I asked my friend Laurel Coppersmith M.S.W. to write a guest post because
she has spent 25 years doing EAP work & 23 years in private practice. I
respect her wisdom enormously:
People spend 2/3’s of their waking hours at work. Workplaces are highly
stressful these days, and the experience can leave them distressed and
emotionally hungry at work as well as emotionally drained and inaccessible after
work. No wonder, then, that workplace romances occur on a regular basis.
So, what’s the problem with that? Some would argue that it’s better than
meeting a stranger at a bar, because they know the person and would see him/her
on a continuing basis . That is precisely the problem! If/when things aren’t
going well, they still have to work with and see the person. It could prove
difficult to have to set aside feelings in order to do the job.
To further complicate matters, what if the romance involves an employee and
a supervisor? These types of workplace romances are extremely problematic
because there are federal laws that severely penalize workplaces which tolerate
these relationships (many workplaces have Human Resource policies which
explicitly prohibit workplace romances).
If the relationship sours, the supervisee may feel that she/he was coerced
in exchange for the promise of promotion or perks ( known as quid pro
quo sexual harassment). Other employees may complain that the individual
in the relationship with the supervisor gets/got special treatment
(known as hostile work environment sexual harassment).
The legal fallout can create adversarial relationships which can
increase job stress and threaten job security.
If you are a supervisor having a relationship with an employee and that employee
or another one files a grievance which, upon investigation, is founded, you can expect to be terminated from your position.
What are some options for people in the workplace? First, try to keep
some boundaries between the workplace and your personal life. Make sure that
your stress level is manageable so you aren’t emotionally vulnerable, and can be
choiceful about your relationships (in other words, get a life!).
If you are already in this situation, consider whether one of the two of you
could seek alternate employment, or even a change in department. Many
companies have Employee Assistance Programs which offer worksite-based counseling.
You can avail yourself of this resource, as well as the counseling
which is covered by your health insurance as a mental health benefit.