Flirting at work: four questions to ask yourself before dating someone from the office

Online dating and swiping right to tell someone we like you is the status quo dating in the digital age. Gone are the days when you knew that someone in a bar. But what happened to flirting at the coffee machine? That remains, even though the consensual relationship in the office has been, for decades, a taboo.

There are many reasons someone might enter into a relationship at your workplace. Studies show that people gravitate toward others with common personality traits, backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas. Proximity and familiarity also influence attraction, something psychologists call the effect of mere exposure.

For better or worse, offices are a place where like-minded people meet for many hours. So it’s no wonder so many are open to love at work. A 2020 UK survey found that 18% of Brits met their current or most recent partner through work.

If you’re thinking of getting into a relationship with your table partner, or even your boss, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Is it a hierarchical relationship?

Despite its prevalence, office hookups are still frowned upon, especially after the #MeToo movement. Deciding to start a relationship with a hierarchical difference at work (when one of the partners has a position with a higher rank than the other) is not something to be taken lightly.

A person of lower employment status who is matched with his boss or with a higher-ranking worker sometimes has to deal with gossip and plugs in his career because of that relationship. Although some may think that such a relationship could help them advance at work, in reality their relationship situation could hinder their progress. It has been found that the lower status person in that relationship is less likely to be promoted or recommended for training opportunities.

2. How can it affect work performance?

With love and sex on the brain, does anyone get a job? The general position is that the necking it’s bad for business and affects productivity. Studies show that feelings of passion and love, especially in the early stages of a relationship, can negatively affect productivity because our minds are elsewhere and not on the tasks at hand.

Office flirtations are a source of distraction.
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

This is especially difficult in a professional setting, and when you may have to work side by side with your partner. However, steps can be taken to avoid distractions, such as minimizing non-work-related communications and avoiding gestures of intimacy in the workplace.

3. Does your organization allow it?

Flirting and dating are natural situations whether companies like it or not. Prohibiting romantic relationships at work is not the solution and, in any case, only leads to them being taken underground.

Despite this, there are employers who manage relationships through love contracts: written rules and policies that confirm that the relationship is consensual and voluntary. This is not only intended to protect the partner, but to protect the employer from being sued for harassment if the relationship breaks down.

View from behind of two men in business clothes walking hand in hand
If you’re dating someone from work, keep physical contact to a minimum in the work environment.
FLUKY FLUKY / Shutterstock

Employees may not want to reveal to their line managers, human resources staff, or their peers who they have relationships with. In fact, article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects people’s right to private and family life, which could explain why love contracts are not used in the UK.

Employers have to balance their own business interests with their employees’ right to privacy. However, just as there are policies and training to address sexual harassment, discrimination and mental health, there is also a need to address workplace romances. The company should have accessible (and reasonable) policies and guidelines on the disclosure of relationships, especially when they are hierarchical.

4. What happens if the relationship breaks up?

While no one plans for their relationship to end, things do happen and it’s best to be prepared. In a relationship outside of the workplace, a breakup can mean decreased productivity or a need for mental health time off. But if you’re working with an ex, there are other issues to consider, like whether you need to interact or work on a project together.

Where applicable, it should be possible to request a team change or work remotely until calm is restored.

Companies may also offer counseling or programs to support employees going through difficult times, such as depression, grief, or the aftermath of a broken relationship.

Ultimately, how employers choose to manage workplace romance depends on:

  1. Recognize that workplace relationships exist.

  2. Understand that happier and more satisfied employees tend to be more productive and better collaborators in teams.

It’s in employers’ best interest to support the well-being of workers, even (and especially) when those workers fall in love.

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