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Dangerous liaisons in the workplace

(ThinkStock)

(ThinkStock)

As we head into office party season, it is worth asking: does a romance that starts in the workplace inevitably spell career catastrophe? The answer, it seems, is not necessarily.

Office hours are on the rise worldwide, encroaching on employees’ free time, so it may be no wonder many people admit to dating a colleague at some point in their careers. Perhaps your eyes lock over the computer screen more often than they used to or after-work drinks reveal many things in common.

Whatever the case, a budding office romance, whether a fling or a relationship, can be a thrill. It gives office gossips new material offers secret glee for the couple and can boost team spirit. But are distraction, jealousy, favouritism and an awkward fallout if the pair break-up inevitable?

BBC Capital was curious — is an office romance a recipe for disaster? We went to question-and-answer site Quora.com to see what people had to say.

Pulses racing

Nurse, Lou Davis, wrote that relationships can work and play a very positive role in the workplace. While the hospital emergency department is not your average office, “romances still thrive,” and many partnerships prove successful and pose no problem for the happy couple or those on the periphery, she wrote.

“Our team [is] like a well-oiled machine, or even a particularly successful football team. We often know instinctively what another team member will need before they ask for it. In trauma resuscitation, this is particularly vital,” Davis wrote.

Davis wrote that six couples in her department had paired off, including four where one half of the couple was in a more senior position. One couple had married and were expecting a child.

Far from greeting new relationships negatively, her team often cheerleads from the sidelines. “Encouraging the first date, sympathising after the first argument, enthusiastic about the 'first home together', excited about the wedding — and we have had too many to count,” she wrote.

On the odd occasion when a budding relationship hasn't worked out, co-workers have been supportive to both parties and there has never been friction between the broken-hearted in the workplace, she added.

On the other hand

Others are less optimistic. Terry Thrasher wrote that, in theory, a workplace romance can work, but there are so many pitfalls he doubts anyone can successfully avoid them for long. 

“While I do think office romance tends to have a lot of negative consequences,” he wrote, “it's always possible that those consequences are worth it to the people involved.” Sometimes work is the best way to meet new romantic partners, but he added “for the sake of the rest of us, please make sure it's worth it if you walk down that path!”

Thrasher wondered: even if the affair is between employees on the same level of the corporate hierarchy, what happens if someone's role changes? Or if they get promoted? Or are in competition for the same resources? There is also a danger that work decisions can be highly influenced by relationship issues, he pointed out.

Martijn Sjoorda, who runs his own consultancy business, entered into an office romance that became a "disaster", but insisted that the workplace “played no role whatsoever in the making of said disaster.” He believes large organisations create a common culture and are great places to meet like-minded people. He added “As a result, relationships happen. Some work, some fail. It is important though to be ethical and deal with integrity

Smart approach

Ian McCullough, who wrote that he had met his wife at work and had been married for over three years, offered some advice. The couple must choose very quickly whether they are going to “give it their all and work to make the relationship last,” or if they're going to call it off, he wrote.  

If either partner takes an 'we'll see how it goes’ attitude to the relationship, “it's going to get ugly and that will likely involve one person finding a new job. Both partners need to give it their 100% committed best effort, or choose not to pursue a relationship despite the attraction.”   

Do you agree that work and love can mix? Or shall the two always be kept separate?  Share your thoughts and experience on BBC Capital's Facebook page.

Quora respondents are required to use their true names under the site’s Real Names policy. To help ensure legitimacy and quality, Quora asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to confirm their expertise.