Is it ever OK to date a work colleague?

Is it ever OK to date a work colleague?

Office romances aren’t unusual, in fact, according to recruitment website Monster, 44% of us have been involved with a colleague at some point during our careers.

But is it ethical and should you avoid doing it? Experts say that it depends on the specifics of the scenario.

The now ex chief executive of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook, has paid the price for dating an employee. 

He was recently fired as a result, with the company, which forbids managers having relationships with any subordinate, saying he had “violated company policy” and shown “poor judgement”.

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That being said, many happy couples have met in an office environment, so it’s unfair to say that co-workers should never date.

Clearly it’s a tricky subject, and one that requires serious thought, ground rules and lots of research into your company’s guidelines.

Here, we asked experts to share some key things to think through before you dive head over heels into an office romance.

Is it ever OK to date a co-worker?

“Of course, let’s be realistic,” says Joe Wiggins, career expert at Glassdoor. “We spend more time in work than not, so it’s natural that relationships form in the workplace.

"However, it’s a risky business with lots of potential consequences to think about.”

If you’re dating someone on your office floor, he believes that it’s important to remain professional at all times while you’re on the job.

“This includes while attending work events out of normal business hours,” he stresses.

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“Don’t bring relationship troubles into the workplace or spend time sending private notes to each other during the day, and by no means engage in public displays of affection at the office.”

Relationship guru Sheela Mackintosh Stewart adds that while there aren’t exactly laws prohibiting employee relationships, many employers now have codes of conduct laying out the company’s expectations for staff behaviour.

“This could include rules prohibiting public displays of affection, flirting in the workplace and showing professional bias,” she says.

Before dating a co-worker, it is important to assess the company policy at your place of work, as it could be seriously frowned upon without you realising it.

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An extra obvious point? “Don’t date certain co-workers with the aim of getting ahead,” adds Wiggins.

“Not only is this a sure-fire way to make a lot of enemies at work, but you won’t be getting ahead on your own merit.

“Even if you move up the company ladder because of a relationship, you might just find yourself heading back down again once the relationship fizzles out. ”

Does it make a difference whether one of you is more senior?

“There can be risks to the confidentiality of business matters when one colleague is more senior than the other,” says Jayne Harrison, partner and head of employment law at Richard Nelson LLP.

Harrison says that when a senior member is engaged with an employee, team morale can also be seriously impacted as colleagues worry about favouritism or feeling left out.

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For that important reason, it’s a good idea to think about how the rest of your team might feel if they found out.

“Other staff can easily perceive bias in terms of promotion, rosters, annual leave, appraisals or recruitment.”

Should you tell your co-workers that you’re in a relationship with someone from work?

If your firm has a relationship at work policy and this is breached, it could result in disciplinary action.

That being said, Harrison believes that telling management about a serious relationship is probably the best thing to do, as it can minimise the disruption on the team and avoid claims of unfair bias during the workplace.

“Hiding the relationship can result in relationship breakdown or the employer arguing dishonesty,” she says.

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How is it best to navigate a breakup when you work together?

“It can be an incredibly awkward time for both parties,” says dating expert Emily Coral, founder of Mayfair Matchmaking. “If you’re co-workers know about the breakup, it can add an awful lot of pressure to the situation.

“Anxiety, embarrassment and awkwardness are all kinds of emotions that you may have to face, so it’s wise that the ins-and-outs of the relationship were kept private, so you can deal with your emotions outside of work.”

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The best way to get over the hurt? Stay professional.

Coral says you should focus on your work and don’t communicate online with your ex during working hours.

“Keep dignified and don’t gossip with fellow workers about your relationship breakup.”

If the relationship breakdown is affecting your ability to work together, Harrison says that HR can often be brought in to deal with the impact on team dynamics and conflicts of interest.

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