In the initial stages, it’s all about wine and roses and surreptitious waits by the coffee machine. But sustaining an office romance can be a tricky affair when you are juggling personal and professional lives. A fight can spill into an official meeting, and if one of you is prone to rage attacks, you become the new office spectacle. Take a long lunch break, and your colleagues will be quick to make the connection, and in case of a junior dating a senior, just watch as the watercooler gossip flows generously.
But for all the drawbacks, couples who have gone through courtship and marriage while in the same organization say the positives make up for it all. Many companies, in fact, realize the importance of having both spouses working in the same office, given the long hours of work and nuclear family set-ups. Some organizations maintain a carefully crafted policy (written or unwritten) on office relationships. Both companies and couples say the ground rule is: Handle with care.
Falling in love
With an average of 10 hours spent in office every day, there’s nothing better than having an added incentive to go to work. “There’s just so much more scope for interaction and spending time together. You don’t have to strategize very hard about going on a date, it could be as simple as just having lunch together in the office cafeteria,” says Gurgaon-based Suhel Banerjee, manager, sales and operations, at Google. After 16 months of courtship, he married his fellow “Googler” (as employees in that office are referred to), Veni Mahindra-Banerjee.
Perhaps this is why Sap Labs, Bangalore, has an internal portal which carries matrimonials. “We want the young generation at our workplace to go there and surf if interested. We love it if our employees find spouses in the workplace. We feel it makes their home life easier. They can manage home, career better. Issues of leaves, transfers, etc, are taken care of well,” says Bhuvaneshwar Naik, vice-president, HR, Sap Labs.
Once you’re married and work together, the benefits just add up, says Delhi-based Arunima Majumdar Guha, a consultant with Delhi-based IT company G-Cube Solutions. She met her husband in the previous organization she worked in; they worked together for four years before she moved to her current organization.
“With marriage and children, given the nature of the nuclear family set-up, most of us could do with all the support we need. Having a partner in the same office makes your life much easier. We would pick up our son on our way back from work, do our groceries, all in the same trip. I couldn’t have done this alone,” says Guha.
The standard (unwritten) rule for couples working together is to avoid being in the same team, but there have been instances when this hasn’t been enough to ward off trouble.
Mumbai-based Vinita Kaur, who works for a telecom company, recalls how her (now former) boyfriend stormed into one of her team meetings and ordered her to answer his calls. “He and I worked in different teams and I never expected something so drastic. My boss looked extremely shocked and I was completely mortified,” she says.
Managing the love
Company policies on office relationships—and marriage—range from discouragement to encouragement to no policy at all. In some industries that see high levels of attrition, employing married couples is seen as a means to prevent attrition. Aptech Ltd, Mumbai, a global learning solutions company, encourages married couples in the workplace. It creates a “sense of belonging and is a major factor in retention of the employee,” says Shourya K. Chakravarty, senior vice-president and head, HR, Aptech. At HCL Technologies, Ltd, Noida, if two employees get married, they are presented with a “gift cheque” from the company. The company also has a portal called “genie” that helps employees, especially married couples, find homes, trade white goods and concierge services in case they are moving to a new house. “If your partner is in another organization, we have an employee referral policy, where we encourage employees to refer their spouses, and based on meritocracy, the spouse has the chance to get recruited at HCL,” says Srimathi Shivashankar, principal officer—diversity and sustainability, HCL Technologies.
While working in the same office is encouraged, many organizations are also particular that the spouses should not report to one another. Sap Labs, for example, does not allow relatives to report to one another. “We find that having spouses at the workplace makes the life of employees easier; they can manage homes, career better. However, if one of them is reporting to another, we transfer the employee to another department without impacting his/her career growth prospects and salary,” says Naik. Similarly, at Intel Corporation, Bangalore, there is a “non-fraternization guideline” to ensure “we avoid misunderstandings, complaints of favouritism, other problems of supervision. Managers, leads and others acting as supervisors are not permitted to date or pursue romantic or sexual relationships with employees whom they supervise directly or indirectly (that is, anyone within their direct, indirect or matrix management chain),” says R. Anish, HR director, Intel South Asia.
In fact, there are companies that prefer not having partners or spouses working in the same department. The idea is to avoid competition between them, or unnecessary negativity at the workplace. Intex Technologies (India) Ltd, an IT hardware company in Delhi, tries to ensure this. “Ideally, spouses should not be working in the same team to prevent unwanted strain in personal and professional relationships resulting in lower productivity,” says Kiran Ghildiyal Madan, senior manager, HR, Intex. Aptech too steers clear of having spouses reporting to the same boss. “This is to avoid any brewing of marital discord. The HR department can help to find a suitable placement for one of the spouses, assuming that both work in the same department in some other function of the company,” adds Chakravorty.
There is always the apprehension of what may happen if there is discord, or the relationship goes sour. Companies fear discord can affect productivity, or even the mood of the office. “We have dealt with cases where conflicts arise when employees who are seeing each other have a break-up. Depending on the severity of the case, we help them and encourage them to meet our counsellor. Our goal is to establish a comfort level and provide emotional security for the employee. If the employee feels threatened by the person he/she has broken up with, we counsel the person who is threatening, and if the behaviour persists, we issue a stern warning and also make a note of it in the employee’s file,” says Naik.
Extreme cases can also lead to legal trouble, and possibly sexual harassment charges. “If an office relationship goes bad, these issues can land you in court as a harassment case. We have a committee consisting of the HR head and his/her deputy, three women and men from senior positions in the organization who are trained to address such issues. Annual or periodical surveys are conducted to measure the level of awareness and incidence of sexual harassment,” says Tanuja Abburi, director, global HR, Intelligroup, an NTT Data company, Hyderabad. The company does not encourage office relationships. “In spite of the many benefits, office relationships excessively affect an employee’s productivity, dedication, attention and interest. Within a team, relationships between supervisor and subordinate, or between subordinates, create an imbalance of power which affects team morale,” says Abburi.
Companies may counsel, or warn, but they can only recommend. “We do not have a policy that controls the emotional needs of employees. And we cannot stop it either,” says Naik.