Dating a Coworker

By Paula Santonocito

Dating a CoworkerQ. I know better than to date the boss, but what about going out with a coworker? They do it on Grey’s Anatomy, right?

A. Whether you decide to date a coworker may depend on several things, including whether or not your company has an office dating policy.

That’s right: Twenty-five (25) percent of organizations surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) have either a written or verbal policy that addresses workplace romance. Although few organizations with romance policies in place actually prohibit dating, 66 percent of employers discourage it.

Employers cite sexual harassment claims, potential for retaliation between employees when the romance ends, lowered productivity, lowered morale, and concerns about the involved employees being viewed as unprofessional as reasons for concern.

And, if you think about it, these concerns are not so farfetched.

But employers, being humans after all, tend to recognize that not all situations are equal. Even so, most concur that an office romance should not be between a supervisor and a subordinate. Nearly a third of employers also think workers shouldn’t get romantically involved with people in the same department.

What happens if employees violate policies? Among the consequences cited are transfer within the organization, formal reprimand, counseling, and, yes, termination.

Surprisingly, SHRM research shows workers not only agree with employer findings, they take a more hard-line approach—at least in theory.

The study also finds that about 40 percent of employees report being involved in a workplace romance at some point in their careers.

Which highlights the reality of the situation. Dating policy or no policy, the workplace is where most adults spend the majority of their waking hours. It’s the place where single women (and men) have the greatest opportunity to interact with one another. What’s more, the job itself has already created a huge common interest.

Almost everyone knows family members and friends who met their spouses or significant others at work. However—and this is a big however—almost everyone also knows people who have been burned, or at least made to feel terribly uncomfortable, when a workplace romance that once sizzled fizzled.

Interestingly, the example you bring up, Grey’s Anatomy, offers numerous examples of why you shouldn’t date a coworker. More than one of the single women characters has found her career compromised because she got involved with a coworker. It’s a point worth considering.

While it may be difficult to resist the McDreamy or McSteamy in your workplace, you may want to think twice before acting on your impulses. At the very least, you’ll want to make sure you know the person well enough, and that you’ve thought about what might happen at work if the relationship doesn’t work out.

Have a question? Email Paula here.

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