Is it ever okay to hook up with your co-worker?

Luciano from accounts is giving you the eye, but flirting at work could harm your performance

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...

No-one appreciates it when couples get all Lady and the Tramp in the staff canteen

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.

Office-Romance-The office

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.

Studies show that being happy at work makes us makes us 12% more productive. And being unhappy? A 10% fall in 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.

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Reader Comments

  • RW

    Your right to a degree. You mentioned “the wandering Jew”.

    I elaborate that the Jewish people, historically have tended to migrate almost exclusively to locations that are economically and culturally vibrant already. I would speculate that Jews have thrived in these places and have often improved the bounds of their economies and knowledge base.

    You can also ask; how many massive entertainment conglomerates, Nobel winners or billionaires has Isreal developed? If Jews are so capable, why isn’t Tel Aviv the Rome of our time?

    Jews are successful because they value education, maintain a strong social cohesive, they actively monitor and have a good sense for Zeitgeist wherever they are and they carefully choose the places they settle and congregate themselves heavily in these choice locations.

    But most importantly (haulocaust increased the importance of this aspect), they actually designed their culture for success. They not only attend Harvard, they use what they learned to better the group as a whole. With as much, they studied intricate networking systems, adapted to it and in many cases improved upon them. (See how Japan acquired Aegis warships and made them better).

    Of course there is nothing wrong with any of this. It’s when you elaborately gain disproportionate power in any society where you would stand out, you must take care when attempting to make a society better (Civil Rights movement) and rewriting that society all together (mass immigration). Ask blacks in China, Mexico, Philippines or India how much opportunity they have? Go to businesses owned by their American diaspora and see how many blacks they hire. Go to Silicon Valley and see how many East or South Asian tech workers wish they could work with more black people. California might work as a state, but as a nation, I think your rolling the nuclear dice here. I hope we can succeed as a tolerant pluralistic superpower but at this stage in human societal development, it’s a pipe dream.

    And if Jews really are the icon for success, they would see that fundamental human successes happen over generations. Just look at the rest of the planet? Are we ready?