How to Keep Your (Or Someone Else’s) Office Romance From Ruining Your Career
At some point in your career, you’ll likely watch an office romance unfold—maybe even your own! And this February, while love is in the air, chances are it’s also circulating through the vents in your office. It doesn’t help that close proximity increases the chances of attraction, and who do we spend more time with than our coworkers? In fact, 40 percent of workers have dated a colleague, with 16 percent of those putting a ring on it. But the “Me Too” movement has led many companies to reexamine their social policies, including interoffice dating. Many coworkers are stuck in a gray area, wondering if they’re allowed to date—as if deciding to date someone wasn’t hard enough!—and if so, what the new rules will look like.
So while we figure all this out, what is some good advice if you’re going to date at work, or if you’re watching someone else’s romance unfold?
If you’re going to date at work, protect yourself by asking:
- Would dating this person create a conflict of interest? At most companies, it’s a no-no when one person has any direct responsibility for the other person’s career. Don’t date up. Don’t date the boss. Don’t date your direct reports. Don’t date interns. Check if your relationship can be seen as impeding someone else’s career progress.
- Do we have a plan to take our relationship public? Do you want to make an announcement at Friday’s all-staff, or would you rather let the rumor mill lead? (One of these will happen with or without your proactive planning.) When you take charge of a public announcement, you can reaffirm your commitment to remaining professional and serving your company’s best interests.
- How will coworkers perceive our relationship? This one is important, because you and your partner’s personal and professional lives are now in the spotlight. Are people going to smear your character or whisper behind your back? Decide ahead of time how you want to handle that rumor mill. This may also be a good time to disclose the relationship to HR. Companies should have an open forum where employees feel safe discussing these types of situations.
- Am I following the company’s conduct guidelines? When you are at work, stay focused on your job. That means no PDA: no flirty hallway rendezvous, no hand-holding under conference table, no love notes on the desk… and if things go south, no nasty email or lobby squabbles. None of these behaviors go unnoticed. Remember, this is a place of business! (That includes the parking lot.) And if you have any question about acceptable behavior, read the company handbook and consult with HR.
- Am I staying true to my professional goals? Stay on that career track! Make sure you are producing quality work and meeting deadlines. Don’t use the company email for any communication related to your relationship. Keep it professional. And don’t always go to lunch with your partner, or you’ll lose that valuable opportunity to network and build business relationships over a meal.
If you feel impacted by someone else’s office romance:
Know that it’s normal to feel impacted when something in the office changes. An office romance between coworkers may impact your morale, your ability to finish your work, meet deadlines, exceed in your career, or even your ability to keep your job. If you feel unfairly impacted, first read the employee handbook to learn your company’s rules. Then decide if speaking up is right for you.
- Are they breaking the rules? A conflict-of-interest dating situation, such as when the boss dates a direct report, can quickly raise issues of power and money and favoritism. A relationship that leads to missed deadlines, misused company funds, or lost clients can impact the company’s success and your ability to have a job. Has the relationship led to negative team dynamics? Has one partner received a sketchy promotion? Has there been fallout for anyone who crosses the partner? When toxic “protection” becomes a problem, you should consider saying something, because the impact on others can be destructive. But talk to the couple first. They may not be aware of the impact their relationship is having on others in the office. If they blow you off, start gathering documentation to take to HR.
- Are they following the rules? If you’re annoyed but your work and the company are not being impacted, you might be better off keeping quiet. Consider, you may not have the whole story. You might be seeing a close friendship instead of a full-blown affair, and assumptions can hurt reputations (including yours). You don’t need to be friends with everyone at work, but you do need to have a professional relationship. If you’re uncomfortable with the office romance, make sure to still remain polite and respectful when interacting with the couple at work.
Many people successfully date coworkers and maintain their work integrity, even when those relationships end. And while love is in the air this month, you may be asked to have dinner or drinks with a colleague. Just remember, don’t agree to a date with a coworker if you can’t have an honest conversation about where the relationship is headed. However the relationship goes, you’re still in your career for the long haul!
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