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Is workplace dating permissible?

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OFFICE romance has been and will always be around for as long as offices or workplaces are there. Yes, some of us might have heard about couples who met at work and lived happily ever after, but is it proper to date at work? If workplace dating is such a bad idea, why do employees keep doing it? Workplace romance is a reality but we have to dig deeper into this topic. In this article, we look at how you can preserve both your business reputation and your relationship.

guest columno:Emmanuel Zvada

As the old saying goes “you don’t dip your pen in the company ink”. In other words, you shouldn’t get into a dating or sexual relationship with a co-worker. The reality is, although there are rules surrounding dating in the office, human beings still continue to do it. To some, meeting a significant other at work may be great for social life, but it can be like a train wreck for careers and workplaces. Common sense tells us to avoid office romance because it may affect organisations. The workplace is a professional environment so, no matter who you work with, you will want to maintain that professionalism during working hours. Romantic workplace relationships play a complicated role not only for those involved in the relationship, but also for other employees working with these individuals.

How common are workplace relationships?

Workplace romance is a reality in many organisations, both on a global scale and in the Zimbabwean context. I know a lot of people may argue and some might not know it but the fact remains that workplace romance exists even in your company. The subject of workplace romance seems to be taboo and very few are comfortable to discuss it.

Despite organisations making efforts to curb or discourage employees from engaging in workplace relationships, they still sneak their way into many organisations. Office relationships have occurred ever since men and women have found themselves together at the workplace and that is the reason why here and there we hear of workplace romance.

Even if organisations put measures to stop workplace relationships, they are bound to develop, be they fleeting fancies, long-term dating, illicit affairs, or something else. May people justify workplace dating and relationships because they feel employees are spending longer hours in environments that encourage teamwork and familiarity.

Moreso, as work becomes increasingly intense and time-consuming, individuals find themselves with less time for outside activities where they traditionally meet new people and end up hunting from within.

Workplace romance versus sexual harassment
There is a thin line between workplace romance and sexual harassment and that should be unpacked. Sexual harassment is an unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex, affecting the dignity of either women or men at work. To give examples, this can include unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct.

It should be noted that workplace romance is consensual whereas sexual harassment is usually coercive and non-consensual in nature.

Further, sexual harassment is not only unethical but also criminal. In most cases where workplace romance occurs, this tends to degenerate into sexual harassment when one of the lovers wishes to terminate the relationship and the other continues to pursue and make advances of a sexual nature on the former lover.

Avoiding problems caused by relationships at work
When you are at work, follow appropriate office behaviour guidelines. Your focus should be on the job not on your relationship. Avoid meeting at the break, flirting or holding hands.

This is a place of business so there should not be any public displays of affection. Also, don’t seek a romantic encounter after hours on the premises. Workplace romance is a reality, in fact allowing people to be romantically involved at work is a bad idea, although not allowing it is not very enforceable. While it cannot reasonably be controlled, every effort should be made to dissuade workplace romance from occurring.

The workplace is a place to work, and romantic relationships need to stay outside of that environment. While being friends with a co-worker doesn’t mean you can be fired from your job, you could get fired if your relationship causes a disruption at work.

Rather than risk losing your job because of the relationship, keep all of your personal relationships out of the workplace, even if they are with co-workers.

Check your organisation’s HR policy
Even if the law does not forbid workplace relationship, or dictate how you conduct it, some organisations have their own strict policies on workplace relationships.

It is vital to note that developing an appropriate relationship policy that guides how employees relate helps in determining to what extent our behaviour should go towards one another.

When developing such policy as an organisation you may want to think about preserving your organisational culture and the work environment you want to provide for an employee.

The safest option is to ask HR department if it has a policy in place, and to let HR know if you are in a workplace relationship. Even if it’s not in the HR policy, you need to understand your organisation’s view on workplace relationships

Stay professional at work

Personal and professional lives should always be separated. If the relationship falls apart, it could cause a lot of problems at the workplace. Partners may end up arguing all the time and that would be bad for the employees themselves, and the business, as a whole, if it is happening at work.

You should stick to your professional goals and stay true to who you are as an employee. Avoid by all means to use company emails or telephones for any communication related to your romantic relationship. Keep it professional and try not to make any of your co-workers uncomfortable because of the relationship.

You are already in, what if the relationship ends?

There are many people who successfully date co-workers or businesses associates, and maintain their work integrity even when those relationships end. Please note that we are not encouraging workplace relationships but obviously considering that some are already in the situation it is important to stay calm if the relationship ends because not every office relationship will result in true love.

You have to remain professional if your workplace relationship comes to an end, no matter what the reason might be. When you break up you should avoid workplace friction that could be caused by either party.

Being in a relationship with a co-worker, or thinking about starting one, have more disadvantages than advantages.

If you are a manager or senior employee, think carefully before dating a junior person, or before putting yourself in any situation where there may be real or perceived sexual harassment.

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