Job Search: Sex and the office romance

Thursday, November 5th, 2009 - Blog

Job Search: Sex and the office romance


It is the 5th of November, which in the UK means its Bonfire Night, commemorating the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes and his plotters to blow up the House of Parliament on November 5th, 1605.

Historically, Bonfire night is a bit special for those of us born in the West Country. Although Guy Fawkes is the character most associated with the Gunpowder Plot, the instigator was Jesuit priest Robert Parsons from Nether Stowey, a short distance from Bridgwater, Somerset. Parsons and his colleagues were Catholics who wanted to put an end to the Protestant King James VI and Parliament of the day, in order to put an end to catholic persecution, hence they planned their ill-fated attempt on 5 November 1605. The West Country Carnival which starts on the Friday after the first Thursday in November, dates from this time to celebrate us West Country Protestants stopping them – who ever needed Ireland when you have a bonfire and a pint of scrumpy?

Still, on to the point of this post, which is about another thing which apparently goes bang – sex and the office romance!

Office Romances

I have lived and worked under various HR rules about relationships within the working environment, but none of them seem to acknowledge let alone accept that when more than one person works in close proximity to another, that there is a fair or even sure bet that some of them will share more than a quick photocopier experience. Statistics suggest that between 25% and 35% of marriages or relationships start at work – and not all of these are between colleagues in the same company, I wonder how many receptionists have fallen for the dishy Postman? I know of at least six companies who in their standard training manual of the past, had various written tactics on how to schmooze your way past a female receptionist.

Sex in the office

I have two distinct experiences of sex in the office, and how it can be both a positive and negative affect on business.

The first was while I worked in Kent on the Channel Tunnel team. The business unit was growing well, and as a result we were taking on people quickly – lesson1: fast expansion for growth means you take your eye off of the ball. Every quarter we would have a formal review of revenue streams in front of the Director, and it was while preparing my paperwork for the forth coming review I noticed that our unpaid but billed sum had risen from the last quarter. I was assured by the Billing Team that all was OK and under control, but on having a chat with some other managers going in for the same review, they had the same problem. The review was the following Thursday, and when I came into the office on the Tuesday was grabbed by the General Managers assistant to be told the latest gossip: the Head of the Billing Team had been caught filling one of his admin assistants on the boardroom table the previous night by the security guard! Lesson2 – small offices make for wildfire gossip; Lesson3 – if you are tempted, do it outside the office environment. The quarterly review was immediately cancelled, as a quick investigation found that in a team of nine people there were three couples, an one “still in discussions” threesome. The result was although billings were up 10%, actual revenue was down by 15% – numbers can tell you much about an office.

The second experience was in sales, when I was a sales engineer for a large FTSE conglomerate. The Account Director and I couldn’t get into one of the divisions, and were way behind in our mobile target. I should say that this was the time when mobile were only just past being really square handsets attached to car batteries, and that prolonged use of pager of the time would leave you needing a hip replacement. We had not three months in met our mobile representative, so we took a trip down south from Birmingham to meet her. It was a hot sunny day, but I didn’t expect to meet what we later both agreed later was Jessica Rabbit in a see through crocheted blouse and pelmet skirt! I should explain at this point that the Account Directors wife was pregnant, and so for him the discussion was particularly hard. After 10minutes of discussion, it was obvious that we could talk all day about account strategy, Jessica Rabitt just wanted a list of names and to go sell to. The Account Director gave her the name of our difficult division, and all the contact details we had: “OK, I will go and wear something seductive” was her response – silence came from our side of the table. Two weeks later, we had met our mobile target – not that anything at all went on between the customer and Jessica, it was just her approach.

Risks of Office Romance

The risks of office relationships are far wider, broader and more complex than the where of meeting and romancing.

The reason you both probably got tempted was that you spent so much time together. But of it all falls apart and breaks down, that is also the biggest problem. Most people spend more time in the office than they do at home, so trying to avoid each other may not be an option without one person leaving or requesting a transfer. When that does occur, then in the far more litigious society in which we live, the nominal junior titled partner in the relationship could easily call in a lawyer for a case of forced into a relationship/sex. Normally, unless settled quickly, these cases result in large payouts and the dismissal of both parties: and you thought looking for a new job after theft or fraud was difficult!

Lets say that it all works out OK in the relationship department, you still have to face the work environment. All couples need “me” time, and when you are together both in the office and outside, tensions can rise – innocent normal work with a colleagues can be seen by your partner as flirtation. These little signs of affection and jealousy can easily be spotted by colleagues, and once your working colleagues know it is difficult to keep a lid on an office romance. Further, once the knowledge is out, this can leads to accusations of favouritism, or now management know, enforced under HR rules separation. You and your partner are again forced to make career choices at an early stage of a relationship, over trying to decide and work on having a future together.

Rules of Office Romance

The rules of office relationships are quite simple, and easy – think about the “what happens if it all goes wrong” over the lovey dovey bit!

  1. Never date anyone in the office if either of you have been there for less than a year. Establish your and their career first, and don’t risk being ejected during your trial period for gross misconduct
  2. Make friends, but don’t take anything beyond the casual stage in front of colleagues , or in/close to the office
  3. Know that you can trust this person first, before dating. Can you tell them a secret, and does it go around the office? If yes, forget it – your relationship will never stand the need for being discrete and silent at the early stages
  4. Be subtle: in your approach, your feelings and your actions. An obvious school kid chat-up line followed by a swift rejection could easily mean the end of your career
  5. If you feel something more, then don’t use the offices communications system. Keep all correspondence off of your/their eMail, phone and mobile
  6. At an early stage, chat about what you are both risking, particularly manager/junior
  7. Stay professional by keeping all office communication in the office. Don’t bad mouth customers or colleagues, and don’t break office confidences
  8. If it breaks down, work on keeping the communication open and civil. Let the other party down easily and slowly, and always resist revenge
  9. If it gets serious, be open with your managers and seek a solution. You both want the best for each other. If colleagues find out first, then lying will only fuel gossip
  10. Finally, always use a condom – one third of pregnancies are unplanned.

Good Luck!


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3 Responses to “Job Search: Sex and the office romance”

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