Romantic relationships in and of itself can bring many joys and excitement, however, like most relationships it can also bring some sadness and frustration. When considering, initiating or engaging in workplace romance the problems related to an “ordinary” romance and those related to work and be further exacerbated. Conflict and arguments are a normal part of the growing and learning process in all relationships, yet they can play out differently if they occur within a relationship with a co-worker/romantic partner. We have all heard some of the negative issues surrounding workplace romance, yet others feel powerless to control their budding romantic feelings for a co-worker leading to a full on courtship and romance. Although, workplace romance should be avoided, realistically we all know this type of romance often occurs. If you are going to engage in a workplace romance, there are certain rules you must abide by in an effort to avoid compromising your career and being the fodder of gossip. As a forensic psychologist and certified relationship expert I can’t tell you how many times I met with patients whose depression and anxiety stem from a workplace romance.
Workplace romance is likely to occur for the following reasons:
- Constant or extended periods of time with the person of interest
- Opportunity (you do not have to look for someone to date as you have the opportunity to get to know your co-worker, often on a personal level before dating).
- Similarities and or shared interests (when you work together there is a certain mutual interest you share in the work that you do, the company you work for, etc.).
- Loneliness or an intense need to feel supported at work
The following key rules should be followed if and when you are in a workplace romance:
- Be discreet. Do not share your interests or attraction towards your co-worker with other fellow co-workers. Try to ensure your relationship is kept confidential, existing only between you and the co-worker you are dating. Do not flaunt your relationship in front of other co-workers or broadcast it on social media, i.e., PDA filled pictures on Facebook, etc.
- Communicate often and regularly. Discuss with your dating partner how you handle the relationship both in and out of the workplace. How you will negotiate spying eyes or questions if they arise about the content of your relationship. If your relationship is discovered, how will each of your handle this, preferably the couple needs to be on the same page. Couples should be in agreement as some co-workers will seek answers to their prying questions by trying to divide and “conquer”.
- Encourage openness. It is essential you discuss the rules of dating. Do not assume your co-worker and boyfriend/girlfriend is only dating you. Ask if he or she has ever dated someone else in the workplace or is currently in a relationship with someone outside the workplace. There is nothing worse than having a “lovers spat” in the workplace, contributing to and feeding office gossip.
- Avoid conflict and arguments at work. If you and your partner are sparring ensure it does not carry over to the workplace and interfere with your work. Make sure you adhere to the most professional decorum at all times. Do not exchange hostile glares or snappy comments in the work place. Have a plan about how you will negotiate disagreements at work or how you will respond to each other in the workplace following a disagreement.
- Relationship Mutuality. Ask yourself individually and collectively does the person I am dating share my feelings, are those feelings being returned? You do not want to raise any harassment concerns, which can have negative consequences for your professional career. If you find you are no longer interested in pursuing the relationship let your partner know, do not drag out the process.
- Interact appropriately and professionally. If or when you decide this office romance is not for you, talk openly about how you will engage in the workplace. This is may seem an obvious discussion to have but most workplace couples forego this conversation not anticipating a break-up. It is important to have an agreed upon plan of how you will behave and interact with each other if a break-up should occur to ensure workplace performance does not suffer or jeopardize your respective careers.
All romantic relationships are complicated, but office romances present unique challenges as well as benefits that relationships not started at the workplace do not include. The benefits include, you spend more time with your coworker/romantic partner than anyone else, you do not have to travel far to find them or get to know them on a personal level, etc. The potential consequences include having to simultaneously manage your work and your workplace relationship, manage the perceptions of other coworkers, maintain secrecy surrounding the relationship, etc. Those who enter into workplace romances should be aware of the workplace implications and challenges that such relationships present. Most companies do not permit those in familial or romantic relationships from working together as one may be reassigned, placed at another site, or another position.