Remote work has increased office romances

Some office workers may feel more comfortable asking a co-worker out on a date virtually, considering there would be no awkward face-to-face rejection if the answer was no, a human resources expert says. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/fizkes)

With so many office workers working remotely, it might seem counterintuitive that office romances between co-workers are up compared to before the pandemic, but a new survey finds they are.

The Alexandria, Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management surveyed office workers across the country and found 34% of respondents said they have been or currently are involved in a workplace romance. That’s up 7% compared to before the pandemic.

One-quarter of working Americans either began a new workplace romance during COVID-19, or have continued an existing workplace romance that began prior to the pandemic.

One reason may be that it is more like online dating, and it may be easier.

“I think it is easier to have a relationship when you’re not at the worksite,” said Amber Clayton, Knowledge Center director at the SHRM. “You can engage more frequently without interruptions from co-workers or supervisors, whether it is talking on the phone, chatting online or meeting virtually. And if you don’t work near the office, you can meet and have lunch together. You could even be working together in the same home and most people wouldn’t know it.”

Some office workers may feel more comfortable asking a co-worker out on a date virtually, considering there would be no awkward face-to-face rejection if the answer was no, Clayton said.

The survey also found that 78% of employed Americans say their employer does not have a policy that requires employees to disclose whether they are involved in a workplace romance.

Clayton said she wasn’t surprised by that number, because companies often don’t make such policies until an incident involving a workplace romance happens. “Employers should have one, though. And they should talk about what’s considered inappropriate or appropriate conduct in the workplace. Obviously, you want to have things such as no physical contact within the workplace.”

Most office romance relationships are on the down low, with 75% saying they have not disclosed it to their employer.

Most of the survey respondents who said they are, or have been, in an office romance said it was with a peer. But 21% said they have dated their subordinates and 18% have dated their superiors.

“The average person will spend about 90,000 hours at work throughout their lifetime,” said SHRM chief knowledge officer Alex Alonso. “With this in mind workplace romances are bound to happen. However, HR professionals have a responsibility to protect employees from favoritism, retaliation and incidents of sexual harassment.”

The SHRM survey included 1,000 working Americans and was conducted between Jan. 28 and Feb. 1.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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