As many as 27 percent of single Americans say they have met potential dates at the office, and some 15 percent report meeting their current spouse or partner at work, according to research by ReportLinker.
Love in the workplace can be tricky to navigate successfully. So, is dating a coworker ever a good idea?
First things first: check your company policy
Dating coworkers is usually not encouraged. Indeed many companies have policies concerning dating in the workplace. These range from mandating that employees keep strict boundaries between personal and business interactions to requiring that employees notify HR when they’re in a relationship so the company can stay on top of potential conflicts of interest, like one partner directly reporting to the other or being able to directly affect the other’s performance. While employers can have a strict no-dating policy, some prohibit relationships only between staff and management (i.e., you can’t date your boss or someone who reports to you), because that can open the door to abuses of power and favoritism.
The reality is, though, that rules surrounding dating in the office are hard to enforce. Plus, they don’t change the behavior: If two people are strongly attracted to each other, they may act without regard to consequences. And many will resent an employer inserting itself into employees’ personal lives.
“The rules need to recognize the reality of the world and, when it comes to workplace relationships, we want to teach people principles for making good, adult decisions, not to legislate through punishment,” Art Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, tells Amy Gallo, co-host of the Women at Work podcast.
Gallo notes that company “rules are also evolving because of the #MeToo movement. For example, at Facebook and Google, you can ask a coworker out only once, and if the person says no or gives you an ambiguous response (‘Sorry, I’m busy’) you’re not allowed to ask again.”
The downsides of dating a coworker
Even if your company is okay with colleagues dating, take a moment to make sure you want to risk moving a great professional relationship into a personal one.
Is the attraction reciprocated or is it possible you’ve misread the signals? If you ask them out and they say no, both of you may be embarrassed and that once easy-going relationship may become extremely uncomfortable to the point that it can affect your performance at work.
Once you’ve started dating, there are other minefields to consider.
One major downside involves everyone else at work: Your relationship—and by extension personal life—will be fodder for office gossip. There may be the feeling (if not outright accusation) that your career is benefiting by dating that coworker or vice versa. Even if it’s not true, that perception can hurt the relationship with the person you’re dating as well as with your colleagues. And, it may be more than you want to deal with at work.
Another issue is that your work life and personal life will become intertwined on a new level. You can’t really leave work at the office when your significant other is employed by the same company. When you’ve had a hard day at work and want to complain to your partner, you’re rehashing much of their experience too. The flip side is that you will bring your personal life to work. If you’ve had an argument and can barely stand to speak to each other, that antagonism can bleed into your professional relationship.
There’s something else to consider too. What happens if you break up? Will you truly be able to work well with your ex? How will your productivity be affected? And will the entire workplace environment become awkward, affecting the whole team? Will you be forced to quit and look for another job, for your own emotional and mental health? And will your ex retaliate in any way, trying to hurt or undermine you professionally?
There are upsides to dating your coworker
It’s not all doom and gloom, though.
In fact, Stefani Threadgill, Ph.D., president and director of the DFW Southwest Sexual Health Alliance, says that “as human beings, we thrive when we are in love, when we feel connected, and when we share a common goal or cause.” In addition to a “date responsibly mantra,” she thinks companies should provide resources, such as therapists, to support healthy relationships in the workplace.
The positive factors of dating coworkers start with how you met them. You’ve met in person, on neutral ground, and without artifice or ulterior motive (hopefully). Hopefully you’re both in equal positions of responsibility and authority, with no hierarchy imbalance to worry about. If so, you may have pretty similar education, interests, and life experiences.
Instead of having to get to know each other in more artificial surroundings, you learn about your coworker in terms of how they act at the office. You discover their true character by the way they handle pressure, by how dependable they are, how they act in collaborative efforts and how they are regarded by their colleagues. And starting a romantic relationship when you’ve first been friends means that you already have good rapport.