8 rules for romance at the office

Inc. Magazine

Office drones spend a significant amount of time with their co-workers, so it’s understandable that a romantic interest may develop. But with sexual harassment in the national spotlight, there’s a new concern over what is appropriate workplace behavior.

When it comes to love at the office, extra caution is required.

Here are eight dos and don’ts for handling office romance wisely.

1. Do be confident in saying “no.” Delivering a firm, clear “no” is essential. Evasiveness to spare hard feelings can lead to misunderstandings. It’s important to send a clear signal, aiming to treat others with respect in the process.

It’s even more important for the person receiving this message to accept it at face value and to respect the co-worker’s wishes. Don’t be a pest, don’t bother this person again and don’t be petulant about the rejection.

2. Don’t get too comfortable. Risque comments, inappropriate jokes and most forms of touch beyond a handshake simply have no place at work. If you are interested in pursuing a relationship with a co-worker, develop a friendship outside of work — asking him or her to lunch or coffee is a good start.

If he or she isn’t interested, graciously accept that it was not meant to be. Move on and be professional.

3. Do know your company’s policy. Before a relationship develops, check your employee handbook to see the company’s rules on dating. Many businesses have specific policies as a precaution against legal issues, especially relating to relationships between supervisors and their direct reports.

Once you know what’s at stake, you can decide if the risk is worth it. Be aware that even if dating doesn’t violate official company rules, your career could face other negative fallout if supervisors or colleagues notice any differences in your work performance as a result of the romance or if they frown on the relationship. Know and understand office politics.

4. Do begin with the end. Before you dive into a new relationship with a colleague, consider the possible endings. While wedding bells are a possibility, so is a nasty breakup. Think of the various scenarios you could be facing in a month, six months or a year if your relationship ends.

If you get to the point where you never want to see the person again, working in the same office will be a problem.

5. Don't be indiscreet. Make it a personal goal for co-workers to be surprised if they find out that you are involved with a colleague. That means no PDAs, hand-holding, pet names or fawning glances. Keep in mind that once you walk in the door, you’re there to be the best professional you can be.

For your career’s sake, it’s important to avoid creating the impression that you are distracted from your work, slacking off, not fully engaged or even giving your significant other unfair professional advantages (such as forwarding sales leads to him or her instead of through proper channels).

6. Do remember that the internet is not private. Don’t fall for the illusion of privacy when you email personal information. Whatever you do on your work laptop is company property. Save it for your private accounts after-hours.

You should also use discretion on social media. What you post can reflect poorly on your company and can lead to reprimands.

7. Do remain a team player. You may only have eyes for your new love, but remember, you still must interact with other co-workers. Maintain your relationships with other co-workers. Continue having lunch with others in the office.

Avoid going out of your way to work with or sit by your significant other.

8. Do make a clean break. Dealing with the emotional fallout of breakups is hard enough without doing it at work. Stay professional and process your feelings outside of the office.

If you find it’s too difficult to continue to work near your ex, look into the possibility of a transfer or even a new job.

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership training.

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