Workplace romance becoming more accepted

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As office romance is becoming more acceptable in the workplace, more and more people are finding love at work.

Story and photos by Rachael Ruybalid, News Net Nebraska
When one thinks of romance in the workplace, images of steamy sessions in on-call rooms, hidden kisses in a back corner and whispered secrets kept from the boss may come to mind. Romance in the workplace has been a subject kept under wraps for many years and while necking at work is still unacceptable, being in a romantic relationship with a coworker is.

According to career management website, vault.com’s 2010 survey, 59 percent of people had participated in some form of an office romance. Of that 59 percent, 30 percent said it was a long-term relationship and 20 percent said they met their spouse/partner at work.
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Studies show that close to 60 percent of people have dated a coworker.

“Workplace relationships are more accepted these days, with 67 percent of workers saying they aren’t keeping their romance a secret,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of CareerBuilder in an interview for job.com. “However, it is the responsibility of the individuals to understand company policy and make sure they adhere to it,” specifically stressing the importance of keeping relationships professional while at work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that because women now make up 46 percent of the workforce, there are ever increasing opportunities for office romances to get started. About one in 10 Americans work more than 60 hours a week, the BLS said which means that men and women are together for longer periods of time and there is less free time to meet people outside of the office.

Dating Policies

While some employers have dating policies in place for their employees, many managers agree that as long as everything is kept professional while in the office, dating is allowed.

It’s hard because work is people’s social circle and the people you work with are the people you’re with most of the time, Jael Miller, a restaurant manager at a Lincoln location of Old Chicago said. Asking employees not to have romantic feelings for people they’re with five to six days a week, that’s just ridiculous, she added.

Five years ago, 40-year-old Tricia Pidlypchak, a project administrator with RHP Mechanical Systems in Reno, NV, dated a coworker for three years. She and her coworker kept their relationship a secret for awhile but eventually told their boss. While dating wasn’t really recommended or approved, there wasn’t an actual policy against it, Pidlypchak said.

“He (boss) said it was ok, as long as we kept it professional and kept it quiet,” she said.

Restaurant manager Miller met her current boyfriend while they were working together, he as a server/bartender and she as a supervisor at Old Chicago. The line between supervisors and servers dating is blurry, Miller said. As soon as she knew she was going to become a manager, Miller knew something had to change in their relationship. Her boyfriend ended up transferring to a different store in the same town to get around the policy.

While we were dating and still working at the same store, we did our best to keep it professional, Miller said.

“We weren’t willing to let it become an issue so therefore it just didn’t…work is work time and home is home time,” Miller said.
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After being friends and coworkers for almost a year, Jael Miller and Scott Blobaum began dating.

Some managers and companies have decided to simply lay down the law and have zero-tolerance policies for staff dating. John Pelini, the former food and beverage director at Lincoln, Neb., country club The Lodge at Wilderness Ridge refuses to tolerate dating among his managers.

“I explain in interviews (with potential managers) about my dating policy, which is absolutely no dating at all,” Pelini said. “You lose so much time when people are dating and planning dates for later and hiding out—it’s just not a good idea.”

While Pelini prohibits dating between his management staff, he allows it amongst the servers and bartenders, he said. As long as those members of the staff can keep it professional, he doesn’t have a problem with the lower ranking staff members dating each other. It can become a big issue if the dating becomes a distraction at work though, he said.

Sexual Harassment

There’s line between dating and harassment, Pelini said.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a continuing concern for employers who want to have a safe and healthy workplace, said Tami Lewis-Ahrendt, director of human resources at Centerpointe, a non-profit agency.

“Women are finding a more dynamic place in the workforce and are less concerned about losing their position,” she said. They’re not as vulnerable in the workplace as they were 10-15 years ago. They’re not afraid to speak out anymore when they feel uncomfortable, Lewis-Ahrendt said.

So while the acceptance of canoodling in closets and making out in on-call rooms at work will most likely never come about, workers can rest assured they are not alone in their admiration and romantic feeling for that good-looking cubicle mate. As long as one keeps it professional; go for it!

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