Office flings are all complicated

By Alan Perrott

It's perfectly natural to get close to people you work with but too close and you are courting trouble.
It's perfectly natural to get close to people you work with but too close and you are courting trouble.

You all know your workplace has a stationery rooms for two reasons right?

And one of them is to store stationery.

As for the other, well, if you play your cards right you might find out at your next office Christmas party. Which sounds all slap and tickle until you remember two little words, "Len Brown," and if his sad tale doesn't fill your undies with ice nothing will.

The old-enough-to-know-better Auckland mayor's cliched workplace tumble with PYT Bevan Chuang was as far from a warm fuzzied, Meg Ryan rom-com-esque dalliance as you can get without ending up in jail, and the thought of stumbling across the pair of them in the now infamous Ngati Whatua Room - okay, an image too far.

Sorry about that, really I am.

Still, imagine if their coital interrupter had whipped out a phone?

Oh hang on, that happened last year to that Christchurch couple who didn't think to at least turn the light off before getting all hot and heavy on the office desk while being filmed by a crowd in the pub across the road.

Any potential viral infection from their moment of madness would be far easier to deal with than starring in the subsequent viral video, that stuff goes global and lasts for life.

It also cost them their jobs and forced the young woman to flee home to Britain.

But even managing to keep your trousers on won't always save you. Consider religo-political boomerang Colin Craig and his one-time press secretary Rachel MacGregor.

The details of their sudden pre-election separation may be shrouded in legal action, but once you toss in some truly awful romantic poetry and a press conference featuring a supportive wife with a frozen smile you just know he has enough money to make further speculation unwise.

Yet it happens all the time, it's natural, it's inevitable. Trap a mixed bag of wageslaves in an enclosed space with a water cooler and Friday drinks and tensions will be bubbling away before morning tea time. Some of it will be all oil and water with a side of "get me outta here " but at least one pair will have already gone from coy smiles to naked selfies.

We're animals, animals with needs, wants and easy access to those warm fuzzied Meg Ryan movies; everyone knows a couple who met at work. And anyway, if we're single, consenting animals then surely there's no problem with a little, deskside flirting?

After all, that's how Barack met Michelle, how Brad met Angelina, how Lange met Pope, and how Elvis met all of his movie co-stars.

But hold your horses Romeo and Juliet because, says Auckland psychologist Sara Chatwin, "it can also be a recipe for disaster - work fills our lives to a great extent and we know that repeated exposure to something or someone can make us want to get even closer to them."

You want numbers to back that up? Well, one American survey found 42 per cent of employees will have at least one office romance, 19 per cent will get jiggy at work with 19 per cent of them getting caught, while 25 per cent of workplace flings will eventually take them to the altar.

Which is fine, says Chatwin, except that workplaces are hierarchical structures where one partner can have some degree of power over the other. Then you need to "tread carefully ". "If you're the one lower down the pecking order, sure, you may have slightly less to lose in terms of position if things go pear-shaped, but you may also have more to lose in terms of your job."

And that's without the further complication of either or both of the couple being married or partnered up. In this case, even a seemingly harmless frolic kept on the down low can ripple out into a wider group of workmates because secrets inevitably leak.

When that happens, says Chatwin, moral issues and office politics come into play: "Especially if the relationship breaks down, then people will side with either person, which creates division and if you're the one feeling wronged it can be difficult to go forward and be professional in your job.

These entanglements are very emotional, so it can be very hard to continue working in the same place, seeing the same face every day. "

Then, of course, there's the significant other at home, which is where investigators like Julia Hartley Moore come in: "Workplace affairs are huge and they're exactly as you've seen in the movies," she says. "It's the boss and the underling, the lawyer and the secretary, the pilot and the hostess. And there's just as many women playing around - they just don't get caught out the same."

Women are also apparently better at catching wayward partners. "It's about intuition, being tuned in enough to see the slightest changes in behaviour, in dress, new catch phrases and cellphones suddenly disappearing from sight. Then there's the big things like seeing a receipt for a Prada coat that never shows up - and you can't help making those sorts of mistakes because you can't help feeling boosted by a secret romance. With women it's new lingerie, that's the first thing we do."

With so many of her clients having partners in executive positions, Hartley Moore has found that the cliche of the boss and secretary messing around on overseas trips is true "99 per cent of the time - we had one case where the investigator boarded a flight with the naughty couple and ended up in the same row as them. He saw enough on the flight to have returned home straight away, job done."

Okay then, if you really have to do the deed, how do you get away with it? Well, it's harder than you may think because so many give aways are subconscious, so it's all about self-awareness says Hartley Moore.

"You have to remember who you were before you met this new person and keep that person, keep yourself just the way you were."

It may be easier to simply put a lock on stationery cupboard.

- NZ Herald

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