Got your eye on a cute coworker? You're not alone. Roughly half of all Americans have hooked up with a colleague, with a third of those admitting to steamy episodes in the office itself. It's no surprise, given that most of our waking hours are spent at work.
The good news is: A quarter of these office romances lead to long-term commitment or marriage. The bad news: Many more end up on the rocks. Here are some simple guidelines to help you navigate love without losing your cool at the office.
1. Choose wisely
First and foremost: Do not randomly hook up with a colleague at the company Christmas party. Keep your head together. If you're interested in a co-worker, get to know him or her well before taking it to the next level. Make sure this person would treat you with kindness and respect in the event of a breakup.
2. Have your eyes open
As Shakespeare says, "Love is blind." Nevertheless, in matters of office romance, your eyes should be wide open. Lisa Mainiero, author ofLove, Power and Sex in the Workplace, advises lovebirds to establish a "psychological contract" before plunging headlong into an office relationship. Things to consider: Which friends you'll tell about your relationship and how you will handle a potential breakup. Maybe it sounds unromantic, but considering that your job and your reputation could suffer with an office breakup, practical thinking sounds wise.
3. Know your company's policies
Most employers have adjusted to dating among employees, but they still remain skittish about it. Messy breakups tend to affect worker productivity. Dalliances between superiors and underlings can gouge employee morale.
Firm policies on employee romance vary from firm to firm. Some companies require that you report when a relationship has begun, especially if one of you is in a supervisory role. Get a sense of the rules, written and unwritten, at your company.
4. Be discreet
When things are heating up between you and a coworker, keep it cool. Office romances can lead to workplace distractions, and not just for the lovers.
According to a survey sponsored by the work-life consulting firm Workplace Options, one-third of those who witnessed office romance said it made them uncomfortable or affected their work. So be respectful of others. Fly under the radar.
5. Email cautiously
As a rule, do not send romantic or sexually explicit emails from the office. At most companies your email can be read by anyone in the IT department once you hit "send."
Also, beware the life-long embarrassment factor if you inadvertently fire off a romantic email to your boss, rather than your crush, from the company address book. It happens. For less exposure when communicating with your honey, always use your personal email address, such as Yahoo or Gmail. Better yet, sit down and craft an old-fashioned love letter.
6. Be careful of social networking
In today's world of blogging, YouTube and Facebook, the line between public and private is increasingly blurred. Tonight's raucous adventure can become tomorrow morning's gossip in a single instant.
Remember that whatever is posted on a social networking site -- pictures of you and your love interest, for example -- could be viewed by your boss and coworkers. Make sure it's the public image you want everyone to remember.
7. Remember your job
You are at work to work. Refrain from daydreaming too incessantly about your crush, your next hot date, or your would-be children. Vanishing into the supply room for a 20-minute make-out session doesn't look very professional.
Remember that time spent flirting is time you could have spent perfecting a report or calling a client. Don't give your boss a reason to hand you a pink slip.
8. Date a peer -- not a boss or subordinate.
According to a recent survey by Vault.com, 15 percent of workers have hooked up with their boss. You can't help your attractions, but dating your boss or direct report is risky business. Most companies do not encourage (or allow) superior-direct report relationships, as they throw off office dynamics, making coworkers suspicious and jealous.
Companies also worry about the possibility of sexual harassment claims or other lawsuits, even long after a relationship has soured. So, if you are involved with someone directly above or below you, consider that you might be reassigned within the company or asked to leave altogether.
9. Avoid married colleagues
Having an affair with a married coworker is a bad idea. These relationships tend to crash and burn, and there you stand gathering pieces of your heart off the floor. The seismic fallout on others, including spouses, children and officemates, is significant.
You also may find yourself in legal hot water, with divorce lawyers tracking your emails and phone calls. Now, your once-scintillating romance is the subject of hushed banter in the lunch room. Breaking up under the glare of coworkers is hard enough, but when it involves a married person, the landscape is that much more unforgiving.
10. End things with dignity
If and when the relationship fizzles, avoid drama and treat your ex with respect. Leave your bitter feelings at the office door, and refrain from bringing coworkers into your tangled love web. Any unprofessional behavior could end up backfiring on you.
And whatever you do, don't dump one coworker for another! Have faith. Love will come knocking again.
11. Work somewhere you love
When you're looking for a job, choose a company not only for the opportunity, but for its great culture, values, and interesting people. This is the place where you will be spending most of your waking hours. According to office romance expert Lisa A. Mainiero,the modern-day office has taken the place of church, neighborhood, and family networks in bringing people together.
So if you work somewhere you truly love, chances are greater that you'll find someone who shares your values and interests. Perhaps you'll even stumble upon your soul mate.
With proper care, office love can thrive
If you handle things well, office romance is a great way to inject your day with some meaningful pizzazz. Just make sure you keep your head together. Weigh the professional risks with the personal rewards of your situation before falling head over heels. Above all, when in the office, conduct yourself with dignity and respect. This will take you a long way.