12 Revelations About Office Relationships in the #MeToo Era
More than 400 high-profile executives and employees across fields and industries have been fired in the last 18 months because of heightened awareness of sexual harassment due to the #MeToo movement.
Yet, despite the long list of employees who have come forward to report incidents of sexual harassment, coworkers continue to pursue office romances. What’s changed? Since #MeToo, dating a coworker has become more complicated.
The average American worker spends at least 40 hours in the workplace each week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. “As coworkers spend so much time collaborating and engaging with one another, it is natural that relationships develop,” said Mirande Valbrune, an attorney and author of “#MeToo: A Practical Guide to Navigating Today's Cultural Workplace Revolution.”
And for employees with demanding work schedules, there’s often less opportunity to meet and date people outside the office.
“Even coworkers who may not approach work with an active interest in dating their colleagues may find themselves doing so anyway, despite the heightened awareness of the risk raised by the #MeToo movement,” Valbrune said.
The Prevalence of Office Relationships May (or May Not) Surprise You
A March 2018 survey by Namely found that 40 percent of participants had engaged in an intimate relationship with a coworker.
“On the surface, there is nothing wrong with an office romance as long as both parties feel respected and there is no power dynamic at play,” said Shannon Gordon, CEO of theBoardlist, a group that connects highly qualified women leaders with opportunities to serve on private and public company boards.
Because relationships in the workplace have become more complicated, many companies and organizations have surveyed workers to see where they stand on office relationships.
Here are 12 things we’ve learned from those surveys, as well as from experts on office relationships, about dating a coworker or your manager in the era of #MeToo.
Don’t Assume Your Coworker Is Interested in You
According to the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of women and 27 percent of men say they have experienced unwanted sexual advances, or verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Among the women who say they have been sexually harassed, 55 percent say it has happened both in and outside of work settings.
Most Keep Relationships a Secret
Even if a company has a policy stating that employees must disclose their romantic relationship to HR, few actually do.
Less than 5 percent of workers said they would willingly tell their HR team that they were in a workplace relationship, according to the Namely survey. And, even if company policy requires employees to disclose their relationship, only 42 percent say they would comply with that policy.
“Employees often believe that their romantic relationships are, by their very nature, private,” Valbrune said. Most couples don’t trust HR to respect their privacy and to not disclose their relationship to colleagues and supervisors, she says.
Office Crushes Are Common
Being attracted to your manager isn’t uncommon. According to a study by Zety, 40 percent of employees have been attracted to a manager at some point in their career.
Meanwhile, the study finds that women are 27 percent more likely to be hit on by both a colleague and a manager.
An Office Fling Can Lead to Higher Stress Levels
One in four women in the Zety study reported higher stress levels and lower job satisfaction after having sex with their supervisor. As a result, women were more likely to ask HR if they could switch departments after sleeping with their boss.
Instead of waiting until the fling is over, Valbrune recommends voluntarily transferring off the team or finding another job before even starting a relationship with your supervisor.
Employees Who Date Feel More Productive
About 31 percent of people in an office romance believe that dating a coworker improves their work and puts them in a better mood, according to a study about workplace relationships.
Employees currently in workplace relationships are even more likely to be comfortable with their current rate of pay than those not dating or involved with a coworker.
Employees Who Work Long Hours Are More Likely to Date Each Other
Employees with jobs that require long hours are more likely to pursue a workplace romance. Romantic workplace relationships are common in the hotel, food services and hospitality industries, according to a study about workplace relationships.
Employees working in finance and insurance, wholesale and retail, and technology reported they are also likely to pursue an intimate relationship with a coworker because they spend so much time at work.
Don’t Treat Your Office Like Tinder
Limit the number of coworkers that you choose to date, Valbrune says.
Before entering into a relationship with a coworker make sure that you feel the relationship is worth the possible hassles of a breakup. Ask yourself if this person has potential as a long-term mate.
Be on Your Best Behavior
Imagine having to eventually defend your behavior to HR if things go wrong and the relationship doesn’t last, Valbrune says.
“Ask yourself if you would you feel proud of your behavior, or would any of it bring you embarrassment?” she said.
Managers Must Disclose Office Romances
Managers should always steer clear of dating an employee, Valbrune says.
But if they choose to date a subordinate employee, “The manager must absolutely disclose to HR and should be ready to undergo a realignment of teams and duties,” Valbrune said. “If this is not possible given business and operational needs, then the manager must be ready to leave the company altogether.”
Consider Your Coworkers’ Feelings
When employees start dating they rarely consider how their actions may affect their colleagues, Valbrune says.
Your coworkers might see this as a potential conflict of interest and might perceive favoritism, even if there isn’t any. If things go wrong, you and your department might become mired in unnecessary gossip, conflict, tension, and real or perceived harassment.
The One Question to Ask Before Dating a Colleague
Valbrune recommends that every employee ask themselves this one question before starting an office romance: Am I willing to put it all on the line for this individual, because I need to know if they are actually the one?
If the answer is no, then don’t start an office romance.
Male Colleagues Aren’t Sure How To Interact With Female Colleagues
Even if coworkers aren’t romantically interested in each other, many male employees believe the increased focus on sexual harassment and assault creates new challenges for men as they navigate their interactions with women in the workplace.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, 51 percent of workers say that #MeToo has made it harder for men to know how to interact with women in the workplace.