How To Handle an Office Romance

Considering that we spend 40 to 50 hours a week at work, it's no surprise that personal relationships develop between co-workers.  We work together on projects, sharing successes (and failures) and often relax together after work or during lunch hours.  We discover that we share common interests and it's only natural that friendships formed during work can progress into romantic relationships. 

While these relationships are not uncommon, problems can arise when two people who work together find themselves in this situation.  Here are some tips to help you navigate this potential workplace minefield.

  1. Check your company's policy regarding fraternization.  Most companies have a clear policy regarding individuals engaging in personal relationships.  Some forbid it outright while others address this less specifically.  Others have a policy, but tend not to enforce it. If you find that you are attracted to a co-worker, make sure that acting on this attraction does not violate company policy.  Check the employee handbook or other policy documentation closely.  You could unwittingly be violating the rules and subject to termination.
  2. Consider the ramifications.  If you find yourself attracted to a co-worker and are comfortable with company policy regarding interpersonal relationships, think about how entering into a romantic relationship with this person will impact your job.  Is the person your supervisor?  If so, think twice!  Becoming involved with a supervisor can open you up to all kinds of problems.  Co-workers may perceive this as blatant favoritism and this could create a situation that could threaten your credibility.  Look at all possible scenarios before allowing the relationship to progress to the next level.
  3. Proceed with caution.  People sometimes have a totally different persona in the workplace than they do on their own time.  Before plunging headfirst into a romantic relationship, get to know the person away from work.  Go out with a group after work or to lunch.  Participate in company-sponsored events and take the opportunity get to know one another in a less formal setting.  If all you have in common is work, the relationship is doomed from the start.
  4. Keep the relationship quiet. An interoffice romance can be a serious distraction from work not only for the individuals involved but also for co-workers.  Never allow your relationship to interfere with your job.  That means no long phone conversations, no lingering discussions in one another's offices and absolutely no physical contact during working hours.   Set boundaries early on and avoid situations that might be misconstrued by others.  People might be aware of your relationship but that doesn't mean it has to be an "in your face" situation.
  5. Be prepared for the worst.  Relationships fail for any number of reasons and workplace romances are no exception.  It's hard to maintain a personal relationship under such scrutiny.  Normally, when a relationship fails, the parties can go their separate ways and eventually move on.   But a failed workplace romance is different.  Healing is more difficult because you are probably going to see this person frequently.  Even knowing he or she is nearby can be distracting.  If the relationship does end, you may eventually find that you have to leave the company in order to heal.

Many couples have met and found love at work.  Some have even gone on to have successful marriages.  It doesn't have to be a disaster.   But it's important to enter into a workplace romance with caution and a clear understanding of the difficulties involved.  Ask yourself whether or not the relationship is worth the risks and then follow your best instincts.



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