Office romances can be hard work – here’s how to navigate them

It’s not always simple for lovestruck colleagues, but with the right boundaries there is no reason why a workplace relationship can’t flourish

The Office colleagues Dawn Tinsley and Tim Canterbury kissed at their work’s Christmas party.

Despite the rise of the dating apps, there’s still nothing like the workplace for encouraging the entwining of people. Whether it’s a drunken dalliance at a Christmas party, or a love steadily blossoming with a member of your team, work can be the instigator of everything from a late-night tryst to marriage.

More than six out of 10 (65%) of office staff say they have been involved in at least one workplace romance, according to a study by Approved Index, which also found that half of office romances involve at least one person who was in a relationship or married, and that 30% of office romances lead to a long-term relationship.

Many people spend most of their waking hours in their working environment, so it makes sense that some colleagues will get together, says Dr Rachel Andrew, a consultant clinical psychologist at Time Psychology. “Work often gives people a shared interest or common goal, so it may also be that people bond due to these.”

Love struck Hannah McHale when she left university and took a job in a call centre. A week into her training, her manager popped in to say hello. “I instantly found him attractive, but didn’t let on to anyone,” says McHale. “Over a few weeks we had some work nights out and it became obvious the attraction was mutual. After a month or so of working together Chris asked me out on a date.”

McHale says the couple were very open with the rest of the team from the off, and most were supportive. “Some people did make the odd joke about moving up the ladder quicker because of who I was dating. After a couple of months when it became obvious things were more serious, higher management requested that I moved teams. I found this made our personal lives easier: appraisals could have been really awkward.”

She says working in the same department was still tough (“It was hard to hear people having a moan about your other half”), but things worked out – the couple, who live in York, have now been married for 10 years and have two children. They still work for the same company, but in different buildings. McHale says one particular rule has helped. “We have a rule that work can be spoken about on the journey home, but not once we are in the house.”

But while they can be fun and exciting, work affairs can also be fodder for office gossip, impact your relationships with your colleagues, and be particularly devastating if the relationship ends and you’re stuck sitting opposite your former flame.

Alex Hamilton counts five dalliances with women at work since starting his career after university. These range from a couple of dates with one, to a two-year on/off relationship with a woman who had a partner at the time.

“I didn’t think about the consequences of getting together with someone from work,” says Hamilton, a data expert, who is now in a relationship with someone he met outside of the office. “I’ve never once thought, ‘Oh this is a girl from work, I shouldn’t go there. Maybe it was naivety or youth, or I just didn’t care.”

However, he says that while for the most part the aftermath of the break-ups have been fine, there was one four-month relationship that impacted the way he worked. “I started working in a different place, away from the team. I wanted her to physically have her space. I felt guilty about breaking up with her – I’d behaved in a naive way.”

While it’s natural for people to meet and build strong relationships at work, it’s worth having a glance over the company’s policy before rushing into anything too serious, says Lydia Fairman, a HR and resourcing specialist. “Some have zero tolerance and expect one of the partners to resign, some are totally accepting of office romances and see it as your own business, while others will have specific rules about who to tell and why, and what to do if one of the individuals is a direct manager or team member, to ensure colleagues aren’t impacted and everything is ethical and fair.”

Fairman also advises would-be lovers to remember professional boundaries. “For example, don’t disclose confidential info to your new partner, breach any work confidences out of the workplace, or behave in a way that makes colleagues feel uncomfortable or excluded.”

There was no budding romance in store for Will Cooper when he joined BBC Radio 5 Live six years ago. That’s because the digital editor already knew one of his future colleagues very well – the person seated on the desk behind him was in fact his wife, Jo, who he met on a post-graduate journalism course at Sheffield University in 2003. Both had carved out strong (and separate) careers in the media industry but when a job came up on the radio station his broadcast journalist wife worked at, their working lives suddenly aligned.

“At first it was weird,” admits Cooper. “We had separate careers and I liked the fact that I wasn’t fully aware of what she did – there was a little mystery behind it.” However, after six years of working just a couple of metres away from each other, albeit in different teams, he says there’s many benefits to working in the same office.

“She tells me if I am overreacting to things or if I should be concerned about something,” he says. “It’s been incredibly helpful, although there are times when I sometimes feel that I can’t escape work.”

Another upshot is the quality time they can sometimes squeeze in together. “I get to see her without the kids being there and sometimes we’re able to go for a walk at lunchtime.”

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