To Date or Not To Date: The Good and Bad of Office Dating

To Date or Not To Date: The Good and Bad of Office Dating

To date or not to date? Though it is a corruption of the bard’s famous words, the question remains: is it proper to engage in romantic relationships in the workplace? The popular vote seems to be yes… and no. Proper or not, office romances have a strong impact on the morale and general well-being of co-workers.

Office dating does have a positive side. It keeps workers occupied and decreases boredom by giving the workplace a little excitement, a little colour. Some drama actually gives workers a reason to come to work whether as participants or audiences. Sexually charged workplaces act as incentive for people to look and dress their best, boosting self-confidence and affirming one’s sexuality at the same time.

For most Canadians, the office is, literally, the only place where they can try to find possible mates – barring joining an internet matching website of course. Careers keep people so busy that there is no time for a separate social life. Now that women’s unemployment rate is at a record low – 4.9%, the lines between professional and personal aspects of life have somewhat dimmed. The workplace really is one of the best places to meet future spouses because people can interact casually while observing potential partners. How a person handles a stressful situation tells a lot about their character. For instance if a person is courteous, understanding and outgoing at the office then there is a good chance that he or she would act the same in private. There are exceptions of course.

Another outcome of an office liaison is marriage. Of 300 employees surveyed in an online poll, 55% chose marriage as the most likely outcome of a workplace romance. And when such an occasion arises, most co-workers feel a sense of goodwill towards the couple, as well as each other. Even the managers are delighted that such a relationship bloomed in their very care.

Admittedly, workplace romance is not as bad as it is depicted. When fifteen thousand supervisors and managers were surveyed, 9 in 10 said that “they never, or almost never, witnessed workplace romances that become so problematic that someone from Human Resources has to get involved.” Perhaps the companies are just trying to protect their assets by propagating a taboo on office affairs?

Or perhaps, not. Office dating does have its downside. Accusations of favoritism fly about and participants often find themselves the target of damaging gossip. Workers find the varying degrees of sexual tension between the couple distracting.

It gets to the point when co-workers start to harbor resentment, feeling office friendships violate the safe haven of the workplace. Sexuality should not fit in one’s place of work. They feel that their work has been polluted with issues that did not belong.

Furthermore, there is the problem of decreased productivity and wasted man hours that result from such dalliances. There are times when the couple would find excuses to conveniently “bump” into each other on their way back from lunch. And there is nothing like a lover’s spat to start the tongues wagging and people talking. Whether it ends in marriage or breakup, managers would often lose good workers through this dilemma. The Elle/MSNBC.com survey revealed that 12% of people involved in work romance got transferred or left the company after being found out.

Breakups are particularly bad for the morale of the workers because they become the audience to the drama unfolding. Ex-lovers often retaliate against each other or accuse the other of sexual harassment. Extreme cases even end up in the courts of law. The State of California ruled that any employee can be victimized by sexual harassment even if the person was not propositioned by the accused. This was after a suit was filed by two women against their boss and his many girlfriends who always squabbled over the bosses’ favor. The two women claimed that the affairs of the accused created a “sexually hostile” environment in which they find it hard to work.

But there must be something that can be done to bridge the gap between pro-office romance and con-office romance. Most companies have implemented policies against dating between a superior and subordinate. In fact, 6 out of 10 employees who work for companies who have such policies favored this to not having a policy at all.

On the other hand, some companies feel that having such policies would intrude on the workers personal rights. “Innovative companies – especially high tech firms – recognize that their inadvertent function as dating services can actually be a plus, boosting morale and helping the companies attract and retain a young workforce asked to stay put in long hours and travel frequently.” Workers are content to work long hours as long as they are left alone with their personal lives and given a little room to have fun in the office.

Does the positive side of office romance outweigh its negative aspects, or vice versa? Whether one agrees with the pros or cons, there is no denying that workplace romances strongly affect everyone who is present to witness them.