Thursday May 22 2014

To hook or keep eyes off that hot office colleague

Although dating someone at office may be irresistible, it may

Although dating someone at office may be irresistible, it may come with problems such as job loss and jealousy. PHOTO BY RACHEAL AJWANG 

By Olive Eyotaru

Love, it is said, can find you anywhere; church, the park or even the unconventional Owino market. You just can never be sure when or where cupid’s arrow may strike, but it surely does not miss in some places.

The office is one of them. Susan Ssentongo met her husband in 2007, at a place they worked together. Although they were in different departments, it did not stop them from falling in love, even when the human resource manual barred office romance.
“We were so into each other and since the feeling was mutual, we defied the odds and started dating,” Ssentongo recalls.
The script is not different for Diane Naijuka, a journalist, who met her husband in the newsroom.

“I was a magazines editor while he was a designer. We were great friends before but later realised that we were in love with each other. We were lucky that relationships at work were not restrictive, as long as you accomplished your tasks,” Naijuka says.
Even though dating at work is not unlawful, several corporate companies have written policies discouraging them in their Human Resource manuals.

Efrance Musimenta, the Human Resource manager at Blue Financial Services, says office romance is bound to occur because it is at work where people spend most of their time, so they get to know each other over time. She, however, preaches against them.

“Office relationships should not be encouraged, particularly if they are to become intimate. When they do, these relationships might, in a way or the other, compromise work ethics,” Musimenta explains.

Khamis Musanje, an organisational psychologist, says the proximity at work is bound to create relationships among colleagues. Just like Musimenta, he agrees that office romance is not only unprofessional but has far reaching consequences on work ethics.

Boss-subordinate relationships
In situations where a supervisor or boss is seeing a subordinate, Musanje contends that it could cause friction within the work setting.

“Imagine a situation where a subordinate falls in love with the boss. That has an impact on the appraisal system, so even if she is not performing, she is not blamed because “The Boss” will cover her tracks,” Musanje notes.

Musimenta adds that favouritism is bound to occur in such situations.

“It can be hard for other colleagues to understand that the relationship can be mutual. There could be the God Father Syndrome, so other subordinates may not take it lightly. It could also compromise on how to challenge the partner on accomplishing targets.”

However, Theodore Okumu, a businessman who met his wife while working at a financial institution, says, as long as boundaries are set on how not to mix professional and personal interests, a relationship in office can thrive normally.

“Workplaces are like any other place. How do you know that the person you meet at office may be your life partner unless you try? I don’t believe that the human resource should decide this, as long as you agree on the boundaries,” Okumu says.

In some instances where companies discover that their workers are into a relationship, there are guidelines on how to handle these situations. One of them includes declaring their status to the Human Resource department.

“What is very important is that once declared, such relationships are well managed. Once you entrust the HR department on the status quo, it can decide whether the relationship can affect work, whether it can be managed, whether there can be a switch of departments or whether one can leave,” Musimenta explains.

Ssentongo says her husband had to give up his job after the company Chief Executive Officer summoned them and asked them to “do something” about the rumours going on about their relationship.
“We sat down and agreed that at some point, one of us had to leave for the sake of the relationship. He resigned and I later left for greener pastures,” she recalls.

Musimenta says relationships between supervisors and subordinates need to be discouraged at all costs due to the sensitivity of the status.
“In instances where the subordinate is a woman, jealousy is bound to crop up. Haven’t you heard of ladies fighting in office over such things? A superior usually interacts with juniors, including females, so mistrust may arise,” Musimenta insists.

Musanje says those in a formal relationship, such as marriage, are more likely to handle office relationships with maturity.

He says they are more secure and chances of them bringing their personal issues to work are low, compared to those having flings.
Rogers Feni, a businessman, however, says it is unfair for companies to restrict their workers from dating, saying doing it “in-house” saves both time and money.
Naijuka says relationships at work can survive if you are both committed. “I believe office rules should not ruin your chance of a great future with your partner. Break the rules and date that man…you never know how bright your future will be,” she says, with a sheepish smile.

Okumu, in his own words, says cupid knows no boundaries and those already dating in office, should go ahead.