Danger: Office romance ahead
Consider these five reasons why dating your co-worker might not be such a good idea.
Office romances happen—sometimes out of nowhere. After all, you spend the majority of your day and week with the same group of people, and it’s only natural that natural attractions may develop into something more. But dating a co-worker comes with risk. When you mix and mingle your love life with your professional life, it can cause unwanted and unexpected drama if it’s not handled the right way.
And perhaps it’s even fair to say that some office relationships aren’t a good idea at all. For instance, ones in which one person in the couple exerts career influence over the other.
That said, many happy couples started their courtship on the job, so it’s not fair to say that romantic relationships in the workplace should be avoided at all costs. However, you and your potential partner should at least give it some serious thought before you forge forward into significant-other territory.
“It’s very wise to consider how exploring a relationship with a colleague might affect your career,” says Bonnie Petrovich, vice president of Keystone Associates, which provides career-transition services.
Here are some things to think through before you dive into an office romance head over heels.
Are the two of you cut out for a workplace romance?
“I absolutely think that office romances can work,” says Vivian Garcia-Tunon, career expert and founder of VGT Consulting Group, which provides career coaching and leadership development. She’s seen them work many times, and even dated people she met at work herself. “But it boils down to the emotional maturity and boundaries that people are able to create,” she says.
In other words, having a brief fling with someone you work with after a holiday office party is probably not worth the potential awkwardness it can cause later on. The same goes for the person who’s already dated half the office. But if the person of interest is someone you’ve developed a connection with, and you think there’s real relationship potential, it could be worth taking a chance.
Do you need to disclose that you’re dating a co-worker?
The first thing you need to do is get on the same page as your partner. One of you might want the whole world to know, while the other might think it’s a better idea to keep it under wraps. To complicate matters even more, your company’s policy might require you to report that you’re dating, at least to HR and/or your immediate manager. “Policies are different based on each firm,” says Garcia-Tunon, “especially if there is any kind of connection between the work that you both do.”
You don’t necessarily have to report your first date, but if you plan to continue dating, sneaking around could lead to trouble. “People want to hide it as long as possible, but when lies or deceptions come up, like if you start expensing your dinners together or taking business trips together, it can be seen as negative, and people will then take action,” says Garcia-Tunon.
Some companies have explicit policies against dating a co-worker, while others don’t try to legislate human nature at all, says Petrovich. “The bottom line for you is how will dating this person affect your professional goals, reputation, and continued contribution to the organization?” she says. From the organization’s perspective, they want to continue benefitting from your skills and experience so if your relationship will decrease your ability to do so, you may be considered less of an asset.
What is the nature of your work relationship?
Whether you are equal business partners, or one of you is on a leadership team that makes decisions that affects the other, or you work in the same department, it can get tricky to keep your personal and professional lives separate. And if one person is in a higher position, there is always the question about how that power factors into any romantic relationships in the workplace.
“In these days of the #MeToo movement, it would be wise to look at the workplace-power difference and be clear about what you may be doing out of free will and what may be out of control (or perceived control),” says Petrovich. “What would you have to say if there was ever an inquiry or complaint?”
Even if you’re confident that you can separate work from play, if there is a direct report or management relationship, it’s normally best to remove yourself from those situations. “I believe it gets cloudier and muddier having the ability to play both roles effectively without preferential treatment or different treatment,” Garcia-Tunon says. Large companies can usually help accommodate such situations, perhaps having one of you change departments.
Will dating a co-worker affect your other work relationships?
Some office romances tend to fuel watercooler gossip, so that’s something you might have to deal with. “People are always going to talk unfortunately. Let your work performance speak for itself, and try not to engage in that gossip because it can lead to a toxic workplace,” says Garcia-Tunon. As long as you both keep things professional at work and don’t throw the relationship in everyone’s face (hint, no PDA!), the gossip crew will turn to something else.
Can you set boundaries and follow them?
It’s all about remembering the hat that you’re wearing in the place that you’re in, says Garcia-Tunon. “Inside the workforce, you’re an employee to the company and this is a fellow co-worker. Outside, you’re a significant other and that’s the place where you can express that,” she says. That means treating that person at work the same way you treat other people, and keeping the outside relationship outside of the four office walls.
If you think about it, the same can be said about friendships you make at work. “I managed a team of 150 at one point, and a lot of people were my friends,” says Garcia-Tunon. “I didn’t hide it, but I treated them just like anyone else inside the workplace.”
Can you discuss ground rules should the romance fall flat?
Relationships may start off great, but what will happen if there’s an ugly breakup? Although you might not be able to imagine it now, it can happen, and you should feel confident that both of you can move on without jeopardizing your career. “An attraction that you would like to explore may or may not pan out for the longer term, so consider what it would be like to continue to be in a workplace with an ex day-to-day,” Petrovich adds.
Looking for love in all the wrong places?
Being clear on each other’s expectations and having smart conversations before dating a co-worker can be the best thing you do for a relationship that begins at work. Says Garcia-Tunon, “an office romance doesn’t have to be career detrimental.” Knowing how to handle yourself and your relationships will make your time on the job much easier to navigate. Could you use some more advice on how to handle tricky situations at work? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get career advice, job search tips, and workplace insights that can help you along the way. From learning how to negotiate a salary or raise to understanding the right way to disagree with your boss, Monster has valuable info on loads of scenarios that you'll likely face at one time or another.