February 13, 2019 3:09 pm

Love and work: The ins and outs of dating a co-worker

A survey found that 15 per cent of people met their spouse at work, but experts say office romances can be risky.

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When Natasha* started a new job at a media company in 2015 and met Matt*, she instantly thought he was cute.

“We sat side-by-side and worked on the same team,” she told Global News. “I started to realize we had a connection, and knowing he would never make the first move, I did.”

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Natasha kissed Matt at a corporate holiday party, and shortly after, they began dating. “We kept the relationship a secret for a while, but people speculated we were dating because at work we would be constantly talking, laughing and were really good friends.”

When they broke up in 2017 for reasons unrelated to work, they agreed to be civil with each other at the office — but it wasn’t easy at first.

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“On Monday, I came in and he had a panic attack and had to go home,” Natasha said. “[Eventually]… we continued to be friends and are still working at the same office today, but in different roles where we don’t work as closely.”

Natasha is one of many people who has dated someone they work with. According to a recent survey by ReportLinker, 27 per cent of U.S. adults said they used the workplace to meet potential dates, and 15 per cent said they met their current spouse or partner at their job.

But Toronto-based registered psychologist Nicole McCance says dating a co-worker isn’t always a good idea.

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“You risk breaking up and having to see that person potentially every day, which can be quite painful,” she told Global News. “I have seen some clients have to leave their job as seeing their ex at work impacts their work performance and impedes their ability to move on from the relationship.”

What to consider before dating a co-worker

Even if dating someone you work with poses risk, many of us still pursue office romances. McCance says if you are going to build a romantic relationship with someone you know professionally, there are some things to keep in mind.

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First, you should make sure there are no regulations at your workplace that clearly forbid you from dating a colleague. If your office has strict policies, you could jeopardize your job for a relationship that may or may not work out.

“Some of my clients have had to find other jobs, which has been a major life stressor,” McCance cautioned.

Secondly, you should consider your role at the organization. Dating your boss, in general, is risky as it can result in preferential treatment — which can upset others — McCance said, or if the relationship ends, you can suffer professional repercussions, too.

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How to handle the relationship when it gets serious

If you are going to take an office crush to the next level, McCance says it’s important to make sure your job performance isn’t negatively affected.

“Establish boundaries and focus on strictly business when at work,” McCance said. “Try not to give [your partner] preferential treatment, [as] this will reduce potential animosity from other co-workers.”

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When it comes to whether or not you should tell your co-workers about your relationship, McCance says it depends. You should be prepared to have colleagues potentially gossip about your relationship should they find out.

“Take some time together to discuss the pros and cons of the relationship going public at work,” she said. “It’s not a bad thing to be open but if the relationship doesn’t last, keep in mind that it will be public knowledge and not something that you can leave at home.”

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What you should totally avoid, however, is telling your co-workers about your relationship woes. You should also only use your work email address for professional communication, as most employers can access your messages should they need to.

“Don’t use work emails to communicate, even if you are tempted to email them how cute they look today,” McCance said.

In other words, behave appropriately.

When a work relationship works

For Michaela Toste, who met her now-husband at a previous job, it was important for the couple to keep things professional. Toste and her spouse both worked in the service industry when they started dating in 2012; she was a bar manager, and he was a chef and kitchen manager.

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“I never thought dating someone within the workplace would work — especially looking at it from a management standpoint,” she told Global News. “However, it was pretty incredible and really helped our relationship grow and mature a lot.”

Toste said that even though having a personal and professional relationship with her partner was challenging at times, it ultimately strengthened their relationship.

“Working together can be very difficult for the fact… that you’re naturally more emotionally engaged with your significant other than your [other] co-workers,” she explained. “But… nothing between our personal relationship got dragged into the workplace.”

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Toste and her husband got married in 2015, and they are currently expecting their first child together.

Be prepared if things go south

If a relationship doesn’t work out, you should be prepared to deal with the aftermath.

“If you don’t end on good terms it could be awkward having to work closely with your ex and watch them mend their broken heart,” McCance said. “There could be questions from colleagues, [and] you risk your ex creating drama which could get in the way of you focusing on your work.”

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Now that Natasha has gone through an office break-up, she says she wouldn’t date a co-worker again. She said she started relationships with co-workers because at the time, she didn’t know how else to meet people.

“Nowadays… I’m totally on board with Tinder and Bumble and have met lots of interesting people [online],” she said.

“Personally, I don’t care if someone [else] has a relationship with a co-worker as long as it doesn’t appear in daily work life, as I wouldn’t want favourtism, or public displays of affection.”

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca

*Names have been changed to protect identity 

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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