Like any well-executed covert liaison, the office romance is both incredibly exciting and entirely mundane, depending on who is looking at it. And like any covert liaison, it is a very, very risky proposition. The number one rule, if it can be said that there is such a thing, is to avoid it.
But if you're like most people in the workforce, you know that's not always possible. According to a 2011 survey by the professional information site Vault, 59 percent of respondents admit to having a workplace romance.
Despite the downturn that has rocked the economy these past few years, 65 percent respondents said that they still had no qualms about taking romantic risks at work. Five percent, actually, said they were more willing to do, given the state of affairs.
"Office romance" via Shutterstock.
And of those who have indulged in an office liaison, one third of them got down at the office. Regardless of the outcome of their previous office dalliances, 63 percent said they would do it again.
Is this so surprising? According to Forbes, the average American worked 25 hours a week and took off less than six weeks per year in 2004. In 2011, the Business Insider reported that Americans now consider a 40 hour week "part time" and a sign of a stagnant career. According to the Center for American Progress study that the article cited, over one third of professionals were averaging 50 hours a week or more.
With so much time spent at the office, it's not a surprise how many people are open to the possibility of workplace romances. Unfortunately, policy hasn't quite caught up with the times. Most companies still have non-fraternization policies in place in an effort to safeguard productivity, workplace morale and employee safety. And there is the very real question of sexual harassment as well. But say you and a colleague are freely and willingly into each other -- how do you proceed?Learn the Rules
Just because you're planning to flagrantly break them doesn't mean you should be ignorant of them. Every company has a different policy as it regards fraternization, so read up. Accept, then and there, the consequences of your indulgence. You may get fired. It's a real possibility -- as is having to see your ex every day at work if you should break up. If you're going to choose to take the risk, you have to accept the possibility of the worst-case scenario. Still game? Read on.Refuse Perks
If you're not on the same level, establish from the get-go that there will be no perks to be had as a result of your fiery frolicking. Promotions and corner offices are not attained this way, so don't ask for them or accept requests for them from a lover. Do not intervene on their behalf if you can possibly avoid it and warn against it. Do not put sexy lunches, dinners, or trips on the company card. Special treatment doesn't exist in a vacuum; it can be a deadly tell-tale sign for other colleagues. Off to HR with you, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.Make Some Rules
While you're discussing that your romance will not result in any perks, take a minute to lay down some ground rules about how you'll address and interact with one another at work, and how you will behave in the event that you run into some relationship problems. It is of the utmost importance that whatever you and a lover are going through romantically that you do not turn a personal problem into an office conflict. The sooner you can separate your work self from your lusty self, the better off you'll be.Write It Down
This is the only time you should violate the rule of leaving no evidence, but it's especially useful if you have decided to enter into a relationship with someone you supervise (the riskiest office relationship there is): write down a simple contract that states that you are entering into a consensual relationship freely and that both parties understand company sexual harassment rules. Sign it, have your lover sign it, and make sure you both keep your copies somewhere safe and out of the reach of nosy colleagues.Avoid Excessive Familiarity
This doesn't just include public displays of affection, it means any touching, lingering glances, and references to inside jokes or anything that suggests that you know one another as more than coworkers. That should be a given. So should a rule to avoid trysts at the office -- trust me, a nooner is just as exciting at a nearby hotel. On that note, avoid leaving the office at the same time, or arriving together. Avoid lunching together anywhere where you may be seen by someone else. Avoid each other on social media. And on that note: do not use company chat programs or company e-mail to exchange messages. You both have a smartphone for a reason. Use it if you must, but sparingly. You’re at work. Remember that.Pretend You're Covert Operatives
Coworkers have a tendency to ask about everything in casual conversation and these details, even when few and far between, can work against you. Telling a colleague you're planning a much-needed getaway over the three-day weekend to an unusual spot upstate seems innocent enough -- until your partner checks in on Foursquare from that same location on Saturday night. Always work out independent cover stories for where you are, whether it's lunch or what you plan to do that night or over the weekend. Establish rules for using social media. The less you disclose, the safer you are. But if you have to disclose, make sure the cover holds.Keep Track of the Details
Keep an extra outfit in a desk drawer or in your car in the event of a mishap (torn buttons and smeared makeup, anyone?). Keep some makeup remover toilettes handy and carry some makeup in your bag to freshen up. Other handy tools include a hair brush, laundry detergent pens to remove stains, -- not that I would know anything about it, but for Lewinsky-sized crises, Folex carpet spot remover is a life saver. As are those purse-sized pet hair rollers. Long strands of hair, like tell-tale receipts, are the enemy of secrets. And as much as you love his cologne and he loves your perfume, consider going without until you clear the blazing passion stage. Nothing screams midday romp like coming back into the office smelling of a coworker.
If it sounds like a lot of work, you're on the money. Messing around at work is serious business, so you should take into account as many of the variables as you can. Given enough time, you may choose to step up and fill in HR about the relationship -- according to a 2010 Careerbuilder survey, 67 percent of people in office romances are public with them these days, as opposed to 46 percent in 2005. But even then, remember: when you're at work, you're at work and professionalism is the letter of the law.