"Being single used to mean that nobody wanted you. Now it means you’re pretty sexy and you’re taking your time deciding how you want your life to be and who you want to spend it with.” – Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and The City
TO DATE [HOOK UP, HANG OUT, WHATEVER] OR NOT TO DATE
No one said it was going to be easy and whoever did clearly was either married or in a relationship. Romantic relationships (whether that’s on-going relationship or a one-time consensual sexual encounter) are complicated in the #MeToo era. So the question is, now what do we do? How do we do it?
THERE MIGHT BE A POLICY FOR THAT
One can easily argue that the #MeToo movement has triggered a reexamination of inappropriate behavior and women’s marginalization in the workplace (duh), casting workplace relationships in a new light. Workplace romances and sexual intent in the workplace may have been considered harmless in the past but are now understood differently because power dynamics can muddy the idea of consent; the line between well-intentioned flirting and sexual harassment is razor thin.
Research published in June 2018 by executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that companies with office dating policies have been clamping down on romance in the workplace. Specifically, 78% of HR executives said that they do not allow relationships between a manager and a direct report, and “51% of respondents to the June survey said they “discourage” relationships between managers and subordinates or employees of the same department, while not interfering with other kinds of romances. At the same time, a smaller share of HR execs were dealing with office relationships on a case-by-case basis ... [and] more companies were also requiring that all relationships be disclosed to management—24%” to be exact.
What’s even more interesting is that office place romances can actually impact the entire organization. Professor Baker at New Haven conducted research that “suggests that observing non-harassing sexual behavior in the workplace is positively associated with stress and turnover intention at the time it occurs, as well as four months later. Likewise, she found that employees who observe more sexual behavior at work have lower job satisfaction.” PDA may be harming the bottom line.
WHAT’S A WORKER TO DO?
The #MeToo movement shouldn’t signal the end of office romances. Instead, it should be a catalyst for you, and your company, to think about what you want and don’t want to happen in the workplace. After all, the last thing you want is your co-workers to feel uncomfortable and not wanting to show up at work or a toxic, sexually charged and discriminatory workplace culture. Here are a few suggestions:
As a company leader, be crystal clear about the kind of culture that you are building. Create the framework that will safeguard against office romances as being seen as favoritism or someone getting an unfair deal. The overt message you want your employees to hear and see: employees get by on merits, not who they are hooking up with.
As an individual, check your company’s fraternization policy. If there isn’t one, be the first to put it on the table for HR by letting them know that you are dating a co-worker. If your romantic interest doesn’t want to be open about it, maybe it’s time to re-examine the situation. And we don’t say that lightly — the reality is that there’s the distinct possibility that your office romances will end badly. A recent study found that “62% of HR executives had dealt with a failed or inappropriate relationship between employees. One-third of those instances ended in at least one person’s separation from the company, 17% resulted in one party being moved to a different department, and 5% led to litigation.” Sadly, the negative consequences of failed relationships disproportionality impact the woman versus the man.
Finally, It’s worth noting that work is less of a reliable place to meet your future spouse or long-term partner. Stanford reports “that heterosexual couples meeting through or as coworkers rose steadily from 1940, peaked around 1990 with about 20% of couples meeting that way, and saw a steep decline thereafter. In 2009, it was 10%. Meanwhile, the share of couples who first connected online has soared.” Food for thought.