Love In The Workplace: 5 M’sian Startup Founders Lay Their Thoughts Bare
Dale John Wong
We spoke to five local startup founders about what their thoughts were on romantic office relationships.
The topics discussed included potential benefits and pitfalls, as well as the involvement of workplace higher-ups.
Most were not against office romance, with certain limits set.
It’s the final day of Chinese New Year, and while many are enjoying their final festive dinners and the last night of fireworks, there are quite a number of others who will be celebrating what is also known as the “Chinese Valentine’s Day”.
Many a single female will throw their phone-number-inscribed Mandarin orange into a river (real or otherwise), and in kind, many a love-seeking gent will pick one up hoping to get matched to a life companion. Or not. We’ve never actually done this ourselves.
But in honour of this special day, we’ve decided to do something fun and gather the opinions of five founders and directors of local startups in industries ranging from property to F&B to ask what they thought of romantic relationships—particularly those that happen in the workplace.
Love Is Free
On how they feel about the overall concept of an office romance, the five startup founders we talked to agree that it’s the right for anyone to fall in love, regardless of where they are.
“Personally, I have no issues with it. It’s kind of having a crush on someone when you’re in school which is natural for human behaviour when you see each other every day,” said Darren Chan, founder of sugar-dating website The SugarBook.
“We all work towards the same goal and objectives and we share the same vision. I think it is only normal that some might develop feelings.”
Jessie Chong of Boozeat—an alcoholic beverage delivery service—agrees.
“It’s a very transparent digital era now, and it is everyone’s right to enter any romantic relationship any given time,” she said. “As long as it’s kept professional in the working environment, and objectives are met, it’s really fine.”
But Work Comes First
Unsurprisingly, while they concur that workers should be free to get romantic with each other, it should not come at the expense of work and productivity.
“Relationships are fine, as long as they don’t get in the way of work—this applies to both the couple as well as the ones around them,” said Penny Choo, the co-founder of online florist BloomThis who currently works alongside her husband.
“As consenting adults, they should be wise enough to know what should be prioritised.”
“Even if romance was allowed at work, there should be limits to what you can and can’t do in the office,” said Vincent Tong of Printcious—a startup that deals in customisable gifts.
“At the end of the day, you’re there to work.”
Beware The Dangers
The five startup leaders also acknowledged the pitfalls that potentially belie romantic workplace relationships.
“If both of them are working in the same department, you may take your romantic problems into your work, or carry your work problems into your relationship,” said Gadiy Lim, co-founder of online property portal Bumbung.co.
“If things turn sour, one of them might end up leaving.”
Penny prefers that should there exist a relationship in the workplace, the couple shouldn’t be in the same department.
“Having two lovers in the same department could cause a conflict of interest, and could be distracting,” she said. “If such a relationship came about between two individuals in the same department, I’d prefer to have one of them transferred.”
Then there’s also the problem of sexual misconduct.
“From a professional point of view, I’d prefer my team to abstain from romantic workplace relationships, simply because there are too many ways that these could turn into sexual harassment lawsuits,” said Darren.
We’re All Adults Here
However, when asked if there should laws and governance in place for such relationships, most of them agreed that while their own workplaces had no official rules set in place, there still exists an understanding among all parties on how these things should be handled.
“It should be common sense, if you’re caught doing being indecent in the workplace, then you could get fired,” said Gadiy. “Be smart and take it outside.”
“We don’t need laws as office romance isn’t an offense in any way,” said Penny. “It’s up to employees to work it out with their significant others.”
Conversely, Vincent believes that rules should apply, but also that each case should be treated separately as every person is different.
“I’d say it entirely depends on the individuals and they way they conduct themselves,” he explained. “I’d like to exact different rules for different people, since there are people who can’t separate or balance personal life.”
Love Unites Us All
Vincent also believes that while office romances have their downsides, actually allowing employees the freedom to pursue their romantic interests in the workplace could perhaps prove beneficial.
“I firmly believe that if you take love out of anything, then it becomes a chore,” he said. “Humans thrive on emotions, and it’s the very reason why they’re so fixated on watching the lives of other people in the form of dramas and movies.”
Darren also commented on this topic and referred to his company The SugarBook as an example of a workplace that was open to the concept of office romance.
“We are a startup with a team of motivated and passionate adults,” he said. “And since we stand by freedom of choice, workplace romances could possibly boost collaboration, camaraderie, and rapport.”
Stay Out Of It
On whether or not employers should ever intervene or have any involvement in a romantic relationship between their employees should any problems arise, most of them said that they would rather stay out of such affairs.
“I believe we should have very little involvement,” said Jessie. “I’d only intervene if things got really out of hand.”
Gadiy also agreed.
“Do not get involved. If it’s affecting performance, tackle it on a professional level. Give the people involved time off to reflect and cool off,” he said.
Darren said that he would intervene if it was necessary to protect the work environment.
“I’d intervene and perhaps do it one-to-one and as a moderator between the two parties, although the discussion would be about how their personal lives are affecting their work,” he said. “Private details are not necessary.”
“Every relationship goes through rough patches,” added Penny. “I’d prefer to let the couple sort out their problems rather than get too involved.”
“In the end, it’s all up to maturity of the individuals involved.”
Ultimately, all five of them agree that the topic of workplace romances had all to do with respect—for each other, for their co-workers, and for their superiors.
Darren believes that while it’s fine for a couple to show some affection in the workplace, there is a line that should not be crossed.
“That line for me would be performing sexual acts in the office,” he said. “That’s one thing I’d be very unhappy about because it’s a blatant sign of disrespect not only to me, but to the whole team.”
Gadiy believes that having a romance in the workplace should come with the same level of decency as in any other scenario.
“The same rules apply when you’re going to visit your future in-laws. Would you hold hands or kiss in front of them?” he asked. “If the answer is no, then no lah. In the words of Russell Peters, ‘be a man, do the right thing.’”