Workplace romance

Workplace romance exists when two members of the same organization develop a relationship with mutual attraction. Intermingling within the workplace may cause damages to morale and productivity in the workplace. Along with this, businesses and companies are still confused at whether or not they should interfere in the romantic relationship. If they do choose to interfere, what department should be in control of handling the situation and what policies should be set if workplace romances do happen. If there are not policies, should there be set guidelines? These are still questions that many companies are trying to answer.[1]

When in a workplace people grow bonds with their co-workers that go beyond just friendly 'lunch' meetings. They grow in-depth relationships that deepen into romance. A place where people share a common interest, and spend most of their time, provides the perfect opportunity for love. While love can make one do crazy things, it is important to keep a clear mind and realize the pros and cons to developing a relationship with a co-worker.

An added complication is that one or both partners involved in a workplace romance may be married or in a relationship outside of the workplace. Co-workers aware of an adulterous workplace relationship may become uncomfortable, viewing themselves as party to the deceit.

General definition

Workplace Romance involves two members of the same organization who experience mutual attraction (Pierce et al., 1996, p. 6). As individuals spend increasing hours in the workplace, they begin to spend more time with co-workers building relationships. While employers may desire for employees to be happy, workplace romance is a highly sensitive subject, due to the lack of formal rules and policies in businesses, almost all working citizens will be somehow be connected to a workplace romance.


Romantic relationships in the workplace can have several benefits to those involved as well as to the work environment. Some examples include the following:[2]

1. Energize workplace morale

There is something about watching people fall in love that makes others feel positive as well. The attitudes of the two people involved in the romantic relationship are often uplifting, and they become happier individuals, which reflects back on their attitudes toward their work and their coworkers. The other employees that see this relationship unfold often feel uplifted as well especially if they were able to play a part in the development of the budding relationship.

3. Encourage creativity and innovation

Creativity and innovation are other aspects associated with positive attitudes. Coworkers in a relationship spend a lot of time together both in and out of the workplace, so there is more opportunity to discuss new approaches and techniques to completing projects together. The individuals in the relationship may brainstorm ways to get their work done faster and more efficiently, so they may spend more time together outside of the workplace.

Romantic relationships in the workplace allow the individuals involved to become more open and willing to cooperate with each other. In conjunction with having more positive attitudes toward their work, individuals are often easier to work with because they feel more comfortable expressing their ideas and criticisms with their significant other. This behavioral change can lead to more effective work groups, and in the end, a more productive atmosphere in which open communication is a key aspect.

5. Improve teamwork, communication, and cooperation

A couple's relationship can provide further communication channels within the workplace especially if the individuals are members of different departments. The personal connection the two individuals have with each other can allow the members of their respective departments to feel more comfortable communicating back and forth as well. Because the channels of communication become more open and accessible, conflicts between departments are also reduced allowing the company to work more effectively as a whole.


In addition to the benefits of romantic relationships in the workplace, there are several negative aspects that the romance may cause to the couple as well as to the company as a whole.[2]

1. Threaten career advancements

A fear that many employees have when thinking about getting involved in a romantic relationship with a coworker is eliminating any potential they may have for upward mobility in the company. For instance, some managers may see the development of a workplace romance as unprofessional and a possible lack of judgement that may discourage them from offering the employees involved any further advancements within the company. Many employees view a romantic relationship in the workplace as a risk that is not worth taking because it may jeopardize their career.

2. Complicate work relationships

When office relationships end in a breakup, it can not only ruin the relationship between the two co-workers involved, but it can also eliminate any personal connections that the employees had with their previous partners department. Because the two employees will continue to see each other on a daily basis, the breakup can cause negative feelings toward the other individual as well as a reminder of one's failure.[3]

3. Co-worker confusion

Romantic relationships in the workplace are often known and easily detected by the couple's fellow co-workers. Once it is made known that the two individuals are in a relationship, it is often difficult for their co-workers to know whether to view them as individuals or as a team. Co-workers are often confused about how to react to the news of the relationship or the breakup, which can lead to awkward interactions in the workplace as well as avoided conversation. In addition, co-workers may often use the couple's relationship to change the opinions of one of the individuals instead of approaching the person directly. Also, the individuals in the relationship can often be misjudged because of the person they are in a relationship with. For example, a manager may pass up an employee for a promotion because he/she is in a relationship with an individual who does not exemplify the needed characteristics, and it is assumed that the couple is alike in that regard.

4. Work performance decline

The involvement of two employees in a romantic relationship can negatively affect their work performance due to distractions in the workplace. Fellow employees are likely to notice any decline in an individual's work because their workload is often determined by their co-workers. Concentration levels may decrease depending on the stage in the relationship.

5. Conflict of interest

Main article: Conflict of interest

Conflicts of interest often arise in workplace relationships especially when the couple works in different departments. Their opinions may differ, and they may disclose private information to each other that may hurt either side when making important company decisions. Many companies have policies that do not allow married couples to work together to avoid conflicts of interest in hopes of maintaining the integrity of the company as well as protecting the couple's relationship. However, some companies do allow married couples to work together but may provide guidelines on what is ethical and what is not. While working together at the same level may be acceptable, when the couple works in hierarchical roles, the standards may change.[4] Another type of relationship that may cause a conflict of interest is when an employee is involved with a manager or an individual in a higher position. Coworkers may feel as if the employee in the relationship is receiving special treatment, and this in turn can affect the way employees trust the management of the company.


In most office relationships there are relatively few problems in the beginning or middle of the work affairs as long as the participants do not bring their personal arguments into work with them. The breakup is what creates the potential for legal trouble. This is when management must step in and work out the problems.[5]

If this situation occurs, one human resources executive said:

Usually, all we say is that your staying employed here depends on the two of you working out your problems, or deciding who transfers or leaves. If you can’t decide then both of you must leave. Our experience is that the parties fairly quickly work out their difficulties.

From the partner’s point of view: Keep it quiet and discreet

The great majority of couples decide to keep their romance to themselves, which was reported by an HR management study. Here are a few reasons:

  1. It isn’t anyone’s business
  2. Its safer that way, because no one can get upset
  3. Some people instinctively keep their private thoughts and affairs to themselves.

"The best romance is one that no one at the company knows about", stated one HR representative.

The company's approach

According to many human resource executives, employees don’t operate well in a climate of fear. It makes a lot more sense to instill a meaningful sense of corporate loyalty.

The Romance Report, created by strategic outsourcing, presented the results of its extensive survey of personal relationships at work.

It is important to take from the above information that there isn’t a need to make strict specific rules and regulations regarding relationships within the workplace. This can only lead to decreased production from workers and will put a sense of fear into each and every one of their thoughts. An organization should wait to take action until there is any sign of problems, distractions, or issues. If there is a known relationship, and nothing harmful is stemming from it, let it progress and wait to take action when a negative response comes into play.[6]

Sample office romance guidelines

It is our policy to ensure a mutually supportive, open, and interactive workforce. All workers shall be free to date or not to date, at their option and regardless of marital status, but subject our guidelines and decisions. Dating means a social occasion or relationship that occur between two employees, whether off or on our work premises. These guidelines will apply to all of our workers regardless of seniority or level of responsibility and whether they are full-time or part-time. These guidelines further will apply to our employees, whether they have dated or are dating another employee, customer, client, vendor, independent contractor, or some person in any other business relationship with this company. Our employees shall use common sense when they date with an eye to preserving the integrity and professionalism of our workplace. What happens between two consenting workers outside the workplace will usually be their business- but what happens inside the workplace is our business. So, if no employee or third party perceives a negative effect on work efficiency, cordiality, or productivity, there usually will be no reason for this company to intercede. However, if two workers report to one another, have long lunches and time off together on work time, or have personal arguments in the workplace, for example, this conduct then becomes the company’s business.[7]

Hierarchical vs. lateral

The type of relationships employees have in the work place affect both those involved, and how the situation is handled. Hierarchal relationships are those that involve employees of different levels in the company, for example when one employee is a manager, and one is an executive member. Lateral relationships are those that involve employees at the same level in the company, for example the manager of the human resource department, and a manager in the accounting department.[8][9]


Almost all employees and employers alike can unanimously agree that the legal implications of a hierarchical relationship are potentially far more severe then that of a lateral relationship. Because of this high risk strict policies may be enforced in order to reduce the risk of legal claims, such as sexual harassment. Employees not involved also have concerns about hierarchical relationships. Many may feel that the more powerful employee involved may be biased when it comes to decision making and influence due to their relationship with an employee. While there are a select few organizations that believe punishments should be given solely to the supervisor involved in a hierarchical relationship, others believe such relationships resulting in a conflict of interest should have punitive actions given to both parties. The organizations who believe both parties should be held accountable is a result from the fear that the existence of such a relationship could ultimately affect the effective the functioning of the entire group. While there is no unanimous solution of how hierarchical romantic relationships should be dealt with, the underlying general consensus is that they should initially be avoided and the company's views on the issue should be clearly explained in the company policy.[8][9]


One reoccurring difficulty that arises within organizations is the uncertainty as to how to implement a clearly written policy that protects the firm from liability while also appropriately protecting the civil rights and freedoms of its employees. Contrary to the general agreement by most employers towards having such a policy for hierarchal relationships, there's a greater amount of discrepancy that takes place when regarding lateral relationships. While some polls taken concluded that 75% of CEO respondents believed that office romance (lateral) was "none of the organizations' business" (Karl and Sutton, 2000), the mindset of most towards office romance would state that workplace relationships are not something to be prohibited, but rather managed (Schaefer and Tudor, 2001). While lateral relationships may not have as many legal implications, they certainly have their complications as well. If the employees split up, there is a fear that it will affect both their productivity and that of their co-workers. The issue of sharing confidential or sensitive work relation information between themselves is also a concern for managers. An effective way to better manage such behavior is by using office productivity as the guideline that determines management action rather than the presence of romance itself. If worker performance is seen to be affected then management should take action, otherwise there is little reason to act. (refer more to section on manager's perspective)[8][9][10]

See also



  1. Salvaggio, Amy Nicole; Streich Michelle (April 2011). "Why Do Fools Fall in Love (At Work?)". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 41. 4. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00741 (inactive 2016-01-25).
  2. 1 2 Mainiero, Lisa A. (1989). Office romance: love, power, and sex in the workplace. New York: Rawson Associates. ISBN 0-89256-341-9.
  3. Pierce, Charles; Herman Aguinis (October 2000). "Effects of a Dissolved Workplace Romance and Rater Characteristics on Responses To A sexual harassment accusation". Academy of Management Journal. 43 (5): 869–880. doi:10.2307/1556415. JSTOR 1556415.
  4. Holland, Patricia L (2004). "Love is in the air: dealing with workplace romance". Business North Carolina. 24: 78–79.
  5. Pierce, Charles; Herman Aguinis (June 2001). "A framework for investigating the link between workplace romance and Sexual harassment". Group Organization Management. 26 (2).
  6. Karl, Katherine; Cynthia L. Sutton (2000). "An Examination of the perceived fairness of workplace romance policies". Journal of Business and psychology. 24 (3): 429–442. doi:10.1023/A:1022928216431.
  7. Pierce, Charles; Aguinis (May 2009). "MOVING BEYOND A LEGAL- CENTRIC APPROACH TO MANAGING WORKPLACE ROMANCES: ORGANIZATIONALLY SENSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HR LEADERS". Wiley Periodicals. 48: 447–468. doi:10.1002/hrm.20289. Retrieved 12/1/2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. 1 2 3 lickey, nolan; berry, whelan-berry (2008). "Responding to Workplace Romance: A Proactive and Pragmatic Approach". The Journal of Business Inquiry. 8: 100–119.
  9. 1 2 3 BERCOVICI, JENNIFER (1/8/2007). "THE WORKPLACE ROMANCE AND SEXUAL FAVORITISM: CREATING A DIALOGUE BETWEEN SOCIAL SCIENCE AND THE LAW OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT" (PDF). Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal. 16: 200–2011. Retrieved 12/1/2011. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  10. Appelbaum, Steven H.; Marinescu, Ana; Klenin, Julia; Bytautas, Justin (2007). "FATAL ATTRACTIONS: THE (MIS) MANAGEMENT OF WORKPLACE ROMANCE". International Journal of Business Research. 7 (4): 31–43. Retrieved 2 November 2011.

Further reading

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