When you’re sitting in a cubicle or working the register next to an attractive person all day, every day, it’s almost inevitable that sparks will fly. Not everyone will act on it, but the thought of romancing a hottie at work has probably passed through nearly every employee’s mind.
That’s a relatively normal scenario—people have even coined the term “work husband/wife” to describe the pseudo-romantic friendships that develop in the office. But actually acting on your feelings can be a tricky and somewhat risky situation, personally and professionally.
Still, “bonding over commonalities, whether they’re work-related or cheering for the same sports teams, can be a catalyst to a friendship that sparks into a romantic relationship,” says Michele Kerulis, a clinical therapist, dating and relationships expert, and faculty member of Counseling@Northwestern at Northwestern University. If you’re deciding whether to give it a shot with that cute coworker, ask yourself these questions first before you make a move.
Am I just attracted to this person or is it truly an emotional connection?
If you’re always in the same meetings, working on the same presentations or commiserating over the same workplace gripes, it’s not difficult to develop a flirty relationship with a coworker. “People can become attracted to each other in the workplace when they see coworkers successfully completing tasks, especially when that task takes a high level of skill,” Kerulis explains.
But there’s a way to tell the difference: When you have just a physical attraction, you think about that person (maybe a lot) when you’re together. However, if you think about the other person often when you are *not* together, you likely have developed an emotional connection, Kerulis says.
Do I know what he or she is truly like?
Because of the aforementioned "rose-colored glasses" you may wear at work, it's probably a good idea to take a step back and make sure you like this person for who they really are—gold stars and awesome sales number aside. The good news? Chances are you have seen that person in their natural, authentic state, says dating coach and matchmaker Bonnie Winston—since you've seen how they act as they handle pressure, deadlines and responsibilities. What happens under those fluorescent office lights makes it a lot easier to see someone clearly than when the lights are dim over a glass of wine.
What kind of HR policy does my company have?
This one may be a given, but it’s important to be aware of your HR policy regarding relationships at work, Kerulis points out. Many workplaces advise employees against engaging in romantic relationships with people they supervise, for example. Law firms are also typically against interoffice relationships, Winston says. If you’re not sure, consult your employee handbook or ask an HR representative. You don't want a potential encounter to get either one of you in a sticky situation with your company.
Will a romantic relationship impact my ability to do my job or move ahead at work?
If entering a relationship might affect your or the other person’s ability to gain respect at work, you may need to re-think it. “Some co-workers might view the personal relationship in a negative light, which could impact their professional opinion of you,” Kerulis says.
Can we set and obey boundaries?
If you decide to go for it, be sure to discuss boundaries, Kerulis suggests. Remember, even though it’s a personal relationship, it shouldn’t affect your professional relationship, or your productivity and decision-making at work. “Set boundaries around discussing personal matters when you are at work and do the same for discussing work issues while at home,” she suggests. Plus, setting these types of healthy boundaries will help you to maintain a good work-life balance as well.