Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Blinded by Love at the Workplace

Can colleagues of opposite sex be friends? A listener called in to a local radio station recently and lamented over her husband's jealousy of a male co-worker. Turns out she was very close to this individual, close enough to meet up with him every week for drinks. Alone. Her husband was clearly unhappy and gave her an ultimatum: it was either him or the colleague.

After General Patreaus' affair hit the (cyberspace) press, many had plenty to say about the news. Some accused the general of taking advantage of his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Others accused her of seducing the general. But the real issue is not who was at fault. Like most relationships,workplace dynamics can make for interesting interactions, whether you're butting heads with a co-worker or trying to get along with a difficult boss, or just sleeping with him.

Many businesses shun intimate relationships. Some HR departments go as far as to terminate employees found to be smooching (not literally) on the job. If the company is large enough, the lovebirds are separated to either different departments or business units.

Back to that caller. The consensus of listeners who offered advice questioned her loyalty. As they put it, she should have ended the relationship as soon as her spouse had objected. Judging from her narrative, her relationship with this individual was becoming dangerous, but severing it is not the best solution.

So, how do you balance a work relationship with colleagues of the opposite sex? Here are some suggestions:

  • Networking is important for professionals, because leads to better opportunities. Meeting a member of the opposite sex for happy hour? Make it a group event and invite others to join you. You can advance your career while avoiding sexually charged encounters.
  • Don't meet in private places. A dimmed bar with loud background music may seem harmless, but not if you're frequenting it with the same coworker, especially after a stressful day at the office. Meeting at the company lunchroom is a better choice.
  • Limit communication to work-related topics. Excessive emails, text messages or even lunch dates are warning signals and should be cause for alarm. Your relationship is climbing to a higher level and may potentially lead to an office romance.
  • Don't. discuss. your. personal. problems. with. colleagues, especially with those of the opposite sex and especially not about your spouse. Seek counseling, confide in a mutual friend, but keep colleagues out of it.
Not all intimacy is wrong. Some of the strongest love relationships were developed at the workplace. But if you're married, you need to step back and re-evaluate your intentions. But coworkers of the opposite sex can be friends, even close ones, if done with tact.

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