Office romances in an aging workforce: the pros and cons
It’s a fact: the American workforce is getting older. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employees age 55 and older are one of the fastest-growing populations there. And one in four professionals will exceed the traditional age of retirement by 2024.
Because more people are working later in their lives, it stands to reason they will spend increasing amounts of time with their colleagues. And moreover, this proximity can result in office romances between older co-workers ready to share those years with someone also in that stage of life.
This practice is no longer the taboo it was decades ago, and many colleagues have found success in the work dating pool. According to Business Insider, 42% of employee romances develop into long-term relationships, and 16% become each other’s spouses. This can happen across the age spectrum, and the generation of boomers is no exception.
Dating in the workplace is often complicated territory to navigate, but it can produce thriving relationships — and even marriages — if approached with a healthy mind-set, expectations and boundaries.
If you’re an older professional who has considered an office romance, here are some pros and cons to consider before making that first move:
As you get older, methods of finding a romantic partner change dramatically. Coffee shops and bars might have been your dating arenas 20 or 30 years ago, but these encounters over a glass of bourbon or an espresso might not be conducive to your current stage of life.
Instead of trying to meet someone in a public setting or at a social gathering, there is security in choosing a person you have a mutual connection with already. The shared environment, career goals and frame of reference you have in common are solid foundations to build compatibility.
The workplace is where assets and limitations are often the most evident.
It’s helpful to observe your colleague’s work ethic, communication skills, ingenuity and other traits in action. The more awareness you have of a partner’s strengths and weaknesses right away, the less blindsided you will be once the newness and excitement of romance inevitably wears off.
You have been around long enough to know that no relationship is exempt from differences in opinion. But the healthiest partnerships are based on conflict resolution, a practice that is learned in professional spheres.
Problem-solving “requires creativity and abstract thinking, as well as an ability to remain calm under pressure and see the bigger picture,” adds Jayson Meyers, CEO of AudienceBloom, a link building and content marketing agency. Managing tension and finding solutions is essential for relationships, and the office is an ideal training ground to troubleshoot until you reach a compromise.
When you scramble between fulfilling work responsibilities and carving out time for your significant other, this split focus will interfere with job performance if you are not careful.
If these two priorities are simultaneously in competition, you’re going to have to choose where to direct the most energy and concentration.
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If the relationship takes precedence over workload, your measure of productivity can suffer. In fact, a survey from Namely HR Solutions found that 15% of workers are less productive while dating a colleague.
Since your connection straddles two worlds — career and romance — it can be a challenge not to bring office politics into personal interactions. While it’s unrealistic to assume these dynamics will never blend together, you need boundaries to protect home and work issues from surfacing where they don’t belong.
According to an article on The Muse by Rachel Bitte, chief people officer of Jobvite, the most effective strategy is to “leave work at the office and focus on your relationship while off-the-clock.” Her recommendation is to “establish ground rules when it comes to company conflicts, and identify points where you disagree,” so they don’t “impact the decisions you make at home.”
Finally, it’s worth considering that, in the event of a breakup, you will still be required to interact and collaborate with each other professionally. Chances are that you’re both experienced and mature enough in relationships to be courteous toward one another, but some awkwardness or tension could ensue if you didn’t part on the smoothest terms.
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Given this likelihood, if you are not prepared to remain compatible as co-workers following a separation as romantic partners, then it’s not advisable to pursue a relationship with each other in the first place. (And in this era of #MeToo, it’s important to be forthright if unwanted attention is continuing.)
In this particular stage of life, the dating pool becomes more limited to those in your immediate proximity, making an office romance seem like the accessible and preferable option. You might succeed with finding a life partner in the workplace, but there is definite potential for conflicts and obstacles.
Weighing these pros and cons can help determine if an office romance later in life is a career risk, or a unique opportunity to enhance your golden years.
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