Managing romance at work

    Business Spotlight 2/2024
    two people playing footie under table while working
    © French Anderson Ltd / Stocksy United
    Von Elitsa Gadeva

    For as long as people have been working, there has surely been romanceLiebesaffäre(n)romance in the workplace — after all, most employees spend a great deal of time in the presence of their co-workers. A favourite theme of romcom (ifml.)romantische Komödieromcoms, it’s a situation that is often dread sth.etw. fürchtendreaded by managers — some employers even try to ban sth.etw. verbietenban office relationships. What can be entertaining on TV is often much less so in real life.

    According to a surveyErhebung, Befragungsurvey, in 2023, by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a quarter of Americans admit to having been on a date with a co-worker, while 40 per cent have flirted with one. In Europe, the numbers are similar: almost a third of Germans have kissed one of their colleagues; a third of the French have fallen in love at work and stayed in the relationship for several years, while in Italy, around 70 per cent say they would not rule sth. outetw. ausschließenrule out having an affair with someone from work.

    Magdalena (who did not wish to give her last name) is a financial analyst in France. She met her boyfriend when she was an internPraktikant(in)intern and he was starting his permanent position at a consultancy firm. In the stressful world of finance, Magdalena says that working alongside der Seite von jmdm.alongside her partner gives her emotional support and more shared time — but she does have a few doubts. “I believe having a relationship at work is not OK, but my feelings get the better of sb.über jmdn. die Oberhand gewinnengot the better of me,” she told Business Spotlight. Like many others around the world, she keeps her relationship a secret at the office.

    I believe a relationship at work is not OK, but my feelings got the better of me

    Flirt at work?

    How romantic relationships between co-workers are viewed varies greatly across cultures and generations. However, Magda Kufrej, a career coach and founderGründer(in)founder of the online consultancy Work Ally, believes that love at work is becoming increasingly destigmatized. In past generations, far fewer women participated in the workforcehier: Erwerbsbevölkerungworkforce, and those who did were excluded from many professions.  Today, women work alongside men on every management level and in a much wider variety of workplaces than in the past. This increases the chances of (heterosexual) couples forming. “It’s way (ifml.)hier: vielway more difficult to find a partner outside work today, because you simply don’t have the time,” says Kufrej. Based on a 40-hour workweek, most people spend about 90,000 hours of their lifetimes with co-workers. Some data suggest that Americans between the ages of 20 and 50 spend four times as much time with colleagues as they do with friends. Although remote workArbeit im Homeofficeremote work probably hasn’t made flirting easier, digital interaction can still be a way to meet somebody.

    Risky business

    There are still many who are against the idea of romance at work. Some see it as simply unprofessional, a distractionAblenkungdistraction from work or even as unfair to other colleagues. Opponents of relationships in the workplace also point sth. outauf etw. hinweisenpoint out that there are inherentdazugehörendinherent risks, as anyone who’s had a “bad break-up” can imagine. The risks are greater when it comes to people in positions of power — and so are the consequences of breaking the rules.  In 2023, BP’s chief executiveKonzernchef(in)chief executive, Bernard Looney, had to resign after admitting he had not been completely honest about the number of colleagues with whom he’d had personal relationships. In 2019, McDonald’s CEO (chief executive officer)Geschäftsführer(in)CEO Stephen Easterbrook was sack sb. (ifml.)jmdn. feuernsacked (and fine sb.jmdm. eine Geldstrafe auferlegenfined) as a result of a relationship he’d had with an employee, in violationVerletzungviolation of company policy. And after British TV presenter Phillip Schofield was forced to resign because of a relationship with a younger colleague, his former employer, the media group ITV, introduced new rules requiring members of staff to declare any workplace relationships.

    Power, gender roles and #MeToo

    According to SHRM, ten per cent of surveyed US workers who have been in a workplace romance said they had dated a subordinateUntergebene(r)subordinate, while 18 per cent had dated a supervisorVorgesetzte(r)supervisor.  Kufrej advises against such power imbalances. “Your colleague and you should be on the same hierarchical[wg. Aussprache]hierarchical level [when dating],” she explains.

    In a research paperwissenschaftliche Arbeitresearch paper called “Romantic Relationships at Work: Why Love Can Hurt”, Fiona Wilson, an organizational behaviour expert at the University of Glasgow, stated that “the issueFrage, Problemissue of power is keyzentral, wesentlichkey to understanding the negative consequences for individuals and organizations”. Dating a superior or a subordinate means that the concerns are no longer just about the potential for lost productivity, but could extend to questions of favouritismBegünstigungfavouritism and sexual harassmentsexuelle Belästigungsexual harassment.

    The #MeToo movement began after numerous allegationAnschuldigungallegations of sexual abuseMissbrauchabuse were made against the film producer Harvey Weinstein. While most bosses cannot be compared with Weinstein, #MeToo has changed the public discussion of sexual harassment and the way managers and employees view relationships at work. It has led to the formal regulation of an issue that most people had turn a blind eye to sth.etw. einfach ignorierenturned a blind eye to in the past.

    The worst thing you can do is try to hide it

    Still, regulating love is no simple matter. Bans on personal relationships are illegal in many countries, and certainly very difficult to implement. “US corporations do have outrightoffen, unverhohlenoutright bans on their management having relationships at work,” William Granger, a British lawyer who specializes in employment matters, told The Guardian. “In the UK, that would be illegal under our Human Rights Act, because of the right to a private life and the right to a family life.”

    However, more and more companies expect at least their seniorleitendsenior managers to declare any personal relationships with co-workers. And they are looking for ways to manage workplace relationships, such as separating couples into different teams or departmentAbteilungdepartments, or having them sign a “love contract” — a document in which the couple formally declare that their relationship is consensualeinvernehmlichconsensual.

    “Work policies have to distinguishunterscheidendistinguish between healthy consensual relationships and unwanted advanceshier: Annäherungsversuch( e), Anmacheadvances and sexual harassment,” says Kufrej. She believes that, in the #MeToo era, the management of workplace relationships is all the more crucialwesentlich, essentiellcrucial. “What is important is transparency and openness — the worst thing you can do is try to hide it.” Openness is also fairer to other colleagues, who might otherwise be confused by the new dynamic.

    No risk, no fun?

    Human connection remains one of the strongest factors in foster sth.etw. fördernfostering a sense of belonging and satisfaction at work. That doesn’t need to turn into a romantic relationship with a co-worker. “My advice to the younger generation starting their professional lives would be to try to keep love and work separate,” Kufrej says. Friendships with colleagues can be very valuable. According to SHRM, 85 per cent of survey participants stated that having a good friendship at work positively impact sth.sich auf etw. auswirkenimpacted their professional pathberufliche Laufbahnprofessional path. Friendship provides fun, companionship and support without the headachehier: Problemheadaches.


    What should you do if you experience unwanted sexual advanceshier: Annäherungsversuch( e), Anmacheadvances at work? Here are some tips on dealing with harassmentBelästigungharassment:

    • Encourage colleagues to react — ask questions like “Am I the only one here who feels uncomfortable?”
    • Be polite but also absolutely clear. Say, for example:
      “Thanks, but I’m not interested.”
      “We are co-workers. I’d like to keep it that way.”
      “I prefer my private life to stay private.”
    • Create a network of allyVerbündete(r)allies: other colleagues may have experienced similar things.
    • Ask for support from management if a firmhier: nachdrücklichfirm “no” doesn’t stop the behaviour. Employers have a legal duty to provide a safe workplace.



    Hybrid working hasn’t kill sth. offetw. ein Ende setzenkilled off office romanceLiebesaffäre(n)romance. Data from SHRM finds that more than two in five US workers know of someone who is (or has been) in a workplace relationship.

    Of those who are (or have been) in a workplace romance:

    • 57 per cent said their biggest motivation for starting the relationship was love. Only one per cent said their motivation was job-related.
    • 40 per cent have told their colleagues, but only 18 per cent have told their employer.

    About 75 per cent of all workers said they had no problem with colleagues being in a romantic relationship, but an equal number said they were not open to being in one themselves.


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