Office romances can be very tricky and are generally not recommended. But they do happen – and when they do – there are three possible outcomes:
- The relationship turns sour and your reputation and career take a beating.
- it ends, but you’re both mature and cordial and don’t let the breakup affect your work.
- or things work out.
It’s up to you to figure out whether pursuing an office relationship is worth the possible consequences, good and bad. If you decide it is, here are a few “rules” you’ll want to follow to ensure things don’t go awry:
- Take it slow: try being friends inside and outside the office before you make any moves. People sometimes act differently at work than they do in their personal life. Before you risk hurting your reputation at work, find out if this person is someone you’d want to spend weekends with.
- Know the formal policy: check the company handbook to find out if there are any policies related to interoffice relationships. Even if there are no explicit policies against it, find out how upper management feels about office romances. If they’re common and happen in your workplace all the time, great. If not, maybe that’s something to consider.
- Avoid your boss or direct reports: if you’re thinking about pursuing an office romance, consider your rank or position, as well as theirs. Dating your boss or your direct report can be particularly dangerous for a variety of reasons.
- Keep things quiet early on: once you have a sense that this might have a future, talk to your partner and decide how and when you want to disclose your relationships to your colleagues. If the rumor mill goes into high gear, that might be the right time. If nobody seems to notice, there’s no reason to share.
- Get on the same page: you and your new partner need to agree on some ground rules and come up with a plan for how you will keep it professional and stay within written or unwritten rules. What will be your plan ‘B’ if the heat is on from a supervisor, from gossip, or if things go awry?
- Be professional at all times: you may have the burden of overcompensating with professionalism and keeping an artificial distance, which can be an awkward strain. Better to overcompensate than to constantly test the limits of workplace etiquette while hoping for the best.
- Be sensitive and respectful to others: focus on work and do your job – especially if you want to mitigate gossip. Talking about the relationship can be distracting or make colleagues feel uncomfortable, so don’t do it.
- Know the potential legal pitfalls: employees are generally encouraged to report incidents of sexual harassment or events that create a hostile work environment. Since the sensitivities of the workforce are varied and subjective, there’s always a risk of offending someone. One complaint to HR for PDA, showing preferential treatment, or using words of endearment in public will at the very least trigger an investigation.
- Remain focused on your work: spend your time as if you are not dating this person. Don’t get caught up in long conversations, two-hour lunches, or emailing with your partner when you should be working on projects or preparing for meetings.
- Remain ethical: it’s unfair and unethical to give your significant other’s work more attention and to make decisions that ultimately benefit them. So while it may be tempting, stop yourself before you get yourself into trouble.
- Don’t let disagreements affect your work: this may be one of the hardest rules to follow. What happens at home or in your personal life (no matter who you’re dating) almost always affects your attitude, which affects your work – it’s just a fact of life. But try your hardest not to let your disagreements with your partner affect the decisions you make or how your treat others at work.