I’ve been in the workforce for a while, and I’ve seen dramatic changes in how people have romantic relationships in the workplace.
It used to be that if you were at the office, you were working—not dating.
You didn’t talk about your love life and certainly didn’t show affection towards a coworker. Nowadays, though, more people are bringing their private lives into the office, blurring the lines between personal and professional worlds.
While this is amazing news for love lives worldwide, it does mean there are new rules about how we handle our relationships on the job these days (or at least should handle them).
For some, it’s an unavoidable part of work life, having romantic relationships in the workplace. You might have a question or two about how to manage or if totally avoid them.
There isn’t one right way to handle romantic relationships in the workplace, but some unofficial rules can help you navigate this potentially awkward territory.
Keep your private life out of the workplace.
I’m not recommending that you shouldn’t date in the workplace, however, I caution about what you discuss and with whom.
In our society, we’re accustomed to sharing every element of our lives with each other.
We talk about our families, friends, experiences, and work. We share our lives on Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, and Tik Tok. Going go out for drinks after work and talking about what’s going on in our romantic relationships–or lack thereof in some cases (no judgement here) is entirely normal for most of us.
But when it comes to the workplace, it’s best not to bring up your personal life at all, especially if you’re dating a coworker. Even if you think no one cares about what goes on in your love life, there could be hidden consequences if others find out about your relationship that makes them uncomfortable.
Conversely, despite your most valiant efforts, accept that your relationship will not stay a secret forever.
Avoid the awkwardness by not sharing the details of your personal life with colleagues. Should things go south with your significant other, you’ll avoid being the topic of interest for the foreseeable future.
Try not to overlap work and love lives
Since you began your relationship in the workplace, it will feel natural to continue the trend — don’t.
Create boundaries that define how you both work together. That may include how to interact together when it meetings, how travel to work together, or even simply eat lunch. Defining this stuff early on will make it easier in the long run.
It’s important to be lockstep with your significant other when trying to keep things business as usual. Align on what makes sense and what doesn’t, you’ll be happy you did.
Romantic relationships in the workplace don’t have many strict rules, except one, never ever date a supervisor or manager.
It’s a huge conflict of interest.
Think about it, do you want people assuming you got your promotion because of who you’re dating, or linked to?
If you are dating your manager, they may be more inclined to give you preferential treatment over you and your co-workers. This could lead to an unfair work environment or even worse, demotion or termination if you don’t engage. This poses an especially challenging issue if the relationship goes south.
Any normal, but unfavorable action against you can feel retaliatory if there’s a reporting structure in place.
The same goes for managers.
If you start dating an employee, you may (inadvertently) use your power as a manager to get what you want from that person. This can also lead to unfair work environment where your significant other feels pressured into doing things at work.
So it’s best to just avoid this altogether on both ends.
So does that mean you can date a superior if you don’t report to them directly?
Well no, not necessarily.
Their position of power can still be used either for or against you, both of which can have negative outcomes. Also, if HR gets wind of this relationship, it will definitely be considered problematic landing one or the both of you in a meeting.
This is especially true if there’s a policy against this very thing. With that in mind, you should find out the company policy (assuming there is one) so you know if you’re at risk of getting in trouble.
With romantic relationships in the workplace, be prepared for potential clashes in personality and values showing up at work.
When you’re in a workplace relationship with a work colleague, it’s important to be aware that your partner’s personality and values may not align with yours. This can make it difficult to work together, especially if both of you are in leadership roles.
If possible, try not to overlap both your professional and love lives, if possible. In other words, keep work stuff at work, and relationship stuff outside the office. I see the obvious challenge here given we bring so much of who we are to work, but this isn’t the time to do that.
If those lines have already been blurred and you spend a lot of time together outside work, the best way forward is transparency with each other. Let your partner know what’s going on so they don’t feel blindsided by any sudden changes in behavior or focus at the office.
The best way to navigate an office romance is to be up front with those who need to know.
Strong emphasis on need to know...
The best way to navigate a workplace relationship is to be up front with everyone that should know.
This doesn’t mean your work bestie (although I know you’ll tell them anyway), certainly not the office gossip.
Inform your HR person, and your manager to start (see why dating your manager can be super complicated?) You may have other people who fall in the “need-to-know” category, so share when and where necessary.
If you’re dating a coworker, talk to your manager and make sure they know that the relationship won’t affect your work performance in any way. Be honest with the other employees who may have concerns about how this will impact them or their jobs (for example, if one of them has been eyeing the same position).
Finally, don’t be dishonest, if someone asks about your new partner at happy hour after work one day, don’t try to brush them off; instead, tell them you’d rather keep your private life just that, private.
With romantic relationships in the workplace, always keep it professional.
We touched on this above slightly, but it bares repeating.
In order to maintain good relationships with your colleagues and clients, it’s vital that you keep personal issues out of the office.
When you start dating someone in the workplace–or even when you break up with them–it can be tempting talking about it with your friends and coworkers. But this is not always appropriate or helpful; in fact, it may cause problems for both parties involved. It could negatively affect productivity at work for both of you.
I recommend not bringing up any relationship drama until after hours when everyone has had time to cool off and reflect on what happened during.
There are ways to talk about your feelings in a way that be productive.
Oddly enough, there are ways to talk about your feelings in a way that can actually make your workplace relationship stronger.
Have a conversation about your feelings.
Don’t be afraid of being honest with each other–it’s okay if you have conflicting emotions, or if one person feels more strongly than another. Think through the pros and cons of the relationship, as well as how it could affect both parties’ careers at work and beyond.
Focus on the positive aspects of the relationship. While there may be some negative aspects of being involved with someone at work, focus on what works for both people instead of the drawbacks.
Love is a beautiful thing, and it’s important to remember that it can happen anywhere. If you find yourself in an office romance, just make sure that both parties are on the same page about how they want their relationship to work. Stay focused and communicate where needed and see where this relationship can go.