In love with a colleague
No kissing in the workplace
There’s this one colleague you really like. You can talk for hours, even after the workday is over. You start sharing meals more and more often, until it hits you: you’re in love!
‘I genuinely didn’t notice’, says Vera Heininga, who’s still surprised. ‘It just happened’, Dennis Raven adds. They used to work together at the UMCG as PhD students, studying psychiatric disorders. They shared an office, where they sat facing away from each other. They went to the same training courses and Raven helped her with her programming needs, but it wasn’t until Heininga realised that she’d rather have a drink with her co-worker than with her friends that she started asking herself what was going on.
Jana Knot-Dickscheit was assigned an office at Behavioural and Social Sciences, across from Hans Knot’s office. She was also assigned a phone number that used to belong to a retired professor. ‘I started getting all these phone calls that I didn’t understand’, says Jana, laughing. ‘I kept going to Hans for help. In the end, we were talking on the phone every single day.’ They didn’t realise what had been happening until years later, when Hans was working abroad. In true fashion, he told her he loved her over the phone.
Code of conduct
There are no numbers on how many people at the RUG are in a relationship with a colleague, but it’s clear that it’s not an exception. A quick survey showed that most employees and students know a couple who met in the workplace.
Shouldn’t we try to maintain a strict barrier between our private lives and our work lives? So is it even a good idea to start a relationship with your co-worker?
‘Dating a colleague was the last thing I wanted. Especially not one I closely worked with. But I couldn’t help it’, says Heininga. ‘It’s not even a choice’, says Raven. ‘It’s not like I looked around the office and was like, I’ll go fall in love with that one.’
Dating a colleague was the last thing I wanted
Whether it’s a choice or not, it’s not without its risks. It can affect the atmosphere in the office, other inter-office relationships, cause you to lose your office, or even your job. There are rules about relationships at work. According to the code of conduct as it pertains to integrity at the RUG, it’s ‘extra important that everyone involved remains professional and objective and aware of the integrity risks’. Be careful, then, to not be too cute with each other.
Workplace romance becomes especially risky when the people involved have a hierarchical relationship, or if one person is in charge of someone else’s work. The code of conduct says this is a situation to be avoided. If you fall in love with an underling or supervisor, you have to notify your manager, who will then talk about what is going to happen. ‘Where necessary, we’ll make different arrangement or re-allocate tasks’, the code of conduct reads, ‘but a transfer to a different department or service is also possible.’
Knot-Dickscheit decided to immediately come clean about her relationship, even though she and Hans didn’t even have a hierarchical working relationship. ‘We didn’t want people to gossip.’
Heininga was hesitant. ‘I wanted to wait and explore what our relationship was going to be.’ At the same time, they wanted to tell their manager and other colleagues as quickly as possible. When she told her promotion supervisor, her voice wavered; she had no idea how she would react. ‘She said, “That’s great, how wonderful! Oh wait, is there a hierarchy? No? Oh, that’s great!”’
Heininga laughs. ‘Then she asked me if we wanted to keep working in the same office.’
The hierarchical relationship is clearly a no-go. At the RUG, things sometimes go awry, ‘just like at every organisation’, says confidential adviser Marjolein Renken, but she won’t elaborate. ‘That’s all I can say about it.’
‘You have to prevent ending up in a situation like that. You don’t want it to look shady’, says Hanneke Wigman. She and Klaas Wardenaar have been a couple since they were in high school in Arnhem together. They went to the same university and both ended up working at the RUG, where their offices are next to each other.
I think it would be really romantic to write a paper together
Their work does not overlap. This was a conscious decision. They think it’s important to have a professional relationship with each other. Wigman asks her husband about statistics sometimes, but that’s it. ‘When she does that, I’m clearly an adviser’, says Wardenaar. ‘It all works out really well’, agrees Wigman.
But there are also couples who end up writing a paper together. ‘I think that would be really romantic’, says Heininga, who has been with Raven for five years. The couple recently got engaged. ‘We would brainstorm about it.’ Raven nods. ‘We just don’t have the time.’
Wardenaar and Wigman have written a paper together once before, but Wardenaar says it didn’t really work. ‘We had a really different style of writing and ended up correcting each other.’ There’s nothing wrong with that, counters Wigman: that’s how you judge other people’s papers as well. ‘True,’ says Wardenaar, ‘but I’ve got more of a filter with those people.’
‘I can imagine that’, says Raven. ‘Arguments come home with you. You cross a certain boundary.’
Wardenaar adds some nuance: ‘It just wasn’t working, so we won’t be doing it again.’ Wigman: ‘It was fine, so it can be done. You just have to make sure you know what your roles are.’
Even Laura Bringmann and Markus Eronen, who have written several papers together, didn’t have it easy the first time. Bringmann: ‘I wanted to really explore everything and be perfect: we have to give it more thought, maybe our arguments aren’t right. At some point he got sick of it. I would blow up and tell him that we needed to take it seriously or the article wouldn’t get finished.’
‘And then I got mad too’, Eronen says calmly. ‘The papers turned out really well’, he says, ‘and they get quoted all the time. So it was worth it.’
You don’t discuss groceries in front of other colleagues
They did wonder if it was a good idea when they were writing their second article. ‘We knew our relationship would survive it’, says Bringmann. ‘We’ve gone through so much, I was sure we could handle anything.’
‘The next paper went much better’, she says, ‘because we were taking each other more seriously and now we know what to expect from each other. I’ve become calmer.’ Not that she’s started compromising when her husband fights her, but has changed her tactics. ‘We run out of energy and then it’s better if I just wait a day.’
Kissing at work
Working at home is fine, and talking about work at home is also fine, but you can’t talk about what someone’s told you in confidence. Another rule: no kissing at work. ‘It’s just not okay’, says Knot-Dickscheit. ‘It isn’t’, confirms Raven. Fights also have to stay at home, says Bringmann. And you don’t discuss the groceries you need in front of other colleagues, says Wardenaar. ‘I don’t want to bother others with the fact that we’re in a relationship.’
That discretion does mean that some people won’t know about your relationship, Wigman and Wardenaar say. One co-worker thought he’d ‘caught’ them in an affair, says Wigman. She laughs: ‘We were just celebrating our fifteenth anniversary at the restaurant he saw us at.’