Dear Valentine: You don’t have to hide your love away in the office anymore so long as you follow your employer’s rules of engagement and remain discreet. Workplace relationships are coming out of the closet. But be careful what you long for.
With people working ever more hours over the past decade it’s becoming more acceptable for workers to connect romantically — even though some employers still keep the clamps on corporate coupling. In truth, experts say, limiting office relationships is probably no easier than banning Valentine’s Day or flirting at the office Christmas party.
“People spend so much time in the workplace now, where else are they going to meet someone,” says Professor Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economist and workplace expert at University of Texas Austin. “You can restrict office romance, but it’s really not going to change behavior.”
To be sure, office romances are becoming more accepted, but they may not be any easier to carry off than in the past. They are often fraught with risk, reward and excitement – and then they can get really boring.
Who’s Zoomin’ Whom?
The numbers show it. CareerBuilders.com in its annual Valentine’s Day Survey says that 38 percent of people have had a workplace relationship. The same survey says that two-thirds of workers do not attach any stigma to office romance. Other surveys have shown that between 20 percent and 30 percent of marriages now start as a workplace relationship.
Powerful executives and politicians get some of the credit for blazing the path for office romance – not so much for being enlightened leaders as for defining the limits of bad behavior. In effect, the culture has been shifted by office Romeos like Jack Welch, Jack Kennedy, David Petraeus, Bill Clinton and John Edwards. And don’t forget to add corporate magnates not well known for their sex appeal like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, both of whom engaged in office hookups with women who worked for them. Even their innocent romances, both of which led to marriage, might have won a human resources summons to strivers lower down the corporate ladder.