Of our 700+ survey participants, approximately 42% have never engaged in an office romance. The participation trend seems to grow as people grow older, however—30% of respondents aged 18-21 have participated in an office romance, which jumps to 72% of respondents over 50.
We asked our respondents if they’d intentionally avoided office romances—and only 37% have! Here’s what some people had to say:
“Every fiber of my being tells me ‘do not pursue office romances.’ And yet, every time I'm in a situation where I feel as if there may be a connection, I don't cut it off.”
“There was no policy against office romances and it started in the neutral environment, was welcomed by both people involved, and ended smoothly the moment I left the job willingly. Both of us found some amusement in that relationship but started dating [other people] right afterwards. Indeed, the best-case scenario.”
“[A coworker and I] were mutually attracted, but I was concerned that if we connected then broke up, it would permanently damage my standing in the organization. It was a small, well-networked organization where coworkers and management needed to think well of you if you wanted to get anything done."
Well, maybe. The most common type of office romance is the “random hookup,” at 31%. Twenty-two percent of respondents who have had an office romance say it was a long-term, serious relationship with a coworker, while 18% of them met their spouses at work.
So how did they meet? Most offices romances seem to start either by working in the same department as one’s partner (26%), by having offices near one another (18%), or attending happy hours or holiday parties (17%).
Most people who participated in an office romance (64%) chose to keep their relationship (mostly) a secret—38% didn’t tell anyone, and 26% only told a select few. Only 16% of respondents chose to sing their love from the rooftops and tell everyone—including their superiors.
This probably explains why 75% of people assume that their office romances didn’t affect anyone else—for the most part, no one knew about them in the first place!
Nearly one in five people (19%) have had an affair with a coworker—and 44% of people know of someone else who’s had one. It seems as though some of us aren’t being as discreet as we think we are. Of those who admitted to an affair, 23% reported that it ended one of their committed relationships. Here’s what some people said about affairs in the workplace:
"One employee who still leads this lifestyle—wife at home with three kids under the age of ten—is currently dating a younger woman at work. The wife knows, the girlfriend knows, we all know—it is sloppy and uncomfortable."
"It is very rare, but I have known people, both male and female, who have cheated on their spouses. If they aren't married, then I think it is fair game. I know this sounds very old school, but I think the only committed relationship is marriage."
"I was involved in a brief office romance with a colleague while we both were in committed relationships. I also had an office affair while on a business trip to Europe. It was lovely. He was married while I was living with a person."
Is technology changing everything but office romances? While 41% of people believe technology makes it easier to hide an office romance, almost no one is using anything higher-tech than texting to chat with their office S.O.: 3% of people are emailing, while just 2% are using social media.
For the most part, it seems like people prefer keeping it simple: 41% of people keep their romances to the in-person, while 31% text. Here’s what some of our respondents said about why:
“It's not difficult to just text or talk in person. People have been hiding inter-office relationships long before technology, and I don't think it was ever difficult.”
“Office romances are more things felt in person. I personally try to not message anyone through office communication unless necessary.”
“You post even once about an inter-office romance, and everyone is going to know about it the next morning.”
Fifty-nine percent of people know whether their company has a policy on office romances or not—a drop from last year’s 65%, at the height of the #MeToo movement. In lieu of policy of awareness, what’s considered acceptable when it comes to office romances? It kind of depends on who you ask. When asked what kind of office romances they found unacceptable, 28% of people said that all office romances are fair game, while 6% claimed that none were. The biggest loser for acceptability was relationships between coworkers at different levels (34% of people disapproved), followed by coworkers on projects together (26% disapproval).
“Power dynamics” was a buzzword—it seems a power dynamic between partners makes many people uncomfortable, particularly if one is in charge of the others’ performance reviews, pay, etc. In correlation to this, dating between supervisors and subordinates has reached new lows. Only 13% of respondents claim to have dated a subordinate (the lowest percentage to date in our surveys), and 11% claim to have dated a supervisor (the second-lowest percentage to date).
This year, Vault asked respondents if one’s workplace viewed LGBTQ+ romances differently than other relationships: 41% said no; 11% said yes they are viewed differently, while 48% were unsure or hadn’t encountered the issue. This suggests that, while LGBTQ+ individuals are gaining ground in inclusivity, there is still quite a bit of gray area concerning company culture in regard to LGBTQ+ issues. Here’s what some people had to say:
“It's something new. I live and work in a very conservative area, so it is a new thing. But I think it will be accepted just fine.”
“Because some don’t agree with the lifestyle, including myself for spiritual convictions, they look at it differently. However, it [has] never caused superiors or myself to treat anyone differently or to lack respect for them.”
“I feel that my workplace is very inclusive to LGBTQ+ people as a whole, and so I don't think anyone pays much mind as to the genders/sexual identities of anyone involved in a relationship. We're pretty queer-blind, in a good way.”
While the concept of an “office spouse” (a work wife/work husband), is a mainstay of many workplace cultures, 67% of people report that they do not have one. This does not necessarily suggest that people aren’t forming friendships at work—quite the opposite. When asked if they had an office spouse, one respondent commented, “That’s called a ‘friend,’ and is actually a friend.” It suggests that the boundaries between the professional and the personal are eroding. It seems more common, now, that people just have friends.
It might also point to the fact that, nowadays, friendships between members of the opposite sex aren’t seen as something to comment upon—it’s just a friendship, thus eliminating the need for phrases with perhaps sexist overtones like “work wife.” As one respondent put it: “I think that's an absolutely ridiculous concept to call them a ‘spouse.’ I have male coworkers that I hang with, but never would call them a work ‘spouse.’ I already have one of those, and that is plenty.”
Our respondents who participated in an office romance were asked if, based on their experience, they would have another office romance, and 72% said they would! Here’s what some people said about going back for seconds:
“My relationship has not impacted my work or life in any negative way. I love working with someone I love!”
“I know it's usually a bad idea to date coworkers. But these are the people you spend the most time with. If you don't have much of a life, it may be the only place to meet people. So if it's not a really small place where it's nearly impossible to hide an office romance, I'm OK—although very careful—with it.”
“Sometimes you can't help that you work together! No need to miss out on someone you might really like or enjoy just because you work at the same firm—as long as you know how to be mature about it and not do anything inappropriate at the work place or do anything that could affect your work or their work."