Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

The workplace hookup: A Q&A with Helaine Olen

With Americans now averaging over 50 hours a week at the office, it’s not surprising that more and more people are hooking up at work. After meeting their own husbands while on the clock, writers Helaine Olen and Stephanie Losee co-authored the book Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding and Managing Romance on the Job. SheKnows recently sat down with Olen to discuss the ins and outs of workplace amour.

Office Romance

SheKnows: Interoffice dating has received such a bad rap over the years. What are the advantages? Why do people do it?

Helaine Olen:
Office dating replicates the old-fashioned courting rituals of 100 years ago. You get to know someone slowly over a period of time and it allows you to notice the subtle traits that indicate whether that person would make a good partner or not. Meeting someone at a bar, you are forced to rely on first impressions that aren’t always correct. You might reject someone because you don’t like his t-shirt. Q: In the book, you refer to online dating as the romance equivalent of the Wild West. What did you mean by that? A: People aren’t always honest online. At work, you can see what other people think of him and probably human resources did some screening as well. Also, if you are sifting through 200 profiles online, you are dealing with a lot of information up front. Just because you like jazz music and he likes rap doesn’t mean you’re incompatible. Q: Is it okay to date someone above or below you on the corporate food chain? A: If you are dating your direct boss or subordinate, then I always say that it better be true love. You should be able to see the mortgage, the kids, the station wagon, everything, in the future. Most companies don’t have rules about office dating anymore — they’d just prefer to stay out of it — but the ones that do tend to focus on this type of relationship because it is the most dicey and issue-ridden. However, Bill Gates dated several people in the office, including his now wife, so it can work out; you just have to be careful.Q: What should a woman do if she is the recipient of unwanted attention?

Say ‘no’ firmly — and if it continues, go to human resources. People often mix-up sexual harassment with office dating, but they’re two separate things. Sexual harassment is generally about putting a woman in her place, not trying to date her.

Q: Is it better to keep things discreet or go public with your romance?

Just because you think you’re keeping it a secret doesn’t mean that it is. If it’s just a one-night stand, then there’s a good chance no one will find out. But if you’re dating someone seriously, eventually your co-workers will catch on. So it’s best to subtly let people know by turning up at an office function together or casually slipping it into a conversation.

Q: What about all of the tales of office romances turned sour?
A: Most horror stories are usually the result of someone not handling a break-up well. If you are going to walk around the office whining and moping after a break-up, there’s a good chance you will get fired. So the key is to stay professional. Act courteously, don’t dish to co-workers or send personal emails, no lingering at his desk. You have to behave like he’s any other co-worker. Another idea we discuss in the book is having a break-up prenup. This means sitting down at the beginning of the relationship and discussing how you will handle a break-up theoretically. People put in clauses like ‘No badmouthing the other person,’ or ‘We won’t confront each other in the elevator or send a hundred emails’ — things like that.

Any final thoughts? A: There is a much greater integration of the personal and work lives among the Facebook generation, and I’ve come across a lot of 20-somethings who think it’s bizarre that office dating is considered taboo or that people try to keep it quiet. We’ve had mixed-sex offices for over 30 years now, so you could say that workplace dating has really come of age.

More on love at work:

Leave a Comment