Office Romances: The Effect on Staff

By: Melonie Geddes

While the thought of office romance sends shudders down the spine of most HR departments, there are professions that have had great success actually encouraging relationships. For example, law enforcement and other investigative agencies have found office romances to be beneficial because co-workers understand that the demands and pressures being put on them are unique to their professions. For those employees in a relationship with someone who knows and shares workplace demands, and knows how it can impact time and availability, it often makes for a  work/life understanding within the relationship. People inherently understand and are attracted to others who understand the professional part of their life. In those scenarios, it’s also a possibility that parties involved in a workplace romance can be happier with their jobs, are more motivated and, therefore, perform better.


In our work-centric society, we spend a lot of our time at the office. The average person probably spends more time at work than anywhere else. This amount of time spent with the same people, day after day, working closely together, sharing personal stories, commiserating over common workplace issues, and regularly going out together after work to blow off steam can lead to a romantic connection between colleagues.  The time spent together builds commonalities and those commonalities build a sense of intimacy that can be hard to ignore. Workplace romances are a fairly common occurrence and depending on how they’re handled, and who is involved, they can be perfectly healthy, or perfectly toxic, and at their worst, leave a wake of destruction within the workplace culture.   


Simply put, there can be a lot of cons associated with office romances. The most obvious being, if it doesn’t work out, how are the involved parties going to handle working with each other every day? This situation is going to disproportionately affect one party over the other, with the most adverse effect on the person who didn’t want the relationship to end. This can lead to poor performance, increased absenteeism, workplace drama, and possibly, a hostile work environment. It can also have a negative effect on co-workers. Rarely does an office romance stay between the two parties involved. It can create low office morale and colleagues can become uncomfortable with public displays of affection in the workplace. It can also negatively impact productivity as it creates fodder for ‘water cooler gossip’ and speculation about possible favoritism, depending on the status of the involved parties. Which brings me to the ugliest of possible workplace scenarios…


Office romances have the potential to cause big trouble for businesses of all sizes. From low workplace morale to sexual harassment lawsuits, there is a clear downside to colleagues getting involved in romantic relationships. In fact, 43% of HR professionals reported romances in their workplaces. While all office romances have the potential to cause problems, those involving a supervisor and subordinate can have the largest ramifications. They can present the appearance of favoritism when it comes to work assignments and/or pay raises, which can negatively affect the entire office. In this scenario, there’s a certainly a possibility that you may lose employees, likely some of your strongest performing employees. Even worse, when the relationship invariably ends, there are huge possibilities for sexual harassment lawsuits from the subordinate. If found to be at fault, this is usually quite expensive.
To mitigate the risks associated with office romances, it is best to have a clearly defined workplace romance policy. Employers who want a good working environment for their employees should consider their specific workplace environment in collaboration with an HR professional who can help them navigate restrictions that need to be included in their policy. In many cases, employers may determine that they need to prohibit all types of conduct in the workplace that can foster dissension and turmoil. That theory often dictates that it is much easier to prohibit the conduct in the first place than it is to ride out the relationship with all the risks.