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Dating a Co-Worker

You know the drill. Furtive glances across the lunch room. Lingering for small talk at the water cooler. Hallway smiles and joke-swapping. Office crushes sure make the workday more interesting—and give you the inspiration to dress a little sharper for that Monday morning meeting, too.

But is dating someone at work a fortunate turn of events or a disaster waiting to happen? Your best chance at fanning your workday crush into a hot relationship—or dousing those sparks in time to avoid any unwanted drama—is to carefully consider the pros and cons.

Factors in your favor include the fact that working together may allow you to observe this person’s strengths and weaknesses in a non-dating environment. You may have already seen how he or she handles stress and treats peers. There’s also a good chance that, working for the same employer, the two of you enjoy similar work hours and holidays. You also bring to a new relationship a shared “world,” complete with friends, colleagues, goals, and even values.

But that shared world is not without risks. Will your relationship become topic of office gossip? Will co-workers become jealous or resentful? Will office politics pose a problem? Will dating someone at work change the way co-workers or supervisors regard you?

There’s also the matter of how your dating relationship might impact job performance. If you become distracted by the excitement of your new romance—or distraught if that relationship goes awry—will you be less effective? Ultimately, you have been hired to accomplish certain tasks for your company or organization. If working in close proximity to your love interest makes it tough to keep your personal life from affecting your professional productivity, then dating a co-worker might not be the best choice.

You’ll also want to consider the financial impact of a potential breakup. Would working together post-relationship be comfortable or even possible? If not, could you transfer to another department or location? Would you feel the need to find a new job elsewhere? In a down economy, would that even be feasible?

Even with the risks, it’s not uncommon for singles to form happy, lasting romantic relationships with a co-worker. After all, it’s where most people spend more than half of our waking hours.

If you’re considering dating someone at work, the following guidelines can increase the odds of the experience being one you’ll enjoy rather than regret:

Understand the policies of your company or organization. Some companies strictly forbid employees dating. Others permit it with full disclosure to supervisors. Still others require a signed contract or agreement, which stipulates workplace protocol to avoid conflicts of interest. Make sure that by dating someone at work, you’re not breaking rules and putting both of your jobs in jeopardy.

Avoid relationships with direct superiors or people who answer directly to you. Dating someone near to you on the chain of command is fraught with complications. There is the potential for favoritism, abuse of power, or conflicts of interest, not to mention gossip among colleagues. Even if you make sure everything is above-board, you don’t need your workplace peers thinking the worst.

Keep the boundaries clear between your personal and professional lives. Dating someone FROM work doesn’t mean dating someone AT work. While on the job, your focus should be 100 percent on your responsibilities, not your romance. What you do outside of work is your business; what you do at work is your employer’s business.

Maintain discretion. Keeping clear boundaries also means ensuring discreet behavior. Don’t make co-workers uncomfortable by displaying your affection when things are going well, or airing your grievances if things go awry. And don’t use office email for personal communication—it not only interferes with whatever you’re supposed to be doing, your gushing expressions of love may not be as private as you think.

The exciting thing about love is that you never know where it will find you. If it finds you at work, losing your heart can be a wonderful experience–as long as you keep a clear head in the process.

Have you dated a co-worker? Was it a good experience? What advice would you give to others contemplating this?