Since the workplace is where employees meet, flirt, and explore their relationship face to face, it requires mainstream etiquette—everything you know about being civil and attentive to other people’s feelings applies. According to a computer software marketing consultant with 35 years of experience, there has been a major change in how companies train their personnel, in regard to the standards of human interaction, and the social side of collegial relationships that they want to see maintained in the workplace. “There used to be meetings designed to build comfortable relationships with co-workers, identify sexual harassment issues, and initiate welcome wagon-type discussion groups to inform new employees. Now it’s sink or swim. You have to catch on from your co-workers and come with your P’s and Q’s firmly in place.” Various lessons that employees must learn quickly include:
Flirting is rampant in the workplace. In an online survey of office romances, two-thirds of the 31,207 respondents reported that “there’s a lot of flirting going on” in their current work environment. Our recommendation to employees is to avoid flirting if your relationship is directed toward only one person and to never let your chats by the coffeemaker give a “we’re exclusive” signal. Let the third party who approaches feel welcome.
Keep your compliments in the range of dress or job performance, not physical qualities. Even in a marriage, a woman would rather hear “You look beautiful tonight” than “You have a great ass.”
Err on the side of caution when it comes to sharing funny stuff you see on the Internet. What would be funny off the premises may seem tactless at the office. Also, maintain your professionalism. With coworkers, this generally means no gender jokes (references to PMS, prostate problems, and so forth), and no use of trivializing words or expressions like “attaboy” or “You go, girl.”
If you go on a business trip together, do not post photos of it on Facebook, the office bulletin board, or “out of sight” at the edge of your computer screen.
Do not depart from the helpful rule of no touching except from the elbow to the hands—what’s called the “guiding touch.” If you are seeing each other, viz., have attained the stage of physical fondness, keep your relationship private. This means no looks of longing, no bedroom eyes, and no touching. Even if you are sleeping together, these “love signs” can make you look like a jerk at the office. In a study of sexual behavior at work, a team of researchers identified two types of sexual behavior—ambient sexual behavior (ASB), which involves sexual jokes, language, and materials; and direct sexual behavior (DSB), which involves direct sexual comments and advances. Of 238 employees, a majority of respondents (58%) reported experiencing
at least one of these sexual behaviors in the past two years at work. Almost half (46%) of the men who experienced sexual behavior at work evaluated it positively, in contrast to 10 percent of women.
E-Mails and Texting
Avoid sending e-mails and texting from nine to five. E-mails can be read by your supervisor and used in litigation against you if things get nasty.
Lunch with Colleagues - The Bill
When you go out to a restaurant with colleagues, make it clear that you alternate who pays, or pay for yourself. Do not let anybody, including your boss, pay for you unless it is work related.
Sneak a Snuggle?
If it feels natural to snuggle or kiss when you’re in an elevator, be sure you are between floors and nobody else is in there with you. If you want to hold hands, do it someplace else, not at the office on the sly (it’s human nature to be devious about sex, but do not). Even if you are doing something co-curricular, such as playing on the company softball team, remember that all eyes are on you.
Do not wear tight clothes; instead, choose clothes that softly cling, showing off your curves. Wear clothes appropriate to your age.Do not look as though you are reliving your high school cheerleader days, especially when it comes to skirts. Dress with an eye to your overall reputation, not to look sexy for “him.” Dress classy and business-appropriate or appropriate for a conservative occasion if it’s an office party. You can be sexy without going overboard. Reputation is important, and it can precede or follow you. Go for the sweet detail in your attire. When dressing to be attractive/noticed in the workplace, less is more has a twist. The principle is to be toned down with one extravagant element. This always catches attention in a positive way.
Pacing Your Relationship
The idea is not to let the relationship freeze-frame at work. First you go on a non-date . . . e.g., you go together to the gym, or you help the person choose a new couch, or you go on a charity run together. You want to be seeing each other to some extent outside the office before you get it on in the office. Your gifts to each other should be basic courtesies and kindness combined with a low-profile sensitivity to keeping mum (no bouquets on the desk). If you are working on a project together, keep a yardstick between you. Limit your e-mails to each other to 10 words—“Sure, see you at 6 at Macalaster’s Pub!” Do not say anything you would not say to a friend. Follow this rule and you will have a brilliant, slow-building, risk-proof future with the person you are seeing from the office.
If you are seen by your boss at a restaurant or movie, be calm—you have a right to be together. If the boss asks later whether you are seeing each other, answer “Yes.” Say no more. You need not say that your relationship interferes with your work performance because it does not.
Office Dating - A Caveat
Dr. Marie McIntyre, a specialist on office romances who gives corporate talks on this subject, noted what is most ignored by employees who get involved in office romances. She said: One common problem is that people in the throes of an office romance tend to think they have a cloak of invisibility and that no one is noticing the change in their relationship . . . which is almost never the case. So they may say or do things that are not really appropriate. Another problem is rushing into a sexual relationship too quickly. People in the throes of lust are seldom patient, so they often fall into bed without considering how this change in the relationship will play out on Monday morning. When one party realizes that this was a mistake or views it as a casual fling, and the other sees it as the beginning of a beautiful romance, the working relationship is going to be toast. And the people around them are going to be very uncomfortable for a while. Office couples need to separate their work and personal relationships just like office spouses. This is sometimes harder at the beginning of a relationship, since people who are smitten often find it hard to act “normal” around each other. They need to keep their hands to themselves and resist the urge to discuss their love life with their office buddies. When people who work in the same group decide that their dating relationship is going to continue, someone needs to tell the boss. Managers need to know about such a significant change in workplace dynamics. And the couple also needs to describe how they will keep this relationship from affecting their work or the office. Finally, office couples need to be sure that they never try to manipulate projects, tasks, or trips in order to maximize time together. That would be unethical.
The above 10 lessons are adapted from Chapter 5: Office Romance Etiquette from Finding Love from 9 to 5: Trade Secrets of Office Romance by Jane Merrill and David Knox.
This book provides an engaging guide to finding adventure, love, and a life partner at work while avoiding the pitfalls of an office romance.