SO YOU’VE MADE eyes a few times over the copy machine. Then a few more times at the water cooler. And then there was that one time you both started talking at the office happy hour, and one drink turned into four, and you both felt a little more giggly than you usually do with, say, Grumpy Bob from accounting.
And now you’re thinking: Could we make an office relationship work?
Here’s the thing: An office romance is a risk with no guarantees, says New York-based relationship expert and psychologist Michele Barton, Ph.D. The thrill of ushering out for elevator makeout sessions and lunch dates starts hot, but it can soon fizzle—and suddenly you’re playing a metaphorical game of minesweeper, tip-toeing over trip wires until one of them ignites a Human Resources bomb of doomsday proportions.
That’s why we—and just about everyone else—will sanely recommend you avoid getting involved with a colleague. But you probably won’t listen to us—after all, 39% of Americans have dated a co-worker, according to a survey from CareerBuilder. But if you really want to shack up with your cubemate anyway, read our tips on how to navigate an in-office romance without getting fired or obliterating your amicable work environment.
1. Learn your company’s office relationship policy
It’s tempting to keep your budding romance as quiet as possible, especially if there are complicating variables, like a difference in hierarchy. But don’t keep it a secret from everyone, Barton says. Have a chat with HR sooner rather than later. “The more closely you follow protocol from the start, the less likely it is that problems will emerge,” she says.
Speaking of which: It’s probably a good idea to familiarize yourself with your company’s inter-office dating policy ASAP. Almost half—45%—of employees have no idea whether their company even has a dating policy, according to that 2016 CareerBuilder survey we mentioned.
Following protocol doesn’t mean you need to send an office-wide memo about your sex life. But cover your ass. Nobody’s as secretive as they think they are, so it’ll probably (definitely) come out. Do your best not to fan the flames.
2. Do some self-reflection
Why do you want to be with this person? Is it just that flirtatious, endorphin-flooded, you-haven’t-had-sex-in-nine-months-fueled attraction tempting you to throw away your job or risk having your employers think less of you? Or is this a situation where you’ve worked together for about a year, you find yourself not only attracted but wholly connected to your co-worker, and you see this being a serious long-term relationship? If the heat dissipates after a few months of harmless office flirtations, drop it. If it only gets stronger, have that chat with HR.
Also, make sure your lover feels the same way. Not to say you’re delusional, but if this professional relationship is not in any way, shape, or form becoming romantic, you need to pump the brakes. If you both have feelings and want to pursue this, then get on the same page, discuss the risks, and create a game plan.