What's love got to do with it? Quite a lot, actually. To answer Tina Turner's proverbial question, I checked out current research on workplace romance. If it's just about sex, a dalliance, an extramarital affair, or a relationship to move an individual up the career ladder, coworkers and companies tend to frown on love relationships in the office. If a couple is genuinely serious about dating and building a relationship, popular opinion is more favorable.
After all, where can you meet that special someone anymore? With the amount of time people spend working, and the increasing percentage of women in the workforce, where else is a couple to meet?
Traditional meeting places such as church, the neighborhood, family events, and leisure time activities do not present the same pool of candidates as they did in earlier times. In contrast, the office provides a pre-selected pool of people who share at least one important interest.
People who work together also live within a reasonable dating distance, and share a location, so they see each other on a daily basis. Coworkers in similar jobs may also be approximately the same age, and share similar interests both inside and outside of work.
Workplace Romance Policy
Workplace romance is a worry to employers, but it is not the major faux pas, it may have been in earlier years. In fact, a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Workplace Romance Survey found that most companies surveyed do not even have a formal, written, romance policy.
Of the 617 members who responded to the SHRM survey, 72 percent do not have a written policy; 14 percent say they have an unwritten, but well understood, norm in their workplace. Thirteen percent do have a policy.
In the SHRM survey, 55 percent of the HR professionals responding said that marriage is the most likely outcome of the office romances they have experienced. Other studies have reported a higher level of productivity in dating couples at work.
Respondents who discourage, or the seven percent who forbid, dating in their workplace, cite concerns with potential sexual harassment claims, retaliation and workplace disharmony if the relationship should end. They are concerned about potentially lowered morale and the productivity of both the dating couple and their coworkers.
Research on Dating, Sex, and Romance at Work
In the Journal of Management, May-June, 1998 issue, Gary N. Powell summarized the research that has been conducted over the past few decades about office romance. (He finds that this research has not been pursued with enough vigor by organizational behavior scholars, by the way. He says he reviewed the "meager scholarly literature on the subject to date.")
He found that "at some times, workplace romances present a threat to organizational effectiveness through their negative effects on participants and coworkers. At other times, workplace romances enhance workplace effectiveness through their positive effects on participants.
"Two kinds of romances have the most damaging effect on group morale and organizational effectiveness, (a) hierarchical romances in which one participant directly reports to the other, and (b) utilitarian romances in which one participant "satisfies personal/sexual needs in exchange for satisfying the other participant's task related and/or career-related needs."
Additionally, recent CareerBuilder surveys find that approximately 40% of all employees have engaged in an office romance. A third of the respondents went on to marry the coworker whom they dated.
In an SHRM white paper, Andrea C. Poe, an HR freelance writer, found that adulterous affairs were a problem in some workplaces. From a recent Vault.com survey of several thousand employers and employees, she states that inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace is also common on company time and at company locations.
Find out what the Human Resources professional needs to do about an office romance.