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The Pleasures and Perils of Workplace Romance in Real Life and on Television

Elevators. Stairwells. Conference rooms. Supply closets.

To most people, these places are nothing special. But for those who are involved in workplace romances, these same places are ideal for a sexy rendezvous.

Would it surprise you to know that nearly a third of people engaged in a workplace romance have had a tryst in the workplace—not always after hours! (If that doesn’t compel you to use hand-sanitizer at work, I don’t know what will.) Four percent have even been caught in the act, a thought that makes me cringe because seeing co-workers going at is almost as bad as catching the parents in flagrante delicto.

Millions of people around the world have had workplace romances. These amorous entanglements are as commonplace as beer and hotdogs at a baseball game. They’re so common, in fact, that they’ve become a cliché (or, more fondly, a trope in Romanceland). Case in point: the boss and the secretary who use their desks for something other than paperwork.

Roughly 51 percent of employees have had an office romance at some point in their careers, according to Vault’s Office Romance Survey. The survey considers a workplace romance to include everything ranging from a one-night stand to marriage.

There are some very famous examples of workplace romances including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle. They met at a Chicago law firm when she was asked to mentor him. She showed him the ropes (and maybe the whips too!)

Workplace romances are a common trope in romance novels, TV shows, and movies—one of my favorites. I love a good (fictional) workplace romance, and TV powerhouse Shonda Rhimes, the woman behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, obviously feels the same way. Characters on her shows are always tangled up with co-workers, and by tangled up, I mean naked.

Have you seen those diagrams that use strings of yarn to link events that are seemingly unrelated? If you did one of those diagrams to chart which colleagues have slept with or are sleeping with each other in Rhimes’ shows, the diagram would be nothing but a humongous ball of yarn.

I think one of best workplace romances is the relationship between NYPD Detective Kate Beckett and mystery novelist Richard Castle on the ABC’s Castle. These two don’t have the classic workplace romance in that they’re not actually employed by the same organization (Castle works for free; his compensation is the thrill), but they consider themselves partners and solve crimes together. They kept their relationship a secret from the brass at the NYPD for fear that their romance would prevent them from being able to work together.

Like Castle and Beckett, most people who are getting a little lovin’ at work try to keep it a secret. No one sends out a memo telling everyone about their inner-office orgasms (unless it’s by accident—you need to watch that Reply All button).

A recent survey by CareerBuilder found that more than one third of workers who have had an office romance had to keep their relationship a secret, despite the fact that most companies don’t have an official policy preventing so-called fraternization. Instead, the policy is informal and unwritten: “Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.” (An appropriately phallic warning, I have to say.)

Despite the fact that workplace romances are so commonplace, most people still tend to view them negatively—further proof that we all get trapped in the quicksand of hypocrisy. When people are involved in workplace romances, co-workers tend to attribute their success to what’s between their legs rather than what’s between their ears.

In fact, a third of people surveyed by Career Builder said they believe that a colleague has gained a career advantage by getting involved with a co-worker or superior. We’ve all heard the rumors: “Emily got that promotion because she’s banging the VP” or “Eric never would have gotten that job without screwing the HR manager.”

It makes sense that we have mixed emotions about workplace romance because they can be quite risky. Beyond the risk of being caught with your pants down (literally), there’s also the possibility that an office romance could negatively affect your reputation and jeopardize your job, especially if you’re involved with someone with the authority to advance your career or place a call to security and ask them to escort you from the building.

There’s a lot of risk involved in workplace romances, yet people get involved anyway. It’s a lot like paying too much for a new pair of strappy sandals—you know you don’t have the money, that it might hurt you later, but you do it anyway, because you just can’t resist.

There’s a reason why workplace romances are so prevalent. Actually, there are several reasons, but the main reason is simply proximity. You spend the majority of your waking hours at work, which means you’re spending most of your time with your co-workers. You see them every weekday and sometimes on the weekend, too, if you have a high-pressure job that requires extra hours.

Moreover, co-workers and colleagues tend to spend time outside of work. You have lunch together, stop by the local bar for happy hour, and sometimes co-workers even participate in activities like softball leagues and events like company barbeques.

Beyond proximity, though, there’s another big reason why workplace romances ignite: shared experiences and interests. Think about it this way: you have at least one thing in common with your co-workers—your employer. And you may have even more in common than that—similar education and ideals. Attorneys, for example, might find common ground in where they attended law school and their love of the law.

Surprisingly, most office romances don’t end too badly (at least from a professional standpoint… who knows how many pints of Ben & Jerry’s consumption can be directly attributed to workplace breakups). According to Vault, only 5 percent of people involved in workplace romances say they left their jobs because the relationship ended.

And the good news is that some workplace romances don’t end at all. The Vault survey found that 10 percent of people dating co-workers actually married them. Take Barack and Michelle: they got hitched and ended up in the White House. Beckett and Castle got their happily ever after, too.

When it comes to the workplace, one thing is certain: it’s always smart to knock before you enter. You never know what kind of “closed door meeting” could be going on.

Originally posted at Heroes & Heartbreakers 



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