It’s a familiar story. You meet someone special at the office, become friends, go out for a casual cup of coffee, start dating, and enter into a romantic relationship. It makes perfect sense that a romance will bloom with a colleague at the office, as we spend more time at work than anywhere else. You see and interact with coworkers more regularly than you do with family and friends. Also, since you work at the same company, and maybe within the same division, it is reasonable that you share similar interests, experiences, and backgrounds that led you to this place. Career Builder, the large job board, conducted a survey which reported that 41% of workers have dated a colleague. Furthermore, nearly one-third of those relationships ended in marriage.
This scenario and supportive statistics are about to dramatically change. In light of numerous sexual harassment allegations and scandals, it is conceivable that dating in the workplace will be banned by corporations or regulated by government agencies. Before you yell and curse at me, I am not a proponent of this movement. Rather, I am a champion for maximum personal freedoms and liberty and concerned about big government and corporations meddling in our private lives. As a realist, however, given how things are rapidly changing, it is clear that we are moving quickly in this direction.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook and Google have already enacted a new rule toward dating and office romances. Employees are permitted to ask out a coworker just once. If the recipient rebuffs the offer, the person in pursuit of the date does not get another chance. Facebook’s global head of employment law said that, “Ambiguous responses like “I’m busy,” or “I can’t that night,” count as a “no.”
It is highly likely that the next logical step would be for companies to completely ban dating between coworkers. What is the upside for the company and its executives if people date compared to all the potential downsized liabilities? Even if only 10 percent of these romances go bad, it could have serious repercussions for the company.
Allow me to offer an example of the conundrum faced by companies. John asks Jane out for a date. She gives a soft “no” and John is uncertain of her message and true feelings. So, he asks a second time and Jane is a little more firm, but John feels that she is giving mixed signals. It just so happens that John is friendly with Jane’s manager and a number of other people, some of whom are high-up within the division that they both work in. Unrelated to this date request, Jane receives a mediocre annual review. She also does not receive a promotion that Jane thought she should have rightfully obtained. Jane could easily, and reasonably, interpret that John may have said or did something to influence her boss against her. Then, a claim may be filed with the human resource department and she could possibly file a lawsuit against the company, its executives, John, and everyone else involved.
What if they did date and things ended poorly? Maybe there were some heated arguments and fights. In today’s culture and climate, it is too easy to cast someone as a harasser or villain. Corporations have deep pockets and are easy targets. We all know that it is exceedingly difficult to advance at work. The vast majority of people don’t get to the top and most people are average. A lot people are below average. It is easy to blame your status and lack of advancement on someone else. I’m not making any judgments; it’s just easier to say it is another person or the system’s fault that you are where you are and not due to your own shortcomings or lack of luck. Also, sometimes, it is some else’s fault. But either way it could end up as a lawsuit, the government gets involved, the company is on the front pages of all the newspapers and caught up in the cable television news cycle for the week being cast as evil, terrible people with horrible, insensitive management. The mob mentality takes over on Twitter, Facebook, and social media chastising the company, boycotting its products, and tarnishing its brand and reputation.
With this in mind, corporate executives will come to the conclusion that – why in the world should they take the risk of allowing employees to date? Too bad for the promising couple. The executives will think we have to protect ourselves and big fat paychecks. The no-dating rule will be put in place or corporations will install a draconian amount of rules and regulations that prospective daters will be required to follow. These rules will discourage dating, since failure to adhere to the labyrinth of Orwellian requirements will have strict penalties enacted on one or both of the parties involved. It will become obvious to everyone that a system is in place, that if the parties involved fail to inform Human Resources, don’t sign the right forms at the correct point in time of the budding relationship, fail to complete annoying paperwork in a timely manner within hard deadlines, neglect to awkwardly inform managers and coworkers of their romantic situation, it will be deemed their own fault if anything went wrong, and the company will be absolved and immune to lawsuits, whereas the two daters will be held liable instead.
It’s interesting, we always worry about Big Brother government stifling our freedoms, but it seems that we are doing it to ourselves.