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A Word of Advice for Millennials About Dating in the Workplace

The Heart Wants What It Wants

Studies shows that dating in the workplace is on the rise. There are many reasons for the upward tick including:

  • More liberal company policies about dating in the workplace.

  • More time spent at work and less time for socialization outside the workplace.

  • Common interests of workers that lead to a natural attraction.

  • Changing perspective on the acceptability of dating by the Millennial generation.

  • Desire to attract and retain Millennial workers.

A survey by Workplace Options in 2012 clearly indicates that dating in the workplace has become a more accepted practice. The poll results show that 84 percent of Millennials (age 18-29) say they would engage in romance with a co-worker, compared to 36 percent of Generation X workers (age 30-45), and only 29 percent of Boomers (ages 46-65). Moreover, 71 percent of employed Millennials see a workplace romance as having positive effects such as improved performance and morale.

Workplace romances can lead to long-term successful relationships. One good example is Bill and Melinda Gates. They met in 1987, four months into Melinda’s job at Microsoft, when they sat next to each other at an Expo trade-fair dinner in New York. Months later they met by chance in the Microsoft car park, and Bill asked her out on a date. They married in 1994 and have two daughters and a son together.

While dating in the workplace may have its advantages, ethical issues must be addressed especially when dating involves a superior/boss and an employee of lower rank.

  • The employee may be given preferential treatment and skewed performance evaluations.

  • Other employees may believe they have been treated unfairly in promotion and pay increase decisions.

  • Diminished credibility of the supervisor in the eyes of other employees.

  • Employee morale may be compromised.

  • The relationship may negatively affect productivity.

  • Internal gossip and rumors can impact the overall work environment and the longer-term careers of the dating individuals.

  • Confidential information may be shared by the superior/boss with the employee.

  • Social networking may lead to inappropriate personal communications on a public forum.

  • Dating by employees of different ranks can create a conflict of interests if the relationship fails.

  • A “hostile work environment” may exist if one employee makes sexually suggestive remarks about the other.

  • A failed relationship may lead to claims of discrimination or harassment.

Employers should establish guidelines for dating and incorporate them into ethical standards.

  • Prohibit dating when it is between a supervisor and a subordinate because of actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

  • Clarify company policy and laws on discrimination and sexual harassment, including disclosure to the HR department when dating is between two employees.

  • Require employees to sign-off that they are engaging in a consensual relationship. These agreements are also called “love contracts.”

  • Provide ethics training to all staff to clearly communicate expectations and reporting requirements.

As a practical matter, dating relationships cannot, and probably should not, be prohibited in its entirety. Employees involved in dating relationships should take certain steps to protect their reputations.

  • Discuss, as a couple, the potential consequences of your dating relationship at work.

  • Displays of affection should be kept in check; act in a professional manner always.

  • Create some separation between your personal and workplace relationship.

  • Do not update your Facebook status or upload pictures on Instagram that might lead to rumors.

  • Have an exit strategy if an office romance blows up.

Dating relationships potentially violate ethical standards because they can create doubt about the reliability, trustworthiness, and sound judgment of the two participants. Most employers take the position that it is difficult to prohibit these relationships so they would rather manage them to make sure it does not have a negative effect on productivity and office morale.

Millennials continue to challenge workplace norms. The axiom “Don’t mix business with pleasure” is of a foregone era when the lines between right and wrong behavior were more clearly defined than now. During the past decade or so we have witnessed a change in societal norms about many issues, and dating in the workplace is no different. It is more widely accepted today because two people may share similar values and be on similar career paths.

A word of advice: If you become attracted to someone in the workplace, first consider the ethical implications of being involved in a workplace romance before committing your heart to it. Most important, consider that even if you are dating a person of equal rank, it may be that one person gets promoted before the other. This can create animosity that threatens both the dating relationship and workplace performance.

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