Workplace Romance: The Pleasures and Pitfalls
Monday marked Valentine’s Day – a day when many single people’s thoughts turn to meeting a new significant other. Once we leave school, opportunities for meeting new people can dwindle to a narrow set of circumstances–including, of course, online dating. Yet even with the rise of Match.com, Tinder, Bumble, etc., a surprisingly steady number of couples continue to meet at work. A 2019 Stanford University survey found that 10-15 percent of married couples met at work.
It makes sense: many of us spend so many hours a day involved in work activities. Where else are we going to meet people? Unlike the sometimes awkward first date conversations with a stranger, an ongoing working relationship gives you a chance to really get to know someone, which can lead to friendship and sometimes romance.
Indeed, a 2021 survey carried out by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 50 percent of U.S. workers have had a crush on a colleague, and one-third have been or are currently involved in a workplace romance.
Stars – They’re Just Like Us! Famous Couples Who Met At Work
Quite a few prominent couples have met at work. Michelle and Barack Obama met early in their careers at a law firm. Among performers, longtime married couple Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patti met when she joined the E Street Band. And actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick met when they were cast in a movie together.
But workplace romance can be tricky territory, as shown by the recent goings-on at one high-profile workplace, CNN. Jeff Zucker was president of CNN Worldwide for almost a decade, overseeing all its news coverage. He was abruptly forced to resign when an investigation revealed he was in a relationship with the network’s executive vice president, his direct subordinate, and had failed to disclose it to HR as required by company policy.
Ironically, the investigation that brought the relationship to light concerned the firing of nighttime anchor Chris Cuomo for violating CNN’s journalistic neutrality policy by advising his brother, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, about how to handle allegations of workplace sexual harassment in the Governor’s Office.
In contrast to these headline-making stories, CNN’s chief political correspondent Dana Bash met CNN chief national correspondent John King at work. The two married in 2008 and divorced four years later. They continue to work together and can frequently be seen participating in discussion panels, where they are often seated near one another.
The Problems When Workplace Romances Go Sour
While workplace romance can bring a thrill to the every day grind, complications can arise if a relationship goes sour. A breakup between two employees can affect workplace productivity. Worse, if one employee ranks above the other in the chain of command, their subsequent interactions could turn hostile and lead to a lawsuit based on allegations of a poisonous work environment.
To minimize the possibility of these problems and potential liability, many employers have instituted workplace-relationship policies that lay out what sorts of coworker relationships are permitted and the obligations of employees involved in them. There is no one standard—the rules vary widely and often are not well-publicized within a company. A 2019 Vault.com employee survey found that 41 percent of those surveyed were not sure what, if any, policy their companies had on workplace dating
Prohibiting workplace relationships across the board is unrealistic: it won’t stop people from forming relationships, and it can equally lead to a toxic workplace atmosphere of secrecy and gossip. However, many companies forbid employees who are in the same chain of command from dating. Even if the relationship doesn’t go sour, colleagues are likely to suspect favoritism, which can be harmful to the workplace atmosphere.
Guidelines for Workplace Dating
If you’re considering getting involved with a work colleague, here are a few guidelines that can save you embarrassment or a compromised position at work:
Keep it professional (like Dana Bash and John King)
Never forget that both your personal and professional reputations are at stake. What may seem like harmless flirtation to you might come off as unpleasant, obnoxious, or even predatory to another person. And at the very least, it may be unprofessional and inappropriate. The same goes for intimate in-person workplace conversations, texts, and emails (especially those sent from an office email address).
Disclose the nature of the relationship (unlike Jeff Zucker)
If you do start seeing someone from work, find out if your company has a workplace intimate relations policy and what is required by you under this policy. Doing so can protect not just the company but you as well.
Don’t get involved with someone in your direct chain of command, either above or below you (again, unlike Jeff Zucker)
Unless one of you is about to leave the company for another job, dating someone in the same chain of command is likely to be a recipe for disaster for at least one of you. Even at companies with no official policy, such relationships are frowned upon by upper management.
Consult a Professional
If you, your employer, or someone else you know in the Toronto area needs legal advice about an employment matter, contact Advocation at 647.727.8836.