Office romances have always been ‘hush-hush’ affairs that people seldom disclose to their colleagues or supervisors. All this secrecy was probably workplace affairs have been frowned upon and considered non-compliant to office policies.
In the last decade, as employees started spending more hours at the office than in their homes, office romances have become quite common as colleagues who spend a lot of time together often develop feelings for each other.
Before the #MeToo movement, employers and HR stopped looking down on office romances as detrimental to the organisation and the workplace turned out to be one of the most likely places to find a potential partner.
After #MeToo movement, in which several high-ranking executives, businessmen and politicians were named as sexual offenders, the office romance has become a minefield, and rightfully so.
About 400 employees were sacked right away in America alone, and hundreds in India and the UK, as more and more women felt safe talking about their horrific stories of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Some people resigned from their posts in anticipation of public outrage, seeking apology for past offences.
This made the idea of dating in the workplace very risky, and companies were forced to amend their HR policies regarding office romances in India and around the world.
The outcome is that the #MeToo narrative has proved detrimental to those people who consider casual workplace romances fair game and don’t think twice about using their power to extract sexual favours.
It also exposed the fact that numerous companies, both startups and established organisations, have failed to properly implement the Sexual Harassment of Women in Workplace Act of 2013.
Many of these companies, belonging to the financial sector, hospitality, advertising, and media, received negative press for miserably failing to create a safe environment for working women.
However, a few false cases were also filed, which led to people losing their trust in romantic work relationships.
How #MeToo Changed The Office Romance
As the #MeToo stories started pouring out on social media, people were shocked at the rate at which casual office romance could turn into one of the most dreadful acts of sexual harassment.
It was revealed that more than 80% of women did not feel comfortable with the romantic advances of their colleagues or managers, and they did not hesitate to share their personal experiences on social media.
This changed the entire dynamic of office relationships, and the management and the HR department of organisations were forced to intervene. Fresh new workplace policies were introduced, and old ones were revised, forbidding romantic work affairs completely in some cases.
According to a recent survey, 5% of companies in the UK have prohibited romantic relationships in the workplace. Further, 80% of companies have revised their existing policies to make the workplace safe for women employees.
Companies have also been assessing risks with respect to sexual harassment cases a lot more carefully now. More than 80% of organisations in America alone have started believing their women employees and adopting a zero-tolerance towards harassment cases.
Today, it’s a very real possibility that you can get into hot water and be fired if you hit on your colleague without consent or start a full-fledged workplace affair with your boss or subordinate.
The impact of the #MeToo movement has been so powerful that companies have started policing in the true sense to protect their reputation as well as the dignity of their employees.
Workplace Affair Tips For The #MeToo Era
After the #MeToo movement, people have become more cautious with respect to their secret crushes in the workplace.
However, if your intentions are not of sexually harassing or exploiting the person in question, there’s no need to fear the policies implemented after the #MeToo movement.
Let us take a look at some of the policies that were implemented in the aftermath and some tips to navigate the rocky road of workplace affairs.
Learn To Take ‘No’ For An Answer
If you want to date your female colleague, ask her out directly and without any creepy behaviour. If she rejects your proposal, respect her wishes and let go of the idea for good.
Always keep in mind that you, as well as she, are there to work. Both of you have signed up to be colleagues and not for dating. So, if her answer is no, you must respect that and move on.
Leave No Room For Misunderstanding
Be clear about your intentions and make sure that there is no chance of misleading emotions creating controversies later.
If you have to go on a professional trip with your colleague, talk to her clearly about how you wish the trip to be entirely professional and how it is your responsibility to look after her safety.
Assure her that she is not unsafe with you and that she can treat you as a friend. You should leave no chance for misconceptions and misunderstandings.
Avoid Sexual And Gender-Based Jokes
Your relationship with a coworker should never go beyond a certain level of decency.
It is true that some coworkers click with each other while working over a long period of time, but the office is not the place for cracking sexual and gender-based jokes.
It is better to draw the line to protect your own dignity and that of your female colleagues in the workplace. Check your tone and avoid any kind of sexual innuendo when interacting with your female colleagues.
Be very careful when complimenting a woman in your workplace. Never comment on your female colleague’s looks, dress or body. Praise her work or her professional abilities instead.
No Touching Or Hugging Your Female Colleagues
Physical intimacy, without the expressed consent of the person in question, is a big no-no. If someone is upset, console her with your words. Do not hug her out of compassion, especially if she doesn’t ask for it.
You may not have bad intentions, but you never know how other people may feel about you touching them. Hence, maintain a dignified distance and express your support verbally.
If You’re In A Relationship, Inform HR
Before you throw caution to the wind and indulge in office romances, ask HR about your company’s stand on dating in the workplace.
After the #MeToo revelations, many companies have made it a rule to inform the HR department of your ongoing romantic work relationships so that there is no misunderstanding later.
If you’re already having an office affair, make sure it is consensual. Get to know your partner properly before taking it to the next step.
Once you are certain of your relationship, confide in your HR team to avoid future controversies. If it is against company rules to have an office romance, ask yourself whether it’s worth it.
Be Discreet And Professional
If you’re already in an office romance, it is wise to have a formal discussion with your office lover on how you will behave with each other in the workplace.
Make it a point to be discreet about your relationship until both of you are quite sure about your affection for each other. Flirting with your partner near the coffee machine is not a smart career move.
Once you step inside the office, be professional. Do not let your personal relationship affect your professional one.
Don’t use the company’s email account to send romantic messages to your partner. In most companies, your email can be read by anyone in the IT department once you hit ‘send’.
Absolutely No PDA (Public Display of Affection)
However irresistible your partner may be looking, keep your hands off them in the workplace. Remember that most workplaces have cameras nowadays, even in the elevators. Save your affection for when you’re both out of the office.
Don’t Wash Your Dirty Linen In Public
It goes without saying that you should not ‘wash your dirty linen in public’. If you’re having fights with your office lover, address your feelings after hours. Do not bring your problems to the office and create a reason for gossip.
If and when your relationship hits a rough patch or breaks up, control your feelings and be respectful towards your former lover. Do not give gossip-mongers any chance to point their fingers at you.
Avoid Workplace Affairs With A Boss Or Subordinate
Relationships in which there is an imbalance of power, such as boss and subordinate romances, have never been and will never be regarded as totally innocent, so you should be prepared to deal with the consequences if you’re in one.
If at all possible, avoid getting into a boss-subordinate relationship. If you’re in one already, prepare yourselves to deal with increased HR scrutiny, jealous co-workers, rumours, suspicions of favouritism, potential career damage and the threat of sexual harassment lawsuits if your relationship turns sour.
Find A New Job If Possible
If your company policies expressly forbid workplace romances and you find yourself attracted to your colleague, you may want to change your job if you decide that your relationship is more important to you.
After all, it’s easier to get a new job than to find a soulmate.
Let’s face it. Company policy or not, office affairs are here to stay, even after the #MeToo movement. After all, we’re human and it’s hard to control genuine feelings of attraction towards someone you work with every day.
While the #MeToo movement is absolutely justified and has been an eye-opener to many, people who still wish to have an office love story can avoid lawsuits by following the suggestions above.
If your intentions are clear, you should have no fear. But if you seek advice that comes from the heart and that has been proven 100% right time and again – stay away from office romances!