You always flirt with Jen from accounting at your office’s holiday parties. You know you feel a spark when you’re around her, but you don’t know what to do about it. Dating is an option, but losing your job isn’t.
Fortunately, office romance is not as taboo as it used to be. According to a survey from Vault, in 2009, nine percent of respondents believed that no office romances are appropriate. In 2015, that number has decreased to five percent. A record 29 percent of respondents said that all workplace romances are appropriate, even when they’re between a manager and a subordinate.
Since society is becoming more accepting of workplace relationships, people are increasingly looking for love at the office. According to the same Vault survey, 51 percent of respondents had been involved in a workplace relationship at some point in their careers. Additionally, a fair number of these relationships ended happily: 10 percent of respondents said they met their partner, husband, or wife at work.
“Many successful couples have met at work,” says Jennifer C. Loftus, national director of Astron Solutions, a human resources consulting company that deals with all employee issues, including workplace romance. “We spend a majority of our time at work, with our coworkers, so it is natural that such feelings would arise.”
If you’re considering dating Jen from accounting, Bill in IT, or any one of your coworkers, there are many factors to take into consideration. The following are a few tips on how to date a coworker and make sure that you still have a job, even if your relationship ends or your coworkers and bosses find out.
Determine whether or not it’s worth it
Cristen Draper, a member of New York City’s WeWork Fulton Center and an account executive at DICOM Grid, met her husband while they were both at General Electric. Before they started dating, however, they discussed their potential as a couple.
“We had several work functions—happy hours, team building, etc.—that took place in the first month where we naturally gravitated towards each other,” she says. “After those first four to six weeks, we both agreed that it didn’t make sense to start dating unless we saw something potentially long-term there, because it wasn’t worth the risk or awkwardness of casually dating unless something long-term would come out of it.”
Ladan Nikravan is corporate communications manager at CareerBuilder, a site where job seekers can add their résumés and look at job postings. The company often comments on romance in the office and does its own studies on the topic. According to Nikravan, seven percent of employees reported that they had to leave a job after a breakup. Prior to jumping in, you need to know whether or not the guy or gal you’re eyeing is worth it.
“[It’s crucial] to consider the relationship you’re thinking of starting,” says Nikravan. “How well do you know this person? Do you work closely together? Would you have to work with the person after breaking up? Run into each other often? Is it worth potentially putting your job on the line?”
Expect the inevitable
Even if you sneak around, don’t talk in the office, and never send personal emails on your business server, someone knows about your relationship.
“There is no such thing as a secret work romance,” says Anne Howard, a human resources consultant. “Other people always suspect and eventually find out. Being deceptive builds an aura of distrust, which impacts your working relationships with all of your coworkers. “
If you’ve figured out that you’re serious about one another, reveal your relationships to your coworkers, like Draper and her husband did.
“I think it became obvious as we became official, and we never denied it if people asked,” she says. “We readily admitted to it, in fact.”
Find out your company’s policy
Every company has a different policy regarding workplace relationships. You don’t want to break the rules, so before you’re dating or if you’ve already started, look into them.
For example, if you’re in a manager and subordinate relationship, you may have to report it to human resources.
“I would let HR know, so as to explore opportunities for a transfer within the organization, or other change in duties that eliminates the reporting relationship dynamic,” says Loftus.
Howard says that businesses have these rules on the books because they are concerned about the likelihood of harassment charges, the impact on productivity, and the risk of losing valuable employees. At a minimum, she says, you need to discuss dating issues with HR if you don’t know if there is a policy, if one person reports to the other, if one employee is senior to the other, or if there is a potential for a confidentiality breach.
Keep the drama at home
In one situation that Howard had to deal with, two coworkers called “Sarah” and “Jason” started dating after working together on a project. All of their colleagues knew they were together because they were affectionate at work.
When Sarah and Jason’s project ended, they both got new assignments. Sarah began collaborating on a project with a coworker named “Matt,” and Jason quickly became jealous that she was spending so much with another man. Nothing was going on between Matt and Sarah, but it still led to drama in the office.
“Jason’s issues became a problem that led to noisy fights between Jason and Sarah at work,” says Howard. Every time a fight occurred, everyone would stop working and talk about the Jason-Sarah-Matt situation.”
Jeanne Marrin, founder and president of HR OnTheMove, once consulted on a situation in which a married chief financial officer was dating the company’s bookkeeper.
“At the holiday party, he was making out with the bookkeeper at a bar on the other side of the restaurant, and many saw,” she says. “It was a small firm and people knew his wife. Many lost all respect for him and the bookkeeper.”
To avoid the fates of Jason and Sarah or the CFO and the bookkeeper, leave the fighting for outside the office, and don’t get touchy around your coworkers. It could be fatal to your career.
Talk about a breakup
A breakup is tough if you see your ex every single day. To avoid negative interactions, talk about how you’d handle a breakup with him or her.
Loftus says, “Both individuals should think seriously about how they would act and react at work towards the other person should the relationship fail. Consider how one treated past exes that weren’t coworkers. If amicable breakups are not something one is good at, dating at work can be especially risky.”