If your eye is caught by the cutie in the next cubicle, you’re not alone. Workplace romance has become common, but it’s not without pitfalls. To protect your career and your heart there are a few things to consider carefully.
First, the good news
More people meet the person they’ll marry at work than ever before. Having seen each other under pressure and maneuvering at meetings, you’ll know a lot about each other. They’ll be few surprises about work ethics, ethical stance, ability to manage conflicting interests, or ability to be discrete. What this means is you’re very likely to be making an informed choice about whom you’ll be marrying. In terms of long-term marriage success, reasonable expectations often lead to a successful, satisfying marriage.
Then the bad news
If you’re in a traditional firm and you’re a woman, you are more likely to be asked to leave even if you’re on the same level as your love interest. If you’re a woman ranked above your cupcake, you may lose both power and credibility; if things don’t work out you may even lose your job. If you’re ranked below your crush, you may be pressured to leave so as to avoid a potential lawsuit if the affair goes bad.
The fine print
Don’t be in the dark about company policy. Marriage between co-workers is so common that many businesses have done away with policies, others who’ve had bad experiences have a clause expressly forbidding relationships. Some companies require disclosure and the signing of a ‘love agreement’ between both parties to forestall later lawsuits. Know what the situation is at your company regarding dating, sexual harassment and privacy before dating; ignorance can really hurt your career and your future prospects.
If your boss is married to someone in another department, and it’s clear that others are dating discretely then that tells you something significant about your company. They don’t just say they have a policy on dating; they have a practice of letting love bloom. On the other hand, if you’ve heard nasty gossip about work relationships carefully avoid being the target yourself.
Our love won’t pay the rent
If you’ve become seriously involved with a co-worker and word has gotten out, protect your career by having a frank conversation with your supervisor and arrange for a transfer to a different department than your sweetie. If your company can’t accommodate you or looks askance at your relationship, start looking actively for work in case you’re asked to leave.
Is it worth it?
If you’re very sure that your love interest is only going to interest you for the amount of time it takes to get their clothing on the floor, then don’t bother. The fallout isn’t worth it; do you really want a lovelorn or hostile co-worker eyeing you every time you go the water cooler? Be honest, if it goes badly, will you be able to keep your concentration on your work? If, on the other hand, you’ve moved slowly and gotten to know him or her well over time, then you can proceed cautiously.
People can often read a lingering glance much better than you want to believe. Many love relationships are suspected before you’ve even slipped out for coffee together. Assume that people will know even without you telling; and consider telling one person the same as telling everyone. Even the most conscientious friend often can’t resist telling one other person… and soon everyone knows. If your office is chatty, you’ll be the juicy subject of office gossip. If you and your love work closely together will you begin to feel trapped? Remember, it’s a lot easier to begin an office romance than to end it. If either of you have dated someone else in the company, you may find you’ve earned a reputation, deserved or not. This will affect your standing in the company. Sadly if you’re female, the double standard does apply at work too.
Since there could be damage to both your livelihoods, it’s good to set out some ground rules immediately. Agree on terms for ‘going public’ and for going your separate ways. It’s not particularly romantic, but the complication of paychecks demands a more practical approach.
Are you able and prepared to handle yourself professionally if your love calls it off? It only takes one person to end a relationship and a break-up at work means dealing with your pain in his or her presence. If you break it off, is your love likely to exact revenge, talk about you to your boss or co-workers or initiate a sexual harassment complaint? Getting out of the relationship not infrequently means getting out of your job, if that’s not something you’re willing to risk, then scotch your romance before damage is done.
If you’ve carefully weighed the situation and have confidence in: your paramour; your feelings for him or her; your company’s culture; and your willingness to be in a long-term relationship, then there’s no reason not to fling abandon to the winds. It’s estimated that fifty percent of marriages now begin at work; may you be one of those happy couples. Good luck!
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