While people are more open about their relationships at the work place, increasingly it’s prudent to be cautious about expressing romantic feelings towards co-workers, least it’s construed in a negative way and harassment complaints follow. Companies have formal or informal rules on co-workers becoming romantic partners but they also know that considering the number of hours people spend at a workplace, it’s difficult to ban co-workers from finding love in office. We spoke to four colleagues turned couples on how the rules of dating are evolving in the #MeToo era.

The meeting ground

Shahnawaz Shafi, 32, and Urvashi Handa, 30, dated for over four years before tying the knot last year. Both worked for the same company but in different verticals. However, they knew that dating in the age of social media, their relationship would not be a secret, though they didn’t declare it.

“Our office actually has a lot of couples who got married after meeting at work. It speaks about the company’s ability to accept that since many of us spend most of our day in the office—eight to 10 hours—it’s often not possible to actually go out after work and meet someone outside," says Handa, an HR professional, who still works at the same company with Shafi, who is a senior director of operations.

Would Shafi have worried about dating Handa in the present age? He thinks not. While not belittling the probability of people being harassed at workplace by colleagues of the opposite sex, he maintains that if employees are aware of the policies then it will stop them from misusing their positions. “Employees now keep digital records. So while women can walk up to the POSH committee, men also behave themselves because they know their employers will not support anyone crossing the line," he adds.

Moving on if needed

After working together in at least four different organizations in eight years, where both were colleagues, it wasn’t surprising that Allwyn D’Souza, 42, and Pooja Seth, 37, became romantically involved. Since they were great pals, none of their co-workers got a whiff of their relationship. However, when they thought of getting married, one of them decided to quit the organization. “Our bosses were okay with us getting married and continuing with our jobs. But things would change between us. That’s how we got separated, professionally," says D’Souza, who is now the president of advertising and marketing communication firm Bay Leaf Integrated Communication Solutions, while Seth heads marketing of an MNC in education sector.

While dating and even after announcing their relationship status, the one thing both adhered to was to keep work first, when in office. “That balance is extremely important to maintain because you may not realize but other people do get uncomfortable," Sheth says.

But times have changed. “Earlier, it used to be an adventure; it (dating) was like hide-and-seek within office. Now, people have become bold and their relationships at work are more visible. Everyone in office knows who is going around with whom and there is no guess work," says D’Souza.

The presence of social media has brought people more closer than before, feels Seth. “Everything is in open and people are putting it on their relationship status. Also, people spend 12-13 hours at work with each other, more than the family members. They are no longer scared about losing a job because they are dating within the organization. When we were dating, we were conscious that our managers may not be okay with us working together," she says.

However, both feel that #MeToo and increased sensitivity to what can be construed as harassment, will not have an impact on office romance. “Rejection will always be there and you have to accept it. But if you love someone, you would not create an issue," says D’Souza.

Dating rules

Arun Chaudhary, 32, saw Nandana Roy, 31, eight years ago at a company cricket tournament. Both are consultants in an IT firm, specializing in the same technology but handling different projects. Chaudhary found Roy on the company intra-net and eventually, they started dating. They have been married for two years now.

“We were fresh out of college, which made it easy for me to just ping her randomly. Yes, I was polite and spoke about our common friend at first. But I think, had it been happening today, I wouldn’t have taken such an impulsive step. It was risky; what if she got offended?" says Chaudhary. Roy agrees that she probably wouldn’t have spoken to him either, if he had contacted her now though, she says it has more to do with maturity than #MeToo.

Roy says that they were lucky because their employer did not interfere with who they were hanging out with, though many of her friends working in other companies have not been that lucky. “We managed because we hardly ever shared the same shift in the first place. We never let work suffer because we was seeing someone from office and would only hang out outside office hours. So in a way, though we met at work, we only dated outside," says Roy.

Balancing relationships

It can be challenging when your subordinate also happens to be your life partner. That’s the balance Jyoti Kotecha, a director of digital delivery in a financial sector company had to keep over a decade ago, when her now husband Vaibhav Sakhalkar, assistant vice president, technology at Indigo Consulting, showed interest in her. Both are in their early 40s now. Over a decade ago, Kotecha was heading the team Sakhalkar was part of and had reservations accepting his proposal. Their boss, who was also the founder of the company, did indicate he was fine with the relationship but she declined his proposal.

Eventually, Sakhalkar quit and continued wooing Kotecha and the couple married in 2009. Although they were not colleagues while dating, marriage got them together under one workplace. “After marriage, my boss wanted Vaibhav to rejoin. I was fine with working again with him but my only request was that he should be part of another department," says Kotecha.

Both Kotecha and Sakhalkar were certain that they wanted their space at work. “We would travel together but once we reached office, we would walk in separate directions. We never discussed about home or family matters at work. I have kept my maiden name, so many of the colleagues and clients didn’t even know that we were married," says Kotecha, who now works with an MNC in the financial sector. But having to interact with each other on projects meant there would be challenges, especially when there are delays or conflict of opinion. “Yes, we would debate but also put the matter to voting with the rest of the team," says Sakhalkar.

While in corporate offices, a lot of rules and regulations have come in that couples should not work together, keeping relationships discreet at workplace is no longer a concern among the youngsters, both feel. “People are open about their relationships. For me, when Vaibhav proposed, there were lot of things that came to my mind like how will people think of us carrying on. I don’t see the youngsters being afraid of that nowadays," she says.

Allwyn D’Souza (bottom) and Pooja Seth.
Allwyn D’Souza (bottom) and Pooja Seth.
Jyoti Kotecha (top) and Vaibhav Sakhalkar.
Jyoti Kotecha (top) and Vaibhav Sakhalkar.
Nandana Roy (left) and Arun Chaudhary.
Nandana Roy (left) and Arun Chaudhary.
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