Citizen of the World Guides
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chapter 31
work romances

Engaging in a romance at work or the office is definitely a minefield that can result in termination, transfers or divorce. CEO’s at major companies have been fired by their board of directors for having an affair with an employee. Work romances happen frequently but often end badly.
An increasing number of major organizations are issuing formal policies on “fraternization”, some prohibiting it entirely and others specifying when it is permissible. All of these policies, however, prohibit romantic relationships between managers and their subordinates, and most of them bar such relationships between employees within the same work group or TEAM. Consensual work romances between employees are usually permitted when neither partner reports to the other but most organizations frown on romances involving senior executives and lower level employees.
Sue Shellenbarger, a columnist on balancing work and life issues at the Wall Street Journal, has written a number of excellent articles on employee affairs. Her advice includes:
  • Do not jump into any kind of work romance without considering all of the consequences beforehand. Assume the worst outcomes and ask yourself if you are prepared to accept them. For example, how will a breakup of the relationship affect your position at the organization?
  • Never get romantically involved with your supervisor or a subordinate. Also, do not let yourself become drawn into an affair with a colleague within your work group.
  • If you do engage in a so-called permissible work romance, be discreet and establish clear boundaries with your partner in terms of how the two of you conduct yourselves on the job. Do not indulge in any affectionate behavior at work. Keep your behavior professional at all times when you are on the job. Do not permit your romance to adversely affect your job performance.
  • Before you marry someone from the same organization, make sure you are familiar with that person’s non-work personality and character. Also, seek prior mutual agreement that your marriage together is going to come first before anything to do with work.
  • Avoid any situations where either of you in the relationship could be accused of demonstrating favoritism at work toward the other.
  • Rein in your flirting at work. It is too easy for flirting to be misinterpreted as encouraging someone to go further.
  • Do not discuss your work romance with other colleagues at your organization, including after the relationship has ended.
  • Do not use your organization’s e-mail system to conduct your romance. Your e-mails may be monitored even if you are unaware of it.
Finally, before you become involved in any work romance, ask yourself, “Does my career really need this? Can I really justify all the risks?” When in doubt, opt out before it gets started. And remember, one-night stands always alter work relationships and not for the better.


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