Keep It In your Cubicle

The Career Impact of an Office Romance

by Kim Monaghan


Rebecca was delighted when Joe proposed and couldn’t wait to share it with her office colleagues who had watched their relationship bloom since Joe was hired in the department last year. It was a dream come true for Rebecca who, like Joe, had fallen in love over late night deadlines and break room lattés. Yes, everyone on the team was elated to be an integral part in supporting this fairytale office romance. However, when one colleague took her supporting role too far by coaxing Joe into an affair, the dream quickly became a nightmare. The office grew toxic, productivity declined and both Rebecca and Joe were asked to resign.

This story is both commonplace and realistic. Everyday office romances can lead to career disaster for one or both parties and may ultimately create a toxic working environment. In fact, boardroom trysts, work party hookups and scorned lovers can kill a career quicker than you can sneak out of the storage closet. That’s not to say that an office romance can’t have a happy ending. In a 2013 Valentine’s Day survey conducted by Career Builder, three in ten workers who had office romances married their co-worker. What makes an office romance work in a way that won’t kill a career? In one word: professionalism, which includes following office policy, avoiding public displays of affection and when on the clock, putting work before romance.

Read Romance Rules. Thanks to the roller coaster ride of office romances, many organizations have adopted policies outlining acceptable behavior in the workplace. These policies extend from defining what makes up sexual harassment to even banning office romances altogether. These policies are not designed to punish, but to protect. If they do exist and potentially interfere with your plans for romance, a positive career move would be to discuss options with your significant other and even consult with a supervisor.

Avoid PDA. Public Display of Affection is unprofessional, distracting and detrimental to your career and other’s. The office environment is designed as a professional workplace and employers expect their staff to behave accordingly. Anything that can be misconstrued as inappropriate most likely will. Gossip can lead to long conversations with a supervisor that will no doubt be uncomfortable and might turn actionable. This is especially true if the office romance is not mutual, for example, a misinterpreted New Year’s party kiss. Open communication is your best proactive stance. Clearly define the relationship with your partner and set ground rules for what is, and what’s not, permitted in public.

Career Comes First. At least in the workplace. You’re hired for your skills and abilities to move your tasks forward, not to spend time ogling your boyfriend during a team meeting or posting date pictures on Facebook. When priorities shift and romance takes over, you are at risk of not only losing your job, but ostracizing references and deflating any possibilities of promotion. If you work with your significant other, spend time together during lunch, breaks and especially after work, but if you enjoy what you do and intend to continue, don’t let a romance consume your career.

Kim Monaghan is a certified coach, empowering professionals who want to change their careers, advance their careers or be happier in their careers.