Water Cooler Romance: The Rules of Dating in the Office
Stolen glances in the hallway. Passionate conversations over the office toaster oven. Late nights spent working on a big project and sharing take-out meals.
Even if you’ve spent years hearing the mantra don’t date a co-worker, at some point, you just might find yourself falling for a colleague. It makes sense: You likely share interests, talents, experiences, and a whole lot of time together. And some of the best relationships are those that begin in the workplace. But as alluring as they are—it’s no surprise that office romances can be rather difficult to navigate.
If you’re beginning an office relationship (or even just considering it), here are the rules that’ll help you maintain your professionalism, dignity, and reputation.
First Things First
Before you make any moves, check your company’s policies to see if there are any rules on intra-office dating. If so, that might be a good reason to end things before they even begin—especially if the object of your affection is your supervisor or a subordinate.
Then, ask yourself this question: Are you sure you want to take the risk? Before you really fall hard, you need to think logically through the possible impact this will have on your career and your relationships. What does your career path look like—and could an office romance affect your chances for a promotion? Does the romance have real potential for the future—and if not, is it really worth it?
As depressing as it might be, fast-forward to what a break-up might look like. Do you anticipate that this person would handle a split maturely? Will it be too hard for you to see him or her in the office every day if the romance sours? No, none of this is fun to think about—but it can save you a lot of heartache down the line.
Play it Cool
If you’ve decided to give your office fling the green light, treat it as you would any other relationship, and keep it out of the office.
It’s natural to feel giddy at the beginning of a relationship when you’re around your significant other all day—in his office, at the water cooler, in the elevator—but being lovestruck isn’t exactly professional (nor is it charming to your co-workers).
Keep your intra-office emails, texts, and phone calls work-related—and keep the details of your love life toned down on social media. Planning a date Thursday night or a romantic weekend getaway? Save the discussion for after hours, and out of earshot of other colleagues.
Think About How it “Looks”
Keep in mind that your new relationship, especially if it’s with someone higher or lower on the corporate chain, could range from being the subject of water cooler chatter to charges of favoritism or harassment. So if you want to pursue this relationship, you need to handle it appropriately. Make sure you don’t give your other co-workers a reason to feel jealous, challenged, or resentful.
Your significant other shouldn’t give you any special treatment, or vice versa. For example, you should never throw sales leads or new accounts to your new office romance if he doesn’t rightfully deserve them. In fact, you’ll likely need to go out of your way to make sure your behavior is above reproach—which means that if it’s a 50/50 call, give that account to someone else.
Don’t Ignore Everyone Else
You know that friend who suddenly can’t make time for anyone else once she gets a boyfriend? Don’t be that girl in the office. Your work relationships extend past romance, and you need to make every effort to remain part of the office team. Don’t skip your weekly lunches with your co-workers or ditch your carpool partner. You don’t have to ignore each other at office happy hour, but you shouldn’t stick to each other’s sides all night, either. Isolating your colleagues isn’t a good professional—or personal—move.
Keep Your Boss in the Loop
If you decide that a serious relationship with a colleague is in your future, make an appointment with your boss and let him or her know about the relationship. (You know that she’s going to find out regardless, right?) Assure her that it will not affect your judgment or productivity, and let her know that you will remain professional and respectful in the office.
Prepare for the Worst
If it doesn’t work out, you're going to have to refrain from sharing the details of your relationship and earth-shattering break-up with your colleagues. You entered the relationship knowing the potential consequences, and it's your job to move forward without any major drama. Cry privately. Keep your chin up and keep your actions professional.
Don’t Make it a Habit
If you’re on your third office relationship, you’re at two too many. Even if your workplace is a sea of smart, good-looking, talented potential dating partners, it’s not worth getting a reputation as someone who dates around at work. Look for your next love interest in another place—preferably miles away from your office.
Photo courtesy of SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget.
Want More Advice Like This?
Sign up and follow us on Facebook to get everything you need to succeed in your career from The Muse.