Love Is in the Air – Even in the Workplace

Feb. 10, 2011
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it might become difficult to ignore the resident office lovebirds – in fact, a new survey shows that more than half of workers have participated in an office romance. An expert offers tips for confronting employees whose romantic relationship may be making waves in the workplace. recently released the results from its annual Office Romance Survey, which showed that many workers are willing to ignore the risks involved with finding love in the workplace. According to the survey, 59 percent of respondents said that they have participated in some form of office romance, whether it was a one-night stand, a casual relationship, a long-term commitment or all of the above.

“Good economy or bad economy, we spend more than half of our day at work and those same colleagues are often invited to socialize after work, creating opportunities to blur from professional to personal,” said Jason Levin, a career expert. “Whether that’s OK or not depends on the people involved. Your reputation in and out of the office could be in serious jeopardy depending on how each party handles the end of the relationship. Those involved need to go into this type of relationship with both eyes open, knowing the risks and having a plan to deal with an office romance if it goes sour.”

Vault’s survey, conducted in January 2011, gathered responses from 2,083 employees representing various industries across the United States. The respondents were split almost equally among gender and age lines but were slightly skewed toward the 25-30 year age range.

Respondents discussed their office romances – the outcome, the impact and whether or not they would enter into another relationship with a co-worker, in addition to juicier details about workplace trysts, cheating co-workers, supervisor-subordinate relationships and the controversy around whether office romances have led to unfair favoritism.

According to one respondent, “We work so much. If I were single, why would I pass up an opportunity to date someone cool just because I work with her? It's all about maintaining a separation between work and romance.”

Another respondent said: “No. There is simply too much at risk on both a professional and private basis. The risks far outweigh the rewards.”

Survey highlights include:

  • 26 percent of employees said they dated a subordinate
  • 18 percent of employees said they dated a supervisor
  • 38 percent felt a coworker gained professional advantage because of a romantic relationship with a coworker/superior
  • 31 percent felt uncomfortable because of coworkers’ intra-office relationships

Seventy percent of respondents who said they participated in an office romance said it did not impact their personal or professional relationships with other coworkers. Thirty percent, however, said that it had. Gossip, it seems, is a major concern when it comes to workplace relationships.

“People’s gossip took a toll on my managerial capacity. My subordinates were not as respectful as they were once they found out,” one respondent explained. Another said, “It is very difficult to keep yourself out of the gossip pool once rumors begin to spread.”

View more survey results here.

Confronting the Office Couple

Every workplace varies in terms of policies regarding romantic relationships in the office. Some companies have no policies at all, others require disclosure to HR, others forbid supervisor-subordinate relationships and others may have a policy against any such relationships.

Regardless of the company’s official policy, any time colleagues become more than just coworkers, there is potential for conflict in the workplace. Managers, HR representatives and other employees may find themselves in the tricky position of intervening and discussing the relationship with these coworkers – a task not very many would relish.

Kerry Patterson, workplace expert and co-author of Crucial Conversations, explained that many employees avoid confronting office lovebirds about annoying behavior because they are worried they’ll appear nosy. But with the right set of skills, employees can candidly and respectfully talk to their coworkers about how their behavior is impacting the workplace.

Patterson offered the following tips for approaching and speaking to these employees:

  • Keep the scope of the problem small. Focus on the one issue you care about most. Don’t air a list of gripes about the couple. Instead, work on one issue at a time.
  • Be careful in your use of terms. Describe the problem using tentative language, then describe what the couple is doing – not what you’re concluding.
  • Start the conversation by sharing your good intentions. The last thing you want to do is make these employees feel like you are attacking or blaming them. Create a feeling of safety by letting them know you have their best interest in mind.
  • Keep the discussion private. Talk to the couple about the issue privately, and keep the matter private after your conversation. This will help make them feel safe talking to you.
  • End by expressing concern and thanks. Perhaps the most important thing to remember as you approach a highly sensitive topic is that you care about the other person and want to help him or her address the issue without feeling humiliated in the process.

This Valentine’s Day, celebrate the time you have with your loved one – preferably, outside of the office environment.

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