Love at Work


For him it’s the cute blonde intern that sometimes twinkles a smile in the corridor. For her it’s the singlet-wearing deliveryman with the chiselled jawline. Most employees know that this feeling puts a spring in their step on their way to work every day. Whether you have experienced the beginning of a harmless crush, a bit of flirtation or you have met your one true love at work, one thing is for sure. The workplace has become seriously successful in igniting that first spark—more so than most dating websites.

Year after year, market researchers release statistics about how many star-crossed lovers have found one another, fallen in love and broken up at work. One glance at the increase in bachelors and bachelorettes at workplaces is enough to establish that there are more and more singles at work. People used to be rather sceptical about finding love at work and considered tender feelings a taboo in the line of duty. However, business premises have become a place where people now consider the occasional flirtation with a co-worker. There are various reasons for this change in workplace culture.

1. Why Sparks Fly at Work - the Causes

For one, employees spend more and more time at work. In the past, the nine to five day was sacred; once the clock struck five, everyone dropped what they were doing for the day and went home. Nowadays, it is considered good form to take one’s daily working hours as the bare minimum, and hence, to stay at work longer. There are numerous reasons for this voluntary increase in work. These include a competitive working environment, the increased competition between co-workers, the fear of losing one’s job and one’s place in society. The latter fear has—somewhat paradoxically—increased in recent times despite the recovery of the global economy, and the experts attribute this concern to popular but sensationalist reality TV.

There are also positive grounds for spending more time at work. Busy times throughout the year, seasonal peaks in sales, a passion for your job, an imminent promotion and a salary raise are all good motivators. Even the average employee is more work-oriented than in the past. Ten to twenty years ago, only business managers and other high-ups worked overtime on a regular basis. Today, compromises on one’s private life are expected of the average company employee as well. The move towards total commitment to work has also changed broader social trends.

For one seventh of employees, the workplace has been the catalyst for a lasting relationship. Every fifth employee has fallen in love at work before and over a third would consider a relationship with a co-worker at least hypothetically. These statistics are drawn from a study by the organisation for social research and statistical analysis, Forsa. This study took place after a commission by the business network, Xing. The Forsa study stated that 85% of those who have fallen in love at work before considered co-workers particularly desirable as partners. ‘Only every tenth person lost their heart to their boss or a co-worker’. According to Forsa, women are more likely to fall in love with their boss than men.

Forsa even released a ‘hit list’ based on different business departments. The results of Forsa’s questionnaire suggest that most lovebirds came from the following departments: production (1st place), sales (2nd place), human resources (3rd place), accounting (4th place), marketing and PR (tied for 5th place).

The following statement highlights just how much time employees now spend at work: ‘Every third person who participated in the study considers the workplace the best place to start a relationship because they rarely get to meet people outside the workplace.’ Studies indicate that the biggest benefit of the office as the catalyst for a relationship is that people already know their potential partners quite well. People spend a lot of time with their co-workers and are familiar with their work ethic and personality. These results also appear as the logical consequence of a general decrease in leisure time; people who barely have time for a private life also tend to approach love in a more goal-oriented way.

3. The Rules: Dos and Don’ts for Lovers at Work

Even at work, love is a private matter. This is both good news and bad news for couples. On the one hand, a boss cannot forbid an employee from falling in love with a co-worker. While there may be so-called house rules that may lead you to think twice about starting a relationship at work, such rules are in no way binding. On the other hand, love remains a private matter. Your relationship with our co-worker should influence your daily work as little as the occasional disagreement with your best friend, the effect of the odd hangover and your cat’s ankle injury.

Your boss may ask a new couple to make their relationship public apropos of their colleagues. This is intended to keep the proverbial water cooler conversation as free of gossip as possible. It has the larger goal of keeping the atmosphere at work positive. Your boss is also within their rights if they ask the couple to refrain from open displays of love at the workplace. If your relationship with your co-worker is already official, it is a good idea to inform your boss and colleagues thereof.

Common sense should serve as a guide for behaviour that is and is not acceptable at work. Hence, French kissing after a conference is just as much a taboo as a quickie on the photocopier. The same goes for all other Hollywood clichés that spring to mind. All the machos and models who consider the workplace as a dating agency rather than the place of work should also exercise restraint. An accusation of sexual harassment is a risk that nobody would reasonably assume. The consequences of such an accusation are anything but trivial. They include but are not limited to receiving an official warning and losing your job. Experts also warn against any inclination to flirt with one’s boss because people are liable to suspect the flirt of using the relationship to manipulate and improve their career prospects. Another risky scenario is a mentor-intern relationship that develops romantic overtones; mentors and interns must never take advantage of their position to manipulate the other.

If all goes well and your relationship does not compromise productivity and professionalism at work, there are benefits of a couple working in the same office. Unlike most couples, the two co-workers see each other at work every day, share the same working hours and (work-related) interests and have a good understanding of the code of conduct mandated by the workplace. Couples that work together also have a better understanding of how their partner acts in their private life. They know whether their partner copes well with stress and whether they need support in particular circumstances. Working for the same company also makes it easier to organise the same holidays and days off. When allocating holidays, employers tend to respect the social circumstances of their employees, and this is particularly so if an employed couple has children.

4. Likely Consequences after a Break-Up

Anyone with knowledge of romance movies knows that life goes on after a break-up. Take the following example: two star-crossed lovers find each other at work, master the balancing act of private affairs and work obligations, keep their private life private and successfully work side by side according to professional standards… And then disaster strikes—the break-up. At the beginning of the relationship, the office team had two members who came to work in a state of anticipation and excitement, but now, those two employees would prefer not to come to work at all.

As obvious as this may seem to outsiders, the consequences of a break-up between co-workers can be brutal for both sides. In extreme cases, it may be a good idea for one ex-partner to ask the boss for a transfer to different department. Of course, this is only possible in larger companies, as the person applying for the transfer needs to be moved to a position with similar pay and responsibilities. To undertake such a transfer, you will need permission from your superiors and sometimes also your works council. The rules of decorum at work remain the same after a break-up. Loud fights in the corridor and teary complaining are best avoided in the interest of your job. If these rules are violated, the productivity of your department is likely to slump. Your boss will have no choice but to take action.

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