Mastering the Office Romance

Managed by Q
February 13, 2020

Dating at work is a polarizing topic—some say don’t do it, others say why not? In episode 1 of What’s Working, “We met at work,” we heard stories from both sides, and learned what could happen when you get a little too close to your coworkers. You could wind up finding true love like Sarah, who entered into a serious relationship after pining over her office crush for two and a half years. Or things might turn sour, like when Nicole’s office beau left her to publicly date her manager.

Regardless of your stance, office relationships are common and hard to avoid when you spend so much time around people with similar interests. So how exactly do you master the office romance when there are so many possible outcomes? Here are our tips for when your office relationship works out, when it doesn’t, and if you should even pursue it in the first place.

Should you ask them out?

So you’re interested in someone you work with… what you choose to do next depends on a variety of factors. Many companies have explicit rules or guidelines for workplace relationships, so it’s best to start with reviewing your own company’s policies about dating at work. If these relationships are permitted, then go for it! But it’s important that you ask only once. If the person you’re interested in says no to a date (or gives an excuse such as, “I’m busy”) accept their response and move on. You should also avoid dating someone you work directly with—especially if they are in a higher or lower position than you—as this can lead to serious issues regarding consent, fairness, and preferential treatment at work.

When should you tell your colleagues, or disclose your relationship to Human Resources?

How and when you disclose your office relationship is up to you and your unique situation. Assess your company culture and company policies again, as well as the seriousness of your ongoing relationship. If it’s a casual hook up with a colleague on a different team, for example, you can probably keep this to yourself. If you’re seeing someone regularly, it’s fine to let your boss or coworkers know. You’re welcome to keep that part of your personal life private, but people are bound to find out, so you might as well be the one to be honest with them. If you’re getting serious with a direct report, on the other hand, it’s important that you address this head on and discuss possible solutions with your HR representative.

How can you stay professional?

The best way to maintain professionalism at work is to act like, well, professionals. Press pause on your relationship when you get to work. By that we mean: save the PDA for outside of the office, set boundaries with your partner, and address any arguments or issues after-hours only. It’s also helpful for you to sit down with your partner and plan what the both of you will do if the relationship doesn’t work out.

How do you work with someone you broke up with (or who broke up with you)?

Breakups are always hard, but they’re even harder when you have to see the person every day afterwards. The good news is that it’s possible to keep working with your ex. The best way to get through it is by being as polite and respectful as you would be with the rest of your colleagues. If the relationship ended badly, limit your interactions with the person so as not to stir up any workplace drama. And speaking of drama, avoid gossiping in the office too. Chatting with your coworkers might seem like a good way to vent, but gossip spreads quickly in the workplace and can create more problems for you down the line. Instead, let your job be your distraction. Focus on doing and producing great work, and soon your ex will be just another face at the company.

When is a workplace relationship a problem?

  • If the relationship goes against company policies
  • If one partner manages or supervises the other
  • If you’re giving your partner preferential treatment
  • If the relationship interferes with or affects the quality of a person’s work
  • If the relationship (think: public displays of affection, arguments, etc.) is making your colleagues uncomfortable

Should you leave your job?

If your relationship is problematic for any of the above reasons, and you are serious about continuing your relationship for the long term, then it’s a good idea for you or your partner to think about pursuing other opportunities. Doing so will remove the added stress of how your relationship will impact both of your careers, or how your careers will impact the relationship.

Curious to hear about other people’s experiences dating at work? We’ve got a podcast episode for that. Listen to episode 1 of What’s Working, “We met at work,” here. Don’t forget to subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcast fix.


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