Valentine's Day is here and you may be even more tempted to ask out that one colleague who caught your eye. Or you'd finally like to make your secret office romance public. However, situations like these need to be approached carefully.
Of course, office romances do happen. In fact, 74% of UK employees under the age of 34 were romantically involved with someone who works in the same company.
However, this statistic doesn't mean that dating a coworker should be taken lightly, as an office romance can easily violate your company's HR policy. It can lead to negative consequences such as gossip, troubles with HR, or in the worst-case scenario, getting fired.
So, before embarking on a romantic adventure at work, it's key to remain cool-headed (easier said than done), as it's better to be safe than sorry.
To help you with it, we've put together this guide. Hopefully, it'll help you navigate this tricky situation with a little more ease.
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Office romance statistics
First, let's take a look at some hard data. It's not only anecdotal evidence but also numbers that show us that dating a coworker isn't all that rare. Just take a look:
- 77 percent of respondents said they didn’t disclose their workplace relationships to their employers.
- 33 percent of workers in the U.S. were at some point romantically involved with their colleagues.
- Half of the respondents admitted to having an office crush at some point in their career.
- 75 percent of people would not mind if their co-workers were dating.
- 84 percent of respondents would respect it if someone in their office were involved in such a relationship.
- More than 77 percent have had sexual relations with a colleague.
Tips for handling an office romance
If you're careful enough and follow the advice outlined below, you shouldn't have any problems exploring your workplace romantic connection. Just make sure that you:
1. Review company policies
Before jumping into a workplace romance, it's essential to understand the company's stance on the matter.
Try and find out if dating your coworker is even allowed BEFORE you begin such a relationship.
Most companies have no other choice than accept romantic relationships between their employees. For example, in the majority of states in the U.S. it’s illegal for an employer to interfere with their employees’ personal life and free time.
Additionally, it’s simply not realistic for companies to prevent sparks from flying.
In either case, keep in mind that every company is different, and the more relaxed the company culture, the fewer issues you may face.
Vice versa, if you work in a corporate company with strict rules, you may need to be more careful.
The most common HR policies regarding office romance are:
- A zero-tolerance policy for employees who date their superiors or subordinates.
- A requirement to disclose the relationship to HR.
- The relationship must be consensual and every employee must feel safe to avoid any kind of harassment.
- A ban on public display of affection.
- A romantic relationship has to be disclosed in a written form, and sometimes you need to sign a “love contract.”
If your company has any of these rules, it's better to follow them, as ignoring them can lead to disciplinary action.
2. Think about other potential consequences
After you've researched the company policies and know that you're not breaking any official rules, it’s time to look at other consequences that your office romance may have. Are you ready to face them?
Sit down with your partner and openly ask yourselves these questions:
- Are you ready for inappropriate jokes or gossip spreading around the office?
- Is one of you willing to leave your current department or company if required or if things go south?
- Are you willing to make your private life interlinked with your professional one?
- Are you prepared that your professional reputation may be questioned?
If the answer to all of these is “yes,” you can move on to the next point.
3. Consider the hierarchy
When it comes to office relationships, it's also essential to consider hierarchies.
Simply put, there's a difference between dating a co-worker on the same hierarchical level as you and dating your boss.
- Well, once the person that's in a relationship with you has more (or less) power than you, it's harder to sustain healthy professional boundaries.
- Dating someone higher in the company hierarchy also leads to more office gossip and it could bring your intentions (and professionalism) into question.
- Conflict of interest. What if you're required to evaluate your partner’s performance?
- Sexual harassment in the workplace is still quite common, especially when power disbalance is in question.
If you're considering a relationship with a superior or subordinate, it may be best to come clean and request a transfer to a different department.
4. Maintain professionalism
A new office romance may be all-consuming but remember — the first and foremost reason why you're at the office is work. Strict boundaries are your friend now.
How can you sustain your professionalism amid disclosing an office romance?
- Don't get involved in any public displays of affection, ever. An office party or team building event shouldn’t be an exception.
- Don't disclose too much private information about your relationship with your colleagues. This allows you to keep firm boundaries between your private and public life.
- Ensure that your work performance and results remain unchanged.
- We have to repeat it again, but follow the company policies.
5. Don't do it unless it's serious
Falling in love with a coworker is one thing, but just fooling around is another.
Since dating a coworker comes with so many consequences, don't do it unless both sides are 100% sure about the potential of the relationship.
In other words, make sure that person is worth it.
After all, it's your career and professional reputation that you've worked so hard for that's at risk. This shouldn’t be taken lightly. You wouldn't like to sacrifice it just for a few moments of fun.
And while all this sounds reasonable, the reality is different. In fact, 18% of employees confessed to a random hookup with a co-worker.
6. Keeping secrets for too long isn't a good idea
It's easy to believe you can keep this relationship off the grid.
And that's precisely what most people try to do — 64% of people that have engaged in a romantic workplace relationship tried to keep it a secret. Only 16% of respondents disclosed it openly.
However, people have eyes and ears and office relationships rarely go unnoticed.
Therefore, HR managers recommend being transparent instead of keeping an office romance private for too long.
Honesty is the best policy.
By calmly and publicly disclaiming your relationship you may as well avoid unnecessary gossip and jokes. It also leads to a good relationship with the HR department which will appreciate your transparency and willingness to follow the rules and the company policy.
This leads us to the next point.
7. HR is your go-to place
To put things straight, employers and HR managers aren't huge fans of office relationships. They foresee the negative impact it has on the team, such as:
- lower productivity
- change in the team spirit
- the threat of misconduct or harassment
- possibility of a messy breakup, and people leaving the company
On the other hand, most employers know well enough that preventing romance from blossoming is pointless and only leads to less transparency.
Thanks to that, so-called “love contracts” became quite common in recent years.
Simply put, it's a document in which both parties state that they're involved in a consensual romantic relationship.
This way, HR can avoid any potential complications such as allegations of sexual misconduct (which is still common in many workplaces).
8. Be prepared for a breakup scenario
Let's be honest. Even though you may have your rose-colored glasses on right now, most new relationships simply don't work out. And we're speaking statistics — only 30% of couples make it past the 1-year milestone.
So if you've been dating only for a couple of months, there's a 70% chance that your office romance won't have a happy ending.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but you should bear it in mind.
Because breakups are hard enough without having to see your ex in the office on a daily basis. That's why some people decide to quit their jobs after their office relationship ends.
FAQ: How to navigate an office romance
- 1. How does a relationship with a colleague affect work productivity?
It's proven that the feeling of new love reduces one's ability to focus, according to scientific research. This is even more true if your love interest is in the same office.
- 2. Can I be fired for having a romantic relationship with a coworker?
Generally speaking, no. Unless there's hard evidence that the romance impacts the business interests and thus violates the company's policy, a consensual office relationship with a colleague shouldn't get you sacked.
- 3. Why are office relationships frowned upon?
Employers may be worried that office romance can lead to favoritism, sexual misconduct accusations, a shift in the office atmosphere, and lowered productivity of the people involved.
- 4. Can dating a coworker end well?
Of course! While some workplace relationships end in post-break-up awkwardness, 22% of all marriages in the U.S. are a result of a workplace relationship.