Office Romances: Worth the Risk?
By Laura Berndt
Fans of NBC’s “The Office” were thrilled when fictional co-workers Jim and Pam tied the knot, but, in reality, only 15% of office romances result in marriage. In fact, many office romances end badly, creating an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.
According to Vault.com(which recently released its 7th annual Office Romance Survey) nearly 60 % of survey participants had a romantic relationship with a co-worker. Whether or not these relationships flourished or floundered is another matter.
Look Before You Leap
“We spend more than half of our day at work and those same colleagues are often invited to socialize after work, creating opportunities to blur from professional to personal,” noted Jason Levin, a Vault.com career expert. “Whether that’s ok or not depends on the people involved. Your reputation in and out of the office could be in serious jeopardy depending on how each party handles the end of the relationship. Those involved need to go into this type of relationship with both ‘eyes open,’ knowing the risks and having a plan to deal with an office romance if it goes sour.”
Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com, agrees. “When co-workers become romantically involved, they often aren’t thinking about what’s going to happen next week, let alone next year,” says Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com. “While some make it to the altar, others aren’t quite as fortunate and jobs, marriages and friendships may be irrevocably harmed.”
One survey participant responded that they would never engage in any personal relationship with their co-workers. “There is simply too much at risk on both a professional and private basis. The risks far outweigh the rewards.” 18% of those surveyed said that they had been involved in an office relationship that resulted in one or both parties leaving the company.
The Pros and Cons of Office Flirtations
In these turbulent economic times, however, many workers see the office as an ideal place to meet potential love interests. “We work so much,” wrote one survey participant. “If I were single, why would I pass up an opportunity to date someone cool just because I work with her? It’s all about maintaining a separation between work and romance.”
Even if the involved parties can remain professional at work, there is no guarantee that the rest of the staff will. Gossip is difficult to avoid once other employees have caught wind of the relationship. ”People’s gossip took a toll on my managerial capacity,” admitted another participant, who also felt his employees respected him less after learning of his relationship. Supervisor-subordinate relationships pose additional problems. 38 % of survey participants felt that a co-worker gained professional advantages from being in a relationship with their superior.
Survey participants made another interesting observation as well: 55% said that they had knowledge of a married co-worker having an office affair. These trysts can do serious damages to relationships and careers. One very famous office affair ruined Bill Clinton’s career in 2001.
The Fortunate Few
Although the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal yields as a cautionary tale, there are also a few famous office romances that resulted in marriages. One such story is that of Bill and Melinda Gates. The two met in 1987 while working for Microsoft, and married in 1994. Bill and Melinda are now the proud parents of three children and are partners in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Yet another famous office romance involved none other than President Barack Obama himself. While in Chicago, Obama was assigned to work as a summer associate for Michelle Robinson. In 1992, Michelle and Barack were married.
Why it Worked
The Obamas managed to keep their relationship from interfering with their careers by behaving professionally in the office and exercising extreme caution. Experts from CareerCast.com have a few tips for workers considering an office relationship.
- For starters, try to keep the relationship private until you have decided that your relationship will be long-term. It’s also important to communicate openly and often about how you will conduct yourselves while at work.
- At the same time, try to give one another some space at work.
- Finally, if you become involved in a supervisor-subordinate relationship, one of you should try to transfer to another department. This will keep your managers from becoming concerned about potential legality (and favoritism) issues.
If you do decide to become involved with a co-worker, be sure to consider the possible consequences. If you aren’t careful, both your personal and professional life could become very complicated.