reasons not to date a coworker

If there were ever an example of me giving warnings that aren’t going to be heeded, this is it. But here goes…

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.

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?

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 might 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.

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.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. Piper*

    While I agree with everything you’ve said, I actually met my husband at a previous job. I don’t recommend it in general as a way to meet a significant other and I know we were very lucky that things worked out the way they did, but at the same time, sometimes you do meet your partner in unexpected places. Including by the water cooler in the office.

    We were actually together for nearly a year before people found out we were together (no small feat since the company is pretty small)- and yes, I know this for a fact because people told us this. It wasn’t until after I quit and then showed up at the holiday party with him that people put two and two together.

    1. Anonymous*

      It can and does work out, but it can and does blow up enormously badly. That’s kind of cool, because it gives us all something to gossip, talk, and write columns about! I would guess that most folks have a sixth sense about couples, even discreet ones. In any case, when I have been “surprised” by a new couple, I always agree I had no idea — after all why not and it is easier to be nice. The reality is, they always overestimate the depth of my interest…

      1. Piper*

        Trust me. People were oblivious; we barely spoke at work. In fact, the rumor mill was actually going around that I was dating someone else who I just happened to be good friends with (and never dated), so that was a nice way to veil the reality, which to us, was very amusing.

        But from the sound of your comment, it seemed like you thought we were polling people or something and asking them if they knew; we weren’t. They offered their own opinions freely (as people tend to do).

        And to be frank, we didn’t really care or wonder if people were “interested” in what we were doing. There was no big announcement or anything like that. I just showed up with him and people were like, oh, okay, that’s cool. Because we were cool about it.

          1. Piper*

            Actually, yeah we kind of were. I’m sensing your sarcasm here (which there really is no need for, honestly), but given the fact that we actually survived working together without any kind of drama for us or for coworkers and ended up married, I’d say that is the exception to the rule. As I alluded to in my original post (and also said that I don’t recommend it for most people, but for me it happened to work out and I wouldn’t change a thing).

    2. jmkenrick*

      It’s definitely a one of those things where it’s clearly a risk, but one most people are willing to undertake for the right person, so I’m glad Alison included her last paragraph. If you’re going to embark on a relationship in the office, you should know the risks.

      Glad it worked out for you & your husband!

      1. Piper*

        Thank you! And exactly. It has to be a calculated risk and we knew we weren’t violating any policies, we weren’t in the same departments, and were on equal footing in the hierarchy. And the thing is, I knew I wasn’t planning on staying at the company. I was looking for a job before we even started dating. Had I wanted to make a career out of that place, perhaps I would have chosen differently, but that wasn’t the case. My husband still works there and has been quite successful.

      2. L*

        I completely agree. I am married to a former co-worker and we knew the risks going in. However, at the same company, multiple other relationships happened that went south and ended pretty badly for everyone involved, so I think Alison’s right that most of the time it isn’t the wisest decision.

    3. Sensible Shoes*

      Of course, its going to happen but dating a co-worker is considered risky behavior in today’s workplace.

      As I am in HR, and I have seen it when it all went horribly wrong.

      If you are going to do this, be discreet.

  2. fposte*

    It can require negotiations even with friends. Sometimes I have “no work talk” pledges when I’m doing something social with a friend I work closely with. On the other hand, a lot of the time we don’t really mind, which is saying either a good thing about our interest in our jobs or a bad thing about our ability to detach from them, I’m not sure which!

    1. Long Time Admin*

      “Sometimes I have “no work talk” pledges when I’m doing something social with a friend I work closely with. ”

      My friends and I used to shout “shop talk!!” when we were out and one of us would start talking about work. If we were out at the bar, we’d also wad up paper napkins and throw them at the offender. But that was because we didn’t like work very much, and we didn’t want to think of it when we were off the clock.

  3. Suz*

    I would also add that if the company is having financial difficulties, you may both wind up unemployed off at the same time.

  4. Anonymous*

    This is sexist but true for the women- if you have dated multiple guys at work you’ll become known as the office slut.

    1. fposte*

      In my experience, it goes both ways. At one institution we referred to it as “Taking your turn with xxx.”

      1. Anonymous*

        It very much does go both ways. For women it may be the “office slut”, but for guys it will be “Make sure you stay away from xxxx, he’s a sleazeball”. Both sides get issues from the opposite gender.

  5. Henning Makholm*

    I suppose what it boils down to is, if the romance works out and any of the problems mentioned in the post show up, would both of you be prepared to change jobs for love? If so, go ahead and date.

    If it doesn’t work out, some awkwardness will result, yes. But in the alternative, you will still be seeing the person every day and have to work together, but now you’ll have to keep wondering which kind of chance you blew.

    There are more important things in life than work.

  6. Another Reader*

    I was in the same office with my husband for two years (we got married about ten months in). While it worked well for us, there were a few awkward moments, and we worked in different departments with no work overlap. I agree with AAM though: we spent too much time talking about the office!

  7. Anonymous*

    Ugh, never. Speak from experience. Not worth it if its not happy endings as in comments above. Just. Too. Hard to live in the aftermath

  8. Anonymous*

    I am marrying a former co-worker in a few months. As a previous poster mentioned, sometimes you have to be willing to choose the person and love over your job. For me, our relationship became far superior to my job and the day we started dating I knew if it came to it, I’d leave (and he never once asked me or alluded to that, it was all me).

    Sometimes it works, but as previous comments say, not on the regular and I wouldn’t recommend.

  9. clobbered*

    Our next callers on the line are Pierre and Marie Curie…. :-)

    Many academic departments fall over backwards to get both people of a couple in. They know it is a great recruitement strategy in small specialised fields, and it is of course awfully common, as people will date fellow grad students who then are chasing jobs in a very small pool. And of course it is a great retention strategy too – the chance of landing two jobs at the same place is so small for some couples that once they get them they will never leave.

    Of course these are generally older and commited couples, not flings. And these are people who are often engrossed in their work, so taking it home is not a disadvantage for them – in fact it is a lot easier to be in a two-mathematician couple than to be the only mathematician in the relationship. At least the other person understands when you leap up in the middle of the night shouting EUREKA

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