March 09, 2007

Managing office romances

March 9, 2007

IT’S been awhile since anyone’s paid real attention to you. He looks your way and he smiles. You blush but return a shy smile as well. He then starts coming around by your desk often, then asks if he could join you for lunch at the office canteen. He starts flirting, and giggly you are thrilled, you flirt back. You know it’s wrong, this feeling you are beginning to have for him, but you can’t help it. The ring on his finger glistens like a giant golden sun flashing its blinding rays into your eyes. But he’s persistent.

Next thing you know, you and he are sneaking off for private moments in the photocopying room, or locking yourselves in the restroom for a quick snatch of kisses, or running off to check into a motel right after work to feed your passions for each other.

You could be the happiest girl in the world—except that your officemates are starting to notice your extraordinary closeness to the married one. You realize they all stare whenever he drops by your cubicle, or when you two are having lunch and snickering like two teenagers. They start whispering as you pass by the water cooler or are on the way to the rest room. It’s getting to be extremely uncomfortable and you express your concerns to him. He shushes you with more kisses and reassures you that everything is all right and that you shouldn’t mind the people around you. You are happy and deliriously in love, and only are too willing to follow his lead.

The world comes crashing around you when you are summoned by the chief of the human resources department one day and told that your boss has received a complaint about you. It appears that the married one’s wife has found out about the real reason for her husband’s frequent tardiness at home, and sudden disappearances over the weekend despite his excuses of out-of-town assignments. You are issued a verbal warning to keep your hands off the married one, or suffer the consequences. Of course, the married one doesn’t receive a reprimand. In cases such as this, the burden almost always falls on the woman.

You love your job but you love him, too. Your mama told you you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. You have to make a choice and pray you make the right one.

Office romances are too common to count that some companies no longer have written rules explicitly forbidding them. Whether it is an adulterous affair or just the plain vanilla singles’ office romance, most HR departments adopt a live-and-let-live policy, until such time complaints are actually filed, or there is a noticeable drop in productivity on the part of the lovers in question.

A survey of HR managers in the US by the Society for Human Resources Management showed that 24 percent claim that those involved in office romances eventually show lower work productivity. There may be no hard scientific or statistical basis for such a response except the perception of the HR managers. Unfortunately, in office romances, perception is really everything.

Filipinos being hopeless romantics will always seem to have a soft spot for couples in the office, and even encourage relationships especially if both are single. Of course, things can get quickly problematic if one of the two is in a position of authority, perhaps a boss falling in love with his assistant. There are some in the office who will start suspecting the assistant of getting favors from her lover/boss. The situation even becomes more of an issue when the couple decides to get married. Who knows if the promotion given the assistant was actually earned due to a job well done at the office and not at home?

If you are having an affair with a married coworker, you have to determine whether the job means more to you than your lover. Is the married one actually worth losing your job over? Keep your emotions on a leash and think it through...if you lose your job, is he going to help you find another job, support you while you are income-less? Also, can your ego take it that you, a college graduate, an intelligent hardworking woman, will have to accept a “lifeline” from him?

If you choose to keep your job—and I’m hoping you would—it will be mighty impossible to keep your head straight at work while nursing a broken heart, amid the presence of your ex who is just across your cubicle, and your ever-gossiping colleagues. If you must, ask your HR manager for a transfer to another division or another branch. I am hoping that HR managers and your boss will appreciate you more for choosing to give value to the company than to your lover.

If you think you are strong enough to withstand the “noise” of the breakup, then go ahead, firmly tell the married one that your relationship has to end, and you would rather you and he just remain colleagues and nothing more. It will be a constant challenge to just wake up in the morning to haul your bleeding carcass to the office but once you’re over the pain of it all, you will emerge stronger and more able to face any obstacles hurled your way, whether at work or in your personal life. I am sure that isn’t a reassuring enough reason but eventually you will know what I mean.

For married office couples, or single couples in a superior-staff situation, try to maintain a professional attitude with each other so as to discourage speculations of unworthy promotions or favors. You don’t have to be together all the time so don’t be unless the work situation absolutely calls for it. Don’t give or accept rewards, favors and special treatments from your partner.

Lastly, it would actually help your personal relationship if one of you finds another job or place of employment. After awhile, it will grate on your nerves to see your husband or lover at home and again see him the next morning at work. Remember that old adage about absence making the heart grow fonder? It would help to keep the excitement in your marriage or relationship to have new things to tell each other at the end of the day, instead of boring each other with the details of the events that happened to the same people you work with.

Office romances can work—if they are managed well. Sometimes they don’t, and should be ended. What’s important is that those involved should always choose what will be the best for one’s professional growth and personal maturity.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

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