58% of employees have engaged in a romantic relationship at work
If cheesy TV dramas have taught us anything, it’s that office romances always work out really really well. From Jim and Pam in The Office, Leslie and Ben in Parks and Recreation, even Mad Men’s Don Draper – we’re constantly presented with Hollywood ideals and happy endings. The reality is much more awkward and, potentially, career-destroying.
A recent report from Vault found that 58% of employees have engaged in a romantic relationship at work, with that figure rising to 78% for workers over 50 years old. However, despite the uptake, almost half of employees have no clue around their HR department’s policies on inter-colleague relations. That dearth of understanding is worrying, and it could lead to termination. Clearly, the obvious answer is not to enter into a relationship with someone you work with. However, if you’re reading this that probably means you’ve already began and ended an office romance – and are in need of some professional and tangible advice on what to do next.
Read more: Can you legally ban office romances?
Maintain your professionalism
Break ups are notoriously bitter things – but remember to keep things professional when you’re at work. That means no breaking their favourite coffee mugs, or sending anonymous hate mail, or gossiping with the rest of the office. Research from office supplies specialist Viking found that 44% of employees have been the subject of office gossip because of a colleague romance. What’s more, 37% said it led to a decrease in their productivity and 21% saw an increase in their stress levels. To prevent this, it’s a good idea to talk it out with your now ex-partner. Ask them to respect you and you in turn will respect them – have some sort of game plan in place to prevent any awkwardness.
Don’t seek them out
Once you’ve made the initial contact, try to minimize further interactions. As an employee in the workplace, it’s likely that you’ll have to bump into your ex every now and again – but don’t actively seek them out. Take your morning coffee at 10am not 10.30am – have a late lunch in the breakroom. Make small changes that put you out of the toxic atmosphere. If you have to work on the same team as them, speak to your manager and ask if there’s anything that can be done to ease the awkwardness – such as different working hours or project groups.
Speak to HR
I can’t stress this point enough. If you’re going through an emotionally challenging time, whether it’s the breakdown of a relationship or another private matter, go and talk to your HR manager. Anything that plays on your mind at work will inevitably manifest in your performance – so if you’re productivity starts to slip, you can bet your manager will want to know why. Speaking to HR before this happens is a good way of mitigating any potential bad feeling.
However, don’t be surprised if HR is a little perturbed – especially if you’ve defied office policy. A report from SHRM found that whilst 42% of employers have rules regarding workplace relationships, 75% of HR leaders fully expect their people will ignore them. That being said, make sure you’re fully briefed on any policies regarding romance before you start dating.
Consider jumping ship
There’s no shame in bowing out. In fact, if you believe the situation has become too toxic to handle, and that it’s now negatively affecting your career, it’s probably best you do leave. Always prioritise your own position – and don’t look to quit if you think that’s the wrong move for your development. However, working in a negative atmosphere can severely impact your mental wellbeing. The choice between prioritizing your own sanity and ‘saving face’, isn’t really a choice at all.
So, if you’re still on the fence about beginning or ending an office romance, take some time and gain some perspective. Speaking in a previous HRD feature, Stuart Hearn, CEO and founder of performance management platform Clear Review, summed up both sides of the contentious ‘should we - shouldn’t we’ argument particularly well.
“There are downsides to office romances,” he explained. “There is the potential for favouritism [and] distraction from work. But there is also potential for meaningful, lasting relationships, which is something to be celebrated. HR simply needs to ensure performance standards are being met and employees are as productive as ever.”