The season of love is upon us. So as Cupid prepares to draw back his bow, now’s a good time to have an open, honest chat about the dos and don’ts of getting involved in an office romance.
While the office hookup is as old as work, the #MeToo movement has shined a bright light on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. As a result, interoffice romantic relationships have hit a 10-year low, according to CareerBuilder’s Annual Valentine’s Day survey. In 2008, 40 percent of respondents admitted to dating a coworker. Today, that number is only 36 percent. And if someone today is dating one of their associates, you probably don’t know anything about it: 41 percent of those dating colleague kept it a secret from coworkers.
State of Confusion: Employers Get Clear on Workplace Dating
The parameters surrounding the issue of professional colleagues dating are notoriously murky, muddled and wracked by ambiguities. Facebook has attempted to navigate these choppy waters in a rather innovative fashion. “Employees are only allowed to ask a coworker out once. If they are turned down, they don’t get to ask again. Ambiguous answers such as “I’m busy” or “I can’t that night,” count as a “no,” says Heidi Swartz, Facebook’s global head of employment law.
Such a policy drives home the point that ambiguity should be interpreted as something closer to “no” than “yes.” The Facebook approach to workplace dating is based on the principles of affirmative consent, in which permission should be energetic and unambiguous.
From Policy to Practical: Real World Ways to Date Responsibly
While the workplace dating policies of Facebook and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, offer fresh perspectives, being realistic is the key to implementing the ground rules for workplace relationships. More and more employers today acknowledge the inevitability of office romances and place specific requirements on dating in the workplace. One trendy example is the “love contract“, in which employers ask employees in relationships to sign a written agreement that spells out the voluntary nature of their romance.
Despite the benefits of using a love contract, there is simply no single cure-all for the possible pitfalls of looking for love in the cubicle next to yours. Here are the six best tried and true tricks to finding love by the office water cooler and avoiding an HR nightmare:
- You Complete Me…? Make sure the feeling is mutual and don’t make a pass at someone who isn’t interested. After all, why give your colleagues something to gossip about?
- Risk Assessment: Before you get involved with someone you work with, spend a little time reflecting on whether this is something you really want. Is it worth it, if all doesn’t end well? With relationships, the stakes can be higher because you’re dealing with an open time frame and don’t know how it’ll end.
- Rules of Engagement: Read your company’s policy on dating before getting into any kind of relationship. If any kind of office romance is off-limits, stick with daydreaming about that certain, special someone.
- Don’t Date your Boss: There’s a good chance that the person in the position of power in such a relationship will start giving preferential treatment to his or her partner and other employees may become resentful.
- Establish Clear Boundaries: Should you decide to take the plunge and begin a relationship with a colleague, maintain a healthy work and romantic relationship. You and your partner and accomplish this by setting clear boundaries. The best way to do that? Leave work at the office and focus on your relationship after you’ve both clocked out.
- Full Disclosure: If things get serious, disclose. Yes, it’s embarrassing, but you’ll be glad you did. “Reporting a relationship improves your odds of avoiding an awkward situation when word gets out,” says Lisa Green, an employment lawyer. It might even make things easier.
Good News: Love Grows Where Coworkers Go…
When it comes down to it we all love a good, successful office romance. According to a 2017 study from The Knot, more than 10% of couples say they met at work.
While the recent reckoning on sexual harassment has many workers rethinking their relationships and interactions at work, another statistic is worth pondering: a survey conducted by Vault found that 57% of respondents were involved in a workplace romance. Famous couples who met at work include Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Melinda Gates…and let’s not forget Jim Halpert and Pam Beesley of “The Office”.
Good luck creating your own happily ever after and happy Valentine’s Day!