Wright Foundation | July 6, 2016

Dating A Coworker:
Bad Idea, or Good Idea?

It was the mid-1970s and it was the first time I saw first-hand why so many of us tend to say, “Dating a coworker? BAD IDEA.” I was in an internship, leading a weekly Group Dynamics course.

One week we’re rockin’ and rollin’—everyone was having a great time, learning and growing, sharing and challenging each other. It was a great working environment!

The next week I go in and immediately realize there’s something wrong. Really wrong. People stopped engaging with each other. They stopped interacting. There was an undercurrent of outright hostility within the group.

I had an idea: I separated the women and the men and had the two groups face each other. They immediately started going for each other’s throats! When we finally broke it all down and everything came out, turns out two of them had started dating and the relationship didn’t work out.

The women blamed the man while the other men thought the woman was overreacting. It was a mess that took weeks to unravel.

Think about it: that entire productive, fun and empowering group dynamic was torn apart—in just one week!

So our big question this week:

Should I act on my impulses and ask out my coworker—and would dating/our relationship complicate things at the office?

The short answer is: Are you kidding me?!? Of course dating a coworker will complicate things at the office! Any time you’re part of a small group of people, adding sex, attraction, loyalty and drama to the mix will complicate things—greatly.

The longer answer is, while it IS complicated, there are ways to make dating a coworker work. When we’re talking about two mature adults acting on a well-thought-out mutual attraction based on friendship, that’s when dating a coworker might work. Is it recommended? Generally speaking, no.

When Dating a Coworker Might Be OK…and When It’s Not

If you both work for a big company with hundreds of employees, or if you work in different branches or different locations, then in most cases dating a coworker is fine. When you’re in a large situation, it’s simple. You aren’t interacting with each other and other coworkers on a daily basis. You aren’t rocking the boat and there will be minimal fallout (if any) when and if it doesn’t work out.

On the other hand, if you’re a member of a small tight-knit office under 50 people, then it’s almost impossible for the ripple effect of your relationship to go unnoticed by those around you. Since the 1970s, I’ve worked with many groups where the tension was palpable after two members had a failed dating attempt. In small groups, any time two people start to form bonds and loyalties outside of work, it can make the other team members uncomfortable and even angry. Add sex into the mix and it ramps up the office drama even more, detracting from the productivity and professionalism of the office.

In today’s hook-up culture, there’s this idea you can have casual, no strings-attached sex with a coworker. In my experience, this is rarely the case. Usually, there are still expectations and feelings, even though the sex is “casual”—and they’re even stronger when you see each other every day and you’re interacting in the boardroom. Even if those feelings are only felt or expressed by one party, it’s hard to get around it.

Not only is it complicated for those involved but the inevitable impact on the group is hard to avoid. People can tell when there’s something going on between two coworkers. Even without confirmation, there’s speculation, which can in some ways be worse for productivity because it’s distracting.

After all, everyone is (or should be) at the office to do their job and earn a living, not to boost their social circle and add a notch to their bedpost.

When To Tell Your Boss You’re Dating a Coworker

If you’ve thought out all the potential complications of dating a coworker and you’re both very low-drama individuals who can maturely and discretely handle testing the waters, the professional thing to do is to plan to go to your boss.

Check the company policy about dating a coworker and inter-office relationships.  This is particularly important if one of you is in a higher position or a position of authority. Many companies have strong policies against what they see as a conflict of interest and a possible abuse of power.

Don’t take the situation lightly. Dating in the office can destroy careers in more ways than one. For example, if one party is underperforming, it can create a major conflict for both parties, ending up in the loss of two jobs. After all, would you really want to work for somewhere that fired your significant other?

If you’re still not deterred and the relationship that’s built up between you is based on mutual respect, friendship and attraction, then it might be time for a candid conversation with your boss. Be upfront and honest. You need to be prepared to follow through with the outcome, however. Remember, if you ask permission and get an answer you don’t want to hear, then you may be facing an even tougher dilemma.

Many people think they can be discrete when dating a coworker, thinking they can pull off a “trial run” without anyone detecting what’s happening. I’m here to tell you: most people can’t do it. They’ll eventually tell someone or they’ll sneak around at work and get caught. Trying to hide it rarely if ever works and eventually when it all comes to light, you may have an even greater mess to clean up.

Getting Over the Idea of Scarcity

Part of being socially and emotionally mature is knowing you can find ways to interact with many different people. We all know there’s no such thing as “the one” and many of us can have dynamic, mutually satisfying and healthy relationships with many different people.

We have to get past the mentality of “this is my only chance.” There are plenty of fish in the sea, and you don’t have to stick to the tiny pond you’re working in.

If you think you can’t get over the attraction or if you feel uncontrollably drawn to the other person, then it might be time to do some work on your expectations in relationships. After all, if you or your coworkers were in a relationship or married (or simply not interested in you), you’d be able to work together despite whatever attraction you felt. Attraction, while important, isn’t the only criteria for a relationship. You can move past it.

Remind yourself of all these factors and weigh out the pros and cons before jumping in and dating a coworker, potentially making a mistake based on fleeting attraction. Try to keep your private and personal life separate from your life at the office. If you do decide it’s worth the risk, handle it in a mature way to minimize the impact on the group and be sure your professional life stays professional.

To learn more about heathly relationships, check out our book The Heart Of The Fight, now available on Amazon!


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