Valentine's Day

Beware of Cupid’s Arrow at Work – by David B. Grinberg

While office dating can send you to the honeymoon suite, it’s more likely to land you in the heartbreak hotel, outside on the company doorstep, or in a red hot legal mess.

Whether you’re shooting Cupid’s Arrow or being struck by it, workplace romance can have a detrimental impact on your career. Office dating can damage your prospects for advancement, negatively impact your health and wellness, while causing your productivity to plummet.

Employees should recall the age-old adage about the perils of mixing business with pleasure.

That’s why it makes good career sense and common sense to proceed with caution when engaging in workplace romance.

Rather than embrace a fruitless fling, strive to maintain professionalism per a respectful work environment. Make sure to abide by the norms and values which reflect your company culture and brand image.

Although some co-workers may date and marry, many more end up with broken hearts and pink slips. That’s why it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of workplace romance prior to making any rash decisions — even if Valentine’s Day makes you feel risqué.

The prudent course is taking office romance outside the office and keeping your hormones in check inside the office.

Pros & Cons

Some people say that a positive work romance can elevate employee engagement, leading to higher morale and greater productivity. But the opposite is true about getting caught in a bad romance, which can cause your performance to plummet and result in a host of other problems.

Employees tend to get in trouble when they are overzealous and persistent in making unwanted romantic overtures. This can occur whether a gesture of love/lust is real or perceived, explicit or implicit, intentional or unintentional.

Such situations arise when one party receives a negative response yet continues to act in a salacious or provocative way. If this happens, then the aggressor should apologize for any misunderstanding and walk away.

Workplace romance gone badly can poison the office environment and sabotage team dynamics. Negative results can include allegations of sexual assault, harassment, retaliation and emotional distress.

In a worst case scenario, one or both parties might be subjected to an internal or external investigation leading to serious discipline, demotion or even termination. What one employee assumes is innocent banter or a playful ploy on the giving end can be perceived as rude, insensitive or hostile on the receiving end.

Locker room talk and gossip can run rampant. This can result in ruined reputations and legal repercussions. Why take a chance with your career and livelihood?

Millennials & Gen Z

Workplace romance can be dicey for a new generation of young people who are new to the workforce.

Millennials and Gen Z are not always aware of their employment rights, legal protections and professional codes of conduct. This makes them especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation and management abuse.

Young people might assume that sexual harassment is part of the work culture because they don’t know otherwise and don’t want to make waves.  Younger workers might be fearful of speaking out due to victimization, retaliation, or embarrassment. No one wants to risk derision by co-workers or adverse employment action by supervisors for complaining.

While sexual harassment of teens and 20-somethings can occur within any industry, some professions are more prone to trouble than others.

Worrisome Workplaces

Industries with worrisome workplaces include restaurants, hospitality and entertainment, among others.

Low-wage employees and undocumented workers face greater risk of being targeted for exploitation. Some jobs may inadvertently promote an informal atmosphere where horseplay morphs into a fraternity-like environment.

Malicious managers in their thirties and forties can exploit high-school or college-aged workers on their first jobs. That’s why the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched their national “Youth At Work” initiative in 2004.

Some older employees may naively consider patting, touching or rubbing up against a young co-worker as innocuous behavior. Yet the young worker on the receiving end could easily take offense at such egregious behavior.

Some HR experts and employment attorneys have advised companies to promote a “hands-off” policy, literally. There are people at work who don’t want to be touched by anyone in the office regardless of gender — perhaps with the exception of a professional handshake.

Zero Tolerance policies and sensitivity training can be effective measures to prevent sexual harassment if correctly implemented. Potential victims should be encouraged to stand up, speak out and assert their statutory rights, rather than being silenced due to fear of retaliation.

David B. Grinberg

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