Are you thinking about dating a coworker? If you decide to give it a whirl, you’ll be in good company. According to a 2019 survey from jobs site Vault, 58% of respondents have had an office romance at some point in their careers.
In fact, only 37% of the 700 respondents said that they “intentionally avoided” office romance. Still, most who dated a colleague did so discretely: 38% didn’t tell anyone about their relationship, while 26% told only a few people.
But perhaps most interesting to you, a person who may be looking for love at work, 75% said that they didn’t think their relationship had affected anyone at their job. That’s important, because one of the biggest risks in pursuing an office romance is damaging your career or those of your coworkers.
“Often times, the two people in the relationship aren’t as professional,” says Lucy Garcia, a client advocate at human resources provider G&A Partners, per ClickOrlando. “It affects everyone else in the workplace. Morale tends (to) decrease if the rest of the employees are aware of this unprofessional relationship. It can affect the trust and leadership of the organization. Production decreases and employee absenteeism increases. It just goes on from there and affects many areas of the workplace.”
To get the hearts and flowers without risking a pink slip, it pays to proceed with caution.
How to Have an Office Romance the Right Way
1. Make Sure You Can Handle It
Office relationships aren’t for everyone. If you or your paramour are someone who thrives on drama, tends to have a lot of intense, short-lived flings, or has trouble separating the personal and professional, think twice before proceeding.
“I absolutely think that office romances can work,” says Vivian Garcia-Tunon, career expert and founder of VGT Consulting Group, in an interview with Monster.com. “But it boils down to the emotional maturity and boundaries that people are able to create.”
2. Know Company Policy
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), at least 42% of employers have policies about office romance. These policies can range from outright prohibiting coworker relationships to requiring colleagues who date to report their relationships to HR.
If your employer has a policy, it’s important to know it — ideally before you get involved in a relationship at work. It’s also best to comply with the policy when possible, notifying the relevant parties and adhering to the rules.
And don’t assume you’ll get away with keeping your situation under wraps.
“When your relationship is discovered – and note that I said ‘when’ not ‘if’ because relationships are often revealed – you could be reprimanded or, worse, fired for failing to follow policy,” writes Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., an HR expert, at USA Today.
3. Hope for the Best, But Plan for the Worst
Obviously, not every office relationship ends in long-term commitment. If your relationship turns out to be of short duration, you need to make sure that the fallout won’t compromise either of your careers.
“Although the possibility of your romance not lasting may seem unfathomable when it is just beginning, figure out how to handle it if that unfortunate event does occur,” writes Dawn Rosenberg McKay at The Balance Careers. “Unless you or your partner plans to quit your job, seeing each other every day might be unavoidable. Figure out how that will work before it happens.”
It’s best to make a plan at the beginning of the relationship, before you inform anyone at the company. What will you do if you break up? Be honest with yourselves and each other. If you anticipate difficulty, make contingency plans. You might need to leave the company or ask for a transfer to another department.
Also consider that org charts aren’t set in stone. What will you do if one or the other of you is promoted, possibly into a leadership role in the same department?
“If you can’t navigate both your job and relationship, move onto another employer or ask for a transfer within the organization that would keep you from working together in that capacity,” advises Rosenberg McKay.
4. Don’t Date Your Boss (or Your Direct Report)
Even if your company doesn’t have a policy against it, do not date anyone above or below you on the corporate ladder. Why? Because it’s impossible to have an equal relationship when the power dynamic is already skewed.
At Glamour, Kat Stoeffel writes:
According to HR consultant Laurie Ruettimann, most written policies prohibit employees from dating only a direct boss or subordinate. Which brings us to a crucial point: Try not to. Experts Glamour spoke with discourage manager-subordinate romances because they create the perception (or reality) of favoritism; in a worst-case scenario, both parties could be fired or dragged through a harassment lawsuit.
5. Ask the Right Way
Here’s the rule: you can ask out a coworker once, and only once. More than that, and you’re not cultivating a romance … you’re flirting with stalker status. Forget what you see you in romantic comedies: there’s nothing charming about refusing to take no for an answer.
It’s also a good idea to be direct when you ask your coworker out, to avoid misunderstandings.
‘Do you want to get coffee?’ or “Would you like to have lunch?’ are more subtle, and might be interpreted as collegial coffees or lunches,” says Susan Strauss, EdD, a consultant on sexual harassment issues, in an interview with Esquire. “So if a man is picking up that there might be some interest, through flirting or innuendo that’s met positively, he could say, ‘I’d like to go to dinner with you, or a movie. Would you be interested?’”
6. Maintain Good Boundaries Between Work and After-Work
Once you’re in a relationship, keep it professional at work. That means treating your partner like any other coworker while you’re on the job.
“…no one at work should be able to tell that you two are dating while you’re on the clock,” writes Sophia Benoit at GQ. “…Don’t flirt at work, especially on any company-monitored messaging systems, and obviously any form of PDA is a no-go too. And definitely, definitely, don’t involve others in the ups and downs of your relationship, which has the potential to harm their standing within the company. Even though it might be tempting to sneak off to the copy room, wait to canoodle until 5 p.m. like everyone else.”
It’s also a good idea to leave work at work. Everyone needs a chance to unplug at the end of the day. When you’re dating someone from the office, that can be even tougher to pull off. But presumably you have more in common than just your job, even if it is the first thing that drew you together. Use your off-hours for hobbies and activities that have nothing to do with your jobs.
7. Remember That Big Brother Is Watching
“Do remember that the internet is not private,” advises Diane Gottsman at Inc. “Don’t fall for the illusion of privacy when you email personal information. Whatever you do on your work laptop is company property. Save it for your private accounts after-hours.”
In 2019, Gartner predicted that 80% of businesses would be monitoring employees by 2020. Per their research, if you work at a company with 50 or more employees, you’re even more likely to be monitored at work. Assume that anything you communicate using corporate equipment – including the company’s WiFi network — might become public knowledge. (Or at least, find its way to your HR department and into your personnel file.)
8. Do Your Job
When it comes to balancing personal relationships with professional commitments, the best thing you can do at work is … do your best at work. That means bringing your A-game to the office, each and every day. Now is not the time to start coming in late, leaving early, or falling behind on your goals. Fairly or unfairly, your coworkers may assume that any dips in your performance are due to personal issues.
And whatever you do, don’t use your personal relationship for professional gain.
“Rely on your own merit for professional growth,” advises Darla Murray at Cosmopolitan. “Obviously you have each other’s back — just as you would for any colleague you respect — but don’t rely on your love interest to help you score a coveted account, new role, or praise from your boss. It’s much more satisfying to succeed on your own merit, and everyone else will appreciate your achievements more if you’ve earned them.”
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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt