Office romance: as good as fraud

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Nomsa Gotosa (31) was forced by circumstances to seek employment at the height of the country’s decade-long economic recession so that she could help her husband put food on the table.

She belongs to a group of enterprising women — including vendors and cross-border traders — who decided to put aside the pots and dusting pans so as to help their “struggling” husbands fend for their families.

This scenario brought several women to the workplace.

For some women, the new environments opened them up to other ideas, some of which have led to heartbreaks and, consequentially, divorces, as forbidden office relationships surfaced.

Research engine, www.askjeeves.co.uk, defines corporate romance as office romance, often a loving and romantic relationship between two employees who work together in the same office or station.

The fact that in Zimbabwe people spend no less than eight hours together at work means relationships, whether casual or intimate, start to develop.

“Office romance, like it or not, happens, so depending on how one looks at it, but surely the office might be the best place to find Mr or Miss Right,” said Bester Shoko, an information technology student with a local college.

A managing director of local insurance company admitted that office relationships were prevalent, adding that some managers ended up dating their secretaries with whom they spent most of the time, although that was unprofessional.

“Because we work together, we already have something in common, so it’s easier to understand each other and end up liking each other,” he said.

“Owing to work commitments and sometimes working after hours and going out on business trips together, our chances of meeting someone else decline.”

Dating a co-worker has been going on since time immemorial and would continue for as long as men and women co-exist in workplaces.

Since there are fewer female-free workplaces, according to observers, relationships among workmates are fast becoming a common feature and acceptable.

“Dating someone you have been working with for some time allows you to find out what he or she is really like in advance, probably which you can not do say when meeting someone at a party,” said Loice Makurumidze, a marriage counsellor with a local non-governmental organisation.

“As much as we don’t usually condone office romance the idea we are encouraging here is to know each other before getting into relationships to avoid rising cases of divorce, it is because people are rushing into marriages before knowing each other,” she added.

However, human resources practitioners have warned that romantic involvements between co-workers are normally loaded with dangers to not only those involved but the organisation.

“Mixing business with pleasure can jeopardise one’s job as it is like lighting a cigar in a petrol-processing plant,” said Tawanda Zinyama, a Harare-based human resources consultant and University of Zimbabwe lecturer.

“The reason for going to work should be respected. In business, time is money, so spending time at work flirting or sending romantic signals is a good a embezzling funs from the employer as work performance is no doubt affected, so office romance should be discouraged right, left and centre whether it is boss-subordinate affair or same-level employees,” added Zinyama.

Another human resource practitioner concurred with Zinyama’s sentiments adding that it is not only production that always suffers but professional reputation is usually lost if relationships are not professionally managed.

“Dumping one worker for another would, not surprisingly, damage interpersonal relationships. Moreso, plunging into a new relationship shortly after another is sure recipe for embarrassment and confrontation and dating several persons in the same company can quickly earn one bad reputation,” said the human resources practitioner.

“If the relationship turns sour its aftermath is normally associated with emotional stress and spending more than eight hours in the same proximity with an ex can be unbearable,” said Ruregerero Nyandoro of Highfiled.

The National Aids Council last year produced a shocking report revealing that HIV prevalence among working women was on a rise.

The study further revealed that 20% of middle class women who went on for voluntary testing tested positive and more than 25% in the upper class women tested positive.

With the advent of the Internet and social networks, office romance has been made easy.

Something must be done sooner than later to nip it from the bud before production suffers terribly owing to office romance.

Office relationships involving people who are already married also bring in a more dangerous dimension as it destroys families.