Managing Workplace Romance
By Thao Nguyen
Every now and then, work becomes a little more exciting when there’s someone there who could be the one. We’re thinking about how they could be our soul mates a la Jim and Pam and Michael and Holly (and okay, Kelly and Ryan).
You spend your breaks daydreaming of running into them on the elevator and hitting it off and then having lunch together all the time. Figuring out who’s health insurance would be so easy if you got married! Carpooling to work every day! You’d never have to explain who’s who when gossiping in the break room! The benefits seem endless, but so are the drawbacks, so you absolutely have to tread carefully.
Firstly, (and this applies to every where outside of work too) make sure you aren’t making the other person uncomfortable with your advances. Be respectful in how you interact with them - there’s a difference between flirting and sexual harassment, so never forget that just because you have a crush on them, doesn’t mean you get a free pass in how you treat them. The last thing you want is for someone to feel unsafe or uncomfortable, so be conscious in how your actions can make someone feel. Make sure to gauge their reactions to what you say and do, if the vibe isn’t there, lay off. You also have to be aware if you’re making others around you uncomfortable. Are you displaying any PDA where your coworkers can see you? Are you standing in front of a third party’s cubicle and flirting with each other? There’s a lot of courtesy you have to extend and boundaries you have to be careful not to cross. You don’t want to be that couple from high school that was always making out in the hallway, because when you do that at work, you’re not going to get detention, you’re going to get in a crapload of trouble with HR, and in some cases, you could get let go.
Once it’s determined that the feelings are mutual, make sure it’s not against company policy to enter into a relationship. Most companies aren’t against it, but it may vary depending on who you’re dating, what teams you’re on, and what your professional relationship is (for example,. manager and employee relationships are generally a no-no). You may need to fill out paperwork or communicate with HR. Your job is important enough for you to do the research and due diligence to make sure everything is okay before continuing on with a relationship. Of course, this doesn’t have to be done from the beginning - no need to go through a ton of hoops for someone you’re only going to go out with once or twice - but do make it a priority once things become more serious. On the same note, always make sure you aren’t using company email to send each other personal messages or anything else you wouldn’t want IT to see. Be professional, always.
Finally, make sure that the risk is worth the reward. During the relationship, will you be able to focus on work all day, or will having your partner there interfere too much with your duties? Will you be jealous if they get a promotion over you? Can you deal with all of the gossip that will go around about you two? If the relationship ends, will you be able to handle seeing them at work every day if you break up? Will you be vindictive and do something that could harm their career? Will they do the same? Would one of you have to get a new job elsewhere? As with all relationships, there will be uncertainty involved. However, with both careers at play, it will require more thoughtfulness from the get go. There won’t be as much time at the beginning for vague communication or being super casual. When your personal life intersects with your professional life, it can’t be taken lightly - no matter how many romantic comedies say it’ll all work out perfectly in the end.