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Relationships at work

Updated Thursday, 16th March 2017

There remains serious controversy over whether one should form relationships at work. Peter Bloom explains.

Love and work are two of the most important parts of modern life. Having a successful career and a fulfilling relationship are often emphasised as crucial to leading a “balanced” and happy existence. In the present period, the lines between work and life are increasingly blurred – as the working longer and more flexible hours can mean that “work become home and home becomes work”. Further, one’s colleagues can form an essential part of their social existence. However, there remains serious controversy over whether one should form relationships at work – the subject of this week’s episode.

Considering how much time we spend at work, it is not surprising that many people make strong bonds with their co-workers. What can start as being simple colleagues can blossom into close friendships. Similarly, being collegial can serve as a critical way to cope with the stresses of the office and the job. Yet this can also create a range of unnecessary complications. Tim Bowler explores these themes in his BBC article “Should you socialise with your colleagues outside work?”.

As mentioned above, a significant goal for most modern individuals is to strike a healthy “work-life” balance. This means not sacrificing one’s life for their career and vice-versa. To this end, finding personal and professional satisfaction should not be mutually exclusive but compatible goals. In practice, this can mean creating boundaries between work and home along with the relationships found in each. It also entails changing the culture of the workplace so that people have greater freedom to determine their own schedules and boundaries. Susan Dominus investigates this issue in her article for the New York Times “Re-thinking the Work-Life Equation”.

There is often a conception that people will use work to make up for dissatisfaction at home and vice-versa. Here, a successful career is thought to distract and to a degree replace the desire for a happy life. This is particularly the case, it is thought, for relationships and jobs, where an unfulfilling partnership can lead one to spend more time at work while, similarly, a frustrating workplace can incentivize someone to invest more energy into their domestic relationship. However, recent research found that a healthy relationship can actually contribute to one’s professional success – as it provides the stable emotional foundation to concentrate on their career goals. The Harvard Business Review examines this finding in its article “Why You Spend More Hours at Work When Your Relationship Is Going Well”.

If you are to engage in office romance then it is important to do so responsibly. While many experts and organisations advise against inter-workplace relationships, they are possible. Indeed, it is impossible to predict who you will be attracted to and where. Some rules for having an office romance means remaining professional while at work and to only choose partners that neither below you or above you in terms of organizational power. Chris Smith explores these rules in his Guardian article “The rules of office romances: whatever you do, don't look down”.

Yet the question of whether or not workplace relationships are appropriate may be missing a larger point. At a time when we are working ever longer hours, do people have time to find love and friendship outside the workplace. When work becomes home, to what extent do your workmates become your surrogate family? Are we moving toward an age where our personal relationships are by default confined to those you work with in the face of encroaching era of 24/7 capitalism? Paul Levy discusses these themes in his article for the Conversation “Are ‘frolleagues’ replacing our friends”.





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