Sex at work!

Friday, December 18th, 2009 - career management, Disciplinary Procedure, Employment, job search, professionalism, redundancy


Sex at work!

Today is the last Friday before Christmas, a traditional night for many employers to arrange their office party. On the menu will be: fun, merryment, traditional Christmas meal, over indulgence on the alcohol, then bring on Noddie Holder and a dance floor!

Plus it is the one time in the year that legally under mistletoe you can express your hearts desire for the hottie from accounts: be they male, female, or other wise.

But here’s just a thought, when you wake up on Saturday morning, or the reality of the later disciplinary procedure and subsequent dismissal hits you: Sex at work just doesn’t work!

Sex v Romance

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.

But there is a huge difference between an office romance and a quickly photocopier compromised fumble at the Christmas party. Apart from all the interesting medical problems there could be to your health, there are an increasing number of harassment or coercion cases associated with inappropriate contact between work colleagues. Today the newspapers report on the sale by lottery of a house in Cornwall by an embittered ex-wife of a surgeon, who just desired his secretary.

Sex in the office

Apart from the fact that it is never going to be comfortable, that a pile of paper doesn’t make a bed of silk sheets, and that you will never look on the storage cupboard in the same way ever again – its also horrible disruptive to your work patterns.

I have experience of this from when 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.

Its a relationship, not just sex

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 Relationships

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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