Think Twice Before Dating a Coworker

Before you rush into dating a coworker, consider these tips.

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Alison Green
Given how much time we all spend at work, it’s easy to be tempted by office romance—and many of us are. A 2009 CareerBuilder survey found that 40 percent of respondents had dated a coworker, and 18 percent had done so more than once. But before you rush into dating a coworker, consider these eight downsides:

1. You won’t be able to get away from work. When both of you share the same work world, you can’t turn it off. No matter how much you try to avoid it, you’ll find yourselves talking about work and colleagues when you’re trying to have a romantic dinner.

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2. Your significant other’s problems at work will become your problems. If your girlfriend doesn’t get along with her boss, is that going to impact your own relationship with that boss? Will her beefs become your beefs, and vice versa? What if she gets fired or treated in a way she feels is unfair? Is that really not going to impact your own morale? If one half of a couple is fired or has a difficult relationship with the employer, it’s very hard (if not impossible) for it not to affect the other person.

3. It will probably cause tension or awkwardness with coworkers. Even if you’re scrupulous about dropping personal loyalties when you walk in the office door, your coworkers won’t believe that you do. So if one of you has control over budgeting or schedules, coworkers will often assume that you’re giving preferential treatment to your partner.

4. Your boss will worry about the possible impact of the relationship on your workplace. Office romances make employers uncomfortable for all sorts of reasons: Will you waste time during the workday together? Will you be able to work on projects together professionally? Will you act in a way that makes others uncomfortable? Will you cause drama or tension if you have a fight or break up? If you have a fight and stop speaking to each other, how will that play out at work, where you might need to interact with each other? 

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5. You might be breaking company policy. While most companies prohibit dating between managers and subordinates, some prohibit dating across the board.

6. You might become un-promotable. If you’re offered a promotion that would have you managing your significant other, you won’t be able to take the job, because you can’t manage someone you’re romantically involved with. Managing your partner would allow for the appearance of unearned special treatment, and opens the company up to all kinds of other bad things—such the manager partner not giving the other partner critical feedback or an impartial performance assessment, or even the possibility of charges of harassment down the road. (This is a company’s worst legal nightmare: “I wanted to break up with him, but he implied it would affect my standing at work.”)

7. You may not be able to take vacation at the same time. If you work for a small company or in the same department, you may not be able to schedule vacations for the same time, if your team can’t have two people out at once.

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8. A break-up will have an extra layer of hell to it. If the relationship ends, you’ll be seeing this person every day and possibly having to work together. If all you want is to put this person out of your mind, you won’t be able to. And you may even need to watch her begin to date someone new.

Of course, now that you’ve read these warnings, you’ll go forth and date anyway, because these sorts of warnings never stopped anyone truly determined to date. And sometimes it ends up being worth it—just not always.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.