In the workplace, office romance is discouraged. However, it is one of the prime places in adulthood that relationships begin. What is the appropriate action to take when a serious or long-term relationship (i.e., one that one or both parties are extremely emotionally invested in) abruptly ends or turns sour?

Is it appropriate to ask for a department move? Should you inform HR of the situation? Should you just keep quiet and try to deal with it like an adult, even if it impacts your work performance? Should you or your partner agree to find a different place to work?

What is the appropriate action to take in this scenario?

  • 14
    If it impacts your performance, you're not handling it as an adult.
    – user8365
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 16:11
  • 1
    I have never seen office romances work well for myself in the past or anyone else. I have even seen a couple fired after it was discovered. The best advice is to not do it. If you have really fallen in love then look for another job. If not, then go to the bar or on dating sites where you can meet people like a normal person. Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 18:07
  • I don't think the comment was meant as snark.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 19:30
  • 1
    @Jeff - I'm not telling anyone to do anything (Or I would have put that down as an answer.). I just questioned your definition of "deal with it like an adult" which in my opinion includes performing on the job.
    – user8365
    Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 13:31
  • I am late to the party. But, don't take a relationship too seriously. If its over, let it go. There are a plenty of fish in the sea. Commented May 29, 2014 at 16:58

3 Answers 3


Any of the above.

If you can deal with it like adults and move on, do so. That's the best thing for everyone. But not at the expense of productivity. You have to be able to truly move on and be colleagues, if not friends.

But that's not always possible.

If you can't do that then talking to HR about alternatives within the company is entirely appropriate. Even though it is often discouraged, it's an unusual company that doesn't accept the reality that you spend a half of your waking life with the same people and relationships do grow.

They would probably prefer that you'd talked to them when the relationship was going on, so they could separate you then. But that often doesn't happen. When the relationship is in full swing, you don't want to be separated. Tell them now, before someone else does, cause believe me that others are sensing the tension right now.

If they can offer you a transfer that will solve the problem, take it.

If that fails and you can't find a way to work together then yes, I'm afraid one of you has to find another job. Rough, I know, but that's the way it goes.

I would say this to either of you, but be nice, one last time for the sake of what you did have, and be the person to go.


First, if your company has a policy against relationships at work, the very last thing you want to do after a breakup is go tell HR. This could get you fired. If you need to ask for a transfer, do not give the breakup of the relationship as the reason. If there is no formal policy against it, you can talk about why you want a transfer, but do it carefully. You do not want to come across as an angry, out-of-control person.

The problem of the break-up is one of the most critical reasons why relationships at work are discouraged. There can be some awful effects of this and many times the person with the least organizational power is let go. I have seen this happen repeatedly.

There are only two strategies to navigating these waters that I have seen actually work.

The first is to act like an adult and a professional. Treat the other person exactly the same as you should have treated him or her before the relationship. Be polite at all times, praise publicly when the person does something well, discuss problems in private. A professional does not let something like this affect productivity or work performance.

You can be as angry or upset as you like outside of the workplace, it is simply inappropriate in the workplace. If the other person is behaving inappropriately, then let them look bad while you take the high road (it's not as effective as when both parties can take the high road, but it is more effective than both parties being angry and disrupting the workplace). This strategy works best when both parties can follow it and when you are peers - not in a boss-subordinate relationship.

Unfortunately, in a boss-subordinate relationship, the best strategy by far is to reassign one of the people or for one to get another job elsewhere if there are no other jobs to be reassigned to. It is almost impossible for people to work in this kind of relationship after ending a relationship.

One thing that happens after the personal relationship is over is that the boss stops giving special preference to the subordinate. Yes, you think there was no special treatment, but in 30 years in the workplace and having observed many boss-subordinate relationships, I have never yet seen one where there wasn't special treatment that, frankly, the other employees resented.

So the junior person is now going to be held accountable for doing the work in a way that he or she wasn't before and gets mad at the difference. The boss is mad because the person is not the "star" performer he or she thought the person was before (even if he or she still is). The co-workers who have been upset at the special treatment realize that they can take their ire out on that person as well. (I can't say this strong enough even though this is not about beginning a relationship - if the person is your boss, do not start a relationship with him or her, they do not end well.) And it is much, much worse if the person was promoted to a position above his or her competence level due to the relationship or if one of the parties in the relationship is married to someone else.

If you are in the position of a subordinate who broke up with the boss, start looking for something else immediately and do not spend any money you don't have to because there is a good chance you will lose your job before you find another.

  • 5
    Oh wow, there's countries where you legally can forbid someone to have relations? Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 16:25
  • 2
    There are companies that can forbid it as part of the contract to work there, yes. They often forbid realtionships between only between bosses and their subordinates, but some do not allow any relationships at all.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 16:54
  • 2
    @OlegV.Volkov it's a very smart policy, IMO. No, it certainly does not prevent things from developing, but it also allows companies an easy out if the aftermath of such trysts begin to negatively impact productivity and efficiency.
    – acolyte
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 18:39
  • 2
    @acolyte: Why should there be an "easy out"? Should life for businesses really be so simple as "Well, we told you not to get together, you ignored us, and now (when you thought you were feeling pretty low already) we're going to fire the least valuable of the two of you. Good luck out there." Or should businesses be forced to take a slightly more human view and say "Hey, let's talk this through, you're both on a warning -- not for having a relationship but for underperforming -- now let's see what we can do to correct the situation before we have to fire one or both of you."?
    – pdr
    Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 15:48
  • 2
    @accolyte: Ok, let me put it a less socialist way -- why should underperforming due to an intra-office-relationship breakdown be treated any differently from underperforming for ANY other reason? And what if they're not underperforming and the relationship is fine but some bitter, rejected suitor for either partner decides to make an issue of it and get them fired?
    – pdr
    Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 15:56

If relationships are discouraged, than most probably two people in a relationship cannot have certain positions, for example one shouldn't be the other's boss. If this is the case, HR should be informed that you are in a relationship with someone or that you broke up.

All the rest is your personal problem. If you can agree with your partner, it's great. If not, try to work together for some time. Maybe you'll get used to it, or there will be a change in your relationships.

I consider asking your management to move you to another department a critical action. Do it if nothing else works. If still do it, make sure you find a good department where you would work better, and where help is necessary. In this case your management might be even glad to move you.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .