Let's get this out of the way first: sensibility says the answer is going to be "the safest option is to not let it happen in the first place". I'm fully aware, and already considering that as an option. I'd like to instead focus the answers here on the risks involved in fraternizing, and ways to manage them should this come to pass.
I've become somewhat emotionally entangled with a coworker (we'll call him/her Z). Not in any kind of serious romantic sense - but we've been spending considerable time out of the office as friends, and have recently expressed a mutual attraction to each other and a willingness to indulge in it.
The situation in the office is that I'm Z's immediate superior. I only manage a small team (4 of us including myself), but my input counts heavily toward each of their performance reviews, raises, and promotions.
Background on the office culture itself: it's a smaller office, 20-30 people, recently grown from single digits. There haven't been any established/announced policies on fraternizing, but the company culture is famously open and accepting. There is also a strong religious undercurrent, with the majority of my coworkers being alumni from the same religious university. Overall, the office is very informal and close, and focuses much more on interpersonal practices than official policies or regulations, which makes it very difficult to predict how well our interaction will be received.
I have very mixed feelings on how to approach this:
- My initial instinct is that transparency is always best, and if Z and I intend to dive in, then management should be aware of the possible conflict of interest and the steps I'm taking to remain professional and unbiased. Keeping it a secret has potential to damage a lot of relationships if we're found out.
- On the other hand, opening that can of worms in the first place involves risk, since it's difficult to determine what management's reaction will be. If even mentioning our potential interaction is going to damage Z's position or mine, I'd rather shut things down and avoid it altogether.
- On the third hand, part of me thinks we should do what makes us happy, remain professional and discreet in the office, and let the chips fall where they may - people may not even care, as long as I'm not playing favorites. Injecting this into the office environment may just be asking for trouble unnecessarily.
I very much want to continue enjoying my time with Z, so I'm only considering walking away from it as a last resort. How do I pursue a personal interaction with Z and keep us out of trouble? Are we even going to be in trouble if we come forward?
I haven't brought this up with Z yet, but I intend to get their opinion and agree with them on a best course of action before doing anything. I'm just gathering information and discovering options at this point.