To Date at Work or Not to Date at Work?

To Date at Work or Not to Date at Work? That is the question, and one that most career advisors strongly caution against, not the least because you could find yourself tangled up in strict Federal laws prohibiting sexual harassment. However, you’re young, work is probably where are you spending most of your time right now, and it is often a place where romances develop. Nevertheless, you would be wise to take a look at the Rules of Engagement, and understand both the joys, and risks of dating a co-worker.

Rule no 1. Be Careful: Think very carefully about whether this is just a possible fling or has real relationship potential. If it’s the latter, you are going to have to be much more cautious than if you were about to embark on a relationship with someone you don’t work with.

Rule Number 2: Keep that internal monitoring system known as your emotional radar switched on. As you well know, once you so much as kiss someone, let alone have sex, the entire dynamic of your relationship changes. Indeed, the minute two people become physically involved, a different part of the brain is engaged, sharply raising the potential for what clinical psychologist Dr. Mark Goulston calls the ‘”amygdala hijack”. He is referring to situations when your sane, rational, intelligent brain shuts down, and is replaced with out-of-control, primitive reactions. We tend to sabotage or do damage to ourselves in unconscious moments, and these kinds of moments have the potential to be very damaging.

Also all too often there is an imbalance of feelings and one person is more invested in the relationship than the other. Needless to say, it is in these situations that a level of uncontrollable emotion can arise. When that happens a perfectly sane, rational person can become quite embarrassingly irate when arguing with a lover.

Clearly you can see how harmful bursting into tears or having a jealous tirade can have on your image at work. I often remind participants in my workshops and presentations that everything you do and say communicates who you are. Essentially, you are being branded whether you are consciously involved in the process or not.

You could also find yourself out of a job. This happened to a friend of mine who started dating the owner of the company where she was working. At first, she was on a total high. After all, she thought, dating the boss could only be advantageous. And it was, until co-workers became aware of their romance. In addition to the gossip, there was the belief that she was getting preferential treatment based on the relationship and not on her dedication and hard work. Then, as the relationship became volatile, she became insecure about her job. Her fears were well founded; when the relationship ended, her boss found a reason to fire her. She still looks back at the situation with regret, and wishes she had kept their relationship on a professional footing.

In essence, my advice is don’t totally avoid developing a relationship with a co-worker, if after a great deal of thought and time you feel that you really have something special, but don’t be impulsive. It is critical that you take the time to carefully assess your ability to handle a sensitive, emotional scenario in a work environment and act accordingly.