April 9, 2009 — 1,842 views
I just came across Vault's 2009 Office Romance Survey. Before I talk about the survey, here's my disclaimer. This seems to be a voluntary Internet survey and I have no idea how many people participated and whether it has any scientific validity. Also, this is probably the first time I have had what some may describe as a rant on my Blog.
So how did a simple survey on romance, of all things, get me so worked up? Simple, in my job I see the fallout from failed office romances. Too often they cause a mess. People lose their jobs and companies get sued. No, I am not being dramatic, although I will confess to having my moments. For every successful office romance, I can probably show you 5 disasters or at the very least a disaster in the making. Some of the results of the Vault 2009 Office Romance Survey surprised me, starting with Question1 (For those of you who can't wait to see the survey click here.)
Have you ever been involved in an office romance?
Results: Yes 58%
No but willing 12%
In other words, the number of people that would have had an office romance would be as high as 70% but 12% of the survey participants haven't had the opportunity, but they are ready to go. Following Question 1, Vault listed comments by survey participants. One of the comments listed, presumably by a survey participant, was:
"We worked in one large department, but were not related in subordination (I was in finance and he was a lawyer). The romance bloomed after a corporate party together but did not last long"
From this quote we can learn two things. First, contrary to popular belief, even lawyers are susceptible to Cupid's arrows. Second, when it comes to matters of the heart, even those conservative legal and finance types don't exercise the best judgment.
I am prepared to receive my share of hate mail from those of you who work tirelessly and don't have time to engage in the time honored tradition of socializing outside of work to find a life partner. It takes effort, it costs money and it's just not that efficient. Let's face it, in tough economic times it is cheaper just to meet someone at work than go through the dating thing. What did your mom tell you? "Penny wise, pound foolish." I also know that some of you probably met your soul mate at work. To you, I can only say, "I'm really happy for you. Too bad you are the exception rather than the rule." According to the Vault survey only 24% of survey participants met their spouse/long term significant other on the job, which means the other 76% did not meet their life partner at work.
The truth is that most office romances don't last, they make things uncomfortable for your coworkers and cause problems for your employer. The problem in most cases is not the romance [although it can be a problem if you have couple of adults displaying PDA(public display of affection not personal digital assistant) like teenagers at summer camp]. In fact, the problem with an office romance begins in those 76% of the cases when the romance ends and someone is hurt. Hurt feelings cause people to act irrationally. Coworkers get recruited to align themselves with one person or the other. In the worst case, one of the refuges from the romance is in a position to make life, for the former object of their affection, miserable. This can lead to claims of harassment and retaliation.
Even if things don't go that far, a failed romance can cause people to leave your company. Interestingly, the Vault survey found that 26% survey participants left their employer because it was "too awkward to work together after a break up." Heck, even if the romance is the start of a great relationship, it can cause an employee to leave. According to the Vault survey 26% said they didn't want to work together after they became a couple because of "too much closeness." In either circumstance, the employer loses out and has to absorb the cost of hiring and training a new employee. Now that I'm through with my rant, let me tell you how I really feel:
1. In my ideal world office romances of any sort would be banned. I would take it one step further. Anyone that thought of starting an office romance would be required to buy a pet. This would simultaneously solve the problems associated with office romances and overcrowded animal shelters. I have to be realistic. I understand that people are people and whether I like it or not they will have office romances. In my twisted lawyer world, your office romance is a form of job security.
2. If you have an office romance with someone you supervise, three words: Quid Pro Quo. When this relationship implodes, explodes or just gets messy, you may have just placed your company in the position of having to defend a claim for Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment. Trust me, when this relationship is over, particularly if you broke it off, the other person won't be shooting good vibes your way. More likely than not, they will begin to question whether this was a consensual relationship and whether you abused your power to get them to engage in this relationship.
3. If you think you can divorce your hurt feelings following a breakup from how you act toward your coworker/former special person, repeat after me: "You are hallucinating." You can't and no one expects you to, but your coworkers would appreciate it if you did not act out scenes from Fatal Attraction in the workplace.
a. Recognize that office romances will happen and plan for them. Don't be like the 65% of the companies that the Vault survey participants worked for that did not have a policy addressing office romance.
b. Consider at the very least having employees report their romance to HR, particularly if it involves a supervisor/subordinate romance.
c. Have a written policy addressing office romances that includes a protocol to report any retaliation that may occur once the romance ends.
d. Once you have a written policy, train employees on how the policy works.
a. Don't do it. Did I say, "Don't do it." If not, just don't.
b. I know we are all working long hours but it's not Cupid's arrow you feel. You are just too exhausted and delirious from working long hours to use good judgment. Get some rest and distance before you decide to jump into that romance.
c. If your coworker or boss is pressuring you to date or get romantic, tell them no and, if that does not work, run (don't walk) to HR and make a report.
Just some thoughts,
Rod brings a unique perspective to the table in that he represents management and employees. We feel this allows us to offer a broader perspective to our clients in that we understand cutting edge employment law issues and how they are perceived by management and employees. Employment law matters can require immediate response in times of crisis. On those occasions, you can take comfort in the knowledge that we are prepared to provide the type of response that takes advantage of years of experience.