Office romance - how to make it work

Good luck trying to put a policy in place to prevent office romance. It’s as slippery as a policy on office gossip. With men and women rubbing shoulders—and heaven knows what else—in the workplace, it’s impossible to predict when it will happen and with whom.
In recent years, companies have recognized it is inevitable—but it doesn’t mean they like it. In surveys I’ve seen—Fortune Magazine, USA Today—roughly 80 percent of CEOs agree that office affairs aren’t the company’s business, as long as the unmarried couple is discreet. But digging a little deeper, a strong majority say office romance can increase the company’s exposure to sexual harassment lawsuits. And if not a lawsuit, most say it contributes to an appearance of favoritism. And, even if the couple marries, over half of CEOs feel that marriage to a colleague can limit a manager’s career.
With all that said, office romance is going to happen, regardless of the pitfalls. So if you find yourself falling for a co-worker, at least take some steps that will minimize potential damage to your career.
First, some don’ts:
  • Don’t have a relationship with a married colleague. Period. It will be discovered and it won’t be pretty. Even if you think you are so careful no one could possibly find out, you are just tempting fate. I have seen it destroy careers…not to mention families.
  • Never date someone you report to. When senior management finds out—and they will—they will be forced to take action to separate the two of you. Depending on the circumstances, they may terminate you both. It demonstrates poor judgment, especially on the part of the senior person in the relationship, who is usually a member of management. For example, imagine how it looks when the manager takes his subordinate lover to a convention. Even if it makes sense from a business perspective, it won’t fly in the eyes of the coworkers. And how will it look if the subordinate gets a bigger (or smaller) raise? A choice (or undesirable) project? All hell can break loose. And then they call in the lawyers.
  • Don’t have a relationship with someone in your company, unless you can stay far away from each other, so your work won’t be influenced by the other person.
  • Don’t use email for anything but professional communication. I’m always amazed when lovers are surprised when senior management audits their emails. Email is the property of the organization and they have the right to investigate relationships that could put the company at risk.
Now, some dos:
  • Decide what your personal policy will be. If you decide in advance that you won’t date anyone at work, you will be less likely to have it just “happen.”
  • If you want to discourage a romantic relationship at work, steer away from circumstances that lead to romance. For example, watch how much you drink at office parties and out-of – town meetings, be careful to consciously manage who your spend time with and what you talk about. Many situations escalated when people drank too much and their judgment became impaired.
  • Do have a discussion, early in your relationship, about parameters you both agree to maintain, including how you will both act if the relationship breaks up. It’s a buzz kill to talk about, but mature people recognize it could happen and it’s better to agree to some ground rules.
  • Avoid going gaa gaa at work. Don’t spend extra time in their office, or passing by his/her desk. Save the mooning looks and lingering eye contact. Don’t think it won’t be noticed. Two people in love can telegraph their sexual energy across a conference room, without even being aware of it. You can bet it won’t be missed by coworkers.
  • Arrive separately to company events and to work. Spend time with other coworkers at work, office events, and at lunch.
  • Consider keeping it a secret until you see how serious it is going to be. Don’t discuss it openly with co-workers—it will only draw negative attention to you.
  • If you are a female in a male dominated organization, be aware that you will have more attention paid to what you do.
  • Keep your performance strong. Stay focused on your job and productivity. In the end, that will be what counts most. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.