An office romance, work romance, or corporate affair is a romance that occurs between two people who work together in the same office, work location, or business. It tends to breach nonfraternization policies and is a foreseeable business expense. The relationship between affair partners at work can be as wide as intern and president; company CEO and member of the board; supervisor and supervisee; company representative and client; boss and secretary, and so on. And it can be between peers or colleagues at the same level in the organization. It can concurrently or after the fact come to be interpreted as sexual harassment. Intra-office romance between an executive and an employee can presage sexual harassment claims, to which email records bear witness.
The perception that an advantage is gained by 'sleeping with the boss' in a competitive environment ensures that these transactions occur by stealth. To have a powerful influence on the opportunities placed in one's path, one does not have to engage in sexual intercourse. A special relationship could be enough to gain leverage where business opportunities are in short supply. This fuzzy boundary can be nuanced by practiced players in order to provide deniability when required. Neither does one have to be directly involved in the affair for the knowledge of it to be useful currency - discretion in exchange for advantage.
Office romances are generally believed to be unhelpful to the welfare and effectiveness of the business and to the network of relationships that comprise it. They contain the potential for abuse, alliance, and distraction. Thus they are discouraged and even prohibited in some company policy. Describing an office relationship as a romance can be cover for a form of workplace bullying. Public displays of affection can result in workplace conflict as it can make co-workers uncomfortable.
Some possibly beneficial effects of office romances have also been identified, including the potential to motivate those in the relationship, lead them to spend more time at work, improve the quality of their work, and reduce their absenteeism. Curt Smith notes that couples who work and sleep together can carpool the following morning, saving gas money.
According to Perlowski, "What almost inevitably happens is that one person ends up leaving the company. The perception of the relationship is such that one person needs to leave to make it comfortable for the other. Or the relationship goes sour, and they can't stand looking at the other person."Risky Romances on the Job
In its 2003 nationwide survey Vault found that 47 percent of workers have participated in an office romance and an additional 19 percent would be willing to do so if the opportunity arose. Vault's 2003 Office Romance Survey is based on responses from over 1,000 professionals at companies nationwide. In addition, 13 percent of respondents said their employer had a policy regarding office dating, 51 percent said their company has no policy, and 36 percent said they didn't know whether one existed. When asked to comment about romance in the workplace, respondents replied:
In a 2003 survey of over 390 managers and executives last year by the American Management Association, 30 percent said they had dated a co-worker, and two-thirds said they approved of employees' dating in the workplace. Of those 67 percent, 96 percent said it was okay to date co-workers, and 24 percent said it was okay for employees to date their bosses.
A 2007 book, Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding--and Managing--Romance on the Job, written by Stephanie Losee and Helaine Olen, found approximately half of all Americans will date someone they work with at least once over the course of their work lives. The authors argue that the workplace has become the village of the 21st century and they view office romance as an inevitable outgrowth of the vast amount of time many Americans spend on the job.
One theory is that comedies such as The Office, Just Shoot Me, and ''Bridget Jones' Diary'', which feature office romances, are encouraging the increase.
Few companies have a defined policy against office romance according to the 2006 Workplace Romance survey of 493 HR professionals and 408 employees by the Society for Human Resource Management. Only 9% of those surveyed prohibit dating among employees, and more than 70% of organizations have no formal written or verbal policies about office romance. None of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies have such policies. Some writers argue that the cost of having a formal policy may outweigh the benefits, as inevitable fraternization will be driven underground. The most common and legally enforceable policy states that supervisors cannot date employees within their direct chain of command. Wal-Mart policy forbids married employees from dating co-workers.
An office romance is sometimes a breach of either formal or informal fraternization policies.
It has been studied as an operation of power dynamics in romantic incubator relationships. Working closely with or living near someone and forming a romantic relationships may incubate romance through the propinquity effect. It evolves from collegiate relationship to limerence quickly and covertly - sometimes this is described as 'having a crush.' Affairs begin one conversation at a time, often without either party admitting to themselves that they intend a deeper connection. 'It just happened' may be the subsequent claim. In fact, the time between a so-called innocent beginning and the first kiss is usually considerable, but the time between that kiss and sexual intercourse is usually short. People involved in this way can appear to themselves to have landed in trouble very quickly, when in fact there was a slow fuse burning long before ignition.
The process of disengaging an office affair requires careful and non-punitive examination at every level of the organization in order to understand affair dynamics at work. That will assist in preventing breaches of employment contracts where that is possible. The challenges of that process suggest the value of family friendly employment conditions.
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