Office Romance Is Here to Stay, but How Employers Deal with It Is Changing

News Updates

SHRM research shows that concerns about favoritism, claims of sexual harassment and retaliation lead some employers to prohibit some workplace romances.

If you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, one of those places could be work.

In a new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 43 percent of human resource professionals reported romances in their workplaces. Seventy-nine percent said the incidences of romance have either increased (12 percent) at their workplace or stayed the same (67 percent) in the last five years.

With love in the air at work, twice as many employers (42 percent) have a written or verbal policy on workplace romances than in 2005 (20 percent), according to SHRM’s Workplace Romance Survey.

“With workplace romance an inevitable part of any work environment, HR professionals need to prepare for issues related to managing its impact,” said Evren Esen, manager of SHRM’s Survey Research Center. “Potential risks range from damage to office morale to legal claims.”

The national survey of more than 380 randomly selected HR professionals also showed:

Forbidden love: Thirty-two percent of HR professionals say employers have the right to prohibit workplace romance between employees; 49 percent say it depends on the situation. Almost all organizations that have workplace romance policies (99 percent) do not permit a romance between a supervisor and a subordinate.

Heartache: Why would workplace romance not be permitted? Concerns about real or perceived favoritism, 84 percent of HR professionals say. Potential for claims of sexual harassment, says 78 percent. A concern about potential retaliation increased from 50 percent of respondents in 2005 to 72 percent today. In the past five years, 40 percent of employers have received complaints of favoritism from co-workers of those in a romance.

Displays of affection: Suspicions about workplace romance generally are revealed through office gossip (67 percent) or from reports to the HR department (61 percent).

Love notes: Only 5 percent of organizations ask employees involved in a workplace romance to sign a “love contract” indicating that the relationship is consensual. But 81 percent of HR professionals think love contracts provide a forum for them to talk with employees about inappropriate workplace behavior.

Consequences: Whether something official happens as a result of an office romance depends on the type of romance. When there were consequences, employees were transferred to another department (34 percent) or went for counseling (32 percent).

Then comes marriage: More than one-half of HR professionals reported that employees got married or became long-term partners as a result of romances in their workplaces.

For details, visit the research section of SHRM Online at Follow SHRM Research on Twitter @SHRM_Research.

Media: For more information or to request an interview, contact Kate Kennedy of SHRM Media Relations at, @SHRMPress, 703-535-6260 or 703-862-5192.