Have you ever fallen in love at the office? I can say from experience that these relationships are risky. If they don’t work out (and mine did not), dealing with the outcome can be more trouble than it’s worth.
Seeing or interacting with an ex at work on a daily basis may force us to cope with negative emotions like resentment, jealousy and insecurity. That experience can also make for an unhealthy energy that co-workers can feel, despite our best efforts to play it cool.
The rationale against mixing business and pleasure is sound, but office romances continue to be quite prolific. Career Builder’s Annual Valentine’s Day Survey was released this week, and it’s loaded with some surprising statistics:
– Nearly 23% of people (more commonly women) have dated someone in a higher position than them.
– 17% of office romances involved at least one person who was married at the time.
– 37% of workers have dated a coworker.
– 33% of those office romances have led to marriage.
This makes complete sense. Many employees spend the majority of their time at work, and we desire what we see around us. It’s just plain human nature to get excited about that cute guy in accounting or to fall in love with that beautiful woman from legal.
What does this mean for the company at large? Plenty, considering that nearly half of employees surveyed are unaware of any company dating policy, and 5% quit to avoid seeing their former lover.
Jonathan Segal, a partner in the employment practice group at Duane Morris LLP, offered this advice: Businesses should not ignore it when supervisors have intimate relationships with people over whom they have authority. Managers may want to train leaders on the risks of romantic overtures and relationships with subordinates, or even establish rules prohibiting such behavior.
Segal also advises against directly asking for sex. You might be thinking that no manager would ever do that, but in one harassment lawsuit the manager’s failed defense was, “I asked politely”.
Executive leadership consultant, Lolly Daskal, has a practical approach to love at the office. She knows that people are often conflicted by two major life goals – having a relationship and building a career.
In her article, How to Manage Your Romance in the Workplace, Daskal advises discretion. Stay professional at the office (no PDA!) and develop a contingency plan in case things don’t work out. That way you will minimize impact on co-workers and the organization.
Of course not all love in the workplace is romantic. A Harvard Business Review piece entitled Employees Who Feel Love Perform Better, explained how companionate love (based on warmth and connection) can improve outcomes like employee engagement, satisfaction, and teamwork.
The authors conducted a study of over 3,000 employees in seven different industries. They found that people who worked in a more caring and compassionate culture were more satisfied with their jobs, were more committed to the company, and felt more accountable for how they performed. The focus here is on relationships that stress collaboration in the execution and caring when things don’t go as planned.
Even large, successful organizations like Whole Foods, PepsiCo, and Zappos have core values built around caring, love, and family. So what can you do to build a more people-focused team or a more affectionate workplace culture?
1) Regularly ask people about how things are going.
2) Provide meaningful feedback and coach employees through challenges.
3) Openly celebrate individual and team wins when they happen.
Love in the workplace can take on many forms. It can be a tawdry affair, the nascent stages of a long-term committed relationship, or it can be a manager compassionately guiding an employee through a failure.
In the end, we have to recognize and honor the humanity at work. People are going to have desires, they are going to fall in love, and they want to have emotional relationships (even just as friends) in a professional setting. Management can ignore these realities or they can embrace them by creating cultures where love is not a four letter word.
David is not a fan of the terms “thought leadership” or “content marketing”, but he’ll keep using them…for now. Follow him on twitter @davidmizne.
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