Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Swiping right, swiping left, virtual speed dating, blind dates — nothing about dating seems easy these days. Add in the fact that our friend circles and opportunities for socializing are more limited thanks to COVID-19 restrictions and that boundaries between work and home are blurring, and it's no surprise that workplace romance is on the rise.
In fact, according to recent research conducted by SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management), 34% of employed Americans are — or have been — in a workplace romance. Of those, 69% said they had dated a professional peer, 21% had dated their subordinates, and 18% have dated a superior.
"Physically, we're doing Zoom calls from our living rooms, making our home lives part of our work lives," says Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a California-based licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships. "And emotionally, we're talking to our teams about mindfulness, empathy and compassion. So we're bringing our emotional lives into our work lives, which is making it tricky to know which lines to cross and what boundaries to keep."
With our personal lives and work lives so intertwined, the idea that sparks could fly between coworkers isn't surprising. But, should you or shouldn't you? There's no easy answer because every couple and every corporate culture is different. But here are some workplace dating do's and don'ts to consider as you decide.
Do check your employee handbook about official policies
Some organizations spell out what's allowed; others are looser about interoffice romances.
"At some companies, workplace dating is fine until it's not fine," says Lori B. Rassas, a certified employment attorney and the author of "The Perpetual Paycheck: 5 Secrets to Getting a Job, Keeping a Job and Earning Income for Life in the Loyalty-Free Workplace."
So, find out if your company has an official policy or possibly even a Love Contract, in which both parties declare the relationship to be consensual plus acknowledge the company's sexual harassment and workplace ethics policies.
While the general thinking is that you should keep your relationship on the down-low until things are serious, be prepared to be transparent with your human resources department. This is especially important if you're dating someone who ranks lower than you in the company's hierarchy because you don't want there ever to be any questions about favoritism or revenge when it comes to decisions involving the other party.
Don't go public before you're ready
After a few dates, things might fizzle. So, proceed cautiously when deciding whether or not you want to reveal your status with the whole office. "You can always share more as time goes on," says Dr. Nickerson. "But you cannot unshare. And once your other coworkers know, it might even create some awkwardness and tension in ways that they don't tell you about."
If you do decide to disclose, be prepared for questions and even hazing. Everyone loves to ask how a couple got together, and in some industries — especially those with a Boys' Club vibe — things can get a little intense, which is exactly what Alison Boomer of Vancouver, British Columbia, experienced when she started dating her now-husband during their days in the same office in the financial sector.
Once they went public, Boomer found herself avoiding certain areas of the office because her boyfriend's older male colleagues thought it was fun — and funny — to razz her. "I became known as the 'B&C' or the "Ball & Chain," Boomer recounts. And though she laughed off the comments at the time, she realizes they did influence how she moved around the workplace.
Whether to go public with an office romance is especially important for same-sex couples to agree on, especially if one person is out at work and the other isn't.
Do have a conversation about social media
One partner wants to post photos from last weekend's getaway; the other isn't so sure. What's the best way forward? "You need to have a mature discussion and reach an agreement regarding relationship boundaries and acceptable behaviors," says Tammy Shaklee, president and founder of H4M Matchmaking, which serves the LGBT community. "And if you can't agree on something like social media, you're probably not compatible in a partnership."
Another no-no: Do not send cutesy messages to each other on work platforms like Slack or the Zoom chat feature. "Assume that if any app or site is used by your employer for conducting business that they can see everything you do and type," counsels Dr. Nickserson.
Do consider how much pressure workplace dating can put on your relationship
Forty hours per week together in the office and then more time spent together in your downtime — that's a lot of togetherness, which might be too much for some people. And, what if conflicts of interest arise, or you suddenly find yourself jealous in the workplace? These things can distract you from your professional goals.
It's also important to consider how you will handle office gossip if you're the subject. "The last thing any new couple needs is to be subjected to their colleagues' opinion about their new relationship," says Shaklee.
Don't forget to plan an exit strategy
Sure, your relationship might be humming along at present. But what happens if one of you is offered a promotion? Or transferred to a different location? "It can feel clinical," says Shaklee, "but it's perhaps worth having a conversation about whether you'll be able to be mature adults and wish each other well if a job or new opportunity is at stake."
If you do decide to date in the workplace, the real golden rule is to create boundaries. "Your relationship outside the office should never impact your work or the work of your colleagues and team," says Shaklee. "Make your policy: No drama at the office."
Do treat your partner as a coworker when you're at work
No flirting in the breakroom. No saving each other seats in the conference room. When in the office — or better yet: During the workday, keep things professional. "This may seem old-fashioned, but it's to protect you both," explains Dr. Nickerson.
Even though things might be great at the moment, you need to safeguard your career trajectory, reputation and professional relationships whether or not the romance works out. What you don't want is the office thinking of you as just someone's girlfriend. You want your own standing and accomplishments to always be what comes to mind when people think of you.