Every Day Is Valentine’s for Some Workers

By SHRM Online staff Feb 11, 2011

Whether it starts with a chance meeting after work, a shared lunch break or staying late to work on a project together, more than one-third of 3,910 full-time U.S. employees have made a love connection in the workplace.

And nearly two-thirds are not keeping secret a once-taboo type of relationship.

That’s according to findings released Feb. 10, 2011, from an annual online survey conducted for CareerBuilder in November and December 2010.

“Workplace relationships no longer carry the stigma they once did,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of HR at CareerBuilder. Sixty-five percent of workers surveyed aren’t keeping the relationship hush-hush, she noted, and 30 percent have married the person they met at work.

Other CareerBuilder findings:

  • 18 percent reported having dated co-workers at least twice in their career.
  • 12 percent reported that their relationship started when they ran into each other outside of work.
  • 8 percent said they work with someone they would like to date; 11 percent of men and 4 percent of women indicated this.
  • 6 percent left a job because of an office romance.

Women were more likely than men to date someone above them in their company's hierarchy. One-third said they had dated someone who holds a higher position in their organization; 20 percent of men reported they have done the same, according to CareerBuilder.

A Vault.com survey found that 59 percent of its 2,083 respondents had dated a colleague. Slightly more than one-fourth dated a subordinate, and 18 percent dated their supervisor. The survey, conducted mid-January 2011, was open to full- and part-time workerswho were Vault.com users. The majority of the respondents were from the U.S.

Dating a colleague who’s at a different level in the hierarchy can be fraught with problems. Thirty-eight percent thought a co-worker gained a professional advantage because of a romantic relationship with a supervisor or co-worker, and 31 percent were uncomfortable with a co-worker’s office romance, Vault.com found.

Other workplace connections that Vault.com survey respondents ranked as unacceptable (with more than one answer allowed):

  • Dating someone in the same department (29 percent).
  • Dating someone who is working on a project with you (29 percent).
  • Dating someone you work with who is from a different company (22 percent).

Only 6 percent of workers, though, said dating someone at the same work level was unacceptable, and 5 percent thought dating someone from a different department or office location was unacceptable.

Eleven percent thought a workplace romance is never acceptable.

Among those who have had a workplace romance, 63 percent would do so again.

How participants viewed their twosome seems to depend on the gender of the person surveyed. Twenty-three percent of men vs. 15 percent of women reported having workplace “flings,” but 22 percent of women and nearly 15 percent of men reported having a serious, long-term work relationship.

Is the tug of heartstrings stronger than concern that Cupid’s arrow could nick one’s job or career? It depends on which survey you read. Sixty-five percent of workers in the Vault.com survey said the economy was not a factor in pursuing a workplace liaison. However, 70 percent of 423 registered Monster users think that dating a co-worker openly could jeopardize job security or advancement, according to a survey in the U.S. for Spherion Staffing Services, a division of SFN Group Inc.

“It’s clear from this year’s survey results,” conducted online in January and February 2011, “that workers remain fearful that dating in the workplace could jeopardize their job security, a sentiment that may be heightened due to ongoing uncertainty in the economic situation,” said John Heins, senior vice president and chief HR officer at SFN Group.

Only one-third of those surveyed in 2008 were hesitant to start an office romance, he noted in a news release.

“When facing an economic environment where mass layoffs, restructuring and unemployment reign, workers appear to be less willing to risk their jobs for love,” Heins said.

Ambiguous policies on workplace romance don’t help, he pointed out. One-third (36 percent) of the respondents to the Monster survey work at companies without such a policy; 43 percent don’t know if their company has a policy.

“If office policies aren’t clearly communicated or don’t exist at all, people can’t measure the potential consequences of how an office romance will be perceived or handled by the company,” Heins said.

CareerBuilder’s Haefner advised workers to find out if their employer has such a policy and then adhere to it. In addition, she suggests:

  • Lessening the chance for office gossip by informing co-workers or supervisors personally before posting photos and status updates about the relationship on your social media site.
  • Making professionalism your mantra by keeping interactions low-profile and not letting dating issues affect work performance and the performance of those with whom you work.

“Especially in this economy, workers are spending more time in the office, and the lines between working and socializing are being crossed,” Haefner said in a news release. “Workers need to keep it professional under all circumstances, though, to ensure that the quality of their work is not negatively impacted.”


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