Office relationships happen. Given how much time we spend at the office, it doesn’t come as a surprise when some people develop friendships, crushes, or even fall in love – Melinda and Bill Gates being a prime example.
Friendships which remain platonic within the office are great and can last for a lifetime. A report published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that analysed 26 studies on work and friendship found that teams made up of friends tended to perform better than teams made up of strangers.
However, having and keeping friends at work can be much harder than these studies let on.
What happens if your friend is not doing their share of work, meaning that you have to do it for them? What can you say or do without damaging your friendship in the process?
This is extremely difficult to answer as lines can become blurred when you consider someone your friend – so it is important to set boundaries from the start.
Furthermore, a friendship that started as something incredibly innocent can easily snowball into a romantic relationship. This can seem exciting and new at the start; however, it can also result in uncomfortable situations for those involved, as well as for co-workers.
So before you dive into a relationship involving a colleague, be certain that it won’t interfere with your work, or stop you from progressing in your career.
Make sure that it’s something real – be honest with yourself. Are you simply enjoying the attention, bonding over a project that requires working late nights, sharing frustration over your boss or fellow workers? Or do you have a genuine connection that goes beyond the office?
Then – and this may seem obvious – check your company’s dating policies: if it has a strict no dating policy, ask yourself if it’s worth it, and if it’s the kind of relationship you are ready for.
If you decide that you want to pursue a relationship with your colleague, don’t let this affect the quality of your work. If you hit a rough patch, you cannot let it consume you at the office, and whatever you do, don’t involve other employees in disagreements.
You must also be aware that co-workers will be on the lookout for bias. You never want a colleague to think “Sara is agreeing with Tom’s strategy because they’re dating”. Avoid having lunch together daily, sitting next to each other whenever possible, and sending personal emails on a work account. This should be a given, but no matter how in love you feel, there should never be any public displays of affection at work.
Office politics and hierarchies should also be kept front of mind. Tread with caution especially when it comes to getting involved with a colleague at a different seniority level (this can be higher or lower). Lines can become blurred, and it could dramatically affect your movement and reputation within the company.
Office romances can be exciting and fun, but they can also facilitate office gossip, impact your relationship with other employees, and be distressing if the relationship ends and you are stuck having to work with your former flame.
At its very worst, mixing business and pleasure can result in an unplanned and unwanted job search. People can be forced to resign because of a relationship that has gone wrong. This may be a difficult conversation, but agree at the beginning on how you will handle a potential breakup – a messy split will be damaging to both parties involved.
But if you do pursue your office crush, there is hope – look at Bill and Melinda. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year.