The Pros And Cons Of A Workplace Romance

Ahhh nuts. You’ve fallen for someone at work. What do you do? Getting involved in relationship with a colleague can be risky business. So much can go wrong. But so much can also go right, and given that Australian full-time employees spend an average of 40.6 hours at work each week, it’s easy to see how love and affection prevail.

Here are some pros and cons of a workplace romance, and reasons to give the relationship some thought before diving right in.

Pro: You can better understand your partner’s work-related grievances.

When you’ve had a tough day at work and need to debrief with someone, it can help if that someone understands the dynamic of your workplace and knows the colleagues you’re butting heads with.

No more “Wait, who’s Amy again?” or “Sorry, what did John do?” if you’re bleating to someone who shares an office with you. There’s no doubt catharsis can be achieved in record time when you don’t have to labour over the details.

Con: The entire workplace could find out.

Which isn’t ideal if you want to keep matters private. Say the relationship is just blossoming, or you’re still determining whether you’re like, actually on. These are things you don’t necessarily want your whole team, or worse, workplace to know.

As soon as your romance becomes known to other colleagues, expect to be subjected to an ongoing, trivial interrogation from in-house gossips: “No Jacinta, for the last time…I have not met his parents.” Groan.

Pro: You get to see your partner all the time!

No more counting down hours or waiting impatiently until the end of the week to catch up with that special someone. You get to see them every day!

Even if you don’t work in the same team, or on the same level of the building, you can share coffee breaks, undertake lunchtime activities together and hang out after work and on your way home.

Con: You get to see your partner all the time…

Yep… All. The. Time. But what if you actually enjoy some solitude and being alone with your colleagues? The reality is you can love someone without needing to spend every waking minute together. The phrase “absence makes the heart grows fonder” comes to mind.

Heck, your relationship might even benefit from time spent apart.

Pro: No more dreading your alarm; waking up for work is fun and exciting.

You arrive early, fly through your once tedious tasks, and bring a new optimism to the workplace that is utterly contagious. You feel charismatic and charming, you’re full of innovative ideas and suggestions.

You’ve never been more motivated to power through each day at work. Love rules.

Con: You’re totally distracted.

Ok, so now that you’re hooking up with a colleague you enjoy coming to work, but how much actual work are you doing? While you’ve been busy sending flirty emails and developing a personalised innuendo on the organisation’s messenger system, you forgot to schedule those social media posts. And what about the monthly financial summary?

It’s not surprising that the mind wanders and focus wanes when you throw yourself into a fast-moving relationship at work, but you do lose points on productivity.

Double Con: You broke up. Cue that snooze button.

Break-ups can be unpleasant at best, ugly at worst, and having to wake up every morning and face your ex (or make pitiful attempts to skirt around them in the tea room) is not an ideal way to manage this notoriously uncomfortable period.

If a workplace relationship you’re in starts to go poorly, it’s important to know your rights and who to alert if the situation becomes inappropriate or threatening. The Australian Human Rights Commission and Legal Vision offer easy to navigate advice on what constitutes workplace and sexual harassment as well as strategies on how to manage it best.

Pro: Your workplace romance is saucy and secret.

Whether you’ve experienced it first hand or draw on cinematic representations (think Jerry Maguire, Working Girl or the darker Secretary) workplace romances have a reputation for being pretty steamy. Piles of clothes cast off next to a shaking boardroom table, hands working furiously over bodies in the lift, passionate moments in the stairwell – you get the picture.

Add to this a real or perceived need for secrecy and you’ve got a scene to make anyone’s heart flutter. Whether it’s a fling or forever, workplace relationships seem to offer considerably more exciting pursuits than the plain old dinner date.

Con: You’ve put your job in jeopardy.

Most Australian workplaces don’t formally prohibit workplace relationships or have policies to insist they’re revealed, but some do. Some have a code of conduct that obliges employees to disclose relationships that might impact, influence or conflict with business. Earlier this year an Australian chief executive had his pay cut by $550,000 for not revealing to his seniors and the board a relationship with his executive assistant. Whoops.

Pro: Workplaces relationships sometimes come with perks.

New friends, networks and insider gossip. You never guessed that your workplace romance would have perks, albeit unconventional, that extended this far. You feel like you’ve jumped up a level professionally, and are grateful for the otherwise unjustified attention and opportunity. Seize the day, eh?

Con: Hierarchy and workplace politics matter…a lot.

Carpe di…don’t do it! You might think that hooking up with your boss and the entitlements that it brings are alluring and empowering, but there’s the real and very likely risk that your co-workers will call favouritism and bias, and it may well be justified.

Decisions made over pay, promotion and praise might be called into question and your relationship might undermine the integrity of your work and any managerial decisions made. There is also your reputation to consider, and a tarnished personal brand can be hard to polish.

Richard Branson chimes in here to provide some pretty levelled advice: “While it is not at all surprising that two people who work closely might fall in love, one should not report to the other. If a couple find themselves in this situation, their managers should make other arrangements, adjusting the reporting structure so that this is not an issue.” Good one Rich.

Some final words of advice…

If you do pursue a relationship at work, the best approach is one of reason and moderation. It’s understandable that you don’t want to reduce the excitement of a new love to a series of administrative checks, but your colleagues shouldn’t have to feel that your new partnership disadvantages them either.

Nor should you ever have to worry that you’ve left undergarments dangling from a ceiling fan or draped over the receptionist’s keyboard. But when it does happen (the relationship that is, not the abandoned knickers) enjoy getting to know each other, learning from each other and sharing all the benefits that great working relationships have to offer.

Izzy Tolhurst is a copywriter and editor. She writes about music, the arts, employment and international development. She also sings and plays an impressively amateur level of guitar in Melbourne band Go Get Mum. Find her rambling on Twitter @izzytolhurst