Why office affairs should always be clandestine

You might think furtive lovers should be offering up thanks this week after news that major companies in the US have relaxed the rules on romances between workers.

In reality the secretive Romeo and Juliets will be dismayed. So much fun has been taken out of life already that legitimising the office affair is the last straw. Neither will their co-workers be pleased. Witnessing the clandestine office affair is one of the few reasons why we still brave the horrors of commuting rather than working from home.

On Wednesday the Wall St Journal surveyed major US companies and found that while in the past they had banned managers from dating subordinates, many major companies are now changing the rules to accommodate love.

For most of us in this country, though, the office romance continues to be fraught with difficulty, and thus the allure remains: the recruitment consultancy Office Angels estimates that 50 per cent of people meet their future partners at or through work.

Do we really want businesses to accept that affairs will happen - and indeed by doing so encourage them? Can the affair really survive that sort of respectability?

Imagine, in those first heady days of romance, admitting reality into that idyllic world by skipping hand-in-hand to the boss announcing your intention to date; fretting about causing problems with the "chain of command" before realising that your partner's habit of throwing their clothes on the floor drives you nuts; business meetings proceeding with minutes, any other business, and a list of who's snogging who.

To be frank, what is the point of investing in filing cabinets if not to steal kisses behind them? Why were electronic message systems ever invented if not to make clandestine assignations which involve each partner leaving the office exactly five minutes after the other?

But more important than the lovers' feelings is the amusement provided for fellow colleagues. In these days of insecure working conditions, there are few perks of the job. And one of them is definitely torturing and snooping on the lovelorn.

Can you imagine the delight of Robin Cook's colleagues, once they found out Gaynor was having to wait in his darkened flat for hours to outwit the Secret Service? And how many smirking references to looking at legal briefs did the young Tony Blair and Cherie Booth have to endure in Derry Irvine's chambers?

The fact the British work the longest hours in Europe is thus explained: they're not there to work, merely to bug the lovers' phones.

Glenda Cooper

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