Let's assume a 10 hour work day in the office to be normal for the typical city based worker. Let's also assume these people get to sleep for 8 hours a night and commute for an hour each way to and from work. That leaves just 4 hours on any given weekday to spend away from our jobs. With so much of our waking time shared with our work colleagues, is it really such a surprise that office relationships occur so frequently?
Arguably it's an understandable scenario. Colleagues work side by side, find many commonalities, form a bond through overcoming work challenges together, and begin dating - maybe openly or maybe secretly.
Whilst there's a reportedly decent percentage of people who go on to "live happily ever after" (up to 1/3 depending on which survey you read); there's a higher still number of folks whose relationship ends. Unlike the ending of most other relationships, the now ex-lovers still have to face each other at work everyday. If the relationship has not been terminated by mutual agreement, spite, barbs, open disagreements, loss of productivity and impact on team morale are just some of the less destructive results. Impact on promotion, loss of job for one or both parties, impact on reputation, impact on families - the fall out can be extensive.
Managing these situations and the persons involved is a not uncommon task of the HR professional. But what happens when it's a actually a HR person who has gotten involved in a relationship with a work colleague?
I know of a HR leader, who was working crazy long hours with her Business President. Both were married to other people, but wound up being intimately attracted and commenced an affair. When it was discovered, their spouses got nasty, the media got involved, the HRD lost her job, and the Business President was exited shortly afterwards. Nasty divorces, families torn apart, and that HRD had to move cities and change her name in order to be able to secure much lower paid and lower profile work in her profession again.
I know another high performance HR leader who entered into a relationship with a work colleague. Management got wind of it and coincidentally the promotion he was due to receive disappeared. Additionally he was faced with redundancy or taking up a transfer to a remote office during the "restructure" that conveniently took place shortly afterwards - presumably management wanted to mitigate the risks if the relationship didn't work out.
In yet another instance, I know of a HR leader with a promising career within a household brand organisation. Unfortunately when gossip was occurring regularly on her supposed affair with a colleague, she was no longer taken seriously by any employees, especially not those that she needed to put through disciplinary processes for poor ethical conduct. Her performance ratings suffered, and she eventually felt bound to quit her job - to this day I don't know whether the rumours had any truth.
Regardless of any company's policy on inter-office relationships, I suspect that as HR professionals, we're expected to be "squeaky-clean" in our work conduct. Absolutely free from moral taint or fault. Especially in the matter of romance with colleagues.
I suspect we lose even more credibility, in the event we undergo a clandestine affair with a colleague that later gets "found out". As the guardians of company policy and procedure, and the champions for people risk - we are expected to be absolutely virtuous.
Are these expectations fair and right? Maybe not. Is an office romance more likely to negatively impact our careers than those in other lines of work? Probably - in fact I'd equate the risk as similar to that which applies to exec level leaders within companies - where involvement in office romances is often (and curiously) viewed as a lack of sound judgement in the business world.
We cannot always control who we are physically or emotionally attracted to. But if you're contemplating or currently dating a work colleague, do give thought to your company culture and any impact on your reputation and HR career, that may result from you following your heart.