When Cupid's arrow strikes in the workplace things can get complicated, HR consultant says

It's the most romantic time of the year — and some Canadians say they've found their Valentine somewhere between the cubicles and the watercooler and took a risk on dating a coworker.

Psychologists say there’s a reason some are attracted to coworkers. It comes down to exposure

There are three main policies related to dating in the workplace — a blanket ban on dating, a disclosure policy or no policy at all. (LikClick/Shutterstock)

It's the most romantic time of the year — and some Canadians say they've found their Valentine somewhere between the cubicles and the watercooler and took a risk on dating a coworker. 

Psychologists say there's a reason people can become attracted to those they work with. The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon which says people tend to develop a preference for things or people that are more familiar to them than others. 

Like seeing someone every day at your nine to five. 

"I always thought that the workplace was actually a great place to meet someone, because there's not really any pressure, like you get going to a bar," said Calgarian Zac Morris, who has dated several people he met in the workplace — including his wife. 

  • LISTEN: The pleasures and perils of workplace relationships from CBC's Cost of Living 

He says part of why workplace romance is so appealing is due to a lack of pressure. It allows for the ability to get to know someone organically. 

"Maybe sparks fly at one point and it just seems to happen more naturally. It's kind of my take on why it's happened for me numerous times at the workplace." 

Zac Morris has dated several people he met in the workplace, including his wife. (Supplied by Zac Morris)

Anna Gosline, from Vancouver, grew close with her husband when they worked together at a magazine in England. 

"I remember him coming out of the press room. And I think Bridget Jones was very much of the moment because in my brain it actually went like 'Ding Dong! I'll take me one of those!' That's actually what went through my mind," she said. 

The two started spending time together as friends, at work and at after work events.

After two years of friendship the two got together and the rest is history. But while Gosline says it worked out for her, she's also seen it work out "spectacularly badly" for other colleagues. 

Anna Gosline worked with her now husband at a magazine in England. (Michael Grimmett)

"It can lead to awkwardness when things don't work out. Obviously, ours did. But the example is there to be wary because it can just make for challenging professional things … networks are what is so important to your careers. Dating within your professional networks can just create challenges downstream," she said. 

HR professionals say as uncomfortable or awkward this topic may be, it's important to address. 

Wendy Giuffre, president of Wendy Ellen Inc., a Calgary human resources firm, says typically relationships shouldn't occur when one person reports to the other, or when one has influence over their better half's career, paycheque, or promotions.

Wendy Giuffre, a Calgary HR consultant, says she has crafted contracts where employees indicate all parties are entering a consenting relationship. (Supplied by Wendy Giuffre)

Giuffre has also recently had to craft contracts where employees sign documents which indicate all parties are entering a consensual relationship. 

"It's formalized so that when a relationship maybe goes sour that it's in writing and signed by both parties," said Giuffre. 

"Things don't always work out as we hope." 

There are three main policies related to dating in the workplace — a blanket ban on dating, a disclosure policy or no policy at all. 

HR consultant Cissy Pau says it's important for workplaces to set clear expectations when it comes to workplace romance. (Clear HR Consulting)

But Cissy Pau, principal consultant at Clear HR Consulting, says policies on dating can become complicated, as many relationships don't immediately go from friendship to officially dating. And in other cases, an employee might not want to disclose they are in a relationship with a member of the same sex. 

In the case of blanket bans, employees could still date, but try to keep it a secret. 

And if a policy is created, it needs to be enforced, Pau says.

"Creating policy for the sake of creating policy doesn't necessarily work. And you can't police somebody and say you can't become friendly with this other person. That's just not how humans work," she said. 

The best policy, Pau says, is to set clear expectations for dating in the workplace, such as being professional and respectful. 

With files from Danielle Nerman, Cost of Living


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