People are often told not to mix business with pleasure, especially when it comes to an office romance. Although some coworkers tend to err on the side of caution, others lock eyes or gently touch hands next to the water cooler or fax machine at work. Given the amount of time spent at work, with an increasing long-day culture, there is little wonder that many find their passion in the office. According to a recent study published in the journal Western Journal of Communication, company culture, or how coworkers view workplace romances, influence couples’ attitudes and behaviors in these relationships.
Whether you’re for or against office romances, they are more commonplace than previously thought. Forty to 47 percent of employees surveyed throughout the years have reportedly been involved in a workplace romance, with 20 percent indicating they are receptive to it, according to Psychology Today. As these relationships evolve from platonic to romantic, the question lingers, why do people date at work?
Affiliation has been viewed as the basis of attraction. In an early study on motives for workplace romances, Robert E. Quinn, lead researcher of the study, found individuals engaged in these relationships for three reasons: love, ego, or job. Job-motivated relationships were linked with organizational absence, while those that were love-motivated were linked to more positive attitudes. Whatever the drive for these romances may be, those who engage in these type of relationships must be aware of the implications and challenges they may face. Their attitudes and behaviors may also be influenced by their fellow colleagues' stance on office romances.
A team of researchers at DePaul University's College of Communication and the University of Texas at San Antonio sought to accurately assess the factors that contribute to coworkers’ perception on workplace romantic relationships. "I was interested in studying workplace romances because they are incredibly common yet, across social science, there is little research in the area," said Sean Horan, coauthor of the study and assistant professor of relational communication in DePaul University's College of Communication.
Horan and his colleague Renee Cowan, assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, found how coworkers respond to an office romance is contingent upon three variables: how they learned about the romance, their personal views of those in the romance, and the company culture. If coworkers found out from the office romance couple personally, there was a more positive reaction than if they found out via office gossip or if they were caught “in the act.” Company culture, or organization culture, also plays a significant role in how coworkers view these romances.
Office environments that are more relaxed and don't have official policies on interoffice relationships more easily accept the relationship. If formal offices have strict policies in place, workplace romances are considered to be inappropriate and unprofessional. "It (the organization environment) kind of seemed like a college so it didn't seem too unprofessional," said another participant, according to the news release.
While office romances are still negatively perceived — aside from motives — other research indicates office romances may result in marriage. Stresses and strains of work, and the number of hours spent with colleagues, are considered to be key factors that contribute to this finding. Fourteen percent of couples who met through work ended up married, compared to 11 percent who were introduced by friends, the Daily Mail reported.
The research on office romances suggest if you’re going to engage in them, be aware that your coworkers may communicate with you and your partner differently. These differences can influence productivity and overall work performance. "I've concluded a couple of my studies the same way by saying 'date at your own risk,'" Horan said.
Cowan RL, Horan SM. Love at the Office? Understanding Workplace Romance Disclosures and Reactions from the Coworker Perspective. Western Journal of Communication. 2014.
Quinn RE. Coping with cupid: The formation, impact, and management of romantic relationships in organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly. 1977.