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Workplace dating-- Fishing off the company pier
Dating at the office has become fairly mainstream in our workaholic culture of long hours and little time unplugged and engaged in uninterrupted leisure pursuits. Recent statistics put it at 40-50% of employees having dated someone they met through work. It's easier to start a relationship this way because you have certain knowledge about who they are right up front, you interact as colleagues and perhaps friends first, you have at least one important thing in common--and it's convenient. Obviously not all workplaces offer a good candidate pool for dating, and in some it may be frowned upon or forbidden--and for all, there are basic do's don'ts and things to watch out for. I'm going to begin with some basics that apply regardless of any policies that may be in place that address this--and then I will follow with a couple of issues that may or may not be a factor in your current work environment.
* It's harder to have healthy boundaries when you date a co-worker
When you come home at the end of a long day--work is more likely to follow when you date a co-worker. Office shop can take over conversation and depending on how closely you work together--everything from office politics to the work product itself can take over your personal time. The reverse is also true in that you are at risk of personal business spilling over into work time. Disagreements and issues that have to do with your personal life can get acted out if you are not careful to leave that part of your life at the door when you enter your office. The best way to deal with potential boundary problems is to discuss upfront the need to keep the two relationships separate and to not discuss work at home and vice versa. It will be tempting and hard to keep in check if you start down that road. So have that discussion right away and support one another in keeping those boundaries strong.
* Co-workers may have issues with two colleagues dating.
If your significant other works closely with someone else who has a problem with you?it can become a problem for all of you, especially if those boundaries are not reinforced. If you end up coupled with someone higher up on the organizational chart, this could definitely affect work peers who will be sensitive to possible favoritism because of it--even if you don't work directly under this other person. Be aware of this, tune into any feelings like this and consider having a talk with any co-worker who may be communicating discomfort about your relationship. Taking an "it's none of your business" approach should be avoided because if you all work together--your relationship does affect everyone. Again, by interacting in a completely professional manner with your significant other at work will help to head off any concerns that could potentially arise.
* Your supervisor may be concerned that your inter-office relationship will have a negative impact.
In some workplaces, dating is openly frowned upon. Even if it is not, your supervisor may be concerned that relationships between co-workers will negatively affect their work. This can happen if your relationship at home is struggling, or if you break-up. They don't want off-time drama to affect their bottom line. Therefore, how you conduct yourselves while at work should help to keep your relationship from becoming a problem for your supervisor, co-workers and/or the company.
* If you break-up you will have to see your ex at work
Your initial reaction to this might be that you can handle it and if it's too hard, you can go out and get another job. That's easier said than done--and who should give up their position, you or your ex? What about if your ex begins dating again and talks about it at the office? You will be treated with frequent updates on their love life and most likely, your co-workers will be spending time with the new partner outside of work at happy hours, company parties and other get-togethers. You will also be attending these--what will this be like for you? No one enters a relationship planning to break-up, but it happens often--so thinking this through and having a discussion upfront if you decide to begin dating, could help to ease the way should things not work out between you.
If dating a supervisor is prohibited, it's wise to obey this rule. Everyone eventually gets wind that something is going on--co-workers, senior management and even clients. It will come out and not only can you be fired, the supervisor is at risk for being sued by someone they managed who gets fired due to having had a personal relationship with them. It's called harassment--and it's why many workplaces look unfavorably on these relationships. The days of the Mad Men office culture are long gone.
Lastly a work romance can be a career killer. If you have one of these and end up being promoted--it will be said it's because you slept your way there. If you break-up and your ex wants you gone--if they have the upper hand, they can push you out, blaming your work performance. If you are dating a co-worker and you get offered a promotion that would require your s.o. to report to you, you won't be able to take it. To do so puts both of you in a bad situation--see above.
In summary, meeting people to date through your workplace has advantages and perks--especially in our plugged in culture. However, the downsides are there and since no one can anticipate a bad break-up or an ex acting out and trying to hurt them--it's wise to have a frank discussion before that first date, when you know you both have an attraction and want to explore more. Even then there are no guarantees--so give careful thought to your workplace rules, norms, overall working relationships and career goals. It may turn out that one or both of you decide to find a new job before exploring a personal relationship with one another.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
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