In some ways, office relationships make sense. Coworkers tend to understand each other's busy schedules, share common goals, and spend a lot of time together each week. Also, surveys show that intra-office dating is also becoming more accepted by coworkers.
But romance at the office can also complicate things...
Coworker approval goes down considerably when office couples are on different hierarchical levels, work in the same department or commonly work together on the same projects.
Valentine's Day is this weekend and, though it may seem like the perfect chance to ask out your office crush, here are five things you should first consider.
1. Begin With the End in Mind
You've got to first face the reality that some relationships don't work out. A breakup can quickly turn the job you love into a daily, stressful reminder of your failed relationship. Is the relationship worth the risk of disrupting your work life?
2. Take a Hint
Don't ask your coworker out on a romantic date if you've never spent time together outside of the office. Why not casually invite him/her to grab lunch with you one day? Or get a coffee together on a break? You can get to know your crush without putting the pressure of a romantic relationship (and any related office drama) on it.
You may be putting your coworker in awkward position by expressing your feelings (because you will still have to work with each other if he/she doesn't feel the same way for you). If it's clear that your interest isn't reciprocated, don't push it further. Persisting after being turned down could feel like harassment to your coworker.
3. Be Prepared to Defend Your Success
Your coworkers might see favoritism between you and a coworker if you're in a romantic relationship, especially if you work on different hierarchical levels in your company. Is your ability to remain objective and professional in your role going to be compromised by dating a coworker? If you can confidently say no to that question, then you should still be ready to defend your integrity and head off any perceptions of favoritism, which could lower office morale.
4. Know Your Boundaries
Are you prepared to discuss salaries, benefits or office gossip with your partner? How will you respond if you feel another coworker is mistreating your partner? Will you come to their defense or allow them to fight their own battles? Consider the potential strain mixing your professional and romantic life might place on the relationship, and know where you will draw the line.
5. Research the Relationship Policy
If you are determined to start an office relationship or are already involved, review your company's relationship policy. There are often disclosure agreements that employees must sign. Romantically involved individuals are sometimes reassigned to prevent potential conflicts of interest.
According to a recent survey, more than half of business professionals date a coworker at least once during their careers.
Although the majority of those surveyed claimed they would date a coworker again in the future, one of the respondents offered a strong warning worth sharing:
"It was the worst decision I ever made and has had disastrous consequences for my professional reputation and office relationships. I don't think I've ever regretted anything more."
Office relationships are not guaranteed to fail or cause conflicts. There are numerous examples of husband and wives who work together and excel in their fields.
But before you look to find your valentine at the office this week, make sure you understand the risks. Even couples who work well together may face some of the challenges outlined here. What's important is that you don't let your romantic life disrupt the culture of honesty, integrity and ethical leadership in your office.
Always remember, Leadership is a Lifestyle.
— Ryan W. Hirsch
Program Manager, NASBA Center for the Public Trust