Developing romantic feelings for your coworker isn’t something that you can easily stop. Aside from the fact that you can’t choose the person you’ll in love with, you can’t completely avoid your coworker since you see each other every day and spend eight hours or more within the same four walls. But here’s the thing: just because you like a colleague doesn’t mean you should instantly flood her email inbox with love letters or invite her to dinner at a fancy restaurant. If you want to have a successful relationship with her (and ensure you won’t lose your job in the process), you need to take the following steps:
Get to know the other person first
Feelings can be very powerful, but don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Instead, learn as much as you can about your coworker. Is she the same person in and outside the office? Many people act one way when they’re at work and act another way when they’re around their friends and family. Next, find out if you like her personality, not just her looks. A lot of men have fallen in love with gorgeous coworkers, only to discover later on that they had an ugly personality that didn’t match their face.
Of course, consider her position in the office. If she’s your manager (or if you’re her boss), you might want to reconsider your feelings. Many companies frown on relationships between bosses and subordinates since it can make promotions and other things difficult or just plain awkward.
Learn about workplace policies and legal ramifications
Aside from knowing more about your coworker, you need to do some research about your company’s policies about workplace relationships. Check the handbook if there’s a rule that punishes romance between coworkers, and see if your company is against hiring married couples (which can be an issue if you see yourself marrying your workplace crush). If there is, you might want to reconsider your feelings for your coworker or, if you’re really serious about pursuing a relationship with her, think about leaving your job.
You also have to be aware about the legal pitfalls you might encounter, particularly if you and your coworker would become a couple. Any signs of PDA between you might be reported to the higher-ups and can result to an HR investigation. Raunchy or even just overly sweet emails between you and your sweetheart can be used as evidence in sexual harassment cases; in extreme cases, they can even be used as a reason to terminate you.
Think if you really want this relationship
Once you’ve thought of the things above, sit down and take the time to think. Is your coworker “The One” ― or at least a great match for you? Are you willing to risk your job for her? Can you handle the pressure of being involved in an office romance? If your answer to these questions is “Yes”, it’s a sign that pursuing this relationship is a worthwhile goal.
You might have romantic feelings for your coworker, but she may or may not. So, take the time to woo her and see if she’ll respond to you. A casual invitation for coffee might do the trick because you can observe how she acts toward you and reacts to your advances. Does she look disinterested in what you have to say, or does her hand linger a few seconds too long on your arm? Figure out if your relationship has a future before you make grand gestures and put your job at risk.
Keep things hush-hush as much as possible
If things go well between you and your coworker (who’s now your sweetheart), resist the urge to tell everyone at work about it. There are many reasons for this, but the most common are a) your office mates don’t really care about what you do, b) they might get jealous, and c) they might find it awkward to work with you and your girlfriend. Tell your managers if you need to but, for the most part, it can be greatly helpful if you can keep your relationship between the two of you.
Create rules and alternative plans
It’s important to sit down with your sweetheart and create some ground rules about your relationship. How will you act at work? Will you eat lunches together, or will you basically ignore each other until you clock off? Will you exchange emails throughout the day or wait until your shift ends to talk? Your rules will be unique to your relationship and greatly depends on your company culture and policies, so take the time to think about them.
You should also brainstorm about what you should do if things go wrong. What steps should you take if your coworkers would gossip about you or report you to HR because of your PDA? Is one of you willing to leave his/her job in case your manager enforces the company enforces the “No Office Relationships” rule?
Focus on your job
Nurturing your relationship is essential, but doing your work is even more important. So, instead of daydreaming about your new girlfriend and the romantic dinner you’ll have after work, concentrate on your tasks for the day and ensure you’ll finish them before your shift ends. This way, if your boss and other coworkers find out about your relationship, you can show them that it doesn’t have a negative impact on your job performance and that they have nothing to worry about. You’ll also reduce your chances of getting fired and perhaps even raise your chances of getting promoted.
Separate your personal and professional problems
It can be tempting to discuss your girlfriend-boyfriend problems at the water cooler or during lunchtime, but remember: you go to the office to work, not to fight. So, set aside your romantic issues when you go to work and pick them up when you clock out. The same thing goes for sweet emails and poetic IMs: they don’t belong in the office, so save your romantic words for your days off.
Keep these in mind to date your coworker without endangering your career!