Office Romance 101: The Rules of Dating a Work Colleague

Office romance has been a staple of British society for a long time, but how many people actually date a work colleague and what are the rules?

Most of you will have either dated a work colleague or know someone who has. Some of these office romances turn into lifelong relationships, and others end in misery and resignation. With this in mind and the power relations that can sometimes come into play, it can be a tricky tightrope to navigate.

Due to the boundaries that must be put in place with these sorts of situations, speaking to an employment solicitor is probably a good place to begin. They can help you to resolve any queries you may have, and any issues you may face with your employer.

Starting with the rules we’ve laid out here, however, might be a quicker port of call. Today, I'm going to share some office romance statistics, and give you our rules around dating a work colleague. Then, I’ll offer some brief insights on whether office romances will die off in the COVID-19 era.

How Many People Get into Office Romances with a Work Colleague?

Work place people

Office romances are much more prolific than you might think and, up until recently, they were one of the main ways people got into relationships.

In a survey by the job search engine, it was discovered that 66 percent of workers in the UK had been in a romantic relationship with a work colleague. What’s more, 28 per cent of them found their current partner at work.

Where the boundaries are a little stiffer is getting involved with someone above or below you in the rankings, but this hasn’t stopped some. In fact, 22 percent of these romantic relationships in the workplace were between a subordinate and their boss. This is a difficult position to be in if you don’t want to risk losing your job.

The other side of that coin are employees who choose to date their boss on purpose because they believe it will progress them in their career. In the survey, 48 percent of Londoners who dated their boss admitted the romance helped their career.

Unsurprisingly, for all the office romances that work out, there are a huge number that force employees to resign:

  • 59 percent of people who date a work colleague resign from their jobs.
  • 33 percent of these employees resigned to avoid a partner post-break-up.
  • 26 percent of them resigned to give their relationship the best chance to succeed.

Given these statistics, it’s unsurprising that 18 percent of employers have completely banned dating in the workplace, and an untold number of others have strict rules around office romances.

What Are the Rules on Dating a Work Colleague?

work colleagues

To make sure you don’t end up resigning from your job, or violate any rules your employer has on office romances, we’re going to share our personal list of rules on dating a work colleague.

1. Check the Company Rules

The first port of call if you’re thinking of getting into a relationship with a work colleague is to check what the company rules are. According to the same survey we mentioned in the last section, 17 percent of employees don’t actually know what their company’s dating policy is.

You could check the company handbook or your contract, if you have access to it, to see if there are any clear rules on office romance. If there isn’t anything there, it might be worth speaking to a fellow work colleague or your manager to see if they know what the rules are.

Once you know what they are, or you find out that there aren’t any, you can move on to the next step.

2. Don’t Break the Law

This might sound like a dodgy title, but if you’re going to approach a work colleague to go on a date you have to make sure you don’t end up with sexual harassment charges against you.

Most of us have common sense and know the difference between harassment and asking someone out on a date. However, the rules around sexual harassment in the workplace tend to be stricter than dating policies.

This is especially true if you’re a manager and the person you’re asking out is your subordinate. If you don’t make it absolutely clear that if they turn you down it won’t have any repercussions for them at work, it could be interpreted that way and you might face harassment charges.

If you want to be extremely safe when you ask out a work colleague, you could use the Google rule. Google and Facebook recently introduced rules around office romance, which included the fact that employees are only allowed to ask a co-worker out once.

If the co-worker says no, then you don’t get to ask again, and if they are ambiguous about it, for example: ‘I’m not available that night’ it still counts as a no.

3. Don’t Date Your Boss

It’s a little too risky to be dating your boss, and vice versa for a boss to be dating their colleague, as we alluded to above. You don’t want to be in an office romance with someone who has power over you and your career, and you also don’t want to be in one with someone whose career path is dependent on you.

It creates an uneven power dynamic that will likely bleed into your personal relationship, and it more often than not ends badly.

Also, work colleagues are likely to talk about you behind your back, claiming it’s all for personal gain. They might assume that the whole relationship is because one of you wants a promotion and one of you is using your power to get what they want. Best to avoid this tarnishing all together.

4. Don’t Let the Relationship Get in the Way of Your Job

people at work

Once you get into an office romance with a work colleague, it’s important to make sure you don’t let it interfere with your job. Your behaviour might go one of two ways:

You try to be overly-cordial with your partner, so it doesn’t look like your relationship is getting in the way of your work. If you were friendly with the person before, and that behaviour contributed to how well you worked together, then losing this might obstruct your work. 

You try and keep the romance going in the office and end up grossing out all of your work colleagues. If you’re busy working on your relationship you won’t get a lot of your actual work done.

If you’ve opted for a manager/subordinate relationship, the relationship could have an even more detrimental effect on your work.

For example, it might be difficult for your partner to critique your work because they want the relationship to go well. Or, you might find it hard to take criticism from the person you’re dating. Ultimately, having to answer to a partner who is higher up in the organization's chain of command may become a problem.

This can also make other work colleagues sour, as they feel you are being given special treatment over them because of your relationship.

5. Make Sure You’re Both on the Same Page

Not all office romances are between people looking to make a lifelong commitment. So, it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re both on the same page.

You might even want to make a love contract, which sounds silly and made up but is an actual legitimate contract some employers require employees to sign. Even if your employer doesn’t require it, a love contract is worth making so you can talk about how you want to conduct your relationship both in and out of the office. Think about:

How open you want to be with your work colleagues or your boss;
How you’re going to interact with each other at work, for example, whether you’ll have lunch together or talk about non-work things at work;
What you’ll do if one of you gets promoted and you get stuck in an awkward employer-employee scenario.

Will The Office Romance Die Off in the COVID-19 Era? 

Home working

Now that we’ve gone over our general rules for office romance, we’re going to take a quick look at whether they will survive the coronavirus pandemic. As we mentioned earlier in this post, office romance is one of the main ways people get into relationships. With COVID-19 forcing office workers to do their jobs from their homes, it might spell the end of these relationships.

In fact, 49 percent of working adults in the UK are currently working from home, meaning that half the workforce are unable to speak to each other face-to-face.

In an interview with Business News Wales, a spokesperson for said: “COVID-19 has really thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to dating at work. Budding romances have come to an abrupt end, and no one wants to flirt with a co-worker over a company zoom meeting. Working from home means there is no office banter, which means gone are the days of easily flirting with your co-workers and asking them out.”

Dating experts at eHarmony believe that at least 50 per cent of couples will meet online by 2031, and almost completely replace dating in the workplace.

The Future of Office Romance

In this post, we’ve managed to cover the statistics on people who have dated a work colleague and shared our rules on office romance. We’ve then given a brief insight into how workplace dating might be replaced by online dating post-COVID.

It’s not set in stone how the future of the world will look, never mind the dating scene. If we make it through this pandemic and decide to return to things as they were, workplace romance will have its second term. That said, if we settle into a ‘new normal’ where most people work from home, it’s likely that relationships will start online instead of in the workplace.

What do you think? Are office romances dead? Let me know, in the comments down below!

*Collaborative post

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