We spend more time with their coworkers than just about anyone else. Colleagues become good friends.
But when friendly comradeship at work grows into romantic attraction, the warning bells should go off. Romantic relationships born from familiarity at work are fraught with danger—to careers, reputations, and personal dignities. Knowing what to do if you fall in love with a coworker can help you navigate these treacherous waters.
Is It Love or Just Proximity?
Even if you are married or in a committed relationship, it’s normal to be attracted to other people. It’s how you handle that attraction that matters.
When you spend a lot of time with a teammate, working together on a project, solving problems, overcoming obstacles, and triumphantly meeting deadlines or exceeding goals, it’s natural to have warm feelings toward them.
Some people develop a “work spouse” relationship, where they see their coworker only at work, but they share the trials and triumphs of employment, regularly eat lunch together, joke and text each other, and develop a type of dependence on each other that gets them through the day. That might be OK, up to a point.
If the texts become explicit and the lunches become romantic, you’ve crossed a line.
Check Company Policy
Most employers have policies regarding office romance. These policies may require disclosures to the human resources department, and many policies flatly prohibit romantic relationships between colleagues where one partner outranks the other. Such relationships could be a form of sexual harassment.
The partner who is lower on the corporate hierarchy not only risks their professional reputation, but the unequal power dynamic in the relationship creates a risk of retaliation or continued sexual harassment should the relationship end. When things go badly, it is the partner with less status and power in the company who may find themselves contacting a sexual harassment lawyer for help.
Employers don’t like risking discrimination lawsuits. Violating company policy about relationships with coworkers could get you fired.
Determine if Your Crush Shares Your Feelings
You’ll be in even greater trouble if you make a move on a coworker who doesn’t share your feelings. Sexual harassment can happen between coworkers outside working hours. You’re still coworkers, and putting the moves on someone you work with may find you answering to human resources the very next day.
If you fall in love with a coworker, and you can’t bring yourself to quit the relationship, be prepared to quit the job or ask to be transferred to another department. You and the object of your affection will give off a vibe that everyone can detect, and people will become suspicious, jealous, or disdainful. Disclose your relationship to HR and ask for a transfer to another team, as you and your partner should not be in the same “chain of command.”
Finally, if the spark fades fast when you’re not working directly together every day, maybe there wasn’t that much of a spark in the first place. Would you “swipe right” on your crush on a dating app if you had never worked together? Step back and reassess. Maybe there’s more excitement in your work than in who works with you.