Workplace Romances Can Be Tricky, Study Finds

Are office romances still a thing? Do people really sleep with their boss (or try) in order to advance their career? A study commissioned by Zety.com compiled the experiences of over 1,000 employees and found it does still happen—and with surprising frequency.

metooSurvey Findings

Interoffice romance attempts are common.

Zety’s study found that almost 27% of respondents noted they’d been hit on by both a colleague and a manager, with women answering “yes” to this query more often than men. Incidentally, males were 32% more likely than women to feel that it was OK for managers to sleep with their subordinates.

Sleeping with the boss isn’t unheard of in the workplace.

More than half of respondents in this study (58%) also noted they knew of at least one colleague sleeping with the boss. Also, 40% of those surveyed admitted they’d been attracted to a superior at some point during their career but did not act on it. Twenty-eight percent of respondents admitted they had slept with their boss.

Sex is sometimes used as a promotion tool.

There are many reasons an employee might sleep with his or her boss. Many respondents noted they were simply attracted to their superior or were looking for a good time, but there were several who hoped for a promotion or a larger bonus. Men were twice as likely as their female counterparts to seek a promotion by way of sexual favors. To their own satisfaction, men were more likely to receive a promotion after sleeping with a boss, while women were more likely to have HR get involved and switch their departments.

Best Practices for the Workplace

Have a strong antiharassment policy.

It’s vital to have a strong antiharassment policy in the workplace, for both employers and employees alike. Train staff before they come on board, and conduct regular training sessions so that everyone knows how to interact with one another properly without crossing lines.

Develop a relationship policy.

In addition to a clear antiharassment policy, it’s also a good idea to take time and develop a workplace relationship policy. Whether all workplace romances are forbidden, or just those between an employee and his or her direct supervisor, an upfront policy can keep expectations in place.

Keep it professional.

If an office romance does blossom, it’s important for all involved to keep the workplace a neutral, professional environment. This should still apply if the romance dissolves, as turmoil can create a rift through even the calmest working climates.

Keep compliments performance-based.

There is a fine line between work-appropriate compliments and what can be interpreted as sexual harassment, particularly when the colleague doing the complimenting is in a supervisory position. Many survey respondents who admitted to sleeping with their boss said there were plenty of clues before the romance took place (55% of employees noted their supervisor was constantly flirting or joking with them). If employers, managers, and supervisors keep compliments strictly performance-based, there’s less of a chance that these compliments will be misconstrued.

A workplace relationship can be pretty tricky to navigate—even more so if it’s between an employee and his or her supervisor. Developing appropriate company policies, keeping things professional while on the job, and evaluating staff on the merits of their performance are all pivotal to keeping the workplace structure intact.

Joe Mercurio is the Creative Strategist for Zety.

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