Becoming romantically linked with a co-worker seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, the two of you were hardly a rare breed in testing the interoffice dating waters. According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, nearly 40 percent of workers say they have dated a co-worker at least once over the course of their career.
But now after months of dating, things haven't panned out. The potential for workplace awkwardness is rife, not only for you and your former flame, but for colleagues and higher-ups as well. Here are some steps you can take to mitigate the emotional damage and keep things cordial and professional around the office.
1. Little strategy, big difference. The breakup was a big to-do, but the recovery doesn't have to be. If the sight of your ex at work conjures painful memories, implement small-scale changes to limit or eliminate run-ins. "Whether you park in a different parking lot, arrive earlier/leave later than [normal] (so you don't run into your ex outside the building), or change the place where you eat lunch, small schedule changes can help make the day easier," wrote M.J. Acharya, a breakup recovery expert and author of The Breakup Workbook, in an email.
If physical distance is unavoidable or your former mate happens to be your boss, a more drastic measure like expending built-up vacation time may be called for, Acharya adds.
2. Make work your new mate. Fall in love all over again, only this time with something lacking the capacity to emotionally hurt you: your job. Let the sight of your desk, computer screen, and a hefty pile of reports bring butterflies to your stomach. Lose yourself in your work and reorient your thoughts around the central reason you're there--to be productive and earn a paycheck.
"The most helpful thing is for you to concentrate on what your goals are, and concentrate on achieving those goals," says Connie Thanasoulis, co-founder of the career coaching organization SixFigureStart. "And you're going to have to try and separate yourself from the emotional component."
3. Make email a 'no love' filter. Since in-person discussions of a non-work nature have been banned, your one-time love may cling to email as a way to flirt and discuss your once-promising relationship. If this happens, remind your ex that the professionalism displayed in person and in front of colleagues also applies to email. "No emailing other than work, no discussing personal business in the office," Acharya writes. "If he/she sends a flirty email, just ignore it and respond to the business-only emails."
4. Keep the drama out of sight and mind from your boss. It's understandable that you'll have fragile emotions after splitting up, particularly if things ended on a nasty note. But be careful not to wear them on your sleeve during the workday. Otherwise, you could irk your boss, who's more concerned about the company than any romantic fallout between underlings.
"What companies care about are results," Thanasoulis notes. "No manager wants to hear, 'Oh, I'm not getting along with this one,' 'Oh, I'm dating that one and now I'm upset about it.'"
5. Keep it on the hush. Following the breakup, your natural inclination might be to discuss the matter with any passing bystander. Instead, assert control over your loose-lipped impulses or save emotionally charged ramblings for ears outside your office. "If you want to talk about it, go home and talk to friends and family away from the office," says Ann Rhoades, president of People Ink, an organization that specializes in building corporate culture.
With one or both parties chatting up the details of the break, Rhoades adds, the office can become a place of soap-opera intrigue, as rumors "come back to you that aren't even close to reality."
6. Large vs. small company. The size of the company you work for can have a significant impact on your decision to leave or stay put post-breakup. If the company spreads across multiple floors of a building and has layers of departments, a transfer might be the perfect way to put distance between you and your ex. Different departments can be like mini-companies, Thanasoulis notes, where "if you work in a different division, you never see that person."
If your company is smaller with minimal space, touching up your resume and finding employment elsewhere may be your best bet. "It could be very uncomfortable because there's nowhere to go if things go bad," says Thanasoulis.
7. Think twice before dating a colleague again. After an in-house transfer or finding a new job altogether, you swear off interoffice dating. But along comes a new employee with whom you're smitten. Before long, you're daydreaming about a night out on the town and hedging from your "never again" policy.
Only 17 percent of workers say they've given inter-office dating another shot, according to the CareerBuilder survey. So before leaping into another relationship with a co-worker, Acharya suggests considering two things: First, think about the potential ramifications. Second, get to know the person first before pursuing him or her. If there's "a solid connection, real emotions, and a happily-ever-after future seems to be a real possibility," she adds, think about "revising [your] policy."
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