23 October 2014

What's your stance on office romance?

With 56% of workers admitting to having a relationship with a colleague, where do you stand on the question of office relationships?

In today’s busy environment, where a large proportion of our day is spent in the workplace, it’s not surprising that colleagues form close friendships or even have romantic liaisons. After all, who better to start a relationship with than someone who understands and perhaps shares the pressures of your work? However, as office romances are fraught with potential problems – both emotional and professional, so as the employer, what’s your stance?

56% of workers admitted to having a relationship with a colleague in a earlier this year, while a study of over 2,000 workers in 2013 found that romances that start in the workplace are more likely to end in marriage than those that begin in a pub, on holiday or even through friends.

Once a definite no-no, it seems as though office romances are now becoming more acceptable, particularly with younger workers. A recent poll by consultancy firm Workplace Options  84% of those aged 18 to 29 would have an office romance, compared to just 29% of the Baby Boomer generation. Plus 40% of the younger generation wouldn’t have an issue with a colleague dating their line manager.

Office relationships – the good and the bad

For larger employers, relationships between people in different departments may not be too problematic if they don’t work together regularly.  Often the potential for problems is when a relationship blossoms between employees who work closely with one another or where one directly line manages the other.

It’s possible that the relationship could affect the way the individuals work together or cause disruption in the office, but there are also more serious implications. Other workers could complain of favouritism or if the relationship founders, there could be accusations of discrimination, bullying or even sexual harassment.

On the flip side, you could argue that a workplace relationship should technically be no different from any other. There is the potential for anyone to be slightly distracted at work when they’re in a new relationship, whether it’s with a colleague or someone outside of the workplace.  If both parties keep it professional and make sure their relationship doesn’t affect their work, do you have a right to interfere or prevent it?

Signs that workers are in a relationship

Often workers will try to keep their relationship quiet, particularly in the early stage. However, offices are a hotbed for gossip and it doesn’t take much for rumours to circulate about potential love matches, even if the couple think they are being discreet. Here are some tell-tale signs.

  • There is a change in how the two workers behave with one another. They could have been really good friends and now you notice they’re being a lot more formal with one another. Or perhaps they used to be really competitive with one another and now helping each other out or defending one another (which could be positive or negative for your business).
  • They change their routine. They might now always go to lunch at the same time or if they’re trying to hide the romance, they might make sure they never leave at the same time. Or perhaps you start noticing that they always seem to arrive a few minutes apart.
  • They seem to have a lot of insider jokes or conversations that exclude others. Perhaps they stop talking when you or other colleagues enter the room.
  • They take annual leave on the same days and are evasive about what they’ve done.
  • They start making more of an effort with their appearance, such as dressing more smartly or wearing more makeup in the woman’s case.
  • They’re suddenly both on their phones a lot more, texting or messaging one another. If their profiles are not private on social media, you may be able to see the messages between them and need no other signs!


Given that four in ten workers have dated someone at work ( study), even if you don’t suspect any of your workers are having an office romance now, it’s good to think about what your viewpoint would be.

Some companies have a written policy that bans romantic liaisons or stating that they need to be reported for transparency. If you’re considering this, you would also need to be clear on what action you’d take if the couple do not follow your policy. Would you be prepared to lose good staff because of this?

According to research, colleagues are much more positive about workplace romances if it is transparent, so perhaps rather than banning it, you could have a policy with ground rules for would-be-love birds?