Workplace romances have become the hot topic since David Letterman's recent announcement that someone attempted to disclose his affairs with women working on his show. Workplace romances are fairly commonplace. Between 41% to 58% of employees state that they have dated a coworker. And, according to careerbuilder.com, 14% of employees state that they have engaged in a supervisor/subordinate relationship. You should know that a workplace romance can cause problems for you, your partner, and your company. There are some things you should do before beginning a workplace romance:
1. You should consult your companies employee handbook. Vault.com reports that 70% of companies do not have a formal policy banning workplace romances. That means that 30% of companies have such a policy. You need to know what your company thinks about workplace romances before you begin the relationship, because you can be given a formal reprimand, counseling or even terminated if your company prohibits workplace romances. Some companies handle workplace romances by separating the couple, i.e., placing them in different departments or work areas. You should not be the one who is moved if your romance is with your supervisor or someone higher than you in the corporate structure. That could be viewed as retaliation.
2. You should consider requesting that the reporting relationship be changed if your workplace romance is with your supervisor. There are many pitfalls in workplace romances between a supervisor and subordinate. You should think about how to protect yourself and your career before beginning the romance with a supervisor. One way to protect yourself is to ask that the reporting relationship be changed so that you do not report to the person you are dating. Changing the reporting relationship will protect you in two ways. One, the person you are dating will not have the power to discipline you or damage your employment if the relationship ends badly. Two, your achievements will not be discounted by your workplace romance because your achievements cannot be attributed to your workplace romance.
3. You should keep your romance out of the workplace. You may be dating someone in your workplace, but your romance should not be part of your workplace. You should maintain the same level of professionalism as you did before you began dating your coworker. You should not email each other on company computers or text each other on company telephones. You certainly should not engage in any displays of affection in the workplace. You should keep your personal life and your professional life very separate when you are dating a coworker.
4. You should discuss the details of your relationship with your partner before you begin the relationship Communication is the key to any lasting relationship. That is especially true of a workplace relationship. You should discuss with your partner who you want to tell about the relationship and how public you want the relationship. You should discuss whether one of you should leave the department or the company. You should realize that the decision may not be yours because your company may have rules that resolve this issue. Also, it is not exciting or sexy to think about a possible break up at the beginning of a relationship. Surely, at this point in your life you are aware that not all relationships work out. You should consider that this relationship may not be forever and discuss how you would handle a possible breakup, especially since your career and financial livelihood may be affected by this relationship. We also know that your feelings will be different after a breakup. So, you should commit any breakup rules you decide upon to writing.
Finally, the individuals who are involved in a workplace romance are not the only individuals who are affected by the romance. The romance can affect coworker's employment in the form of lost promotions, lost work assignments, increased work assignments, reduced productivity etc. You should pay attention if you are an employee who works with individuals who are involved in a romance to make sure that your employment is not negatively impacted by the romance. If you are denied promotions, work assignments, or merit increases because of a workplace romance, you should consider raising the issue with Human Resources.
With 50% of employees saying that they have engaged in a workplace romance, it is probably safe to assume that workplace romances are here to stay. The question is what will your career be like after your workplace romance. Your career need not be lost if you follow a few simple rules before you start your romance.
Shalanda Ballard is an employment defense attorney who has practiced in all facets of employment litigation. Ms. Ballard was named in the National Register's Who's Who and in Law & Politics Magazine as a Rising Star. She has spoken at continuing legal education conferences and employment law seminars. Ms. Ballard writes an Employee Rights blog at http://www.employeerightsblog.net.