Flirting with trouble: Why office romance can be bad for business

The workplace is fertile ground for personal relationships. After all, we spend so much of our waking lives there. It offers plenty of opportunities for the development of romantic bonds: working side by side, working in teams, attending work conferences and social functions.

But what are the impacts of an office romance? Unfortunately, they can go far beyond simply making work life uncomfortable for the couple if their relationship goes sour. An office romance can have serious consequences for employee morale, business culture and the bottom line. Not to mention the legal implications if a sexual harassment claim is made.

In this three-part blog series, we will explore the consequences workplace romance can have on your business.

Are office romances becoming more common? 

The workplace is constantly changing. More females are in the workforce for longer, there are more singles in the workplace, and people in all industries and professions are working longer hours.

What hasn’t changed are workers’ basic psychological needs and their motivation to satisfy them. At work, they are in an environment that partially meets their needs for certainty, variety, significance and connection. The work they do and the feedback they receive from superiors, colleagues, customers and suppliers are vital to that feeling of connection.

But as they strive to have their needs fully met, workers frequently blur the line between the professional and the personal. This is highlighted in Vault’s 2017 Office Romance Survey, which revealed the following about its participants:

  • 57% had participated in an office romance.
  • 66% would do it again.
  • 41% had avoided a potential romance.

Furthermore, a 2017 study from CareerBuilder reveals that office romances are at a 10-year high. According to the annual Valentine’s Day survey, 41% of workers have dated a co-worker – up from 37% the year prior.

Employers and employees must accept the reality of the situation. We cannot afford to have our heads in the sand.

The hidden costs of workplace romance

An internet search reveals numerous high-profile examples of what can happen when a workplace relationship turns sour. Passion can turn into revenge – and, in many cases, sexual harassment claims. Proven claims can result in significant financial compensation. But the financial cost is usually minor compared with the damage to a company’s brand.

In any business, the hidden costs are the biggest ones: lost revenue, lost productivity, non-essential expenses, time spent managing staff issues, training and inducting new staff. When a personal relationship is thrown into the mix, this list grows significantly.

In the workplace, personal relationships generally fall into one of four scenarios:

  • A couple who owns the business.
  • A business owner and an employee.
  • An executive or manager and another employee.
  • Two employees of equal seniority.

Next week, we will examine the nature of these relationships and the impacts they can have on a business.

If you need to discuss how personal relationships are impacting your business, or any other business challenge you may be facing, email me at

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