Workplace

Navigating Workplace Relationships

Dora Segall
By: Dora Segall
Feb 26, 2021 • 6 min read

Navigating Workplace Relationships

Sometimes you can’t help who you fall for. Dating someone you work with can be complicated, but it’s certainly not impossible. Many couples out there met their significant other while on the job! If you do want to begin dating someone you work with, there are a few key points you should consider prior to doing so. Here are some tips for entering and maintaining successful workplace relationships.

woman wearing gray cardigan

Weigh the Pros and Cons Beforehand

Before you jump into anything, it’s always good to know what to expect. Take some time to make a list of potential positive and negative outcomes of dating someone at work. You can use this list to determine whether it’s worth it and prepare for any challenges that might come your way when pursuing a workplace relationship. You want to carefully consider both your professional life and your emotions before making a commitment. You’ve likely heard the saying, “don’t mix business with pleasure”, and it’s true! Sometimes, dating a fellow colleague ends up not being worth the effort. However, if you go about your relationship the right way, it is possible to maintain a positive and healthy partnership. 

Follow Company Policy

Another thing to do before dating someone at work is to make sure you know what your company does and doesn’t tolerate. Some workplaces won’t have a formal policy, while others will have strict rules for employee fraternization. You can follow these steps as your relationship progresses to prevent yourself from violating company policy and to just make your life easier. You’ll want to abide by workplace rules so that you don’t jeopardize your employment! If things get too complicated, you might want to consider changing jobs in order to prioritize your relationship. This is a personal choice and will differ from couple to couple. 

group of people holding candle near buildings

Express Interest Appropriately

You might be surprised that some companies have policies that actually stipulate how you can and can’t express romantic interest in a coworker. These include everything from compliments you can and can’t give to how many times you can ask someone out. These rules exist for a good reason — to crack down on sexual harassment at work.

In addition to how you flirt, many company policies will stipulate who you can and can’t get involved with — many companies prohibit supervisors from dating subordinates because of the potential for using power to favor or retaliate against a current or ex-partner. These guidelines can even encompass entry-level employees who don’t work directly for the senior-level person in question. Usually, the higher-up will receive stricter consequences for violating such rules than the subordinate they have pursued. You’ll want to become familiar with the rules and respect them, as they are in place to prevent harassment in the workplace. 

Behave as a Couple Appropriately

When you’re dating someone, especially in that early honeymoon phase, you might want to show affection all the time. Doing so on the job, however, can be distracting to you and your coworkers. See what guidelines your company policy has for how to act around your romantic partner in the workplace. You should also follow your gut when deciding what is appropriate! You want to maintain a professional environment in the workplace for yourself, your partner, and others. 

Another important thing to know is when, if at all, you should disclose your relationship to Human Resources. Most companies won’t care if you’ve gone on a few dates with a coworker — but if you’ve been going out with someone for months, you’ll probably want to let someone know so they can handle any conflicts of interest.

workplace relationships

If You Break Up, Do That Appropriately

Few things are more uncomfortable than having to watch two people you know break up. Having to do that while working professionally with both parties involved in the breakup is even more awkward! If you and your partner are on the rocks, treat work as a neutral zone. Your workplace probably has a policy for this. Still, a general rule of thumb is to avoid any arguments and not let interpersonal conflict influence any of your professional decisions, such as giving a promotion or choosing a specific idea to execute a new project. Ideally, no one at work (except those you’ve established a personal rapport with) should even be able to tell if something is wrong in your relationship. 

Focus on Your Work

Regardless of your employer’s rules, you are the best judge of how an interpersonal decision will impact you at work. If you feel level-headed enough to balance a romantic and professional relationship with one person, go for it! If you’re worried that a workplace romance will distract you from work or put a strain on the relationship, however, tell the person you’re interested that you’re sorry, but it won’t work out. There is no shame in knowing and respecting your own limits. You’ll need to focus on prioritizing what is important to you while still contributing excellent work to your company. 

workplace relationships

Establish a Work-Life Balance

Dating someone you work with can be awesome! You have shared experiences, interests, and career paths. You’ll always have people to talk about, you understand each other’s schedule, and workplace events are much more pleasant than they might otherwise be. At the same time, all that sharing can make it hard to establish boundaries between your work and home life. As soon as you start dating a coworker, you should consider a serious conversation with your partner about how to separate the two.

Being together all the time can be overwhelming! No matter how much you love this person, it is human nature to need some personal space from time to time. When you work and live with the person you are dating, it can be hard to focus on your individuality. Be sure to have open communication with your partner and respect each other’s boundaries.

Leave the Drama at Home

To reiterate the point we made about handling a breakup with a coworker, treat your work as a neutral zone. No one wants to be around your drama, and letting conflicts wear on and on throughout the day will prevent you and your partner from getting some breathing room, anyway. If you’re having trouble concentrating while handling conflict with a coworker-turned-lover, try to find ways to distance yourself from them on the job or consider breaking up. Be mindful and try to maintain a positive company culture for all. 

workplace relationships

Leave Work at Work

Also detrimental to a relationship is talking about work long after you’ve both clocked out. It’s great to have something in common to spark conversations with your significant other, but discussing upcoming deadlines or your boss’s latest request constantly can cause stress.

Try to put a time limit (maybe the commute home or the number of minutes it takes to down a glass of wine in the evening) on your work-related conversations off-the-clock. Doing so will ensure that you find other things to talk about and take the time to develop shared hobbies. These activities will help you unwind and grow closer as a couple — a win-win.

Get Help if Needed

We’re only human, and sometimes our problems are too complicated for us to handle independently. If you find yourself way over your head in a workplace relationship, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are many resources and support systems available to you – so use them if you need to!

Consider Asking Coworkers For Feedback

Talking through a workplace relationship challenge with a coworker you consider a friend can be a great way to get any worries off your chest and get an outside perspective. “Is our break room flirting distracting?” “Has my fighting with my partner made me slack off in meetings?” These are questions a third party might be able to answer more easily than you or your partner. It’s always a good idea to check-in with coworkers and see how your relationship is affecting the overall workplace. 

Communicate With Your Boss When Appropriate

If you cannot handle a problem with a partner in the workplace (or a coworker who is inappropriately expressing romantic interest) on your own, talking to your manager is a good idea. Let’s say you and your partner are fighting, and your partner is taking their anger out on you at work. Your boss should be aware of this so they can respond appropriately (not to mention that you might want to break up with your partner if they are expressing their emotions in this way). Make sure to reserve complaints to your boss for serious problems. Otherwise, you may be seen as difficult or unprofessional.

workplace relationships

Human Resources

If you’re at a larger company, HR is the place to go with any workplace romance issues, especially if you’ve reported them to your manager and they haven’t helped you address them. Any long-term romantic relationships in the workplace should be reported to HR as soon as they start or end. Report to HR whenever anything changes that will affect your relationship at work — this includes getting married or receiving a promotion — especially if it makes one of you the other’s supervisor. HR is trained to deal with these kinds of situations and is likely to give you policy-appropriate solutions to any questions you may have.

We hope you’ve finished reading these suggestions with a greater sense of confidence when it comes to dating a coworker. Remember that every couple and every company is different. So, try what feels right to you and make adjustments as necessary. Don’t let your unique circumstances put your job or your romantic life on the back burner — you deserve to be strong in both.

More to Read:

Tips For Couples Who Work For Home

How To Keep Your Personal Life Out of The Workplace 

How To Express Appreciation For Coworkers 

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