Workplace love: pitfalls and policies

Wednesday March 18 2020
Happy couple

Happy couple. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

By LILYS NJERU

Celebrity couple Barack and Michelle Obama have been married for 23 years, but what you probably do not know is that the couple met at the workplace. That was back in 1989 when they were both working at Sidney Austin, a Chicago-based law firm.

Bill and Melinda Gates, the world’s richest couple, also met at an event organised by Microsoft in 1987 and married seven years later. There are several other well-known couples who found love while they were working in petrol stations or interning together at a local company.

If you are employed on full time basis, you could be spending up to 30 per cent of your day with your colleagues. For this, it is normal to stumble upon someone you like, and develop a relationship that quickly gets deeper and blossoms into more than just friendship.

Such relationships can bring about fear and uncertainties, which may cause the parties involved to keep their relationship under wraps, or end it altogether.

Jacob Maweu, 27, is an accountant with a local firm. He is interested in one of her colleagues and has been planning to ask him out for the last three months. However, there are no existing policies regarding workplace romance at his company.

“My biggest fear is that one of us might be forced to resign if we continue nurturing this relationship. Whenever we start talking, our colleagues think that we are discussing personal issues, and not work,” he says.

Sexual harassment at the workplace has also in contributed greatly to the uncertainties surrounding workplace romance. Your intentions might be construed as sexual harassment.

Here are a few guidelines on how to navigate workplace romance.

Beware of the risks

Before you approach your workmate, think of the risks that your relationship with him or her might attract, and this includes losing your job or being transferred to another department. If you are dating one of your team members, and he or she makes a mistake that costs the rest of the team, will you be able to call them out or will you try to cover for them? If you are dating the Human Resource manager, what will your colleagues say if you suddenly get a promotion?

Internalise your company policies

What does your company say about office romance? If it is expressly forbidden, you need to steer clear of your colleague or leave the job before you ask them out. Some companies prohibit employees from having romantic relationships at work and extends the same rule to its clients and suppliers. If there are no clear guidelines on how to go about this matter, you should ask your colleagues or your HR manager. Find out whether it has ever happened before, and how it was handled.

Maintain professionalism

While at work, do not let your romance affect your output. Should you decide to be open about it, ensure that you don't exhibit overt behaviours that may make your other colleagues uncomfortable. If there is evidence that the relationship is affecting your efficiency and quality of work, you might be asked to end the romance, or worse, leave your job.

Avoid dating someone in a higher or lower position

You might be eyeing your supervisor, or a colleague who is beneath you in the chain of command. However, you must tread carefully because the relationship could lead your other colleagues to think that you are soliciting for favours from your new catch, or that you are exploiting them because you are in a position of power. You need to be acutely aware of how your relationship will be viewed by others, and how it will be construed in the grand scheme of things.

Set boundaries

Once you and your colleague have decided to get on with the relationship, come up with a good strategy and strict rules on how to handle and talk about your relationship while at work. Do not give out too many details to your colleagues or litter your social media platforms with selfies of both of you taken at work.

If you break up...

Should you break up with your colleague, you will both be required to carry yourselves with decorum. Don't try to patch things up while at work and if your other colleagues knew about the relationship, let them know that you are no longer together.

Do not lead your workmate on if you are not willing to commit fully to the relationship, or if you are only in it to get some preferential treatment.

Don’t hide the relationship from your manager or colleagues, as this will only end up breeding mistrust between you two and among your colleagues.