Romance at the water cooler

By Joseph Barratt

It's getting hot in the office, writes Joseph Barratt.

Brendon Clarke and Amelia Simonsen work together. Photo / Herald on Sunday, Marty Melville
Brendon Clarke and Amelia Simonsen work together. Photo / Herald on Sunday, Marty Melville

Forget bars and clubs. Increasingly, the new meeting ground for singles - and those looking to stray - is the workplace.

More than a third of Australian workers have confessed to getting intimate with a colleague and experts say the number is the same in New Zealand.

"People are working long hours together," said Auckland psychologist Nathan Gaunt. "They confide and go through adversity with each other and often socialise together.

"People are spending less and less time outside of work. Opportunities to meet people [outside work] are diminished."

A survey of almost 1000 workers by Careerone.com.au revealed 35 per cent of those who had an office romance described it as short-term and 21 per cent as long-term.

But only 5 per cent of workplace relationships ended in marriage. More than a third of those who had an office liaison had been "intimate" with a colleague in their workplace and 6 per cent had been caught on the job.

But whether it's a fling or long-term relationship, relationship experts warn office romances can be fraught with dangers.

"If the relationship dissolves it can cause a bit of anxiety in the office," says Gaunt. "Some people feel pressure to leave the company."

Relationship Services clinical leader Louise Chapman has dealt with people who wanted to leave an office relationship but weren't sure how.

"I've had people wanting to get out of relationships because they are seeing their boss and he is married. But there is the worry about what is going to happen to their job.

"And, on the other side, I have had bosses come in nervous because 'she' has a hold on him and is afraid she is going to tell his wife.

"The same sort of stuff happens to people that aren't in the same workplace but it's more magnified when it's at work."

Another relationship counsellor, who asked not to be named, has heard of workers having affairs being busted at Auckland airport as they got home from business trips.

The arrivals lounge has a big screen where people waiting for passengers can watch their loved ones complete the final stages of immigration.

"More than once, a wife watching the screen saw their husband give their secretary or colleague a goodbye kiss before he walked out."

Dr Rachel Morrison, who lectures in workplace relationships at AUT, says:

"If it's the accidental drunken thing it's seen negatively anyway. Plus in some situations you are opening yourself up to allegations of sexual harassment."

Working out well

Workplace relationships can work well as Brendon Clarke and Amelia Simonsen, both 25, can testify.

The couple are lawyers with Bell Gully in Wellington and have been going out for three years.

They got together as their university studies drew to an end and both ended up taking summer clerk positions with the firm.

They have been working full-time for the last year but their busy jobs mean they would have little time with each other if they worked in different places.

"In our line of work it's good. Because our jobs are so busy it means we get to do more with each other. We can walk into work and then home together.

"If we manage to get a lunch break we can go out and get a coffee," said Clarke.

Simonsen agrees: "It's nice having someone who understands everyone and everything you talk about."

There had been no issues working together and the firm was great, said Clarke.

They said they both work to keep professional.

"We make a conscious effort to be seen as individuals rather then as a 'couple'. Most people see us as individuals," said Simonsen.

- Herald on Sunday

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