Newly broken-in pumps? Check. Perfectly voluminous hair? Check. It’s your first day at your summer office job and damn girl, you look fabulous! Everything is running smoothly when you walk over to the water cooler. Your eyes become glued to a handsome 20-something with looks that could rival James Marsden. “This guy could legit play the male lead in every romantic comedy made for the rest of the time,” you decide. Well Miss HC, you’ve encountered a dilemma: Pursue or move on? Mixing work with pleasure can have detrimental and wonderful consequences and in today’s workplace the decision to take on a work relationship is in your hands. Read on as we weigh the pros and cons of hooking up with a coworker.
Before we begin examining your options, it’s essential to note the general issues involved with work relationships. No-dating policies aren’t as popular as they once were like in the McCarthy era (see this clip from “Good Night, Good Luck”). Vice-President, Human Resources at Sterling Publishing Denise Allen said that issues arise when you’re romantically linked to a manager. “In my experience, most companies say you can’t date a coworker if it’s a supervisor and subordinate relationship,” she said. “In the past, we’ve had to make changes to who was in charge of whom because of their relationship status.” If you are willing to take the risk, be prepared to deal with the consequences which can often include a boss switch or termination.
Though no-dating policies aren’t too common anymore, there are now consensual relationship agreement forms that you may be asked to sign. According to Bnet.com, this confirms that “a romantic or sexual relationship between employees is voluntary and consensual.” This form may be signed when an employer discourages or requires notifications of such relationships.
Make sure you clarify with your supervisor or HR rep what your company’s policies are before you decide whether or not you give Mr. James Marsden wannabe a green light. Ask a fellow coworker, dive into your employee manual, or check out your company’s website for clarification. This way you will be able to make the wisest decision.
“The reality is that people in the workplace sometimes get involved,” Allen said. “You can’t control who you love.” Sometimes these relationships can flourish for the best and bring you happiness. For one Colorado State University student, her high school job crush resulted in a long term relationship.
“We flirted nonstop and started spending more time together,” she said. Flirting led to a relationship that the two kept quiet for about two months before telling fellow employees. “Chris* and I continued to date while working together and we ended up staying together,” she said.
According to a 2007 study by SnagAJob.com, 72% of men and 60% of women are interested in a coworker. A Syracuse University junior named Sarah recalls the attraction she felt toward a fellow employee during her part-time job stint in high school. “Even though it was difficult it was definitely worth it,” she said. “I think I would have regretted it more if I didn't take a chance in dating him; I would have missed out on all the fun and good times we had together.”
Between studying for class, internships, and clubs, sometimes there is little time to develop relationships. Part-time jobs can sometimes be your chance to meet someone new that takes you out of your typical routine. Flirting at work can make things exciting and boost your self-esteem. Sarah said, “It definitely made work more fun, it helped time pass and it was just more enjoyable since we were together.”
Massachusetts native Nicole* had a summer hookup that ended on good terms. “It was scandalous because we weren’t sure if it was against the rules so we didn’t tell anyone about it. Our coworkers later asked if we were dating and it was funny because we thought we were going unnoticed!”
Recent Hofstra University graduate John* said he would definitely engage in a relationship with a coworker in the future. “It’s really an invigorating experience,” he said. “I would definitely do it, but I would be cautious in the corporate world.”
Growth and Experience
It can be argued that one can learn something from every relationship he or she dives into, be it serious, a fling, or something you just can’t label. For John, he learned about trust issues after hooking up with several ladies in his office. “A lot of gossip was spread and people started to talk. I learned a lot about who I can and cannot trust,” he said.
Sarah said her high school romance helped her deal with conflict management and unfavorable life scenarios. “It’s worse to dwell on everything and wonder what went wrong when you just have to accept it and deal how you can.” Whether it’s painful or a total self-esteem booster, it is likely that you will grow from your relationship experience.
More Time Together
With other responsibilities on your plate, your job may be the only time you can see your counterpart. Though it’s not advised to chat him up all day like Jim and Pam from The Office might, just being in the same vicinity can brighten your day. Just being able to grab a quick bite or discuss a similar project at work can really strengthen your relationship and make things easier. If anything goes badly at work, your partner will understand what you went through and why you’re in a bad mood.
For Sarah, breaking up with her fellow employee wasn’t easy. “We wouldn't work together for a few days and when I'd finally start to feel better about everything, we'd have a shift together and all of those feelings would come rushing back,” she said. “Sometimes in the beginning I'd get so upset that I'd have to take a break and I'd cry,” she said.
For John, one of his past hookups ended up getting a little too hooked. “She would sign up for the same shifts as me and try to strike up conversation in the office… it was just really awkward.” Running into an old flame can change your whole mood in an instant and can be emotionally traumatizing—not exactly what you need when you’re trying to do a good job at work. Here are some tips for avoiding a meltdown:
- Get active. Sign up for an early spin class or take your dog for a walk before you head in. You will feel and look great, and he will be able to notice.
- Don’t give him the cold shoulder. This only shows that his actions have affected you and you want to come off cool, calm, and collected despite the tension.
- Focus on your work. Distract yourself in a good way! Invest yourself in a lengthy project that requires most of your attention.
- Go for a walk. Are you allowed to take a 15-minute break? Go for a pleasant stroll and take in the sights, sounds, and smells around you.
Knowing your beau is a few cubicles away can completely distract you from your work. A lack of focus will decrease your work performance and can result in termination if handled incorrectly. “It definitely affected me in that I wasn't as personable with customers or focused on what was going on,” Sarah said. If this is noticed by other coworkers or worse, your boss, you will be forced to face the consequences.
Allen said she became involved with a supervisor at one point in her career and it became serious. “I made a decision to leave the job though I loved it, but I know that everything happens for a reason,” she shared. “You better be prepared to lose your job or make a choice to leave if it doesn’t work out,” she said.
Ever see the episode of Gossip Girl where Vanessa ends up getting into the NYU Tisch School and Dan doesn’t? It really strained their relationship and only led to rockier waters. Competition and jealousy have that kind of power and they can mess with what you have. It may not be pretty if your partner gets a promotion or raise you don’t, so take that into consideration when establishing a relationship with anyone.
Word to the Wise: Keep It Quiet
“I think the best advice is if you are going to date someone with no supervisory relationship is to keep it under the radar. If things don’t work out no one will know your business,” Allen said. Keep things separate and make sure you aren’t constantly talking or emailing during the day. This way it won’t be such a culture shock if things don’t work out.
It’s in Your Hands
Now that you’ve explored your options, it’s time to make a decision. Consider your unique situation, whether or not you plan to climb the corporate ladder, and how you handle relationships in general. Decipher what is best for you professionally and personally. Mixing work and play is a balancing act, so be sure you can handle it before diving in. And who knows? Maybe you and James Marsden are meant to be after all.
Denise Allen, Vice President of Human Relations at Sterling Publishing
Sarah*, A Syracuse University Junior
Nicole*, A Massachusetts Native and college student
Amanda*, A Colorado State University student
John*, A Hofstra University senior
*Names have been changed