It’s your first day at a new job. The office manager gives you a tour of the place and introduces you to your new coworkers. You lock eyes with the most attractive person you’ve ever seen and think to yourself, “How great would it be if we dated?!” By the end of the day, you learn that this hottie is your boss. Be careful what you wish for.
We all know to be cautious before mixing work with play, but sometimes we can get blinded by love and forget that the same applies when mixing work with romance. You don’t want your coworkers to get the wrong impression and think that you’re dating someone just to move up in the company, or that you don’t take your job seriously. But you don’t want to lose the love of your life either. Is it possible to keep your awesome career and partake in a little office romance at the same time?
Career coach, expert, and author of Big Career in the Big City, Vicki Salemi, weighs in on this tricky topic. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about office romance.
Why can office romance be a bad idea?
Dating a coworker can be a challenge as this type of relationship requires a little extra effort to stay together. You need to know when to treat him or her like your love interest and when to treat them like your colleague. There’s a time and place for PDA, and the office isn’t one of them.
Remember that awful feeling you get when you see that random person you met at the bar in your early morning lecture, and end up being paired up with them for an assignment? Or dating someone from one of your classes and then having a horrible break-up? You still have to see your ex in class each day, no matter how badly things ended. A similar feeling occurs when you date someone from work and things turn sour. “It just gets tricky to navigate and keep under wraps and if things don’t work out, well then you’re stuck having to work next to the person,” Salemi warns.
What should you consider before dating a coworker?
Office romance can appear where we least expect it—at the office holiday party, on a business trip, or even during an ordinary day at the office. But just because you get butterflies when you’re around the office hottie doesn’t mean you should date (or hook up). Before you fall head over heels, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Whether you see your colleague as a potential long-term SO, or a friend with benefits, make sure you weigh the pros and cons before getting romantic. “It could be awkward, especially if things don’t work out. And if things do blossom into a full-fledged relationship, do you really want to work alongside the love of your life anyway?” Salemi says.
More importantly, be sure you know where your company stands on office romance. Some offices have certain policies on dating a coworker, and others may ban it entirely. If you know it’s not a problem at your place of work, just be sure to keep your personal and professional lives separate. But if the employee handbook includes a policy on dating within your company, make sure you follow the rules—like disclosing your relationship to the HR Manager or transferring to a different department.
What are the pros of dating a coworker?
Despite the negative stigma associated with dating someone from work, office romance success stories do exist. Lauren* and her boyfriend, who both work for the same company, have been dating for almost three years. “Finding someone with a similar background and interests is a plus to dating a coworker,” Lauren says. “They completely understand what it means when you’ve had a bad day at work and can help make it better instantly.”
Another plus to dating someone from work is always having someone to hang out with, whether you have lunch together, take a walk around the building, or just share a few laughs in the break room. Yes, you can do all of this with another colleague, but there’s something special about bonding with your SO while at work.
What are the cons of dating a coworker?
Although Lauren is in a happy relationship, she admits there are downsides to dating a coworker. “Your cover gets blown when you take a vacation together and both come back tan,” she says. In the beginning, Lauren wanted to keep her work relationship a secret because she didn’t even know if they were dating or if it was just a short-term fling. “After establishing our relationship, we still kept quiet because we work very closely together and wanted to remain professional,” Lauren says.
Having so close a relationship with someone else in the office might also make your coworkers uncomfortable, or cause your superiors not to take you seriously. Maybe they feel like they need to keep a closer eye on you to make sure you’re actually spending work hours on work, or perhaps your peers have a hard time teaming up with you because they can’t help but feel like they’re third-wheeling. “We really don’t try to bring it up because we don’t want people to feel awkward around us,” Lauren says.
Another problem with dating someone who works at the same company, especially if they have the same role and responsibilities as you, is competition. Even though a little friendly competition is a sign of a healthy relationship, trying to one-up each other while on the job is not necessarily a good thing. Just imagine all of the tension that could cause. “At that point it’s best if one of you worked in another department,” Salemi says.
Who is off limits?
Is he or she your boss? Are they related to someone high up in the company? Do they have the same job title as you? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to be extra cautious before getting romantically involved with this person. There are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed, and dating your boss is definitely one of them, especially if your company forbids it. If your relationship suddenly ends, your career could end too. Whether you want to admit it or not, if your love interest has ties with the company management, he or she could sabotage your career if your relationship takes a turn for the worse.
If your workplace doesn’t allow it, don’t do it, period—even if you think you can keep the relationship under wraps. If you feel strongly about starting a relationship with someone from work and the relationship is more important to you than your job, it might be a good time for one of you to move to a different company.
What should you do if a coworker starts flirting with you and you’re not interested?
It’s important not to give into the flirtatious actions, especially if relationships aren’t allowed in your office or you have no romantic feelings for this person. Be polite, but don’t flirt back. Steer the conversation back to work-related topics and hopefully your colleague will get the hint that you’re not interested in dating. It can be difficult to diffuse the situation without making your professional life awkward, but it’s important to make sure you feel comfortable when you go to work each day. If your coworker keeps trying to pursue a relationship with you or if your boss makes an unwanted physical advance or inappropriate comment, make sure you discuss the situation with HR.
How do you deal with an office break-up?
Seeing your former SO at work each day is the last thing you want, especially if they were the one to break up with you. But when you work with your ex, you can’t suddenly cut him or her out of your life. Put your career first and leave any former relationship drama at the door. If your break-up prevents you from completing your tasks, or if you feel threatened by your ex, it might be a good time to talk to HR to either help mediate the situation, or even move one of you to a different department within the company. A good way to move on from an office break-up is to be the bigger person and focus on your job instead of dwelling on your failed relationship.
How can you make an office romance work?
Our best advice is to keep your love life separate from your work life, even if your SO just so happens to work with you. While you’re at work, keep things professional and treat each other like you would any other coworker. It’s best if the two of you are in different departments or even buildings. But if you do work side-by-side, like Lauren and her boyfriend do, avoid being lovey-dovey with each other. “Don’t leverage work hours to meet up for a brief coffee date, don’t use work email to get flirty. And whatever you do, do not date your boss!” Salemi says. The best way to make an office romance work is to carry on with business as usual while you’re at the office. Save the romance for after work hours.
The decision to date a coworker can be a complicated one, and whenever possible, one that’s best to avoid. But we all know that love comes to us in unexpected ways, though, so follow our tips whenever you encounter a tricky office romance situation. With this guide, you’ll be prepared next time love enters the workplace.