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The Birds and Bees of the Modern Office Romance


In Mike Nichol’s endearingly unrealistic ’80s romcom Working Girl, Melanie Griffith portrays Tess McGill, an inexperienced but savvy young professional embattled in a competition for professional (and romantic) success with her powerful, idea-stealing boss Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). The moral of the story? Do the right — albeit slightly duplicitous — thing, and you get not only your dream job, but also the guy you knew you always deserved.

(Photo Credit: Robynlou Kavanagh/Flickr)

While Tess’s eventual cinematic triumph is extremely satisfying, neither it (nor this post) are by any means advice to apply a “love lens” to your professional life. On the other hand, it is undeniable that work, as the environment in which you spend many of your waking hours, is a common and unsurprising breeding ground for romantic relationships.

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Whether said couplings are serious, informal, healthy, messy, illicit, or sanctioned are entirely dependent on the couples and companies in question. What is certain, however, is that the office romance is as alive and well as it was when Tess “borrowed” a $6,000 dress from Katherine’s closet for her first meeting with Jack Trainer (a dreamy, pre-Fugitive Harrison Ford).

Since whether to engage in a work relationship is clearly an individual decision (and because Valentine’s Day is here), we’ve collected some data to help you evaluate this subjective issue objectively. To that end, here is an overview of trends and facts culled from a variety of sources about the frequency, locations, and types of love (and lust) connections going on in American offices today.

According to PayScale’s Office Romance Report, Honolulu, Charleston, and San Francisco are the three American cities most likely to have employees “on the prowl” for love in the workplace, while artists, cooks, and computer software engineers are those most likely to be the ones prowling. In terms of actually finding love in the office, Greenville, South Carolina; Palm Bay, Florida; and Youngstown, Ohio, rank as the three most successful locales for an office love match, and those who are dental hygienists, clergy(!), and office clerks find it most frequently.

A 2014 survey of 8,000 employees conducted by CareerBuilder showed that 40 percent of employees had dated a co-worker, and 17 percent have dated a co-worker twice.

A national study conducted by market research firm Harris Interactive and Trojan Condoms claims that 25 percent of Americans reported experiencing a sexual relationship resulting from an office holiday party in 2013. The study also found that work was the second most common place to meet for couples married between 2005-2012 (14 percent), coming second only to those who met their future spouses online (16 percent).

More and more workplaces have begun to put the kibosh on office relationships; according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):

“The number of firms with restrictions on sexual relationships between employees (not just at holiday parties) has more than doubled over the last decade — from 20 percent in 2001 to 42 percent in 2013. And 49 percent of HR professionals surveyed reported that within the last five years, someone at their organization has been fired, suspended, or formally reprimanded for a workplace romance.”

Perhaps the best advice, if you’re going to mix business with pleasure, is to be cautious, and make sure that you’re not violating company policy. 

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