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How to handle an office romance

  • Story Highlights
  • 43 percent of workers dated coworker; 34 percent of those married
  • Some companies have "Love Contracts" to avoid sex harassment claims
  • Expert: No hand-holding, copy-room make-out sessions, shoulder rubs
  • Risk of work romances -- you could lose love and job
  • Next Article in Living »
By Jocelyn Voo
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(LifeWire) -- Turns out work isn't all about profit margins and PowerPoint presentations. A major aspect of office life is your social encounters: who you're working with, who you're sharing happy hour with and for some, who you're trying to woo the pants off of -- literally.

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The danger of an office romance is you could lose both your partner and your job.

Forty-three percent of workers in the United States say they've dated a fellow employee; of those, 34 percent reported getting hitched, according to a 2006 survey on office romance by CareerBuilder.com.

But pursuing a romantic relationship in a professional setting is tricky. At best, you can end up finding your better half. At worst, you may find yourself without a lover or a job.

Andrea Kay, a Cincinnati-based career consultant and author of "Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers," weighs in on the good, the bad and the ugly side of love in the workplace, and how to make it work for you.

Think before you speak

Do you try to keep mum about the relationship, or is it better to risk your job and announce it to the world? Before you decide, voice your concerns and weigh your options with your partner.

"I think it's important to be aware of those (potential problems) and discuss them," says Kay. She suggests couples ask questions of themselves: How are we going to handle this? Should we talk to human resources about it? Should we talk to our boss about? Should we talk to our colleagues about it? And how are we going to handle ourselves?

Be professional

Modern day cubicle culture means there's a lot of water cooler talk, and being the target of gossipy co-workers can make you the black sheep of the office.

"My best advice is if you're going to embark on a relationship with someone you work with, you absolutely need to keep it professional," says Kay. "That's got to be the ground rule. Otherwise, you open it up to offending others, letting your decisions be based upon the personal relationship as opposed to what's best for the job or the project you're working on."

Dating one's boss, which 14 percent of the workers in the CareerBuilder.com survey said they had done, has risks of its own. A serious danger of striking up such a relationship is that people may think your next promotion or paycheck bonus was undeserved, raising issues of favoritism. If you are the boss, the relationship can easily undermine your credibility with staff and -- if things go terribly awry -- could lead to charges of sexual harassment.

Know the rules

Kay advises against workplace romances, but acknowledges that in a work-oriented world, this is unrealistic.

If you and a colleague decide to start dating, you may or may not be obligated to notify your company's human resources department. According to a 2006 office romance survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 72 percent of polled organizations did not have a formal written or verbal policy that addressed dating in the workplace. Of the offices that did have policies, only nine percent prohibited it outright.

Some companies require employees who are dating to sign "love contracts," which document the consensual relationship in an effort to guard against accusations of sexual harassment. This is especially pertinent in the case where one of the people in the relationship is the other person's supervisor.

According to the 2006 office romance survey, only 10 percent of HR professionals polled actually drafted relationship contracts when they learned of office romances. Instead, they were most likely to merely "keep an eye on the situation."

Be subtle

If you two decide to make the relationship public, don't flaunt it. "I think you can offend people by displaying public affection," says Kay. Hand-holding, clandestine copy-room make-out sessions, and shoulder rubs at 3 p.m. all fall into this category.

And yes, so does trading personal e-mails on the company account. "Even if a personal e-mail is not all mushy-gushy, you just don't want to be creating issues," says Kay. "Just stay away from anything that could offend other people, be seen as inappropriate or non-professional."

Weigh the risks

"You need to think about the downside as well as the upside, and whether you have the wherewithal, the communication skills, the good judgment and the ability to manage your behavior to do both, which is be a professional and have a romantic relationship with somebody," says Kay. "I know people who have left the company once there was a policy that you couldn't be married or you couldn't date."

Although the person in question had to find a new job, Kay says, the office romance had a happy ending. "They did get married." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Jocelyn Voo is a freelance journalist and relationships editor at the New York Post.

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