“Let me know when your personal life goes up in flames. Then it’s time for a promotion.” ~Nigel, “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006)
For all our talk about achieving a good work-life balance, there is some truth to the notion that in that ever-present tug-of-war, something has got to give. For instance, some people leave the corporate world after getting married and starting a family, while some parents have only minimal contact with their children as they toil away at building an empire.
But what happens when your personal life gets entwined with your professional career? I’m talking about office romances, of course.
Generally, companies big and small discourage such liaisons at the workplace, and with good reason. Relationships are hard enough, but they can create complications that can affect the quality of one’s output and the overall mood of the office if the parties involved happen to work closely together on a regular basis.
Yet given how much time we spend at work, developing an attraction to a colleague becomes inevitable. I know a lot of people who met their spouses on the job and still work at the same company to this day, for instance. So, it is possible to fall in love at the office AND remain employed, provided that you abide by the following principles:
1. Read your company’s policy on workplace relationships.
First things first: before you even consider going for coffee with your cubicle mate, check HR’s written policies on office fraternization.
As mentioned earlier, many companies are against it and may have strict rules that could get you and your co-worker fired on the spot if you guys get caught. If yours falls under this category, think about whether s/he is really worth losing your job, and then think again before you proceed any further.
If your workplace does permit such an arrangement, they’re bound to have guidelines. You may be required to sign a contract and/or inform your manager and immediate co-workers. In the latter’s case, be sure to keep your announcement brief and businesslike (e.g., “I would like to inform you that *insert name of co-worker here* and I are seeing each other, but please rest assured that this will not interfere with our duties”). Save the sap for your close (non-work) friends and family.
2. Avoid dating a subordinate or a superior.
A relationship where one of you has power over the other in a business hierarchy inevitably results in conflicts of interest. It can also hamper both parties’ abilities to remain objective at work, not to mention engender suspicions of favoritism within the team once they find out, thus calling into question your boss’ credibility.
As we’ve seen from the #MeToo movement, the backlash can also end up being far more troublesome than it’s worth. Sexual harassment lawsuits, forced resignations, or even outright dismissals are just some of the more extreme consequences of superior-subordinate relationships gone very wrong.
If you fall for your boss, s/he happens to reciprocate, and you both really want to give things a go, one of you will have to leave their position to maintain the proper professional distance.
3. Set clear boundaries inside and outside the office.
Just because it’s called an office romance doesn’t mean you should be romantic inside the office. Quite the contrary.
Agree to compartmentalize your work and personal lives. This means behaving with the proper decorum and professionalism while on the job, addressing relationship disagreements after hours, and leaving work discussions at the office when you’re both off the clock.
And please, please, for the love of God, refrain from any public displays of affection at the workplace. When working, don’t hold hands, call each other by your cutesy pet names, or worse, use the broom closet for NSFW hijinks. Do you really want the cleaning staff or God forbid, your boss, to walk in on you in a compromising position? Yep, I didn’t think so either.
4. Keep things quiet on social media.
Even if you’re required to divulge your relationship to your boss or co-workers, that doesn’t give you carte blanche to be brazen on your Facebook or Instagram accounts, especially if you’re connected to anyone at the office. Like it or not, it will be hard for people to take you seriously once they’ve seen photos of you getting all lovey-dovey, even if you do manage to nail your everyday tasks without fail.
You can indicate that you are in a relationship on your social media account, but you don’t have to specify who you’re with. That lets people know that you’re spoken for while still affording you some privacy.
5. Plan for the future.
Discuss how you would both handle a break-up at the very beginning. Messy break-ups won’t just make things hard for the two of you, but they can also have an effect on your entire office and on the future of your company’s policies on workplace romances too.
On the flip side, should things get serious, again, incorporate some professional distance by having one of you transfer to a different company or to a different department. Apart from ensuring objectivity, this also prevents you guys from getting sick of each other once you both end up going home to the same place.
Lastly, before you take the plunge, consider your reasons for dating your colleague. Does your connection to each other go beyond the confines of the office? Or are you possibly mistaking your shared camaraderie for more than what it actually is?
Working alongside your significant other can be a dream or a nightmare depending on whether you two are on the same page or not, so unless either of you want to end up inadvertently having to search for a job, tread very carefully.