updated 11 Mar 2012, 12:04
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Office romance not always a bad thing
by Rachel Chan

WITH people clocking long hours at work these days, it is not surprising that some of them do eventually fall in love with their co-workers.

And unless one's company has a strict no-dating policy, it would not be remiss of an employee to openly express romantic interest in his or her colleague, say human-resource (HR) and dating experts.

In fact, it is perfectly acceptable for an employee to present a bouquet of flowers - on special occasions such as Valentine's Day - to his girlfriend at the office, said Ms Violet Lim, co-founder of dating agency Lunch Actually.

For those who prefer to stay low-key, sweet nothings can come in the form of online messages.

These days, most companies take a neutral stance towards office romance as people are spending more time at the workplace, which, as a result, has become convenient hunting ground for marriage mates, said Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at staffing and HR consultancy The GMP Group.

"Employers are aware that a no-office- romance policy could be a bit intrusive and may have negative repercussions on its employer brand," said Mr Goh.

"Most of the time, they would expect their employees to behave like adults and know where to draw the line between professional and personal lives."

Human-resource manager Ivy Tan, for example, has witnessed her fair share of happy endings during her 11 years at a professional-services firm.

"It is common for team members to work till 2am or 3am, so they have limited time for socialising. It is very common to see them marry their colleagues, bosses or subordinates," said Ms Tan, who now works for a Japanese firm dealing in printing and imaging products.

Companies usually have no issue with their staff members dating or marrying one another, she said.

However, employees involved in office romance should take steps to protect their professional image, said Mr Goh.

In cases where the couple's professional relationship is one of supervisor and subordinate, they should be mindful not to show favouritism towards each other, said Mr Goh.

Some companies require their staff to declare if their spouse is working in the same department or in the company, so that the management can decide whether there is a conflict of interest.

As for day-to-day behaviour, public display of affection is a big no-no because it could make others feel uncomfortable and tarnish one's professional image, said the experts.

"The dating couple should be mindful that the workplace is still a place to conduct business and not a place to display affection openly," said Mr Goh.

"Dating employees should not be exchanging confidential information about the company or colleagues."

It is also good practice to keep the romance under wraps until both parties are certain that they are serious about the relationship, to avoid unwanted gossip and potential embarrassment when things do not work out, Mr Goh advised.

And should the romance sour, do not make irrational decisions like resigning without first finding another job.

"Employees should assess the circumstances, such as their career progression within the company, and the impact of the break-up. Resignation should be the last resort," said Mr Goh.

Instead, speak to the immediate bosses about spending some time away from the office, or ask for a transfer to another department or location.

Said Ms Lim: "If all parties are mature, and can deal with office romance properly, one should not rule out the possibility of finding love at the office."

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