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Beware of the Workplace Hook-Up

It's Valentine's Day weekend, and before you head home from the office, are you sneaking a box of chocolates to the co-worker you're secretly dating? ?

Office romances are dicey.

The odds of them working out are long.

Jim and Pam from "The Office"
Source: NBC
Jim and Pam from "The Office"

Jim and Pam of "The Office" usually are not Joe and Jane from your office.

There are some exceptions to this, of course.

CNBC headquarters in Englewood Cliffs has an above-average track record of successful matchmaking. Seems like half the people there are married to the other half. It's only natural that romance will blossom in a confined space where people are together every day sharing common goals.

Usually, however, romance flames out as quickly as it flames up.

Secrets rarely stay secret. "Office gossip is like viral marketing," says CareerCast.com senior columnist Taunee Besson. "It spreads like wildfire and can brand you as unprofessional, hurt your productivity, lower morale and dog your career for years."

Case in point, watch this video:

CareerCast.com has released do's and don'ts for dating co-workers , because inevitably, Besson says, "Your workplace can serve as a stand-in for eHarmony.com."

The site advises that if you decide to take the plunge, first check company policy on workplace dating. Make sure you won't get fired. And don't let your libido, er, heart, get ahead of your head. "Succeeding in your career should still come first," says site publisher Tony Lee.

Other tips:

  • No public displays of affection.
  • Keep your IMs and email clean.
  • Try to avoid romantic relationships with a peer, boss or supplier, but if you do, make sure you're both discreet
  • Be aware of the potential pitfalls of office romance, especially sexual harassment claims
  • Understand the potential for retaliation if the relationship ends
  • If it ends, make amends and be considerate - you never know when you might meet each other again professionally ?

Let me add one more: don't strike up a romance IF YOU'RE ALREADY MARRIED.

Romance is one thing. An office hook-up is another. The one night stand has it's own risk/reward algorithm. CareerCast.com's Carly MacLeod relates the story of one such encounter:

Over the summer I met up with one of my fellow students for what I thought would be a normal catch-up lunch - complaining about customers, groaning about our respective bosses, and griping about how we hated being broke as a result of our unpaid internships. However, once I was settled at my table (and checking my watch - where was she?), Linda H. breezed through the front door of the restaurant. Her dress was wrinkled, her hair was slightly mussed, and her big blue eyes were twinkling. She swayed her way through the tables, and sat down across from me with an impish smile.

"Okay, Linda," I asked immediately. "What's going on?"

Linda (not her real name), who had been spending the summer interning at a prominent local record label, leaned across the table, beckoning me closer. "You have to promise not to tell anyone."

I agreed.

"Well…" Linda looked over her shoulder, then whispered, "I may have spent all last night with the bassist from that new band that's recording at our studio."

"Linda… is that… okay?"

She raised a finger to her lips, and grinned. "It's completely okay. Because no one is ever going to know about it."

Well, Linda, seems to me you just told one person about it, and I bet you're not going to end there. Nice way for an intern to learn the ropes!

MacLeod says there are three ways to handle the aftermath of a hook-up.

Pretend it didn't happen, acknowledge that it was just a one-time thing, or keep at it. "While the prudent move would likely be to deal with things frankly and get on with your career, more often than not amorous co-workers instead wind up going back for more."

Love & Money - A CNBC Special Report
Love & Money - A CNBC Special Report

MacLeod says the secretive nature of office hook-ups or romances makes them alluring, but they also provide you with a (temporary?) mate who understands your professional life. "They know exactly what you're talking about when you voice frustrations about a client, or can sympathize with your feelings about your boss. It's a kind of connection that many normal couples struggle to find."

She warns, however, that you need to make sure the relationship doesn't hurt your work performance. "The promotion you're both up for? Chase it. That asinine point they made in the meeting? Disagree with them." That'll go over well.

And when it ends?

"The best way to survive an office romance with your career and your reputation intact is to keep quiet, keep smiling and make sure that if it ends, it ends peacefully," says CareerCast.com's Tony Lee. Good luck with that.

By the way, things didn't work out for Linda and the bassist. I know. Shocker.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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