Should You Get Into A Workplace Relationship?
Many of us will have had an office crush, and a fair few of us will have found ourselves wondering if it’s worth the hassle to take that crush any further. Whether it is will depend on many factors, but here are some of the big ones.
Is it actually allowed?
Probably – in theory at least. According to workSMART, an information and advice website run by the Trade Union Congress, HR policies that outlaw workplace relationships may contravene the Human Rights Act 1998, which protects your right to respect for your private life.
However, that right may not extend to relationships that raise ethical questions, such as a romance between a doctor and a patient. That’s an extreme example, of course, and fairly clear cut. You’re wading into muddy waters if, for instance, you enter into a relationship with your subordinate or superior. Which brings us to the following question…
Are you their boss or are they yours?
Power imbalances are never good for relationships. The superior/subordinate dynamic you have in the office can lead to resentment outside it, especially when the line between the two spaces becomes blurred. And it can so easily – after all, you probably spend more time in your professional persona than you do as your out-of-office alter-ego.
Even if you manage to maintain that line, your relationship may still make your employer skittish over potential conflicts of interest and accusations of preferment (or sexual harassment, which we’re not talking about here; information and guidance on this issue is available from Citizens Advice). Let’s say you’re the boss in this scenario. Might you, in your downtime, disclose sensitive company information to the subordinate you’re dating? Would it really be possible for you to give them a fair and balanced performance review?
In order to mitigate these risks, an employer may require you to disclose your relationship and agree to rules on how you will behave towards each other in the workplace. You may even be asked to sign a ‘love contract’, although these are not compulsory in the UK. You could also find yourselves moved to desks at separate ends of the office – or even to different departments.
Are you on the same rung, but working closely together?
Even where there is no power imbalance, an employer may still consider a relationship a risk to the fragile office ecosystem if the parties in question frequently collaborate. As colleagues who work closely together, you’re vulnerable to accusations of neglect of work and inappropriate behaviour, and your employer may be entitled to take some or all of the damage-limitation steps outlined above.
So before you start dating a teammate, it’s worth asking yourself whether you’re willing to sacrifice your professional relationship for a romantic one. It’s also worth thinking about what would happen were your employer not to separate you and your partner. Is your relationship going to affect your work? And what happens if you two break up? Remember your last break-up. How would it have felt if in that first month post-relationship, you’d had to sit beside your ex for seven hours every weekday?
How much do you really want this?
So you know that workplace relationships come with risks. Now it’s time to balance them against the potential rewards. These depend entirely on your priorities in life and the strength of your feelings towards your office crush. ‘The One’ doesn’t exist – in romance or work. There are potential partners out there that would be equally good for you. But there are also jobs that would suit you just as well as the one you’re in.
Think about your long-term happiness. It’s unlikely that your employer will be able to fire you for getting into a relationship with a colleague. But things are probably going to change in the office, and you may find some of these changes difficult.
But maybe it’ll be worth it. In a 2017 survey conducted by analytics company ReportLinker, 15% of respondents (all from the US) said they had met their spouse or partner through work. Workplace relationships can have a happy ending; whether you choose to go for it is up to you.