Would dating a colleague have a negative impact on my career?

Generally, in smaller firms, office romances are tolerated. It is due to the more casual environment of such firms. But larger companies covertly (or very overtly) discourage romance between employees—in particular, those between managers and their staff. If your company has a clear "no fraternizing" policy, then you and the other employee risk immediate dismissal if the company finds out. Since a rule that threatens termination for fraternization is difficult to enforce, most companies don't have such a policy—just an attitude throughout the organization that frowns on such relationships.

If the romance involves two single people, and they behave professionally throughout, including after a civilized parting if the relationship goes sour, then being the butt of office gossip during the romance may be the worst consequence you encounter. On the other hand, if an employee dates a married person and the situation becomes public, invariably one or both parties are usually asked to leave. There is a belief that those who might be disloyal to a spouse might also be disloyal to the organization and consequently can't be trusted. Certainly, when the indiscretion becomes public, reputations are tarnished and the professional stature of the individuals is permanently damaged. Rumor mongering will cut into office performance. There is also the danger of domestic violence—a wronged spouse angrily entering an office making accusations and threatening harm.

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If you do decide to date an individual in your organization, don't confide in anyone within the organization. At least wait until after the first date and you and the other party see an ongoing relationship in your future.

Invariably, information about your romance will become common knowledge. If so, be comfortable with it. Try to maintain the same attitude and demeanor as before. Don't send personal e-mails. Avoid making goo-goo eyes at your lover. Don't let yourself be seen staring into space, daydreaming, and wasting time. Minimize impact on your work and on others. The more professional you are around your significant other, the more quickly others will accept the relationship.

If you and your partner believe that the relationship will be permanent, you may want to share the information with your manager. In doing so, you will appear straightforward, honest and professional. Your manager won't be taken by surprise when he or she hears about you both on the grapevine. If you can demonstrate to your boss that your relationship isn't interfering with your work performance, you will also get his or her respect. On the other hand, your manager may be more alert to your behavior. Don't expect to be allowed to travel together on a business trip. A long lunch hour, tardiness in the morning, and early exits may raise eyebrows. If there's important work to do, your manager may take action to have you moved to another position because he or she feels that the romance will put unnecessary stress on the task. He or she may even fire you.

If the relationship ends, you also have to deal with the aftermath—and watchful eyes of peers. Indeed, probably the most important reason managers decide not to pursue a relationship is because of the ramifications of a breakup and not because they don't see the potential for a good romance.

So before you pursue a romantic relationship with a coworker, determine if the affair has the potential to create mutual happiness and some level of commitment. If it doesn't, then the risk is probably too great. Better to seek a social life outside your office.