How to Handle an Office Romance
Workplace romances can lead to long-term relationships—and even marriage—but they can also result in uncomfortable situations for the people involved as well as their coworkers.
In the worst-case scenario, intertwining business and pleasure could result in an unplanned, unwanted job search, as people can get fired due to workplace relationships or be forced to resign because of a relationship gone wrong.
That said, office romances do happen. (Just ask Bill and Melinda Gates, who met on the job.) Given how much time people spend at work, it's not so surprising that people may develop crushes or fall in love.
A Viking study reports that 74% of UK office workers aged between 25 and 34 said they have been involved in an office romance. The majority of them would consider doing so again, even though they felt that it impacted work:
- 53% would consider a relationship with a colleague in the future
- 29% have had a one-night stand with a co-worker
- 52% believe office romance decreases productivity and creativity
If your new relationship involves a coworker, make sure your office romance does not interfere with your career—or your significant other's! Here are our best tips.
Tips for Handling an Office Romance
Check the company's policies. Before you begin a relationship with a colleague (or as soon as possible after it commences) take a look at the company policies about dating coworkers.
Many companies, large and small, have hard and fast rules against relationships developing between coworkers. If it is against the rules, you have to ask yourself: "Is it worth it?"
Even if relationships are allowed, be discreet and prepare for any consequences.
Depending on the company, your human resources department may need you to sign a contract, inform managers or coworkers, or follow other guidelines or rules.
Be very, very certain. Before entering into a relationship, make sure it's the real deal. Are you bonding over an intense project requiring late nights at work or shared frustration at a boss, or do you have a connection that extends beyond the office? Make sure you know the answer to that question before beginning a romantic relationship.
Maintain decorum and professionalism. Don't let a romantic relationship affect the quality and efficiency of your work. Bottom line: You don't have to keep your relationship a secret, but you don't want to have it so on display that it makes your colleagues uncomfortable. Plus, if there is evidence that an office romance is affecting work, one or both of you may be asked to end your romance or, worse yet, find another job.
Be aware that coworkers may be on the lookout for bias. You never want a coworker to think, "Joanne is just agreeing with Jose's plan because they're dating." Avoid sitting next to each other in meetings, having lunch together daily, or acting in general as a unit. Also, do not send personal messages using your work email or chat client.
Avoid dating someone in a higher or lower position. Office politics and hierarchy should be top-of-mind, particularly when it comes to office romances. Choosing an entanglement with a coworker—especially one at a different seniority level—could dramatically affect your salary or movement within your company.
Office relationships are particularly problematic if one partner manages or supervises the other.
Your best bet is to avoid dating people you regularly and routinely work with.
Save the romance and PDA for out of the office. No matter how in love you feel, there should be no public displays of affection at work. Stick to the same professional behavior with your significant other at the workplace as you would have with any other coworker. That means no holding hands, no kissing, no affectionate nicknames, and definitely no supply closet liaisons.
Address issues after-hours. Never, ever fight or argue at work. Any personal disagreements should be dealt with outside the office.
Plan for the worst. Agree at the beginning of the relationship how you will handle a potential breakup. Avoid, at all costs, a messy breakup. It isn't just you and your partner who are involved, it's your entire office and the future of the company's dating policy.
If you do decide that one—or both—of you need to move on, do it on your terms. Start a job search before you have to and don't give your love life as a reason for leaving when you interview.
Consider leaving the company. If the relationship does get serious, one member should consider a new position outside the company. That way, you can separate your career paths from the relationship.
Challenger, Gray & Christmas."SURVEY: The State of Office Romances Post #MeToo," Accessed Nov. 26, 2019.
Viking. "A Company’s Guide to Handling Office Romance," Accessed Dec. 12, 2019.
SHRM. "Romance at Work: Employees Don’t Trust HR to Keep Their Secret," Accessed Nov. 26, 2019.
SHRM. "Workplace Romance: Who-Dates-Who Might Surprise You," Accessed Nov. 26, 2019.