At-work affairs

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When you're spending half your life at the office, it's perfectly normal to find yourself attracted to your co-workers.

My husband and I met at our college newspaper and later spent three years working for the same publication - in cubicles that directly faced each other. So I know a little bit about the pros and cons of workplace relationships.

I spoke with Joan Berry Kalamas, director of the Ohio Society for Human Resource Management, to get some expert advice. Here are our tips for handling office romance - and what to do if things don't work out happily ever after.

Relationship rules

Do think things through.

Before getting involved, carefully weigh the possible outcomes, Berry Kalamas recommends. Her first tip? "Don't date down." If you're a supervisor, pursuing an employee you oversee is a big no-no. And "dating up," or entering a relationship with the hopes of landing a promotion, isn't a great idea either.

Instead, the couplings that most often succeed are between colleagues who work in different departments.

Don't flaunt your couplehood.

If new hires are surprised to learn you're a couple after a few months, consider that a good thing. Nobody wants to hear your deliberations about what movie to see Friday night.

"And don't bring any of your private displays of affection into the workplace. Don't hold hands, don't kiss - it looks like you're not being professional in the workplace," Berry Kalamas said.

Do let your supervisor know what's up.

Trying to be sneaky about dating a co-worker almost never works out. Instead, have a frank conversation with a supervisor or HR representative about the situation and ask for their advice, Berry Kalamas recommends. If your relationship is affecting your work performance, or if one of you is a supervisor, someone should ask for a transfer.

Don't sit too close to your partner.

Seeing each other at work and outside of it is hard enough without having to hear every word your significant other utters during the day. If you can, ask to be moved to a different department - or at least a desk that's out of earshot.

Do take advantage of the hidden perks.

Dating someone at the office means you have an automatic carpool partner and lunch buddy. Driving together is a no-brainer way to save money on gas and parking, and eating outside the office is a good opportunity to catch up on all that personal stuff you shouldn't be discussing at work.

Don't use the office supply closet as a substitute for your bedroom.

Do we even need to explain why?

Breakup behavior

Do take a personal day to mope.

If you know you're going to break down the minute you see your ex at the water cooler, give yourself at least one day to mentally prepare. Because when you do come back, it has to be business as usual.

"It's not appropriate for one person to come back to work and cry all day because they have to see the other person," Berry Kalamas said. "They need to put themselves in the mental mode of, 'I'm at work, here's my work persona.'"

Don't share the breakup play-by-play.

It'll be less awkward in the long run to let officemates know the relationship has ended. But spare them the gory details - they have to work with both of you, and you shouldn't expect them to take sides the way a friend would.

Do maintain a civil relationship.

Resist the urge to retaliate by giving your ex the silent treatment or throwing a tantrum. It will only make you look unprofessional.

Don't enter into rebound office romance.

First off, we all saw how badly that worked out the first time. Beyond that, it's bad enough your ex has to see you every day at work. Forcing them to see you strike up a new relationship just isn't right.