Face it. You spend most of your 24-hour day at the office, so as a young professional, it’s natural you would meet, and be attracted to, a colleague. A February 2012 survey by CareerBuilder.com found that 38 percent of people dated someone from their office and 31 percent married someone with whom they worked.
Could this happen to you? Possibly, but if so, how would you handle some of the more-sensitive issues related to dating a co-worker? How do you navigate office politics, seeing each other daily, and any legal and ethical issues that might come up?
Most likely, you’ll find very few firms or companies that have policies against dating someone at work. Certainly, the organization may have a nepotism policy, but you’ll only need to be concerned about that if you eventually marry the person.
There are plenty of great things about dating that perfect someone at work. You spend more time in the office than virtually anywhere else, so you have plenty of opportunities to meet colleagues and learn more about them while on the job. You also get to see a person daily so you will have a pretty good sense of his or her character.
When you date a colleague, the fact that you are in frequent contact may not be beneficial to your relationship. Habits you thought endearing may become grating if you are exposed to them 24x7.
Jealousy may be an added factor and can occur on a personal and professional level. How will you handle your romantic interest’s flirtations and friendships with colleagues? What if your friend gets a promotion or a raise, or is picked for a special project?
When entering a work relationship, you also have to ask yourself what happens if there is a break up. Will it create an awkward and tense situation for yourself, your former boyfriend or girlfriend, and colleagues?
Lastly, consider whether the office romance interferes with your ability to perform your professional duties. Will you show favoritism?
Some Rules of Thumb
If you decide that dating a colleague is worth it, make sure you follow some basic rules:
- Be aware of office policies. If your company does have a policy prohibiting an office romance, be sure you’re aware of the language in the policy. If you break the rules, you could be putting your job at risk.
- Don’t date your boss. Your career and reputation is at stake. Colleagues might think you entered the relationship to climb the corporate ladder or that you are getting preferential treatment.
- Don’t date your subordinate. This can cause serious legal issues and accusations of sexual harassment if the relationship goes south. You can also be accused of preferential treatment and of coercion by other subordinates.
- Don’t date within your department. Avoid this and you’ll be able to keep tensions to a minimum; you want to ensure you are not involved in each other’s day-to-day existence to make it easier on yourselves and your colleagues. Think “awkward!”
- No public displays of affection. Although this might seem obvious to most of us, from time to time you may forget the unwritten rules.
- Have an agreement. There are two considerations here. First, if you sense the relationship is going to blossom, discuss how you will handle your behavior in the office. Second, if you are dating and the relationship does not work out, discuss how you’ll handle the situation like two mature adults.
To Tell or Not to Tell
The next question is whether to tell colleagues you are dating someone in the office. Keeping it a secret can be stressful and make it look like you are sneaking around. And, with social media so prevalent, chances are the secret will be known sooner than later. However, this point is a two-edge sword. Being out in the open also can make people uncomfortable. Consider the pros and cons of both before determining how to handle it.
Be aware of how executives in your firm might view office romances and whether this might affect your career. Even if the company does not have a written policy, we are human, after all … and leadership may be concerned about the effect of office romances on morale, let alone worry that the outcome might lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit. Some leaders may see you as a risky player.
There are real risks to dating a colleague, but a lot of great relationships started in the office. If you’ve met your soul mate at work, pursue it carefully with a few ground rules in place. Use your judgment. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and ask yourself how you would feel if something like this happened around you