Romance in the workplace recently raised its complex head again last week. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that some employees (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_39/b4196073729941.htm) who know of a workplace affair are now claiming a hostile work environment under sexual harassment laws. In the past, employees might have been put off by an affair because of the impact of colleagues pairing have on teamwork. But they usually did nothing litigious. By claiming harassment, the story claims they are making themselves recession proof because of strong anti-retaliation laws.
The story also reports that recent surveys show that more employees believe office romance can lead to conflicts than in the past and that reports of an office romance has decreased from half in 2006 to a third in 2010. Clearly there is a romantic chill in the air. And this in spite of certain employers, such as Southwest Airlines and National Public Radio, that encourage romance.
So what is the correct approach? Let me outline some research findings that may make the issues surrounding the office romance more clear.
A growing body of research has explored this phenomenon. One study conducted by Robert E. Quinn reported that over 60% of the people surveyed were either aware of an office romance or had been involved in one themselves. A study by Lisa Mainiero, found in her book, Office Romance: Love, Power & Sex in the Workplace, puts the figure at 76%.
Until very recently, these romances were on the rise because people are spending more and more time at the office and they don’t have the time to socialize outside of work the way they used to do. They are also attracted to those people who share the same daily successes and stresses as they do.
The bottom line is that you’re spending a lot of time around someone that you’re physically and emotionally attracted to, these things happen, whether they’re planned or not. There are many different reasons why people have office romances. Some just want a simple fling with no emotional attachments; others are looking for more serious romances; (and some, to be blunt, are just looking for a promotion or a raise. These kinds of relationships, especially with supervisors, are fraught with danger and should be avoided.)
These kinds of affairs can have both positive and negative consequences for not only the work performance of the two people involved, but they also impact the attitudes and performance of the people who are working with or around the couple. Quinn’s study found that, in a little over 10% of cases, the romances seemed to result in increased coordination, improved teamwork and improved productivity. Almost one-third of his respondents reported negative effects such as slower decision-making, lower morale and lower productivity.
In Part 2, I will cover the implications of the research on job behavior including things to watch out for.