Working closely with other colleagues each day at your office is likely to lead to romantic feelings for someone at some point. The office romance is a worldwide phenomenon and you may be surprised by just how often it happens.

Maybe you are having feelings for one of your co-workers and can't decide whether or not you should make a move? If that is the case, you should know that there are some risks, not just fun, to be found in having a romance in the office environment before you jump head first into the excitement of a fling.  

Some companies enforce a policy whereby any two employees entering into a relationship have to inform the Human Resources team. Many people don't realise that in many firms where this is a policy, one partner often has to transfer to another department, and sometimes they are asked to leave the company altogether. Should this be the case in your place of employment, you will have to have a serious discussion with your partner to decide which one of you is prepared to take such a step before either of you inform your co-workers about your relationship. And this is only one of several considerations you must bear in mind when making an office romance public knowledge.

The bottom line is that an office romance can work, however, here are some primary issues you need to bear in mind before you start dating a colleague, in order to make things work out.

Don't date your boss

Although most people who consider themselves to be an expert in the field of romance and love would advise it’s a bad idea to date any co-worker, they would say that there are no two ways about the issue of dating the boss – this simply should not happen. Having any kind of relationship in which one partner can exercise power over the other should be avoided at all costs, especially since it is all too easy to wield that power as a weapon over the employee if trouble in paradise emerges, and/or if the relationship ends. This is particularly the case if your boss found themselves to be the rejected party. When all is going well, you may think your boss could never act maliciously towards you at any time, but remember that the situation can rapidly deteriorate should your relationship take a bad turn. The nicest and most rational and considerate of people can show a very ugly side if they feel you have wronged them. In the worst case scenario, you may even need to find a new job.

Avoid telling co-workers until your relationship is fully established

Although you may not be able to wait to talk to your friends at work about the exciting new relationship you are enjoying, you should never rush into revealing anything. If your relationship fails to work out, the two of you will already suffer some awkward and embarrassing situations in the workplace, but you will find it easier to cope if none of your colleagues are aware that you were ever together. Once others know about your relationship, it becomes much harder as you are both going to feel a lot more self-conscious when in the same room whilst you are curiously being observed by others. Workplaces are full of gossip, and you can be sure that it will follow you wherever you wind up in the organisation, be it another department, or sometimes even a different company in the same industry. Bearing this in mind, it is important to wait until you are certain you are serious enough about each other to take the risk of all of your colleagues knowing about your relationship. If you have been together for some time, you may wonder whether your relationship is serious enough to move forward, and if that is the case, you can find some key signs that will help you to discover whether or not you have found a partner you should hold onto here.

Avoid getting together during work events

Given that it is important to maintain discretion in your relationship, it is highly essential to avoid getting together with a colleague during a work event, as this will certainly jeopardise your chances of keeping the relationship under wraps. Besides, you should never forget your professionalism by getting together with a co-worker, however informal the work function might be. So even if it’s your end of year Christmas party, it is still a work function! You need to think about a couple of very important facts. First, should alcohol be the reason you are finally getting together, there's a strong chance that you will behave in a particular unsavoury manner. It is very likely that either one, or probably both of you are going to be viewed as sleazy or undignified at the least, which will affect everyone's opinion of your relationship. Your colleagues will lose respect for both of you and any future relationship you might try to have. Second, getting to know each other first is important so that you can make the decision about whether or not your relationship is likely to go anywhere. It will be hard to relax and be comfortable with each other if you are being constantly watched by your colleagues, and the knowledge that others in the office have about the two of you will put pressure on the two of you to uphold a certain appearance.

How to communicate with each other electronically

1. Facebook

I have said already how important it is to avoid telling your co-workers about your relationship before being ready to do so. To this end, you should take care to ensure no posts accidentally appear on Facebook revealing your status as a couple before you have decided about going public with your relationship. It only takes one co-worker to see your post and the entire office will know about the situation.

Once you have come clean about your relationship, bear in mind that none of your colleagues want to know the intimate details of your romance, or read personal and explicit messages sent between you. Never post selfies of you both on Instagram or Facebook and avoid posting public information about any plans you have as a couple during the weekend. While you may feel that you are having to restrict yourselves from enjoying a normal relationship online when you work in the same office, if you are in a meaningful relationship, it is a small price that you have to pay.

2. Email

In the same way that you should avoid using your work email when contacting your friends and family, you should likewise never use it to message the colleague that you are in a relationship with. In fact, it is doubly important to avoid making this mistake. Should you need to communicate through email for work-related reasons, avoid flirting in your message, and no matter how tempted you may be by the opportunity of sending a romantic message through the work email system, you should never do this. You could easily send the message by accident to another colleague, and you are also taking the risk of your message being inadvertently shared amongst your co-workers. Your professional reputation cold become tarnished within your industry, and such an indiscretion may even get you into trouble with your company's human resources department. Always send your flirty messages through a private network. Even if you are communicating with each other about a practical matter, you should still avoid using your work email address, even if it is just a postscript at the end of a work-related message asking where you should go out for dinner.

A basic guideline for behaviour in the office

Even once your relationship is known to your colleagues and superiors, it is still important to maintain some distance between you when at work. This is especially important if you are expected to work closely together each day. Prioritise your respect for yourself and for your partner, and bear this advice in mind:

i) Never flirt anywhere in your office environment, be it by the printer, photocopier or in the kitchen. It is especially important to avoid behaving in any way that reveals any tensions between you, especially when you have had a disagreement recently, as this will cause your colleagues to question whether or not you are able to undertake your professional roles objectively and appropriately, and may cause them to stop respecting you both individually and as a couple.

ii) Never make an elaborate romantic gesture to show off how you feel about each other. Your office may hold celebrations for staff birthdays or for other achievements, but when it is your partner's special day, or even your anniversary, you should always avoid giving any unique gifts or special presents that you have purchased for them until you are away from your office environment. It is neither sophisticated nor classy to show off your expensive gifts to the entire office, and while you may consider it a romantic gesture, your partner may actually feel embarrassed by your actions. Even if you are tempted to send flowers to your partner at work on Valentine's Day, you should avoid doing so. Remember that there are lots of opportunities for you to celebrate your relationship outside your workplace, and my article on choosing the perfect anniversary gift at this link may help you to find some inspiration.

iii) Try not to volunteer to be on the same committee or work on a project together as this may result in you being judged by co-workers without your knowledge. You may be deemed unprofessional or showing favouritism to each other when plans are devised and decisions are made, and this may create an opportunity for any vindictive workmate to try to cause trouble for you. Also, should you have disagreements or arguments, you will no doubt struggle to behave professionally and objectively if you must work closely together towards some common professional goal. You should bear in mind that your company is relying on you both to pull your individual weights in order to achieve your office's shared goals.

To conclude

When you think about all of the above issues, you may feel that entering into a romance with a co-worker could be more hassle than expected, however if you both have strong feelings for each other, you should not waste the opportunity to develop a loving and meaningful relationship. You should, however, remember to be thoughtful and careful about taking the time to get to know your partner, and plan how you will manage the relationship after it has become public knowledge in the office.

And in order to get your relationship off to a good start, you might find it helpful to read my article here on how to turn your first date into a success. By reading that article to gather some tips on how to manage yourself in the early stages of your dating, as well as adhering to the other guidelines outlined in the present this article, it is possible for you both to enjoy a healthy and happy relationship, even if you work together.

I would love to hear your comments or answer any questions you might have about this post.

Yours sincerely,   

Dr. Carissa Coulston, Clinical Psychologist

BSc(Hons), MPsychol(Clinical), PhD, MAPS