers.
Two, they share physical proximity daily (or at least 4 days a week) – working together whilst experiencing the stimulation of workplace challenges and the powerful fulfillment of accomplishments.
Three, the workplace serves as a pre-screener that throws people together with colleagues their age having similar values, aspirations, education, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
And four, the place provides countless opportunities for relationships to develop. Think of team-building retreats, work trips, and seminars.
Besides the economy being 24/7, today's workers operate in irregular hours and in non-office settings, which boosts intimate isolation.
On top of that, the workplace is dynamic and ever-evolving, making it hard to create a social structure for dealing with emerging office relationships.
So, here you are. Confused!
You're on a track to senior partnership yet you can't help but wonder whether he could be the one.
Well, here are some rules you should consider before giving any more thoughts to your feelings.
The Rules For Workplace Affair If You Cannot Resist The Chemistry
Let's dive in …
One: Evaluate The Risks
Just like anything else, a workplace affair has risks. For instance, the relationship may fail to workout resulting in broken hearts, resentment, and faded morale.
What of the potential conflict of interest?
Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, says, "having multiple relationships with someone creates potential conflicts of interest that can be hard to resolve." He references an 'ironclad rule,' the dual relationship principle in psychotherapy that forbids therapists from courting their patients.
While such a rule may not apply to workmates, what is an individual to do when a conflict arises? Put the interest of the team first or those of the individual he/she, is dating?
Also, a workplace affair can ruin your reputation. Markman says, "Having a relationship with someone higher up in the organization can create an alternate explanation for why you're succeeding."
And according to Nicole, "Your professionalism may be called into question. Especially if people don't see your motives for entering the relationship as positive."
Therefore, it will be wise to evaluate the associated risks and mitigation measures before you can pursue an office romance.
Two: Check Your Intentions
Your intentions of getting into a workplace relationship matters.
According to Nicole, your workmates' reaction to the affair reflects what they perceive your motive to be.
For instance, if your co-workers believe you're in it to get ahead in the firm, they'll act negatively towards you. Contrary, "studies show that coworkers are generally positive if they perceive that you're falling in love and genuinely care about each other," Nicole explains.
That said, check your motives and take into account how your workmates will perceive them – before pursuing a workplace affair. Note, having the best intentions at the start might also guard against misunderstandings and hurt feelings in the case of a breakup.
You might want to steer clear of a boss or direct reports regardless of your motives, as here, perceptions are always more negative. Otherwise, transfer to another boss or reassign your direct report to another supervisor.
Three: Know Your Company Policy
Multiple companies have put in place policies against workplace dating. Others require specific disclosures if such relationships are to be allowed. Thus, knowing your company policy is a must lest risk disciplinary action.
Nicole encourages employees to "Follow the rules and try to understand the reasons they're in place."
She says, "You ignore them at your peril." And in a case of violation, she recommends you "come clean early because the longer you persist, the worse the consequences will be."
Markman says he has seen firms and organizations lift workplace dating regulations, more so in the recent past because they are not working and two are hard to enforce. To him, the lifting is a positive move given the complexities of workplace relationships.
David Reischer, an attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com, says "an absolute 'no dating' policy is hard to enforce."
Kluger agrees. "I recommend against them, frankly, because I don't think you can keep two people apart if they want to be together. And if there's an employer rule against relationships among co-workers or subordinates and supervisors, it's just going to be broken. You essentially almost encourage your employees to lie to you by having a rule prohibiting consensual relationships at work."
Besides, companies should be teaching people how to make good decisions, not legislating through disciplinary measures.
Four: Don't Keep It A Secret
Both Markman and Nicole agree that full disclosure of a workplace affair with your workmates, HR department, and your boss is vital.
Kluger agrees and advocates for employers to encourage their staff to disclose their affairs instead of enacting a 'no dating' policy.
And if you are afraid of sharing until you're sure where the relationship is going, Markman has a bit of advice for you.
He says, "You don't have to tell them after the first date, but letting people know reduces the awkwardness. Besides, if you don't tell anybody, people will still figure it out." he says.
Nicole notes that "Secrets tend to erode our trust in one another and, when the truth comes out, people are going to feel lied to."
If disclosing is not an option, be sure to tell your manager or supervisor so that they can make informed decisions on how to staff you.
While at it, keep it simple and straightforward. There is no point in getting into too many personal details.
Five: Set Boundaries
While disclosing is recommended, you don't have to shovel your relationship down everybody's throat.
Research conducted by Nicole and her colleagues on flirting at work indicated that "People who frequently witness flirting… report feeling less satisfied in their jobs, and they feel less valued by their company. They're more likely to give a negative appraisal of the work environment, and they may even consider leaving," she noted.
While the findings were just correlations, Nicole noted that they were a good argument against PDAs.
She says remaining professional at all times, '… makes life easier and less uncomfortable for the people around you."
Other than that, it's wise to set boundaries with your co-worker turned romantic partner. Markman advises that since "Love takes precedent over other things — that's why there are fewer prenuptial agreements than there should be. You shouldn't let work tensions spill into your relationship and vice versa."
Thus, set rules and social structures for dealing with your work and relationship.
Six: In An Event Of A Breakup
Nicole and Markman agree that though painful, it's better to update your colleagues in case of a breakup.
While at it, Markman emphasizes that, "… you have to be civil as if nothing ever went wrong and hope that the other person will do the same."
The aim here is to end the affair with little to no damage to the workplace. You don't want your co-workers choosing sides and pointing fingers now, do you?
And if it's too painful or awkward to continue working together with your ex, consider transferring to another team, department or leave the company altogether.
At the very end, heed to Nicole's advice: "The less drama, the better."
You've made it to the end of the rules for workplace affairs: if you cannot resist the chemistry.
Do they sack? Probably, ha-ha.
Do not despair though as there's an alternative. An even better way to handle your situation.
The New Sex Etiquette
Where sex and harassment aren't the only outlets for sexual attraction.
Rather than satisfying the sexual attraction with consummation, you focus the realized positive energy on work, productivity, creativity, and more discovery.
And guess what? These kinds of 'more than friends and less than lovers' relationships are increasing by the day.
In a recent study by researchers from the University of Michigan, 22% of respondents reported having been in such a relationship.
The traction could be as a result of the benefits in it for both the 'business couple' and the company.
A study by the University of North Dakota showed that teams comprising of mixed gender performed better than same-gendered teams.
Besides, it's ignorant to believe that a single intimate relationship can fulfill a person in every way. As life becomes busy, people are leading complex lives outside their matrimonial homes.
It's naïve to expect the primary relationships to provide total personal and professional satisfaction. It's time to be comfortable loving one individual romantically and valuing another artistically, intellectually, creatively, or in whatever way that does NOT diminish your commitment to the primary relationship.
Hence the need for a new sex etiquette. Where unlike friends, the partners can have moments of great revelation, but unlike lovers, they cannot share bodies.
To Get There
Set boundaries and expectations right at the outset
Consciously manage the relationship through honest discussions
Monitor each other so as not to cross the boundaries
Have respect for each other's tastes, intellect, and competencies
Clarify areas of misunderstanding
Take time to cool off if needed
For, in the end, the attraction is harmless, how we respond to it is what matters.