EPMEPM: First Person

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated – Fiona Blayney

Fiona Blayney looks at the murky world of office romance and suggests the best way to avoid an awkward situation is to set clear boundaries from the start.

It’s been some 27 years since I started in the workforce. I recall with much amusement a group of us girls switching out of our school uniforms, Clark Kent-style, and into our ‘Woolworths Checkout Chick’ fashionable wear in the rather private space that was the back seat of the 107 bus heading straight from school to the illustrious Top Ryde.

So much fun was had at what we affectionately called Topsy Top Ryde; lifelong friendships developed, memories made and stories created that perhaps can only be repeated over a glass of wine with people who were there. A walk through the adolescent ages of school and uni jobs includes cooking at the local Italian, Pizza Delivery driver and, of all things, bra fitter at ‘Grace Bros’ as it was previously known (yes, I know that’s a curly one). It’s safe to say that the gathering of friends continued and the exploits along the way simply became – well, let’s call them ‘more mature’.

The teenage rumour mill would go into overdrive on a regular basis as feelings were shared, party pashes ensued and young love blossomed and fizzled within a week – sometimes right in the middle of a shift. No doubt those teenage years were a precursor to the events out in the world of full-time work. Sure, we all grew up a little; we became older people with bigger problems, the stakes were higher and the relationships longer. But nonetheless, over the past 27 years we’ve all, like tumbleweed, gathered people into our social circles as result of those 40 hours we spent working each week.

Now I am not suggesting that everyone should meet their life partner in the broom closet at work.

But let’s be frank: there are certainly many couples whose eyes have met over the photocopier and found love at first copy. Others have met at a conference or a Christmas party; and yes, there are those who couldn’t stand each other upon first meeting but, through the sands of time and perhaps the sheer intensity that can be the office, love has blossomed.

For, whatever you think of Mr Joyce, are his choices a matter for public debate or private process? Does his boss Mr Turnbull get the final say on who good old Barnaby can and cannot date? Whether you agree with his actions or not, at the core, since the dawn of time, many relationships are either formed within the office or infiltrate the office when partners join the business – especially in real estate.

Does Mal setting a rule that inter-office romance is a no-no in Parliament mean it won’t happen, or will it simply put it into hiding? We all know someone, have witnessed the process and even watched on with a little chuckle as the two lovebirds attempt to maintain the worst-kept secret in the company. I’m sure the big hill in Canberra is no different.

Of course, as nice as it is to have a little romance in your life, every silver lining has a cloud. When that cloud makes its way into the office it can be very uncomfortable for all involved and, depending on the temperament of the couple, it can feel like the whole building is involved.

So I ask, despite the best of intentions, is it possible to bring love into the office? There is no way my husband would be racing into the office to work next to me each day, but there are many couples who succeed in this space. That being said, I do see it working and in many instances exceptionally well. I’d say the top five rules to work by include:

1.    Setting life boundaries; keep work at work and home at home

2.    Create clear job descriptions and KPIs, and align accountability as with the rest of the team

3.    Remember at work you’re speaking with a colleague, not your lover

4.    Ensure the team feel safe to communicate any grievances

5.    If it hits the fan, take it outside; no one wants to see your dirty laundry.

Actually, just for good measure, let’s make it six:

6.    The company rules apply to everyone equally, from the boss’ husband to
the newest recruit. Keep things clear and consistent or communicate the difference.

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Fiona Blayney

Fiona Blayney is the founder and director of Real+, an industry first Property Management learning platform. For more info visit realplusonline.com.au.