Love and Marriage at Work (and a Little Sex Too)

With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s the time of year where those of us who follow workplace trends are faced with reading a plethora of articles about workplace romance. To save you some time, here’s how most of these articles can be summed up: 1) Workplace romance: it happens, but it can be a bad idea; 2) Don’t let it end badly or try to date someone you supervise; 3) Having a “work spouse” can be a good idea; 4) There are actually articles which rate a job’s “sexiness;” and 5) What are those people “doing it” at work thinking?

In case you don’t believe me, here are some of the articles that reach these conclusions.

Romance at Work: Because we all spend so much time at work, and are often attracted to people who share common interests or experiences, it only makes sense that work is one of the best places to meet someone. According to the recently released 2007 Office Romance Survey by, 47% of workers have been involved in an office romance. Another expert says that 22% of office romances have led to marriage. (See CNN Money article.) That’s a lot of people — too many for HR staff and managers to duck their heads in the sand and wish the potential problems from workplace romances would just go away. Companies that try to prevent workplace romances entirely are going to find themselves in much the same position as the parents of teenagers who try to control who their kids date: in most cases, it’s going to happen anyway, and trying to forbid it makes the temptation all the more stronger.

When It’s a Bad Idea: One pessimistic expert says, “It’s been rare that I’ve seen something good come out of” an office romance (see Huntsville Times article), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. Instead of trying to prevent workplace romances, which according to Vault survey participants, only a small number of employers (16%) are trying to do, it’s best to focus on what are most likely to be the disruptive elements of office relationships, and to craft policies that attempt to head off the most serious concerns. The most serious concern that companies have is facing sexual harassment charges as a result of a workplace romance gone bad, either because of the relative status of the parties, or because one party seeks to continue the relationship after the other party wishes to end it. (See Newswise article.) Some companies are even asking their employees who date to sign “love contracts,” or “consensual relationship agreements,” in the hopes that documenting the consensual nature of the relationship will help if there are future problems. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

Other concerns are the effect on morale if someone is playing favorites to protect his or her paramour, and addressing the moral concerns of fellow employees when someone is having an extramarital affair. (See Newswise article.) One article has a few basic rules to live by: 1) Don’t mix business and pleasure; 2) Know your company’s policy on office romance; and 3) Keep cuddling out of the copy room. (See CNN Money article.) While the rules sound pretty basic, not violating them will go a long way towards preserving your ability to pursue a workplace romance until it’s clear whether it’s something that could potentially mean more to you than your career.

Work Spouses: While not everyone meets their real-life spouse or romantic partner at work, there are an increasing number of people who have what is termed a “work spouse,” or as reporter Amy Joyce calls them, “your strictly platonic, cubicle-sharing, sentence-finishing colleague.” (See Washington Post article.) As Tom Rath of the Gallup Organization has found, “Having a work spouse is not only a good thing, but it might be a prerequisite for good work.” Rath’s research shows that “work spouses (the platonic kind) increase productivity and heighten morale.” You’re seven times more likely to be engaged at work, more excited to show up to work, and more likely to get work done. Your work relationship increases speed in communication, as you don’t have to take so long to explain something. (See Washington Post article.) As Joyce’s article points out, “It’s a natural thing, mostly,” but something that more workplaces should be trying to foster, not forbid.

“Sexy Jobs”: From the relatively serious to mostly frivolous: my Yahoo! home page greeted me recently with an article on which jobs were considered the sexiest. They say that sex sells, so I thought I would throw it in here. In case you were wondering, here’s the top 10 list:

  • fireman (I would change the language to firefighter, but are only firemen considered sexy by survey respondents?)
  • chief executive
  • interior designer
  • doctor
  • flight attendant
  • police officer
  • nurse
  • teacher
  • lawyer
  • bartender and reporter (tie).

Sex at Work: And while we’re on the topic of sex, another very interesting finding in this year’s survey: 17% of employees confess to being caught trysting at work, up from just 2% last year. Employees reported being discovered in the board room, engineering lab, stairwell, and office kitchen during their workplace rendezvous. Okay, what were they thinking? (Well, we probably know what they were thinking, or at least what they were thinking with, but that still doesn’t make it a good idea.) One thing the survey didn’t report was how many employees were fired after having been caught in flagrante delicto, but I would imagine that number is probably pretty close to 17%. While employees can count on the Workplace Fairness website for all kinds of assistance when terminated unfairly, in this case, you may be on your own.

How about just taking a nap? I hear it’s good for you. (See Sun-Sentinel article.)

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.