If you鈥檙e in a dating rut, often the (unsolicited) advice you get is that you鈥檒l find the right person once you just stop looking. But come on 鈥 we鈥檙e not looking all the time. In the shower? Not looking. Scooping our cat鈥檚 litter box? Not looking. At work? We definitely wouldn鈥檛 consider an workplace romance to solve our dating dilemma. Well, let us think about that for another minute鈥

Young cheerfu coworkers flirting

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鈥檚 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鈥檛s 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. 鈥淵ou should review the pros and cons and seek out professional counseling to determine if jeopardizing your career is worth the risk,鈥 Sharon tells us.


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鈥檛 Gchat all day with them鈥) 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鈥檇 lose your job (yikes).

Plus, if you鈥檙e 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鈥檝e 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鈥檛 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鈥檚 an unfair, sexist assumption, but that鈥檚 the reality of what you鈥檙e up against.


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鈥檚 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. 鈥淒epending on the power dynamic, the structure of your workplace and your positions within the organization, your relationship will need to be evaluated,鈥 explains Sharon. 鈥淪et up a meeting with HR to discuss the situation. HR will assist in creating a plan to move forward.鈥 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鈥檚 up. (But note that getting it out in the open doesn鈥檛 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鈥檙e 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鈥檛 try to hide it, compared to 46 percent in 2008. That might be a sign that it鈥檚 becoming more accepted, and you鈥檙e probably far from the first person to ask your company for a 鈥渓ove contract.鈥

And then there鈥檚 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. 鈥淒ecide who can change jobs if something happens, and discuss all the possible endings and consequences of your relationship,鈥 says Sharon. It might be an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it鈥檚 the smart thing to do. You know what they say鈥 it鈥檚 not personal; it鈥檚 business. (Literally.)

Have you ever been in an office romance? Tweet us your tips (or lessons learned the hard way) @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)