Sex, lies and boring offices

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The Independent Online
ON A cold Monday morning in the office, the frisson of sexual excitement sparked by brushing against the Italian stallion from down the corridor is more likely to wake you up than several gulpings of triple- strength coffee.

Bridget Jones and her entourage would have you believe that your workmates are at it like rabbits; but just how sizzling are office affairs these days? Aren't they a little passe? And who goes in for them, exactly?

Image consultant and trainer Judi James, who has also penned six successful 'bonkbusters', and this week published a study entitled "Sex At Work", discovered that glamour industries such as fashion, showbusiness and media are, ironically, the least likely place to pull a lover.

"My background is in fashion, where [sex] is supposed to go on all the time. Sadly, it doesn't; it never really lived up to the hype. Quite honestly, if people are filming, they are more into being stars and getting early nights," she says. "I found there was more going on in the 'boring' offices, and much more daring. The more responsible the job, the more people like to let off steam and behave in childish ways.

"I was pleasantly surprised that people are still capable of acting like human beings; a lot of companies have got so impersonal." Boredom, she says, is a big factor in sparking flings. "If you're doing a job that's fulfilling, you don't have to go looking for excitement."

E-mails have become one way of building up relationships, but often, she says, the anticipation is more exciting than the reality. "One person I spoke to had carried on a year's flirtation with a colleague in another building. When she met him, she nearly died because he didn't live up to her expectations."

Ms James, who researched the subject through talking to clients from a range of companies, found people more than happy to offer their experiences anonymously. "I thought I'd have to get the thumbscrews out, but the minute I said 'sex at work', they came up and grabbed me and poured stuff out. There are quite a few I can't look in the eye now," she laughs.

She searched in vain for a firm with a codified policy on office romance. Sexual harassment, yes: flirting and flings, no. "It's weird that companies don't offer help and advice. They have guidelines on the serious legal stuff, but when it came to the stuff that went on all the time, they just kept the hell out of it." Harassment of men by women was growing, she found, but men were less able to point the finger at female colleagues. "The pressure is on them to pretend to enjoy it. It's almost like it was for women in the 1970s; you had to giggle and pretend to get into the spirit of it. Men were using excuses that a 15-year-old girl would be ashamed of."

She also discovered that those over 40 were having as much fun as their yuppie counterparts. "They're just as naughty, and I don't just mean the dirty old men. People were finding ingenious ways to do it. It can be difficult when you've got open-plan offices, but I was amazed; a lot of people do what I call 'off-piste', booking rooms at business conferences, for example."

Nevertheless, colleagues are largely quick on the uptake, according to Ms James. Women, particularly, can detect sexual sparks from 100 paces; one of the first signs to watch out for is a colleague's inability to say the name of their lover. "They start ignoring each other because they're so keen to cover their tracks; they over-compensate, and when you ask where Martin is, they'll say 'Martin who?' "

Judi James' latest novel, 'The Wedding Suit', is published by HarperCollins. Sex at Work, published by the Industrial Society, costs pounds 8.99.