It can be so difficult to find your other half—I know, I’m still looking, and there are more than 8 million people in New York City. But what happens when you meet at the office and start dating a co-worker? How do you navigate the ins and outs, when to tell your team, and know how and when to talk to HR? And we hate to jinx it, but what happens if you break up? There are obviously numerous things to consider.
If you’re doubting whether meeting an S.O. at the workplace happens, I have friends who have met at work, started dating, and got married. And a reported 14% of couples who met at the office end up married (we were surprised too). So the next time you see someone at work and think there may just be a spark, don’t think it’s not possible—unless it’s your boss. Below find all the rules for dating a co-worker—from defining the relationship, what to tell your colleagues, and even ending it civilly. Here’s to hoping that breaking up isn’t the case.
Set some serious ground rules
Once it’s serious, sit down with your partner, and create some rules for the office. Focus on how you’ll act when it comes to workplace drama, how you’ll deal with potential jealousy, and how you’ll deal with any other difficulties you might face. The trick is to get ahead of the complications rather than waiting and taking them on a case-by-case basis, says Lisa Mainiero, a professor of management at Fairfield University in Connecticut. “That’s a sign of real interest in each other and a sign of strength to say, ‘okay, here are the guidelines,’” says Mainiero.
Keep work and your private life separate
It can be uncomfortable for everyone if you show PDA in the office and/or spend every waking moment together. In fact, it’s often best to pretend your partner doesn’t work with you and go about your day as if they don’t, which is also a wise idea before you’ve spread the news to anyone else in the company. Rule of thumb: Drive to work separately, take your own lunch break, and keep private conversations for when you’re off the clock. Mainiero says the couples who go far tend to be the ones who “drew a strong boundary line” between their work and personal lives.
Review your company guidebook
Every company has different rules for interoffice dating, and it’s wise you look at them closely before you confess to anyone that you’re together. It’s all about liability, so some companies have a strict “no fraternizing” policy, while others insist you sign a contract that basically protects them. For the most part, leadership will respect that you’re being up-front with them and won’t want to lose your talent.
Set up a meeting with Human Resources
When things get serious (and after you’ve reviewed your company rules), it’s a good time for you to broach the topic with your HR rep, but only after you’ve discussed it as a couple. The best way to go about it is to have whoever is in a more senior level role start the conversation. “And be prepared to show how this will not influence business,” says human resources and career consultant Elaine Varelas.
Don't divulge personal matters to colleagues
Yes, your manager will have to be notified or told about your relationship, but that does not mean anyone else (besides HR) has to know. It’s up to you as a couple to decide which co-workers you deem trustworthy enough to know about your status, but it’s not necessary for you to tell them. And whatever you do, don’t make a mockery of your S.O. accidentally. “Never divulge personal details about your significant other to your co-workers, as it can be both embarrassing and damaging to your partner’s career,” warns Carmen Harra, Ph.D., a psychologist, relationship expert, and author of The Karma Queens’ Guide to Relationships.
Agree to part on good terms
Whatever you do, you need to discuss what will happen if the relationship is not successful. You’re not being a Negative Nancy here—you’re just being realistic because if things end, you’d like it to be civil so you don’t feel pressured to leave your job. “Come to terms with how you would handle a separation if it ever comes to that,” says Harra. “If you feel it’s necessary, you can even write up an agreement and sign it to ensure you’ll both stick to your promises.”
What do you think about these rules for dating a co-worker? Let us know if (and how) you’ve navigated it in the comments, and then read about office plants for boosting productivity.