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Valentine's Day Highlights Risks of Office Romances

February 10, 2020
 
Valentine’s Day is Friday. While office romances may develop at any point throughout the year, Valentine’s Day seems to put an exclamation point on the issue.
 
The Vault, an organization that studies trends in the workplace, highlights some interesting trends in its most recent study of on-the-job romance.
 
The 2019 survey of more than 700 participants, found that the older an employee gets, the more likely that s/he has participated in an office romance. Seventy-two percent of people age 50 or older who took the survey stated that they had engaged an office romance.
 
Romances run the gamut from brief “hookups” to more serious long-term relationships. The survey found that more than 30 percent of workers had participated in an office hookup. Twenty-two percent were in a long-term romance with a coworker while 18 percent met their spouse at work. The most common ways that people met included working near one other, working in the same department or going out together to social activities with coworkers.
 
Nearly two-thirds of people in a workplace romance tried to keep the romance quiet, (i.e. just between the two of them) or known only to a small circle of friends. It is much less common for people to announce it companywide.
 
Almost 20 percent of the people who responded to the survey engaged in an affair with a coworker. The use of the term affair meant that at least one of the two people in the romance was married.
 
What should employers do about all this? Should your company create a policy that limits or defines the situations in which an office romance could develop? Should you ignore it and hope it doesn’t turn out to be too disruptive to the operation of the business? Should you ask people to sign a “love contract?” While it sounds like the title of the song by Barry White, they exist in workplaces beyond the television show The Office.
 
A love contract is basically a policy that establishes workplace guidelines for dating or romantically involved coworkers. The love contract is a required document signed by the two employees in a consensual dating relationship that declares that the relationship is by consent, at least up until that date.
 
Of course, when the couple breaks up and things turn confrontation or create a mess in the workplace, you cannot pull the love contract out of drawer and try to enforce it. Rather, it is a way for a company to protect itself from any overt inappropriate romantic behavior in the workplace such as harassment.
 
Employers need to consider how significant they think the disruption may be from workplace romances. 
For example, if you notice an increasing number of workplace romances you may want to consider drafting a policy that limits and/or defines the boundaries of workplace romances in the company. Each company situation is likely to be unique.
 
Another challenging issue that employers may face is the morality question around workplace romances.
 
Many employees tend to think that workplace romances are fair game as long as they do not involve subordinate and superior relationships. Other employees take a moralistic approach and may feel deeply offended by the behavior in the workplace, especially if one of the parties is married.
 
It gets complicated when the married employee has coworkers lying on his or her behalf or otherwise dragging the company into the situation.
 
Still, the Vault survey finds that nearly three-quarters of all people who had a workplace romance would be willing to do it again. 
 
In a society and culture that resonates with romance, it is no great surprise that romances occur in the workplace. Ultimately employers have to decide how serious the issue is and what, if anything, they want to do about it. Keep in mind that any policy created in pursuit of limiting and/or managing workplace romances needs to be enforced across the company on a consistent basis.
 
The bottom line: Take stock of your current workplace romantic situation to determine whether creating such a policy is worth the effort and will succeed.
 
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