5 Rules for Dating a Coworker

How to Keep an Office Romance From Derailing Your Career

Smiling colleagues working at desk in office
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Office romances have been around for as long as offices (or other workplaces). Because of the amount of time we spend at work, side by side with our coworkers, our social lives and professional lives often become entwined. Those relationships are sometimes quite intimate, even when they aren't romantic. That in itself can be problematic, but when those friendships grow into romances, watch out! If you find yourself attracted to a coworker, following these rules can keep you out of trouble.

Think Twice Before You Jump Into a Relationship

Meeting a significant other at work may be great for your social life, but it can be like a train wreck as far as your career is concerned. Common sense tells you to avoid an office romance like the plague. It may reflect poorly on both of you, and you know it will be awkward if things don't work out. Sometimes, however, your good judgment goes awry when chemistry takes over.

Don't even head out on a first date until you give it some serious thought. First, look into your organization's formal policy on employees dating one another. Some employers forbid it. If yours does, put that date on hold until one of you has a different job. You may think you can date secretly, but it is not worth the risk.

Next, consider whether your employer frowns upon office romances. Some that don't have rules that forbid them don't like when they happen. See if you can recall any situations in the past where this became a problem for someone in your workplace. Ask your mentor at work if you have one, for his or her advice. Avoid talking about it to your other colleagues since you don't want to arouse their suspicion.

Don't Break the Law

Making romantic overtures toward a coworker can end in sexual harassment charges for you. Be extremely cautious, especially if you are in a position of power over the person in which you are interested. It should be clear that he or she can turn you down without any repercussions. Don't even joke about it, for example by saying you won't take no for an answer.

Even after you are dating, make sure your feelings remain mutual. Your partner should not feel the pressure of any kind to stay in the relationship. Sexual harassment suits are unpleasant for everyone involved. Be aware of what constitutes it and don't do anything that could, even mistakingly, be taken for an unwanted sexual advance.

Discretion Is Key

As long as all parties are okay with moving forward, you may decide to take the plunge. That doesn't mean you should go public with your new relationship at work. It could make your coworkers uncomfortable.

With social networking sites and tv reality shows encouraging us to let the world witness our most personal moments, discretion has become a dying art. When you are having a workplace romance, it is much more prudent to keep it private than flaunting it in front of your coworkers. 

That doesn't necessarily mean you should lie about your relationship, but you shouldn't put it all out there for everyone to watch as it unfolds either. It could make you the subject of workplace gossip, and you don't want that.

Set Rules With Your Partner and Have an Exit Plan

It doesn't sound very romantic, but before you go forward in your relationship, formulate a set of rules, and an exit plan should things not work out. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about your relationship. Do both of you want a serious relationship or does one of you want to keep it casual?

Decide how to proceed at work. For example, will you try to keep your romance a secret or will you let others know about it? Will you avoid arriving at work together or leaving at the same time? Do you plan to share your lunch breaks?

Then comes the tough part, the one no one embarking on a new relationship wants to think about. Although the possibility of your romance not lasting may seem unfathomable just as it is beginning, you should figure out how you will handle it if that unfortunate event does occur. Unless either of you plans to quit your job, you will still have to see each other every day, and you should figure out how that will work before it happens.

Don't Let Your Feelings Get in the Way of Doing Your Job

If you and your partner are also subordinate and boss, there's some trouble ahead. It's a tall order, but don't let your feelings for one another influence how you do your job. If you can't follow this rule, you may find yourself looking for a new place of employment and a new partner. 

For instance, you may be hesitant to critique your partner's work even though your role in the organization requires you to do so. Or you may answer to your partner in the organization's chain of command and may be offended by him or her giving you feedback. 

When you put your romance ahead of your job, you do your employer a grave disservice. It may also upset other people you or your partner supervise as they may feel they are getting unequal treatment. It is challenging for most people to handle this, and it is usually best to avoid becoming involved, to begin with. 

However, promotions and changes to the organizational structure can alter your position within the company. If you and your partner are linked together on the chain of command, move on to another employer or ask for a transfer within the organization that would keep you from working together in that capacity.