Workplace hookups: Yay or nay?

By Stef

You’ll spend over 90,000 hours of your life at work, so it’s understandable that for a lot of people, work can form a huge part of their identity. And in the course of our working lives, we meet and get to know a number of people whom we have one big thing in common with: All those hours spent, you know, at work, working on work things that take up quite a lot of our time and effort and brain space.

And sometimes, we find ourselves attracted to our colleagues, coworkers, and workmates in a way that goes beyond “I really admire their work” and more into “I really want to get to know them better, wink wink.” It happens. It’s human nature. The question is, should you act on it? 

Is it ever okay to date people at work?

It’s a smart idea, before this even comes up, to check out your particular company’s policies on workplace relationships. Actually, you should familiarize yourself with all of your company’s policies, because it’s just good practice. But this one in particular can be very important, and can influence how you decide to proceed if the issue of dating at work comes up.

Every workplace is different, but you might find your company requires stuff like:

There may be other guidelines that your specific workplace has in place; your HR department is the best source of this info.

If your company doesn’t have an HR department, or any kind of policy about workplace relationships, things are a bit less straightforward. But there are definitely some things you should consider.

So anyway, I’m thinking of hooking up with a coworker…

From an HR perspective, the issue of workplace dating is a very grey area. When the lines between “work” and “personal” are blurred, things can get messy. But first, let’s start with some of the things that might be good about dating someone you work with.

You already have some big things in common.

Working in the same industry or company mean that you and your workmate share similar interests, goals, and values, and this shared professional context – stuff you have in common – can give you a great foundation for your relationship. Being with a partner who is passionate about the same things you do for work can be really inspiring and motivating, and can definitely stoke creative thinking.

They understand what it’s like.

The place where you spend 1/2 of your waking hours is a big part of your life, whether it’s a temporary job or you’re on a long-term career trajectory. Your workmates understand what the environment is like, the demands you’re facing, the dynamic with colleagues. They get it, because they’re in it too. And having someone who understands your work life is really valuable for your overall wellbeing.

You’ll get to see them more.

You’re working at the same place, so naturally you’ll have more chances to hang out together. Lunch, coffee breaks, offsite meetings, work conferences, the office holiday party – these are all places you’ll get to spend more time with the person you’re interested in. It might make it easier to cultivate your relationship, since you won’t have to go too far out of your way to coordinate your schedules.

There can be other benefits to working with someone you’re dating – it can be pretty attractive to watch them at work, or collaborate on projects with them where you’re using your strengths to complement each other. 

What’s the best way to navigate a workplace hookup?

It’s important to be mindful of what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace. New relationships are exciting and emotionally charged, and if you can’t switch off that side of your brain when you’re in the office, people will notice (and your work might suffer). Having some good boundaries around when and how you interact with someone you’re dating at work is critical, because you both have a job to do. You might want to agree that your relationship needs to remain entirely outside of office hours.

Think about whether you need to tell your boss what’s going on, and what objections they might have. If you’re working on the same team, your manager might be concerned about how you’ll be working together if you’re also in a relationship outside of work. Equally, they will worry about what happens if you break up! One of you might need to shift to another area of the company (if possible), so be prepared if this comes up.

Also think about what and when you’ll tell your coworkers. People will think things – it’s inevitable. They’ll wonder if you are the recipient of favoritism, they’ll gossip about what you may or may not be doing in the break room, they’ll be hyper-aware of potential conflicts of interest (and grumble about them), and they’ll be on the lookout for unprofessional behaviour. 

So if you’re dating a coworker, you’ll need to be extra vigilant about how you’re comporting yourself at work. Having lunch together is fine, but sitting beside each other at every meeting and holding hands under the table will quickly raise eyebrows. And please, no making out in the copier room. Ever.

There can also be some serious down sides

No, you shouldn’t date your boss – and bosses, you shouldn’t date your subordinates. The power differential is just too great and the company may well have a policy forbidding this type of relationship. Every scenario I’ve been aware of where a boss and a subordinate were dating, one person has decided to leave the company – particularly if they were taking the relationship seriously. 

And you might be stuck in some tricky scenarios. Say you’re working in the HR department and you know information about salary increases, promotions, or even or layoffs that are coming up, and this is going to affect someone you’re dating. You absolutely can’t tell them what you know, which is difficult – and them finding out you knew something before they did, but didn’t tell them (albeit because you couldn’t), can also cause conflict.

Confidential information needs to stay confidential, and you need to remember that your job has professional rules that supersede your relationship. Consider whether it’s worth getting fired over something that you know and can’t tell your partner, but you told them anyway, because that’s a very real possibility.

Breakups, too, can be a really difficult situation if you’re dating someone you work with. In fact, I recommend that before things get serious with a coworker, you have a talk about what you’d do if your relationship ended – kind of like a pre-nup discussion, because you need to be rational and realistic about what could happen and how you should handle it. That way, if things don’t work out, you can fall back on the plan you made when you were in a good head space, and keep your work relationship a healthy one.

But look, it might be fine!

I’m an HR professional, so I come from the perspective of advising caution. But I’ve seen workplace relationships work out beautifully. People meet, work together, fall in love, get married… It happens! And in many cases, a workplace relationship isn’t a big deal at all. You might work in completely different teams on totally separate floors at the same company, with very little overlap. 

My best advice is to go into it with your eyes open, have an honest conversation about the possibilities, and try to keep your work life separate from your romantic life. And spare a thought for your HR department, who probably know more than they want to about who’s dating whom in the office...

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