Long working hours and a corporate culture that includes extensive post-work socializing have combined to make workplaces giant chemistry sets with endless amounts of testosterone, adrenaline and pheromones flooding through the air conditioning system, leading to a rise in office romances.
“Suddenly I have something in common with Angelina Jolie. Sadly, it’s not Brad Pitt,” she said, twirling her long hair around her fingers contemplatively. Actually Usha Sharan, copy editor with a film magazine (hence the starry analogy) wasn’t referring to Jolie’s kiss-me-now lips. She, like Jolie and Aishwarya Rai and Kareena Kapoor and Kajol to expound on the filmi connection, met her partner at work.
Usha met the man of her dreams as they both struggled to figure out the intricacies of the cappuccino machine at work, and while they’ve both tried not to make it obvious they’re dating, she’s sure their colleagues gossip about them at the water cooler and fax machine. Mercifully, her boss is quite understanding and benevolent and doesn’t comment when Ravindra stops by at her desk to use her puncher and stapler when he’s got his own lined up on his table.
“Those days when we worried about people taking their work home are over. Now, conversely, what alarms us is when our employees conduct their personal lives in the office,” says one HR executive. Working hours that stretch for ever and a corporate culture that includes extensive post-work socializing, combine to create a social hotbed in which office romances can't help but blossom. Office romances are a bit like stealing the office stationery, everyone acknowledges it goes on, the higher ups don’t approve, but it’s seen as inevitable.
Sikanadar Bakht, a senior journalist whose worked with several newspapers across the country and ended up marrying a colleague from Kolkata a decade ago, says it’s hardly surprising that office romances thrive in many professions like journalism, advertising and law where most employees put in 48 to 50 hours a week and commute for a couple of hours every day. “Add time for sleeping, shopping and eating to the equation, and you’re left with about an hour a day to meet and romance your future life partner. Some of us take more time choosing our shoes,” he says, adding that the point is if you don’t meet your other half in the office, where, and more pertinently when, will you meet them?
But if like Bridget Jones, you spend the morning studying your boss’s face through his glass-walled office as he receives your messages about your new lingerie, remember email flirtation is fraught with danger. Check twice before hitting “send” and never press “reply to all”. A common pitfall that those with burned fingers will testify to: if a person’s name is in your head, chances are it’ll end up in the “send-to” box. Kavita Kapur, an ad executive, laughs over a recent incident in her office when an amorous colleague sent an e-mail to his secret office lover, which read, “Are you wearing a scarf to cover the hickey from last night?” She says the reason she (and everyone else in the open plan office) knows is because he accidently sent it to the rotund accounts officer, who is also the office gossip, and happened to be the next person in his address book.
So what should you do if you’ve taken your attraction to that cute girl in marketing or dishy guy in IT to another level? Obviously, some discretion is called for. Your private life is just that, private. Blossoming romance may simply wither under public scrutiny, so in the early days while you’re still sussing out each other, be discreet about your feelings. Unless, of course you enjoy being asked when and where the marriage is happening, and this before you’ve even kissed. Be careful, pressure can kill a relationship stone-dead before it even starts.
Be honest. Among all those fantasies you have about the boss, is there the promotion you’re pining for? Wake up, his desk is not a casting couch. Remember, if you have an affair with someone more senior than you, you can safely assume you won’t get credit for anything you achieve yourself from then on. On the other hand, by being secretive, you’ll just get everyone’s antennas up, and if the whole thing does get serious, you’ll have to confess your love at some time. Your colleagues will rightfully bombard you with variations of “Didn’t you trust us?” While the answer is probably “No”, tact will be required to soothe those indignant feathers.
Increasingly though, many offices have stopped taking a laissez-faire attitude towards office romances. Recent studies show that workplace romances are under threat from bosses who fear they’ll be held responsible for nepotism, disruption and charges of sexual harassment. In fact, the HR executive says that her company is planning to get its employees to sign “love contracts” that oblige them to report relationships with other members of staff.
Already a rage in the US where thousands are formalized every year, dating co-workers are asked to sign a “consensual relationship agreement,” or “love contract”. It’s a legal agreement between two employees which confirms that they’re in a consensual relationship. Signing these allows the dating couple to come clean about their affair effectively protecting either party from future sexual harassment claims from each other should things head south. The contract also covers the employer from any lawsuits that may follow should the relationship disintegrate.
And what happens if and when the romance goes kaput and he/she breaks your heart? You never want to see his/her cheating face again. Don’t make a scene. Do you want your colleagues to find out that you cared about the scumbag? It’s tough to appear nonchalant in an open plan office but the only thing you can do is keep your head down and behave as if nothing’s happened. Hold back the tears and then cry on the shoulder of that foxy new guy in IT.