When you spend eight or nine hours a day with the same group of people, you're likely to form close bonds and friendships. It's only natural that, on occasion, those friendships evolve into something more.
Although some companies may frown upon office romances, true love can still bloom in the workplace. However, there's a right and a wrong way to handle romantic relationships that spring up in the office, from both an employer and employee perspective.
We spoke with HR experts about how to best approach the issue of dating in the workplace.
Managing workplace romances as an employer
There are a lot of risks involved with in-office relationships regarding the image and morale of your company. Aside from the negative implications of a managerial relationship between two lovebirds, Steve Albrecht, an HR and security consulting professional, said co-workers don't like to see kissing at the water cooler or baby talk between two adults. Public breakups can get messy too, and the trash talk, taking sides or the silent treatment in such close quarters can make things awkward for both the couple and their colleagues, he said.
As an employer, you might think banning all in-office relationships will prevent these problems. However, Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO, said that this just doesn't work. If it is prohibited, it just pushes the romances underground; then, if news of a relationship does surface, the employer is left with the tough choice of how to discipline as a result, he said.
"An employer should establish a clear policy that requires reporting of the relationship to HR so that it can be monitored and people can be properly advised on how to conduct themselves," Starkman said, adding that rules against public displays of affection are common.
Recently, some employers have required employees to execute an agreement (a "love contract") where employees waive rights to a sexual harassment claim stemming from the consensual office relationship.
"While this agreement may be effective in controlling liability, there is a negative impact on morale and culture given the workplace interference with personal conduct," Starkman said.
To combat the struggle between stifling employees' personal lives and putting the business's needs first, Starkman strongly recommends regular and consistent training to make sure that employees are familiar with the company policies and the reasoning behind such policies.
"This training should also include respecting everyone in the workplace, including the company," Starkman told Business News Daily. "Many sexual harassment claims come about because employees may not realize they are doing something that makes their co-worker feel uncomfortable."
Managers should be able to spot situations that could develop into something more serious and be responsible for maintaining a workplace free from any kind of harassment, added Starkman. Application of policies must be uniform, and any written policies should be careful to avoid language that excludes LGBT relationships.
Tips for employees in an office romance
So what happens if you meet your soulmate in the office? If you're thinking about starting or going public with a romantic relationship with a co-worker, be sure to check the rules first.
"Many organizations have rules about dating colleagues [but] not because dating a colleague is a bad thing," said Roy Cohen, career counselor and executive coach. "You may share common interests and motivations and you may both love the organization. The rules exist to avoid any messiness that might arise when the relationship ends, when one of you gets promoted, or if one of you has access to information that should not be shared, especially if it might benefit your partner unfairly."
The next step should be for each employee involved in the relationship to determine what his or her motives are. Given that there is so much time spent together, it's important to think objectively, according to Liz D'Aloia, CEO at HR Virtuoso.
"Ask yourself, 'Why am I interested in this person?'" D'Aloia said. "We get close to people during projects and initiatives. What will happen after the project ends? Do you have anything else in common?"
There are other little things that employees can do to avoid a disastrous workplace romance situation. Dating outside of your department, establishing boundaries and maintaining your individuality are all important, said Laurenne Resnik, founder of Bloom2Bloom. Remember, in the office, there's more to the team than just you two.
"When you work with your significant other, especially if you're on the same team, or at least in the same department, it can be easy to automatically support his or her ideas, or agree with his or her input," Resnik said. "It's important to maintain your separate voices, especially when it's in the best interest of the company. Treat each other with the courtesy you would any colleague, but know it's OK to disagree. Just leave it at the office when the day is over."
Additional reporting by Brittney Morgan. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.