The keys to a good relationship include communication, willingness to work on problems, and mutual respect — all things you’re likely to develop with your teammates at work. It’s no wonder, then, that one-third of singles say they’ve embarked on an office romance at some point in their career. But, just because it’s common, doesn’t mean that it’s without potential pitfalls. If you’re going to date your coworker, keep these tips in mind:
1. Check corporate policy.
In today’s increasingly casual workplace, the last thing you might expect is an actual HR policy prohibiting intra-office dating. But if your company has one, you want to know about it.
“I know that the last thing you want to think about is playing by the rules, but if your company has a ‘No Fraternization’ policy, you could get fired on the spot,” writes Marissa Levin, founder of Successful Culture, at Inc. “And trust me… as the former CEO of a 21-year old company who has seen just about everything, the owners WILL find out.”
2. Consider being honest.
It’s understandable if your first instinct is to keep your budding relationship under wraps. However, if you continue to date long-term, you might be better off telling your colleagues about your relationship in person, rather than letting them find out through the grapevine.
How your coworkers discover your relationship has everything to do with how they react to it, says Sean Horan, assistant professor of relational communication at DePaul University and coauthor of a recent study on coworker reactions to office romances.
“Individuals had much different reactions based on how they learned of the romance,” Horan tells ScienceDaily. “Being honest and upfront was better received than, let’s say, walking in on your coworkers kissing in the parking garage or hearing it via office gossip.”
3. Prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Most dating relationships don’t end happily-ever-after, so it just makes sense to think about what you’ll do if the romance runs its course.
“It’s always awkward seeing your ex. Now imagine having to see them all day, every day at work,” says Horan.
If you’re not someone who can handle dealing with your exes on a daily basis, consider whether it’s worth the risk … before you get involved.
4. Don’t date your boss … or your direct report.
Even if your company doesn’t have a policy in place prohibiting coworkers dating, HR may have concerns if you date a subordinate or a superior.
“When a supervisor dates an employee it is never a private matter,” writes Gael O’Brien at Entrepreneur. “And when romance blooms at the office—especially with the boss—it’s disruptive to other employees, triggering questions about fairness, favoritism, transparency, credibility and accountability. The distraction can tear at even the most cohesive group.”
When there’s a power imbalance in a relationship — such as when one participant is responsible for the other participant’s annual review and/or raise — there’s always the potential for disaster. The subordinate person might feel pressured, for example. Even if he or she doesn’t, the rest of the team will be justified in wondering if the relationship affects pay, promotion, and opportunity.
5. Have an escape hatch.
If things don’t work out, you might need a clean slate. Make a plan, just in case. You might be able to move to a different department, or to a role on another team. In any event, having your resume polished and ready to go is good idea, whether you choose to date a coworker or not.
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