How To Navigate A Workplace Romance

It's a tale as old as time; co-worker and co-worker lock eyes across the water cooler, and sparks fly. Workplace romances are often inevitable, and since dating has changed so much throughout history, it might seem easy to fall for a co-worker when you see the same people in the same atmosphere day in and day out. Your walls come down more easily. You've become comfortable in your skin (or sometimes, suit). You're surrounded by people who share common interests and career goals as you do, and you possess a type of confidence walking into work that says "hey world, I'm open to receiving whatever comes my way," coffee in hand. When you find someone at work who compliments you, it seems like a win-win situation. Psychotherapists call this kind of principle the "ironclad rule," or having multiple relationship personalities with someone beyond a professional scope (per Harvard Business Review). 

Still, some at the office may not see it in a positive light. Navigating a workplace romance to remain respectful and professional — especially in the wake of a potential break-up episode — is imperative to take those next steps after going out with a co-worker. It's a way to make sure everyone remains comfortable and can concentrate on producing the best work they can while, of course, at work. It's a business, after all, though your romance out of the office doesn't have to be. So, here are a few things to know when beginning a romantic relationship with a colleague. 

Acknowledge the commonality

It's helpful to put into perspective how common workplace romances are to help alleviate any feelings of guilt or confusion if you gain interest in someone at the office. As previously mentioned, workplace romances are bound to happen, and several studies were conducted to reveal just how often they happen. According to a survey by via Forbes, about 58% of employees begin a romantic relationship with their co-workers. With the amount of time you spend at work, it's only natural that chemistry would form between co-workers.

It also appears as though workplace romances aren't ceasing anytime soon, with the survey reporting a whopping 72% of individuals with workplace romance experience stating that they would try it again if they met someone with a noteworthy spark. Another survey revealed that one-third of employees had been involved with a co-worker in 2022. 

Perhaps these statistics reveal the true mindset behind the birth of workplace romances: that the office, online or in person, offers more hope as a pool of potential suitors than its other competitors — dating apps and bar scenes.

Know the rules

It's easy to treat a workplace romance like any other relationship, and to some degree, it should be regarded as such. However, it's best to make sure that your private life and your work life remain separated and clearly defined. In most workplace environments there are company policies to follow in the event of a romantic relationship that should be acknowledged and respected moving forward. Some companies have strict no-dating policies that if violated, can result in instant termination. Policies can be found in employee handbooks, or from a contact in a corporation. These policies will help you identify the culture of the workplace, and what standards the company upholds.

As sex expert Ness Cooper suggested to Metro, you should always contact your boss or HR personnel directly. Whomever you speak to, being honest and upfront about your interest in starting a workplace romance when asking to review these policies will alleviate any hesitations of sneaking around or unease when approached by other co-workers, or even your bosses. By requesting to review protocol, it shows your initiative to honor the business first rather than your love life. 

Respect boundaries

Though you may want to publicly shower your romantic interest with affection, experts suggest doing the exact opposite, explaining to Forbes that the workplace should be reserved as a professional setting, not a place to show PDA. Delineating that fine line in the office will help execs and co-workers alike feel more comfortable, and keep productivity levels at a high.

Many employers also encourage solidification as a way to protect themselves from the risk of sexual harassment claims. This is important to note especially if you meet with your person of interest alone during work hours. Make sure to keep your meeting hours with your romantic interest professional as well. This means no bringing out-of-office quarrels into the workplace, and no meeting after hours anywhere with the blinds or doors closed. Doing so will alleviate tension in the workplace and also protect yourself and the business as a whole. 

At the end of the day, solidifying that fine line between work and play will keep your workplace romance balanced and respectful of others around you. Simply put, know your boundaries and continue focusing on your job, rather than the relationship, because at the end of the day, wherever you work is a place of business, not romance.

Be aware of the risks

When starting a workplace romance it's important to note your partner's ranking within the company, as well as your own. If they are someone with a higher rank or long-standing history within the company, and if you are an associate or newcomer (or vice versa) you may want to have an honest conversation with them about the potential risks of starting a workplace romance. This will also help you and your special someone avoid conflicts of interest. Not solidifying these "whys" could potentially warp your romantic intentions in the eyes of others. 

This can be especially evident if one of you rises or gets promoted, because others may suggest that favoritism was involved, jeopardizing your credibility. In a recent poll by LiveCareer (via CNBC), 75% of workers expressed that workplace romances lead to favoritism. With such a high percentage, it's imperative to set the record straight and address the romance at the beginning stages of the relationship. The same goes for two similarly ranked parties, particularly in instances of competition (competing for a new position, promotion, raise, etc.). Whatever the case, it's crucial to have a personal and honest conversation with your romantic interest about the consequences the relationship might entail. 

Take small steps

At the end of the day, workplace romances are going to happen. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (per New York Post), one in four workers say they're currently in, or have been in a workplace relationship. Though these relationships may or may not be long-term, they can be detrimental to the workplace if not handled correctly. It's all about how you navigate it, and how you separate your public work, from your private life. Setting boundaries, remaining professional and honoring your office's code of conduct/policies, and maintaining a healthy respect for the comfortability of your co-workers will help protect yourself, and the company in the long run.

Remain focused on your job, not the relationship, to avoid any decline in the quality of your work, and have an honest talk with your romantic interest about the risks involved with both dating and breaking up. In an age of digital dating, the allure of meeting someone special at work is in the nines, so it's more important than ever to proceed with caution and respect, especially when navigating workplace romances.