With everyone working longer hours than ever – if you’re fortunate enough to have a job – it makes sense that romance often finds its way into the workplace. But office relationships have a bad rep, and for understandable reasons. There is the risk of awkwardness if it doesn’t work out, and management rarely encourages employees establishing intimate connections. Still, it happens all the time.
Many people worry they will run afoul of company rules if they get involved with someone, but most employers don’t have written guidelines about employee dating. Most problems can be avoided by strictly observing two rules. First, don’t ask someone out if they report directly to you. Doing that can put one or both of you in an awkward situation, including possible worries about sexual harassment claims if things go horribly wrong.
Second, don’t get into a relationship, especially a sexual one, with an ulterior motive, like advancing your career or solving a work problem. Treating people as a means to an end is wrong and hurtful and always a bad idea.
For both these reasons, dating someone outside your department is a lot easier.
Beyond that, what should you be thinking of if you decide to ask the guy in the next cubicle out?
- Look before you leap. If your primary motivation is sexual rather than romantic, consider whether this is your best move.
- Never, ever use office email or messaging to flirt, especially for “hot chat.” Remember that this is not private, and anything you say could easily come back to haunt you.
- Keep it professional. Public displays of affection at the office are awkward at best, and create an icky workplace environment.
- Respect privacy. Many people avoid chit chat about dating someone in the office until they are certain the relationship has legs and will continue.
- When a relationship is serious, make it public. Keeping secrets for the long haul makes for other kinds of awkwardness. Be mindful of how your relationship is likely to affect your coworkers.
- Talk with one another about what happens if there are problems. What will you do if one of you leaves the company – or is laid off? What if the relationship sours and you still have to see this person 40 hours a week? Can you agree to be kind to one another if the relationship ends?
- Be clear about boundaries. If you talk overly much about work during your private time, it is unlikely to be good for the relationship or for your worklife.
- Take note of what you’ve got in common besides work. Have fun together. Do things. If the relationship centers almost entirely around work, it will not endure.
John Ballew is a licensed professional counselor and has been in private practice in Midtown for 25 years. For more, see his website at www.bodymindsoul.org.