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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

An HR Expert's Take on How to Navigate an Office Romance

office romance
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In an age when our professional and personal lives are more blended than ever, it’s only natural that office relationships happen. Even in the modern era of dating apps that make it easy to connect with someone new, one quarter of workers now say they have been romantically involved with a colleague. It makes sense—sharing long hours with like-minded people can be a major relationship catalyst.

Marrying work and love (and maybe actually marrying your co-worker) might sound like an ideal situation, but navigating intertwining schedules and office hierarchies present their own pitfalls, not to mention spending all that time together. Here are some tips to help you navigate the perils of the modern workplace when it starts to get serious.

Breaking the News

When and how to the deliver the news that you and a co-worker are seriously dating (or maybe taking your relationship to the next level) is a personal choice. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution or exact science, but some general guidelines can be helpful when you let the cat out of the bag.

1. Understand Company Culture

The company culture of every office is different—some might jump for joy and shower you both with congrats—while others may freak out in a different way. You are the best judge of what kind of environment you’re working in. If you’ve felt the need to keep a tight lid on your dating, then an extravagant announcement at a company-wide meeting probably isn’t the best way to go.

Try approaching your peers individually to share the news in a more personal way to avoid distractions or negative commotion. If everyone already knows you’re together and have embraced the relationship, then you’re probably in the clear to get more creative with how you drop the big news.

2. Know the Relationship

Another point to consider before sharing the news is the working relationship you have with your significant other. It can be difficult to know when you’re ready to take the relationship to the next level. It’s a personal question, but when it comes to office romance the key is trust in your partner. Can you trust them to handle the relationship responsibility and professionally (both in-and-out of the office)?

You also need to think about your interactions at work and how this news may affect others. Do you work in different departments or directly on the same team? Are you peers, or is one person several levels above the other?

If you’re dating your direct supervisor (or vice-versa), almost all companies have rules in place surrounding this exact situation. You must have a game plan for how you address the issue before you spill the beans.

3. Chat with HR

If you’re struggling to gauge the impact of the big reveal, the surefire way to mitigate any unwanted attention or career jeopardy is to talk with human resources. HR can give you advice about the official company policy on interoffice relationships, tips for protecting your professional reputation, and advice for informing your superiors. Many companies already have policies in place that require you to report your relationship to HR anyway, so check the guidelines in the handbook.

4. Don’t Tell People (at Least, Not Directly)

The number one thing to remember about office relationships—they’re still relationships after you leave the office, and they’re your business. Outside of a formal declaration to abide by the rules of HR, you’re not required to disclose the status of your relationship (your new apartment, your new bling, your new baby) with anyone.

If you think it might adversely affect your situation, be tight-lipped. If someone asks, let them know that you’d prefer to talk about work-related items at work and you’d be happy to answer any questions about the big project you’re working on instead.

But what happens if a co-worker catches you two outside of work being well, couple-y? As long as you’ve followed company rules to report the relationship to the proper parties, then you should be in the clear.

As for any rumors the colleague might spread, the good news is many offices now have policies specifically against that kind of behavior.

Creating—and Enforcing—Your Boundaries

Since you’ve made it this far already, you know that maintaining a healthy work and romantic relationship is no easy feat. With the two so inevitably blended, it’s important to set clear boundaries. The best way to do that? Leave work at the office and focus on your relationship when together while off-the-clock.

You should already know not to bring home issues into the office, but it's equally important to leave office quarrels at work. Establish some ground rules when it comes to company conflicts, and identify points where you may disagree.

It can be tough when your partner doesn’t take the same side as you when it comes to office politics, but if you love them, you won’t let disagreements impact the decisions you make at home.

Should You Leave Your Job?

One of the most important decisions interoffice couples face is whether one should ever leave their job because of the relationship. With company policies around office romances seem more chill than in years past, this has more often become less of a requirement and more a “quality of life” change.

Some couples may relish coming into the office together, and their office may bless their union wholeheartedly. For others, taking their romantic relationship to the next level can make them feel uneasy about their professional prospects at the company, or perhaps spur them to finally move on from a job they don’t totally love.

But in the instance of a subordinate dating a supervisor, let’s say, what happens if you both love your job yet it’s necessary for one to leave? This is a tricky situation, but the most important life decisions tend to work themselves out if you truly love the other person.

Think about what you want today and what you want in the future. If neither of you are willing to budge for the other person, it may be a sign that the relationship isn’t as important as you thought. The decision should be a consensus, not one person forcing the other give up a career they love.

Navigating the twists and turns of a serious office romance can be difficult, but knowing what’s important to you and being flexible with the outcome can help you make any life-altering decisions. Family can be so much more important than an individual job, so if you’ve think you’ve found The One, don’t be afraid to embrace the change that comes with taking that next major life step.