How Employees Really Feel about Workplace Romances

Topic: Organizational Justice, Sexual Harassment
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (DEC 2009)
Article: Workplace romance: A justice perspective
Authors: N. Cole
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Workplace Romances(WRs) are a fact of life. Some statistics suggest that as many as 40% of employees report having had a WR at some point in their careers. Though organizations are often concerned about the potential performance and legal ramifications of in-house WRs, general attitudes toward WRs appear to be changing; employees are much less secretive about WRs than they have been in the past.

Cole (2009) interviewed 100 employees who reported witnessing a WR in their workplace. In general, study participants reported that the fairest managerial action was to treat WRs as inevitable and take little or no action against the employees. However, managerial action was considered fair if the WRs have a negative impact on the work environment and/or job performance. In fact, under these conditions, coworkers may find too little managerial action unfair.

Additionally, employees find managerial action against WRs fair when the parties work in the same department and when the organization has a formal written WR policy. Although positive effects of WRs are sometimes discussed in the literature, Cole notes that none of the participants mentioned potential positive effects of WRs. When participants discussed effects on performance and the work environment, they were always negative. Thus, if positive outcomes are present, coworkers may not perceive them.

Although organizations may have little control over the existence of WRs, Cole’s results highlight the importance of having formal, written WR policies. Surprisingly, most organizations do not have written WR policies, but probably should (see review of Pierce & Aguinis, 2009 for WR policy recommendations). Written policies legitimize managerial action in response to WRs and improve coworker perceptions of such action.  Overall, employees seem accepting of WRs, so long as they do not negatively impact the work environment or performance.

Cole, N. (2009). Workplace romance: A justice perspective. Journal of Business and Psychology, 24, 363-372.