Crushing on Your Co-worker? Read This Before You Ask Them Out

Couple holding hands at work in creative office
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Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and you know what that means: You can’t take three steps into a supermarket without being bombarded by seemingly endless aisles of pink balloons, kissing stuffed animals and enough candy to give you a contact sugar high.

You might find yourself eyeing a heart-shaped box of chocolates and thinking, “Maybe I should get these for Jessica from the accounting department and ask her out…”

First, let me just say Valentine’s Day might not be the best choice for a first date, but if you do go for it, keep it low key.

Second, dating a co-worker isn’t all “Be Mine” candy hearts and sunshine — it can be tricky business.

I know what “The Office” fans are thinking: But Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly! Yes, we all wish we could be like Jim and Pam, but sadly we do not live in Scranton, Pennsylvania, nor do we work at Dunder Mifflin.

In fact, office romances seem to be taking a dip, with 36% of workers reporting dating a co-worker, down from 41% last year and 40% in 2008, according to CareerBuilder’s most recent Valentine’s Day Survey.

So before you dive in to an office romance, here are a few things to consider.

Always Be Upfront About Your Workplace Romance

If you’re seriously considering getting romantically involved with a co-worker, you need to share this information with your company’s HR department.

It’s tempting to keep your new relationship a secret, maybe because it isn’t that serious or you don’t want to share your personal information. In fact, out of the 809 full-time workers CareerBuilder polled for the Valentine’s Day Survey, 41% reported keeping their workplace romance a secret.

“It could create more potential problems down the road to not disclose it,” says Beth Zoller, a legal editor at XpertHR. She says that being upfront about the situation could serve as a way to protect both you and your employer from any potential harassment claims in the future.

And don’t underestimate the power of the office gossip grapevine — it’s going to be a chore to keep your relationship hidden from your co-workers.

Social media alone makes keeping secrets in today’s world close to impossible. You’re probably going to be friends with some of your co-workers on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Keeping your work boo-thing a secret means no #mancrushmonday posts for you.

Know Your Workplace Policies

In the 2016 CareerBuilder Valentine’s Survey, over 45% reported they didn’t know if their company had a dating policy in place.

Say it with me, y’all: Knowledge is power!

If you really hit it off with Jessica in accounting, take a peek at your company’s handbook to make sure you aren’t breaking any rules. You can also reach out directly to someone in the HR department to clear up any confusion over dating policies.

This goes back to the earlier point about being upfront. Educating yourself on the rules surrounding office romances will protect you down the road.

Another thing to consider is signing a “love contract.” This is a document your employer would give to you and your significant other to sign to formally state that your relationship is consensual.

I know, the idea of involving paperwork in your relationship is basically the opposite of romance.

But these contracts can be helpful with laying out guidelines and policies surrounding your relationship and can ensure you and your employer are on the same page. They also serve as a level of protection against harassment claims for your employer.

Just know your employer can’t force you to sign a love contract, only encourage it.

Reconsider Dating Your Boss

Or as Zoller says, “Don’t date your boss.” Just don’t do it. And vice versa: Don’t get involved with your subordinate.

While most workplace policies don’t outright ban office relationships, the majority have pretty strict rules when it comes to supervisors and subordinates dating.

But such rules haven’t stopped everyone.

The 2018 Valentine’s Day Survey shows 22% of respondents have dated their boss, up from 15% last year.

Getting involved with your boss can be messy. If your company has a policy against such a relationship, you’re going to have to keep it a secret — that’s only going to add stress to your life and could negatively impact your work performance.

And even if your company doesn’t completely ban it, it could still create tension in the workplace. When a subordinate is dating a supervisor, concerns of favoritism are bound to arise.

A report on workplace romances by XpertHR says this situation can have a negative impact on office morale. It’s also likely that every time you receive a promotion or bonus, someone is going to cast doubt over whether or not it was actually deserved.

But if you’re REALLY hitting it off with your manager or a subordinate, Zoller says the smart thing to do is to approach your employer about changing the department you are involved in. That way you and your potential partner won’t be directly involved with one another.

Be Prepared for the Fallout

Workplace romances can get messy.

I’m not saying every single office romance is doomed. Some lucky couples actually do get that Pam-and-Jim happy ending. In fact, up to 31% of the survey respondents said dating their co-worker led to marriage!

But on the other end of the spectrum, you have all of the nasty and awkward business that comes with a breakup. And in this situation, you can’t just delete their number and forget they existed — you have to work with them.

For some, breakups in the workplace can lead to finding new jobs altogether. This seems to affect women more, with 9% leaving a job after things have gone south. Comparatively, only 3% of men reported changing jobs.

But the fallout after a bad breakup can lead to more serious concerns, such as harassment.

This past year has put a spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace, serving as a grim reminder that harassment has many different forms and is found throughout every type of industry.

Zoller says the recent events highlighting sexual harassment in the workplace are causing employers to take a good, hard look at their current policies. The XpertHR report highlights important aspects of harassment policies, like ensuring that employees won’t receive any retaliation for reporting harassment.

If you have a romantic fall out with a co-worker that leads to harassment of any kind, don’t be afraid to speak up.

Remember, This Is Still a Place of Business

If I haven’t completely scared you away from getting involved with a co-worker, keep some of these guidelines in mind as you move forward.

Educate yourself on the rules your company enforces, and remember that while office romances aren’t inherently bad, this is still your job.

“I think it’s important for employees to be aware of these policies and remember that there’s a very big difference between work and social situations,” says Zoller.

Getting to see your significant other at work would be awesome, but don’t let it affect your performance or your co-workers.

If you think you’re up to taking on the challenges that come with an office romance, then good luck, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Kaitlyn Blount is a junior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She just passed you a note: Do you like the idea of office romances? Circle yes or no.