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My father always tell me "Don't mix relationships and work" - i.e., avoid romantic relationships with individuals that you work with.

Is this good advice? What are the risks of pursuing a romantic relationship with someone at work?

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Deciding to avoid or pursue dating at work is really up to you. If you use good judgement, are respectful of others, and comply with relevant policies, working with a romantic partner can be entirely okay.

There are some ideas centered on professionalism and mutual respect that are relevant and you should keep in mind if you're considering a relationship with a colleague:

  1. Know and comply with your employer's policies. Many firms require employees to report romantic relationships between colleagues to ensure conflicts of interests do not exist.
  2. Pursue only mature and respectful relationships. If your romantic life tends to "blow up," "get complicated," or "is full of drama" know that negative experiences between individuals will be amplified at work. Consider discussing with a trusted mentor what it takes to navigate a relationship in a mature and mutually respectful way and be sure you can do so before mixing your personal life with your work life.
  3. Ensure work (and everywhere) remains a safe and welcoming place for all. Don't make romantic advances (e.g., ask someone out) at work. Don't let a declined or accepted date impact the way you work with a colleague. Never persist if someone turns you down.
  4. Never share details of a colleague's personal life at work (or anywhere). Things you learn through friendship or relationships about your colleagues are never okay to discuss at work. Let an individual who is a colleague make decisions about what to disclose and what to keep private.
  5. Have open discussions with a romantic partner about how to navigate working together. Have and open dialog about the challenges of dating and working together. Develop a specific strategy to keep work professional while fully investing in the relationship. Know what the signs of trouble are and discuss them when you notice them.

In general, if you are able to engage in mature, respectful, and caring relationships, dating individuals who are also work colleagues can work well. However, if there is any chance that a relationship might deviate from mature, respectful, and caring, it is probably best to prevent your personal challenges from becoming work challenges and avoid dating at work.

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You would be better off stating:

“Don’t mix work and relationships”

As that applies equally to all.

There are some who happily work together and are married but many find it does not work for them... Been questions on here before about what to do after a relationship failure with your boss - usual answer has been “find another job”...

  • It is actually good to have a relationship with the people who you work for, romantic or not. Because if you have a relationship with your colleagues you are better able to work with them and they will more readily agree with your proposals. – Galaxy Sep 1 at 20:40
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    @Galaxy the question and Mike's answer are specifically about romantic relationships, not just a normal working relationship. – Geoffrey Brent Sep 2 at 2:23
  • @JoeStrazzere Is there one correct definitive answer? – Solar Mike Sep 4 at 4:32
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You need to ask your dad if possible. Vague parental wisdom is like fortune cookies, could mean a lot of things. Good parenting includes explanations and making sure the child understands anything important being imparted..

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Different employers have different attitudes to relationships in the workplace. Some companies ban them altogether; others accept them but try to manage the risks they create. In academia, the two-body problem means that universities may even support an academic's partner in finding work at the same institution.

Some risks to consider:

  • Not all romances last forever, and breakups can be messy. Can you still work productively with your ex, without making things uncomfortable for everybody around you? Does the organisation risk losing an employee in the event of a breakup?
  • Not all jobs last forever, either. If your company needs to cut staff, and you and your partner end up competing for the same job, what does that do to your relationship?
  • Workplace harassment: work obliges some people to spend time around those who they'd otherwise want to avoid. Especially when a senior staff member is hitting on somebody more junior, things can get very ugly.
  • Conflicts of interest: somebody may show favoritism to their partner. Or they might go too far the other way, and discriminate against their partner in an effort to appear unbiased.
  • Corruption: some businesses need to protect against risks caused by dishonest employees. If Bob is having an affair with Jane, and Jane's the one who signs off on Bob's expenses, that makes it much easier for Bob to get away with fraud.
  • Distraction: if people are focussing on one another and not on doing their job.
  • Perceived any-of-the-above: even if both people involved are being scrupulously fair and honest, co-workers who know about the relationship may believe otherwise, which can cause bad blood.
  • Putting too many eggs in one basket: I've had patches when my personal life was rough but my work life was good, and that helped carry me through the personal stuff. At other times it was the other way around, and my partner helped me get through dealing with a toxic workplace and subsequent unemployment. But when both things go bad together, that's harder to deal with, and dating a co-worker increases the risk of that happening.

Most of those risks can be managed, though. Some common strategies are:

  • Minimising conflicts of interest: if two people are in a relationship, avoid giving them responsibilities where they might have to choose between doing their job and supporting their partner. This is easier to do in a large organisation and becomes harder for staff at more senior levels.
  • Watching out for power imbalances: the more power one colleague has over another (official or unofficial seniority, ...) the more likely a relationship is to be problematic. In particular, relationships up and down the line of management are especially likely to be problematic.
  • Disclosure: staff who are in a relationship need to let management know, because otherwise none of the methods above can be used.
  • Establishing effective anti-harassment policies and training (that'd be a whole question in itself).

I work in a large-ish organisation (~2k people) with several married couples and no doubt more that I don't know about, because I don't need to know. One of my relatives also works for the same organisation, and although that's not general knowledge, it's on record and we would disclose it if we were about to be assigned to the same team.

It seems to work pretty well for us, but in an organisation that doesn't have a plan for managing the complications that come with intra-office relationships, it's likely to cause trouble.

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