“My heart’s conflicted. I love my job and see real potential here. But I’ve also recently developed feelings for one of my coworkers – which I know are reciprocated. Office relationships are frowned upon here. What should I do?” – Craig from Akron, OH
You’re not alone in your predicament. A 2012 survey from CareerBuilder revealed that 38 percent of respondents have dated a co-worker at least once in their career. With people finding love in all kinds of unusual places, the workplace is just as likely to spark a romance as any other. But you want to tread carefully to avoid making a mistake that will damage your reputation or get you fired.
First things first, take a look at your company’s employee handbook – many will contain details on a human resources department’s official stance toward relationships between staff members. Some companies prohibit relationships between people on the same team or between people in a position of authority and not; other organizations may forbid any romantic relationships between staff members.
If your specific situation is prohibited by your company, you and your coworker have an important decision to make. Is pursuing this relationship worth one of you quitting or being fired from your job? Employment is still hard to come by in many fields, so think long and hard before you jeopardize a stable position that has great career potential.
Even if the type of relationship you’re thinking about isn’t explicitly forbidden at your company, be aware that what seems like true love now can quickly turn into a real nightmare. Conversations about personal relationships can come up between colleagues at lunch or after work, and your partner may reveal more details to coworkers about you than you’d prefer. Should the relationship go sour, a jilted partner may take his or her revenge on you by trying to sully your reputation with your business colleagues.
If you’re still thinking pursuing this relationship might be a good idea, here are some things to consider:
- Keep it professional during work hours. The office is not the place for public displays of affection, flirting or sneaking off behind closed doors. If you want to keep your jobs — and the respect of other staff — treat each other like regular colleagues while at work.
- Disclose only to select people. In general, the fewer people in the office who know the better, but you may wish to disclose your situation to people like your immediate supervisor if the relationship looks serious. By being upfront, you demonstrate you’re committed to transparency and avoid the risk of your boss later finding out and considering you secretive.
- Plan for the future. Even if the relationship you’re considering isn’t prohibited, that may change should one of you get a promotion or should the organization be realigned. Think through potential scenarios and how you and your partner would handle them. In the end, one of you may have to quit to keep your relationship going.
You may get lucky. Out of those 38 percent of respondents who reported being in an office relationship, one-third of them ended up marrying their coworker. While you never know where romance will strike, it’s important to approach this situation with care so that you don’t end up in true love and out of work.