The Pros and Cons of Workplace Romances
13 February 2023
By Péter Kakucska & Emilija Domić
It is a well-known fact that love knows no gender, no status, and no labels, and it can strike at any moment, anywhere. Even in the workplace, between a boss and his secretary for example. It’s a complicated and delicate situation, where emotions run high, and the consequences can be severe.
The boss-secretary dynamic is a power dynamic, and love can disrupt the balance of power, leading to a blur of professional and personal boundaries. It’s a scenario that has been played out in countless films and novels, where a boss falls for his secretary, and the lines between work and love become blurred. But what happens when the pair are same sexed, and it becomes a reality?
Imagine, it’s just another day at the office, or so they think, until Cupid, the mischievous god of love, decides to shoot his arrow into a male boss and his male subordinate. At first, the rush of emotions is intoxicating and though they try to resist, the chemistry between them is so strong that they can’t ignore it anymore. The stolen glances, the secret smiles, and the occasional brush of hands – it all adds up to a heady feeling of love and desire….
The office becomes a place of excitement, where the routine of work is broken up by stolen moments of passion with a rush of adrenaline which is addictive. The two lovebirds can’t help but be swept away by the tide of love. They sneak away for lunch breaks, steal kisses in the supply room, whisper sweet nothings over the telephone and send virtual hugs and hearts over the office communication channel.
But as the relationship progresses, reality sets in and they start to worry about what their colleagues would say, losing their jobs or what the world would think of them. They can try to keep their love hidden and continue, knowing the consequences, or they can end it before it becomes a problem.
“I met my boyfriend (now husband) at a grocery store where we worked. It went great, but it was hard to have a relationship where you work. We got in a few fights, and we even broke up once but soon got back together. We survived the hard times, and eventually, he was promoted to a new store; that gave us the break we needed. We have been together for three years now, married for two, and still going strong.”
Gossip will slowly start to spread, colleagues will start to talk and as the relationship becomes public knowledge, the risks and consequences of the relationship become apparent. The boss may face backlash from colleagues, who see the relationship as unprofessional and unethical. The secretary may face criticism from other employees, who see the relationship as a form of favouritism. The reputation of both parties can be severely damaged, and the consequences can be felt for years to come.
For some, love is worth the risk, and they are willing to face the consequences. They believe that the love they feel for each other is stronger than anything else and is worth fighting for, regardless of the challenges they may face.
“I had to learn the hard way. Under no circumstances should one ever fish off the company pier. I did and got dragged through the mud in a way that I wish on nobody. There are many evil women who would like nothing better than to get a wad of cash out of you, get you fired and ruin what was a promising career. All because I had the audacity to break up with her (honourably, by the way) and discontinue our relationship. Don’t do it!”
Having a romantic affair with a colleague or boss is a complex and potentially sensitive issue and it is important to be mindful of the potential risks. One must make informed decisions about whether to pursue such a workplace romance and look at the pros and cons.
Pros of a Workplace Romance
One of the biggest advantages of having a romantic relationship with a colleague or boss is convenience. You see each other regularly and have common interests, making it easier to schedule time together. In some cases, this can even lead to a more flexible schedule and a better work-life balance.
When you are romantically involved with someone you work with, you are likely to build a stronger sense of trust and understanding with that person. This can be particularly valuable if you are working in a high-pressure environment where trust and teamwork are essential.
“I first saw Javier at an office meeting, and immediately, my legs went jelly. There weren’t a lot of handsome guys in our office, so if one walked by, all the girls would notice ASAP. Lucky for me, it turned out that Javier would be my new boss and also that he is gay.”
Communication is key to any relationship, and when you are working closely with someone, it is easier to build a stronger and more open line of communication. This can be particularly beneficial for resolving conflicts or improving teamwork in the workplace.
Increased Emotional Support
Having a romantic relationship with a colleague or boss can provide emotional support and comfort during difficult times. Whether you are facing a challenging project or personal issues, having someone who understands and supports you can be incredibly beneficial.
The issue can be deflected and instead, the focus on the normative aspects of a romantic relationship between non-traditional couples can be highlighted. Having such an event in the open can force workers to have those uncomfortable conversations and to realise that love crosses all boundaries.
“Now, maybe working with your crush doesn’t work for most people, but it did for me. I was always inspired at work, and it also helped a lot that she was very easy to work with. I valued her input (it didn’t hurt that she was super smart!) and we seemed to really work well together. We got closer and closer after every success.”
Cons of a Workplace Romance
Potential Conflict of Interest
One of the biggest drawbacks of having a workplace romance is the potential for conflict of interest. This can occur if the relationship impacts your work performance or leads to favouritism or special treatment. For example, if you are working on a project with your romantic partner, it may be difficult to maintain a neutral perspective, or if one of you is in a position of authority, it can lead to unfair treatment of others in the workplace.
Damage to Professional Reputation
Having a romantic relationship with a colleague or boss can also damage your professional reputation, especially if the relationship becomes public knowledge. This can be particularly damaging if the relationship ends badly, as it can lead to gossip, rumours, and a tarnished reputation.
“Since she was the manager and I was working under her, people discouraged me from pursuing her as it wasn’t allowed at our company. She, on the other hand, did not care at all. I worked hard as the lead graphic designer and eventually, it all paid off as I got promoted to manager and then we got together.”
Potential for Legal Liability
In some cases, workplace romances can also lead to legal liability, particularly if one party is in a position of authority and is accused of harassment or discrimination. This can result in a costly and damaging lawsuit, which can negatively impact both parties involved. There is also a fine line between office flirting or banter and harassment. Harassment in the workplace can lead to serious consequences as it is unlawful in several countries.
‘Whilst flirting is harmless and usually innocent in the beginning, if it does not stop, the interaction can become increasingly uncomfortable and unwelcome by the recipient and soon it escalates to harassment. When the behaviour or interaction becomes intimidating, hostile, or abusive then the harassment line has been crossed.’, explains Samuel Petite, workplace attorney, ‘If you feel a co-worker has violated your boundaries or makes you feel uncomfortable, offended, or intimidated, tell the person directly and firmly that the behaviour is unwelcome and to stop immediately.’
Risk of Career Advancement
Having a workplace romance can also impact your career advancement, particularly if one party is in a position of authority. For example, if you are in a relationship with your boss, it may be difficult to receive promotions or other opportunities for career advancement, as others may perceive the relationship as being based on favouritism rather than merit.
Backtrack on Inclusion
Aspects of non-traditional romance can be exploited by workers and detrimental to the organization’s DEI efforts. Corridor gossip can lead to discriminatory language being more accepted and the organizational culture can become more toxic and cause for micro-aggressions. Other LGBTIQ+ colleagues, though not targeted, may feel victimized. The inconvenience may lead them to consider leaving the organization.
“For me, it was a big disaster. I was a purchasing assistant for a manufacturing plant. One of the men I worked with was a supervisor (not mine). He was cute, and one thing led to another. The stolen kisses at lunch or in my office were sheer heaven at first. Then he started questioning me about talking to other men or why was I laughing with him. Then he’d walk into my office when I was on the phone with a customer, and god forbid I should be laughing or making pleasant conversation. He would get very jealous and accuse me of wanting to sleep with every guy I talked to or had contact with. I was a purchasing assistant! I had to talk to a lot of people. It was vexing, to say the least. After that horrific experience, I swore I would never date anyone I worked with again. And I haven’t!
Love can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be a double-edged sword as having a romantic affair with a colleague or boss is a complex and potentially sensitive issue. Both parties involved need to be aware that the potential consequences of a workplace romance can be severe.
Cupid’s arrow can be a powerful force and the decision to pursue a romantic relationship with a colleague is a personal one and a professional one. It is essential, to be honest, and open about the relationship and to respect boundaries and professionalism in the workplace. Whilst love may conquer all, it should never lead to your professional and personal destruction.
Happy Valentine’s Day