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I have a question regarding what should I do if I have a relationship with a colleague that just got hired. The 'story' so far is this: I've been working at this company for 3 years. It is a small one, with approximately 30 employees, so everyone knows everyone. I have the image as a quiet, shy guy, that is hard-working.

A month ago, a girl that I only know little from college just came to an internship here. I don't have any authority over her. She is here temporarily (a few months) and hopes to be kept as a permanent employee. In a short time we developed a relationship, and promised to keep it secret. But by various circumstances, our colleagues have figured out about us and are having all sorts of jokes all around. They are quite disturbing and I am afraid are eroding my (and her) reputation at work.

What do you think we should do? Should we just tell them we have a relationship or dismiss all the talk about us?

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    Unless you are married and/or the girl is, the word affair probably isn't a good word to use for this, as it implies that at least one of you is committing adultery, aka "cheating" on your spouse. (The Romanian equivalent would be aventură.) "Relationship" is a good enough word for what's going on otherwise.
    – user1602
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:32
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    This is a relatively poor question for us to answer because a good deal of this is dependent on the norms of your society and quite opinion based. I'm American and if this happened in my workplace, comments would likely be of a joking nature because workplace romances are common. Now, if there is something salacious (like an actual affair), the comments will likely not be as open and will be far more judgmental. And a "I really like her; please be respectful" will probably do wonders to stop this Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:37
  • How long have the jokes been going around?
    – mcknz
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 16:21

2 Answers 2

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You asked,

Should we just tell them we have a relationship or dismiss all the talk about us?

That's really a question the two of you have to answer for yourself. How you feel about the gossip may be different (maybe she hates it, maybe it doesn't bother her at all?) It's also somewhat dependent on the intensity of the relationship, if it's just casual and short term your response may be different than if it's something that's quickly becoming serious.

That said, I think there are some important considerations for you to keep in mind:

Firstly, gossip is "fun" for gossipers because it lets them feel like they have some sort of inside scoop. In other words, part of the value in gossiping comes from knowing something other people don't know. If you disclose your relationship, you take that value away. It's not much fun sharing a "secret" that everyone already knows. This applies somewhat to jokes, as well - they mainly have "power" because you respond to them. Often, if you disengage from responding to the jokes, and focus on your work, you may find that they stop. In general, people who gossip and tell jokes will have plenty of material in a typical office - they'll often just move on to whatever the next "fun" topic is once their current material has lost steam.

Another important consideration (that really applies to any substantial relationship, not just one in the workplace) is to make sure you're on the same page. If one of you expects to spend lots of time together at work once the secret is out - lunch, coffee breaks, etc - and the other one doesn't want to do that, there's going to be issues. Talking through how you'll handle your relationship in the workplace will be important. It sounds like you already did a little of that when you decided to keep things a secret, although it also sounds like that failed.

Finally, consider if your employer has any sort of official relationship policy. Often, and for very obvious reasons, there are rules within an organization about being in a personal relationship between someone with whom you have a structural relationship in the workplace - for instance, dating your boss, or being in a relationship with someone on the board, etc. Also, some organizations require that any substantial relationship is officially disclosed - usually done as a preventive measure to ensure that people in a relationship don't have the opportunity to abuse any power relationships.

There's also the obvious point to be made - having a workplace romance can mean things get really awkward or difficult if the relationship ends poorly. This is definitely something to keep in mind, and it's worth the effort to consciously decide if you're really interested in the risk of a messy breakup impacting your career. Some people are sensitive enough about career impacts that it's just not worthwhile, while others may want to pursue the person they're interested in, no matter the workplace impact. Again, as above, it's not really our place to make that decision for you, but it's absolutely worth considering.

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  • +1 As somebody in a long-term relationship at the same workplace, another consideration if this becomes serious - is the increased potential for both people to lose their job simultaneously in any round of layoffs. It doesn't affect the day-to-day workplace aspect, but it's a factor OP and their partner should consider and prepare for financially.
    – user81330
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 8:54
  • Thanks for the very insightful opinion. I will see what we will do.
    – Litwos
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 6:38
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TL:DR - If you're serious about the relationship, and want to see a positive end for the jokes and gossips, find a job elsewhere, or help her to find another one. That's the best-advised professional behavior.

Usually, a romantic relationship in a workplace, can cause many issues. If not now, in future. Co-workers making jokes in the least of them.

For example: In future, in case one ends up directly or indirectly managing the other one, even fair and simple actions can be seen or interpreted as favoritism. You risk of creating a negative vibe in the workplace, despite trying to avoid it. Also, we're human - so at the end of the day, the ups and down of your personal relationship is going to affect the work environments. So, better to (or at least, try to, in near future) keep your personal and work life separate.

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    This seems really drastic, especially since we don't really know the seriousness of the relationship or any cultural norms for the OP's location. People have successful workplace romances all the time - dealing with the office gossip is not unlike any other problem you might face. If everyone who had any kind of workplace relationship quit and got a different job, our economy would crash.
    – dwizum
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:45
  • @dwizum OK, I added a bit to make it clear. Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:47
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    To add to this answer: I learned this the hard way. Never, ever date a colleague. I had a nasty breakup some time ago which eventually ended up in us not talking, not even a hello. We did not work together on the same team but shared some responsibilities in the company. I eventually started working elsewhere, what was the plan eventually.
    – Odyssee
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:54
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    You spend most of your waking hours with people from work. At some point you're going to find yourself thinking about one of them in a more-than-purely-professional way. This is called "being human", there's no point fighting it, and since when was some crummy job more important than a shot at happiness anyway? (I say this even as someone who went through a disastrous breakup in such circumstances that basically ended my career. Still, would I do it again? Yes. Was it worth the risk? Hell yes. Sadly, for me, that time, it didn't work out.) Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 21:46
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    @Odyssee - Sounds like you had it rough - but the problem with generalizing a single anecdote into a black and white rule is that you distill the situation so far it becomes a misrepresentation. I'm currently married to someone who I met because we were close colleagues at work. Clearly, not all relationships (in the workplace or not) end poorly, and not all end well. "Never" is a strong word.
    – dwizum
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 16:22

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