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NEW YORK, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Gone is the time when dating a co-worker was a hush hush affair.
These days, single people in search of romance or a life-time partner have a much better chance finding that special person at work rather than at bars or online, say authors Stephanie Losee and Helaine Olen in their book "Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding - and Managing - Romance on the Job" (Adams Media, $14.95).
The reason is simple. People just spend way too much time at work, and that's where they really get to know potential mates and see how they handle a wide range of situations.
"Your office is your little village," Olen told Reuters in an interview. "And most relationships that evolve in the office tend to evolve from friendships and not from instant physical attraction. In a certain way, office relationships are more old-fashioned."
Old-fashioned or not, the truth is that office dating is fairly common. After more than a year researching and writing the book, the authors found out that about 50 percent of U.S. respondents admitted to having dated co-workers, while the number in a similar British study was 70 percent.
Office romances are not only raising fewer and fewer eyebrows, Losee said, but now they are more likely to get the blessing of bosses and human resource departments.
According to the book, fewer than 5 percent of human resource professionals in the United States felt that office romance should be prohibited and, in 2006, only 9 percent of American firms had blanket bans on relationships.
"For companies, it is becoming more a matter of how to manage dating and romance in the workplace and less of a matter of preventing it from happening," said Olen.
Some employers might even encourage dating because productivity and commitment tend to increase when people are engaged emotionally.
Intended as a primer for readers looking to spark an office romance without jeopardizing their careers, the book offers some common-sense guidelines for the office dater, including tips on when to make your "merger" with a coworker public.
But "Office Mate" also warns that workplace dating has its pitfalls. The risks now are less related to possible sexual harassment lawsuits than intense peer and corporate scrutiny.
"There's a lot at stake in the office and you have to remember that everybody is watching, all the time," said Olen. "You may have met your mate at work, but you should not conduct your romance at work."
For example, office couples often tend to get careless with company property and premises.
The authors recommend that you never to use e-mail or instant messaging to communicate with your honey, don't hang out around each other's desks, never fight at work, no favoritism and above all, no office hanky panky.
"It's very hard, for example, to control the impulse of using e-mails to communicate even about harmless things," said Losee. "But people have to remember that nothing is really private in an office."
Breakups are another delicate area. The book suggests that the couple should discuss early on in the relationship how to behave after a break-up.
"It sounds harsh at the initial stage of romance to discuss the possible end of the relationship," Olen said. "But it may help avoid a lot of awkward situations."
But according to "Office Mate," that's not a situation every office couple will have to handle. Roughly a quarter of couples who meet at work end up in long-term committed relationships.
That's certainly true of the authors, both of whom have been married for more than a decade to men they met at the office.
"Office dating works," said Losee. "And that's why people keep doing it."