Workplace Romance: Love is in the Air? Or Just a Horrible Mistake.

Workplace Romance: Love is in the Air? Or Just a Horrible Mistake.

Crushing on a co-worker? Dating someone in accounting? You’re not alone. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that nearly half of the respondents admitting to having romantic feelings for a co-worker and one-fourth had asked a co-worker out. Some other interesting findings:

  • Of the people who’d dated at work, 76% dated a peer, 27% a superior and 21% a subordinate
  • 27% are in or have been in a workplace romance
  • 19% have a “work spouse” a co-worker who seems almost like a marriage partner. Of those, slightly more than have admitted having feelings for their workplace spouses.

So is this all well and good? Not even close. Workplace romance worries employers. If things are going well, there are accusations of favoritism. When things go wrong, allegations of harassment and retaliation can be the result.

Then there are even potential legal issues to consider. Which is why it is essential for companies to have established workplace romance policies in place. But beyond that, ongoing education of management and communication to your organization is vital for the policy to be effective and do what it is designed to do. Reduce the risk of sexual harassment, hostile work environment and conflict of interest claims.

But what if you’re the one who’s fallen for a co-worker? What should you do?

It’s not unusual to develop feelings for someone you work with as the survey showed. We spend a tremendous amount of time with the people we work with. In addition, research shows that people tend to fall for people who are like them and company cultures tend to draw folks of similar types. As coworkers talk and become friendly and learn more about each other it is natural that they can develop feelings of more than friends. Still, here are some things to consider.

Know the Risks
Obviously entering into a romantic relationship has its own inherent risks. It might not work out and there will be hurt feelings. But when coworkers are also dating, the conflict of interest mentioned above must be navigated. For example, when presented with a situation with diverging choices, do you put the individual’s or the team/department’s interests first? Also, be prepared for your professionalism and your motives to be called into question because of this conflict of interest. If there is even the hint of preferential treatment, you are doomed.

Have the Best Intentions
Your intentions matter in these situations. If you show to be genuine and your coworkers believe your motives to be sincere, then you will be fine. If, however, you are perceived as having an ulterior motive, possibly to advance your career or make your job easier, then you will be perceived less favorably. Clairty of intentions will also serve you well should, unfortunately, the relationship eventually end.

Know Your Company’s Policies
As mentioned above, your company should have a clear and published policy on how romantic relationships between coworkers, vendors, customers and suppliers are handled. Many companies prohibit these relationships full-out. It may seem like ignoring the rules would be easy enough to do. Sneaking around and pretending while you’re at work should be easy, right? You ignore them at your own risk. Understanding there are reasons for the rules and following them is important. You will be better off in the long run. If things have already progressed and you’ve violated a policy, come clean as soon as possible.

Steer Clear of Your Boss and Your Direct Reports
This should be an easy one. It’s the best practice not to date your managers or your subordinates. The outcomes are never as good and the perceptions are almost always negative. And of course there are going to be conflicts of interest. Because of course it’s going to be hard to be objects when you’re giving someone you’re dating a performance review. And you don’t want to burden your manager or someone you care about with being seen as showing your favoritism. But if the relationship is something that is important to you, consider a transfer to a new boss or reassign your report to another team.

Don’t Hide It
If it’s not forbidden, don’t hide it. It is always best to be open about your relationship with both your coworkers and your boss. You don’t have to tell them on the first date. It’s ok to wait until you know it’s really something. But if you don’t tell anyone, your coworkers will still figure it out. And then you’ll have to deal with the fallout of them wondering why you didn’t tell them yourself. It’s still fine to maintain your privacy while saying that you’ve gone on a few dates but don’t want to share a lot more details. Just make sure that your manager is the first person you tell. They should not hear it through the rumor mill.

Set Boundaries
Your office is not your home, your therapist’s office or your Facebook wall. So not everything needs to be shared there. Just because an important part of your personal life has intertwined with your workplace doesn’t mean that it has to move in there completely. It is important that you still maintain the same professional standard that you always have where your work is concerned. The two of you in the relationship should come to an agreement about how to discuss the relationship at work. Make sure you are on the same page.

If You Break Up
No one wants to plan for the worst, but from a workplace romance standpoint, you have to think about it. If you’ve informed the office about the relationship, you’re going to have to inform them about the breakup. And here’s the catch; no matter what the situation surrounding the breakup, you cannot bash your ex at work. If you find it too difficult you may have to leave the department or the company. Whatever happens, keep the drama out of the office.

This is just a short lesson on dealing with workplace romance. Emotions and relationships are always tricky. Keep your head on even while your emotions may be racing and you’ll navigate the wild ride of the workplace romance just fine.