In the wake of the “Me Too” movement, many business leaders are reevaluating their company’s sexual harassment, anti-fraternization or dating policies. The “Me Too” movement gained momentum this past October after sexual misconduct allegations were launched against Harvey Weinstein and it helped raise awareness about the magnitude of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. As a result, many people are questioning whether you should date in the workplace today, and if you do, what rules should be followed.
It’s unrealistic for a company to adopt a policy that completely bans dating a coworker, client or business associate. People spend a majority of their day at work, which is why roughly 40% of people have dated a colleague, according to an annual survey by CareerBuilder, and 16 percent of people met their spouse or partner at work. Yet workplace romances don’t always have a happily-ever-after ending. The fallout can lead to a lawsuit, loss in productivity or tension among the staff.
Patti Stanger, who is a nationally recognized dating expert, recently spoke to me about the dos and don’ts of an office romance. Stanger founded the Millionaire’s Club and she is the executive producer and host of the “Million Dollar Matchmaker” television show on WeTv. She says that corporation’s should include a courtship class along with the standard sexual harassment class that employees are required to attend. Educating employees about courtship rules in the workplace can help workers navigate the gray areas of an office romance. Stanger is in the process of launching her own “Modern Day Courtship Class” in Silicon Valley. She shared the following six tips about dating at work.
- Determine the motivation behind an invitation. The first line of defense when dating a coworker is to uncover any hidden agendas. Whether you are the boss, a frontline employee or middle management, it’s important to determine if there is an ulterior motive behind the request. Are they hoping to further their career? Do they want a no strings attached physical encounter? Do they have a genuine interest in developing a relationship with you? Workplace relationships are not without risk, so communication on the frontend of the relationship can help you decide if you want to accept or decline the invitation.
- Evaluate how coworkers will perceive the relationship. It is important to ask yourself how the relationship will look at work. Are people going to smear your character or whisper behind your back? Decide ahead of time how you want to handle the office gossip. This may also be an opportune moment to talk with your HR department and disclose the relationship. Companies should have an open forum where employees feel safe discussing these types of situations.
- Follow appropriate office behavior guidelines. When you are at work, your focus should be on the job not on your relationship. Avoid meeting at the break room to flirt or holding hands to and from meetings. This is a place of business so there should not be any public displays of affection. Also, don’t seek a romantic encounter after hours or on the premises. While it may seem exciting in the movies, you don’t want a coworker to report you and jeopardize your career.
- Stick to your professional goals. Stay true to who you are as an employee. Don’t change your attire to be more attractive to your dating partner. Avoid the temptation to always go to lunch with each other. You should still make lunch plans with a variety of your coworkers to network and establish solid business relationships. Don’t use the company email for any communication related to your relationship. Keep it professional. Try not to make any of your coworkers uncomfortable with the relationship.
- Establish rules to balance work and life outside the office. If you are dating a coworker, avoid the temptation to discuss work at home or after hours. It’s important to have a separation of your work and personal life. Ideally, you would work in a different branch of the business, so you do not directly report to each other or compete with each other for promotions. However, if you work in the same department, try to work on different projects and teams as much as possible. Having this separation will help you balance your professional and private life.
- Stay calm if the relationship ends. Not every office romance will end in true love. Here are some tips to help you handle the fallout of a broken relationship at work:
- Remain silent. Don’t talk to your coworkers about what went wrong.
- Stay focused on your job. Make sure that you are producing quality work and meeting deadlines. If you are struggling with everyday tasks, then seek a therapist or physician to help you.
- Stay away from your ex as much as possible. Avoid taking a coffee break at the time or walking by their office, if possible.
- Avoid the temptation to make your ex jealous or get their attention.
- Keep your ethics intact. Don’t send nasty emails or try to sabotage their career.
- Seek help from HR, if you are being threatened or harassed after the demise of the relationship.
- Pursue outside activities or a new hobby to build healthy new habits.
There are many people who successfully date coworkers or businesses associates, and maintain their work integrity—even when those relationships end. The key is open communication from the start. As we celebrate Valentine’s Day this week, you may be asked to have dinner or drinks with a colleague. Just remember, don’t agree to a date with a coworker if you can’t have an honest conversation about where the relationship is headed. “Have the talk first, because you need to feel safe in the workplace,” Stanger advises.