If you’re in a dating rut, often the (unsolicited) advice you get is that you’ll find the right person once you just stop looking. But come on — we’re not looking all the time. In the shower? Not looking. Scooping our cat’s litter box? Not looking. At work? We definitely wouldn’t consider an workplace romance to solve our dating dilemma. Well, let us think about that for another minute…
The conventional wisdom is that office romances are 100 percent a bad idea, but according to a recent survey by Vault, over 50 percent of workers have been in one. (Shout-out to Jim and Pam Halpert.) So there’s got to be a way to actually pull it off successfully. But before you start getting all flirty with your boss by the coffee maker, there are a lot of things to consider.
To help navigate the dos and don’ts of office romance, we talked to Sharon Schweitzer, a business etiquette expert and founder of Protocol and Etiquette Worldwide. She started her career as an employment law specialist and has seen a lot of job changes as a result of office romances. So her overall message is: Proceed with caution. “You should review the pros and cons and seek out professional counseling to determine if jeopardizing your career is worth the risk,” Sharon tells us.
PROS AND CONS OF GETTING WITH YOUR OFFICE CRUSH
Examples of pros: potential for lifelong love (although that Vault report also found that fewer than 10 percent of the people surveyed met their spouse at work), opportunities to interact with your S.O. throughout the day (because we totally don’t Gchat all day with them…) and less-sucky Mondays. Cons: potential violations of legal ethics and industry standards (eek), potential loss of respect from colleagues and damage to your personal brand (big ugh) and even the possibility that you’d lose your job (yikes).
Plus, if you’re in a relationship with a superior and everyone knows it, people could start interpreting any assignment or promotion as favoritism. And that goes *extra* for women. A 2009 study in the Western Journal of Communication found that not only do most employees have negative opinions of office romances (even if they’ve been in one), usually, they direct that annoyance or anger at the woman in the relationship. Just another way that gender inequality shows up in the workplace (as if equal pay weren’t enough of a problem). The common conception is that women only spark an office fling to get ahead in their career, but men are really in it for love. It’s an unfair, sexist assumption, but that’s the reality of what you’re up against.
PROTECTING YOURSELF AND YOUR JOB
So, considering all of that, how do you protect yourself if you do decide to move forward with the relationship? The first thing you need to do is get your hands on your office’s official HR policy, and read it carefully. Some companies actually consider office relationships a violation of their sexual harassment policy, and you might be legally required to disclose it. “Depending on the power dynamic, the structure of your workplace and your positions within the organization, your relationship will need to be evaluated,” explains Sharon. “Set up a meeting with HR to discuss the situation. HR will assist in creating a plan to move forward.” She says that plan could even include disclosing your relationship to other people in the office, which might sound mortifying at first, but can actually be a pretty good idea, especially if your coworkers already suspect something’s up. (But note that getting it out in the open doesn’t mean you now have permission to go full-PDA in the middle of meetings.)
It might feel weird to share those details about your personal life (one Refinery29 contributor even went so far as to make up a decoy boyfriend to throw her coworkers off the scent of her office relationship), but as long as you’re complying with HR rules, it might not be as big a deal as you think. In a 2013 CareerBuilder.com survey, 72 percent of those who reported being in an office relationship said they didn’t try to hide it, compared to 46 percent in 2008. That might be a sign that it’s becoming more accepted, and you’re probably far from the first person to ask your company for a “love contract.”
And then there’s the other person in all of this: the cute co-worker in question. The two of you need to be on the same page about how you plan to move the relationship (and your careers) forward, and agree on a contingency plan if it crashes and burns. “Decide who can change jobs if something happens, and discuss all the possible endings and consequences of your relationship,” says Sharon. It might be an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it’s the smart thing to do. You know what they say… it’s not personal; it’s business. (Literally.)
Have you ever been in an office romance? Tweet us your tips (or lessons learned the hard way) @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)