Are Office Romances a Bad Idea?

What are the pros and cons when you are considering an office romance? Kia Handley and The Sugar Doctor talk about navigating love in the workplace.

[Full Transcript Below]

You can listen to the show live on Monday mornings from 9:30 am on ABC Newcastle at 1233AM or stream live here.

[Original recording on ABC website here]

Kia Handley is: Not a car! Presenter ABC Newcastle. Loves vintage, Eurovision & great stories.

You can also find the incredibly talented Kia Handley on ABC  Newcastle Mornings here, Twitter @kiahandley  Facebook kiahandleyjourno and on her podcasts: This Retro Life & Let’s Talk-  Rural Mental Health, PLUS even more amazing gems here.

office romance
Image by athree23 from Pixabay

Episode Transcript:

Kia: Five million, four hundred thousand minutes, that translates to ninety thousand hours, or three thousand, seven-hundred and fifty days… all up, it is estimated you will spend a third of your life at work. From when you start as a teenager, to whenever you choose to retire, it doesn’t matter what you do, how many career changes you have, that is a looong time!

So it’s not surprising that while you are at work you also find and make and maintain some pretty amazing relationships; friendships, family can be created at work, and sometimes there can be romantic interests that start in the workplace.

So is dating a co-worker ever a good idea? Tara Whitewood is here to talk with you about office romance today, good morning.

Tara: Good morning Kia.

What Factors Influence Office Romance?

Kia: Ah, I really shouldn’t be so surprised at how much time we spend at work, on average, in our life, but what does that mean for our relationships?

Tara: Oh my goodness… five million minutes? Is that what you said?

Kia: Five million, four hundred thousand minutes, on average.

And you did that in your head, you’re extraordinary. [laughs]

Kia: Did not. That’s thank you to the internet [laughs]

Tara: Um, look,  absolutely zero surprise there.

Lots of research has shown that THE most influential factor in friendships, in relationships; romantic and intimate relationships is proximity.

So if you are near to someone you are more likely to develop some kind of relationship with them, and then beyond that, familiarity, so knowing someone better, increases the chances that you are going to have an office romance, and being at work for one third of your life means that those people are…in your proximity.

Is There Still Stigma About Dating Colleagues?

Kia: Are there still stigmas around dating at work?

Tara: Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that we really haven’t worked out in terms of; how do we keep people safe, from things like sexual harassment, how do we protect them from the difficulties in power dynamics that can come in an office romance, and how do we protect, the team morale, as well in the workplace?

While still, you know, acknowledging that we are all adults, and people need to be able to make their own choices around who they want to build relationships with. So having that combination of freedom and safety in a workplace is something that I don’t think that has been addressed very well.

Kia: mmm.

What is Changing in Workplace Dating?

Tara: There are certain shifts that have come that I think are really interesting, but it depends on the workplace, as to their, sort of, flexibility around how they approach those dynamics in office romance.

Kia: Talk us through some of those shifts

Tara: one of the cool things that I saw when I was researching for this show, it was actually two years ago now, but Facebook and Google, for example, implemented a “one strike and you’re out” policy. And what that means is you can ask a co-worker to go out with you on a date with you once, and if they say no, that’s it. So what that does is its really clear around what becomes… like what’s sexual harassment and what is applying pressure and persistence which becomes really problematic.

So I thought that was a really interesting way to approach that. To acknowledge, yes, you know, office romance is going to happen, and here are some guidelines around how we’re going to manage that.

What if a Colleague Just Wants to Be Friends?

Kia: What if someone feels like they’re just asking to hang out as mates in that? Like there’s still a lot of grey area, right?

Tara: Huge grey area. And I think that the more clarity that we bring to that, in terms of, like, verbal language, like “would you like to go out for a date” versus “would you like to go and have a coffee as friends”… you almost need to articulate that you know. But being really aware, I suppose, that if you are taking a work relationship outside of the workplace in any way, that having some kind of boundaries and having some clear guidelines around that is really helpful.

What are the Pros of an Office Romance?

Kia: Let’s go… you know, cause relationships are so easy they can be put into two columns, which is pros and cons, that’s right? That’s what I’ve learned with you, right? That it’s that simple?

Tara: [laughs] 100 percent, gold star

Kia: [laughs] great! What are the pros of meeting someone at work and making your relationship romantic?

Tara: Well, I think the pros of meeting someone at work are that chances are you share some common interests; you may be passionate about the kind of work you do or the industry that you’re in. Perhaps you’ve worked together as part of a team, so you already know that your styles of interaction, of decision making, and those kinds of things, that you work together really we’ll.

You probably know them reasonably well; you’ve had an opportunity to see how they respond to stress, how they interact with other people, and to watch them in real time, sort of, just live. See how they are in meetings, see how they are in different contexts.

Which I think is often missing when you’re dating someone. You only see them in an environment where it is fun and it is nice, you don’t see how they respond to pressures and challenges. So one of the pros of an office romance is you do get to see that side of them.

What are the Cons of an Office Romance?

Kia: What can some of the cons of office romance be as we’re weighing this up?

Tara: Some of the cons can be that you don’t know how they are in their real life. You can live in this work bubble. One of the things about being at work, is most of the challenges that are set to you in a work context are things that are achievable and results that you can actualise just through applying yourself.

Kia: Yep

Tara: Where when you take that outside of work and you are looking at domestic logistics and finances and your health and the family, all of the other real life factors, doesn’t matter how much you apply yourself or how much strategy you bring, some of those things are going to be a perpetual problem. There’s no resolution to it. That’s just what life is like. So that work bubble can lead people to think that they’re more successful as a team than maybe they would be in the real world.

What if You are Competing at Work?

Kia: What about competition, does that enter the equation for some people? I guess it depends what you do. Some workplaces are very large and you may never see each other at work, but if you are striving for the same sort of goals, how do you weigh that up within an office romance?

Tara: Yeah, I think that that’s one of the biggest decisions that you need to be considering is “am I willing to leave this job” or “am I willing to leave this role?” if you’re in a dynamic where one of you is senior, or you’re on the same team. Or in some way your work relationship would impact on your personal relationship and vice versa, then the decision that you are making isn’t only “do I want to have a romantic relationship with this person?”, but “is this relationship going to impact on my job and am I okay with that?”

Because it might be, you know, I’ve seen people leave a job to pursue a romantic relationship which then didn’t eventuate and it can be bitterly disappointing.

So I’d be looking at; what’s the transition plan? Is one of us going to leave? Is one of us going to stay here? How are we going to manage that? Is that okay? Is this my dream job? And am I really jeopardising that by being in this relationship?

Will Office Romances Happen if You Work From Home?

Kia: Not all workers, we’ve learnt, can work from home, but we are seeing that push towards a little bit more flexible working arrangements where maybe you don’t have to go into work as often. If you’re in some sort of professions.

Will that change office romances and relationships?

Tara: I think potentially it would reduce the likelihood of an office romance developing, because you aren’t’ in that close proximity, all of the time. And you do have that greater separation between work and your life. In terms of how you interact with people.

Because it really is that being in proximity with people being familiar seeing them every day, having that friendly banter, and having a laugh, that builds that connection. So I think that in the online space that’s a little bit less likely to happen.

Or, as I’m thinking about it, something else that might happen is that you do develop your sense of connection with a person, but that’s built more around fantasy because you haven’t had the reality of being with them in real time working through problems.

Kia: Someone looks so sexy on a zoom call [laughs]

Tara: Sure! [laughs] and you can just imagine how they are in the real world! You can read nuance into what people are saying that maybe isn’t there… so it’s the interpretation of the relationship that really shifts.

Kia: Yeah, Tara, great to have this conversation with you. We’ll catch up with you next week!

Tara: my pleasure

Kia: Relationship Coach there with The Sugar Doctor, Tara Whitewood there talking office romances in the year 2020, and just where we’re up to.

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