Love Is in the Air (and HR Is Sniffing It Out)

Jim and Pam The office weddingIf you need yet another reason to know why everyone outside of HR thinks Catbert is not a fictional character, look no further than this data point: “32 percent of HR professionals say employers have the right to prohibit workplace romance between employees.”

On this, the most romantic day of the year, a full third of HR monitors are poised to swarm the office back stairways and broom closets, and snoop amongst the flower arrangements for evidence of co-worker love. Had Toby been the Evil HR Lady Jim and Pam would never have married.

You think I joke about that snooping around? Indeed I do not. No less an authority than that most sober-minded of professional organizations, the Society for Human Resource Management, says that two-thirds of the time HR finds out about co-worker coupling from the office gossip mill. Almost as often — 61 percent — someone tattles. (If there’s gossip, there’s also telling, otherwise it wouldn’t be gossip.)

How often does an office romance happen? CareerBuilder says 38 percent of workers have had an office fling; 16 percent have had more than one. A third of the time the romance lead to marriage. About a quarter of those who have had an office romance admit it was with the boss or some other higher-up in the company — a big no-no say SHRM’s HR survey takers. Nearly every one of them (99 percent) said love between the boss and a direct report is strictly against policy.

Only HR Counts Up How Many Ways Not to Love Thee

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, never thinking HR would codify them and assign them penalties. But sure enough, 42 percent have a written or verbal policy that includes termination for the wrong kind of love.

Reason No. 29 why HR is more like Catbert than Dogbert: 81 percent of companies provide zero training for workers or managers about the office romance policy.

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One thing about co-worker dating, the couples don’t much discuss work. A survey from Workplace Options says the majority of them spend less than 30 minutes talking about work. The biggest share spend less than 10 minutes on that subject, even when one of them is the boss.

How people meetSometimes that work thing comes in handy. Faking a work emergency to get out of a date has been used by 10 percent, presumably not co-workers in the same department.

Internet Romance

HR can relax its vigilance in one regard: co-workers as matchmakers are in decline. So is meeting through friends and having mom set you up. Taking their place: the Internet and bars, which quite nicely explains the CareerBuilder finding that the leisure and hospitality industry (think bars and restaurants) have 57 percent of their workers dating each other.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


3 Comments on “Love Is in the Air (and HR Is Sniffing It Out)

  1. If this is what people are spending their time monitoring, we need to reset priorities. As long as two people are consenting adults and there is no abuse of power going on, HR needs to stay out of peoples bedrooms and focus on boardrooms.

  2. @Stephanie,

    It’s about control for most companies. ‘Fraternization’ is seen as bad for business or productivity by default, and so it’s prohibited. The unseen cost is making employees sneak around and feel paranoid about doing what is only natural, finding more in common with people you already have something incidental in common, and perhaps even losing employees to other opportunities where they feel more comfortable, or due to a purposeful move so they can be open about their relationships. It’s micromanagement in the end really. Instead of managing to the result, and telling those individuals who can’t maintain productivity or professionalism due to an office relationship to get their act together, a one size fits all ‘policy’ is in place. And then people, with or without need, are disciplined according to that policy. Management to mindless process rather than results. The latter is easier for most. If you have a boatload of rules and policies, whether or not they actually help the business or not can be subsumed in the fact that the people enforcing them look busy doing so, and so must be accomplishing something, especially when people assume the policy is right with or without evidence for such a conclusion.

    It’ll be a day far in the future, that may never come, where managers concentrate solely on asking whether or not their employees produced what they were supposed to, and did so on time and to the expected standards. That kind of management is rough, because there’s no magic or touchy feely grey areas, only results to be judged by.

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