The Ethics of Office Romance

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--By Krishna Khanal
 
Given the time we spend at workplace, almost a third of a day, it might seem as the most promising venue to look out for romance, flirtations, or even a hook-up. After all, the place where we spend a greater part of our day, we have a whole lot of time to share our interests, goals, and values and share a cup of a tea or two, an opportunity to know each other personally and professionally. Thus, the workplace might seem as the most tempting of all to pursue a romance with your co-worker or to find an ideal love of your life.
 
In addition, office romances seem benign and perhaps some relations may work out happily ever after. Some people also argue that office romances are in fact good for the overall company, leading to greater productivity and more job satisfaction. While others argue that office romances are relations subject to the matter of time. Sooner or later they are to come to an end, quiet or violent. So how should organizations deal with corporate cupid? Should it be completely banned, dealt in an explicit manner, or allowed with certain restrictions? 
 
Whatever the opinion, policies of a company and probable outcomes, one has to consider the ethical aspects before he/she flings out the flame with his/her co-worker or the boss and, the possible aftermath that might affect the personal and overall company’s reputation. So, if you are planning hooking up at your work, you might surely want to consider the following aspects about romance at workplace.
 
The ugly truth about sweet romance is that, most of them do not last long or do not work out at all. It’s not easy to get the accurate data on the sheer numbers of workplace romances succeeding or meeting an undesirable fate. However, many studies show that success rate is very uncommon. The odds against workplace romance succeeding are no better than winning a Diversity Visa, in very first attempt, to the United States of America. Some of them end quietly or even may lead to happy marriages. But most of them end up abruptly with detrimental outcomes; the ones we end up hearing about. Now imagine your romance is flowing like a sound river and you are very happy with it which is showing in your work performance. And out of the blue, your happy romance meets with a sad truth: break up. Now what? You can’t leave your job and you have to work with the same person from the very next day and your work performance most probably does not go at par with your previous one. Its better still if it ends the same way. But what if it does end up very bad? Sexual harassment, accusation, retaliation, and few days of holidays trip to courthouses.
 
 The workplace objectives are converted into reality by the team effort of all the working men. It’s not just the hard work of one person that can make a company a successful one. Now consider, in a team, with some company related objective, there is a love-struck couple, a fledgling one, deeply in love. The couple oblivious to others’ reaction might hamper the entire goal of the project. But the couple should be well aware of all others reactions and concerns hampering the objectives of the project. After all, ethics is all about considering how our actions affect the rights and wellbeing of others. Even in the workplace, the romance between the co-workers directly or indirectly hampers the working condition.
 
 When the romance is in between two working persons of different level at the corporate ladder (pretentiously called as lateral or hierarchical relationship) the relationship is even more vulnerable. When an employee dates his/her boss, and even if the relationship is discreet, the relation will eventually be public and concerns about favouritism, unfair treatment, and bias may arise from the relationship. Thus, you should be very wise in selecting your date at office, which might raise many concerns ranging from personal to entire organization’s reputation.
 
Thus whenever you are at workplace and whatever you plan, make sure you are fully aware with your company’s ethical standards. Maintaining discretion, dating between ranks and maintaining serious relationships surely helps to succeed in your love life. But does it go well according to the ethical standards of your company? You are the judge. You are the one who chooses your love or your life partner. And lastly, may you get the best date and besides all the odds may your office romance, if it exists, turn into a happy life ahead.
 
The author is a research scientist at Nanyang Tech University, Singapore, and teaches business ethics at various universities in the world as guest lecturer.
 

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