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The average employee spends more than 2,000 hours a year working. That's a lot of time to be in the office and around co-workers, which might be why more than one-third of workers consistently report dating a colleague. But the outlook isn't always so heart-filled. One study found that one-third of office romances resulted in a firing. If you and a co-worker find each other swoon-worthy, here's how to navigate the delicate situation.
Set up work boundaries
Do your best to keep your personal life out of the office. No one wants to see PDAs in the kitchen when all they really want is coffee. This kind of behavior will make co-workers uncomfortable and signal to managers that perhaps neither of you are professional (which can have long-term negative effects that often outlast the relationship). On the other extreme, it's often hard to leave fights or disagreements at the door, but this isn't negotiable in the eyes of HR or managers.
To comply with company policy and protect yourself in the event the relationship goes south, talk to HR. While you don't need to go running to their office after one date, make a point to be transparent when it's clear it's becoming a serious thing. Both people should speak to the appropriate person in HR and reiterate that you understand professional boundaries. If the relationship does end and there's any kind of harassment or workplace retaliation, that's when it's important to have an immediate conversation with HR.
Don't feel pressured to tell co-workers
If you've been dating for a few months and want to break the news to cube-mates, think twice before inviting them into your personal life. As long as you've informed HR, especially if the two of you are at different levels, you don't owe anyone else an explanation. If you do your best to keep the romance out of the office and both behave professionally, you shouldn't be attracting too much negative attention. Sometimes you can't avoid gossip entirely, but don't let the peer pressure sway you.
Understand some rules shouldn't be broken
While dating a colleague at the same level or someone in a different department can certainly be tricky, there are levels of office romance that are best avoided completely. Don't date your boss. Don't have a relationship with a married co-worker, and don't put yourself at professional risk if there are other negative consequences that can be anticipated.
Have an exit plan
While no one wants to plan for a breakup, data suggests that between 6 to 10 percent of office romances that end in a breakup follow with one person quitting their job. Unfortunately, women are the ones that leave far more often than men. In addition to talking to HR, be sure you have your own plan about what to do in the event that you can't face your ex everyday.
Kristin Amico is a career and business writer who spent more than a decade managing creative teams at digital agencies. She has written for The Muse, The Independent and USA Today.