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How to appropriately handle dating in the workplace

Sep 5, 2019 Guest Contributor

How to appropriately handle dating in the workplace

Workplace relationships can be complicated. They might be romanticized in movies, and it might even feel exciting to think about dating a coworker. Truth is, there are some things that employees need to consider while diving into the pros and cons of workplace relationships.

Maintaining a good working relationship requires communication, respect, and positivity. It’s easy to think that a romantic relationship might encourage that naturally between two people, but there are also a lot of risks that come into play. The relationship might end, for one, and others in the workplace might start to feel awkward about the situation.

But it can be hard to determine the best “rules” for workplace dating. Should it be banned altogether? Should management or HR have a say in how relationships should be handled? Or should the employees be the ones to make the choice of who to date, whether in the office or outside of it? With those questions in mind, let’s take a closer look at how dating in the workplace can be handled in an appropriate manner.

Who makes the rules?

Every company is entitled to have their own handbook containing rules and regulations about workplace dating. Some companies are more lenient than others. Some don’t have specific rules, but generalities that suggest keeping a sense of professionalism in workplace relationships. Some states even have different laws that give employers the power to ban dating in the workplace, but ultimately it’s up to the company. 

So, should dating even be allowed between coworkers? If it isn’t, for example, an employer risks disgruntled employees who could file complaints or even quit because they feel their rights are being taken away or they are being discriminated against because of their gender, sexual orientation, or other factors. Because of this, many employers go about regulating office dating by establishing guidelines and procedures, rather than banning dating altogether. 

Guidelines can encourage things like maintaining professional behavior and encouraging transparency. Some common company policies might include prohibiting physical contact between employees during working hours, or suggesting that the mannerisms of the relationship don’t get in the way of the work getting done on a daily basis.

Relationship management is a key skill leaders within a company should possess. That means being aware of employees’ emotions and feelings and encouraging positive relationships, whether or not those relationships are romantic or otherwise. So, it’s important for everyone to be on the same page if a romantic relationship in the workplace takes place. 

Simply put? If you get into a relationship with a manager or boss, keeping it a secret could end up doing more harm than good for both of you. We’ll touch on that in the next section.

When and how employers should step in

While employers may not have the final say over whether or not people can date in the workplace, they have to make sure the environment remains professional and safe for everyone involved. First, there may need to be some regulations in place about romantic relationships between superiors and subordinates. An employee dating their boss can lead to a variety of problems — for example, one person might feel they have power over another even outside of the workplace, which can lead to emotional abuse. Additionally, other employees might start to believe the subordinate in the relationship is receiving special treatment or “perks” at work, creating office drama. 

In addition to implementing guidelines about relationships, employers also need to take the time to educate their employees. Sexual assault can be a huge problem for a company if steps aren’t taken to put a stop to it. Making sure all employees (especially those in a romantic relationship at work) understand the definition of consent and what sexual harassment actually looks like is important when it comes to keeping everyone safe.

The risks of workplace relationships

Dating in the workplace comes with its risks that both employers and employees need to be aware of. Keep in mind that while it’s HR’s job to make sure employees feel comfortable, safe, and heard at work, their ultimate concern is the company itself. If a relationship is somehow harming the integrity of a company, you may find yourself in trouble — or even without a job. 

There’s also always the risk that the relationship with a fellow employee won’t work out. If you’re going to have a hard time working with an ex, or your relationship problems start to impact the way you work, your bosses will likely take notice, and you could be putting your job at risk. It will always be the company’s priority to maintain a professional environment and encourage professional relationships between coworkers. Choosing to date a coworker is fine, but you have to make sure you’re willing to uphold that same professionalism in your relationship, whether it works out or not.

The benefits of dating a coworker

All of these risks and regulations shouldn’t completely scare you off when it comes to dating a coworker. There are actually some positives to dating in the workplace. If you’re in a positive, happy, healthy relationship, it can boost productivity and make you more motivated at work. 

Dating someone you work with can also boost your motivation to go to work. When you look forward to seeing someone each day, it can make your feelings about your job more positive and can change your outlook on what you do for the better. 

Believe it or not, dating someone in the workplace can also help you to be less distracted. When you’re given the opportunity to talk to your partner on a coffee break or have lunch with them each day, you’re less likely to call, text, or email them instead of getting your work done. These little breaks and moments of spending time with someone you care about can be exactly what’s needed to stay motivated and focused throughout the day. 

So, should you date a coworker, or avoid office relationships completely? The best thing you can do is to learn your company’s policy on dating, sexual harassment, and any other factors that are important to you. The old saying goes, we can’t help who we fall in love with. If that happens to be someone you work with, make sure you understand the risks. But don’t be afraid to appreciate some of the benefits, too.

About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.

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