how do I tell my manager I’m dating a coworker?

A reader writes:

A few months ago, after I’d transitioned into a new department at work, I started dating a coworker from my old department. I know his manager doesn’t care if his employees are dating coworkers, and my current manager is even more relaxed–if people get their work done and no one’s making the work environment uncomfortable, we can pretty much do as we like. Interaction between the two departments has to go through our managers. We’re both at our desks nearly all day, and don’t even see each other at work unless we happen to be at the coffeemaker at the same time. One or two people have caught on to the fact that he and I are dating, but unless we walk around telling people at work most of them would never realize it. And while I’ve been looking for an excuse to mention it to him during other conversation, my manager and I normally stick to five-minute chats every few days.

Last week someone from my department was fired, and his duties were reassigned mostly to other people in my department(but not me). One part of his work, however, was given to someone in my old department, and guess who they picked? There’s still no reason for the two of us to interact at work, but since my boyfriend will also be reporting to my manager and may need to work directly with members of my department, this isn’t the complete nonissue it was before. Things change quickly in my company and I could come in one day to find they’ve moved my boyfriend’s desk into the room where I work with no prior warning, or the job duties could be restructured so that he’s not working with my manager and our department at all. The latter’s a lot more likely than the former, but is there a way to let my manager know the situation without feeling like I’m Kenneth on 30 Rock, announcing to the head of NBC that I have a long-term plan to make a coworker my wife?

People will generally take their cues from you. If you act like it’s not a big deal (not only in telling your manager about it, but the rest of the time too), they’re fairly likely to take it that way.

So: “Hey, I’m not one for making a big deal of this kind of thing, but since the XYZ work was just assigned to Joe, I feel like I should let you know that he and I are dating, just in case that affects anything about how that work is structured.”

That’s it. No need for ceremony or drama — just be matter of fact and direct.

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. BadPlanning*

    I went through a very similar situation. When we started dating, we weren’t “close” organizationally. Then things changed and ended up working closer than we planned. It sounds like you are doing things fine — or at least how we did, which was we didn’t hide it (we would sometimes take a break or go to lunch together…but I would do that with other coworkers), but we didn’t advertise it. When it was important, it came up — like when he moved to the same product. It was sort of like a badly kept secret. People knew, but since I didn’t generally talk about it, they didn’t either.

    I think it helped that my company is large enough that finding both spouses at the company isn’t that unusual.

  2. ClaireS*

    I have several coworkers who are married to other coworkers. It’s a complete non issue for all involved but I suspect they work at keeping it a non-issue.

    Definitely do-able.

    1. Aimee*

      This, exactly. My husband and I work at the same company (at one point, we worked in the same department and reported to the same manager, but had different job duties and our desks were in different parts of the building. That lasted a couple months, then he was promoted to be manager of another team, and a few months later, I moved to a different department completely).

      The only time it’s ever been an issue is when we worked on the same product (his team fulfilled the product I managed) and a sales person got upset that we both gave him the same answer when he was asking to do something that wasn’t allowed. One of the customer service reps later told us that he called to complain and said that the company shouldn’t let siblings work together.

  3. kd*

    My SO and I met at work. He worked downstairs, me upstairs and in two different departments, although he is in IT – he has interacted with me directly. We kept it under wraps for almost 2 years. Everything strictly out of the office.
    My workplace had and has other couples and still has no policy regarding dating coworkers. Other couples have taken advantage of the situation and made big messes – fights at work, going to HR, hair raising highschool-like stuff.
    We both have been complimented by our bosses, saying they appreciate how we handle ourselves professionally and keep our relationship out of the office.
    What Alison said – no need for a fuss, let superiors know ‘by the way’, etc. Conduct yourselves as professionals and there will be no avenue for anyone to complain.
    We have now been together 14 years. Same company. No problems.

  4. Just a Reader*

    It’s crazy how many people meet at work! At my last job, my boss was married to the head of the company…so that didn’t work out very well for anyone.

    But I have so many friends who met their spouses at work, moved on to other opportunities and lived happily ever after. An exec at my current company says, “We all work a lot–where else are you going to fish?” which makes me laugh.

    1. some1*

      I think it’s like school for adults — the one place you will be thrown together with people you might otherwise not meet/hang out with.

      1. Elizabeth*

        When I was in elementary school, the art teacher and music teacher were married. I don’t know if they met before they worked together, or met at school (they’d been married for 20 years or so by the time I was a student). As a kid, it seemed so totally natural that it would be this way. Who ELSE would the music and art teachers be married to? Art and music GO together.

    2. Midge*

      When I was in grad school the department chair and graduate adviser were married. That doesn’t work so well either.

      1. fposte*

        I interviewed at a department where the chair was the ex of a senior professor still there, whose previous ex was a famous writer associated with the college as well. Somebody kindly took me aside when I got there and diagrammed the relationships for me.

    3. Jamie*

      If not for workplace romances my parent’s would never have met…and what a tragedy that would have been had they not reproduced!

      My husband had an oddly rigid no dating from work policy long before we got together and he’s so married to this sentiment that we actually had an argument when I jokingly said that was because he never worked with me…and he insisted that even for me he wouldn’t have violated his rule. All bets would be off if one of us quit – but no way otherwise.

      Seriously? We were already married and have never and would never work together – he couldn’t humor me? Okay that fight was 9 years ago and I’m getting mad again…lets hope for both of our sakes this passes before I get home. :)

      1. Cath@VWXYNot?*

        My parents met at work too. They were both teachers, and apparently it was pretty obvious that my Dad was interested… to the point that one of the kids said “sir, if you don’t ask her out soon, I’m going to do it for you”!

        I dated someone from work for a couple of years once, and hated that we’d talk about work at home all the time. No problems other than that though (we were at the same level in two different groups).

  5. Geof*

    It’s very doable.

    My then Girlfriend (now Wife) and I sat down with our CEO (who played HR in the corporation at the time) and just said together “We’re dating, is there anything we need to know? Do you have any concerns?” He said “Nope. Nope.”

    We started dating while at the same org level in the company, but two different departments, I shifted over to her department and ended up managing our department. We even shared an office, and 1,5 hour one way commute for 6 wonderful years. She transitioned out of the company and into another job. We didn’t make each other crazy – still very happily married. We did institute a “no work talk at home” rule for a while, that made it seem less like you never actually left the office.

    We did have some initial push back from other coworkers – mostly jealous snipes, but nothing to worry over. We kept work, professional. Yes ma’am, No sir.. etc. kept a professional distance in the office (no canoodling in the copy room on coffee breaks and an air gap between the desks in the shared office..) and just focused on the job – eventually the few grumblers wandered off to grumble about something else.

  6. Anon*

    Just keep in mind that depending on your line of work, your office may have rules on which departments you can both work in (i.e., if one of you works in Payroll and the other in Human Resources, that might be problematic as far as the office’s internal privacy goes).

  7. Joey*

    See and I’m in favor of not telling unless there is an immediate concern which it doesn’t sound like there is. I just don’t think possibilities that may or may not happen are reason enough to tell your boss about your private life if you don’t normally discuss your Dating life at work. Although, telling is certainly the safest.

  8. Mena*

    Yes, directly notify (but resist explaining … explaining why it isn’t an issue … don’t go there)

  9. Milos*

    As long as it’s a non-issue with respect to work and each of your responsibilities most managers won’t care. They will however appreciate your honesty and being upfront about and that is a definite plus.

  10. Lindsay*

    My husband and I work at the same company and have even worked on the same team, but because we work in completely different fields it’s never been an issue. We told HR going in we were both applying and they had no problems with it, our studio has quite a few married/dating couples in various power positions and there is zero drama.

    He’s recently been promoted to lead of another project, and I had to remind HR I probably shouldn’t be assigned to that one because there is a potential conflict of interest now that he does performance reviews for his team. HR was sort of surprised I even brought it up but I don’t think either of us would be comfortable in a position where one had to directly answer to the other, instead of collaborate.

  11. Meredith*

    My very small academic department has a married couple in it, and they’re great. They have different surnames and don’t act like a couple at work, so I’m not actually sure how many of our students know that they’re married. They also operate really well as colleagues, which makes it a non-issue. The potential strain of working closely with your SO is another issue, but they function just fine as members of the department.

  12. Anonymous*

    I essentially supervise my ex husband… which is weird but fine. I started long before he did at a different branch. A new opportunity opened up at the branch he worked right before our marriage imploded that I applied for and accepted. Our divorce proceeded amicably, we’re adults at work, someone else handles his performance appraisals, but I really do handle the day to day. Strange dynamic.

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