The chief financial officer of a FTSE 100 company was forced to step down over a consensual relationship with a colleague.
Office dating, complicated, contentious – but also the source of many a marriage – has become a victim of HR departments too afraid of any workplace fraternisation.
Andy Jones, a former dating columnist, said secret dalliances with colleagues can be the source of entertainment and a reason to get dressed up for work again.
“When it comes to dating colleagues – as someone who has had two dating columns around the world, very often you are dating colleagues – or, in the loose, work from home times, someone you have a work relationship, with the key thing is honesty, not with everyone else, but with each other.
Saying to them “Yes, I want to explore this, I want to see more of you”, but also being clear that maybe you don’t want to launch this as a public thing among colleagues because of the added hassle of that.
Dating – keeping it secret
Embrace it being a secret, it’s fun, exciting and a wonderful distraction from work. If it grows into something else, fantastic, if it doesn’t at least you were able to keep the fallout only to yourselves. Honesty, clarity, privacy are the three things to launch a burgeoning office romance.
In 2019, the managing director of McDonalds was sacked for a consensual affair with a colleague as well. Which, years ago, I doubt would’ve happened. Office time is now dramatically reduced across many industries, but – on the flipside – companies are proactively arranging more specific socials to gather colleagues and departments together. These then have greater significance. They often involve alcohol or evening entertainment and so therefore – inevitably – these can be a spark for romance.
When everyone is make-up free, tousled hair, unshaven and wearing a t-shirt scraped from the floor… do you want to date anyone?Andy Jones
I think, particularly for new starters, many of them may never have actually met their colleagues in the flesh and so a first meeting with a colleague who they quite fancied on Zoom or thought was very intriguing on email, can have a vivid excitement to it. Zoom can tell you a lot of things, but it can’t tell you how tall someone is in real life, or if they smell nice.
Dress down policies have also reduced flirtation. When I first worked in offices, looking smart was paramount and so – naturally – when everyone looks great, there is more spark and interest in each other. When everyone is make-up free, tousled hair, unshaven and wearing a t-shirt scraped from the floor….do you want to date anybody?
With online dating being an almost impenetrable cattle market for many people (the same digital “Hey, what’s up?” conversation again and again), office meetups are actually one of the only places they meet actual human beings. That is, of course, a minefield – a drunken kiss or (worse!) a clumsy pass – can be a barrier to career progress.
But, in a post-Covid 2023, where there is a cost of living crisis and little money to go to bars/nightclubs or events, where the hell do you meet like minded people?”
But one London worker warned of the complications of a workplace romance.
“The many risks of dating – it not working out, them dumping you, you dumping them, the other person turning out to be horrible / weird / simply not your person / all of the above – do not disappear when you date at work. And what’s more, if it doesn’t work out, all of the obligatory post dating awkwardness is heightened dramatically. Outside of work this can be easily avoided, inside work it is the opposite.
And that’s just the personal discomfort. The professional discomfort can also be unpleasant and in some cases, exacerbate pre-existing power structures. If it doesn’t work out and they are a bit more senior than you, it’s the more junior person that feels vulnerable and less able to express their views about it. Giving yourself a bad name to somebody who could play a role in the progression of your career is not desirable, and navigating this in the quagmire of dating is difficult. It’s one thing taking a personal risk with someone, another thing entirely having this affect your job.
The professional discomfort can be unpleasant and in some cases exacerbate pre-existing power structures.London worker
It can also make you feel a little exposed: they will know you very intimately and it’s not a reassuring thought to imagine your name going round the work rumour mill. Lastly, it’s kind of impossible to not hear about them moving on. Even if you don’t care, you’ll still probably hear about it and irrespective of how it ended, both parties will find that a little awkward.”