Office romances are more common than you might think — according to a recent CareerBuilder survey, as many as 37% of American workers say they have had one.
Sometimes you’re already dating when you start working together; sometimes you meet on the job.
The problem is, not all of these relationships are successful: Only one-third end in marriage.
So what do you do if the relationship ends, but you still have to see each other every day at the office?
To get some insights on working with an ex, we talked to Mary Lorenz, a corporate communications manager at CareerBuilder, and a woman who’s been working with her ex-boyfriend for months.
Here’s what you need to know for those inevitable awkward run-ins at the coffee machine:
1. Read the handbook.
“First and foremost,” says Lorenz, “know your company’s policy on intra-office dating before you get involved with a colleague.”
As Jacquelyn Smith reports for Business Insider, even if there aren’t any formal policies prohibiting office romances, it’s a good idea to find out how upper management feels about it.
2. Separate work and life.
In the wake of a breakup with a coworker, Lorenz advises people to “maintain the utmost professionalism. Don’t bring your personal problems up at work and don’t let them affect your work.”
But can’t you confide in one trusted coworker? Probably not a good idea.
“Don’t discuss personal relationship issues with colleagues,” Lorenz says. “Not only can it come across as unprofessional, but it could make them uncomfortable and make you the target of office gossip.”
3. Don’t air your dirty laundry.
Whether you and your ex are arguing over custody of your cat or who cheated on who, it’s best to schedule a time before or after work hours to have the conversation.
“If you are having problems with an ex, discuss it outside the office,” Lorenz says.
4. Switch it up.
If you’re not interested in leaving your company after breaking up with a coworker, there are alternatives.
“If you feel that working with an ex is too much of a distraction, try to limit your interactions as much as possible,” Lorenz says. “See if you can move to a different team, department, or project. Depending on the size and culture of the company, being honest with your boss about why you want to do so can help you make a case for this.”
5. Set guidelines.
The 22-year-old woman who’s been working with her ex-boyfriend said she actually helped him land a job at the company where she’s currently interning. Working with him has been a mixed bag: Sometimes they have been arguing and it’s awkward to pass each other on the way to the bathroom or the kitchen, she said. Other times, they’re on perfectly good terms. Somehow she’s managed not to tell any of her coworkers.
Her one piece of advice for people in a similar situation? “Figure out boundaries. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Especially if there’s unresolved tension between the two of you. It’s confusing and distracting to have that hovering around in the same office as you. And emotionally exhausting.”
Granted, she said, that’s easier said than done. But the goal is to “focus on doing your own career, your own thing, so that your ex can do the same.”
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