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Is it ever OK to date a work colleague?


What are the rules? (iStock/PA)

Dating in the office comes with some big risks to your professional life.

 

Office romances aren’t unusual, in fact, according to recruitment website Monster, 44% of us have been involved with a colleague at some point during our careers.


There are many famous couples who met at work. Here are a few examples:

  1. Barack and Michelle Obama: The former President of the United States met his future wife when he was a summer associate at a Chicago law firm where Michelle was a junior lawyer.

  2. Bill and Melinda Gates: The billionaire philanthropists met at Microsoft in the 1980s when Melinda was hired as a product manager.

  3. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: The Hollywood actors fell in love on the set of their film "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

  4. John Legend and Chrissy Teigen: The musician and model met on the set of one of Legend's music videos.

  5. Jeff Bezos and Mackenzie Scott: The Amazon founder and his ex-wife met while working at a New York hedge fund.

Many happy couples have met in an office environment, so it’s unfair to say that co-workers should never date. But is it ethical and should you avoid doing it?


Clearly it’s a tricky subject, and one that requires serious thought, ground rules and lots of research into your company’s guidelines. Here, we asked experts to share some key things to think through before you dive head over heels into an office romance.


Is it ever OK to date a co-worker?


“Of course, let’s be realistic,” says Joe Wiggins, career expert at Glassdoor. “We spend more time in work than not, so it’s natural that relationships form in the workplace. However, it’s a risky business with lots of potential consequences to think about.”

If you’re dating someone on your office floor, he believes that it’s important to remain professional at all times while you’re on the job. “This includes while attending work events out of normal business hours,” he stresses.


“Don’t bring relationship troubles into the workplace or spend time sending private notes to each other during the day, and by no means engage in public displays of affection at the office.”


Relationship guru Sheela Mackintosh Stewart adds that while there aren’t exactly laws prohibiting employee relationships, many employers now have codes of conduct laying out the company’s expectations for staff behaviour. “This could include rules prohibiting public displays of affection, flirting in the workplace and showing professional bias,” she says.


Before dating a co-worker, it is important to assess the company policy at your place of work, as it could be seriously frowned upon without you realising it.



Does it make a difference whether one of you is more senior?


Dating a colleague who is more senior than you can be particularly problematic. This is because the power dynamic between a superior and a subordinate is already imbalanced. If the senior colleague is in a position of authority or influence over the junior colleague, it could potentially lead to abusive behavior.


Ultimately, it's best to err on the side of caution and avoid dating a colleague who holds a position of power or influence over you.


Should you tell your co-workers that you’re in a relationship with someone from work?


If your firm has a relationship at work policy and this is breached, it could result in disciplinary action.


That being said, Harrison believes that telling management about a serious relationship is probably the best thing to do, as it can minimise the disruption on the team and avoid claims of unfair bias during the workplace.


“Hiding the relationship can result in relationship breakdown or the employer arguing dishonesty,” she says.



How is it best to navigate a breakup when you work together?


“It can be an incredibly awkward time for both parties,” says dating expert Emily Coral, founder of Mayfair Matchmaking. “If you’re co-workers know about the breakup, it can add an awful lot of pressure to the situation.


“Anxiety, embarrassment and awkwardness are all kinds of emotions that you may have to face, so it’s wise that the ins-and-outs of the relationship were kept private, so you can deal with your emotions outside of work.”


The best way to get over the hurt? Stay professional.


Coral says you should focus on your work and don’t communicate online with your ex during working hours. “Keep dignified and don’t gossip with fellow workers about your relationship breakup.”


If the relationship breakdown is affecting your ability to work together, Harrison says that HR can often be brought in to deal with the impact on team dynamics and conflicts of interest.




Ultimately, while workplace romances may seem exciting and alluring, it's important to approach them with caution and to prioritize the well-being and autonomy of all parties involved.


We must recognize the ways in which power dynamics impact workplace relationships, and work to create a culture where everyone feels respected and valued for their skills and abilities, rather than their romantic relationships

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