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Why Dating a Colleague Can Be Tricky Business

By Edited Jun 10, 2016 3 6
Credit: Tania_Cataldo on Flickr/CC BY 2.0 with Attribution

Dating in the workplace can be a thorny balancing act. On the upside, the workplace is a convenient way to meet people who share similar interests but, on the downside, there can be significant consequences to entering relationships with co-workers.

In the modern day people often spend many more hours at work than they did in the past. In the past, a working day norm was generally considered to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. As job expectations shifted and many businesses began to operate on extended hours, it is perhaps not uncommon to find people naturally gravitated towards one another, especially if they spend a lot of time together working.

According to some estimates, in 2006 approximately 20,000,000 workplace romances were occurring in the United States. 1  In the second decade of the new millennium, the percentage of people who said they'd been involved in a romantic relationship initiated through work is anywhere between 39 and 59 percent (depending on which survey you read). 2 With ongoing transformations in the work environment, chances are these statistics may continue to rise, or at the very least, remain steady. As a result of the high number of office romances occurring, many employers have revamped their dating policies, yet policies still drastically vary when it comes to dating colleagues.

Being so much time is spent on the job, the workplace may seem like a natural place to meet people. However, dating a colleague definitely has its pros and cons which should be considered prior to starting a relationship with a co-worker. Here are a few practices to consider if you are contemplating dating a person you work with or within the same organization:

Set Boundaries

When deciding to date someone from work, setting boundaries are important. If two colleagues are clear with one another from the start, this is helpful and can alleviate some potential problems in the long run. Establishing boundaries from the beginning puts both partners on the same page, and there are no expectations or illusions about how the relationship goes.

The majority of new couples tend to keep their romance on the sly at first, while others go public immediately. Whatever you decide, there are many considerations to think about first, such as employer policy, possible conflicts of interest, and all of the other consequences associated with dating a colleague.

Man and woman working together
Credit: StartUpStockPhotos/Pixabay

Consider the Effects

Even if an employer allows dating, it is still worthy to think through carefully before making the decision to date a colleague. Most workplaces have some level of gossip, and dating colleagues are prime targets for idle talk in the office. If you've decided to date, be prepared and willing to accept a level of backlash once others get wind of the relationship; chances are there will be talk.

Another serious consequence to consider is if you break up. Many relationships do not end up as permanent ones, and there is a good possibility a new work romance would end at some point. Ask yourself whether or not you could handle seeing this person every day, especially if you already work closely with one another. Would the other person be able to handle it? Prior to starting the relationship, it might also be a good idea to have a conversation about how you'd both act if this were to happen. Keeping this in mind, it might be best to stay on a friendly basis to avoid conflict in the workplace.

Behavior at Work

If you do decide to date a colleague, it is important to consider behavior in the workplace. While you may be dating, the job isn't the place to flaunt the relationship, and a professional level of behavior should always be observed while at work. Even though you are dating, it is important when in work roles to treat one another as you would your other co-workers. This includes email and other forms of electronic messaging since messages are stored on servers and are theoretically the property of the employer. Even if the relationship is not a secret, it's probably a good idea to remain within professional boundaries during the workday to avoid conflict with others in the workplace.

Understand the Employer's Policy

While some employers are open to the idea of their employees dating one another, others strictly forbid the practice. Prior to beginning a dating relationship with a co-worker, it is a wise idea to study the company's policy. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, in 2005 just 20 percent of employers surveyed had a dating policy. However, fast-forward to 2013 and 42 percent of employers now have dating policies. Fully understanding your employer's policy can help you avoid putting your job in jeopardy. Additionally, some employers may require disclosure of the relationship to human resources.

Dating Bosses

Many would probably say it is a bad idea to date a boss or a subordinate, but according to 2012 statistics, 16 percent of people surveyed admitted to dating a boss. In terms of bosses/subordinates, of those employers cited above with having instilled dating policies, 99 percent prohibited the practice of supervisors and subordinates dating.

Ideally, if you are going to date someone from work, it should not be anyone in your direct chain of command, or perhaps even in the same work area. In the end, dating a colleague could lead to a sexual harassment charge, even if the relationship was consensual. If the situation were to ever come to a lawsuit, it could shed negatively on your personal reputation and that of your company. This is a serious consideration, there is always the possibility of a work-dating relationship going sour and issues ending up in court. These days employers are highly concerned with potential lawsuits.

While the Internet has significantly changed the dynamics of how people meet others to date, a large number of people still meet their partners at work. For those who happen to meet a partner on the job, it is important to consider all aspects of the situation, how it can affect a career, relationships with other colleagues and how the situation would play out if you were to break up. Dating a colleague might be fun at first, but if the relationship ends, the consequences can be severe. This is not to say all of them come to an end, statistics note many workplace romances do end in marriage. 5

Couple in love

But if things do end, it could get uncomfortable, and possibly even ugly. Some even suggest (as in the video below) dating in the workplace is unethical.

What do you think?



Dec 4, 2014 12:12pm
I think dating someone in your own department is probably a bad idea but maybe not so bad if they are in another.
Dec 5, 2014 2:08am
That's a good point (I used to work with a few married couples, but they were all spaced out in different divisions)Thanks for commenting!
Jan 15, 2015 1:32pm
Oh boy, I've seen these dynamics play out a few times. Definitely, not good to date someone in your direct "chain of command" as you pointed out. Onlookers will often feel there is favoritism (even if there isn't).

Another no-no is dating in your apartment/Condo complex - running into that person with a new date (if you broke up) is uncomfortable to say the least.

Yeah, better to be "spaced out" (I usually am).
Jan 16, 2015 3:49am
That's a great point about a complex, I hadn't thought of that, but that could really make life miserable and awkward too, much like on the job.
Thanks so much Rose for commenting, very appreciated :).
Jan 16, 2015 6:33pm
Dating in the workplace is indeed a very complicated matter, especially when the relationship turned sour. Some couples are lucky though, such as my parents, who met at work. While dating in the workplace can be tricky, I don't think it is unethical at all.
Jan 17, 2015 4:41am
I tend to agree, I wouldn't go as far to say it is unethical, I thought "tricky" was a better word too, but that perhaps in certain situations it would be unethical. Thanks so much for commenting!
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  1. "Lack of clear policy can be messy." The Free Library. 1/12/2014 <Web >
  2. "The State of the Office Romance, 2013." Forbes. 13/02/2013. 1/12/2014 <Web >
  3. "Forbidden Love: Workplace-Romance Policies Now Stricter ." Society for Human Resource Management. 24/09/2013. 1/12/2014 <Web >
  4. "Is Workplace Dating Really Off Limits?." Inc.. 1/12/2014 <Web >
  5. "4 Reasons Why Office Romance Isn't Such A Bad Thing." Business Insider . 14/02/2013. 1/12/2014 <Web >

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