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Love & Lust @ The Office

In the changing office milieu, colleagues may double up as work-husbands or work-wives. A recent survey finds that marriage isn’t coming in the way of romance at work. A report by Veenu Sandhu.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2008 03:51 IST
Veenu Sandhu
Veenu Sandhu
Hindustan Times

That sneaky cherub is working overtime these days. With the young and the not-so-young, the single and the taken, all spending the best hours of their day at work, Cupid hardly gets to leave the office these days.

He’s not alone. Giving the God of Love company is the God of Desire — fuelling the lust to make it big in the quickest possible time and in the easiest possible way. Together, the two have got the workplace all steamed up. And in a world of instant linkups and instant breakups, their job’s only getting easier.

All in the family

Smriti and Rajeev, now married, met while working in a media house. The dating ethos in their office was quite relaxed, for as Smriti says, "almost every two people were a couple".

She says it’s a lot easier working in the same office as your partner, because "there is no desperate need to rush out of the office".

Rajeev agrees, while Smriti wonders aloud about couples who continue working together even after being married. She says they deserve a standing ovation for the feat, and wonders how they manage to keep domestic feuds off the workfloor all the time.

Nivriti Butalia

What’s love got to do with it…

Ranjana Mehra, 36, a development manager with a BPO in Mumbai, was an easy target last year. Married for seven years, and mother of a four-year-old, Mehra has been seeing a junior colleague since July 2007. “My husband and I leave for work at 8 am and don’t see each other till 9 in the night. Where’s the time left for love, or even companionship?” she says. “If I get that emotional fulfillment from someone in office, what’s the harm?” It’s perfectly fine with her if her colleague-cum-partner also gains professionally from their relationship. And Mehra is quite clear that this is a temporary affair, and will not lead to her walking out of her marriage.

Mehra isn’t the odd woman out. A survey on romance at the workplace released recently by staffing company TeamLease had 56 per cent working people declaring that women often initiate an affair at work. Marking a dramatic shift from the ‘conventional’ romance between a dynamic boss and his young, single secretary. “Traditionally, men have been known to demand sexual favours, but with women getting more aggressive and dynamic in the workplace, these figures reflect the manner in which women now candidly articulate their expectations,” says Surabhi Mathur-Gandhi, general manager and business head of TeamLease at Mumbai.

Twice bitten, not once shy

And once is often not enough. “People seem to be constantly searching for ‘better’ — be it a deal, a car, or a relationship,” says Dr Anurag Mishra, a member of the faculty at Delhi University’s Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies. “There seems to be a realisation that nothing comes with a lifetime guarantee. Maintaining a relationship takes a lot of time and energy, and not many people are ready to put in that much,” he says.

Saurabh Joshi would agree. The senior marketing executive working in Delhi, candidly admits that he’s had flings with at least two women in his office, and a “sort-of-serious” affair with another one.

“Neither of us was really serious about it. While working together, we got attracted to each other. But when you get serious, expectations come in, and that’s difficult,” he says.

The search for ‘better’, says Dr Mishra, often begins and ends at the office, which provides easy accessibility to members of the opposite sex. As a result, today’s workplace has become the No 1 spot for the married or single to find partners — once, twice, three times or more.

‘Care for coffee?’

For Neelesh Handa, a happily-married branch head of a bank in Bangalore, the search germinated over harmless lunch and coffee breaks with a female colleague. “With time, I found myself looking forward to these breaks. I don’t know at what stage it became more than friendship,” says Handa, adding, “And I’ve always been against married men and women having affairs.”

Some researchers aptly call this new kind of infidelity the “cup of coffee” syndrome. Dr BS Arora, a psychiatrist at Rupantran Neuropsychiatric Centre, says emotional insecurity is the root of it all. “Values are changing; people no longer think it necessary to control their instincts,” he says. “A husband and wife are supposed to be physical, emotional, mental, and intellectual partners. And they can be too, if they make an effort. But few realise this,” he says.

Besides, the family gets no place in the corporate setup, not even at parties. “The spouse is completely cut off from an important part of the partner’s life. This vacuum is not healthy,” says Suneel Vatsyayan, relationship counsellor and chairman of the Nada India Foundation that works on gender issues. “Also, in office, people come packaged. You see their best side and that’s attractive,” he adds.

Politics of romance

“Everybody wants to be the best consumer today — even in a relationship,” says Vatsyayan. Which is why linking up with the boss for perks and promotions is no big deal. “Because the goals are temporary, and so are the means,” he says. “But,” he adds, “if you probe the psyche of the person trying to get ahead fast in the rat race, you’ll find him or her looking only for contentment, but in all the wrong places.”

Both he and Arora say this only leads to larger unhappiness. “People are in denial when they say ‘what’s the big deal in having an affair if it’ll take me ahead in life’,” says Vatsyayan. Dr Santrupt Mishra, Director, HR and IT, Aditya Birla Group, argues, “An organisation is, after all, an agglomeration of individuals. Aberrations will occur.” He adds, “In a society where people can bribe a constable to get out of a traffic violation or pay speed money to push a file in a government office, why is it so shocking when people use all the resources available to them to serve their purpose?”

Power is attractive. “And so is the idea of gaining from power,” says Dr Anurag Mishra. At times, it might not be possible to tell who is using whom. “But, somewhere down the line,” sums up Vatsyayan, “you’ve got to come back to your true self — just as the story unfolded in that film, Life in a … Metro. Everybody’s chasing something, and it turns out that all they’re looking for is stability.”

(Some names have been changed on request)