Office romances: should entrepreneurs care what happens between employees?

Whether you’re tempted to have a romantic liaison with a new attractive employee or catch your staff sneaking around, you must know how to avoid affairs wrecking your business

Office romances: should entrepreneurs care what happens between employees?

Despite the ubiquity of dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, nothing is more thrilling than an office romance. And even after the oft-given advice to not date people at work, chances are that you or someone you know have experienced a drunken dalliance during a Christmas party or a relationship steadily blossoming over time. “[You] can’t control human emotions,” said Coralie Jo, professional matchmaker at the elite dating firm Asprey Introductions, made famous on W’s TV show The Ultimate Matchmaker.

The numbers certainly back her up. When Reboot Online, the SEO company, surveyed 2,017 professionals it revealed 45% had experienced a fling with a co-worker and 12% confessed to having dated their boss. Clearly romantic rendezvous with someone at work isn’t a new idea. That’s why we decided to speak with some of the people who’d had an office fling and to dig deep into the data about workplace romances.

Let’s start with why people do it. Surprisingly, for some it’s about getting ahead at work. When researchers at Centre for Talent Innovation, the talent innovation company, surveyed 5,580 workers they revealed 37% women who had had an affair with their boss were rewarded for it. But be warned, whatever the reason for the tryst – no matter how brief – it could have negative consequences for your company. The same research revealed 61% of men and 70% of women lose respect for a leader involved in an affair. This is hardly great for morale as 48% of men and 56% of women feel animosity towards the involved couple. The resentment even led to almost two-fifths of workers becoming less productive at work due to a head honcho’s hook-up.

While the unintended collateral could compromise the company, erotic endeavours also have the potential to benefit your business, as Coralie Jo told Elite Business. Although, that wasn’t exactly what was on her mind when she hopped into bed with her boss after an evening of fun frolicking at a charity ball. “Working late at the office suddenly had a whole new meaning to it and I was very eager to put in those extra hours,” Coralie Jo said. 

And bosses too look for workers with extra benefits. Having an attractive secretary like Don Draper had in Mad Men can be a great incentive to get a shift on during Monday mornings. This was the case for a married business owner who wishes to remain anonymous, claiming to have enjoyed more than five frivolous trysts with employees. These ranged from a few dates to regular evenings of passion, sometimes involving more than two employees at the same time. “I made sure we were on the same page so there was no awkwardness whatsoever and, besides, sex should be seen as two adults having fun – like playing tennis,” he said. “There’s so much time before and after work, exhibitions and shows for which we travel and an open bar adds to it. You have a fancy bedroom. It’s all great. You just need to make sure your emotions don’t get involved. If you wanna just fuck the brains out of each other – just do it. Yes, I was married at the time. I have a huge sex drive so I had to do it to keep myself sane. Many frown upon an idea of romance in the office but that shouldn’t be the case.”

Even though this laissez faire attitude may work for some, many businesses have rules against office flings. “Because this can blur the lines on professionalism at work, employers are concerned about the effect that these relationships can have on the workplace,” explained Kate Palmer, associate director of advice at Peninsula Group, the HR firm, speaking to Elite Business.

Given the risks involved, it’s unsurprising that a recent report by Direct Line Group, an insurance company, suggests that 78% of senior HR managers in the UK have reviewed their policies towards workplace romance in the last year. Their goal was to make it harder for employees to give in to their romantic inclinations.

Moreover, companies have also incorporated regulations as a safety net should a relationship go south. While some head honchos make employees sign love contracts, which is a written employee consent regarding workplace conduct and a non-harassment policy, some forbid office romances altogether.

But not all agree with these methods. “A blanket ban on workplace relationships is [unrealistic,] difficult to enforce and potentially breach the human rights of the employees,” Monica Atwal, managing partner at Clarkslegal, a law firm, told Elite Business. “The key is how relationships are handled and, if clear guidance or policies with boundaries are set, then certain situations can be prevented. Any such policy needs to balance an employee’s right to a private life against the employer’s right to protect [their] business interests. What an employer can ask for is openness and that all relationships are disclosed so the best way forward can be agreed that does not impact colleagues.”

So should company heads give carte blanche to workplace romances? Coralie Jo believes it will happen regardless of these rules. “As an entrepreneur you’re a leader [and] leading with love, respect and compassion brings out more in your team and enables people to fulfil their own potentials further, rather then the less tasteful ruling with an iron fist,” Coralie Jo argued. “The romance will happen anyway. If you ban it then you are encouraging lies and cover-ups amongst your team.”

Navigating the twists and turns of an office romance in a professional environment can be tricky. Still, maybe having some fun in office shouldn’t be a taboo but something to embrace after the leadership has taken the right amount of precaution. “What your employee brings to the company is much more important than who they’re sleeping with,” Coralie Jo concluded.

Varsha Saraogi
Varsha Saraogi

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