Workplace Romance: Wrong or Right?
By Chelse Benham
”Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may
have a heart of gold — but so does a hard-boiled egg.” - Unknown
The office affair can make a seducer, seductress and sinner out of people. In
fact, workplace romance is so common, research indicates that one-third of all
relationships begin at work. Often times they become the focus of intense gossip
and may end badly creating disruption, disharmony and devastation in their
“In our ‘Succeed in the Workplace’ workshop we stress that students need to
focus on their career, their job and work culture. They need to have that squared
away before considering a romance in the office. We tell people to keep the work
environment professional. If they can’t keep their work relationship professional
then that’s not a good sign,” said Lourdes Servantes, placement specialist at The
University of Texas-Pan American’s Career Placement Services Office. “Be
mature and professional at all times and keep all relationship items, sweet-talk,
public-display-of-affection and inappropriate behavior, away from the work
In an effort to explain the rise of workplace romance, the Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS) found that office romance has more chances to start because
now women comprise 46 percent of the workforce and people work longer hours
- citing that one in 10 Americans works more than 60 hours a week. BLS points
to further occurrences that lead to more workplace romance:
• Men and women work together more often and for longer periods.
• There is less free time to meet people outside the office.
• Colleagues share similar:
o job pressures
o educational and socioeconomic backgrounds
However conducive the workplace environment is for romance, the romantic
parties must consider some issues when partaking in the affair.
What’s really motivating the affair? If you are bored or dissatisfied with your
job, you may be turning to romance as a means of deflecting the deeper issues
related to work satisfaction.
Know the company’s policy and stance on office romance. Your company
may prohibit office relationships or turn a blind eye. It may require that you notify
personnel and sign a “consensual relationship contract policy” that protects the
company from being sued when things go sour.
Stay professional at all times. “Always stay professional,” Servantes said.
“New employees shouldn’t look at their new job as a ‘singles club,’ because if
they do, that could be bad for their career. If you can’t stay away from a romantic
situation then act maturely. Don’t behave with the romantic party any differently
than you would other co-workers while you are at work.”
Be aware of perception. “Don’t be seen as the person who dates everyone in
the office,” Servantes warns. “And don’t ever date a supervisor either. People
may feel that you receive special treatment because of it. It can cause others to
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a workplace
romance survey among HR professionals in 1998. In it they discovered the main
reasons for companies frowning on inner-office romance.
REASONS GIVEN WHY WORKPLACE ROMANCES ARE NOT PERMITTED
OR ARE DISCOURAGED Source: 2001 SHRM®/CareerJournal.com Workplace
Of the Human Resource (HR) Professionals surveyed they felt it created:
• potential for claims of sexual harassment.
• lowered productivity by those involved in the romance.
• lowered morale of co-workers around those involved in the romance.
• an unprofessional situation in the workplace.
• potential for retaliation if the romance ends.
SHRM further discovered how employees felt towards office romance.
PERCEPTIONS ON WORKPLACE ROMANCE Source: 2001
SHRM®/CareerJournal.com Workplace Romance Survey
Of the employees surveyed they felt:
• romance cannot/should not be between supervisor and subordinate.
• public displays of affection are/should be prohibited.
• those involved in the romance may/should not be in the same department.
• those involved in the romance must inform their supervisors of the
• romance cannot/should not be between employee and client/customer.
• those involved in the romance may/should not report to the same
• romance cannot/should not be between employees of a significant rank
• those involved in the romance may/should not work on the same projects.
• workplace romances are not/should not be permitted at our/any
• romance cannot/should not be between employee and a vendor.
• romance cannot/should not be between employee and employee from a
When SHRM surveyed HR personnel and employees about the consequences of
such fraternization the results weren’t equal. In all cases HR personnel favored
more harsh penalties for office romance. CONSEQUENCES FOR EMPLOYEES
IN WORKPLACE ROMANCES Source: 2001 SHRM®/CareerJournal.com
Workplace Romance Survey
Of the HR professionals surveyed they felt such behavior should allow for:
• transfer within organization
• formal reprimand
At AppleOne Web site it provides recommendations for companies on how to
handle office romance. It outlines four steps that can be taken:
Step 1 - If you haven't done so, implement, disseminate and unconditionally
enforce policies on dating and family relationships in the workplace to promote
uniform treatment of all employees. Have a legal professional review these
policies to ensure compliance with federal, state and local laws.
Step 2 - Be on the alert for potential problems stemming from a workplace
romance involving one of your workers, but at the same time, limit your
involvement in employees' love lives to areas that directly affect the company
(job performance, workplace morale, etc.). Focus on the potential or actual effect
of each specific relationship, not the motivation behind it.
Step 3 - Encourage employees to promptly report any harassment they
experience or observe and follow your company's procedures for reporting and
dealing with sexual harassment complaints. Don't retaliate or allow any of your
employees to retaliate against employees who file any sort of complaint related
to a workplace romance.
Step 4 - Exercise caution and common sense in your own personal relationships
with employees, making sure that they don't have the potential to deteriorate into
a lawsuit. Document everything.
Many companies have turned to documenting the start of a relationship in what
has been termed the “Love Contract.” The new contract, that some companies
are using to ward off sexual harassment charges and other problems stemming
from office romances, is called a "consensual relationship agreement".
These "love contracts" typically spell out that the relationship is mutually
agreeable, consensual and unrelated to the company; that couples are aware of
the policy against sexual harassment and know how to use it; and that they
agree to settle any relationship dispute through binding arbitration, not a lawsuit.
The co-creators of the "love contract" are Garry Mathiason and Jeff Tanenbaum,
employment attorneys at Littler Mendelson in San Francisco. They warn that
contracts must be voluntary and should be used "sparingly and only in
appropriate cases" to avoid the appearance that such relationships are company-
Krupin O’Brian LLC, Employment Law Update cautions this: “Relationships
between managers and subordinates create the greatest risk of liability if they go
awry. Some employers have required couples to sign ‘love contracts’ which
affirm the consensual nature of the relationship. ‘Love contracts’ do not prevent
an employee from alleging harassment after the consensual relationship
terminates. If workplace romance policies are inconsistent with an employer's
culture, at a minimum, the employer should have an effective anti-harassment
policy. This provides a defense for the employer to an employee's claim of sexual
harassment. The burden will be on the employee to explain why he failed to take
advantage of the preventative measures if he was pressured to engage in the
Love, obsession, infatuation and desire are difficult emotions to squelch. In fact,
the suppression of such emotions may prove to accentuate them making them
more provocative and alluring. Perhaps, handling a romance in a mature and
reasonable fashion is the best policy.
However, you can’t naively approach a workplace romance without assuming
some risk. Questions you should be asking yourself are: Can you handle the
possibility of breaking up? Can you trust the person you’re with not to divulge or
use what you say in confidence against you later on? Can you trust that both of
you are going to behave responsibly and maturely if things don’t work out? Is this
relationship worth the risk?
Corporate coupling is risky business. Think long and hard about entering into it
because it’s a difficult situation to change once it gets started.
“Love is fire. But whether it's gonna warm your heart or burn your house down
you can never tell.” - Jason Jordan, instrumental guitarist