Are Office Romances Always A Bad Idea?

by Kimberly Dawn Neumann
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A poll reveals we’re very wary of mixing work with pleasure. But should we abstain? Not necessarily. Here’s how to avoid common pitfalls.

You’ve been chatting up a storm by the photocopier and exchanging meaningful glances during those arduously long staff meetings. Should you take this office flirtation further? According to a recent Happen/ poll, the answer was overwhelming: Don’t do it. A full 84 percent of the 14,000 respondents said that dating a coworker was a disaster waiting to happen, with only 16 percent saying it’s a good idea.

No huge surprise there—everyone’s heard their share of office hookup horror stories. But is it humanly possible to deny those lusty urges that crop up from nine to five? “Everybody knows mixing work and romance is a dangerous thing to do, but at the same time, lots of people work so much these days, it’s a logical place where
Whatever amount of time you usually take dating someone before sleeping together, at least double it if you work together.
people meet,” says Ronna Lichtenberg, author of Pitch Like a Girl and Work Would Be Great If It Weren’t for the People. So if you and some cute coworker absolutely can’t keep your hands off each other, Lichtenberg offers the following tips to give a cubicle courtship a fighting chance and keep it from devolving into career suicide:

Think before you leap
“You don’t want to decide that someone you work with suddenly looks great at the company picnic and then continue the picnic at home that very night,” says Lichtenberg. “A decision made in the moment is a really bad idea. Whatever amount of time you usually take dating someone before sleeping together, at least double it if you work together.” Also, do check the company rules first, too: Some employers do frown upon or forbid personal relationships between coworkers.

Even if that’s not the case, still proceed slowly. Try to be friends first (after all, you’ll have plenty of time to suss them out) and move forward only if you’re both really committed. You need to honestly believe this person might be a potential long-term partner. If it’s just a hook-up, skip it.

Don’t think you can hide it
Even if you think you’re a stealth dater, people will find out. It’s inevitable. If you and a coworker are having a relationship, the best way to handle this is to pick the important people to tell first (like your boss). “You absolutely don’t want your superiors finding out from someone else what’s going on,”
Know that your romance will make your office mates edgy.
says Lichtenberg. The best way to broach this touchy topic, says Lichtenberg, is to say, “I wanted to tell you myself that (fill in your co-worker’s name) and I are dating. Both of us want to make sure that our relationship isn’t disruptive to work in any way. Do you have any concerns now that you want to share? We really want this not to present any challenges for you.” How you deliver the news as important as what you say, observes Lichtenberg. “You’re not asking permission, so don’t present it that way,” she explains. “It’s just more of a calm update, and you want to make it feel as normal as possible.” Then close with, “Thanks for letting me share this happy news. And I really want you to feel free to tell me if you think there is any work impact that we should be addressing.” This leaves the boss with a firm impression that you’ll handle your relationship responsibly and that he or she shouldn’t be worried.

As for breaking the news to the rest of the staff, it’s fine to wait for them to come to you, or if you want to avoid the whisper-fest but don’t want to make a boardroom announcement, “Tell the person at work with the biggest mouth…by the end of the day everyone will know,” laughs Lichtenberg. Another option: Attend, or leave, a group work function together as a couple, and it’ll be clear you’re together.

Reassure colleagues
Know that your romance will make your officemates edgy and you are responsible for helping them deal. “If there is any chance that it means that someone could get more money or a promotion, that’s what people will assume is going on,” warns Lichtenberg. So allay their fears by getting it all out in the open. Approach your coworkers and say, “Look, I know you might be worried that Jane and I are dating, but I want you to know I appreciate our professional relationship too and I want to be sensitive to any issues you have. I’m really committed to making sure this isn’t a problem for you and me, but that means you need to tell me if you think there is something that I’m missing.” Whether they tell you their concerns or keep quiet doesn’t really matter; merely pointing out the elephant in the room will paint you as a true professional.

Handle break-ups as gracefully as possible If an office romance ends, it can be uncomfortable to say the least. And while it can be tempting to vent to work colleagues about all the things your ex did wrong, resist the urge—it’ll only damage your appearance and make you look bitter. “Recognize that you may not get any sympathy at work and you really must just ‘suck it up,’” says Lichtenberg. “You have to act like everything is great. No drama at work.” Try saying something like, “John’s really terrific; it just felt like now wasn’t the right time.” And save your more scathing diatribes for your non-work buddies.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a writer and Broadway performer based in New York City who has always tried to avoid “showmances.”
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