It’s one of those really tough "should I or shouldn't I?" situations in life. There’s a guy or girl at the office you really like – a lot. Sparks fly as you bump coffee mugs at the espresso machine. You rush to meetings you normally avoid, just so you can gaze adoringly at your crush while they load their Powerpoint presentation. And when at long last everyone else has gone home and somehow, amazingly, it’s just the two of you left in the office, working late - well, Shakespeare himself couldn’t have written a more perfect scenario for romance.
Hold it right there. Before you swap your office ties for family ties, step back a moment and think this through. Although things may feel right, in the eyes of your employer (and in the eyes of the law), you may want to weigh up the pros and cons of the situation before you take that next step.
Because we've all been there and because love makes the world go round (it really does), we'll make things easy for you and break this down into two simple lists: should I, or shouldn't I?
5 Arguments in Favor of an Office Romance
1 – You’ll Have Lots in Common
You know the saying: people who play together, stay together. The fact that the two of your work together means that you both obviously have a lot in common. You may share a mutual mission, or just really both enjoy the field you both work in.
Dating someone you work with can certainly seem to have a lot of perks, on the face of it. If you’ve worked at the same company a long time but only recently been introduced, this means you’ll have a veritable goldmine of future conversation, as you compare your individual work-related memories and share mutual laughs over that time Pam in Accounts accidentally hit ‘Reply All’ and shared her embarrassing Hen Night pictures with the Executive team. The sense of instant familiarity created by dating a co-worker means you’ll be trading in-jokes in no time.
2 – You Get to See Each Other Every Day
Most people spend at least 8 hours a day at the office or at the site of their job, which can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how much you love or hate your career. In the early stages of a romance when every second spent with your beloved is thrilling, this may add a boost to your enthusiasm levels as you spring out of bed each morning, spend extra time getting ready, and rush into work to see that special person.
For some, the start of a new relationship means that a lot of insecurities come into the picture as they slowly get to know and trust the other person. We’ve all stared at our phone and whispered, "Ring, dammit!" when our new beau promised to ring or text at a certain time, then (for whatever reason), did not follow through. The fact that you are guaranteed to see the object of your affection at the same time and same place each day can be a huge source of comfort and reassurance to many people.
3 – You May Share a Similar Vision of the Future
If you work together, chances are that you’re both at the company for a similar reason. Maybe you work as a fundraiser for a charity you’ve loved for years. Or perhaps you joined the local council to help make life better for the residents of your community. Or maybe you became a PA to a merchant banker because you really, really love money. Different strokes for different folks - we get it.
Whatever the reason you go to work, if you date someone from your office, there’s a good chance they share the same level of skill that you have, and have similar interests. That’s a great start to any relationship.
4 – You Live in the Same Geographic Location
Unless you’re one of those people who has an extreme commute, this one is self-explanatory. You can take it as written that most people who work together at an office all live within driving distance of each other. That opens up a lot of great possibilities for your evenings and weekends together outside of work.
If you live in the same area, you’ll be surprised at how different your town looks when seen through another person’s eyes, and you may discover a whole new world of new favorite cafes, arts and entertainment options you never even noticed before. These are among the many great perks of dating someone new, and there are many other benefits you’ll discover too.
For instance, if you’re ecologically minded, you may be able to share a ride into work with your new romantic partner (although avoid this one if you’re trying to keep your relationship a secret). And if you both have kids, you’ll find plenty of good excuses to get together for play dates – your kids may even go to the same school – and you’ll be able to share babysitter or child-minder tips.
5 – A High Percentage of Office Romances Culminate in Marriage
Actual stats vary from 30-50%, but those are still great odds if you’re looking to walk down the isle with a like-minded co-worker in the future. Bear that heartening fact in mind if you’re trying to decide whether to keep your partner or your job (although you may not wind up with both – see below).
A lot of high-profile couples started out as co-workers. Think of Barak and Michelle Obama, who met when she was mentoring him at the Chicago-based law firm they both worked at. Or take Bill Gates and Melinda French, who met while both were working at Microsoft, and together are now collectively worth billions. It’s easy to see that matches made in the workplace have a lot of sound practical grounding, and a great deal of future potential.
5 Arguments Against an Office Romance
1 - The Whole Office Usually Knows Before You Know
Think that your crush on the hunky new PR intern is just your little secret? Think again. Because of the office’s connections to both money and status, people usually pay very close attention to the relationships and dynamics of the team or department, as a change in status quo may potentially affect their career. So if you’re nurturing a newfound flame for a person in your office, don’t be surprised if half the company knows before you do.
A study by the Western Journal of Communication uncovered the fact that unfortunately, most people see office romances in a negative light. Three factors were identified as being seen to be behind the primary motivating factors for dating a colleague – love, ego and job.
The WJC study found that in the vast majority of situations, regardless of the truth of the matter, co-workers believed that the women in the pair was motivated by the hopes that the relationship would help further her career, while the men were more often believed to be dating a coworker for egotistical reasons. True love was only mentioned by a small percentage of survey takers.
The takeaway from this is that while you may see your crush or budding romance as harmless or invisible, most of your co-workers are likely aware of it, and may even view you and your crush-ee in a negative light as a result.
This can affect your career in ways you never even considered – for example, if your best friend gets a job at your company shortly after your crush gets moved into the recruiting department, or if you get promoted right after your co-worker boyfriend sits next to the boss at the company dinner and has a 'deep' conversation with her all evening, little birds may whisper that string pulling or favoritism is at work, and you may both be looked on with suspicion from then on.
2 – You Have to See Each Other Every Day
Did we mention this earlier? Well, as you slide down the opposite end of the rainbow of love, there are a whole spectrum of unwelcome scenarios that may play out if you choose to end the relationship while you’re both still working at the same company or (God forbid) on the same team.
Consider this: what if she starts dating someone else mere days after your painful breakup, and the regular deliveries of flowers, teddy bears and romantic cards to her desk are a constant reminder to you of her new 'relationship status?' Or maybe he falls madly in love with your best friend in IT a few months after you split up, and you have to watch them making kissy faces at each other every time she comes to fix your printer. Or maybe he desperately wants back into the relationship while you never want to see him again, and you have to spend all your energy every day avoiding him. When you intertwine your personal lives with your work lives, there may be no end to the future fallout if something goes wrong.
3 – Arguments Take on a Whole New Dimension
Even the closest couple in the world has their ‘off’ days, but if you’ve just started dating someone or don’t live together, it’s easy to avoid the other person when you need some space or after you’ve had an argument. If you’re dating a co-worker, however, that may turn out to be impossible.
Even if you don’t sit right next to them, it’s very likely you’ll run into them at some point in the day, every day. If you have ongoing resentments simmering between you after a big blow-up, this could lead to a lot of tension affecting your department at work. Though you’ll (hopefully) be career-minded enough to avoid turning the morning team meeting into a yelling match, it’s very likely that your co-workers will pick up on the unpleasant atmosphere between the two of you, which will just make everybody uncomfortable.
4 - When One Person Wants Out
All relationships, no matter how unique or diverse, usually only have two possible outcomes – either you decide to stay together long term, or you break up. If the relationship has a good outcome, that’s all well and good. But on the flip side, a office romance that crashes and burns can cause considerable collateral damage to both your working environment and to your career.
Should the breakup be a one-sided, this could lead to an office game of cat and mouse, with the one person plotting and scheming to contrive situations where the two of you have to work together, or (horror of horrors) take a business trip together, and the other one doing all they can to avoid that fate.
Nobody likes being stalked, and with the plethora of ways a jilted co-worker ex could potentially find to get access to you – including accessing internal employee resources, bad-mouthing you to your friends around the water cooler, or even threatening to tell your boss or HR less-than-flattering things about yourself you told them in confidence, it’s easy to see that this would not be a good situation to put yourself in.
5 - The Legal Issues of an Office Relationship
We’ve put off discussing this one till last, as it is the least fun thing to talk about. In these litigious days, you’ll find that most companies will have some kind of Employee Handbook, and in many of these there will be a section on office code of conduct.
If you’re thinking of engaging in an office romance, it would be a good idea to put the old heart strings on ice for a short time while you read the company handbook and find out what your companies rules are regarding the situation. You may be lucky and find that inter-office romance is not addressed in the handbook. On the other hand, what you’re most likely to read is that your boss expects ‘employee dating matters’ to be revealed to them at the earliest possible stage. In some cases, the handbook may add to this that if such a situation arises, it is then the company’s discretion which employee will be kept on, and which let go.
This may seem unfair, but this is entirely legal. After all, the company must protect its best interests. Even the most wonderful, ‘harmless’ relationship may generate gossip or drama, and both of those can cost the company money by distracting workers from their jobs.
At the other end of the scale, there are entire books and movies devoted to what can go wrong in the less pleasant scenarios – corruption, power struggles, harassment suits, jealousy, corruption, and so on. If you are worried about the possible impact an office fling could have on your job, either keep it on the down-low, or make sure you have a really great relationship with both your boss and HR before you begin.
The Decision Is Yours – Choose Wisely
At the end of the day, whether or not you engage in an office romance may not be a decision you feel you have any power to control. Regardless, you would be doing your career a favor if you temper your heart with just a few ounces of common sense. When your private and professional life start to intertwine, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket, and that can be a really scary place to be in should things go wrong.
Nobody should ever have to be put in the position where they have to choose between the person they love and their job, so just be sure to think things through carefully before you make a move. Your future self will thank you for it. Best of luck!