Monday 16 May 2016 2:00 am

I’m in a relationship with a colleague at work: Should I keep it secret?

Tom Welsh is City A.M.'s business features editor.

Tom Welsh is City A.M.'s business features editor.

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Q: A work colleague and I have recently started dating. Neither of us is the other’s direct manager, but we do work in the same department. 

We’ve kept our relationship hidden till now, but as it becomes more serious, do we need to maintain secrecy? What other issues should we be aware of?

Our work colleagues are likely to be the people with whom we spend the majority of our waking hours, which can inevitably lead to close bonds. No surprise, then, that a recent survey conducted by Monster found that almost half of UK workers (48 per cent) had had an office romance, with around a quarter of those leading to marriage or a long-term relationship.

While it’s by no means a rare phenomenon, conducting a relationship at work can cause problems, both professionally and personally. The excitement of an early-stage relationship may mean you become distracted from your work by the presence of the other person, or that you perform tasks less efficiently than usual. You may feel more self-conscious or shy and be less forthcoming in meetings.

If your colleagues become aware of the relationship, they may also start to doubt your productivity, which – justified or not – could lead to resentments and undermine your professionalism. They may become paranoid about the closeness of your alliance, concerned that you’re discussing office politics or your co-workers outside of the office.

Read more: Red roses and thorny issues: The rights of office romance

In the unfortunate situation that your relationship breaks down, it may cause friction in the workplace, particularly if the split was acrimonious or one of you feels you’ve been badly treated by the other. Some companies have even gone so far as to introduce “love contracts”, limiting their liability in the event of sexual harassment claims resulting from relationships that have turned sour.

Working together can also have negative implications for a relationship: regular contact and close proximity during the early stages may place undue stress on a fledgling romance, while reducing the chance of absence making the heart grow fonder. Competition can arise if one person receives a promotion or pay rise and the other doesn’t, and resentments may spill over into life outside work.

Different companies have different policies on relationships in the workplace, so it’s worth checking your employee handbook or contract to ensure you’re not in breach of any rules by continuing to date your colleague. Even if no policy is in place, it is wise to be open with your manager about the situation in case he or she anticipates any problems. There may be a simple way of forestalling potential issues, such as one of you moving to a different desk, department or even role, providing it’s beneficial for all concerned.

It may be easier said than done, but try to maintain a policy of treating your partner no differently from other colleagues while you’re at work. This may be difficult on days on which you’ve argued, but if you’re both equally strict about keeping personal issues out of the office, you can ensure neither is offended by a businesslike manner – and also ensure your colleagues are at ease with your relationship.

It goes without saying that open displays of affection at work should be avoided, but be wary too of inappropriate banter or backchat that may be overheard and misconstrued by others. Remember also that your company may monitor work emails, so save any flirty correspondence for your personal account or text messages – and keep them outside office hours.

While 25 per cent of workplace romances result in long-term relationships, that means 75 per cent fail. If this unfortunate scenario occurs, the best cure for your broken heart may be to work towards securing that next promotion and gaining some distance from the former object of your affections.


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