What Is Workplace Dating and What Are the Associated Risks?

Jan 19, 2021 | Business Insurance

The classic office romance trope is beloved by many, but in reality, workplace dating can come with a lot of risks. Keeping a relationship working between two coworkers can be difficult, and sometimes ends in disaster.

How can you keep your workplace relationship strong without risking your or their job?

When it comes to workplace dating, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your partner. Here are some tips, as well as some workplace dating risks.

What Are the Risks of Workplace Dating?

Before you can start working out how to strengthen your workplace relationship, it’s important you understand some workplace dating risks. Here are some things you should be wary of in a workplace romance.

Perceived Favoritism

If you as a manager are dating one of your underlings, any decision you make involving them could be seen as favoritism. Did you give them more hours or give them time off when requested, but couldn’t do the same for someone else?

This may be perceived by your other subordinates as you prioritize your partner’s needs or wants.

Discomfort Over PDA by Coworkers

Public displays of affection in the workplace can draw discomfort from your peers. It can be seen as unprofessional or just uncomfortable by coworkers and may lead to reports against you to HR if you aren’t careful.

Concerns Over Failed Workplace Relationships

While no one wants to admit it, many relationships end. When this happens in the workplace, especially between two coworkers with different power dynamics, breakups can cause issues.

Once a workplace relationship ends, one party may try to accuse the other of sexual harassment in the workplace as a means to get back at them. There may also be threats from someone of a higher power, such as firing or demoting, in order to make themselves feel better about the breakup.

Damaging Power Dynamics in Workplace Relationships

When someone with a lot of power dates someone who works for them, there are far more risks involved.

This is due to the power dynamics in place, as one clearly has power over the other, both in the relationship and in the workplace. As discussed above, these differences can lead to threats being made by the higher-up in order to get their way in the relationship.

How to Make a Workplace Romance Work

Now that you understand the risks involved with workplace dating, you can decide whether or not you wish to move forward with your workplace romance. If you do want to continue dating your coworker, or want to ask one of your coworkers out, here are some tips you should keep in mind to keep the relationship safe.

Know Your Workplace’s Policies on Workplace Dating

Before you get into an office romance, look into your workplace’s policies on dating inside of the company. Some workplaces have specific rules against workplace romances, so read your policies thoroughly.

This extends to dating customers, clients, or business partners for many companies as well, since they still work directly with your company. Keep an eye out for any policies of that sort as well.

If your company does allow workplace romances, they may require you to do one of two things to signify your relationship. Either you will be required to inform HR of your relationship status, or you will need to sign a “love contract” indicating the nature of your relationship. This will help to show that your relationship is consensual.

Companies may also require you to keep PDA to a minimum or ban PDA entirely. Your company may also ban certain types of relationships, such as relationships between managers and their employees.

Understand Workplace Romance vs. Sexual Harassment

There are good reasons behind the rules workplaces keep; one is because certain workplace romances can be read as sexual harassment and vice versa. In order to prevent your relationship from appearing as harassment, it’s important to understand the difference between a workplace romance and sexual harassment.

A workplace romance is entirely consensual. Two adults will willingly engage in romantic activities with one another, sometimes in the workplace. This may involve kissing or touching one another in an appropriate manner.

The keyword there is consensual. Sexual harassment is one-sided and nonconsensual, meaning that one person does not want the attention they are receiving.

Just as it sounds, sexual harassment is sexual in nature and can involve touching or speaking inappropriately with a coworker, client, or business partner. Sexual harassment is not only unprofessional and unethical, but it is also a criminal act punishable by law.

Avoid Workplace Dating With Superiors or Subordinates

Even if dating one of your superiors or subordinates is permitted in your workplace, you should still avoid these types of relationships. Dating someone that you work for, or who works for you, comes with far too many risks to make the relationship worth it.

One issue you may experience is your partner getting promoted or demoted, putting them at a different power level from you. While this does not necessarily mean you should immediately end the relationship, make sure to keep an eye out for any changed behavior from either of you. If you notice that the power dynamic is starting to get to either of you, calling off the relationship may be for the best.

You should also keep a note of your coworker’s behaviors towards your relationship if one of you is promoted or demoted. If they begin to act negatively towards your relationship, that may be a good sign to end things.

Don’t Hide Workplace Relationships

If your workplace doesn’t allow workplace dating, you may be tempted to continue your relationship and hide the fact that you’re dating. However, this can come with some serious consequences.

No matter how well you think you’re keeping your secret, it’s likely that your coworkers will find out. After they do, you’re going to have a far more difficult time explaining your workplace relationship than you would have if you had told others in the first place. Hiding a relationship could even cost you your job if your workplace has a strict policy against them.

Keep Things Professional

After you’ve informed the proper parties of your relationship and gotten into the dating phase with your partner, it’s important that you keep things as professional as possible in the workplace. This means that you should avoid using too much PDA, and not to get too lovey with each other while at work.

Your office will likely have a series of guidelines set in place to help you understand what is considered professional or not. Follow these as closely as possible to avoid making others uncomfortable and to get your work done right.

Even if work is done, you should try to keep professional until you’re well in your own homes, or at least in your cars. As long as you are on workplace property, what you are doing could be considered unprofessional.

Set Clear Boundaries

At the beginning of your relationship, you should make it abundantly clear to your partner what is and isn’t ok with you in a workplace setting. Make sure that they fully understand your boundaries, especially after you’ve entered the workplace.

You should also discuss what you are ok with your partner discussing with your coworkers in regards to your relationship. Office gossip can spread fast, and there may be information that you don’t want your partner sharing.

Make sure you also follow your partner’s boundaries as best as you can. You are a team both at work and in your relationship, so learning to listen to each other is crucial!

If Things Don’t Work Out

Unfortunately, there is always the chance that your relationship won’t work out. If the two of you are to end your relationship, there are a few steps that you need to take in order to keep both of you and your jobs safe.

First, speak with HR about the change in your relationship status. That way, if anything is to happen after the breakup, they will know that you are no longer in a consensual relationship with one another.

You should also lay out new boundaries for each other regarding your post-breakup. Make it known what is and isn’t ok as far as speaking to each other and speaking about each other so that there are no hurt feelings.

Keep any coworkers that knew about your relationship up to date; let anyone who knew about the relationship know about the breakup.

Keep Your Workplace a Safe Place

While you should make sure to stay as professional as possible, you may be able to make a workplace romance work. Remember these important tips the next time you consider asking someone out in your workplace and don’t forget the risks involved with workplace dating.

Do you want to have protection in place before getting into a workplace romance?

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