Love in the office: Worth the risk? Experts agree that caution is necessary.

April 15, 1992|By Derek Reveron | Derek Reveron,Knight-Ridder News Service

The workplace is Cupid's favorite target. Sometimes, it offers a bull's-eye. Often, it doesn't, leaving hearts and careers in pieces.

Still, nothing kills office romance. Not increased publicity about issues of sexual harassment in the workplace. Not the plethora of other places to meet people. Not even office gossip.

Office romances, especially for women who date their

bosses, are notoriously risky, some experts say. Affairs can be hammers used by enemies to dent careers, especially if the relationship goes sour.

Some workers avoid such problems by ruling out office romances. However, most employees don't mind falling in love in the workplace, according to a recent Gallup poll. The poll found that 57 percent of those interviewed would get involved in a workplace romance.

But use caution, discretion and self-examination if you're hit by Cupid's arrow.

When romantic feelings stir, ask yourself: How are office romances viewed in your company's culture? How will your job be affected if the liaison lasts? If it ends?

"It's not so much the dating. It's what happens if the romance doesn't work out, because you still have to live with that person, so to speak," said Kay Francis, a Hollywood,Fla., psychologist who advises companies on gender differences.

Work relationships with a former lover are most touchy when that person is your boss. Because most romantic entanglements with bosses end disastrously, avoid them. If you can't, even experts don't agree on what to do.

Sonia Jacobson, who runs Image Development Group, a Coral Gables, Fla., professional image consulting firm, recommends keeping the relationship a secret until you can determine whether it's something special.

Deny rumors. If a co-worker sees the two of you at dinner together, say it was a professional meeting. The risks of keeping the affair secret outweigh having it become public, Ms. Jacobson said. Don't romance each other at work. No love notes, flowers, holding hands or starry eyes.

"You have to learn how to be an actor," Ms. Jacobson said. "Make believe he or she is just another person with whom you are working."

She cited instances in which co-workers dated for more than a year, and their colleagues knew nothing about the relationship until their engagement was announced.

Ms. Francis disdains the clandestine approach. "If you have to keep it a secret, then how much fun can it be?" she said. The best tact, Ms. Francis advised, is to go slow and ask searching questions -- of yourself and of your boss.

Do you really care about each other? Will he or she fire you if you end the relationship? Can you be a productive worker if your boss ends the relationship? How realistically can you judge the answers to such questions?

The answers are most important for women, because the boss in such a relationship is usually a man. However, experts say, romances involving female bosses are increasingly common.

Amorous entanglements with bosses generally hurt the worker. That's why most experts, such as Lisa Mainiero, author of "Romance: Love, Power & Sex in the Workplace," advise against them.

Leave the boss alone and stick to your peers, Ms. Mainiero said.

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