While it’s probably not the best idea in the world, it’s not totally unheard of to date a coworker. In fact, in a recent study, 18 percent of respondents said they met their significant other through work. It makes sense—you spend hours with them every day and probably have shared interests if you're in the same field. But if you’re going to date a fellow employee, be smart about it. Here are some tips from recruiting and human resources professionals that may help you keep your boo and your job.
1. Test the waters before diving in. Put out some feelers before asking a coworker on a date. “If people are telling dating war stories at happy hour you could pose the ‘Anyone ever dated a coworker?’ question to the group and watch how she reacts,” says Erin*, who has worked in HR and as a digital recruiter. “If she seems into it, friend her on social media, or text to see if she wants in on your coffee order.” But Erin recommends not dragging out the cutesy digital back-and-forth. “At a certain point you have to ask her out, or she’ll figure you just want to be friends.”
2. Make sure it’s something you both really want. Dating a coworker usually comes with a slew of challenges, both personally and professionally. So before you dive in, sleep on it and ask her to do the same. If it turns out you’re really, seriously into each other, it may be worth it. “If your coworker is ‘the one’ and your company has no policy against it, then why not?” says Marie*, a recruiter for a large technology company. But if it’s just going to be a fling, even a super-fun, insanely sexy one, it may not be worth the trouble.
3. Consider her history. And your own. If either of you has a history of being really dramatic in the aftermath of a breakup and you suspect that could happen again, as hard as it may be, you probably need to calmly and slowly walk away from this one. That kind of drama is definitely not something you want to deal with, especially at work every day.
4. Have a break-up plan in place before it happens. Look, nobody wants to plan a romantic split. But if you’re going to date someone you work with, and you’d both like to keep your jobs, be adults and have a realistic talk about how you’ll handle things both personally and professionally if it doesn’t work out. You can promise not to talk behind each other’s backs to coworkers, to say hi when you’re both at the copier, things like that. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, but if the relationship goes south, you need a plan in place for remaining professional.
5. Always keep it professional from 9 to 5. When you’re at work, you pretty much need to pretend you’re not dating, according to Jason Bache, a director of employee relations and human resources business partner. And when you’re at the office, treat your new boo like you would any other coworker. “You should not flirt, kiss, touch or have dating-related conversations at work," he says. “Limit personal intimate contact, even just sweet talking.” Along those same lines, Bache also suggests doing what you can to limit alone time in the office with this person if your jobs require frequent interaction.
6. Sext, if you must. If you absolutely have to tell your coworker-turned-girlfriend you can’t wait to see her later, or that you can’t stop thinking about her body, keep it to text message—as long as you’re not using a company device. Definitely don’t do it over work email. And though it may seem fun to live a little dangerously, don’t try to whisper in your cubicle or when you’re together in the break room; you never know who’s suspicious or gossipy and might be listening in.
7. Let your boss know, even if it’s just as a courtesy. “Your company handbook–you know, that thing you didn’t read when you were hired—probably has some information as to whether or not you need to tell somebody you’re dating a coworker, or whether it’s even allowed in the first place,” Erin also adds. And either way, it’s best to let your supervisor know. While dating a colleague may not upset your boss, he or she might be pissed to hear about your new relationship from someone else in the office. And pissing off your boss is never a great idea.
8. Whatever you do, don’t date your boss. (Or someone who reports directly to you.) According to Miriam Maiden, director of human resources for the Kansas City Royals, this is bad for your relationship, and bad for your department. “Like it or not, people will perceive the smallest thing as favoritism,” she says. “I would advise that either you or your boss needs to move to another team or department.” And if that’s not possible, it’s probably time for one of you to start looking for a new job. (Hey, at least this way you won’t totally catch your manager off guard when you put in your two weeks’ notice.)*Some last names withheld to protect identities.