January 25, 2010 / 11:05 AM / 9 years ago

Romance at the copier? Beware, say experts

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Is romance blossoming at the water-cooler?

A couple embraces while standing on the sidewalk near Bryant Park in New York May 18, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A relationship with a colleague, no matter how casual, is a serious undertaking and should be approached with caution.

Consider the practicalities and consequences - if things turn sour, you might have to move on. Think very carefully before embarking upon an office romance.

Question Time - Be guided by common sense and ask yourself some serious questions:

* Are there any conflicts of interest?

* How much do you have to work together?

* Are you ever in competition with each other?

* Are either of you privy to confidential information that might create a divide?

* Does your employer have a policy on relationships between staff?

* Are you happy to be the subject of gossip and speculation?

* Are you prepared to leave your job if it doesn’t work out?

Keeping it Quiet - Don’t jump the gun. Be patient and find your feet before going public:

* Decide, together, who you’re going to tell. Don’t be tempted to tell anyone you shouldn’t.

* If it’s early days, be as discreet as possible and keep it between yourselves.

* Be cautious of using work email to communicate anything personal; opt for personal web-based mail instead.

* Restrain yourself on social networking sites such as Facebook in case you’re ‘friends’ with colleagues. Equally, temper your Twitter use.

* Turn up separately in the morning and don’t leave together at night.

* Spilling the Beans - No matter how professional you are, others might be judgmental about your relationship:

* When you become an established couple, consider being open and letting everyone know. This allows you to control the spread of the news rather than rely on the office grapevine.

* The exception to this rule is if one of you is married. In that case, don’t tell anyone. Co-workers will most likely take the moral high ground and rightly remind you that you’re playing with fire.

* Remember that your relationship will probably make co-workers feel uncomfortable - you’ve shifted the work-life boundaries with which they are familiar.

* Brace yourself for mixed reactions and accept the fact that people will talk, judge and gossip.

* Colleagues may assume that you have embarked upon the affair with ulterior motives - this is especially true for liaisons between boss and subordinate. Considerate Conduct - Professional gloss must be maintained and your private and work lives kept separate:

* Never flaunt your romance in front of colleagues - displays of intimacy will undermine your professionalism. Resist the temptation to gossip or gloat about your relationship.

* Remember that your other half is everyone else’s colleague, so don’t embarrass them by discussing inappropriate or personal topics.

* Don’t bring any relationship problems to work. Never, ever, argue or hold grudges in the office.

* Avoid the use of pet names or terms of endearment at work.

“* With careful handling and favorable circumstances, romance can blossom. Hopefully, too, colleagues will respect the fact that you’ve shown restraint and that your relationship has not affected your job.

Next Steps - If you find that mixing business with pleasure is affecting your work or your relationship adversely, assess your priorities and act decisively:

* Often couples find it too difficult to work together. If the relationship is going strong but work isn’t, then one of you may choose to move companies for love to survive.

* If a break-up is on the cards, however, brace yourself. It will be traumatic and public, no matter how careful you are.

* Remain gracious and professional at all times. People will talk and ‘I told you so’ may be a well-used phrase.

* It is the sad fact that in most cases, ex’s can’t work together and one of you will be forced to leave your job.

Office romance is a risky business. The workplace can be a challenging environment at the best of times, so don’t embark upon any romantic liaison without fully contemplating the consequences and carefully managing some serious office politics.

- Jo Bryant is the London-based etiquette advisor for Debrett's, the UK's modern authority on all matters of manners and behavior. The opinions expressed are her own. Debrett's website is www.debretts.com-

Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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