I don’t care who you are or where you are employed, there are always temptations to date people from work. Some of us visualize ourselves as erstwhile Don Drapers, cheating on our wives at the office and getting an ego boost from our irresistibility. Or you may be a femme fatale, looking to sleep your way to the top by seducing your boss, or his or her boss. More likely, you are just an average Joe or Jane who spends too much time at the office and is looking for romance, but in the wrong places.
If you are a recent college graduate or still early in your career, you probably spend a lot of time at work. If you don’t have a family and you are trying to get ahead, then those 60-hour work weeks don’t seem so bad. However, after you have been putting in long hours for a while you find your social life disintegrates. Your friends stop asking you out because they know you are working. You stop circulating outside of work. Suddenly, the office is your world and you find yourself hanging out with coworkers after hours.
Suddenly dating a coworker seems like a good idea. After all, you spend a lot of time together. You may go out with a group after work. Why not try a little dating one on one. CareerBuilder says that at least 39% of people surveyed dated a coworker at least once, 17% dated a coworker twice, and 31% married a coworker.
Here’s where trouble can really begin. Consider the following:
- Is there a company policy against dating coworkers? Companies are worried about liability, and dating coworkers can open them up to any number of problems. Before you get fired you should check the corporate handbook. Best Buy’s CEOs have had to resign over an affair with a younger employee, and HP’s chief executive had to quit over an affair with an independent contractor. Chances are there is a policy about fraternization, either banning it, discouraging it, demanding disclosure, or setting limits such as no dating inside your department. Be sure you know the rules before you start dating at work.
- Sexual harassment is always a concern, especially if you are dating a superior. Anyone in a position of power can be accused of coercing a junior employee. And harassment isn’t limited to supervisors. Coworkers also can be responsible for creating a “hostile work environment”.Be sure you are on the firm ground before asking a coworker out.
- Now consider all the romantic messiness of dating and how that translates into the work environment. Consider what happens when you take your date out for a romantic dinner, or to a special event, or you take him or her home for the first time and maybe they stay for breakfast. Now you have to go to work. How will you behave in the office? Flirty emails? Not recommended since most companies monitor and archive all electronic transmissions. Flirty PostIts on your date’s computer? Flowers delivered to the office? How is this going to affect your concentration on your job? Is your boss going to notice a change in productivity because of an office romance? Be sure you think through the issues around workplace interaction and its impact on your job.
- Keep it private or go public? This is a big question, and it largely depends on company culture. If you have a fling and both choose not to make it public, then it’s probably fine, especially if you aren’t dating a superior or a close colleague. You don’t have to post a notice in the break room, but it probably makes sense to be honest if asked if “something is going on”. If office gossip is a concern, look before you take the leap. You never know what the potential is for jealousy or accusations of favoritism.
- 5. Dealing with the office break-up. All good things usually come to an end, and if it’s an awkward end, then an office romance gone sour can really blow up in your face in so many ways. If you are having a fight, do you really want to take a personal squabble to the office? A romantic tiff could make for some awkward moments in the company meeting. Or what if you end a relationship and your ex turns out to be jealous, or worse. Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to air your dirty laundry at the office.
- 6. Cheating at the office. He’s married and she’s not, or she’s married and he’s not, or they’re both married and looking for a little adventure. If you want that kind of excitement it’s better to follow the adventures of Don Draper through reruns of Mad Men. An office affair is almost impossible to keep under wraps.
Of course, former coworkers are fair game. If someone you are attracted to quits, then, by all means, pick up the phone. Or if you are already married and your spouse or partner joins the same company, there’s no problem. However, if you are looking for love amongst the cubicles, tread carefully. As the saying goes, “you don’t dip your pen in the company ink”.
So did we paint too dour a portrait of office romance? After all, one third of those surveyed married a coworker. What are your rules for in-office dating?