Despite being popular an office romance can damage your career as well being bad for business

Overall, dating at work is a bad idea and should be discouraged. However, the reality is that people flirt, sweet talk, date, and catch a kiss in the hallway when no one is looking. For women, this can jeopardize credibility with men (and other women) at work. Simply, women sacrifice their ability to influence men and get them to listen. She will be viewed as unprofessional. A sex object for sure, but not a business partner.

Helen Gurley Brown gave birth to the movement of flaunting women’s sexuality everywhere, including in the workplace. Her book Sex and the Single Girl was an immediate bestseller, and she went on to become editor of Cosmopolitan magazine.

At a time when Reader’s Digest and The Ladies Home Journal still insisted that a “nice” girl had only two choices” she can marry him or she can say no” Gurley Brown openly proclaimed that sex was an important part of a single woman’s lifestyle. According to Brown, “The single girl is the new glamour girl.”

Helen Gurley Brown rejected the rule to “forget about sex when there is work to be done.” Brown maintained that the days when management “preferred a little brown wren at every desk” were long gone. In fact, one of her office rules for women was to hold out “the carrot of romantic perks” to men.

Brown became famous for her take on the business lunch: “Lunch with men is a chance to have dates in the daytime on the pretext of business. [el] Lunch dates with men are sex at high noon.” For Brown, sex and work success go together. This was the 1960s and the sexual revolution. Brown epitomized this newfound freedom and power for women.

Fast-forward to today. Once sex and the office were out of the closet, they stayed out. To this day, Brown’s Cosmopolitan magazine is the most-purchased women’s magazine in the country. We have Sex and the City as our media role model for Gen-X women on dating and working. What’s a woman to do? This historical review reveals that we have come a long way, baby, but with it comes a big responsibility to yourself, your organization, and your career.

When Cupid Strikes: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Many of us would like to think that our personal and professional lives are separate. Our personal life consists of friendships, relationships with romantic partners, and family. Our work life seems to be a parallel universe filled with coworkers and casual relationships with acquaintances.

However, this division is a pretense. As far as the dating pool goes, there is no more fertile ground to meet a potential romantic partner than in your workplace. You spend more time at work than any other place, and the number of people you interact with is greater than in any other context. An office romance survey conducted by Vault Inc., a New York[nd]based media company focused on careers, found that 58 percent of employees have been involved in an office romance. More striking, the results show that people are more comfortable admitting to workplace romance than a decade ago. The 610 responses to the survey came from a variety of industries across the United States. The findings show many couples tried to hide their relationship with varying degrees of success.

Code switch: If you have a work lover, talk with him or her about the pros and cons of trying to keep it a secret. What do you have to gain or lose? Most important, get familiar with the company policy on dating. Yes, many organizations have dating policies in place and what employees should do if they become romantically involved.

Cubicle Action

For some people, the office has a sort of aphrodisiac impact. Urban Dictionary ( is external)) calls it “work hot”: you feel attracted to someone at work, but if you met that person outside the office, you might not be attracted to him. Valerie jokes that the work hot phenomenon is a byproduct of being bored at work or just being around the same limited number of people all day. “Call it survival,” she jokes.

There’s also the allure of the forbidden and the allure of power. Given how closely people work together, it is a natural that people can develop close relationships. Why are we surprised that people develop romantic feelings? The issue becomes what we do with the office romance.

An office romance is a mutually desired  between two people that have an element of intimacy and or sexuality. Employees need to understand that it may be okay to ask a coworker out on a date. However, they need to also understand that harassment occurs when the person indicates no interest and the unwanted attention continues. All employees need to understand where the line is. Many organizations ask employees to sign a document indicating that they understand and will abide by the sexual harassment policy, which includes a dating policy.

An office romance represents a unique kind of relationship. At work, approved relationships arise between employees for work-related reasons. An office romance is not officially sanctioned and is pursued for reasons that have nothing to do with the organization’s business goals.  It is extraneous and has nothing to do with getting work done.

Coworkers usually perceive most romantically involved workers in their organization as friendly and approachable. Also, many coworkers don’t feel that most romantically involved people are any less productive because of their relationships. However, the perception of an office romance is not  always positive. Here are some concerns:

People will gossip more about the romantic couple.

People will think they are paying more attention to their romantic partner than their work.

People believe the relationship will impact work decisions such as delegations, project approvals, and team composition.

Author’s Books

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Nelson, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
Previous articleWhen It's Best To Use The Silent Treatment In A Relationship
Next articleHow Long To Wait Before Sex For The First Time?
Dr. Audrey Nelson is an internationally recognized trainer, keynote speaker, author and consultant who helps organizations increase their productivity and profitability through winning communication strategies. She specializes in gender communication, conflict management, communication skills, and sexual harassment and discrimination. Dr. Nelson’s professional background includes 10 years teaching in the Dept. of Communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder. For 30 years she has trained and consulted for a wide variety of government and Fortune 50 companies in 49 states, Australia, Canada, Great Britain and Korea. Among them are Xcel Energy, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, American Board of Trial Attorneys , AT&T, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Upjohn Pharmaceuticals, Pentax, Lockheed Martin, Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Dept. of Justice and the U.S. Dept. of State. She holds a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication. She conducted post-doctoral work at Warnborough College in Oxford, England in gender communication. Thirty years ago she co-founded and served as president for the Organization for the Research on Women and Communication. Audrey is a published author. You Don’t Say: Navigating Nonverbal Communication Between the Sexes (Prentice Hall, 2004) was published in six languages. She co-authored Code Switching: How to Talk so Men will Listen (Penguin-Alpha Books, 2009) and The Gender Communication Handbook: Conquering Conversational Collisions Between Men and Women (Pfeiffer 2012).