Breaktime is for Lovers

Office romance is not for the faint of heart.

Imagine, if you will, a Chicago law firm in 1989. A first-year associate named Michelle is tasked with mentoring a summer intern. The intern is smitten with his mentor, but she rejects his advances. Ultimately, she says yes to a movie date. The couple eventually marries. This is, of course, the story of first lady Michelle and President Barack Obama, which wouldn’t have happened were it not for that age-old forbidden love:
the office romance.

According to Vault, a business ranking and review company, office romance is becoming more acceptable across the United States. In its 2015 office romance survey, 29 percent of respondents believe “all romantic connections in the workplace are appropriate — including those between managers and their direct reports.” Fun-fact: Human resource professionals are the most likely to have had a fling with a colleague, according to the survey. The Obamas are among the 10 percent of respondents who married their coworker. Which means 90 percent of office romances don’t work out.

With statistics like that, and February being the month of love according to countless Valentine’s Day cards and sugary sweet commercials, it’s a good idea to review a few things to consider before entering into a workplace relationship.

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Love and marriage: Forty-seven percent of the Vault survey respondents reported that they are aware of infidelity between colleagues, so this should go without saying. If you are married, rather than cultivating romance at work, go home and work on your marriage.

Rules of the game: Learn your company’s policy on workplace dating. Because office romances are so common, most companies already have rules in place to keep employees on the up-and-up, avoid favoritism and diffuse potential drama. If you and a coworker are struck by Cupid’s arrow and become an item, come clean with human resources. They may move you to a new department or perhaps they’ll shrug and wish you luck, but at least you’ve done your part.

Go pro: The most important thing to remember is to keep any PDA and/or drama out of the office. Maturity and discretion are paramount.

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Let’s just be friends: If the thrill is gone, do everything possible to keep drama out of the office. For people who find themselves up against an ex who is not handling it well, you may want to visit with human resources to inform them of the situation if, for example, your ex tries to bring arguments and drama into the workplace or behaves badly by spreading rumors. Fingers crossed —      once the extreme emotions subside and your ex finds his or her bearings, a strictly professional relationship can be maintained.

For the lucky 10 percent who find themselves in a lasting, committed relationship, congratulations. You’ve navigated quite the minefield and come out the other side intact. It’s now time to accept the fact that no matter how hard you’ve worked at being fair, mature, open and above board with management and HR, more than a third of those surveyed by Vault “believe that a colleague has gained a career advantage by getting involved with a co-worker or superior.” But hey, you found love, right? You can’t win them all.

While it’s wise to keep your work and romantic life separate, as the poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants.” Just do your best to make sure that what your heart wants is love actually and not fatal attraction.  

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Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to



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