When the founder and chief exec of American Apparel was dismissed at the end of last year under charges of alleged misconduct, the US company decided to go hard, rather than go home. Following the bad press over claims of sexual harassment against Don Charney, they decided to put a ban on workplace relationships.
Yup, relationships between managers and subordinates are completely off the table and any romance between staff "where one person may have perceived or actual influences over the other's terms of employment must be disclosed by the participants to the Human Resources Department". The new code of conduct also states that a "romantic relationship includes both casual dating and committed relationships", so they're even hawk-eyeing office party hookups.
So, what are the usual rules when it comes to office romance? And can it be done without ballsing up your current job, dating confidence or career prospects?
Research actually suggests that couples who meet at work are more likely to maintain a long-term relationship or marriage than those that meet under any other circumstances, including through mutual friends, so it isn't all bad.
"The key is to stay mindful of the consequences," says workplace behaviour expert and psychotherapist Karen Meager. "This kind of relationship will most likely change other people's perceptions of you, at work at least, and there's always the chance that the other person won't return your feelings, which could make working together difficult."
So, what is the key to making sure your relationship doesn't put your job reputation at risk? First up, Karen says, is how you communicate the situation to colleagues.
"Each workplace has a different policy on work relationships, so if it's an absolute must that you have to report it, do – in turn, they then have a duty to respect your privacy. If you feel like it's time to tell your colleagues, whether they're your superiors or not, keep it factual and only communicate what you need to. Agree between you and your new partner what you'll say and avoid getting drawn into specifics – details create drama and attract gossips."
For Sarah, now 31, her company's open policy demanded she reveal a romance with her fellow accountant Mike. "There's no negativity towards work relationships as long as you're open about them, and I'm a stickler for the rules, so I'd have felt worse trying to keep it hidden. Now that we're married, we have more rules about keeping work and personal life separate – we don't discuss personal issues with anyone or hold hands within a certain distance of our building – and I try my best not to call him by his various pet names!"
There's a pretty hefty list of things to avoid doing if you don't want to blur the lines between home and work for all involved. Don't moan about your other half for any reason – it could give people ammunition to use against them, and create tension between the two of you. Karen also advises against telling colleagues any details about your love life, bringing arguments into the workplace and emailing each other more than your actual work tasks dictate. "You need to make a more conscious effort than usual to remain professional, so that no-one can perceive you as anything less than the perfect employee," adds Karen.
No-one wants to risk their professional reputation on a relationship that isn't worth it, so when is it just not worth the hassle? "Beware of getting involved with someone who is known as a serial work dater, as the chance of it turning serious is low and their fickle reputation will rub off on you," explains Karen. "The other main danger is if one of you is a direct manager of the other, as no matter how well you handle the situation, it will be tricky to create a balance between work and your relationship, and the perception of other people."
For some, like Sarah and Mike, it works out. But what if your office romance doesn't last?
29-year-old Harriet, a project manager, broke up with her boyfriend after six months but they still had to see each other every day. "We were working on the same project, which meant he was technically my boss, so we kept it secret. It was fun but fizzled out because, ironically, we travel so much with our jobs. Working together afterwards was sheer awkwardness – we only talked to each other in meetings and group situations where it would have seemed weird if we hadn't. I'm not sure I'd have coped if we'd actually been in love with each other."
As we work longer and longer hours, the chances of meeting a partner at work becomes much more likely. It's definitely not a no-no but Karen's top tip before taking the plunge? "Take things more slowly, and pay more attention to your professional reputation, than you normally would. It works brilliantly for some people – you just need to go into it with your eyes open."
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