Our work and personal worlds collide like never before, and outside of being introduced by a friend, meeting at work is the top way we find our significant other. Despite this popularity, dating a co-worker is not without its challenges. Here are a few things to consider before you take the plunge and start dating someone from the office:
Know Your HR Policies
This is a given, but is a necessary upfront step. Be familiar with the letter of the law at your workplace. Is dating expressly forbidden? Are their particular rules around dating within a department or even degrees between a chain of command? Especially for smaller companies or those niche industries, you may have signed employment agreements that bar these types of work relationships, so be sure you know the actual policy context of what your employer expects, or even considers as harassment. (And for what it’s worth, repeated approaches that you decline or an uncomfortable work environment because of a dating decline are sexual harassment. Know how to report and address these issues if you’ve experienced it!)
How Closely Do You Work Together?
Even if you’re not expressly out of bounds policy-wise, think about how closely you work with someone before you start dating them. Consider the unfortunate worst case scenario where things don’t work out or an approach goes without a response. Can you handle the day-to-day office shenanigans that come after that? If your intended is someone that you have to work ultra-closely with regularly, it’s worth taking things incredibly slow.
Is There Any Chain of Command Issue?
Work policy will very likely tell you that you don’t get to date your boss, subordinates, or potentially even those on the same team as you. For your own sanity, however, take the chain of command scope a little wider. Is there any chance that one day in the near term you’d manage them? Or that they’d be responsible for evaluating your performance in any way? Even loose power-distance arrangements that aren’t specifically spelled out on an org chart can cause trouble down the road, so take an honest look at your own office dynamics.
Evaluate Your Attraction… and Exit Strategy
We spend a lot of time at the office. A lot. And because of that, it can actually be easy to get pretty close with people pretty quickly. Add in odd working hours, late nights, and team offsites, and you’ve got a recipe for proximity easily equalling attraction. Again, because dating at work can be such a high-risk scenario, consider whether you’d be attracted to this person in your outside life.
Using social events outside of the office (the team getting drinks, or networking lunches and conferences) to get to know them helps change up your routine office context and gives you a better idea of if you’d be a compatible fit outside of your well-known work routine. Lastly, before you take this step, think about how you would exit the dating routine if it went south. Would you feel comfortable staying in the work location and position you’re in? Again, how would you feel if that person ended up becoming your manager or got promoted over you? Mentally modeling an exit is an important pre-requisite thought process before beginning to date at the office.
Keep It Professional at the Office
Once you’ve started dating a co-worker, the 9-5 sure gets more fun doesn’t it? It can be easy to get swept up in using your all-day-every-day in the same place to build out your budding relationship. Resist the urge, however, to dive in to being around each other all the time. Keeping it professional — shifting from really attracted to each other to actually dating might mean you spend less time together at the office.
Keep your non-work chit chat off of work email and instant message. Those records are regularly audited and viewable by management so you’re inviting more scrutiny into your personal life than you need if you make that your primary communication mode. You’ll also want to be extra conscious of your schedule. It can be easy for a quick, flirty coffee run to turn into an hour off the desk. Be sure that nothing that you’re up to causes your boss or teammates to think you’re taking your job anything less than ultra-seriously.
Game Plan Your PR Strategy
Here’s the thing: everyone knows. No really, they do. Despite how clever you think you’re being, whether you think it still looks like you’re just work buddies, or if you’ve totally cooled it on the daily coffee run, they do. Once that dating vibe hits you and your new intended, people will absolutely be picking up on it despite your best efforts. This means that you may have to have tricky conversations around disclosure within this new “relationship” more quickly than you would otherwise.
Talk about when it might make sense to tell your respective managers that you’ve started dating. This isn’t intended to push things down a locked-up relationship path more quickly than you otherwise would, but at some point if things are going well and you see a bit of a future stretch with this person, it can absolutely be worth the disclosure to a key leader.
You’ll also want to be on the same page with what you share with your office friends. If you’re still hawking the “No, he’s just my work husband!” narrative and your intended has started to tell people that you’re seriously dating, you’re inviting a lot of unnecessary office chatter and speculation into your budding relationship. Your dating life is much less likely to become water cooler chit chat if you and your person have an honest conversation about what your shared message is around where you’re at.