Belfast Telegraph

Office Affairs: Mixing business with pleasure

By Chrissie Russell

A new poll claims that a third of all office workers admit to mixing business with pleasure.

'We were at a big work event in a fancy hotel," says Karen (30). "The main dinner had finished and people had left the dinning room to hit the bar. I'd been going out with my boyfriend, who worked for the same company, for about three months but we'd been keeping it a secret.

"I'd gone on a few dates with another guy at work and it hadn't worked out. I told him it was because I wasn't interested in a relationship but actually I just didn't fancy him. It seemed kinder not to rub his face in it by openly dating a co-worker just a few weeks later.

"Anyway, we'd had a few drinks and sneaked into the darkened banqueting hall for a kiss. The next thing, we're having sex behind one of the tables! Afterwards we couldn't stop smiling, it was a thrill talking to senior colleagues who had no idea what we'd been up to!"

Karen asked to keep her profession quiet and for her name to be changed, preferring not to be outed for having a sneaky bit of saucy fun while officially at work. But while she may be reluctant to sing her naughty antics from the rooftops, she's far from being alone in her escapades. According to a recent poll, one-third of office workers admit mixing business with pleasure -- and that's just the ones who admit it.

UK-based teacher Fergal confesses to being one of those those indulging in extra-curricular activity. "On one occasion I had sex with another teacher up against one of the school mini buses," chuckles the 30-year-old. "I also got involved with a music teacher who was 17 years older than me and we had sex in her classroom."

Many try to keep their illicit affairs under wraps, with varying degrees of success. Caroline, a journalist in her twenties, decided to strike up a casual relationship with a colleague.

"We worked in a small office and just felt we'd rather not be fodder for office gossip but that plan lasted all of 12 hours," she laughs.

"He'd spent the night at mine and I remember I'd made him leave his shoes at the front door. The next morning he went down to retrieve them and came back up looking sheepish.

"The sports editor had just driven past and clocked him coming out of my door and given the time and his shoeless state it didn't take long for her to put two and two together."

But plenty of others get caught in more compromising positions. PR consultant Siobhan diligently returned to her office to work late one night only to stumble upon two co-workers. "Basically I walked in on them in flagrante," she says

She adds: "Then another time we were all away in Spain for a work event at a beautiful boutique hotel and a different couple ended up having sex in a bathroom and broke the sink. There was flooding everywhere and it cost the company about €2,500 -- the couple denied all knowledge."

Of course with most people spending some eight hours a day, five days a week in an office environment it's inevitable that there will be some sexual frisson between co-workers. But relationship psychologist Allison Keating from Dublin's bWell Clinic urges proceeding with caution.

"On one hand it can be a great foundation for getting to know someone because you're seeing them regularly, you already have something in common and since you see them for long periods of time, you're probably seeing the real them," she explains.

"But what happens if it doesn't work out? You still have to see them. There are other issues too. If one person progresses further in their career their partner can end up feeling inferior or jealous. Or a big one is if the relationship is between different grades of staff -- that can prompt snide comments and accusations of favouritism, which might contain a grain of truth."

When Louise and Martin started dating they were equals in their workplace but then Martin got promoted. Louise (35) says: "When Martin got promoted I definitely noticed a shift in how people acted towards me. People no longer spoke openly in front of me and I was excluded from nights out and lunches."

She adds: "I know that people talk behind my back and say I get favourable treatment but if anything I think Martin's harder on me. And I have to work extra hard so people can't say I'm taking advantage of being married to the boss."

Ultimately any relationship that gets formed in a workplace is always going to affect more than just two people. John from Co Down works in a large accounting firm and knows too well how a dangerous liaison can turn a workplace toxic.

He says: "One of the guys at work was engaged to a female colleague but ended up cheating on her with another co-worker. The night before he got married he called the other girl and told her he loves her, but got married anyway . . . with the second girl a guest at the wedding!

"The worst thing is everyone knows all this apart from the guy's wife, obviously. It's a real elephant in the room at work."

In order to keep the workplace running smoothly, Dublin-based management consultant, Miriam Ahern from Align Management Solutions, advises employers to have rules in place to deal with office romances, and the potential fallout.

She explains: "From an employer's point of view, the big difficulties are when employees of different grades get involved or if a relationship goes bad. Those instances can give way to claims of discrimination, favouritism, harassment or bullying.

"If policies are in place and guidelines written into office codes of conduct, then that makes it easier to deal with problems should they arise."

They should also make sure employees know that a certain level of professionalism is required. Ahern says: "It's not easy to tell employees they can't date but staff need to know that they have to behave sensibly. Certainly there shouldn't be any inappropriate language or touching in the office."

"Discretion is key," agrees Keating. "Take the relationship slowly and don't do anything you're going to regret. Particularly in the run-up to the Christmas party season, it's important to think about the long-term implications of getting involved with someone you work with.

"I still cringe for a girl I know who told her manager she loved him after a few drinks at an office Christmas do. I might sound like a party pooper but really if it's just a quick snog you're after I'd recommend looking elsewhere."

'We got a bit of friendly slagging from the staff'

It's not all tales of scandal and water-cooler heartache, some 22% of office romances end up with employees getting married.

Belfast-based communications manager Victoria Sloss (38) met her husband, managing executive Nigel Tilson (46), when they worked together on the same newspaper. They turned an office romance into happy ever after and are now married with two children, Hannah (8) and Lilah (2). Victoria says:

"I started working with Nigel in 1996 when he was an editor and I was a reporter. We were supposed to go out as an office for drinks but everyone else cancelled, so it ended up just the two of us. We were laughing about how the other staff would be talking about us and Nigel asked me: 'Do you think it would be unethical to go out with your boss?' I said 'no' and then he asked me out for dinner!

"We kept it quiet at first in work, but someone spotted us at the cinema. Nigel had already spoken to his manager to check there wasn't a problem with us dating, which there wasn't.

"We got a bit of friendly slagging from the rest of the staff but no real hassle. Unfortunately, I found Nigel started being harder on me, just so no one could accuse him of favouritism.

"We got married in 1999 and just after that Nigel moved into a different job. It definitely felt like a healthier relationship when he wasn't my boss any more and made it easier for us to draw a line between work life and home.

"I'd definitely recommend meeting someone through work; there are a lot of pros, such as spending time together, knowing the same people and understanding work pressures -- but it's probably easier if it's not your boss!"

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