The worst of office dating — HR Memories

Ah, young love! There is nothing like it. When it’s right, it’s beautiful. When it’s in the workplace it’s a Human Resource person’s nightmare!

Many relationships start from a friendship in the workplace so it is not uncommon to have budding romances going on. However, one of the most disheartening HR experiences is handling personal rejection for employees.

The scenario: a male co-worker asks a female co-worker out to lunch or for a date or invites her to a happy hour or something similar. The roles could be reversed but in my experience it’s always been the guy asking out the woman. The female co-worker freaks out because the male is not her type (maybe he’s a bit nerdy or more than a bit nerdy or unattractive) or she’s married or has a boyfriend. Instead of just being honest with him, I would get a visit asking for intervention.

Why is it so hard to say no? This is how it works:

  • No thank you (sweet and simple — if it requires an answer to why? you can always say you are not interested)
  • I am so sorry but I don’t date co-workers
  • Thanks so much but I prefer to lunch alone
  • I can’t accept this gift but thank you for thinking of me
  • I have a husband (or boyfriend or whatever) but thank you for asking

On one occasion I asked “why don’t you tell him yourself?” The response was that she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Can you imagine how he felt when the head of the company’s HR department told him to back off (gently of course)? Perhaps it was less about his feelings and more about her level of comfort. They should teach this in schools! They could call it Feelings 101 or maybe Simulating Feelings 101!

Then there is the stalking threshold. We had one employee “claim” she was being stalked by another. As the details came out, she was asked out. When I asked how she responded, she said, “I told him I was busy, maybe some other time.” When he asked the second time (and why wouldn’t he, she left it wide open?) she considered it stalking.

Now I am not condoning real stalking or sexual harassment which is no laughing matter and often requires action. I am talking about the reluctance to kindly reject a potential suitor no matter how nerdy or homely he/she is.

We had an odd guy who worked for the company in a facilities-type position. Some people thought he was mentally challenged because he wasn’t good at social interaction. Today we would think he had some sort of autism. Back then people thought he was stupid. I knew he wasn’t because in the course of talking to him, he told me about the poetry he wrote. Immediately interested, I asked him if he would let me read it. It was worthy of publication. There was nothing mentally slow about this guy.

His process for working up to a date was to buy a woman a small gift – something good-smelling from a bath and body shop. He would wrap it and present it as a gift totally blindsiding the woman. After she accepted he would invite her out to lunch. Ouch! Now what do you do. The really smart women didn’t accept the gift in the first place (graciously of course) so they didn’t feel compelled to accept a lunch date. The not-so-smart women, well you know what happened.

I can’t tell you how often I interceded with him and eventually starting coaching him on his approach to women, preferably outside the workplace. That is how I got to read his poetry.

Sometimes the difference between accepting the date, lunch, whatever or not depends on what the guy looks like. That is so unfair but it’s how it works with both sexes. If the person doesn’t fit the proper parameters of attraction, they are SOL.

As a contrast we had a male employee who was a player. He was adequately good-looking and fun-loving but could be a jerk with women. He had no problem getting almost anyone to go out with him. Tears and unhappiness would eventually follow and somehow Human Resources would end up involved.

There was a time when we had legal documents requiring the company to keep formerly dating employees separated. In a large company it isn’t a problem. In a midsized company with one location and angry people seeking revenge, it’s much harder.

There were times when a serious social interaction (spit swapping, tongue wrestling, etc.) was voluntary and welcomed on both sides but totally inappropriate for a variety of reasons. That is a blog for another time.

In my early days of working in Human Resources, one of my colleagues always said that HR was the underbelly of the company. We knew the worst and the best about the employees. We also knew to keep our mouths shut.

Here is my motto:

You don’t get your honey where you get your money! Damn it!

Epilogue: The socially inept guy found a woman outside of the company to date. He eventually left and moved south with her. As far as I know, there was a happy ending.

Artwork credit: Brushingup

20 thoughts on “The worst of office dating — HR Memories

  1. I’m so glad that one man found happiness elsewhere. I once dated a co-worker and it was really awkward seeing him at work after I decided not to go out for a 2nd date. But, that’s one sticky wicket I handled myself.

    Your HR stories are educational and entertaining. Are you publishing them elsewhere? If not, I think there’d be a real interest in them.

    • I am compiling the stories and then we will see what I do with them. I was in HR for many, many years and before that I was a manager and I have a ton of similar stories from that experience too. People are crazy. Thanks for your encouragement and for visiting my blog!

  2. hahah oh my! I find it really awkward rejecting people, not just at work place but in general as well! It can get really weird!

    And the guy who gives gifts, why? shouldn’t he make sure whether the woman likes him before investing in them? :O

    hahah and what a great motto!

  3. Oh Kate, what an awkward conversation to have to have! I can just imagine it. HR: “Mike, it’s not you, it’s me. And when I say me I mean Jane. I’m, and by that I mean she’s, just not that into you!” Potential for confusion: astronomical!

  4. Ah! So funny and so true! Here at the university we have the added layer of making sure no faculty or staff date the students! It sounds like a no-brainer if you’re thinking students 18-22, but with so many older adults now in transition, it isn’t a far-fetched reality! And I agree with others that HR now have huge responsibilities! I just finished my mandated “Sexual Harrassment Training” and came away, once again, amazed at the examples we were given of “real life scenariosl” We are living in strange times! Debra

    • In our area there have been several instances of dating and more between teachers and high school students. It’s been quite a scandal with the teachers ending up with jail time. So it’s not so far fetched to see in a college.

  5. I had an absurd experience when an “older” lady at work, insisted on wearing the shortest skirts humanly possible and flirting with the 20 somethings. The flirting was severe enough that these youngsters approached me, asking me to speak to her and request that she wore panties to work!?!?!? That’s a conversation I’ll never forget.

  6. Great post kate, thanks but at least if you date in the workplace, you know who you are dating, i think that trust in the dating world is a real touchy situation in todays world, MJ

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