What Are the Challenges of Romantic Relationships in the Workplace?

What Are the Challenges of Romantic Relationships in the Workplace?

All may be fair in love and war— but not when your romance is happening on company time!

Whether it is the romantic relationship between two co-workers (like Jim and Pam in the American sitcom The Office) or an employee and the boss (like the 50 Shades of Grey film franchise), all the romance lovers out there must have come across the office romance trope. 

The media tends to romanticize the idea of finding love at work, making the otherwise mundane workplace seem more exciting. However, the reality of these relationships in the workplace isn’t all that thrilling, and there is a lot that can go wrong. So, if you were hoping to pursue that office crush, here are some things to be mindful of. 

The relationship might not last

The first and most obvious risk of an office romance is that your relationship might not work out. In fact, nearly 51% of workplace romances end up in breakups. If things end on a bad note, seeing each other every day in the workplace and collaborating on office projects can become uncomfortable for both parties, making it hard for you to move on from your ex. 

Becoming the topic of office gossip 

As discreet as you might think you and your partner are, at some point your co-workers are bound to find out. Once they do, there will be a flurry of office gossip which can hamper your reputation. Women involved in office romances tend to bear the brunt of the gossip with people using terms such as “slut” or “cougar” (when referring to older women dating younger men) to describe them. Some may even claim that the woman involved is taking advantage of her sexuality to get ahead if she is dating someone who is in a position of authority.  

Lowered workplace productivity 

Dating someone in the workplace can significantly bring down your productivity. When you are in a relationship, you might be tempted to sneak away during work hours to spend time with your partner or take longer lunch breaks to go on a date during the company’s time, affecting your work performance. Even if the relationship ends, the repercussions can still be felt. Both parties involved may try their hardest to avoid each other, leading to absenteeism and a negative impact on work. 

Landing up in legal trouble 

When one person in a workplace relationship wants to end it and the other doesn’t, it can create a complicated situation that may lead to sexual harassment claims. This is particularly true in relationships where one person holds a managerial position over the other. The party who wants to end the relationship may feel pressured to continue it for fear of jeopardizing their job or career advancement, while the other person may not want to let go. 

In some cases, an ex-partner might even claim that they are being treated unfairly at work as a result of the breakup. All of these scenarios can lead to potential legal issues and workplace conflicts that can be detrimental to both the individuals and the company as a whole.

Why employers are so “anti-romance” at work

Workplace romance doesn’t only lead to the consequences discussed above for the employees involved, but the after-effects of these relationships can also cause problems for the company at large. These relationships create a conflict of interest, where employees might think that someone dating a supervisor is receiving special treatment. They also create a toxic work environment where the rest of the employees may pick sides, making it difficult to maintain professional relationships with the other party after the relationship ends. This can become especially harmful when either party shares the nitty-gritty, intimate details of their former relationship with their co-workers, damaging the other party’s reputation in the workplace. 

To regulate romantic relationships at the office, companies are developing policies such as love contracts. These are agreements signed by both parties in a relationship that ensure that they are in a consensual relationship. This reduces the company’s liability in cases of harassment claims by keeping the company informed about the relationship. Some companies may even go as far as to ban relationships between a supervisor and an employee who reports to them. 

If employees do not follow through with such policies, employers reserve the right to terminate their contracts or transfer them. There are real-life examples of companies strictly enforcing these policies. For instance, in 2019, Steve Easterbrook had to depart from his position as McDonald’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) because of his consensual workplace relationship. More recently, the YouTube video production company The Try Guys fired one of their co-founders, Ned Fulmer, who admitted to having an extramarital workplace relationship with an employee. 

So, should you just avoid workplace romance?

Given the long list of issues associated with dating a co-worker, it is advisable to keep your relationships with your colleagues and supervisors strictly professional. However, if you are seriously pursuing a long-term relationship with someone at work, the best thing you can do is to go about it the right way. 

Firstly, check your company’s romance policy and make sure that both your managers are aware of your relationship. This will help them make informed decisions about how to staff you, perhaps keeping you both on separate projects to avoid distractions. Secondly, you may even want to inform your human resources (HR) department to mitigate any potential legal issues in case the relationship doesn’t end well. Finally, make sure that you are maintaining a level of professionalism at work, refrain from sharing unnecessary details of your relationship with your co-workers and remain focused on your job during office hours. 

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