Office romances may be an HR nightmare, but they happen nonetheless.
In a 2017 CareerBuilder survey, 41 percent of workers ’fessed up to dating a co-worker, and 30 percent of those relationships led to marriage. Regardless of how common it is, asking your work crush out on a date requires a lot of tact, especially with all the workplace sexual harassment scandals that have unfolded over the last year.
How do you go about it without being a creep? Below, human resources and dating experts share six things to keep in mind before asking someone out at work.
1. Check what HR policies are in place.
Your workplace is just that: a workplace, not a bar or a dating app for download. None of the HR experts we spoke to encouraged actively looking for love at the office, but they acknowledged it happens. And while it’s less common for businesses to enforce or even have a non-fraternization policy, it’s still important to determine if your company has one, said Teresa Marzolph, founder of Culture Engineered, a human capital consulting firm in Phoenix.
“The few policies still in existence often focus on relationships that put the company as risk, such as a romantic relationship between a manager and their employee, or one that runs contrary to the checks and balances that exist within the company ― like quality assurance and customer service or finance and sales,” Marzolph told HuffPost.
If no guidelines exist, Marzolph recommends gauging the workplace culture around you: Have you heard of other office relationships developing in the past? Does the company encourage after-hours camaraderie among the staff?
“A company that sponsors or hosts non-work events and activities may be an example of a culture that’s much more tolerant or even supportive of relationships in the workplace,” Marzolph said.
2. Be friends first.
Avoid going from zero to 100 by establishing a friendship first, said Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior & Thrive in Your Job. This way, you’ll find out early on whether you have anything in common besides mutual disgust of your boss’ Tupperware lunches.
“Establish a foundation and find out if you’re compatible, personality-wise,” Taylor said. “Then, take cues. Gauge your next actions off the responses you generally receive from the person.”
3. Suggest getting coffee.
Take some of the stress out of the situation by suggesting a casual location for your date, said Neely Steinberg, a dating coach and image consultant.
“Coffee is usually a good suggestion because it’s low key and really, who doesn’t like coffee?” Steinberg said. “Plus, it may be perceived as a friend thing as opposed to an actual ‘date.’ If you’re not getting a good romantic vibe, you can always just chalk it up to a friendly co-worker coffee.”
4. When you do ask, don’t make it weird.
In the 12 years Marzolph has worked in human resources, sexual harassment complaints have almost always been about how someone went about asking, not the fact that they had asked.
“The common theme is that the interaction left one person feeling uncomfortable,” she told us. “Whether intended or not, most filing a claim or complaint describe the pursuing employee’s approach as awkward or inappropriate.”
To avoid becoming an office-wide pariah, be mindful of your surroundings and your body language when floating the idea of a date, Marzolph said.
“Don’t come on too strong or corner the person, and ideally, approach them outside of work or in the communal area,” Marzolph said. “Try to keep your approach light; be ready to give the person an easy out if they’re not interested, so you both can continue working together without tension.”
5. If they say ‘no,’ maintain professionalism throughout the experience.
Don’t take it personally if your crush is just not that into you, Taylor said.
“If the person declines, remember that this is a risky proposition,” she explained. “Your co-worker might have otherwise said ‘yes’ if you hadn’t met at work. Many are averse to dating co-workers as a personal policy.”
6. If they say ‘yes,’ still maintain professionalism throughout the experience.
From the beginning, recognize that this is an imperfect dating situation. Asking a colleague out isn’t simply about two people getting together ― it almost always complicates the workplace dynamic, said S. Chris Edmonds, a human resources expert and founder of The Purposeful Culture Group.
“Luckily, some work relationships work out great,” Edmonds said. “I met the woman who became my wife at work and we’ve been married 38 years now. You just need to be diligent in keeping work separate from your outside relationship. PDA or arguing at work will only increase tension and discomfort by other team members and observers.”
Whatever happens, Edmonds recommends keeping your personal policy on interoffice romances as simple as possible.
“The overarching policy everyone in the office should embrace is ‘don’t taint the workplace,’” he said.