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by Phil Stott, | February 12, 2010


No Recession for Workplace Romance


"I figure, since I work all the time, where else am I going to find potential romances? So if I meet someone, whatever, just go for it!"


Love is in the air…


The results of's 2010 Office Romance Survey are in, and it appears that people are following their hearts rather than their heads when it comes to weighing the wisdom of a workplace hookup. Almost 60 percent of respondents admit to having participated in some form of workplace romance. Even the shaky economic situation is weighing less on people's minds, with significantly fewer respondents this year reporting it as a factor in their decision-making process than in 2009—69.7 percent stated that the economy "hasn't affected my willingness to take romantic risks at work.” That stands in stark contrast to last year, when fully 80 percent of respondents told us the economy had affected their willingness to take risks.  As one lovelorn respondent put it, "If the person you meet could be your soul mate, you can't pass up that chance. You can always get another job."


…and in a closet near you


With that number of people getting involved at the workplace, it should come as little surprise that passions boil over at times—some 31.6 percent of those of you who have had some sort of office hook-up admit to having enjoyed a romantic liaison while on company property. And quite a few of you (six percent) have been caught in the act: "A janitor caught us in a dark supply closet when he opened the door and turned on the light," confesses one busted lover.


While that particular incident ended reasonably well (the janitor "turned the light off and left"), others haven't always been so fortunate.  For example, one respondent recalls that a "former manager was demoted after being caught in flagrante in an elevator."


It knows no bounds…


It's not only the singletons that are getting in on the act: a whopping 53.2 percent of you reported that you know or have known of a married coworker having an affair at the office. "I worked for 2 Fortune 500 companies for years each, flying all over the country for meetings and events," says one source. "It was almost a common practice with many of the men in highly responsible leadership roles to be having side affairs with people they either met with on the road, or office people they met up with while traveling. Some affairs lasted a short time, others went on for years."


That can obviously lead to a lot of emotional baggage—both for the parties directly involved, and for their colleagues. One situation where "a married coworker was hooking up with another married coworker," led to an inter-office break up that became "very ugly and destroyed employee morale and created awkward relationships between the ousted wife and people in the know."

…but it can be platonic


Of course, not every office relationship is of the sizzling or illicit variety. The concept of the "office spouse"—a close but platonic relationship with a colleague—has been around for many years, and shows no signs of dying out anytime soon, with 31.9 percent of respondents admitting to having one. Even those, however, are not without their problems. While those who admit to having them generally report positive experiences—"definitely not romantic but one of the most important relationships in my life," says one respondent—colleagues can view things differently.


"A previous boss did [have an office spouse]," says a source. "It was very uncomfortable because you knew info you told one person automatically was told to the other, just like in a spousal relationship." And the gossip flows two ways: if you're in a close relationship and talking about colleagues, chances are they're talking about you. "Everyone thinks we're having an affair," says one respondent.


"You're fired. And dumped."


Whatever else this recession has in store, it doesn’t seem like fear of being laid off is going to stop people from taking their workplace relationships to another level. As one love-happy respondent puts it, "Cupid sends his little arrow and away you go wherever you are!" That's not to say, however, that it hasn't had any effect: of the office romances in which one of the partners was laid off, 60.9% ended when one or both partners left the company. And with the amount of layoffs we've seen recently, that's a lot of broken relationships.


If at first you don't succeed…


Despite the risks involved, people keep on coming back for more, suggesting that—whatever else happens—love will continue to bloom in even the unlikeliest settings. The good news for the woman who told us that office relationships are "how I got two out of three husbands" is that she isn't alone—of those people who have already had a romantic encounter of some sort at work, a large majority—63.9 percent—said they would consider doing so again. Maybe that's because 74.6 percent of respondents claim their companies don't have any kind of intra-office relationship policy. Or maybe it's because of the high success rate: almost 20 percent of people who reported having an office romance say it led to marriage. Whatever the reason, it seems that there's precious little holding most of us back when it comes to matters of the heart trumping career concerns. On that note, there seems to be just one thing left to say: Happy Valentine's Day!



Have you ever participated in an office romance?


Have you ever participated in an office romance


What type(s) of office romance have you participated in?*


types of office romance by participation



Have you ever avoided or curtailed a potential romance that you would have otherwise pursued specifically to avoid an "Office Romance"?


have you ever curtailed an office romance

  • "If it doesn't work out, no one wants to have to face the person if there was an awkward or somewhat bad break-up."
  • "Integrity above all; however, I do regret a perhaps too conservative approach to managing my personal life.  I missed some great ladies who I think may have made great companions."
  • "If the person you meet could be your soul mate, you can't pass up that chance.  You can get another job."
  • "Person was a temp-to-perm.  I was part of the decision making process as to whether or not to hire the person."
  • "HR told us we shouldn't continue the romance."
  • "Romance works much better outside the immediate workplace.  Within a work setting, you both become targets of petty resentment and jealousy from other co-workers.  I have seen this too many times."
  • "I initially avoided an office romance but the man was insistent and we ended up getting married.  We are together almost 11 years now.  But after we married, I left the company rather than continue an office relationship."
  • "No, I see no problem as long as it is handled discreetly and it doesn't affect the quality of one's work.  Many people spend more time at work than they do not at work; it is unreasonable to expect people to not naturally on occasion to become attracted to one another."



Does the shaky economy make you more or less willing to take romantic risks at work?


effects of the shaky economy on office romance




Do you have an office "husband" or "wife"? This is someone with whom you do not have a romantic relationship, but you hang out together all of the time (on breaks, at lunch, etc.).


office husband or wife

  • "Yes, there is someone I spend as much time as possible with.  I would date her if we didn't work together."
  • "12 years; talk and collaborate constantly; definitely not romantic but one of the most important relationships in my life."
  • "Yep, and everyone thinks we're having an affair."
  • "Yes, I have an office husband but we both have significant others and keep our relationship strictly platonic. I have had an office husband before and it escalated into more and really messed up the working environment for a time."
  • "Not me, but a previous boss did - it was very uncomfortable because you knew info you told one person automatically was told to the other, just like in a spousal relationship."
  • "I used to at my last job. He had a girlfriend but we'd spend hours together talking. If he'd been single I gladly would have dated him."
  • "I hear all about his family. He hears about mine.  Total opposites otherwise except we're older with kids in an office that is young & single."



If you have participated in an office romance, did it impact your personal or professional relationships with other coworkers?


effect of office romance on co-workers

  • "In hindsight, I think it was unfair to our co-workers to see us when we were in our own world (when things were working out) or after we broke-up. Both can have negative consequences on co-workers."
  • "He did a horrible thing...then I was left to pick up the pieces."
  • "No one ever said a word about it being an issue, and I never perceived it to be (however, the relationship with the other person created some sticky situations at the end of the relationship)."
  • "Yes I had to relocate over it."
  • "Required me to work harder in order to avoid any appearance of favoritism."
  • "I avoided team events so I would not have to interact with my ex."
  • "We did not hide it.  It was on the up and up and our co-workers were happy for us."



Based on your previous experience, would you participate in an office romance again (if you are married, please respond hypothetically)?


would you take part in an office romance again


  • "As long as there's no compromise of professional ethics, and both people are grown up about it, it's fine."
  • "I'm way too ambitious to make this consideration again."
  • "Although this worked out for the very best in my situation, office relationships are a lot more complicated than they appear even when you enter into them thoughtfully.  There are many dynamics that you can't anticipate and it can cause stress in both your personal and your professional life until you figure out how to strike a balance."
  • "If the romance doesn't work out, it can be very difficult to stay focused at work. Additionally, if other people know about it, it potentially makes them feel uncomfortable to be around you or the other person, together or separately."
  • "People spend most of their day at work. The office gives you a chance to really get to know someone because of the amount of time you spend together. As long as you can remain professional, there's no problem. I think it's a better place to meet than the bar."
  • "I spend so much time at work, I rarely have the opportunity to meet many outside folks. If the right person comes along you better believe I would pursue it."
  • "It's how I got 2 out of 3 husbands."
  • "My last office romance has turned into a marriage.  If it's the right person, you have to do it."
  • "Yes, but it would have to be someone who I thought I could potentially end up with long-term.  For a casual relationship...never again.  Having to face that person every day after things have gone sour is absolutely brutal."
  • "Too risky now that technology can easily reveal such connections to employers and coworkers."


If you've had an office romance, have you ever dated your supervisor?


  • "Dated my supervising attorney during internship; led to employment and a marriage proposal.  We've been very happily married for 15 years."
  • "He became a supervisor while I dated him."

  • "In college, was possibly one of the worst mistakes of my life."

  • "The other person was in a higher position, but in a different area, so I was not reporting to him."



If you've had an office romance, have you ever dated a subordinate?


dating a subordinate


  • "I was a manager and she was an employee, but even when there was drama, it didn't have an effect on how I treated her as a worker."
  • "I have dated those who worked for me, but it was difficult to separate work and relationship in dealing with them."
  • "Dated and married her. "

If you've had an office romance, have you ever left a company because of it?


leaving a company because of office romance


  • "No, but I was relieved when job changes came to pass that took me away from the scene of the crime...while this was 15 years later, the relief was palpable."
  • "I didn't leave the company but I moved to a different department - for both professional development AND to move out of the same department as my partner."
  • "Although we had no significant performance issues, once my then-fiance and I were 'outed' as an engaged couple, our supervisor and a small peer group made the office (a large department of 100-ish people) a very uncomfortable environment for us."
  • "Once we married, I left the company rather than be viewed as a unit and because I was concerned I would not be promoted because then we would be a 'voting block.'"

If you've had an office romance, have you ever been involved in one that that caused the other person to leave the company?


other person in romance leaving company

  • "As an HR professional, I know of several. Very sad and usually a mess."
  • "Decided to marry -- he left to take another job."
  • "I had to transfer her to another branch."


If you and/or the other person in the relationship got laid off, did your office romance flourish or end?


office romance after layoff

  • "Was a seasonal job and my job ended when season ended. But the office romance had already run its course, so one of us leaving the company made a potentially awkward situation easier."
  • "We dated on and off for a few months, and once he was laid off, we never saw each other -- the effort to hang out wasn't worth what I was going to get from it...but it was easy when he was around all the time."
  • "I moved to another company and it made it easier to interact without dealing with office policies and there were now 2 workplaces to discuss."
  • "It gave us an 'us against the world' type feeling, and we both landed higher-paying jobs where we were both happier within weeks."
  • "I really wasn't that interested anyway, so when he got laid off, it was a convenient way to wind things down."


If you've had an office romance, have you ever had a tryst in the office?


tryst in office

  • "Best day in the office."
  • "It was long after everyone else had left."
  • "I want to have one!"
  • "Tryst in office is a clear sign of not valuing a job."



If you've had an office romance, have you ever been caught in the middle of a tryst in the office?


caught having tryst in office

  • "A janitor caught us in a dark supply closet when he opened the door, turned on the light and said 'You'll see better with a light on,' turned the light off and left."
  • "Another sure-fire route to disaster.  A former manager was demoted after being caught en-flagrante in an elevator."
  • "I caught the boss in a tryst with someone else by walking in his office after hours."



Does your company have a policy regarding intra-office relationships?


intra office romance policy

  • "Probably, but I have no idea what it is....and don't think all the other people around who are hooking up and dating do either."
  • "Our firm has a written policy firmly discouraging relationships and banning relationships between direct reports and vendor/clients."
  • "Company at which I formerly worked had so many intra-office relationships/marriages that they couldn't possibly institute one."
  • "Maybe not a formal policy, but numerous legal papers end up getting signed to avoid the potential for sexual harassment lawsuits from being potentially pursued against the company."
  • "Need to be reported, and if both are in the same department, one of them needs to be transferred to other departments."
  • "If a couple marries, one of them has to leave the office."
  • "It's not allowed although there are tons of relationships that blossom every year.  No one follows the rules these days."



Have you ever felt uncomfortable because of a coworker's intra-office relationship?


discomfort because colleagues having relationships

  • "The two owners of the practice are married, which can be tricky because it makes them seem like one person."
  • "In some cases obvious PDAs were inappropriate."
  • "I worked with a husband & wife team once, and they brought their baggage from home into the workplace, I can't imagine what their dinners together must have been like!"
  • "When office romances exist, it makes it awkward sometimes to honestly critique or evaluate their work, or even to address their sometimes unprofessional behavior in front of others."
  • "I knew people who were married or living with their significant others who were hooking up with people in the office.  It just rubs me the wrong way, especially if they bring their wives/girlfriends into the office to meet everyone."

Have you ever felt that a coworker gained a professional advantage because of  a romantic relationship with a coworker/supervisor?


colleagues gaining advantage because of office romance

  • "At a previous firm, it was an open secret that a (married) supervisor had a romantic relationship with a direct report.  The direct report was promoted faster than all of her peers. The entire department resented it."
  • "A married couple, a supervisor and a lead scientist in another group, would feed projects and personnel to each other's groups.  No downsides to this.  This was advantageous not just for them, but for everybody else too!"
  • "They can become privy to private information they wouldn't otherwise have had access to."
  • "It seems the industry is more based upon who you know, so it definitely is an asset to have a romantic counterpart."
  • "Two of my co-workers are in a relationship, and one is in a more senior position. I've heard him talk his girlfriend up, even though I don't believe she provides quality work."

Have you ever known a married coworker to have an affair at the office?


married people having affairs at the office

  • "Meetings and drinking seem to make a bad person even worse. I've seen multiple hook-ups."
  • "I work in finance...there are some pretty sleazy people.  And their spouses like the $ they bring home, so it's all good."
  • "A partner at a prior firm was discreet about his extramarital flings, but given the long hours I worked with him, it was impossible for him to hide everything from me about the situation."
  • "For firms that have policies regarding these types of situations, it is imperative that they enforce the regulations. Nothing is more damaging to morale than to pay lip service to avoiding these situations, and then promoting, and working with individuals who flaunt the regulations."
  • "A married coworker was hooking up with another married coworker (whose wife worked for the company).  That couple split up and the couple having the affair got was very ugly and destroyed employee morale and created awkward relationships between the ousted wife and people in the know."

Have you ever known a married or seriously involved coworker who had a romantic liasion while on a business trip?


married people having affairs on business trips

  • "I worked for 2 fortune 500 companies for years each...flying all over the country for meetings and was almost a common practice with many of the men in highly responsible leadership roles to be having side affairs with people they either met with on the road, or office people they meet up with while traveling.  Some affairs lasted a short time, others went on for years."
  • "On sales trips and at conventions I have attended in the past, it is common to see married or seriously involved co-workers engage in flirtatious behavior or even romantic liaisons.  They seem less inclined to hide such behavior when they are not in the office even if they are still 'on company time.'"
  • "I wish it wasn't the case, but in traveling for work I have seen a number of seemingly great husbands/wives cheat on their spouses while away on business.  Often times this is done to avoid an intra-office relationship."
  • "Some upper level management personnel would 'lose' their wedding rings while on the flight to short term overseas trips.  These did not involve company personnel, however."

Which of the following office romances would you consider acceptable?*


acceptable office romances
"Other" responses:

  • "As long as neither is married and it doesn't affect their work or mine I don't care what they do."
  • "They are inevitable, why legislate against."
  • "Once the relationship is established, people should be moved out so that they are not in the same projects/departments or in a conflicting or reporting relationship."
  • "Whatever!  Cupid sends his little arrow and away you go wherever you are!"
  • "Co-workers who are married. NO, NO, NO."
  • "Having checked acceptable to most, a caveat that the relationship should never impact the business relationships, give the appearance of favoritism, impact the profitability of the company either works for due to special treatment."
  • "It depends more on the individuals than their roles in the workplace, i.e. discretion and maturity."


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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