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Taking a Pass on Workplace Romance

A co-worker of mine recently asked me if she could set me up with a guy in another department at my university. Since my divorce about 2 years ago, I have only started dating again the last few months, but I have not told her much about my personal life. Although I like one man I have recently started dating a lot (The Consultant), I did not want to tell my co-worker about him quite yet. I am sure her intentions to set me up with a colleague are good, but I tend to shy away from workplace set-ups due to the complications that can arise.

Workplace romances are defined as consensual relationships that entail mutual sexual attraction between two co-workers.1 They apparently are quite common. Researchers estimate that about 40% of people have had a workplace romance at some point;2 over 10 million workplace romances develop each year in the U.S. alone.3 Given that proximity is one of the strongest predictors of attraction, this high prevalence of workplace romances is not surprising—working near someone on a daily basis means more time getting to know him or her. The co-worker starts to feel familiar and comfortable, which ultimately leads to feelings of attraction.4 Indeed, one study found that when co-workers worked closely together on projects (like getting weekly reports put together), they were more likely to report having a workplace romance.5

Most people perceive workplace romances negatively6 because the motives for having them can sometimes be ambiguous—for example, is John sleeping with his boss to get a raise? I have seen too many workplace romances go awry. For example, I once worked at a company where my two managers were married. When things were going well in their relationship, work was calm. But when they were fighting, the workplace was as tense as a wire. Things get even more complicated when the relationships end, as the vast majority of workplace romances inevitably do.7 For example, my friend Sara works at a medical facility where the relationship dynamics resemble a primetime soap opera like Grey’s Anatomy—this doctor was married to that one, but had an affair with his medical resident and now has children with her—that nurse caught her x-ray technician boyfriend in bed with another man—you get the picture. For every team medical procedure, Sara often has to mediate conflict and explain to outsiders why her co-workers are so catty and jealous with each other. Way too much drama for me. And I’m not immune to drama.

If it were easy to find another job and just leave the workplace when romances end, I would probably be more open-minded about being set-up by my friend. However, jobs in academia are few and far between, and I do not like the idea of having to move again for work, especially if it were to escape an uncomfortable situation resulting from a break-up. I ended up telling my friend that I will pass on her set-up offer for now due to these potential complications. If The Consultant and I ever become Facebook Official, I may tell her about him in order to avoid future attempted set-ups. Perhaps someday.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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1Powell, G.N. & Foley, S. (1998). Something to talk about: Romantic relationships in organizational settings.  Journal of Management, 24, 421-48.

2Parks, M. (2006, January). 2006 workplace romance poll findings (Report No. 06-0019). Alexandria, VA: Society for Human Resource Management.

3Spragins, E. (2004, February 1).  Dangerous liaisons: As small firms relax their rules on office romances, some face unexpected consequences.  Fortune Small Business. Retrieved on October 17, 2012 from http:// money.cnn.com/magazines/fsb/fsb_archive/2004/02/01/360633/index.htm

4Byrne, D., & Neuman, J. H. (1992). The implications of attraction research for organizational issues. In K. Kelley (Ed.), Issues, theory, and research in industrial/organizational psychology (pp. 29–70). North Holland, Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.

5Salvaggio, A. N., Streich, M., Hopper, J. E., & Pierce, C. A. (2011). Why do fools fall in love (at work)? Factors associated with the incidence of workplace romance. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41, 906-937.

6Brown, T. J., & Allgeier, E. R. (1996). The impact of participant characteristics, perceived motives, and job behaviors on co-workers’ evaluations of workplace romances. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 26, 577–595.

7Henry, D. (1995).  Wanna date? The office may not be the place. HR Focus, 72, 14.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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