Are Office Relationships Losing Their Stigma?

Do you mix business with pleasure?  Are you thinking about it? Or, perhaps you know someone who is?

Approaching the topic of mixing business and pleasure is like approaching the final taboo. Office relationships have traditionally been off-limits. But is that taboo starting to fall away? Are companies starting to turn a blind eye, even expect employee relationships (well, now that employed people are expected to stay in the office almost every waking hour to keep their jobs, it’s kind of inevitable, really…)

The Atlanta Blackstar Reports that as far as the old saying goes “you don’t dip your pen in the company ink,” it may be coming to an end. In other words, you shouldn’t get into a dating or sexual relationship with a co-worker may have gone by the wayside.

But consider this: according to a recent Workplace Options survey, nearly 85% of 18-29 year olds would have a romantic relationship with a co-worker, compared to just over 35% for 30-46 year olds and about 30% of 47-66 year olds. Even more shocking is that 40% of those 18-29 year olds would date their supervisors. According to a CareerBuilder survey, interoffice dating has a fairly high success rate–of the 38% of people surveyed that dated a co-worker at least once, 31% went on to marry that co-worker!

Are these age old adages becoming extinct? If you believe the stats of new employees entering the workforce, it might seem so. But a lot of companies don’t let the rank and file decide. They adopt policies that ban or limit workplace dating, all in the name of lowering their liability.

Enforcing these policies can take their toll on a company. Just last month, Gary Friedman, the chief executive of Restoration Hardware, stepped down in the middle of the company’s public offering. The reason: an internal inquiry into his relationship with a 26-year-old female
employee. Friedman was not married, so there was no affair. And the employee? She didn’t even work there anymore!

Earlier this year, Best Buy’s chief executive, Brian Dunn, stepped down after an investigation by the board discovered he had shown “extremely poor judgment” with a 29-year-old female employee. A couple years ago, Hewlett-Packard’s chief executive, Mike Hurd, resigned amid accusations of falsifying expense reports to hide a personal relationship with an independent contractor.

So, the nature of the notion of scandal is still in play.  When approaching an office romance, make sure your brain is till part of the equation.  Check on office policies in play and discretion should still be the operative word.

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