8 questions to ask yourself before you start dating a coworker

Couple kissing
Before you flip the switch, consider the consequences. Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

We’ve all seen, experienced, or thought about office romances.

Some say they’re a terrible idea (people might gossip, or things can get awkward at work if the relationship goes sour) — while others believe they make perfect sense (you’re with these people eight hours a day, and you know you have at least one thing in common). But what’s the real deal with interoffice dating?

We recently solicited readers to submit their most pressing career-related questions — and this one came up more than once.

Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job,” says she hears it all the time, and shared her thoughts on the topic with Business Insider.

“Modern thinking is that you spend so much time in the office and online that those are the most likely places you will meet Mr. or Ms. Right,” says Taylor. “Occasionally you’ll hear: the gym, supermarket, or Starbucks, because those may be the only other places you even have time to escape to outside the busy office these days.”

But since about one-third of human life is spent working, it’s not unreasonable that romances occur in the office, she adds. “And this is time spent with people we know — theoretically they’re not ax murderers.”

A recent survey from CareerBuilder revealed that nearly 40% of employees admitted to having a romantic relationship with a coworker, and almost one-third of office relationships result in marriage.

“Considering that there are some eight billion people on the planet, some question why anyone would choose an office mate for romance, with all the potential gossip, possibility of a job nightmare if things go south, terminations, and maybe even a lawsuit as icing on the cake,” Taylor explains.

Jim and pam the office
Be friends first. The Office / NBC

But the fact of the matter is: Nobody knows when true love will strike. “It could happen in the break room just as easily as it could at your cousin’s wedding or at the tire store,” Taylor says. “Why put arbitrary parameters on something so important? Certainly there are endless cases of coworkers who have found love in the workplace and moved on to marry and live happily ever after.”

Ultimately, she says, the success of this path will depend on you, your partner, boss, workplace, and many other variables. And it’s up to you to decide whether the pros outweigh the cons — or if you’re better off steering clear of an office romance.

Before you flip the switch, here’s what you need to ask yourself:

1. Is this person in a direct supervisory or subordinate position?

If they are, stay away.

“Problems can result from dating a person in a subordinate or superior position,” says Taylor.

If your boss (who happens to be your partner) takes you to lunch or promotes you, people will claim it’s based on favoritism — not merit. (And it’s also a problem if you deserve to be promoted but your significant other doesn’t offer you the position because they fear people will think it’s an act of favoritism.)

“Also, remember this: If things go sour in your relationship with a subordinate, there may a claim of sexual harassment or hostile work environment,” she explains.

2. What is the company’s policy on this?

“The variation on corporate practices is so broad that you have employers with lenient policies, strict policies, and no policies, even at Fortune 500-sized companies,” Taylor says.

Some firms make a conscious choice not to incorporate them into their general “sexual harassment” policy. “Policy or no policy, love happens. So in the absence of written rules and/or in the interpretation of them, there’s one common barometer: your common sense. That must always prevail.”

Woman Flirting
As hard as it is to do when you’re newly in love, think about what a breakup would mean for your career. Shutterstock

3. How closely do I work with this person?
Keeping your distance in another department, floor, or building will help keep things less awkward, messy, and challenging. “And if you are ever in a competitive situation, it takes that element out of the fray, too,” she adds.

4. Can I envision this relationship working?

Nobody can predict the viability of a relationship, but you should take time to envision it.

“Is it completely unrealistic? Do you have a lot in common? It could happen that spending time in a romantic relationship that began at work will bring you closer together because you share a common interest and can be a sounding board for each other. Only you can weigh whether you see more overall upside potential than downside,” Taylor says.

5. Have I considered the consequences?

Could this be a career-limiting move? Would I hate working here if things didn’t work out? Will I ruin relationships with friends in the office?

It’s hard to think about the relationship ending or how it might hurt your career when you’re newly in love and distracted by butterflies. But, it’s important that you carefully think about the pros and cons; the ramifications on your job and reputation, Taylor says.

“If things fall apart, to what extent could your career potentially be jeopardized? How much of your personal life could be the ‘keynote topic’ at the water cooler? Could your real thoughts about the new CEO get back to her just in time for your next review? Imagine that that one of you decides to move on — what would it be like to see that person every day?”

If these potential consequences make you feel uneasy or worried about your professional future, you probably shouldn’t pursue the relationship.

How would you feel about telling your employer about the relationship? You might have to. Flickr / National Assembly for Wales

6. Am I prepared to disclose the details of my relationship to my employer?
Some employee handbooks require you to describe the nature of your relationship in writing. Specifically, you could be asked whether there’s a conflict of interest with an employee (even independent contractors, clients, and vendors), Taylor explains.

“The employer’s goal is full transparency, your consent, and protection for employees and others from future allegations,” she says. “You may be warned verbally, or in a handbook or both, that anything interfering with work getting done can result in termination. So this is the fun part.”

7. Can we be discreet?

Only you and your partner know how you’ll handle this romantic adventure, e.g., if you’ll be bubbling over with excitement to the point where it could damage your concentration, distract others, or generally get in the way of your advancement.

“Every situation is different, but what matters is how both of you plan to navigate the tricky waters, and how your respective managers and fellow employees react,” Taylor says.

8. What would happen if they get promoted?

Now the rules change. You could suddenly be dating your supervisor, or just someone in management who has a direct or indirect say in decisions that affect your job, she explains. “Just assume you’ve inherited another layer of risk, with a boss/employee relationship being the worst outcome of all.”

Readers: Want us to answer your questions related to your career or job search? Tweet Careers editor Jacquelyn Smith @JacquelynVSmith or email her at jsmith[at]businessinsider[dot]com, and we’ll do our best to answer them.

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