Should I ask my coworker out?

Nov 26th, 2019 Tisho Iliev
Couple kissing
Couple kissing (photo by Freepik)

This is a tough question to answer. Before doing so, I am going to discuss the many things we should consider before taking the route of love in the workplace.

Based on three researches by Comparably, CareerBuilder 2014 and CareerBuilder 2017, we can conclude that 35-40% of people have dated a coworker. Nearly 30% of these dates end up in a marriage. All of these numbers show that dating a colleague is a rather common way of finding your love.

As always, there is another side of the coin. The #MeToo movement turned the world's attention to the sexual harassment. More and more companies are creating rules and policies to minimize such behavior at work. Asking your colleague out too many times may be considered a harassment and you may end up having legal issues.

What follows is an overview of everything we have to think about before asking a colleague out.

Does your company have a policy about relationships at work?

Employee handbooks
Employee handbooks (Edinburgh City of Print and John Trainor, CC BY)

The first thing you have to ask yourself is whether your company has rules and policies about dating a coworker. This is something you can read from your employee handbook, if you have such a manual. If not, you could ask your HR department or supervisor are there any office romance policies. And if you don't want to ask such revealing questions, you can just ask where you can read all of the company policies.

Generally, such a policy may state a relationship between a supervisor and subordinate is not allowed because of a conflict of interest. Frankly, I find this to be a common sense. If the management finds out you hide such a relationship, they might move you to another department or even fire you.

Some companies, like Facebook and Google, have an overview of their dating policies in the Internet. Let's have a look at them.

Facebook's dating policy

Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook (photo by Anthony Quintano, CC BY)

Facebook is one of the few companies which has published an overview of their policy about relationships at work. The policy is quite interesting.

Facebook allows dating. But the company wants to prevent unwanted invitations and unwelcome flirting. That's why all of its employees are advised to follow a list of rules. The first rule is - if you ask a coworker out and they turn you down, you are not allowed to ask again. A representative from Facebook clarified if you get a response like "I'm busy tonight" or "Maybe", it still counts as a "no". Any ambiguous answer should be treated as a "no".

In Facebook, you are not allowed to ask out a colleague you have not met before. This implies you are obliged to have some form of a working relationship before asking for a romantic date. Facebook advises their employees they should disclose their relationship to the HR department if it is with anyone from their line of reporting, even if it is not a direct supervisor. Thеir argument is pretty clear - conflict of interests - your dating partner might have an influence over your work assignments and feedback. Moreover, Facebook prohibits giving any feedback or rating for your partner's work, even if you are peers and hold the same positions.

The final rule applies to all of the Directors or above in Facebook. They should report their relationship to the HR department, regardless of the position their office sweethearts hold in the company.

Google's dating policy

Google (photo by Paweł Czerwiński)

Although Google haven't published a detailed document about their intra-office dating rules, a basic information regarding this could be found in their Code of Conduct.

Basically, Google warns employees they should avoid having a relationship which creates an actual or apparent conflict of interest. The company states such situations could end up in a change in work arrangements or even a termination of employment for one or both of the employees. They point out they have specific rules in their handbook, but the manual is not publicly accessible. The conclusion is obvious - you should be able to easily identify whether your potential relationship could result in a conflict of interest and think twice before continuing with your love pursuit.

Put yourself in your employer's shoes

Employer (photo by NHS Employers, CC BY)

What you should do if your company does not have any dating policy? Well, this does not mean you should go for it without considering anything else. You should find out what the management of the company thinks about dating your coworkers.

Have you seen other couples in the office? Is it common? How are they treated by their managers? Or have you heard about any relationships from the past which had ended up badly?

You should put yourself in your boss's position. A relationship between a manager and subordinate could lead to assessing people inadequately and assigning tasks incorrectly. Any activity which interferes with the quality of the work is bad for your employer and sometimes the right way to tackle such issues is called "employment termination".

Also, your boss has an interest in protecting the employees from harassment. Making multiple compliments and regularly asking your crush out could seem as a fun activity to you, but the other person could consider it a hostile working environment. Your boss won't risk losing an employee over such behavior.

Having no dating policy does not mean your romance won't end up in a disaster, so think about all the variables before taking an action.

Your colleagues' attitude might change

Colleagues gossiping
Colleagues gossiping (photo by Freepik)

If you are in a relationship with someone in your chain of management, the next time you receive a promotion could be perceived as special treatment. Consider the opposite scenario as well - your significant other does not give you a raise because of fear what other people might say - "Oooh, she was promoted because she is having an affair with her boss".

Favoritism is one of the many reasons why you should avoid being in a relationship with a manager or subordinate. The attitude from anyone in the office could drastically change. Your work and effort won't be respected as much as before. Your promotions are going to be suspicious, even if you've deserved them.

According to the Vault's research 34% of people disapprove of relationships between managers and subordinates and 26% of people - between colleagues working on the same project. We can safely conclude that some folks view having an office sweetheart as unprofessional. You can get a negative attitude because of this, too. Think about how your coworkers would react after finding out about your love affair.

Breakup and its consequences

Broken heart
Broken heart (photo by Burak Kostak)

Maybe one of the strongest points against dating a coworker is the potential breakup. How are you going to continue working professionally if you both separate? 5% of people leave their jobs because of a bad breakup. This is a tough pill to swallow - you lose your significant other and your job at the same time.

It could get even worse. If you have used your company email or chat for showing affection and love to your colleague, they could use it as an evidence and sue you for sexual harassment. The solution to this is quite simple - don't ever use the company software for communication to send love letters or express any romantic desire towards a coworker.

Meeting your crush regularly at the office after a breakup could significantly decrease your performance and well-being. Some folks report they had to watch their former partner flirting with other colleagues. Such situations makes you want to quit immediately.

A breakup is not the end of the world but is something you should definitely think about beforehand.

So, should you ask a coworker out?

Love (photo by Victor U, CC BY)

My honest opinion is that you should have more than a physical attraction to a coworker to pursue a relationship with them. Also, you should be aware of the policies and what the upper management thinks.

If you are attracted to a manager or subordinate it could get ugly. But the crucial thing to me is to know about all the consequences which might follow. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

The truth is - with or without policy, love happens. Sometimes, listening to your heart and going forward is the best strategy.

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Tisho Iliev
Tisho Iliev
Tisho Iliev
An IT specialist with 8+ years of experience in developing software solutions. I have been working in multiple US - based corporations. How the working environment impacts the employees has always been fascinating to me. The working conditions, underestimated by many employers, contribute to the health and productivity of the employees and always affect the outcome of a project in a positive or negative way.
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