Don’t kill the office romance

Relationships between colleagues should be none of our bosses’ business.

Simone Hanna

Topics UK

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Given I am currently seeking full-time employment, I wish to make clear that my support for workplace relationships does not come from a desire to preserve a personal situation. I am perfectly open to the concept, if only someone would offer me a job.

Sadly, with that admission, I probably won’t be getting the call any time soon from BP. Earlier this month, the oil and gas multinational announced it was clamping down on workplace relationships after its former boss was dismissed for failing to disclose details about his personal relationships with colleagues. From now on, BP’s senior managers must report any ‘intimate relationships’ that have taken place with colleagues in the past three years. Those who fail to adhere to this face disciplinary action.

The frequency with which the word ‘Orwellian’ crops up in modern parlance when describing a new development is exhausting. But, honestly, wherever Eric Arthur Blair is, I hope he has internet access to get a sense of just how much more insane things are than even he envisaged.

The Party knowing everything about you was bad enough. But this is worse. Companies are ordering staff members to go through the extra humiliation ritual of blushingly informing Susan from HR that they are dating someone in the workplace.

How far does this rule go? Is there a cap on the number of workplace relationships you’re allowed? What happens when you surpass, say, five colleagues? Are you banned from the office, or made to wear a muzzle at the Christmas party? Will you be forced to go on a course to unlearn how to flirt over the water cooler?

Obviously, you don’t go to the office to meet people. Certainly, you shouldn’t be playing footsie under the desk. And everyone knows the broom cupboard is meant to be for storage-related activities only. No one ever wants to be caught between two people with aggressive sexual tension, or trying to focus on a spreadsheet as your colleagues giggle and make eyes at each other. Yet, most people have the common sense (and dignity) not to behave like this.

What you do outside of work, though, is very much your business, whether or not it’s with someone who shares an office space with you. Why should two consenting adults be forced to humiliate themselves by reporting who they spend time with in out-of-office hours? When did the details of your private life become the property of the company you work for?

It’s not as if workplace relationships are uncommon. Studies show that a huge proportion of people meet their partners at work – treble the amount of relationships forged via dating apps. And why wouldn’t they? Meeting people in an office setting is far more organic than swiping around on your phone. It’s certainly better than that other real-life romantic mixer, the sticky, dark, deafening nightclub floor.

Yet it seems that businesses have decided that it’s their job to regulate romance. If it wasn’t enough for the state to lock you in your home for two years, or for Transport for London to have plastered the Tube with banners denouncing eye contact as sexual assault, the office is now trying to intervene in your love life, too.

Perhaps it isn’t the wisest idea to shack up with someone with whom you share proximity, white collars and little else. But you shouldn’t have to explain yourself to professional busybodies.

What is one to do? No one, really, wants to find the love of their life on a dating app, and very few people do. It’s not the romantic story we heard from our grandparents, and it’s not the one we want to tell our grandchildren. But with this crackdown on romantic liaisons in the workplace bound to repeat itself in other areas, we may all be forced to rely on dating-app algorithms to sustain our love lives.

Perhaps I’m a romantic – or maybe it’s because I’m unemployed – but I believe we should let love bloom, even amid the fluorescent lighting, bellowing bosses and lukewarm coffee.

Simone Hanna is a writer.

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