Falling in love on the job... is it ever ok?
People are often warned not to mix romance with their job, but dating a coworker has led to some happy, long-term relationships. Steph (who asked to use her first name to protect her privacy) met her husband while she was working as a server at a fine dining Italian restaurant, where he was a chef. And Karl (who also asked to use his first name for privacy reasons) met his wife when he was working at the front desk of a major hotel brand’s resort property where she was an intern.
Karl says it’s not unusual for relationships to develop among coworkers given that they may spend 40 to 60 hours a week with each other. “You spend most of your time at work, and I think that statistically, the chances of meeting a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or a significant other at work are actually pretty high,” he says. He cites this time spent together as an advantage of dating coworkers because it allows people to grow closer. “You interact with this person a lot more than you would if they worked somewhere else.”
Steph agrees that the amount of time people spend at work fosters relationships and adds that the camaraderie of hospitality jobs further encourages romance. “Being that we both worked in the same restaurant, we could commiserate on any hardships or excitements or whatever that happened during the week because we were both there,” she says. Steph saw that her friends from outside the restaurant industry who dated restaurant professionals sometimes faced challenges in their relationships because they didn’t have that shared experience. “They just don't understand the pressure and the time commitment, how much of your life it takes over.”
But both Karl and Steph also admit that there are risks to dating a coworker. Although Karl didn’t encounter any problems at work because of his relationship, he cautions people that a romance between coworkers could provide fodder for the workplace gossip mill. And if the relationship doesn’t end amicably, grievances from the breakup could spill over into your work life, possibly leading to tense scenes or even sexual harassment complaints.
Steph says that her relationship caused some awkward conversations when colleagues speculated that her boyfriend could be unfairly helping her get promoted, even though he wasn’t her supervisor. “I got a better section, I got things like that because I was doing really well at my job,” she says, “and he had no control over my schedule or my assignments, but people did kind of question.”
Karl emphasizes that dating someone within your chain of command, such as an employee who reports to you, is never a good idea. “No matter how close you guys are, whether you feel like they're the love of your life or your soulmate, don't do it,” he says. “Especially if you've invested a lot of time in this career, it's certainly not worth it to take the risk.” He suggests that if you’re attracted to someone at work and if dating that person would cause a conflict of interest, a good HR department might be willing to assign you to a different position to avoid problems.
If your HR department isn’t helpful or if your employer isn’t large enough to offer you an alternative assignment, you may need to choose between your relationship and your job. When Steph’s boyfriend was promoted to be her boss, she resigned and found a position with a different employer. She had planned for that possibility when the relationship became serious. “We had an agreement that if one of us was promoted then the other would leave.”
If you don’t want to accept the risks of a relationship affecting your job or requiring you to seek a new position, you shouldn’t date a coworker. But if you accept the risks, comply with your employer’s policies on workplace dating, and act professionally during work hours, there’s no reason not to date a colleague. “If it’s not causing any conflicts, go for it,” Karl says.