Did you know that around 25 percent of people have dated a coworker at some point in their careers?
All those late nights at the office and Friday drinks after work, understandably, lead to romantic connections and some long-term relationships.
For the lucky ones, workplace flings turn into lifetime loves, but for many others, the boardroom breakup can cause more than just a broken heart. It’s bad enough that you have to toss their stuff out of your apartment and delete all of your cute couple pictures from social media, but now, you’ve ended up working with an ex.
You don’t even get the luxury to throw yourself into your work as a distraction because your ex is at the other end of every email thread, twisting the knife even further into your broken heart.
But here’s how to work with your ex while keeping your professional career intact.
While it might seem like the end of the world, a workplace breakup is just a few extra hurdles to jump on your journey to a mended heart.
1. Keep it strictly professional.
Breakups can bring on a lot of tense conversations, snide comments, and snappy remarks, but the office is no place for this kind of interaction.
While it’s difficult to go back to speaking professionally with someone who’s hurt or broken your trust, you don’t need a broken heart ruining your professional reputation. Your coworkers aren’t going to care about who did what and who broke up with who if it gets in the way of office productivity.
Time to bite your tongue and get down to business. Keep it polite and civil, because screaming matches in the office are not a good look for anyone.
2. Acknowledge the awkwardness between you.
No matter how the breakup went down, this situation is awkward for everyone involved.
It’s okay to make light of the situation by pointing out tension when you run into each other at the copy machine or in the break room. You can acknowledge the awkwardness with coworkers, too, so they know you’re trying to move forward from your breakup.
The reality is, lots of people in the office have probably noticed anyway, so you may as well join in on the joke. Make a “Well this is awkward” joke to cut the tension, and move on.
3. Set your boundaries.
Discussing some rules can help keep things professional.
Maybe you’re able to switch around teams, desks, or shifts in order to minimize contact with your ex. If this isn’t feasible, you can set boundaries around what interactions are necessary and what can be avoided.
Have an open discussion after the breakup so both of you are on the same page about how you’re going to manage work life. You may even need to discuss notifying HR if your office requires you to disclose your relationship.
It helps to continuously review these boundaries. Maybe you thought you could handle working on a project together but now find yourself getting angry and needing to step away. Maybe your ex originally wanted you two to be friendly but now needs more space.
4. Avoid gossiping about your situation.
Venting, bad-mouthing, and spilling secrets is part of the breakup handbook at this point and can be the cheapest form of therapy sometimes. But in a workplace breakup, the rules are a little different.
No matter how much your close work colleagues want to know the details of your breakup, some things are best kept to yourself.
When you’ve been scorned by a breakup, the temptation is always there to seek vengeance on your ex, especially if you’re sick of hearing your coworkers brag about how nice they are. But destroying their reputation will only make you look petty and won’t mend your broken heart.
Reserve your ranting for friends and family outside of work so you get to pour your heart out without risking your job.
5. Reconsider having office flings.
When you spend so much time at work, it’s only natural that a romance will bloom there, but if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already realized that some flings just aren’t worth all the sneaking around and awkward aftermath.
And the only thing worse than having to work with one ex is having to work with multiple exes.
When it comes time for you to move on, maybe consider dating outside of the office and keeping it hush-hush so your ex doesn’t have to hear about it. If there is someone utterly irresistible in the office who you want to pursue, it could be time to switch jobs or at least transfer to a different department.
6. Be aware of harassment.
Breakups can bring out the worst in people. What might look like normal ex behavior to one person can feel like bullying or harassment to another.
Have a read over the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines on what constitutes workplace harassment so you know if you or someone you work with is crossing any boundaries.