Just because coworkers can’t openly flirt in the office doesn’t mean crushes and romances haven’t transitioned remotely.
Like everything else about the workforce today, workplace romances have shifted from real life to digital thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. A new survey from SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, found that 50% of workers have had a crush on a colleague — but more than a third of American workers have been involved or are currently in a romance that started at work.
It’s a notable shift as offices closed down back in March, but that hasn’t stopped workers from engaging in office romances. Thirty-four percent of participants said they had either been or are currently in a relationship with someone from work — a 7% increase in the year of the coronavirus pandemic.
Remote work seems like a abnormal place for a relationship to bud, but maybe it’s all the face-time on Zoom meetings or the countless chatter on Slack that’s contributing to the rise in office dating. A quarter of US workers said they either began a new workplace romance during the pandemic or have continuing seeing someone they engaged with romantic before the start of the pandemic, which dates back to March 2020.
SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. said that the isolation that the pandemic has caused could be a reason why workers are looking for meaningful connections at work.
“During a period where we’re spending more time isolated than together, workers are looking for meaningful connections. If employees find romance in the workplace, be it remotely or at the worksite, they should try to be transparent—especially if the relationship poses a conflict of interest,” Taylor, Jr. said in a press release.
“As the culture of our workplaces continually grow and evolve, it’s in the best interest of employers and HR professionals to consider implementing guidance or update existing workplace-romance policies.”
The survey, which featured responses from 1,000 Americans, comes as a surprise considering in-person interactions have been curbed due to the pandemic. The shift remotely, however, hasn’t stopped people from taking a chance on love at work.
Nearly two in five workers said they have been asked on a date by someone they work with, and one in four said they have asked a coworker out on a date, according to the survey.
While most offices don’t require employees to disclose their romantic relationships, it’s a tricky slope to navigate considering it’s in a professional setting. Elisabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia NSW and a clinical and counseling psychologist, wrote a column recently for Body+Soul advising that if you’re genuinely interested in a coworker, it’s best for it to be legitimate and not just a hook up because it can be perceived coldly by other workers.
“Some co-workers might judge you unfairly as using sex to advance your career, especially if you’re female and subordinate to your romantic partner, or your partner might be judged for taking advantage of a ‘vulnerable’ worker,” Shaw wrote. “Either way, you might become victims of hurtful and malicious talk. Workplace relationships can create anxiety and discomfort for co-workers, to say nothing of divided loyalties.
“If you seek out a relationship to serve your own ambitions or for fun, colleagues are unlikely to be impressed. They may be much more supportive if they perceive the relationship as genuine. If your intentions aren’t serious and you value your career and reputation, it’s probably best not to pursue a relationship with a co-worker at all.”
Shaw said that colleagues should set boundaries in the workplace between work and private life, and to avoid physical or verbal signs of affection. Of course, that’s easier in the Zoom age where you’re not walking over and flirting with someone, but that extends to virtual meetings as well.
Although flirting in the office can come as unwanted or even awkward, research has found that casual flirting at-work can help relieve stress and other issues like insomnia from the workplace.
A recent study found that people that work in human resources were the most likely to engage in office affairs.