The 6 Rules You Need To Follow If You Want To Date A Coworker
Recent research suggests that as well as all the usual things we associate with the workplace – boredom, furtive drinking, low-level theft, a giant bonfire of broken dreams etc – it’s increasingly where relationships begin. One in five people now meet their partner through their job, with relationships that start this way having a higher chance of ending in marriage than their ‘IRL’ or online counterparts. Almost half of respondents to surveys say that they have dated a co-worker.
But, you’ll need to tread carefully, especially if you’re in a position of power. A new TUC survey of 1500 women suggests that 52% have been sexually harassed at work, in ways ranging from unwelcome jokes (a third) to unwanted touching (a quarter). More depressingly, most had not reported the incidents.
Honesty and transparency are key here. If you’re senior at work, what you think is flirtatious ‘banter’ might well seem sinister and predatory to someone less powerful: “It makes us miserable at work where we just want to do our job and be respected” said TUC head Frances O’Grady.
So, while acknowledging that, generally, dating a coworker is a terrible idea, if you do end up in a workplace relationship, follow these rules:
1. Know your company policy
In an attempt to impose some order on the workplace, one in five businesses have now put in place a colleague dating policy, both to protect staff from predatory senior colleagues and also for the general atmosphere in the workplace: 33% of bosses felt that office relationships caused disruption within their organisation. “As more employees start dating there is an increase in companies taking action to put policies in place to address what is and isn’t permitted in the workplace,” said Andy Sumner of Monster.co.uk who commissioned the research. But the message is obviously not getting through – 42% of employees don’t even know if their company has a policy on co-worker dating or what it consists of.
2. Don’t announce it to your colleagues
You’ll eventually split and just have to go back on the big news, and whatever else you achieve in your job, people will just always remember the time you locked yourself in the toilets and threatened to “end it all” before realising that you can’t actually make a noose out of toilet paper. Plus, getting dumped for Big Steve From The Postroom is really going to make your daily trip down there even less fun than usual.
3. Keep it civil
Don’t start arguments with each other in the office, or continue them from home, regardless of what’s going on. Around 17% of those who had been involved with someone at work said that it caused tension with co-workers as people tend not to want to feel like they’re seeing ‘Christmas when mum and dad split up’ being re-enacted in front of them. The best bet is to constantly ask your boss how fast you can get transferred somewhere else: your colleagues (and probably your partner) will ultimately thank you for keeping your love life away from the desk.
4. Ignore it from 9-5
If you’re dating someone in your office, you’re still there to work, so don’t arse around spending hours flirtatiously chatting on Messenger, or taking long lunches together. Your colleagues aren’t there to subsidise your happiness.
5. Remember who’s in charge
A sensible rule of thumb is that you should consider anyone lower down the professional ladder to you to be completely off-limits: you’ve got no way of knowing what someone with less job security will feel obliged to say yes to, and any involvement you have – even if its completely amicable – is likely to put you in an awkward spot later on. If you have to interview that person for a position at some point in the future, colleagues are always going to wonder if your decision was swayed by your feelings.
Significant numbers of those didn’t register complaints said the main reason was the fear that doing so would harm their relationships with fellow staff, or their career prospects.
6. Don’t be too heavy-handed
If you run a company yourself, you need to think carefully about whether to issue a blanket ban on workplace dating. While it seems like a tempting solution, Charles Elvin, Chief Executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management has warned that it can be counterproductive.
“Workplace romances are inevitable and not as destructive on careers as people may fear. Employers may want to think twice before vetoing love at work, or they risk forcing staff to hide their relationships, creating a culture of secrecy and deceit,” he warns. “The key is how employers handle workplace relationships; if organisations and their managers set clear guidance or policies with boundaries, then certain situations can be prevented. It will also help if policies are communicated down from various members – as sometimes the boss is the last to know.”