Thinking about dating your colleague? Here’s what an expert has to say …
You’ve been hanging out more with this particular colleague. The two of you seem to be getting along famously and have lots of things in common. After lunch this afternoon, he asked you out for dinner. You have a feeling that saying ‘yes’ will take the relationship to the next level. It may become a serious romantic relationship but you’re worried. He’s your colleague and you find yourself thinking, “Is this the right move?” Clinical Psychologist at Sunway Medical Centre, Jessie Foo, shares her professional opinion about office romances.
Urban Health: Is it common for people to date their colleagues?
Jessie Foo: You spend at least eight hours at work and this means that you spend a lot of time interacting with the same group of people. You might also share a similar education background and may even be working towards the same objectives at work. So, I would say that it is actually common for people to eventually find themselves romantically interested in someone at work. In fact, a study found that 20 percent of all couples meet their partners at the workplace.
UH: In your opinion, is it professional to date a colleague?
JF: This is a difficult question and it all depends. If the colleague you’re dating is at the same level as you in the organization, then it may still be acceptable. However, if you are in a relationship with your superior or mentor, it may create a situation that may not be fair to others. Dating someone from the upper level can lead to abuse of power and you may take advantage because of the power differences in the organisation. So, when it comes to the latter, I would say, it’s not professional.
UH: Is dating a coworker legal?
JF: I don’t think there is a law that regulates office romance. However, there are certainly company policies that can regulate certain types of relationships within the company such as dating a colleague. Do check with your company’s Human Resources department or employee handbook. This is an important step before you decide to pursue a romantic relationship with your colleague. Remember that your decision may put your job and career trajectory at risk.
UH: What are the possible benefits of dating a colleague?
JF: Research has found that it can improve communication at the workplace if you are dating your colleague, it can increase your motivation to work, help reduce stress and create better outcomes since you’re working with someone that you like. Employee turnover rates may also decrease as people will choose to stay in the company if their partner is working there too.
UH: What are the possible negative consequences?
JF: If you are dating someone who is at a different level, you may receive unfair favours or make bias decisions due to personal reasons. Secondly, it can create some distraction at work as you may be busy flirting or spending time with your partner. Your decision to date a colleague can also become a topic for gossip among your other coworkers, even if this decision is not affecting your work. Lastly, your decision may affect the confidentiality of company information. For example, you might share confidential information or issues with your partner even if you are not supposed to.
UH: What are the steps a couple can take to ensure that their relationship does not interfere with work?
JF: You can choose to socialize outside of the work environment. Even if you are having dinner with your colleagues, you and your partner should avoid public displays of affection. Instead, maintain your interaction at a professional level. Draw the line when any of your colleagues are present as this can affect the image your colleagues have about the two of you.
UH: What should couples do if a boss is not happy with the relationship?
JF: Firstly, I think it is important to discuss with the boundaries (between personal life and work) that you and your superior should set if you would like to continue the relationship. Highlight that you are very committed to your job and that you can keep it professional. If your boss still disagrees with your relationship, perhaps you can ask for a trial period to prove that you are maintaining your job performance without allowing your relationship to get in the way.
UH: What is your advice for those who are dating or planning on dating their colleagues?
JF: First, you need to pay attention to the hierarchy and power differences, if any. Secondly, only do so if you are able to draw very clear boundaries between work and personal space, including not sharing confidential work-related information with your partner. Consider this before stepping into a relationship and be aware of the consequences if the relationship doesn’t work out.
Jessie’s dos and don’ts on office romances
|Be aware of your company’s policy||Date a colleague who is married or involved in another romantic relationship|
|Keep it low key, especially at work||Send personal messages via your work e-mail address as it may be monitored and traced|
|Consider the risks you are taking||Public displays of affection at any work-related setting|
When I dated my colleague…
Evelyn* works in an organisation which had an unspoken policy about dating coworkers. When she and her colleague decided to date, they both clearly made sure that personal and work life never mixed. “I think we were pretty good about leaving personal issues out of work. We learned how to put on different hats,” she says.
However, she felt that keeping things professional was not very good for their relationship. “Most days, our interactions at work felt very artificial and insincere. Outside of work though, we had many other shared interests, so it was not difficult to avoid bringing work-related topics into our interactions as a couple.”
Although she felt like the both of them were doing pretty well trying to keep their relationship under wraps, Evelyn personally found it challenging to date a colleague. “I found myself comparing my performance to my partner’s, and felt incredibly pressured to perform well. This led to many insecurities that put a lot of strain the relationship. In a way, I suppose I was not able to fully separate work and my personal life and it led to the deterioration of our relationship,” she adds. She also faced other challenges such as taking her partner’s work decisions, personally.
Evelyn’s romantic relationship with her colleague eventually ended. A lesson she learnt was that it is nearly impossible to avoid compromising either the relationship or both parties’ respective careers. However, she and her ex are still colleagues and are both moving on well. “My ex is a very respectable fellow. Since the relationship ended amicably, there were no hard feelings and I think it is relatively easy for us to move on. We are still friends and allies at work, so I don’t think either of us have any issues moving forward,” she shares.
Her advice to those who are planning to date their colleague is, “Managing a relationship is already hard enough as it is so bringing work into it complicates things further. If you do decide to start a romantic relationship with a coworker, be prepared to tirelessly juggle your emotions in and out of the office.”