Barack and Michelle Obama did it. Bill and Melinda Gates did it. In fact, over a third of the working population have been romantically involved with a workplace colleague.
Office romance is everywhere. And employers are worried about it. When surveyed, 84% of people thought productivity could suffer when people hook up with a co-worker.
It’s easy to see why we'd think so. It's a fair assumption to think people will be less focused on work when the love of their life (they hope) is there, all day long, a constant distraction from your productivity – the amount of work you do for every hour they pay you for. Even if it’s more of a lust thing than a love thing and it’s not going to last, it can be hard for people to stay switched into work mode.
A costly distraction...
Sure, some couples try to keep it strictly professional at work. Some even keep it a secret. But not everyone's that discreet. Long lunches, mooning over each other by the photocopier, secret messages flying to and fro…. the kind of stuff that gives workplace romance a bad name.
And it's not just the couple’s work that can suffer. It can also cause the un-productivity effect to ripple out even further, affecting the productivity of people working with the loved-up duo. Why? Colleagues can feel a whole range of emotions - uncomfortable/annoyed/left out/embarrassed – affecting their ability to do the job.
Plus, if people are suddenly taking long lunches with bae, what’s to stop everyone else following suit? Or if one or both halves of the romancing couple are letting their workload slip and others are having to pick up the slack, then the productivity of the whole office can dip.
The real productivity damage could come when a relationship ends, particularly if the situation turns nasty. When a relationship goes wrong and it involves a colleague, the last place you're going to want to be is at work, with that person. Or what happens if only one person wants to break up and the other person keeps trying to rekindle the romance? That’s the real nightmare scenario for everyone.
The whole shebang could cost organizations a lot of money in lost productivity and potentially in legal costs, if things get ugly and one of the now un-happy couple launches a claim against the other. Someone might even file an unfair dismissal claim should the situation have cost them their job. Or worse still, both.
...or an inspiring energy boost?
But hey, it doesn't have to be that way. If all goes to plan, workplace romance could actually boost productivity.
Happy employees build personal relationships with each other, romantic or otherwise. Organizations that discourage – or try to ban – romantic relationships are likely to end up with an unhappy, dissatisfied workforce. They might lose employees who think the relationship is worth holding on to and would prefer to trade jobs rather than romance.
Fortunately, a lot of workplace romances work out. A good proportion – a third – lead on to marriage, like the Obamas and the Gateses. And it definitely doesn't look like their productivity suffered too much. So perhaps employers shouldn't be so worried: in the long haul, love and productivity could be bedfellows themselves.