How Do You Handle an Office Romance?

Love is a many-splendored thing, until you find the intern having sex on your desk.
Illustration by Cynthia Kittler

Dating someone you work with is generally frowned upon, which is why it never, ever happens. But in the rare instances when it does, sometimes—and this might surprise you—it doesn't always turn out so well. Or so these anecdotes from HR experts and other corporate executives would suggest.

Kelly Sullivan
Managing director, Bedford HR Executive Search & Consulting, New York 
 
“I was at a company with about 1,000 employees, and the president invited the top 60 people to a conference. There was a lot of alcohol. A senior-level employee hooked up with one of her male employees. Everyone knew. I pulled her aside and asked her to be discreet. For 10 months they stayed professional. But then her employee cheated. One night she contacted our maintenance department. She said the employee had been fired—he hadn’t—and changed the locks to his office. Things calmed down, but she then piled on an unfair amount of work, and we had to fire her.”

Larry Kaplan
Founder, Larry Kaplan Consulting, Los Angeles

“I worked at a nonprofit several years ago, and we had a competent staffer who never gave me any reason to doubt her. She needed an assistant, so I delegated the hiring process to her, and she hired a young man who turned out to be good at his job. A year after his hiring, one of my staff told me they were married—and had been so prior to his start date. I was shocked. Later, I learned that she rigged the recruiting process and that he’d drop her off a block from the office every morning so they’d arrive separately. I tried to confront them, but they called in sick the next day. I called, e-mailed, and sent a certified letter but heard nothing. Since they’d abandoned their posts, they were terminated.”

Illustration by Cynthia Kittler


Chloe Rosenthal
Director of human resources, &Pizza, Washington, D.C.

“We hired two people to start on the same day. They were working at the same location and apparently began dating. No one knew until months later, when we scheduled the opening of a new store. The staff was getting ready for the opening when the couple approached me to say that they couldn’t make it because they were going to the courthouse to get married. We were all floored. They had been so professional about it. They went to the courthouse, got married, had a small party with a cake shaped like our logo, and came back to work. They recently welcomed a baby girl.”
 
Andrew Reeves
Founder and chief executive officer, Luxe Translation Services, Beverly Hills 
 
“We had a young intern who was open about being a virgin. He didn’t find women his age attractive. Knowing this, I’d cringe every time I saw him talking with one older female employee. On his birthday, I decided to take him out for happy hour, and the female employee came along. I had to leave early, but on my way home I remembered that I’d left files in my office. I drove back, opened my office door—and let’s just say they were engaged in some interesting activities on my desk. I didn’t do anything about it. What happens between two adults is their own business.”
 
Roberta Matuson
Expert on talent, Matuson Consulting, Brookline, Mass.
 
“I was working as a human resources manager for a small retailer in Houston. One day a couple was working at a store, putting together a window display. Those spaces get tight, and they started fighting. It got verbal and uncomfortable for everyone. I was forced to play therapist, which was ironic, because I hadn’t even had a boyfriend yet.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE