What you need to know:
- The office romance is fizzling out, thanks to months of working from home and social distancing rules
- Online dating and the sexual harassment policies that tightened after the #Metoo campaign have also seen to the decline
- In the past one in ten people met their spouse at work
A lingering look across the office, a nudge when you're waiting for the lift, or an offer to go for lunch together where your hands graze as you pass him a cup. As subtle hints are exchanged, an after-work drinks offer is put on the table.
We all remember the heady excitement of the office romance; which gave us a reason to iron our dress in the morning or made us dread the day after the Christmas party.
Those days feel long gone now. Studies have proved the office romance's days are numbered as the couples meeting at work hits a 60-year low the world over.
Where it began
Pundits say thanks to the #Metoo movement—as many fear being accused of sexual harassment—the popularity of online dating, and the work-from-home, masking, and social distancing rules necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the office romance is as good as dead.
The views on office romance are varied. Some people wonder what would have happened if, for example, Michelle Robinson had decided not to go on a date with the person she was responsible for supervising at their law firm – a young man called Barack Obama? Is it an unrealistic pressure to expect us to keep our human selves totally separate from our work lives?
I belong to the other side. The type that doesn't like the thought of office dating. Without a doubt my productivity would be on a decline as I can't help but jokingly punch Jeff seated right next to the office printer as I collect my printouts-- and who wants Ted from IT to have a situationship with you when you want a happily ever after? I can't handle the pain, without giving him the 'look' or worse throwing the plastic cup at him during a lunch break at the cafeteria.
And what if your endearing name to your lover pops up at the office meeting.
"I was a marketing manager and my wife was my assistant. She forgot and called me 'babes' during the presentation. They looked for ways to fix us. She was fired after a month. I knew I was next in line so I just resigned," shares a man on social media.
The truth is, we can find love in places we least expect, and there are several if not many people who have found their perfect match at work.
A case for dating
A February 2020 quarter one report conducted by Corporate Staffing Services Limited, in line with research about spouses in Kenyan organisation, indicates that 1442 of the 2550 employee respondents have had or are in an office relationship.
"Proximity brings intimacy," says Dennis Abere, a 33-year-old biochemist who met his wife Fiona Gogo while working in an FMCG company. Fiona 33, an engineer had been assigned to help solve a problem alongside Dennis. They naturally developed a connection that day, that bloomed to be love. They had previously set out not to involve themselves in office dating, but cupid arrow's strike was too strong to resist.
What started as two people working together to solve a problem at work ended up to be a happily ever after office love story. It was 2015 when they started dating and because of office policy, they had to inform the Human Resource and the leadership team. "Due to possible conflict of interest we had to inform the HR and sign a form declaring our relationship, so they would know how to map us," Dennis says.
The couple says that declaring the relationship prevents the possibility of being placed in a position where one reports to the other or being assigned sensitive company issues that would have the potential of causing a conflict of interest.
"We agreed to separate issues. At work I address Dennis, my colleague, at home, I address Dennis, my husband. This helped us ensure that our productivity level did not decline for the four years in which we worked together. We also avoided office drama," Fiona says.
An office romantic relationship has several benefits. Fiona points out that Dennis can understand when she has a deadline to meet and can offer support and the space she requires for her to meet the deadlines. "He clearly understands what is happening at work, and can make more informed supportive decisions." Fiona shares.
Raymond Mbau, 29, an engineer, has a different perspective. He is skeptical about office romance and believes it is destined for failure. "I have never had an office fling or tried dating at work. I imagine the effect it will have on my productivity in case of a misunderstanding or worse after a breakup and my conclusion is that it is a no-go zone. I can't imagine being productive on a Monday morning when the person I almost threw a cup at, in the heat of an argument on Sunday evening sits across me."
"Situationships are more common now, and that can and has caused a decline in relationships at work," Fiona shares. It can be why some people, like Raymond, would be hesitant to engage in an office relationship.
Natalie Njue, a 30-year-old single procurement officer in the medical industry, has had her heart broken in a love triangle in the office. She dated this hot guy in the office, in the marketing department. "We kept our love a secret as per his instructions. Few months down the line I discovered the reason for this rule was because he was having a fling with a colleague in the branch office." Natalie felt betrayed but not discouraged to try office dating again. "I have seen it work for others, so I decided I might have better luck the next time," she adds.
The experience taught her to do more research about a colleague before engaging in a romance.
Thanks to the #MeToo movement the potential of sexual harassment or male colleagues making inappropriate advances, is on the decline and has provided a safer environment for an appropriate office relationship.
"On the downside though, men at work are now too careful about the words they use, the accidental touches, and the 'you look gorgeous Annie' complements have reduced," Natalie adds.
Stella Mbura Mutiga, a Human Resource professional, who has experience in the hotel and finance industry expressed that there are no specific guidelines or policies in regards to office dating but there are clear-cut HR policies about sexual harassment in the office. "We discourage dating someone you report to and vice versa, because of potential conflict of interest that would affect productivity or appear as giving undue advantage," Stella says.
The Corporate Staffing Services Limited study says that 76.7 percent of the HR professionals do not support office relationships.
Further 51.7 percent of office workers stated that there is no policy in their organisation regarding work romance while 48.3 percent stated that their organisation had policies.
"You need to know the HR guidelines on office romantic relationship because some companies ban it while others provide ways to ensure that it doesn't affect productivity," Dennis shares.
Finding it online
Online dating has seen an increase as a source of finding the 'one true love'. It is taken as a more convenient avenue than the office. The online platform has fewer rules of engagement and no boss is watching your every move or the possibility of loving a manager that would later promote you because of all the right reasons but the action viewed by other colleagues as an appreciation for bedroom affairs.
"In an office setup, people tend to be on their best behaviour. In an online romance, the individuals can be more real and trustworthy if one identifies someone serious about finding love and not a fling," says Dennis.
With the covid-19, some companies were forced to start working from home, and that has also contributed to the shift from office to online dating. Natalie says that she had tried online dating but after a horrible experience she decided to give office dating another try. "I mean, I spend the better part of my life in an office, where else am I expected to find love?" she asks.
She was getting cozy with Dave the IT assistant, till Covid-19 reduced that interaction to zoom meetings and once in a while office appearance with a face mask and social distancing requirement.
"Covid has made it harder," Natalie who works from home, four days a week and one day in the office, says.
The do's and don'ts in office dating
Respect the workplace. It is important to remain professional by avoiding PDAs in the office. "Threats, promises of promotion or favour in an office relationship are prohibited," Stella shares.
Separate the relationship and the work. While at work relate to Fiona or Dennis the colleague. At home relate as Fiona my wife or Dennis my Husband. Do not allow personal issues to affect or cloud your judgment while working. In one way or another it will affect your productivity and in turn, affect your career.
Be genuine about the relationship. As a man especially consider the intention before approaching the lady colleague. "Consider the intention very seriously," Dennis says. This will ensure that you will both remain productive and that it will not hinder your career growth.
Know your company's policies and guidelines regarding office relationships. This will make you decide if the risk is worth it.
Declare the relationship to the managers or the Human Resource. This helps in re-aligning the chain of command when the need arises, and avoid assigning work that would cause a conflict of interest.
Enjoy the relationship. Work relationships are like any other and spicing it up shouldn't be ignored because you spend most hours with the person. Text them within the day to find out how they are doing but do not go overboard in a way that may seem disrespectful to other colleagues or the employer.
By Fiona Rogo, Dennis Abele and Stella Mbura