On the upside, the idea of dating coworkers is technically less frightening than that of meeting random strangers at bar or romancing someone you met online after bonding over your shared love of Dobermans and duck-faced selfies. On the downside, it also presents a wealth of potential wrinkles – perceptions of favoritism, concerns from colleagues, issues with the chain of command, etc. – that most workplaces prefer to avoid. Noting this, there are plenty of reasons to keep your relationship on the down-low, and keep your hands off of coworkers’ TPS reports.
After all, dating colleagues is never a simple proposition – oh, the office rumor mill, and fallout from potential break-ups. But considering how much of the modern workday we often spend in the close company of others (and the intensity of contemporary workloads and deadlines), it’s a concept that many couples have also successfully embraced. For those seeking to pursue, or address, office romances – especially one such as that described above – perhaps it’s best to keep some considerations in mind. We asked Scott Steinberg, author of The Business Etiquette Bibleto offer some insights on how you can make an office romance work without torpedoing your career prospects.
A few questions to ask yourself as you go about pursuing a colleague:
Many workplaces (though they may pretend to turn a blind eye to or may not have codified policies in place to address) actively discourage, formally or otherwise, the presence of inter-office relationships. So first and foremost, consider: What are my employer’s rules on office romance? Is there a formal policy against employees becoming romantically intertwined? If so, and you run the risk of violating it, maybe it’s best to take a pass until someone gets another gig – serious job and career fallout could follow if you choose to date.
If you do decide to proceed, ponder as well: Is there a way to make things easier for all parties involved? Perhaps it’s best for someone to transfer elsewhere in the organization (i.e. another department, or subsidiary) where on-the-job concerns are less pronounced, or are less visible to colleagues.
Should I be secretive or open about the relationship? When debating whether or not to keep an office romance on the hush, consider how colleagues and clients may react on learning the information – and how it may reflect on all parties involved. While experts are torn on the subject, most advise not lying about the relationship, but also actively working to keep it on the down low. Note: This may be harder to do if you’re showing up with huge smiles after consistently arriving at work or taking lunch breaks together at the same time.
How can I keep things as professional as possible? Personal matters and professional matters should be kept strictly separate, and office equipment and communications channels reserved only for job-related tasks.
Is it safe to joke around? Think about propriety as well as others’ feelings before you speak. Who knows when that goofy joke you make about Victoria’s Secret to your partner might be taken out of context.
Which rules should we be following on the job? Case in point: Is it OK to kiss at the office? Hang out in each others’ offices with doors closed? Grab happy hour drinks alone after a conference while the rest of the team chills at the bar? And how should you respond if colleagues gossip about you or your partner?
What happens if things get weird at work? Talk out possible issues that may arise due to workplace complications in advance, e.g. jealousy (say if one partner gets promoted at the other doesn’t or gets a raise while the other gets snubbed in on a bigger paycheck), paranoia (due to gossip around at the office), or thoughts going unheard (say if the boss respects your opinions, but routinely discounts hers). Have a plan in place for addressing them.
What do we do if things get competitive? For example: What if you’re both vying for a management position and only one person can get promoted – how can you keep similar career paths from colliding with spectacular effect? Discuss possible workplace scenarios that may arise, agree to keep lines of communication with your partner open (and honest and constructive), and agree to talk through any issues that may arise.
How can I keep things strictly business? On the job, you may be asked to review others’ work, give unflattering feedback, or deliver unwelcome news – how can you keep your feelings for your partner from getting in the way of doing your job?
How can we keep from killing each other? You two lovebirds may wind up seeing each other way too much, since you’re spending workplace as well as leisure hours together. Consider how you can carve out stress-relieving time and space for each of yourselves.
What happens if this doesn’t work out? Plan in advance with your partner what your exit plan will be if relationship fizzles – and how you’ll continue to enjoy a good working relationship if you find yourselves still having to do business together.
Office romances aren’t easy, but as thousands of happy couples can tell you, they can often work out. How well they shake out for colleagues and employers, well… It’s all in how much love and respect you show them, and how you choose to comport yourself.
Contributing Editor Tim Stanton is a longtime veteran of the nightlife and entertainment scene who covers bars, restaurants, travel, technology, and other topics. A noted high-enthusiast and foodie, he's our resident go-to guy for inside tips on your city's most promising options.