This guest post is from Chris Schonberger, Editor-in-Chief of Gradspot.com. He has never actually hooked up with a co-worker, but he once received unprompted relationship advice from three middle-age women during his days as an intern.
A Practical Guide to Office Romance
So, you’ve managed to buck the odds and land yourself a new job in this tanking economy. Excited to hook up with all your officemates? You should be. But you need to tread carefully—no matter how “progressive” companies claim to be, some HR departments will still come down on you like a ton of bricks if they think you’re using the terms “spread” and “sheets” in a context that doesn’t involve Excel.
That said, the taboo of the office romance is fading to some extent. Yes, there was a time when a little cubicle copulation was considered anathema to a successful career. “Business and pleasure don’t mix,” said the conventional wisdom. “Sex in the office is harassment, even if it’s consensual.” But while many people profess a “don’t deuce where you eat” philosophy with regards to getting it cracking in the workplace, the stats show that at least 40% of workers have tried it.
Young people are working longer hours, and as the work-life balance shifts further toward the “work is life” end of the spectrum, the office has become the new bar (with the only difference being that you have to wear headphones when you listen to “Living on a Prayer”). Before you dive in head first, consider a few crucial questions: Will an “affair de cubicle” alienate you from the rest of the office? Will your suit accommodate a surreptitious Texas tuck when the CEO rounds the corner? Do you really have no other prospects?
If you do decide to play with fire, here are the different scenarios you might run into:
Dating an equal. If you are dating another newb, it’s mostly up to the two of you to decide if competing for the same promotions, raises, and projects will breed ill will. Most other people won’t care as long as there’s not too much repulsive canoodling in the break room. However, think about your work-life balance—at the end of the day the last thing you want is a reminder of work, even if that reminder has boobs.
Dating a superior. When the boardroom becomes the boudoir, you’d better make sure you’re not the one under the table on all fours (unless you’re plugging in the projector). Let’s be blunt: sexing your boss is almost always a bad idea. Even if you successfully pull off an unethical plan to get ahead through sexual favors, the rumor mill is quick to spot an unjust promotion. If you really “like” your boss, check your feelings to make sure they are genuine. Then check his or her hand for a wedding ring. Then quit the job and get it cracking.
Dating an inferior. Most of us don’t have to worry about this because we are the inferiors. But again, the issue that arises here has to do with maintaining “professional integrity.” Of course, the interns are always fair game, regardless of age—they can’t find the paper for the printer, let alone HR.
Dating a client. If your job involves going to a lot of dinners or entertaining clients outside of the office, you never know what might pop off once the vino starts flowing. Know your own limits and remember that your job is not to jump people’s bones (at least I hope not). If your boss finds out, your actions will not be looked upon favorably. If he or she is the one cajoling you to flirt for business, ask yourself why you decided to work for Don “Magic” Juan.
Dating someone in a different department. “Cross-pollination” may seem like the safest bet, but remember that it has also bred some of nature’s biggest freaks, like the labradoodle. Lindsey Pollack, author of From College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World, recently illustrated the pitfalls of this move for me: “When I was working at a dot com several years ago, I went on a few dates with a cute guy in the IT department. After it ended, I was too embarrassed ever to call IT support again, even when my computer got a serious virus!” The lesson is simple: never date a dude who has access to your computer.
What about the janitorial staff? The janitor has access to three important things: keys to the supply closet, a late-night schedule, and the wherewithal to quickly clean up the “scene of the crime.” Worth considering, perhaps.
Final precautions. In all cases mentioned above, avoid P.D.A. like the plague. Petting, kissing, and even subtle hand-holding will alienate both of you (or all three of you!?) and make work uncomfortable for others. Be wary of swapping love notes over company e-mail or treating the Christmas party like Freaknik. And finally, always be prepared to deny everything when the crap hits the fan.
At the end of the day, office romance is a Pandora’s Box that’s probably not worth opening. But when the juice is worth the squeeze, you’d better believe that no pant suit or necktie is going to stop nature from taking its course. Just remember that work is stressful enough without exes lurking in the corridors and people asking why you “never call IT” anymore. Be smooth, be smart, and always protect your assets.
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