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Office Romance: 7 Rules for Dating Your Coworker

Topics: Career Advice
Office romance is at a 10-year low, according to CareerBuilder’s Annual Valentine’s Day Survey. Conducted by Harris Poll, the survey shows that 36 percent of respondents have dated a coworker, down from 41 percent last year.
office romance
Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

Why is love at work on the decline? One theory is that the #MeToo movement has made workers more aware of the dangers of sexual harassment — or more secretive about their relationships.

“Office romance is experiencing a dip and whether it’s impacted by the current environment around sexual harassment or by workers not wanting to admit the truth, the fact remains that office romance has been around forever and will continue to be,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, in a statement. “To avoid negative consequences at work, it’s important to set ground rules within your relationship that help you stay professional in the office and keep your personal life private.”

Thinking about dating your coworker? Here’s how to do it without crossing the line or derailing your career:

1. Check Company Policy

First things first: before you so much as ask your cubicle neighbor for a cup of coffee, familiarize yourself with company policy about office romance.

“Many companies already forbid supervisors from asking out subordinates, but some are cracking down on romance altogether, employment lawyers and human resource consultants say,” writes Katie Johnston at The Boston Globe. “Others are looking into love contracts — known more formally as consensual relationship agreements — in which co-workers who are romantically involved sign a document stating that they are together voluntarily and are aware of the rules surrounding workplace dating.”

Office romance is at a 10-year low, according to CareerBuilder’s Annual Valentine’s Day Survey.Click To Tweet

2. Don’t Date Your Boss (or Your Direct Report)

Regardless of whether your company expressly forbids it, don’t date anyone who has power over you at work — or whose career path is dependent on you.

It’s also a bad idea to date anyone who’s very senior or junior to your position, even if you’re in different departments. Companies reorganize corporate structures all the time. You never know when you’ll wind up reporting to your paramour, because of a swap on the org chart.

Of course, even if you avoid dating an assistant when you’re a VP and vice versa, you could find yourself in a spot where either you or your partner gets promoted over the other. Which is why the next step is so important.

3. Think About the Pros and Cons

Not every office romance leads to lifetime commitment, and that’s fine — as long as both participants have thought long and hard about the consequences.

Before you decide to date, think about what you’ll do if:

  • One of you is more serious about the relationship than the other.
  • You date for a time, and then experience an acrimonious breakup.
  • One of you gets promoted, and becomes the other’s boss.

In the last case, for example, you’d most likely have to let your manager know that you’re dating, so that other arrangements can be made. (See above: Don’t Date Your Boss.)

Above all else, you need to be sure that you can remain professional, whatever happens in your relationship — and that you have a plan for coping with the fallout if things don’t work out.

4. Use the Google Rule

Both Google and Facebook have recently instituted rules around dating, including the fact that employees are only allowed to ask out a coworker once. If he or she says no, that’s it. If he or she says something ambiguous — “I’m busy that night” — that also counts as a no.

5. Have a Love Contract

Your employer might not require consensual relationship agreements, aka love contracts. But you and your beloved might want to consider making one anyway. Talk about how you want to conduct your relationship, inside and outside of the office.

Think about:

  • How open you want to be about the relationship. Will you tell your coworkers, boss, etc., or keep things secret?
  • How you’ll interact with each other at work. Will you have lunch together, commute to work together, talk about non-work things at work?
  • What you’ll do if one of you is promoted and the other one isn’t, especially if one of you would wind up reporting to the other. (Again, a big no-no.)

6. Don’t Bring Your Relationship to the Office

If you were friendly before, you might decide that a change in behavior looks stranger than continuing to be cordial. But you should take care not to make your relationship part of the team dynamic — or an obstacle to productivity.

No one needs to know your pet names for each other or your weekend plans. Keep things professional. Above all, continue to do your best work.

7. Have an Escape Plan

If things get rocky, either personally or professionally, be prepared to leave. That might sound drastic, but you never know what will happen once you bring your personal lives and your professional lives into the same sphere.

Keep your resume ready and your network robust. After all, your love life is just one part of your future plans. Make sure you’re nurturing your career as well.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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