Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding and Managing Romance on the
by Stephanie Losee Helaine Olen
||November 6, 2007
Why office romance can be good for you.
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Office Mate Book
The greatest pool of potential mates isn't online, or in a bar, or at the gym. It's on the job. With more than 40 percent of American employees logging over 50 hours each week, where else are people going to find time to look for a date? Work-based romances develop gradually over months and years, allowing people to get to know one another instead of rushing to judgments based on first impressions.
Don't dip your pen in the inkwell, the saying goes. Don't fish off the company pier, says another. The common wisdom is that office romance--usually furtive, often forbidden--can be career suicide. But these thoughtful authors make a persuasive case that it's smart for today's single co-workers to mix: "We think office romance has gotten a bad rap," Losee and Olen write. "We think its time has come. In fact, the greatest pool of potential mates is not online, not in a bar, and not on a blind date. It's in the office."
The authors call the workplace the village or town square of the 21st century, asserting that "the office lends itself to old-fashioned courting ... Getting involved with an office mate means you don't have sex right away." More than 40% of employees at U.S. companies log more than 50 hours a week, the authors say, so the people you work with are likely to know you better than your own family. Where better, then, to find a compatible partner? Co-workers have also been vetted by HR to weed out untruths on their résumés. (Who can claim that about online suitors?)
There are, they allow, a few pitfalls. The most common is losing your job at a company in which "office-mating" is verboten. However, the authors say that relatively few companies have blanket bans (no pun intended) on interoffice relationships. The bigger problem is the possibility of a messy breakup. Here the authors get starry-eyed, advising couples to have a "prebreakup conversation" at the beginning of the relationship to strategize what they will do if things don't work out. That's easy advice from two women whose respective office romances ended in "I do."
The most troublesome affairs are between bosses and subordinates. Hazards range from accusations of favoritism to charges of sexual harassment, but the authors leave the door open for the most intrepid romantics: "Don't attempt to date your direct boss or your subordinate unless you can picture the whole picture. We're talking marriage (or forever togetherness), the mortgage, the kids--the works." If not, there's always the local bar.
Gone is the time when dating a co-worker was a hush hush affair.
These days, single people in search of romance or a life-time partner have a much better chance finding that special person at work rather than at bars or online, say authors Stephanie Losee and Helaine Olen in their book "Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding - and Managing - Romance on the Job" (Adams Media, $14.95).
The reason is simple. People just spend way too much time at work, and that's where they really get to know potential mates and see how they handle a wide range of situations.
"Your office is your little village," Olen told Reuters in an interview. "And most relationships that evolve in the office tend to evolve from friendships and not from instant physical attraction. In a certain way, office relationships are more old-fashioned."
Old-fashioned or not, the truth is that office dating is fairly common. After more than a year researching and writing the book, the authors found out that about 50 percent of U.S. respondents admitted to having dated co-workers, while the number in a similar British study was 70 percent.
Office romances are not only raising fewer and fewer eyebrows, Losee said, but now they are more likely to get the blessing of bosses and human resource departments.
According to the book, fewer than 5 percent of human resource professionals in the United States felt that office romance should be prohibited and, in 2006, only 9 percent of American firms had blanket bans on relationships.
"For companies, it is becoming more a matter of how to manage dating and romance in the workplace and less of a matter of preventing it from happening," said Olen.
Some employers might even encourage dating because productivity and commitment tend to increase when people are engaged emotionally.
Intended as a primer for readers looking to spark an office romance without jeopardizing their careers, the book offers some common-sense guidelines for the office dater, including tips on when to make your "merger" with a coworker public.
But "Office Mate" also warns that workplace dating has its pitfalls. The risks now are less related to possible sexual harassment lawsuits than intense peer and corporate scrutiny.
"There's a lot at stake in the office and you have to remember that everybody is watching, all the time," said Olen. "You may have met your mate at work, but you should not conduct your romance at work."
For example, office couples often tend to get careless with company property and premises.
The authors recommend that you never to use e-mail or instant messaging to communicate with your honey, don't hang out around each other's desks, never fight at work, no favoritism and above all, no office hanky panky.
"It's very hard, for example, to control the impulse of using e-mails to communicate even about harmless things," said Losee. "But people have to remember that nothing is really private in an office."
Breakups are another delicate area. The book suggests that the couple should discuss early on in the relationship how to behave after a break-up.
"It sounds harsh at the initial stage of romance to discuss the possible end of the relationship," Olen said. "But it may help avoid a lot of awkward situations."
But according to "Office Mate," that's not a situation every office couple will have to handle. Roughly a quarter of couples who meet at work end up in long-term committed relationships.
That's certainly true of the authors, both of whom have been married for more than a decade to men they met at the office.
"Office dating works," said Losee. "And that's why people keep doing it."
Controversial though it may be, workplace romance is flourishing. Both Losee and Olen, contributors to internationally known newspapers and magazines, met their husbands on the job. They here maintain that the office serves as the village of the 21st century, and they offer rules and suggestions for dating coworkers. Some of their dos include being oneself, taking no for an answer, and discussing the worst-case scenario early in the relationship. Among the don'ts are violating sexual-harassment laws, fighting in the office, and dating a married person. The authors deal honestly with the prevalence of office romances and provide helpful advice for keeping them aboveboard. Recommended for all libraries.
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