Office romances are on the rise — but there’s a risk

The number of office romances has risen since the pandemic began, according to a survey of U.S. office workers by Alexandria, Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management, and most employees as well as employers don’t have a problem with that.

The survey found 33% of U.S. office workers report that they are currently involved or have been involved in a workplace romance. That’s 6% higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Overall, 50% of workers report they have had a crush on a co-worker at some point.

“We spend so much time in the workplace. It is going to be natural for someone to have feelings or a relationship with someone in the workplace at some point in your life. Many employees don’t have an issue with it, as long as it is not affecting job performance,” said Amber Clayton, Knowledge Center director at SHRM.

The survey also found that 77% of U.S. workers say their employer does not require them to disclose a workplace romance, and an overwhelming majority of those in a relationship with a co-worker don’t disclose it to their employer.

SHRM says employers should have a formal policy in place about romantic relationships between co-workers, but not one that prohibits it.

“Really that is to ensure that employees understand the expectations and responsibilities, especially when it comes to workplace conduct. It is helpful for employers to do this, not only for themselves … but it is helpful to employees as well so they have some guidelines to follow,” Clayton said.

There should also be clear guidelines about employees dating supervisors or subordinates. Even so, of those surveyed, 12% said they had dated a subordinate, and 19% had dated a superior.

The risk to romantic co-worker relationships is the same as it is for any romantic relationship; they don’t always last. But in the case of an office romance breakup, there is a chance of some serious issues.

“There could be claims of harassment, claims of retaliation, potential turnover with one or both individuals deciding they don’t want to work at the company any longer, or they might want to move to other departments,” Clayton said. An ugly office breakup can also take a toll on morale.

Not all office romances are actually romantic. SHRM says 28% of those surveyed have had or have someone they consider their “work spouse,” meaning a co-worker with whom they have a platonic, yet close and personal relationship.

SHRM’s full report on the rise in workplace romance and survey methodology is online.

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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