What happens when an office romance turns sour?

Not all office romances end well. When it doesn’t, it can get complicated... for everyone. Photo: 123rf.com

Tony first got to know Amanda when he first joined a multinational company in Kuala Lumpur and they hit it off instantly. The chemistry was strong and they spent a great deal of time together both in and out of the office.

They worked on projects together in the office. Outside the office, they went on dates – dinners, movies, concerts, games, etc – and were even planning to move in together. Both were single and in their 30s: while Tony had never been married, Amanda was a young divorcee.

Everything seemed to be going well.

But Amanda was also Tony’s supervisor and soon, rumours started spreading: “he was promoted so quickly because of her influence”, “he got all the cream projects because he’s dating the boss”.

It took a toll on their relationship.

“I genuinely liked Amanda and I know she was serious about me too. We were already planning to meet her parents back in her hometown,” he says.

Soon, Tony found himself removed from key projects and he was also sidelined for promotion even though he was a good worker. And, Amanda started distancing herself from him. The last blow was when he was transferred to another branch.

Later, he discovered that Amanda had received a warning from the company management, and because she was in the pipeline for a promotion, she had no choice but to be “less public about her personal life”.

“Both of us aren’t married, we’re not in an affair and it is a ‘legit’ relationship,” he emphasises. “But office romances often encounter external pressures, including pressure from colleagues, bosses and company policies and dynamics, and even though the company didn’t have strict policies against dating within the company, they discouraged having couples within the same department or branch. It was like the ‘unspoken rule’ to not mix business with pleasure,” he says.

Subsequently, Tony left the company, and although he tried to reach out to Amanda, she didn’t respond.

Unfortunately, such unhappy endings to work romances are not uncommon and psychologists advise those embarking on an office relationship to proceed with caution.

“Before you act on your feelings, it’s important to think through the risks – and there are quite a few. Of course, there’s the chance that the relationship won’t work out and that there will be hurt feelings on one or both sides. There are also potential conflicts of interest,” says University of Texas (USA) psychology professor Art Markman in an article on office dating in the Harvard Business Review.

Another psychology professor, Amy Nicole Baker from University of New Haven (USA), asked: “If you’re dating your teammate, do you put the team’s or the individual’s interests first?"

There are also reputational risks.

“Your professionalism may be called into question,” says Baker. "Some colleagues may think you’re giving your romantic partner preferential treatment or vice versa. Having a relationship with someone higher up in the organisation can create an alternate explanation for why you’re succeeding,” adds Markman.

If you decide to embark on a relationship with a co-worker, you’ve to take into consideration the repercussions if it doesn’t turn out well. Photo: FreepikIf you decide to embark on a relationship with a co-worker, you’ve to take into consideration the repercussions if it doesn’t turn out well. Photo: Freepik

Blurred lines

Jenn and Peter, both in their 40s, were another couple whose office romance didn’t work out. Both of them work at an advertising company and although their company didn’t have any “rules” about dating colleagues, the “lines are blurred” because other matters did crop up.

When there was a huge project and together with it came a promotion and possible overseas posting, all the executives were gearing up for it, including Peter and Jenn.

The project was eventually awarded to Jenn and it was very obvious that Peter was upset.

“He became slightly withdrawn and we didn’t spend as much time together,” says Jenn.

She realised that he was sorely disappointed that he didn’t get the big project and felt intimidated by her success.

Jenn also discovered that Peter had been saying “not so nice” things about her to their other colleagues.

It caused a strain in their relationship which eventually ended.

In retrospect, Jenn says “while dating a colleague isn’t wrong, there are many things to take into consideration”.

“Should you decide to embark on a relationship with a co-worker, you’ve to take into consideration the repercussions if it doesn’t turn out well: you might still have to see the person at work, be in contact with them or liaise with them, and how you would feel about it,” she says.

Marital & Family Therapy Association (MyMFT) vice president, Couples and Family therapist, and HELP University senior lecturer, Bawany Chinapan. Photo: Bawany ChinapanMarital & Family Therapy Association (MyMFT) vice president, Couples and Family therapist, and HELP University senior lecturer, Bawany Chinapan. Photo: Bawany ChinapanAccording to couples and family therapist and Marital & Family Therapy Association (MyMFT) vice-president Bawany Chinapan, the longer the romance, the harder it is for both parties to manage the emotional residue when it turns sour.

“It also depends if the romance is between co-workers or boss and subordinate. And it would be more awkward if they are in the same department should the relationship not work out. Seeing each other at the workplace after the breakup, especially if it was not amicable, will worsen the awkwardness and circumstances for both. If one party ended it, the other party might feel upset about the turn of events.

"Circumstances of the breakup may impact how both parties will feel and react at the workplace. Most times, colleagues will notice or be triangulated as parties are upset or need to vent and this might not be a conducive working environment for one or both parties. This is where it is best to seek the advice of mental health practitioners on the emotional struggles after the end of the office romance," says Bawany.

She highlights that a couple involved in an office romance might also be subjected to office gossip or rumours.

"This is why it's important to have a clear code of conduct regarding work and romance. Establish work boundaries and leave the romance part to after office hours because the latter might stifle productivity and give colleagues cause to comment and result in an unhealthy work relationship with co-workers," she says.

"Most companies don't encourage office romances within the same department as boundaries may be blurred at the workplace. Hence, proper HR policies will help manage and give respect to individuals at the workplace regarding office romances.

While we can’t stop office romances, there needs to be guidelines on how to conduct oneself in an office environment and this will be helpful for the couple as well as their colleagues and the organisation, she concludes.

Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

Next In Family

Malaysian lawyer finds her strength in aikido
Observe and act: Ways to help a depressed teenager
Training in aikido has helped this Malaysian stay safe, happy and healthy
Seniors Festival offers three days of fun for older persons
Glasses tips for kids who play sports
Backpack basics: Managing kids' daily load to minimise strain
Starchild: Why Malaysian children are proud of their country
Malaysian architecture graduate crafts leather goods for a living
Women's Tribunal a valuable tool for advocating policy change and law reforms
Parents feel the pinch when kids' birthday parties become expensive affairs

Others Also Read