The story of office romance is about as old as the office itself. Unfortunately, so are the stories of office romances going terribly wrong. The new girl in accounting might have caught your eye when she dropped off those TPS reports. Or maybe it was the light of the midnight oil that got you to see a different side of the guy on your departmental team?
Recent research shows that nearly one-third of people claim to currently be in some form of office romance, which is a sharp increase from years past.
Whatever the story, we’ve heard it a million times. And here’s some good news—we get it! But just because we get it doesn’t necessarily mean that we think it’s a great idea.
So, is dating a coworker a good idea? If you’ve asked several people, you’ve probably already gotten several different answers. Well today, we’re getting to the bottom of it.
We are going to settle the debate of whether or not dating a coworker is a good idea, once and for all.
The Bottom Line Up Front
Here’s what you need to know first. There is not going to be a yes or no answer today that covers 100% of scenarios. The real answer to whether or not dating a coworker is a good idea or not depends on the details of the situation.
But before you roll your eyes and click off the page, hang on for a second. There ARE definitive answers for these specific situations. And you know what? We’re about to get into all of them. We just wanted to make sure you understand that this is a bit more of a complex situation than just a quick knee-jerk yes or no answer.
Let’s talk through the scenarios.
Scenario 1 – You Want to Date Your Boss.
Why not start at the top, right? Is dating your boss ever a good idea? Nope. The only instance where it might even be remotely considered okay is when you started dating prior to working together. And even then, your significant other probably shouldn’t be hiring you into a subordinate role because it’s only setting you (and them) up for problems.
Now, if you started dating while you worked in completely different departments or at different locations (which you’ll find out in a few minutes may be okay), and you got transferred under them outside of your control or in a must-capitalize-on career opportunity, okay. In that instance, we can get behind dating your coworker or boss being okay.
However, if you meet your boss at work and then want to start dating (or doing anything romantic)—hard stop, hard no. Not only is this a complete HR nightmare, but it’s also a situation with little upside and a ton of risk to ruin lives, careers, and happiness.
Scenario 2 – Dating a Coworker Who You Were Dating Before One of You Got Hired
Boyfriend or girlfriend wants to get you a job where they work? See an opportunity pop up at your significant other’s place of work that looks interesting?
Bad. Idea. Period. Unless you are going to be out on the street because you can’t pay your bills and this is the last job on Earth and no one else will hire you—pass on the job. We’d say pass on the relationship, but the only thing messier than getting a job where your significant other works is getting a job where your ex works.
Please find another job opportunity if at all possible, even if it requires a little more effort or patience.
Situation 3 (Most Common) – Dating a Coworker You Met At Work
The absolute most common situation (and probably the reason you are here today) is when you meet someone through your work who is attractive, smart, and exactly what you were looking for. According to the research linked in our intro, 65% of office relationships are with a peer, whereas 12% of those surveyed had relationships with subordinates and 19% with superiors.
So, just because it’s common, does that mean dating a coworker in this situation okay? Well, as you might have guessed, this is where the answer gets messier.
Let’s get into it.
Arguments for Dating a Coworker Being a Good Idea
While we’re big fans of the “keep your business separate” mantra, we’re not angry old people who don’t understand that love happens. Here are some arguments for the yes column of dating a coworker.
- Love is more important than work, right? – If the person is truly your one in a million, we can certainly agree that’s way more important than any job. Jobs come and go; your soul mate doesn’t.
- They’ll understand your work. – Tired of trying to explain the challenges of your job to a significant other? Well, if you have the same job or work at the same company, they’re certainly going to get it.
- You’ll have similar schedules. – This one’s not always the case if you work a service job or a shift-work type job. However, if you work a traditional 9-5, y’all are going to have similar schedules. Company retreat this weekend? Guess what? They’re going too!
- You can both complain about Megan in HR. – Okay, sorry Megan in HR—we just made up your name. The point we’re making, though, is they’re going to understand the company culture and all the characters you interact with on a daily basis.
- You can help each other out. – If one of you is struggling with your work, the other might be able to help. Just be careful not to let this fall into the favoritism category, which you’ll see in the next section could be a no-no.
Arguments Against Dating a Coworker
Now that we’ve talked about the reasons dating a coworker might be a great idea, let’s talk about why it might not be.
- If you break up… – Seriously, this is probably the biggest risk. If you break up, you now have to see your ex every single day for the rest of however long you have the job. And if one of you sticks with tradition and dates someone else at your work—messy.
- Favoritism. – This one is a double-edged sword. First, the temptation to play favorites will be there, which, if you give in, is really bad for both of you. It’s not technically illegal, but it’s really bad form. Second, even if you don’t give in, people are going to accuse you of it because that’s just how people are.
- It can be an HR nightmare. – All emotional stuff aside, it could be problematic from an HR front. There are rules about how employees can interact that you need to be aware of. You might not think they actually matter or you’ve seen people get away with dating a coworker in the past, but that doesn’t mean they won’t choose to crack the whip on you.
- It can be distracting. – Having someone you love and care about at work can be incredibly distracting. If you’ve ever tried working from home with a significant other around, you already know what we’re talking about. Your productivity may go down. And even if you’re strong and focused and it doesn’t affect you, it might affect them.
The Verdict – Is Dating a Coworker a Good Idea?
We’ve now looked at both sides of the coin. So, what’s the verdict? Here it is. Dating a coworker is almost always going to be a bad idea. Unfortunately, the number of bad stories we’ve heard heavily outweigh the good stories. There are certainly going to be some fringe situations where it may work out, but again, those are going to be few and far between.
And the really tough part is that you’re not going to be able to know how it’s going to turn out. Sure, that also means that it could end up being something special. But the reality is that you need to weigh the risk vs. the reward. How many times have you dated someone in the past and thought it was going to be great and it turned out not to be?
If you can avoid dating a coworker, please do. Yes, it’s a cliché, but there are plenty of fish in the sea.
Questions You Need to Ask Yourself
Still having trouble taking our advice? We get it. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to try and get an idea on what the best way forward for you is. Please don’t just gloss over these. Take a few minutes to answer these questions honestly and realistically. It will do you a lot of good and give you the confidence that you’re making the right decision, whatever it ends up being.
- Is it love or lust? If you think it’s either of these this early in the process, chances are that it’s lust. If it’s lust, move along to someone else.
- How far along are you two? If you’ve already been dating for a while, it may make this a tougher decision. If you’ve just been flirting, it should be a lot easier to “cut your losses” and move on to someone else who doesn’t work where you do.
- Are you just interested in them because it’s convenient? A lot of times, office relationships start because people are shy and it’s the only place they are meeting people and starting conversations. If that sounds like you, consider trying to get out there a little bit more first and then circle back. If they’re really the one, they’re not going to go anywhere.
- Is the relationship worth the career risk?
- Is the relationship worth the potential awkwardness if you need to break up?
- How closely do you work at work? If you work in totally different departments but just for the same company, it might not be that big of a deal. If you work side-by-side, you’re at risk of a lot more issues.
- What does HR have to say about employee relationships?
- Is there a chance one of you may become a superior in the future?
- Is there a chance that you may end up working more closely in the future?
- How long are both of you planning to stay at this job? If one of you has plans to leave in the near future, a lot of this will be moot points. That being said, it could be worth waiting until that happens to start the relationship.
Rules for Dating a Coworker (If You Must Do It)
Alright. So we know that some of you reading this still aren’t going to take our advice. And if that’s you, please drop your email so we can gently tell you we told you so down the line. But if you really must date a coworker, we do have some rules or guidance to try and make things easier.
- Keep the PDA at home, even the mild stuff.
- Treat them the same way you would every other employee. If you wouldn’t call other employees sugar or baby, don’t call them that. And if you do call other employees that, we have other things to talk about.
- Follow the rules from HR when it comes to disclosure.
- Never favoritism, ever. Be aware people will still accuse you of this no matter how you treat them.
- Avoid situations of competition. While this might not be possible, it might cause relationship issues.
- Discuss these rules and boundaries with your significant other. It takes two to make things like this work. And when they’re aware that you’re treating them differently at work, they won’t get mad about it.
- If you break up, keep it out of the office.
- While you shouldn’t lie to anyone at work, who you’re dating really isn’t anyone’s business.