About 2 out of every 5 workers has been romantically involved with a co-worker, according to a recent survey on workplace romance by Spherion. And despite 41% of the survey takers saying that they thought that a work romance might interfere with their job security or hinder advancement, nearly 2 out of 5 respondents said they would still consider becoming involved with a coworker.
While we hate to strike a sour note on this day of wine and roses, it’s a simple fact. Work romance can be fraught with problems for the employer. Witness the sad spectacle of astronaut Lisa Nowak, an example of a work romance gone frightfully awry. While it is likely that Nowak’s problems go far deeper than the romance, her employers at NASA must be wondering if there was anything they could have done or been alert for before things took such a terrible pass. (See What makes an astronaut crack?)
In Spherion’s survey, 42 percent of workers said they conduct their romance openly, while 35 percent favor keeping things quiet. Whether overt or covert, there are many, many reasons why work romances can be a headache to the employer. In a large organization, the effect on coworkers may be negligible, but in a small workplace, romance between workers can hurt morale and cause discomfort, distractions, and conflict. Much worse can ensue if it is a relationship between a manager and a non-manager. And when romances hit the skids, even more problems can ensue – loss of valued employees and potential lawsuits due to harassment or discrimination, for example.
While most employers tend to discourage office romance, few out and out forbid it. In 2006, SHRM conducted a survey on workplace romance and that found that:

“Only 9 percent of HR professionals surveyed say dating among employees is prohibited, and in 2001 and 2005 more than 70 percent of organizations did not have formal written or verbal policies dealing with romantic liaisons between employees.”

Rather than prohibiting dating or romance between co-workers, most employers seem to be taking things on a case-by-case basis. An article on office romance in Inc.com profiles one employer with this approach:

“We don’t have a specific policy,” said Lisa Stone, human relations director at New Media Strategies, an Arlington, Va.-based online marketing firm. “We have an environment that cultivates relationships, and every now and then, Cupid strikes.”

According to Vault, 58% of companies will only interfere if the relationship has created a problem at work, similar to the approach New Media Strategies takes, according to Stone. On average, the firm’s employees are 28 years old and work between 40 and 45 hours a week — factors that have contributed to at least a handful of romances among the ranks of the seven-year-old company, including one engagement, Stone said.”

Not all work romances are problematic—the Spherion study points out that twenty-five percent of workplace relationships eventually lead to marriage.
Related reading

Seven rules of office romance

Romance in the office can lead to marriage or to a lawsuit


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