Illicit Office Dalliances an HR ‘Nightmare’

Infidelity, managers hooking up with subordinates are among findings of UK poll 

By Dana Wilkie Feb 12, 2015

Handling workplace romances that jeopardize marriages and often involve alcohol hardly sounds like an HR manager’s dream job, but if you’re up for the challenge, you may want to seek employment in the United Kingdom.

Because there, half of office romances involved at least one person who was already in a relationship or married, and nearly half had been drinking alcohol when the romance blossomed, according to a survey of U.K. workers released Feb. 9, 2015, by London-based Approved Index, which matches buyers with suppliers of business products and services.

“The office is a breeding ground for office hookups, infidelity and cross-structural love affairs, leaving the HR department in quite a predicament,” wrote Approved Index editor Trilby Rajna in a news statement. “All these illicit office dalliances and cross-structural affairs have the potential to go very wrong.”

The survey focused exclusively on employees who worked in an office setting. In conjunction with online survey site Vivatic, Approved Index polled 1,550 UK office workers from Jan. 28-Feb. 3, 2015.

Among the findings:

  • 65 percent of office workers have been involved in at least one office romance.
  • Nearly half said they had engaged in office romances with two or more people. 
  • Two out of 5 office romances happened across management and subordinate structures: About 1 in 7 workers got involved with their manager, while about 1 in 8 got involved with a subordinate. Rajna called these findings an HR manager’s “nightmare.”
  • Nearly 2 in 5 said they got involved with someone who was already in a relationship or married, while more than a third (35 percent) said they themselves were married or in a relationship when the romantic encounter happened. In nearly 23 percent of cases where one or both of the workers was already involved, the new romance had a negative impact on the marriage or existing relationship.
  • More than 37 percent said the encounter happened after they’d had one or two drinks or were “tipsy,” and another 11 percent said it happened when they were drunk.
  • 68 percent of respondents who admitted to having an office romance regularly worked overtime. “This leads us to question the impact of heavy workloads and long working hours on relationships and life outside of the office,” the survey authors wrote.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 had their romantic encounter in the office, during working hours. About 1 in 4 encounters happened at the office when the employees were working after hours. About 1 in 6 happened at an office Christmas party. Respondents described the encounters as everything from “sending flirty e-mails” and texts to leaving the office so they could be together during working hours.
  • More men reported having affairs at work than women—58 percent versus 42 percent, respectively.
  • Almost one-third of the office romances (30 percent) led to a serious relationship or marriage, but nearly 1 in 4 respondents characterized their romance either as a “one-night stand” or a “one-time incident.”

The largest percentage of those who answered the survey (25.8 percent) were 25 to 34 years old. The industries most represented were the public sector, engineering, education, accounting, banking/finance, technology/IT, and retail.

Rajna said many of the survey respondents expressed regret about their office romances.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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