You’ve probably heard that work and dating don’t mix — the potential for conflict, drama and hurt feelings that comes with any relationship increases when you see your partner at work every day. But the truth is, ignoring your feelings isn’t always possible. In fact, about one in 10 Americans meets their spouse through work. There’s even evidence to suggest that relationships that start in the workplace are more likely to end in marriage. So despite conventional wisdom, workplace relationships can be more than a taboo romp — they can actually end in happily ever after.
Just because something can work out, though, doesn’t always mean it will. Office romances are tricky, and as such, need to be handled with care. If you do decide that you just can’t live without Jenna in Engineering or Marcus in Sales, read the following advice closely. It may just be the difference between a huge HR mistake and a match made in heaven.
1. Do: Your Research
Before jumping into anything official, read the office handbook because dating a coworker can actually put your career at risk.
“Certain companies have strict policies that prohibit dating at any level, or require employees to inform their supervisor or HR,” says Erica Perkins, Director/Human Resources Business Partner at Glassdoor. “Some have less restrictive policies that allow romances to happen between individuals, but not between direct reports and managers or other relationships where there would be an inherent conflict of interest.”
It may not be terribly romantic to thumb through your HR department’s dating policy in detail before accepting a dinner invite, but when your job is on the line, you’ll want to guarantee that you’re not unwittingly entering the territory of fireable offenses.
2. Do: Make Sure It’s Worth It
Even if you don’t risk losing your job, it goes without saying that workplace romances have a lot of potential for fallout. Just think — can you imagine having to collaborate with your ex every day? So if you’re looking for a fling or a rebound, you might want to set your sights elsewhere. The stakes are simply too high. If, however, you think you may have found the one, it’s not unreasonable to consider moving forward. But first, ask yourself the following, Perkins says:
- Is there potential for a serious, long-term relationship?
- What’s the potential impact on my career?
- What are the perceptions that people may have of me if they find out?
- Would I or my partner be willing to choose between the relationship and our jobs?
Once you’ve honestly answered these questions, it’s up to you whether or not the office romance is worth exploring.
3. Do: Keep It on the Down-low
Especially in the office, you want to keep all outward signs of your relationship to a minimum.
“[Coworkers] notice when you spend excessive time with each other, hold hands or even do something as subtle as texting each other or giving non-verbal signals to each other,” Perkins says. “The people I’ve seen be most successful with office relationships are conscientious about their relationship everywhere, and don’t engage in anything other than truly professional behavior with one another at and around work.”
So unless you want to make your coworkers uncomfortable, save the PDA for home. As a bonus, it’ll give you something to look forward to at the end of each day.
4. Don’t: Blab to the Whole Office
“When you’re in the early stages of romance, you want to shout it from the rooftops and give your friends the play-by-play,” Perkins says. But “there’s a danger once people know that you’re a couple. People can attribute all kinds of things to the fact that you’re together.”
Even if you’re close with many of your colleagues, knowing that you are in a relationship with a coworker may lead them to suspect favoritism. At the very least, divulging the relationship can backfire down the road.
“If things get rocky, or there’s a fight, people who work with you might feel they need to walk on eggshells — it can really impact the team, so you should err on the side of caution. Even with friends, less is more,” Perkins shares.
5. Don’t: Bring Work Home
Venting about work to your partner is often a good way to talk through your feelings and blow off some steam, but if you both work at the same place, it might start to feel like you’ve never truly left the office.
“[Couples] need to negotiate how much they’re going to talk about work with each other outside of work,” Perkins says. “Some people make a conscious decision not to discuss it at home at all — once they get home at 6:30 PM, they won’t talk about work until they arrive in the office at 8:30 am the next day.”
Whether or not you want to be that strict about it is up to you, of course, but the important thing is to communicate with one another.
“Couples that negotiate and have a plan in place for when they’re at home versus when they’re at work” will be in a much better position, Perkins says.