Workplace affairs suffer cutbacks

Togetherness: Have been married for 21 years; have worked for the same companies since 1989.

Current employer: IBM Canada Ltd.

Company policy: Employees who are related, whether a spouse or other relative, should not be assigned to positions in the same department or be in situations where one directs the other.

How it works: “We’ve always made it a point to work in separate departments, but, both being executives at IBM, we occasionally go to the same meetings and work together on projects in which we both have the same customers. So we have a rule that what happens in the office stays in the office; we don’t discuss business at home,” Ms. Campbell says.

Insight: “The toughest part about being a couple in the office is that people assume you think alike. We regularly remind peers that they must get our opinions independently and we don’t have the same viewpoints,” Mr. Campbell says. “It’s important that our relationship isn’t the first thing that we represent in the workplace.”

Employer attitudes about togetherness in the office has shifted dramatically since the 1950s, an era when many companies had anti-nepotism policies that prohibited relatives or couples from both being on the payroll. That meant that if a couple working together got married, one of them had to leave the company, says Toronto-based human resources consultant Melanie Van Slyke.

“Today, employers are tending to cut more slack to office romance and accommodating people by moving them to other jobs if their relationship creates a conflict of interests, because they realize that, given the amount of time people spend in their workplaces these days, it is natural that relationships will happen there,” Ms. Van Slyke says.

Now, according to the Vault survey, 74.6 per cent of employees work in companies that do not have a policy regarding office relationships.

Risky business

What are the dangers of becoming romantically involved with a workmate?

Risk: If you split, one of you may have to leave your employer.

Reason: Co-workers often find it difficult to work together after a breakup. There may also be continuing office gossip about your split that can deflect attention from your work accomplishments, says Sheree Morgan, president of Match-Works Matchmaking in Vancouver.


Risk: Becoming involved with a superior or underling could cause conflict or an abuse of power.

Reason: When one person in a relationship has authority over the other, it raises the threat of abuses of power, favouritism or conflict of interest. And if things go sour, your work relationship goes sour as well.


Risk: Relationship poses potential limit to advancement.

Reason: Promoting one member of a couple to a position of authority over the other creates a conflict of interest. When considering promotions, employers may decide it’s just easier to promote someone else to avoid a problem, says independent Toronto-based human resources consultant Melanie Van Slyke.


Risk: If it creates a conflict of interest, There may not be room for both of you.

Reason: The main way employers avoid conflicts is to separate couples, by switching one to another job or department or account. But in slimmed-down workplaces, there may not be many options – and if your employer can’t find one, one of you may be put on the street, warns Ted Mouradian, a consultant for conflict resolution company Mouradian Group in St. Catharines, Ont.

Acting smart


Cover yourself: If you start to date someone from your workplace and are unsure whether there are rules, ask your manager or human resources department.

Go public: Hiding an affair in confines as close as an office may be futile and can be tiring. Be discreet Gossiping or spending too much time together on office time will divert attention from your work accomplishments.

Avoid public displays: Affectionate gestures don't belong in the workplace.If it ends, make amends Even if one of you leaves the company, you never know when you might cross paths again professionally.


Write guidelines: Develop a policy on potential conflicts of interest if couples or relatives work together.

Publicize the rules: Put policies on employee information sites, and inform all new employees during their orientation.

Train managers: Conflicts can generally be readily resolved by moving an employee to a new role or department.

Provide support: A romantic breakup can cause severe emotional stress. Be sure staff members know about support services such as an employee assistance program.

Sources: Job site; HR consultant Melanie Van Slyke; Rubin Thomlinson LLP

By the numbers

35: Percentage of Canadian employees who have dated a co-worker at some time during their careers. (source: CareerBuilder survey of 720 Canadian employees)

29: Percentage of Canadian employees who married a person they dated at work.

67: Percentage of employees who say they see no need to hide their office relationships. 

54: Percentage who said the same in 2005. (CareerBuilder survey of 5,231 U.S. employees released Tuesday.)

29: Percentage of employees who say they feel uncomfortable knowing about co-workers’ office relationships.

9: Percentage of employees who say office romances are never acceptable.

60: Percentage of employees who have had an office romance at some point in their careers.

64: Percentage of employees who said they would be interested in having one if they had the opportunity.

40: Percentage of women whose office romances were with someone with a higher job status. 

12: Percentage of men whose relationships were with someone of higher job status.

31: Percentage of employees who admitted to an office tryst. 

6: Percentage of employees who said they have been caught in the middle of a tryst in the workplace.