Kamil and Maria, sat metres from each other in the office. They ate lunch together, shared the usual colleagues chat – and were in a relationship they kept secret from colleagues for three years. For two years they even lived together, travelling to work in separate cars and communicating during the day on text message rather than work email.
The pair only revealed the truth to their co-workers when Kamil moved to a new company. The reaction of their colleagues? “Priceless,” he laughs.
He and Maria had got together at the work Christmas party. “For the following few weeks there were rumours about us flying around the building – but we deflected them as we had no intention of being the subjects of office gossip,” Kamil explains. “We’re both very career-oriented, so maintaining professionalism was important to us.”
They might have been determined, but keeping their relationship under wraps wasn’t always easy – one weekend they walked into a restaurant together, only to find themselves face-to-face with a colleague and her husband. Luckily, she promised to keep their secret for them! “In time we became well-practised,” Kamil says, “[But] it was difficult when my car had to go in to the mechanic and we had to share a vehicle to go to work. Maria would drop me round the corner a few roads away and I would walk in as if I’d got the bus or the train.”
Today, the couple are married, have a baby boy and have set up their own business together selling olive oil where they employ two others. Now, they’re still living and working together, but no longer in secret.
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It is far from uncommon to meet your partner at work - unsurprising, given that we spend more time with our colleagues than our friends and families. But couples shouldn’t feel pressure to tell their colleagues about their romance, argues Relate counsellor, Denise Knowles.
“A lot of it comes down to your profession, the culture within your organisation and your own personal beliefs,” she says. “Some couples are comfortable letting colleagues know, whereas others prefer not to reveal a relationship if they’re concerned it may impact on the quality of their work or how people treat them.”
Some employers have a written policy on romantic relationships at work - these can require employees to disclose whether they are dating, married, in a partnership or living with another member of staff. Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which is the professional body for HR and people development, tells HuffPost UK: “These policies may reserve the right, where there is a conflict of interest, to transfer one or both employees to another department or change their reporting lines, subject to consultation with both.”
For Danny, 30, and Jenni, 31, who met as teenagers working at Blackpool Tower Circus (where they still work together today), colleagues “could see the relationship coming”. The pair had been growing closer following Jenni’s break-up, but it was more than a year before they started dating.
Rather than discourage the relationship, their employer has been more than accommodating - the couple had their wedding reception at the Tower, with plenty of colleagues in attendance, of course. Work-life integration doesn’t stop there: the couple have a baby boy Charlie, named after legendary clown Charlie Cairoli.
Danny and Jenni, both team leaders, are now based in the same office but often work different shifts, allowing them to juggle childcare on their days off. Jenni credits their laid-back natures to being able to work together so closely. “We’re professional and never argue - even at home,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Until we tell new starters that we’re together, they don’t even realise.”
Relate counsellor Knowles says it is important to maintain professional boundaries at work when you’re in a relationship with a colleague. “If you’re working at the same level or in the same department you’ll need to navigate that together.” That’s particularly the case if you have a different level of seniority from your partner – colleagues may worry you’re getting preferential treatment if you’re dating the boss.
Willmott says romantic relationships between colleagues can create “significant issues” in the workplace. “Some of the risks occur where people blur the lines between professional and personal - acting inappropriately either because it’s going very well or very badly. Either way, they’re not respecting the professional environment – that’s when you get potential concerns around bullying, harassment or favouritism.”
Jessica, 30, and Lee, 28, met working for a travel company when Lee, who is from Glasgow, visited Vancouver, Canada, for training and got on really well. At the time, they were engaged to other people, but they kept in touch and built up a solid friendship. “Within two months, we were discussing how unhappy we were in our current relationships and that grew into more attraction towards each other,” recalls Jess. They both decided to call off their weddings, and Jessica moved to Glasgow.
“We sit next to each other, elbows nearly touching, every single day for eight hours,” says Jessica. “When people hear that we wake up together, take the train to work together, work together all day, and then go home together and hang out together all night, people think we are nuts. But it’s true. What makes it work for us is that we are best friends.”
The couple created their own workplace rules – including a ban on PDAs and talking about relationship issues at work – and always do their best not to start their work day cross with one another. Jess and Lee’s decision to keep domestic issues in the home, is a good one, says Knowles: “Avoid bad mouthing your partner in front of colleagues or bringing up personal anecdotes which may embarrass them.”
For Danny and Jenni, keeping work and life entirely separate is difficult as they often bring work home with them in the evening. That’s not a problem, because they have an explicit understanding of each other’s jobs, says Jenni. “We also remind each other to do things. Well, I often bang on at him because I know that he is quite laid back. I’m very organised, so sometimes I’ll just end up doing it [the task] for him,” she laughs.
For Kamil and Maria, co-running a business, the lines between work and play are often blurred. “We find ourselves working incredibly hard and often on Saturdays as well, as we carry our product demonstrations at stockists or run market stalls at farmers’ markets.” Their secret of success? “Sunday is without fail family day and our son’s day,” Kamil says.