In the current era where online dating and swiping right are the status quo of romance, can we leave behind the acts of flirting at the workplace be it in person or virtually over a zoom meeting? Although the consensual office romance has been stigmatized, down the line it’s been existing in the corporate world for decades.
Going by theory, Horan and Chory define workplace romance as, “a non platonic relationship between two members of an organization in which sexual attraction is present, affection is communicated, and both members recognize the relationship to be something more than just professional and platonic”. Using Clark’s work/family border theory, Horan and Chory argued that workplace romances are sites where private lives are blended into the domain of work (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/).
Workplace romance is not a new phenomenon. However, not many studies are focused on workplace romance when it comes to organizational behavior research. While sexual harassment is extensively studied, it is also important to study and consider non harassing sexual behavior at workplaces. Why I am saying it is important is because, February 2022 data from the US Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests workplace romance may have increased as employees hunkered down at home. A third of the 550 Americans who were surveyed, responded that they began or sustained a relationship with a colleague during the pandemic – which is a 6% rise since the pre-pandemic days of 2019.
Even in a global pandemic, workers have found a way to keep dating colleagues – a fact that underscores the inevitability of office romance. The workplace is a breeding ground for love and lust, even though many companies frown on colleagues dating, and view it as an HR nightmare. Experts say there are specific reasons why some workers just can’t stop getting involved with their colleagues – even while siloed during a global health crisis.
We All Know It Exists!
According to Amy Nicole Baker, a professor at the University of New Haven in the United States who studies workplace romance and organizational psychology, “there was still some discussion about people becoming attracted to each other in the workplace, going back to the Industrial Era. It was observed that there was air around romantic interactions in the early days as far back as the 1800s, with women and men in offices engaging in romantic relationships that apparently had no name.
It should come as no surprise that many people are open to love or short-term romance at work because, for better or worse, offices are places where people who share similar values spend a lot of time near one another and it is very difficult to not get attracted to someone when you genuinely start getting drawn towards them.
What Should You Do When You Fall for a Coworker?
We now know that a person may enter a workplace relationship for a variety of reasons. Also, according to research, people tend to gravitate toward people who share their personality traits, backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas with them. The mere exposure effect, as it is known in psychology, also has an impact on attraction. If you think you are in love or are falling for your desk neighbor, or even your boss, here are some aspects you might want to consider.
- Is it a hierarchical relationship?
- How will it affect your performance?
- Is it allowed to date a coworker as per your company policy?
- What happens if you engage in a relationship and then split up for some reason, does this affect your job role in any way?
- What are your boundaries?
What Can You Do as an Employer/Manager?
- Communication is the key, lay out rules before you need them, let employees know their boundaries and implications of engaging in office romance beforehand.
- Consult your HR department on best practices, you might as well have an organizational psychologist onboard to help you, as not allowing workplace relationships might be the common idea, but it is not the only way to go forward.
- Find a way to manage office relationships, as office romance does exist and will continue to do so, whether you accept it or not.
- Create a contingency plan and communicate the same with employees as and when required.
- Speak Up and act if you see things are slipping out of hand, you can not disregard the fact that you are dealing with adults and you should know when and how to draw the boundaries.
Most of the companies look at workplace romance as inappropriate behavior, and have many rules and regulations imposed, despite the regulations, office romances still occur and given the psychological factors involved, it is difficult to blame coworkers for falling in love or getting attracted to each other. Nevertheless, it is essential for employees to be aware of the consequences, regardless of how relaxed their team or the workgroup is. After all, not all workplace romances end up in marriage or long-term relationships, and it’s not going to be fun working with your ex in the same office and, given that office romance is not going to just disappear, some experts believe that smart businesses will permit employees to date while maintaining healthy professional boundaries. The best strategy is striking a balance, and not pretending workplace romance doesn’t exist or shouldn’t exist.
La France, B. H. (2022). “Don’t Get Your Meat Where You Get Your Bread”: Beliefs and Advice about Workplace Romance. Behavioral Sciences, 12(8), 278. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs12080278
Lufkin, B. (n.d.). The inevitability of the office romance. BBC Worklife. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20220228-the-inevitability-of-the-office-romance
Pizam, A. (2016). Workplace romance in the hospitality industry. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 56, 136–137. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhm.2016.06.001
Ariani, M.G., Ebrahimi, S., & Saeedi, A.(2016) Managing Workplace Romance ; A Headache for Human Resource Leaders.
About the Author
Sirisha Susarla is a dedicated professional with over five years of corporate experience using sound research methodologies, coaching and counseling techniques to optimize organizational climate and workplace mental health. Skilled in counseling and human resource management, as well as activities such as focus groups, presentations, survey administration, intervention planning and interpreting research results.