How to not let an office romance derail your career


With Valentine’s Day having come and gone for another year, workers around the country may be looking at their colleagues in a new light.

A SEEK survey of 400 Australians finds 24 per cent have been in a romantic relationship with a co-worker and 56 per cent believe workplace romances should be allowed.

But before you reveal your true feelings, experts advise there are a few things to consider.

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Australian HR Institute chief executive Sarah McCann-Bartlett says when colleagues become a couple, it can lead to issues from workplace gossip and speculation through to conflicts of interest and the potential for sexual harassment.

“There can also be disadvantages for the less senior employee, problems with team dynamics and discord if the relationship fails,” she says.

“Actual or perceived conflicts of interest may arise, where one person in the relationship signs off on the other’s expenses, or decides what work assignments or promotions they get.

“Workplace relationships could have a negative effect on the rest of the team, especially if there is favouritism shown or displays of intimacy in the workplace.

“Colleagues might also be concerned about confidentiality, if one of those in the relationship is the manager or supervisor.

“There might also be a perception that the couple always supports each other in workplace discussions or decisions.”

McCann-Bartlett says personal relationships should be declared to human resources if one person reports to the other or if either person is in a role of influence.

“This may feel awkward, especially if it’s an affair – but be conscious that word does get out,” she says.

“It’s better to be on the front foot.”

Career strategist and P2P Learning and Development Academy director Ineke McMahon recommends checking workplace policies before romancing a co-worker.

“Most Australian workplaces don’t prohibit relationships, or have a disclosure policy – but some do,” she says.

“A key case in recent history was the CEO of QBE who had $550,000 cut from his bonuses for not disclosing a romantic relationship with his executive assistant.”

McMahon says not all workplace relationships end badly though, and they can be a huge success when handled in the right way.

She says one potential upside to dating a co-worker is that the two people understand what each other is going through at work.

“If you have had a tough day and want to debrief, it’s great to talk to someone who understands the personalities and the dynamics of the workplace without having to explain each person, their role and the issue,” she says.

“The flip side of this, is that your partner may know the people and have a different opinion or take than you – so you miss out on unbiased advice.”

McMahon says sharing the same workplace with a partner also means a more fun commute and extra networking opportunities.

“Having a partner in a different area or team probably means that you will build stronger relationships across the organisation,” she says.

“Double the corporate profile raising for each of you!”

Place Graceville co-agents Scott Smolders and Maddison Hayward began dating when they both worked for a different real estate agency about four years ago.

“Maddi was in contracts so in a different department and office so (initially) I had only met Maddi through emails and thought she was a grumpy person because I put smiley faces on my emails and she responds with ‘OK’,” Smolders, 31, says.

“I was taken aback when I met her.

“Not long after, Maddi swapped offices so we were in the same office and she was an agent in her own right, then after a year or so we paired up as a team and last year moved as a team over to Place.”

Hayward, 26, says despite concerns from others that dating a colleague would be a bad idea, they have found it easy working together.

“We bounce off each other and know each other’s strengths and if one person needs a day to themselves we allow for that,” she says.

The biggest issue the Ipswich couple has faced is not being able to take holidays at the same time.

Smolders’ advice for anyone considering making their feelings known to a colleague is simple: “Go for it.”

TIPS TO AVOID LETTING A WORKPLACE RELATIONSHIP DERAIL YOUR CAREER

SOURCE: SEEK’s resident psychologist, Sabina Read

1. Approach the relationship with transparency and sensitivity yet without shame or secrecy.

2. Consider the needs of co-workers who may feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or resentful if they work with both parties and are not informed about the relationship.

3. Celebrate and nurture your union with gratitude, respect and professionalism whether you are happily dating or breaking-up. Happy and connected co-workers can be an asset to any organisation, while fragile and agitated exes can create a toxic ripple effect in the wake of a messy break-up!

4. Understand your company’s HR policies around workplace relationships to avoid serious breaches of company and HR policies. Potential complications of workplace romances will likely occur when a power imbalance exists between the two parties involved.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegraph and has been republished with permission. This article was created in sponsorship with SEEK



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