Forget Tinder or Match.com; one of the best places to find romance is at the office. More than half of U.S. employees have engaged in an office relationship, according to the career website Vault.com, and 10% have even met their spouses at work.
Office romances are very common and for good reason, says Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO, a human resource service provider. "People spend eight to 10 hours a day in the office, and it’s where they’re going to meet people," he says. "There is bound to be dating or romance or affairs."
But is it a good idea?
A study done at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found potential benefits to office romances.
"Many participants expressed their pleasure in going to work when they were in a workplace romance," the authors wrote in "Workplace Romances: Going to Work Is Amazing and Really Fun," which was published in the International Journal of Psychological Studies. "One participant said the relationship energized him to work even harder and another said this euphoria motivated her to work more."
Finding love at work can also have the advantage of knowing what you’re getting, the report said. "Women and men talked about the safety of finding a partner in the workplace, and explained that one was more likely to get a truer picture of a possible partner at work than during a casual encounter with someone in online dating or at a pub," the authors write. "… the work environment allows you to get to know an individual before committing to a relationship."
Productivity might also get a boost, says April Masini, author of the relationship advice column, Ask April: "As in any new, romantic couple each person will try to please and impress the other to win them over," she says. "And when the couple has work as a connection, each person will try to be seen as better at their job as a way to impress their partner. That’s why a little flirting, a little romance, and a little office intrigue that keeps people interested in work beyond the product, can absolutely be a good thing."
But Amy Nicole Baker, an associate professor of industrial psychology at the University of New Haven, isn’t so sure. "There is evidence that workplace romances are positively associated with the participants’ job satisfaction, but there is no clear evidence that workplace romances improve workplace productivity or help culture," she says. "In fact, coworker reactions tend to be negative with concerns over favoritism and conflicts of interest. My own work has shown that even a climate of workplace flirting is associated with less job satisfaction among coworkers, and greater levels of stress."
Starkman agrees. "(office romances are) out there and happening, but they aren’t something that improves the workplace," he says. "I’ve heard opinions that they can work to improve productivity because the people will want to be successful and stay if office romance blooming. I think that’s nonsense. People are more distracted, especially in early stages. And there can be drama if things don’t work out."
Masini admits relationships that end badly invite problems. "It’s easy to get distracted from work because of depression, anxiety, and simply seeing your new ex at work and overanalyzing communications—or miscommunications. It’s easy for office productivity to fail under any negative circumstance, but especially when both parties in a failed romance work at the same office."
But it could have an upside: "The only time when this doesn’t occur is when one or both people are competitive and try to compete with each other at work to win at office productivity by projecting feelings of having lost and wanting to win, from the failed relationship," says Masini. "Showing the other one just what they’re missing in terms of office productivity is a win for the office manager."
From an employer’s perspective, know that they’re going to happen, says Starkman. "The old approach for many companies was to ban office dating as a way to avoid potential liability," he says. "I couldn’t be more against that. It’s like Prohibition; all the ban does is force the activity underground. People aren’t going to stop dating because of a policy. It may have a little chilling effect, but that hurts culture because people end up sneaking around."
Some states have privacy laws that prohibit an employer from restricting employee behavior unless there is a conflict of interest, such as a manager dating a subordinate. "In this case, there does need to be a policy of disclosure and a plan in place," says Starkman. "This protects the company and is the only way you can operate these days." If your policy is written, be careful to make it gender neutral, adds Starkman.
And if you still decide to ban dating, be ready to handle the consequences. "What are you going to do—terminate otherwise good employees?" Starkman asks. "If you have a policy you have to apply it uniformly every time. A policy that bans it, however, is ignorant of human nature."