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Love can be complicated. But mixing love and work is even more so, because it involves your co-workers, your boss and your career.
Plus, the #MeToo movement exposed the prevalence of abuse of power and sexual misconduct in the workplace. This has made both workers and employers more cautious about romance on the job.
In fact, when it comes to love at work, most dating experts are clear about what they recommend: Don't do it.
But, of course, people ignore relationship advice all the time. Over half of American workers have had a crush on a co-worker, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. And the workplace is still among the top five places where heterosexual people meet their mates, although it has been overshadowed by online dating and meeting at bars and restaurants.
So if you have your eye on a colleague, at least have a plan for how you're going to navigate that before you even dip your toe in precarious waters.
Whatever fantasy you might be harboring in your head, it's crucial to be mindful of the potential damage to your job, your employer, your co-workers and your love interest if you pursue that fantasy.
1. Do your due diligence.
Many employers have rules about relationships at work, so it's important to find out what your employee handbook says. Employers care about interoffice dating not just for office morale reasons, but because they need to be watchful for things like sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation and abuse of power.
"There may be a variety of things that companies may want to do internally to protect themselves, which is why many companies now have anti-dating policies [or] anti-fraternization policies," says Jess Carbino, a sociologist who studies online dating.
Some employers ban interoffice dating altogether. Many prohibit supervisors from dating direct reports. Others say relationships must be disclosed to human resources. Your job may depend on your knowing the rules. Don't wait; know what those rules are.
2. Think through your worst-case scenario.
We hate to say plan for the worst, but plan for the worst. Take off your rose-colored glasses and think through the worst-case scenario. This is important because both parties will be accepting risk by getting involved.
What if your love interest breaks up with you and starts dating your best friend at work? What if your co-workers complain to human resources that it's affecting their ability to work or get promoted? What if one or both of you end up having to leave the job?
"If one potential outcome is that you could lose your job and you could lose your dream, you have to ask if this relationship is really worth it," says Damona Hoffman, a Los Angeles dating coach.
Your interoffice romance won't affect just the two of you — it will involve everyone around you and your employer. So understanding what you're putting on the line is key.
3. Gauge interest and make it safe to say "no."
The #MeToo movement exposed a host of workplace abuses. In response, many workplaces have implemented new rules and guidelines.
So if you're going to ask someone out at work, be mindful of potential power dynamics and subtle forms of pressure.
"There is a possibility that you will have to eventually discuss or defend this relationship to a third party, perhaps HR," says Mirande Valbrune, a Miami employment attorney who has written a book about sexual harassment.
Read the social cues carefully. If you do ask someone out, emphasize that you are not trying to pressure the person, and make sure the person won't feel like it's awkward to say no. Only ask a co-worker out once. And remember: Anything less than an unqualified "yes" is a "no." There's no gray zone.
4. Be on the same page about whom you're going to tell and what you're going to say.
Disclosing a new relationship can be tricky.
New workplace couples often hide the fact that they're dating, or at least they think they do, Carbino says. "I think that people who think they have hidden their relationships are probably relatively naive. People are far more observant than they think," she says.
So being on the front end of the gossip mill is probably a good idea. Just make sure you consult with your new partner about how and when you're going to handle things. You don't want to catch the person by surprise.
5. If things don't work out, be professional.
Actually, professionalism is required at all stages. But it's particularly important to remember that post-breakup.
You don't want to harass, discriminate or retaliate. That means you should neither seek out nor avoid your ex. Also, keep in mind that your drama should never affect others at work.
Hoffman, the dating coach, suggests perspective can help: "You have to step back, see the bigger picture and see where you're headed at that company and how you can refocus your energy to something more constructive than pining over someone in the workplace," she says.
So return to the level of engagement you had with your ex prior to the relationship. Keep focused on work, and don't let your resentments, sadness or anger creep into your workplace communications. If that isn't possible, ask for a transfer or a shift in schedule. And if that still isn't solving the problem, perhaps it's time to chart a new path where you don't encounter your ex every day.
We'd love to hear from you — if you've got a good life hack, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us at LifeKit@npr.org. Your tip could appear in an upcoming episode.
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The audio portion of this story was produced by Andee Tagle.