Office romances? Survey reveals ‘astonishing’ trend

A recent survey shows a marked increase in the number of employees who say they are, or have been, involved in a workplace romance.

The Society for Human Resource Management periodically conducts surveys on workplace romances and how employees and employers feel about them. Its survey results may also be reflecting a rise in the tolerance of them.

“It was always societally understood that it was something that you don’t do. However over the past decade, and particularly in the last three years through the pandemic, we’ve seen a resetting of all of the norms,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Of the U.S. workers surveyed, 25% say they’re currently open to an office romance.

“That’s astonishing,” Taylor said.

Few companies prohibit office romances, but romantic relationships always come with risks, and when it involves two employees at one company, it puts the employer at risk as well. Relationships, including those between co-workers, don’t always last.

“Two really talented employees who decide to date, but when they decide to break up, one of them says, ‘I just cannot be around this person anymore,'” Taylor said. “So one of them opts to leave the organization.”

It can also hurt productivity — and not only of the employees who have ended a relationship. Other co-workers with knowledge of the situation may wind up taking sides.

According to the survey, 18% who said they’d been in a workplace romance said it negatively impacted their career.

The SHRM survey found that 71% of U.S. workers say their employer does not require employees to disclose if they are involved in a workplace romance.

SHRM believes companies should require at least disclosure.

“We’ve abandoned the idea of forbidding them, but now we say you must disclose them,” Taylor said. “The most compelling reason is for legal and compliance reasons. You don’t want someone to subsequently come back and sue the company for sexual harassment or allowing a hostile environment of quid pro quo to occur in the workplace.”

For those employees surveyed who are, or have been in, a workplace romance, only 18% said they disclosed it to their employer. However, 40% said they had disclosed their relationship to their colleagues.

Other survey findings:

  • Nearly 90% of workers in a workplace romance or have dated their peers, while 10% dated a subordinate and 18% a superior.
  • 24% of workers have had a “work spouse,” a co-worker with an extremely close but not necessarily a romantic relationship.
  • 40% say they have flirted with someone from their workplace.

SHRM said workplace romances are inevitable to a degree. The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, making it a likely place to meet others who share their interests and to whom they are attracted.

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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