By Lindsay Dodgson
Work relationships are a funny thing. If you have a regular 9-5 job, you likely spend more hours of the day with your colleagues than you do your other friends, flatmates, or even your spouse.
When you tally up all that time, and the fact it takes about 200 hours to become best friends with someone, it’s no surprise many people form close bonds with their workmates. About 17% of people also have a “work spouse,” who they constantly message, talk to about the stresses of work, and hang out with.
Recent research from totaljobs found that 22% of people meet their actual romantic partner at work, too. That’s compared to 13% meeting online, 18% meeting through friends, and 10% finding each other on a night out.
“Most adults spend a minimum of 1,680 hours per year in the office, so you are likely to spend more time with your coworkers than almost anyone else,” David Brudö, CEO and cofounder of the mental well-being app Remente told Business Insider. “While you do not have a say in who your coworkers are, chances are that you will have common interests.”
He added that working in an office gives you the opportunity to get to know someone in a way that you don’t manage to as easily on “swipe right” dating apps.
“Working with someone daily, you will see how they respond to a problem, act under pressure, and interact with other coworkers,” he said. “It is also easy to start sharing personal information and commiserating about difficulties faced in the office — perhaps over a lunch or after-work drinks.”
The totaljobs survey of 5,795 UK workers revealed that two out of three people would be up for dating a colleague, while the remaining third would never dream of it. The main reason they gave for being wary was that they just didn’t think romance and work should mix.
Among many people there’s a fair amount of stigma attached to dating someone in your office, which is probably a factor in why 76% of those surveyed said they would keep their office romance a secret.
“There is a long-standing rule that you should not date your coworker,” Brudö said. “The reasons are many: you risk losing your job, becoming uncomfortable at work, or creating office drama that could hurt your professional reputation.
“Knowing that, if the relationship does not work out, it could lead to rather tarnishing consequences and can take an emotional toll on both you and the coworker you were dating.”
There are other things to consider, too. About 60% of those surveyed said they felt the pressure to act more professionally when they were in a work relationship, and 51% said they were concerned about gossip. One in three people said they felt judged by their coworkers for their relationship, one in six got made fun of, and one in 10 were even discriminated against as a result.
The survey also found that woman dating their manager is more likely to take a career hit than a man dating their manager in terms of promotions, salaries, and bonuses, and even relationships with other colleagues.
Despite these pressures, a workplace relationship is relatively straight-forward. But they don’t always work out the way you planned, which can muddy the waters.
For instance, one individual might be more invested in the relationship than the other — that’s if it turns into anything at all.
As councilor Gregory L. Jantz points out in a blog post for Psychology Today, the intensity created in a work situation can mirror the intensity we experience in sexual relationships — leading to mixed messages and perplexing behaviour.
“Such feelings of attachment and unity can be similar enough to cause confusion,” Jantz writes. “Even if the conscious mind does not acknowledge the connection, often the subconscious will. One or both partners may find themselves suddenly considering the other from a sexual point of view.”
Spending more time together tends to break down defences between people faster, and that doesn’t necessary result in romantic intimacy. But, as Jantz says, sometimes one party may loosen up too much, allowing a boundary to slip.
“If both partners are not careful to continually reestablish boundaries to keep their relationship within a certain framework, these ‘slips’ can lead one party to begin to view the partnership as more than just a work connection,” he writes.
In other words, it is important to be clear about your boundaries, and work out what you really want from a work relationship — are you just friends, or is there something more? Sometimes the lines can blur, and it’s tricky to work it out. But it’s better to think it over before something happens that you might regret.
“A coworker can easily start to feel like the most important person in your life, romantically or otherwise,” said Brudö. “It is important to recognise, however, the difference between feeling a certain closeness to someone because of the situation you are in (working together), and actually falling in love.”
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Originally published at www.businessinsider.com