It might seem like a bit of a cliché, but workplaces are one of the most common environments where people can cheat on their partners, or perhaps even meet the love of their life in the first place.
But office romances can quickly become a recipe for disaster if they go wrong, not just in terms of your personal life, but professionally too.
Here at Wright Hassall, we wanted to know just how commonplace workplace relationships really are, and why they come about in the first place, so we surveyed 2,000 people to find out how many people had been involved in a relationship with a colleague.
How many people have had a ‘romantic encounter’ with a colleague?
Yes - 24.4%
No - 75.6%
Our survey revealed that just under a quarter of people had had a romantic encounter with someone from work. Of course, many of these will have been between people in relationships and some will have been nothing more than a quick kiss at the Christmas party, but it’s still a surprisingly high number!
Men were more likely to have engaged in a romantic encounter with a colleague than women, with 27.6% having done so, compared to just 21.5% when it comes to women.
It was those aged between 45 and 54 that were most likely to seek out an office romance, but it appears that once workers get into their late 50s, workplace romance is less likely to be on the cards, with just 21.7% of 55-64 year olds and 21.6% of over 65s saying they had a romantic encounter.
Interestingly, there was a large divide regionally in terms of workplace romance, with over a third of those in the West Midlands saying they had been involved with someone from work. That was almost three times as many as their neighbours in the East Midlands, where just 12% responded with yes.
Work events such as Christmas parties can be amongst the most common times that workplace romances can flourish, often with disastrous consequences. It turns out that just under 15% of people were guilty of a hookup at a work event.
How many people have had an affair with a colleague?
It’s one thing to meet someone at work, but how many people actually cheat on their partners with someone from the office?
Yes - 13%
No - 87%
Again, it was men that were the more likely, with 14.3% of people saying that had had a romantic encounter with a colleague while already in a relationship with someone, compared to 11.2% of women.
Interestingly, the number of people having workplace affairs steadily gets lower the older that you get, before then spiking between the ages of 45 and 64 and falling once again.
While those in the East Midlands were the least likely to experience a romantic encounter at work, they were actually the most likely to do so while in a relationship! On the other hand, not one person from Northern Ireland said that they had done so.
The legal and HR implications of workplace romances
Of course, there is often a serious side to all of this, especially in instances where someone has cheated on their partner with a work colleague.
Employees having relationships can cause real issues for business owners, especially in smaller businesses without large HR and legal departments.
Firstly, an office romance can have implications on the productivity in the workplace, not just for the people involved, but for the wider staff too, as rumours and gossip spread, leading to wasted time and potentially complaints of favouritism being shown too.
But there can be much more serious issues to come out of workplace romances too, such as sexual harassment claims, which is why it’s so important that you’re aware of any budding relationships.
In terms of legality, it’s important to know that you can’t just stop employees from starting a relationship.
To do so would be a breach of their human rights under the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998, which guarantees employees a right to privacy and in truth, the relationship is still likely to develop away from the office without your knowledge anyway.
Instead, you need to ensure that any romances that do occur (and according to our survey, they are happening!) are doing so responsibly and that all sides are properly protected.
To do this, you could implement a relationships policy that sets out rules for any employees who are entering into a relationship, such as that management must be informed, or that you reserve the right to move employees to different departments or teams to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest and ensuring that junior staff members aren’t in relationships with colleagues who are immediately their superiors.
Any such policies or rules should be written into employee contracts and any staff handbooks or similar documents.
Where problems are most likely to arise is if a relationship breaks down and can lead to sexual harassment complaints in the form of repeated unsolicited text messages and calls, starting malicious rumours, and unwanted physical contact, or making unfair work-related decisions such as turning an ex-partner down for promotions.
This further reinforces the fact that you should have a strong sexual harassment policy and clear procedures in place to deal with any such grievances.
As always, if you need any employment law advice, please contact a member of our team.