Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

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Sex At Work: Guidelines to Avoiding a Sticky Situation

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Image: Nicole WilliamsAuthor of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success

Let’s face it. We spend more waking hours at work than at home. And considering the fact that men think about sex every 52 seconds (true stat!), to think that hookups aren’t taking place in the office is not only absurd, it’s naïve. Today’s working singles have little time to socialize with existing friends, much less meet enough new people to successfully find love.  An estimated 10 million couples met their mate at the office in 2003.  Some found themselves in sticky situations with far reaching career consequences, even resulting in the loss of their job. Others had a fling, married co-workers or engaged in extramarital affairs. It’s no longer just the classic image of the male boss chasing his female secretary around the desk. Women are initiating the trysts as well, and are even doing so with subordinates.

It is becoming more common for companies to ask workers to sign love contracts, which require them to alert their bosses to an office romance, confirm that it is indeed voluntary and inform them when they break up. Other companies have policies against in-office relationships. However, with or without these restrictions, negotiating an office love affair can be tricky. It’s difficult to avoid distractions, conflicts, and gossip, not to mention the complications if and when the relationship ends. Ultimately, if you start an office love affair, you need to keep your résumé up to date, because it’s likely that one of you will need to look for a new job.  Of course, if you understand the risks and insist on taking them for the sake of finding love, here are a couple of guidelines to follow:

Know Your Company’s Policy on Inter-office Dating
If there are special rules, make sure you talk together about it first and are clear about the potential ramifications before moving forward.

Don’t Keep It Secret
If you are hiding your relationship, it’s likely that you shouldn’t be in it in the first place.

Be Discreet and Act Professional
Nothing will put off your colleagues and superiors more than public displays of affection, much less sexual exchanges on office property. I’ve heard some great stories about the places in the office couples find to have sex; the boardroom seems to be the favorite, followed by the snack room and elevator. But these quickies are often discovered and may result in much more dire consequences than a little gossip around the cooler.

Be Aware of Sexual Harassment
This is true especially if you are thinking about starting a relationship with a subordinate. Even if you are both enthusiastic, if the relationship gets rocky, you might find yourself facing charges.  A subordinate is arguably incapable of consenting freely to a relationship with her supervisor, because of the inherent pressure and influence of a direct superior’s advances.  By the way, your company is the one that pays the harassment bill. And insurance doesn’t cover it.

Finally, if you find yourself in an office entanglement that has gotten tricky, or if you have doubts about how to handle the office politics around your affair, think about making use of the human resource department. They will be able to advise you and advocate for you should you need it. In general, while an office affair can work out, it’s often more trouble than it’s worth. But, as Shakespeare once put it, “The heart knows reason that reason knows not.” In other words, “sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.”

©2009 Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success.

About the Author: Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success, is the best-selling author of Wildly Sophisticated: A Bold New Attitude for Career Success and Earn What You’re Worth, and the founder of WORKS by Nicole Williams, the first media and content company marketed toward young professional women. Her advice is featured regularly in major media outlets including Elle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times. Nicole also regularly appears on The Today Show, ABC’s Primetime, Good Morning America, Fox News, and CNN.

You can visit Nicole’s websites at www.NicoleWilliams.com and www.GirlOnTopBook.com.

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