Graham Brown writes about the dangers of mixing business with pleasure in the workplace.
For many of us, a large proportion of our adult lives will be spent in one office or another, so it's no surprise that up to 80 percent of Aussies admit to having an affair with a workmate. But what if it all goes wrong? Can you lose your lover and your job?
According to one survey, we're all doing it. Psychologist Geoff Carter, of Queensland's Griffith University, interviewed 300 employees aged between 18 and 40 and found that eight out of 10 have shared more than the stapler at work.
Research abounds about the many affairs between senior staff and the people who report to them, so watch out for the boss. More unsettling is that about one in four romances end in a sexual harassment claim. Will we have to go down the path of the USA, where companies draft "love contracts" to head off potentially damaging legal action?
What's love got to do with … human resources?
So what if I met her at the photocopier I spend my whole life here ... where else am I going to meet someone? And what does what I do after work have to do with the HR department? Apparently plenty, if you go by recent cases.
One very public example last year, where a Sydney woman and three co-workers were sacked by Telstra following a "sex romp" after a work party, raised the question of where does the job end and your private life begin?
The woman later took the telco giant to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission for wrongful dismissal. Interestingly, it was not the male colleagues who had complained but three female co-workers who said being in the same Cronulla hotel room at the time of the romp, was enough to claim sexual harassment.
Salacious details aside, the case questioned what constituted a ''work-related'' function. The company argued that the co-workers would not have been there if it wasn't for the earlier Telstra-funded party. The woman countered that the room was booked privately and had nothing to do with work.
The commission awarded her compensation and the right to be reinstated but she later lost on appeal. Telstra had won the right to sack her.
Not all work romances end in tears though. Melbourne accountant Michael met his new wife Collette at work.
"Collette was working in the marketing department and we struck up a connection over our quarterly budget meetings," he said. "She seemed creative while I was more a by-the-book kind of guy so there was some tension at first but I think she liked my dry sense of humour."
For Collette's part she appreciated seeing Michael in his own environment without the stress (or loud music) of the bar scene.
"He was very responsible in his work, so I guess I thought that would carry over into his private life. It's like meeting someone who was recommended by a friend."
So how did they get together?
"He was a bit shy so I asked him to dinner after a work drinks evening," she said. "I found I was sitting across the table from a man I knew ... without all the nerves that would go with a first date."
Okay, you've weighed up the pros and cons. You've found going to work more enjoyable; it's cheaper to get there because you're carpooling; and you've decided that being the subject of office gossip is a happy trade-off. Here are the do's and don'ts:
- Be discreet. You don't have to act as if you don't know them, just be natural and keep public displays of affection such as kissing (or worse) to a minimum. Your colleagues do not find it a turn-on.
- Get together with an unattached person from another department. Extramarital affairs are not good for either party.
- Be diplomatic when breaking up (or gracious if you are on the receiving end). The workplace is not the venue for an all-out screaming match. Do it at home or at a fancy restaurant you don't want to visit again.
- Date the boss or your direct subordinate. It doesn't look good from any standpoint.
- Get lost in "Loveland". Stay professional. Remember this is a business you're not on a date.
- Spend your day on Instant Messenger with each other. Remember, you'll see each other after work.
- Dump one colleague for another.
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