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Is Workplace Romance Really Taboo?

You might have heard the warnings “don’t dip your pen in the company ink,” “don’t go fishing off the company pier,” in the U.S., and “don’t mix business with pleasure,” but for today’s worker, that advice is considered outdated. With more time spent on the job, an emphasis on group collaboration and increased socialising with colleagues, today’s workplace fosters more personal relationships among employees.
These days, more and more people have been involved in a romantic relationship with a colleague at some point in their career. CareerBuilder’s “Office Romance” survey found that more than 55 percent of workers have gone out with someone who worked in the same company. reported similar findings in 2010, when almost 60 percent of workers admitted to having been involved in an office romance. While the office tryst was once viewed as a no-no, society no longer frowns upon a romance that blooms between colleagues. 75 percent of workers surveyed told CareerBuilder that workers should be able to go out with anyone at work without epercussions. And only 9 percent of workers told Vault that office romances are always unacceptable.
“Not surprisingly, work turns out to be a good place to find someone who shares your interests, aims and ambitions,” writes Margaret Heffernan in her book The Naked Truth. “The workplace is full of people who are exceptionally compatible with who we are: they have chosen the same area of work, they share many of our interests, they’re often a similar age and driven by similar hopes and goals. And we’re spending eight hours a day with these people! It’s little wonder, then, that office affairs and marriages are so common.”
Are these really one-time flings or are they legitimate couplings? Of those who told Vault they were involved in an office romance, 20 percent said it developed into a long-term relationship. And, in a survey of managers who dated someone from work by the American Management Association, 44 percent of respondents said their relationships led to marriage, 23 percent had a long-term relationship and 33 percent had short-term relationships. Studies show between 50 percent and 80 percent of companies do not have written policies on employees going out with one another.
Be careful: approach any office relationship with caution and check your employee manual to see if your company has a stated policy about employee relationships. At the first sign of flirtation, be discreet and think through the consequences if things don’t work out.
It’s critical to remember that people talk, warns relationship columnist April Masini. “People talk. No matter how friendly your colleagues are, or how tight-lipped the object of your affection seems, secrets are almost always shared with someone, whether accidentally or intentionally,” she says. On other words say nothing and do nothing that you don’t want everyone else to know about.
Almost half of those who told they were involved with a colleague said they tried to keep it under wraps. Some diversionary tactics included flat out denial, laughing it off and even staging arguments. Author and radio presenter Debbie Mandel says although the taboo has lost its stigma, there are some things to keep in mind if you do become involved in a romance at work.
  • Do your job efficiently and creatively. You cannot let your work ethic be compromised.
  • Be a team player and readily available to help others. Don’t give people a reason to think you are only working with your sweetheart.
  • Stay clear of public displays of affection. Don’t be demonstrative in public; leave that to lunch breaks or after work.
  • Remember that people do break up. Make sure you remain professional and don’t burn bridges.


Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, recruitment trends and workplace issues.

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