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Cupid in the cubicles

Do dentists have more love bites than other professionals? In the “open wider” culture of an ivory snatcher’s clinic, it is possible that there could be more affairs in the air? People who drill together may well fill together. In the dictionary, Cupid is quite close to cuspid.

The Wealthy Dentist, a webzine run by dental consulting expert Jim Du Molin, certainly thinks so. A recent poll conducted by the magazine says, “One out of every five dentists admits to becoming romantically involved with a co-worker.” It’s not good, adds The Wealthy Dentist. “But it’s obvious that people will sometimes give in to temptation.” It affects others in the organisation. If it happened in India, one can well visualise a newspaper headline “Molar morals hit morale.”

But dentists are not alone in finding Cupid amid the cubicles. “If you spend eight to 10 hours in the same office day after day, physical proximity begins to tell,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant Shashi Rao. “If you are footloose and fancy free, what is the problem?”

Rao would be the first to admit, however, that there could be a lot of problems. First, most people aren’t footloose; they are probably married. As a Florida orthodontist confessed in The Wealthy Dentist article, “It cost me my marriage.” That may be fine in Florida; in India, it is still unacceptable.

The bigger problem for the workplace is not what’s happening at a personal level. “An affair within an organisation upsets reporting structures,” says Rao. “It could lead to charges of favouritism. At the very least, the principals lose the respect of their peers. Can’t you hear the sound of sniggering?”

But it happens all the time. Remember Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky or Jack Welch and Suzy Wetlaufer? Of course, these were more professional, workplace romances rather than office flings. According to an article in Fast Company, “a magazine for innovators”, the rules are changing. “Southwest Airlines has about 1,000 married couples on its rolls and gives an annual Love Award, recognising the contribution that one special couple makes to the company.”

The Fast Company article has a prescription for the new generation:

Go ahead. Dive right in. Office romances are a lot more successful — and less dangerous — than you might think. And they’re also more serious.

Keep it discreet. But don’t be secretive. Taking the plunge doesn’t mean letting it all hang out. Keep PDA (that’s public displays of affection, not personal digital assistants) away from the office.

Don’t cheat. No matter how you look at it, stepping out on your spouse with someone at work is a bad idea.

Remember that the forbidden fruit is always the most tempting. Forget policies that say that if you date, you’re fired. They don’t work. When workers are forced to skulk around, intentions become murkier and the outcomes are far less positive.

Office romance is a hot button subject today. There have been several books. Some examples — Office Mate: Your Employee Handbook for Romance on the Job, by Stephanie Losee; Office Romance: Love, Power and Sex in the Workplace, by Lisa A. Mainiero; and The Office Romance: Playing With Fire without Getting Burned, by Dennis M. Powers.

There have been several surveys too. Dennis Powers reports that 80 per cent of US workers polled know of or have been involved in an office “amour”.

One-third of all romances begin at work. In the UK, a NETconsent survey says that one in six workers has had a relationship with his or her boss. Almost 60 per cent of workers have had romantic encounters with workmates.

The best places for this sort of thing (see box) are in media and entertainment. Who says the fangquacks have all the fun?

MADE FOR EACH OTHER

Which industry do you believe has the highest rate of office romance? (in %)

Finance        9.1

Media / Entertainment        37.5

Law        11.0

Consulting        11.9

Technology / Internet        7.2

Advertising / Marketing        20.0

Others        3.3

Source: Vault's Office Romance Survey

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