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Cheating with a Co-Worker Can Hurt Workplace Morale

Survey finds that cheating is most common in the education, finance and insurance industries

A group of people sitting around a table in an office.

​Romance in the workplace is a common phenomenon, but how about romance that involves one or both partners cheating on a spouse or significant other?

A new survey titled Mixing Business and Pleasure by SimplyHired, which operates a job-search website, sought to quantify just how common such illicit romances are.

SimplyHired surveyed nearly 1,000 people to uncover how likely they were to cheat on their spouses or significant others with a co-worker, and in which industries employees are most likely to cheat on their partner with a co-worker.

The survey identified the "cheater" as the person in a marriage or committed relationship who had a romantic relationship with someone, other than his or her spouse or significant other, in the workplace. The person with whom the cheater had this relationship was not identified as a cheater, unless he or she was also married or in a committed relationship.

Twenty-three percent of the men surveyed said that they were the cheater, that they got involved with someone who was cheating, or that they and their romantic partner in the workplace were both cheating. Thirty-one percent of the women said the same.

Since the survey also found that women are more likely than men to be romantically involved with someone at work who's a superior—whether this involved cheating or not—it could be that "women might not feel like they can say no, " said Carly Johnson, project manager for SimplyHired.

"When the rate of cheating was analyzed based on the level of the employee the respondent dated, the numbers revealed the most likely person to have an affair was the higher-level employee, to the tune of 23 percent," the SimplyHired survey authors wrote. "The second-most likely scenario was that both parties were unfaithful within the context of a dating-up relationship."

[SHRM members-only Express Request: Workplace Romance]     

Cheating by Industry

Are some industries more prone to romantic cheating than others? According to the survey, the answer was yes. 

Among those who reported having a workplace romance, 33 percent of those working in education divulged that the relationship involved at least one cheating party, followed closely by the finance and insurance industry at 30 percent.

"Those industries can put in a lot of hours, so that's more time away spent with their co-workers and less time with their spouses" or significant others, Johnson said. "That could perhaps become a breeding ground for potential cheating."

Manufacturing followed at 29 percent, nearly tied with government and public administration at 28 percent.

Workplace cheating seemed the least likely in the hotel, food services and hospitality industries, where 17 percent of those involved in workplace romances reported that the relationship involved cheating.

While it may seem that an illicit romantic relationship at work is a private matter between the two people involved, career experts point out that the relationship requires a deception that can make co-workers wonder about the character of those involved, which could be especially detrimental to morale if those involved are in leadership positions.

"Illicit relationships in the workplace often undermine a company's values and lead to jealousy, in-fighting and poor morale," said author and career coach Jean Baur. "Cheating creates a trust issue as the cheater has to lie to carry it off. Lying erodes his or her primary relationships. Not good."

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