Half of us have done it, according to the latest Office Romance Survey by Vault, and if we have, we’re likely to be up for it again (64% would).
We’re also much less likely to hide it than ever before. Sound like a yes, yes to office romance?
Office love affairs are no fringe incident, though relatively less common in biotech, accounting and law, according to Vault. If roses by the dozen start popping up on desks from admirers this week, there’s no telling if they’re coming from across town or around the corner. The 24/7 work culture means there’s a lot of opportunity for relationships to build and sparks to ignite.
Any dalliance in love brings both reward and risk. But when it comes to pursuing a love connection at work, you may want to take a moment to mind the career risk.
Who and Just What Kind of Affairs?
The longer you’ve been in the workplace, the more likely you’ve been romantically involved with a co-worker, and likely more than once. While only 44% of Millennials have been involved (18-34) in office romances according to the Vault survey, this increases to 59% for Gen X (35-49) and 66% for Baby Boomers (50+).
However, experience may lessen the desire. Baby Boomers are also most likely to have avoided an office relationship (43%) compared to their younger counterparts (34% of Millennials). Among those who have been involved in office romances, Baby Boomers are least likely to want to do it again (54% vs. 67-68% for Millennials and GenX).
Office romances range from casual ongoing relationships (42% have had one), random hook-ups (36% have had one), serious long-term relationships (29% have had one), and even finding a spouse or partner (16%).
Beyond romantic connections between single employees, 46% of respondents said they’d known a married co-worker to have an office affair. 24% of those involved in an affair found it ended another long-term relationship in their life.
Men, Women, and Hierarchy
Women are more likely to report having been involved in an office affair then men (52% vs. 50%) and it’s more likely to have become a long-term serious relationship (17% vs. 13%). Women are less likely to have a random hook-up than men (15% vs. 22%), though the classification of romance is a very subjective thing.
But here’s the real deal – “hierarchical romances”which involve power differences are more frequent than “lateral ones.”Women are much more likely to date a supervisor than men (20% vs 13%). Men are much more likely to date a subordinate than women (32% vs. 12%). Previous research has even indicated that 10% of mentor-protégé relationships become sexually intimate, which reflects a clear power imbalance.
Office romance too often mirrors the uneven power dynamics between genders and women may pay a price, especially when it comes to how others perceive the affair.
Office Love Is Always a Triangle
You. Him or her. The rest of the office.
The inevitable thing about office romances is that it’s hard to keep the feelings between two people. Research shows that office relationships often foster negative feelings among co-workers, and these feelings tend to be targeted disproportionately at women.
While, only 6% of us find it totally unacceptable to get into office romance, we are more resistant to certain relationships. 33% feel office romances between co-workers of different levels are unacceptable. 30% disapproved if the co-workers are assigned to the same projects, and 27% if the lovers are in the same department.
Vault found 26% of people reported feeling uncomfortable because of co-workers’office romance. 32% felt a co-worker “gained a professional advantage”because of their office relationship.
One survey participant noted, “People just take more interest when they feel like their love interest is getting slighted, and it is hard not to feel like that is favoritism, even if they are the supervisor and have to get involved anyway.”
Studies have shown that hierarchical office relationships can result in hostility, where gender bias rears its ugly head. Women are more likely to be judged negatively for office affairs by other co-workers and female subordinates are more likely to be suspected of career-climbing motives, rather than love or ego motives, which ruffles more organizational feathers.
Previous research has found that subordinates in hierarchical office affairs are more likely to lose their job or be relocated, especially if female, and co-workers are also more likely to feel they should.
Play Smart at Work Love
The best strict career advice might be “just don’t do it”, but at a human level, nobody is immune to a rewarding and fulfilling relationship finding them at work.
Most importantly, Business Insider advises to steer clear of any relationships that are with your direct supervisor or subordinate, as this raises substantial career complications.
Know the company’s policies, if any. A bit of distance at work (another team, another department, another floor) may make for a better love match. Also, play out the scenario and consider the implications and ripple effects, whether love were to go sweet or sour or your roles changed.
Bottom line – if you’re going to play at love at work, then play it smart.