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Cubicle Love Connection

What to keep in mind when things heat up at the watercooler.

One of my best friends is a social worker at a community mental health center. She took the position immediately out of college, viewing it as a natural step in the development of her career.

Within the first month, she found herself working closely with a handsome speech pathologist who treated a number of her clients. Now, many case meetings and treatment-plan reviews later, they’re engaged.

Bet you’re not surprised—or shocked. Most people crave social interaction and companionship. What better place to find it than on the job? After all, office life is hospitable to the development of romance on many fronts. Daily interaction, a safe and generally dependable environment and common interests are all conditions that can ignite an initial spark between two people.

Casual interactions, from laughter over a cup of coffee or heated discussions in the conference room to mutual schmoozing at a trade show, can naturally evolve into attraction. However, reconciling the personal and professional benefits and the perils of an office affair is a formidable task.

Dating a coworker may seem an ideal solution for those who just don’t have the time to meet a potential partner. Unlike the sometimes uncomfortable surroundings of a bar or nightclub, the office usually permits romance to blossom gradually and within an atmosphere of trust and respect.

Moreover, mates who are on the same career path usually find it easier to understand one another’s needs and to empathize with the demands that the job entails—an appealing benefit in any relationship.

And an unspoken truth about office romance, be it short-lived or long-term, is that it usually provides the kind of excitement that many of us crave. Sure, flirtation is fun. And the forbidden nature of a workplace relationship adds drama to the grind of our daily lives.

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More productive?

On-the-job romance even offers pluses on a professional level. Working with a lover can increase productivity and drive, says Charles Pierce, an industrial psychology professor at Montana State University.(1) Enthusiasm and romantic energy may be channeled into job responsibilities, and we may work especially hard to demonstrate to our lover that we’re ambitious and committed in our endeavors.

An accountant from San Francisco, who preferred to remain nameless, says, “Working with my boyfriend is great…. I’ve seen admirable qualities in him that I might not have seen outside the office.” Many workplace couples also are more willing to put in longer hours and overtime when they can do so with their partner, and a few pairs even say that living and working together is the key in balancing their social lives with their careers.(2)

“I’m less likely to take a sick day just to spend time with my boyfriend, since he and I have the same schedule and vacation days,” the accountant admitted.

But despite how enticing it may be to steal a quick smooch in the mailroom, getting involved in an office romance also has its downsides and dangers.

The downside—legal and otherwise

The most daunting obstacle to office romance is the possible legal repercussions of such an involvement. While most companies today have adopted fairly lax policies on workplace relationships, some still have strict policies that they enforce. Enforcement can mean a transfer or, in extreme cases, dismissal. However, the general precedent is that as long as productivity and efficiency aren’t impacted by the relationship, it’s treated as any other work relationship would be.

Usually more troublesome than legal issues are the personal difficulties encountered in the course of a coworker romance. The reality is that a workplace relationship can very easily put an individual’s career in jeopardy.

When petty arguments spill over into the workplace, respect can be compromised. Not only is the concentration and productivity of the couple affected, but the resulting negativity may emanate to others, disrupting their work as well.

Even worse, agreement and consensus between partners might be viewed as a conspiracy or an alliance. Close interaction may be met with distrust and resentment by coworkers, even when that partnership is positive for the company. “I try to have more interaction with my other coworkers [over my boyfriend] so we aren’t viewed as a tag team,” the accountant says.

Relationships between subordinates and superiors can be especially damaging. Other workers often misconstrue promotions and raises as favoritism or power plays. And when people feel they are being treated unfairly, their morale and dedication plummet.

And if such a relationship goes bad, its power inequities can be fuel for a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Even when a workplace relationship is on a stable course, the sheer amount of time that a pair spends together can cause them to become easily annoyed or bored with one another. It becomes especially important to maintain other outside interests and friendships to guard against a quick demise.

And what does happen when a relationship crumbles? It’s unreasonable to think that the hurt, anger and resentment associated with a breakup will always be left at the door. It’s inevitable that emotion will sometimes seep into interactions between former flames.

Think before you leap

Workplace romance has its perks and its pitfalls, so use caution when deciding whether to get involved with a coworker. Ask yourself: Are love and companionship more important than the possibility of damaging your career and your future?

For some people, the desire for a relationship is overwhelming, and they will do almost anything to attain it. For others, stability and consistency rule, and they’re willing to commit themselves to searching for love and fulfillment outside of the workplace. Do what’s right for you—just be prepared for the consequences.

Cubicle Love Connection

Sherrie Mcgregor, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Mcgregor, S. (2020). Cubicle Love Connection. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.