Survey Finds 20% of Office Romances Involve Someone Already Married

In my experience, an office romance is always a dicey proposition.

I know that they happen and that you can’t stop them, but in all my years as a manager, some of my biggest headaches seemed to come when somebody working for me decided to “hook up” with someone else in the office gene pool.

I’ve got a story about that I’m happy to share again (more on that in a bit), but this comes to mind because today is the day CareerBuilder comes out with their annual Valentine’s Day survey on office romance. Just the headline on the press release makes me cringe:

“Twenty Percent of Office Romances Involve Someone Who is Already Married.”

Some 24% have dated a higher up

According to CareerBuilder, the survey found that “nearly two in five (38 percent) U.S. workers have dated someone who worked for the same company, and 16 percent said they have done so more than once. … Of those who dated someone from the office, nearly one-third (31 percent) ended up marrying their office sweetheart. Twenty percent of workers who dated someone at the office admitted that at least one person in the relationship was married at the time.”

Here are a few more of the survey findings that jumped out at me:

  • Dating higher-ups: One quarter (24 percent) of workers who dated a co-worker said the relationship was with someone higher up in the organization, including the boss. However, only 3 percent of workers who have had an office relationship said the relationship helped them progress in their career.
  • Keeping things secret: While most workers were open about their dating situation, nearly two in five (39 percent) said they had to keep their relationship a secret. Some 26 percent who have dated someone at work said they accidentally ran into co-workers while out socially with their office sweetheart. Of these workers, 43 percent pretended that they really weren’t dating their co-worker.
  • Lighting the fuse: Office romances most often start with co-workers running into each other outside of work (12 percent) or at a happy hour (11 percent). Some other situations that led to romance include late nights at work (10 percent), having lunch together (10 percent), and love at first sight (9 percent).

Industries with the most romances

I’m surprised at that last data point about how office romances start, because my experience is that a great many are fueled by people in the office simply working in close proximity to each other day-in and day-out. I’m surprised that didn’t even make the list.

I also can’t make much sense out of the industries that seem to have the most romances. The CareerBuilder survey found that these were the ones that popped up the most:

  • Leisure and Hospitality — 57 percent (OK, this one makes sense);
  • Utilities — 51 percent (Huh?);
  • Information Technology — 46 percent (and I thought tech people were only focused on IT systems or writing code);
  • Transportation — 42 percent (hard to know when romance takes place here);
  • Financial services — 38 percent;
  • Retail — 35 percent (love among the racks);
  • Manufacturing — 35 percent;
  • Health care — 32 percent (all those long nights fretting over Obamacare); and,
  • Business services — 26 percent.

Is love on the job a good idea?

The press release from CareerBuilder also includes “Tips for Navigating a Workplace Romance,” and I won’t get into them much here except to point out that Tip No. 2 is “Proceed with Caution.” Here’s what they say:

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Some romances lead into marriage, but others can lead into disaster. Seven percent of workers who have dated a co-worker reported having to leave their jobs because their office romance soured. Take the time to get to know someone first and carefully weigh risks and benefits.”

Amen to that I say, although former HR executive Liz Ryan takes a more carefree attitude about getting involved with a co-worker:

If you’re going to populate your office, warehouse or sales floor with humans, some of them are going to fall in love or lust eventually. How could it be otherwise?

Work is a fantastic place to meet a sweetheart. It’s far safer to see some comely lass or fetching dude at work and take time to get to know him or her on neutral ground than to meet people through Craigslist or in dimly-lit bars.”

When an office relationship goes bad

I agree with what Liz has to say, sort of, but I also know that all-too-many office romances take place between people on unequal footing, where one or both of the participants are married or living together with someone else. Rarely do office “romances,” if that’s what they really are, simply fade away when “love” has run its course.

Here’s a great example of what I’m talking about that I have used before when talking about the perils of romantic office relationships.

One time, I was managing the news desk of a major metropolitan newspaper. Two of my assistant news editors got involved, and everyone who worked with them knew it. In fact, they could talk about little else. Complicating the matter was this: both of my assistants were married to other people in the newsroom. One of them was married to the sports editor, a large, intimidating fellow who could be extremely nasty when mad or drunk.

Not only was the affair distracting to everyone else in my department, but it had the potential of becoming violent if the sports editor ever found out. I had to deal with it, but how? I enlisted two other editors to help. The plan was to sit down one of my two assistants (the male), and give him three reasons to end the affair, listed in this order.

  1. If he didn’t end it, his career growth would probably be over.
  2. If he didn’t end it, his wife would likely find out and divorce him.
  3. If he didn’t end it, the large and intimidating sports editor would likely find out and probably kill him.

Guess what? He laughed at reason #1 and shrugged off reason #2. Reason #3, however, got his attention. He ended the affair the next day.”

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: Getting involved sexually with people you work with is about as foolish, dumb and self-destructive as it gets. Today, with yet another Valentine’s Day upon us, that’s a message I wish more workers would remember.

The CareerBuilder annual Valentine’s Day survey on office romance was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 3,008 workers (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) ages 18 and over between Nov. 6 and Dec. 2, 2013. With a pure probability sample of 3,008, one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/- 1.79 percentage points.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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