Office Hookups - The Dos and Don'ts

Love is in the air this month, but is it okay for it to enter your office? You do spend a majority of your days with your co-workers, regardless of whether you love or hate them. So why not start dating one of them? There are lots of factors to consider when it comes to office romance (besides the clear warnings from TV relationships like the tangled web of Andy, Dwight, and Angela on The Office). We spoke to Mary Crane, our go-to etiquette expert, to get to the heart of the matter.

The stresses and strains of the economy are causing many employees to look to their peers for comfort. There’s nothing inappropriate about offering a shoulder for a fellow employee to lean upon. Be very careful, however, about transforming an empathetic hug into your office’s latest racy romance.

Office romances are risky for everyone involved. At a very minimum, they can impact other work relationships and the office environment. At worse, they can lead to charges of sexual harassment and law suits.

Whenever anyone asks me about initiating an office romance, the first words of wisdom I share are: Don’t do it. If you’ve decided to ignore that advice, keep the following in mind:

1. At the very beginning of the relationship, establish a clear agreement regarding how to best manage the relationship inside and outside the office. Call it an office fling pre-nup if you want. Just spell out as many details as possible. Will you regularly eat lunch together? Dinner? What’s an appropriate number of phone calls and e-mails per day? Will any of those communications refer to sex, either explicitly or implicitly? (By the way, remember that an employer may also read those e-mails.) And most importantly, should the relationship sour, how will you agree to put the feelings aside and interact with one another at work?

2. Forego playing kissy face in the office. No one else wants to see it. In fact, save all open displays of affection for outside the office. And for heaven’s sake, never use the office nap room, reception area sofa, or Xerox machine for a workplace quickie.

3. Be prepared to disclose the existence and nature of your relationship. If you and your partner are caught playing footsy over lunch in the office cafeteria, lots of co-workers will immediately jump to the conclusion that something other than work is being discussed. By letting others know about a relationship up front, you can put a stop to gossip and silly speculation.

4. Be prepared for the fact that lots of office flings don’t pan out.

5. If your relationship falls apart, both parties must be prepared to move forward in a professional manner.

Whether the relationship is disclosed or not, once co-workers believe that it exists, they will observe the office lovers’ each and every move. Especially if you are a supervisor or a manager, you will be held to a higher standard of fairness.

While we usually think of February as the month of love, perhaps this year we should think of it as the month of empathetic support. Anyone up for a group hug?

Have a career question for iMag's career experts? E-mail us!

• Click here for more career advice.

• Visit us on our Facebook page! >>

**The above content is given to us and solely owned by Mary Crane of Mary Crane & Associates LLC.

A graduate of George Washington Law School, Mary Crane lobbied in Washington, D.C. for nearly 10 years before pursuing her life-long interests in food and wine. Crane enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America and, upon graduation, worked at the White House as an assistant chef. During this time, Crane discovered the important relationships between food, wine and business. Her desire to share this unique knowledge yielded Mary Crane & Associates. Today, Crane travels North America delivering high-impact, high-energy programs to Fortune 500 companies and more than 50% of the AmLaw100. She supports new employees by explaining how to quickly assimilate in today's fast-paced work environment. Crane also helps managers understand how to best recruit, motivate, and retain today's newest workers.

• Visit her Web site