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When Cupid Comes Callin’ at Work

Romance is alive and well in the workplace, according to new SHRM research.

Crushing on someone at work? If you think you’re keeping your workplace romance under wraps, think again. Nearly one-fourth (22 percent) of those who report being in a relationship at work or have been in one in the past said they were outed by someone at work, according to a new SHRM research report, Love Is in the Air … and at Work.

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of 1,073 U.S. workers surveyed in January said their organizations require workplace romance disclosure; 44 percent said it’s not required, and 25 percent just don’t know. Among those currently in a relationship, 51 percent disclosed it to their employer. For those—past or present—who have ever been in a workplace romance, 30 percent contacted HR to make sure they weren’t violating company policy. Others, though, had their relationship made public by someone at work but never formally reported (31 percent).

[Listen to the latest Honest HR episode: What the Research Says About Workplace Romance with SHRM's Casey Sword]

When workers have come clean with their employer about their current relationship, more than half said the following people were very supportive:

  • Co-workers—61 percent.
  • Direct supervisor—51 percent.
  • HR—54 percent.
  • Senior leadership—53 percent.

Policies, Guidelines

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents don’t think employers should ban workplace romances, but 78 percent said there should be employer guidelines.

“We know that our work affects our lives and our livelihoods, as this new research proves that workers are finding true connections in the workplace resulting in long-lasting relationships,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM president and CEO. 

“While the data shows overwhelmingly positive outcomes, it is still incredibly important that organizations have guidelines and policies in place,” he said, “not to interfere with the relationships, but to protect employees from favoritism, retaliation and incidents of sexual harassment.” 

Such liaisons can be problematic.

“How will your co-workers feel when they find out you are dating a colleague, or perhaps even the boss?” the American Management Association asked in its report, Office Romance: Worth the Risk?

“A potential office romance will always fuel the rumor mill,” the report authors noted. “Remember, in an office setting, perception is reality. Even if you aren't having an affair, subtle flirting at work will be enough to start the rumors. There also could be the claims of favoritism,” damage to your reputation, and tension or harassment when a relationship sours.

In fact, approximately 40 percent of workers said such relationships are unprofessional and taboo, SHRM found, even though 78 percent are comfortable with others being involved in a workplace romance.

Perhaps it depends on who those close encounters are with. Only 27 percent said it’s OK for individuals of different levels who often or always work together to be in a relationship. However:

Sometimes a workplace relationship has more of a familial feel, like that of a workplace “spouse.” More than one-third of U.S. workers (34 percent) said they have such a platonic connection with a co-worker or business associate.

“Work spouses often function as a team and [they] can protect one another, anticipating information or actions that are potentially hurtful or punitive,” according to Psychology Today, noting such a bond can develop among individuals who might not be romantically attracted to one another.

The spouses provide each other “an outlet for venting frustrations, celebrating successes and navigating the complexities of organizational dynamics.”

Sometimes, though, the relationship moves beyond the platonic—43 percent of workers reported having romantic feelings for their work spouse and 45 percent felt the need to hide those feelings from their significant other or the person they’re dating.

I (Heart) You

So how widespread is love among the cubicles?

According to SHRM’s research released Feb. 14, 17 percent of U.S. workers are currently in a workplace romance. Among that number:

  • 67 percent are involved with peers. Only 23 percent are involved with a superior and 10 percent with a subordinate.
  • 73 percent considered their relationship serious; the rest said it was casual.

Others may not currently be involved with someone they work with, but that doesn’t mean it’s a road not taken. Among the 41 percent who have previously been in such a relationship:

  • 79 percent were involved with a peer.
  • 14 percent were involved with a superior.
  • 9 percent were involved with a subordinate.

Respondents were evenly divided on the reason for dating their current squeeze—love (33 percent); career reasons such as advancement (32 percent); and other reasons, such as the excitement of being with someone (32 percent).

Despite cautionary tales about getting involved with someone at work, 80 percent or more of U.S. workers currently in a workplace relationship said their experience has enhanced their workplace motivation, their sense of belonging and their commitment to the organization.

Of those who used to be in a workplace relationship, slightly more than one-fourth (26 percent) didn’t regret the romance but would not get involved again at work. Most workers, though, said the relationship was worth it (74 percent), and 48 percent said they would do it again.

Other SHRM Resources:

Employee Dating Policy
Anti-Harassment Policy and Complaint Procedure
Personal Relationships Policy
Consensual Relationship Agreement


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