dangerous liasons
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Four out of every ten women confess to having had an affair with a work colleague, and that number is rising rapidly. But as Andrea Semple reveals, there are a number of reasons to think twice before getting passionate in the coffee room.

Are you experiencing sexual tension at the water-cooler? Playing footsie under your desk? Exchanging flirty glances with Paul from the IT department? If yes, then you are not alone.
According to Judi James, author of Sex at Work the workplace has become the ‘prime spot’ for meeting a partner. ‘After all, you speak the same jargon and you have time to discover any psychotic tendencies.’
The combination of a longer working day and a more equal male-female ratio has certainly made an impact. ‘Whether it involves police officers, assembly line workers or lawyers, work-based romances are blooming these days,’ confirms Dennis Powers, author of The Office Romance.
Yet any woman thinking about taking a working relationship that little bit further should be careful. If things get messy, and you split up, it could mean switching jobs (think Bridget Jones).
According to one poll, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 81 percent of HR professionals and 76 percent of executives view office romances as ‘dangerous’. But despite that overwhelming disdain, most employers have no formal policies or guidelines for workplace romances. Even in companies where policies exist, they often aren’t followed to the letter. For instance, Microsoft has a policy that prevents managers from dating those who directly report to them. But inter-office relationships are largely uncontroversial – Bill Gates dated and eventually married a Microsoft employee.
According to the largest survey of its kind, conducted by news website MSNBC.com, the ‘danger’ aspect can be overplayed. Although 10 percent of workers who have indulged in a fling say they left their jobs after the break-up, only 3 percent were fired.
‘Where problems tend to arise is when there is a major divide between a partner’s work persona and the side you get to see at home,’ says corporate psychologist Ben Williams. ‘If you can be open, while at the same time limiting overt or touchy-feely displays of affection, you will reduce any potential upset.’
For such a relationship to work, the romancers also need to develop an immunity to office gossip. ‘You have to be prepared for a bit of a Big Brother life,’ says Flirt Coach author Peta Heskell. ‘And if you don’t make a pact to keep the problems at home, you’re going to cause disruption in the workplace.’
Equally, if you’re constantly calling each other by silly names, or getting passionate in the coffee room, you’ll embarrass other people. After all, questions like, ‘Have you got a copy of last month’s profit and loss account, my little honey bunny?’ might become a tad nauseating after a time.
Just ask 25 year old PR officer Roana Mahmud. In her last place of employment she got increasingly annoyed about an affair taking place between her MD and one of her colleagues in middle management.
‘The problem wasn’t so much the “romance” between them, but because of his senior position and their blatant goings-on in his office, with the blinds pulled down in the afternoon. Also, nothing could be said in the office about work issues as you imagined their post-coital conversations must have been about who said what by the photocopier,’ she says. Eventually, the MD responded to negative feedback by moving elsewhere.
Although Mahmud herself admits to ‘dipping my nib in the company ink,’ she believes if an office romance is handled unprofessionally it can be detrimental to the whole working environment. ‘I just couldn’t deal with it and was sucked into the gossiping with everyone else,’ she admits.
For others though, the gossip itself can be an escape. According to Peta Heskell, if work is a bit tedious or stressful, the office romance is like turning on the TV. ‘It’s entertainment – a story with a beginning, middle and sometimes rather sticky end.’
One thing is for certain. However precarious office relationships may be for everyone involved, Cupid still looks unlikely to ask for early retirement.

Case study

While working in the head office of P&O Cruises, Tanya Clarke, 28, embarked on an affair with the Mr Smooth of her workplace, to discover that it wasn’t plain sailing.
‘Adam was not very well-liked within our department,’ she explains. ‘He’d already had office flings and was seen to be “working his way” through the female members of staff.’
Because of his reputation they kept their relationship secret for two months. When they went public, the consensus opinion from her female colleagues was that she should be certified insane. Tanya persisted with the relationship even though she found it increasingly difficult to handle Adam’s flirty behaviour at work. The relationship fizzled out when she left the company because, in Tanya’s words, ‘there wasn’t much to talk about outside work.’

Case Study

Carla Evans, 22, met her boyfriend Nick while temping in the property holdings department at Consignia. ‘He was quiet and shy, the opposite of me, but he really made me laugh,’ she explains. ‘I couldn’t keep my eyes off him.’
After spending eight months of office time together, the attraction became mutual and they got it together. As they sat at opposite desks, keeping the relationship a secret wasn’t an option. Although her employers were fine about the situation, Carla did encounter a number of downsides.
‘The main problem I found was dealing with the two Nicks. At home he was very affectionate, while at work he would be more serious, even changing the tone of his voice,’ she says. As a result, she now works somewhere else – but the relationship is still alive and well.