New survey reveals the UK’s love of office romances

Fresh research into UK office romances has shown just how many of us have mixed business with pleasure, and where the UK’s office romance hotspot is.

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From the Obamas to the Gateses, there are plenty of real-life examples showing that the cliche of the office romance is alive and well (and can lead to relationships that stand the test of time).

But just how common are office romances in the UK, and how many of us would privately admit to having had a romantic encounter at the office party?

New research from law firm Wright Hassall has dug deep into this issue, and found that just under 25% of people admit to having had a romantic encounter with a work colleague.

As for the office party, 15% confessed to having had a romantic encounter at a work event or party.

Here, we take a closer look at this research, pick out some interesting findings, and discuss the potential consequences of office romances and how employers can manage them.

How was the office romance research conducted?

For its Work Affairs investigation, Wright Hassall surveyed 2,000 people in the UK, and asked them a range of questions related to office romances and romantic encounters at work.

These respondents spanned a variety of age groups and all of the UK’s regions were represented, resulting in a truly comprehensive insight into UK office romances.

What else did we learn about UK office romances?

Other research findings included:

  • The West Midlands is the UK’s office romance hotspot, with more than one in three respondents (34.6%) admitting to workplace romantic encounters. By contrast, their neighbours in the East Midlands were the least likely to combine romance and work, with just 12% saying they had done so.

Office romance regions graphic

  • There was a significant divide between genders – men were more likely to have engaged in a romantic encounter with a colleague than women. For men, this figure was 27.6%, compared to just 21.5% for women.

Office romance gender divide

  • The survey also found that, for some of us at least, existing relationships were no hindrance to a workplace romance. Overall, 13% of respondents owned up to cheating on their partners with a colleague – with men (14.3%) slightly more likely than women (11.2%) to have done so.

Office romance cheating

How can office romances affect workplaces?

While office flings may seem like a harmless bit of fun, Wright Hassall’s Head of Employment Law Tina Chander points out that “employees having relationships can cause real issues for business owners, especially in smaller businesses without large HR and legal departments”.

Most obviously, these relationships can impact productivity, as the participants may be distracted and the whole office can get sidetracked with rumours and idle gossip.

But, far more seriously, office romances can also lead to sexual harassment claims, so it’s crucial for employers to try to stay on top of the relationships in their workplaces.

But how can you do this?

How can employers manage office romances?

First things first – you can’t just ban your employees from having relationships with each other. Not only is that illegal (it would breach their human rights under the Human Rights Act [HRA] 1998) but it’s also unlikely to achieve much, as the relationship would probably just develop away from the office.

However, in order to stay aware of office relationships and ensure that both sides are protected, it might be a good idea to have an official relationships policy that sets out some common-sense rules.

For example, the policy could state that management must be informed, that employees should be moved to different departments or teams to avoid conflicts of interest, or that junior staff members can’t be in relationships with their immediate superiors.

Finally, to be prepared for any potential consequences of relationships breaking down, make sure you have a strong sexual harassment policy in place and clear procedures for both unwanted contact/attention and unethical work decisions such as ex-partners being turned down for promotions etc.

Office romances are generally an inevitable part of any workplace, but employers ought to know what’s going on and be aware of how any relationships could impact office life.

Alec is Startups’ resident expert on politics and finance. He’s provided live updates on the budget, written guides on investing and property development, and demystified topics like corporation tax, accounting software, and invoice discounting. Before joining, he worked in the media for over a decade, conducting media analysis at Kantar Media and YouGov, and writing a wide variety of freelance pieces.

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