On Monday, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky gave an emotional speech at the Forbes Under 30 Summit about falling “in love” with President Bill Clinton in 1998 and how the subsequent affair “totally destroyed” her reputation.
But while dating at work always carries a certain amount of risk — particularly if your prospective lover is the married President of the United States — office relationships don’t necessarily have to end in shambles.
We spoke with LinkedIn’s official career expert Nicole Williams to find out what questions you should ask yourself before you take a professional work relationship to the next level.
1. Is this against company policy?
Many companies have specific rules governing romantic relationships between employees. Some ban them completely, while others require certain kinds of office relationships — for instance one between a boss and her direct subordinate — to be reported to human resources.
Make sure to check your employee handbook to see what’s allowed at your company.
2. Am I really that into them?
Williams says that in many cases, a romantic spark created in the office doesn’t make the transition to life outside of it. That’s because the intensity of working long hours on an important project can give people a heightened sense of intimacy and “an escalated sense of romance.”
Many people she speaks with are ultimately surprised to find that they are completely unattracted to their office crush once they’re no longer at work.
“It’s almost like quicksand,” she tells Business Insider. “You sink into your work and you really have an unrealistic sense of the true level of intimacy as it would pertain to real life outside the workplace.”
3. What’s the worst that could happen?
Before you make a move, it’s important to consider the possible outcomes of doing so. Even if you feel that you and your office crush are perfect for each other, there’s always the potential for a breakup that could be disastrous for your career.
That’s why Williams recommends thinking long and hard about what a relationship might do to your professional reputation and whether you’re willing to leave your current company if a bad romance makes working there too complicated.
This is especially important in the internet age, where any wrong moves are likely to wind up on social media for your friends, family, and colleagues to see.
“Monica Lewinsky is a great example of someone whose career probably had some real potential, but she was never going to be able to live her relationship with Clinton down,” Williams says. “That’s a very amplified case, but that happens more often than you’d suspect.”
4. Is this person married?
Because the hit to your reputation is potentially “enormous,” Williams advises against pursuing an affair with a married man or woman.
Even if a coworker does reciprocate your feelings, it’s likely they’re in a position that would prevent them from acting on their impulses. Williams recommends that people who are considering making such a bold move consult a therapist or family member who can offer them an objective outside perspective.
5. Is one of us the other person’s boss?
The potential for risk is also heightened in a romantic relationship with your boss or someone who reports to you directly. This can lead to an unhealthy imbalance of power in your personal life and complicate things professionally.
In the case that you do take things with your manager or subordinate to the next level, Williams, who at one point was married to her boss, recommends setting clear guidelines for differentiating the personal from the professional. She also suggests asking your company to reassign either or both of you as soon as possible.
6. What’s my exit strategy?
It might seem fun to spend lots of time with someone you love at a job you’re both passionate about, but it can ultimately be tiring to be with the same person during nearly all of your waking hours.
And staying at the same job as your partner can also increase your exposure to career blowback if things don’t go as planned.
Williams recommends having a frank conversation with your potential significant other about how committed each of you is to your current job and whether one of you might be willing to leave to go work at another company.
7. What are our ground rules?
If you’ve considered the risks and feel that an office romance is right for you, the best thing to do is have a very clear conversation with the other party about how your relationship will look in the office.
Williams says you’ll have to keep strict rules about things like physical contact and closing the door to your offices when you’re both inside.
Though many couples try to keep their romantic endeavours a secret from their coworkers, she thinks it’s best to be honest with everyone and keep your team apprised of your new relationship status.
After all, nonverbal cues when your crush is in the room — flush faces, increased touching, and heightened attentiveness — usually give your coworkers an idea of what’s going on.
“I’ve had people who would swear to me up and down that nobody knew they were dating,” Williams says. “But you could have asked 10 people at their office and nine of them would have told you they were in a relationship.”
Once you’ve considered these questions, it might be time to ask that special someone out on a date.
After all, Williams says that with people spending about 70% of their waking hours at work, our jobs are where we are meeting the vast majority of potential friends and romantic partners.
“That’s why I don’t believe the answer isn’t just ‘don’t date at work,'” she explains.
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