Should You Date a Coworker?

A reader asks:

I work in a small office, and I’ve recently become close with one of my coworkers. There’s been some flirting, and I think she’d say yes if I asked her out. Some of my friends who have dated at work are warning me not to mix business and pleasure, but I figure we’re both grown-ups. Is there any real reason not to give it a shot, as far as potential impact on my career or professional standing?

I’m not going to tell you not to date a coworker, but I am going to tell you to think carefully about the potential downsides before you do, so that you’re not caught off-guard if you experience them. Once you have a realistic idea of what might lay in front of you, you can decide if your coworker is worth the risks.

Here are the five biggest downsides to dating a coworker that people often don’t think about when they’re in the grip of a new romance.

1. Your boss will worry about your couplehood: Will you waste time during the work day talking to each other? Will you be able to work together on projects professionally? Will you make colleagues uncomfortable? Will you cause tension if you have a fight or break up?

2. It will probably cause awkwardness with your coworkers. Even if you’re vigilant about dropping personal loyalties when you walk in the office door, your coworkers generally won’t believe that you do. So if you have control over schedules or project planning, your coworkers will often assume that you’re giving special treatment to your partner.

3. Your significant other’s problems at work will now be your problems. If your boyfriend doesn’t get along with his boss, how will that impact your own relationship with his boss? Will his grievances become your grievances, and vice versa? What will the impact be on your morale if your partner gets fired or treated in a way you feel is unfair?

4. You might miss out on a promotion. You can’t manage someone you’re romantically involved with, so you might miss out on promotions that would put you in the chain of command above your partner.

5. If you break up, you’ll have to see each other every day – and be civil. If all you want is to put the person out of your mind, you won’t be able to. And you may even need to watch him or her begin to date someone new.

Now, do these reasons mean that you shouldn’t risk asking out your coworker? That’s up to you to decide. Just make sure you’re moving forward with your eyes open, so you’re not surprised by any of the above.

Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • Sarah G

    Great points!

    [Reply]

  • B.

    The above points are spot-on. I am currently going through some particularly rough times with my partner- who used to be one of my associates on the job. My advice would be to avoid dating a co-worker at all costs. Or if you choose to do so, one of you should move on. If that is not an option, then the first and most important thing to do is address the situation with the head of HR. You will need to do that immediately. With all of that said, in the end it just isn’t worth it. I’m not being jaded here… Just think before you take that leap. I wish you both the best…

    [Reply]

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