The Dos and Don’ts of Dating a Coworker

Much to HR's chagrin, your office is primed for romance. You and your coworkers spend at least 40 hours a week together; you share common interests; and you may sometimes enjoy adult beverages together to blow off steam. Sparks will fly, and if they do, you need to know the dos and don'ts of dating a coworker so your romance doesn't negatively affect your career.

dating a coworker

How Common is Office Romance?

Given the prevalence of romantic entanglements in the workplace, knowing how to handle one should practically be a required skill. In a 2018 Vault survey, 52 percent of respondents reporting having an office romance, ranging from holiday party hookups to serious relationships that ended in marriage. Fifteen percent of married people have found their spouses at the office, according to ReportLinker.

It's no wonder people are tempted to "dip their pen in the company ink," as the saying goes. Pop culture is filled with workplace sweethearts—Sam and Diane, Maddie and David, and Meredith and McDreamy, just to name a few.

Tips for Navigating Office Romance

It's easy to start imagining the cute guy in sales is your real-life Jim Halpert or the receptionist looks like Pam Beesly. Before you act, keep these guidelines in mind so both your career and your new relationship stay on track:

  • Do know your company's policy on interoffice dating. Some companies have strict no-fraternization policies, especially against dating subordinates. Better to know this before the love bug bites. Even if dating isn't prohibited, keep your professional role in mind, and don't share confidential information during pillow talk.
  • Don't let alcohol cloud your judgment. Keep yourself in check at after-work happy hours. One drink can be convivial; two or more can open the door to oversharing and a false feeling of closeness with colleagues. A casual coworker hookup can be far more devastating to your career and awkward personally than a long-term relationship that goes bad.
  • Do communicate openly with your colleague/significant other about the significant risk you’re taking. What will happen if you break up? Could you both stay at the company, or would it be necessary for one of you to find another position?
  • Don't flaunt your romance at work. No one wants to hear baby talk or see PDA in the workplace. Flirt off-campus and after-hours.
  • Do be upfront with your supervisor if things get serious. In general, you don't need to alert your boss to the first date (keeping company policy in mind), but if you and your coworker do become an item, it's best to let your supervisor and HR know so appropriate arrangements can be made. Your company might ask you to sign a statement acknowledging the relationship is consensual, especially if you're dating a superior. This protects the company in case you break up. Your work assignment might be changed as well, depending on the circumstances. If this happens, look at it as a positive for your relationship. Space is good.
  • Don't try to keep your relationship a secret. It might add some extra spice to sneak around, at least initially, but it's easy to pick up on the signs of an office romance. Better to control the message than become the subject of the office rumor mill and be confronted by your boss.
  • Do protect your outside friendships and interests. In other words: Don't put all of your eggs in one basket. Finding both professional and personal fulfillment at the office is risky. If something goes wrong at work, you could potentially lose everything at once. Make a conscious effort to nurture outside friendships and hobbies. This is a positive—if your relationship works out, you'll want your partner to be involved in these aspects of your life, too.

If you think you've found the Clark Kent to your Lois Lane at the office, that's awesome—just proceed with caution in case he doesn't turn out to be Superman.

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