Pros and Cons of Relationships in the Workplace

Romantic relationships in the office: does following your heart risk a career nosedive? The pros and cons of relationships in the workplace have been in the news lately, most recently in the New York Times. Retail giant Wal-Mart says (in a court filing) that there were signs of an affair between two of its former top marketing officials (Julie Roehm and Sean Womack) who were selecting new ad agencies for the chain. Wal-Mart says they accepted outside gifts, used trips for personal time together, and sought jobs with one of the ad agencies, Draft FBC, which they ultimately recommended.

Wal-Mart subsequently fired both of them, and was sued by Julie Roehm for unlawful termination. Wal-Mart countersued and claims that it has e-mail messages – signs of an affair – sent by Roehm and Womack (who are both married to other people). Roehm has denied Wal-Mart’s accusations of an office romance, and says she did not have job discussions with Draft FCB. While this appears to be a case of he said, she said, and Wal-Mart said, it also raises questions about the pros and cons of relationships in the workplace.

Who is the sweetheart in your life, your significant other, or your salary?  Find out with our salary calculator.

Why Office Romances Don’t Last

In another publicized story about romantic relationships and the office, reported that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had an affair with his (now former) commission appointments secretary, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, who is the wife of his political aide, Alex Tourk. What was the fallout? Newsom has weathered the scandal, but Alex Tourk left his job on the mayor’s re-election campaign. Ruby Rippey-Tourk left her job in the mayor’s office, underwent a substance abuse program and received $10,154 in catastrophic illness pay, donated by city workers (pay usually reserved for those who are terminally ill).

Signs of an Office Affair

Even with reports of office romance disasters, reports that true stories of office affairs are increasing, according to a survey taken by Spherion (a Florida-based employment firm) and Harris Interactive. The poll showed that 4 out of 10 workers admit to having an office romance with another colleague at some point in their careers. On the upside, 25% of romantic relationships in the office lead to marriage, according to the survey.

Office Dating Ethics

In another survey, reported by, office dating ethics were polled by, an employment agency for hourly workers. The online poll, of 800 respondents, revealed that 72 percent of men and 60 percent of women were infatuated with a co-worker. When it came to revealing their feelings for their crush or acting on it, 34 percent of the women say they might do something, while 40 percent of the men would make a move.

Statistics of Relationships in Workplace

Yet another survey, a Harris Interactive poll sponsored by Atlanta-based employment firm Randstad, revealed issues in workplace dating by region. According to results, the big flirters are in the West (45 percent) as compared to the South (37 percent), Northeast (34 percent) and Midwest (32 percent). Those in the West were more likely to date a co-worker, 23 percent, while 15 percent in the Northeast, Midwest, and South said they would. Funny, these are all lower than the 40% of employees who told they had had an office affair…

Men may be office flirts, but women tend to establish emotional relationships for support from the opposite sex. About 53 percent of the women surveyed have, or have had, an “office spouse”, a person who they lean on emotionally, and confide in about personal matters and relationship issues. Only 42 percent of the men say they have had an "office spouse".

Policies Banning Workplace Romance

According to, policies banning workplace romance are not absolute: “Most personnel experts don’t suggest that companies try to ban all office romance. That would be nearly impossible to enforce and, with California’s strong privacy laws, probably illegal. Some experts suggest policies that prohibit relationships between superiors and subordinates. Others suggest that an employee inform his or her supervisor or personnel office if they are embarking on an office romance.”

Rules for Good Workplace Relationships

As reported on, Southwest Airlines, which has more than 1,000 married couples employed, allows office romances and has realistic rules for good workplace relationships. If other employees object to an office romance, they can file a complaint with the employee-relations department or with a manager, who is responsible for finding a remedy, if the office romance negatively affects Southwest Airlines’ workplace.

All this is a long way from the 1950s office policies. As shown in the movie, "Good Night, and Good Luck.", even an enlightened employer like CBS television had rules that required one of two employees to quit, if an office relationship turned into a marriage. These rules started out to reduce nepotism, but eventually were seen as discriminating against married women.

How is your relationship with your salary? Find out with our salary calculator.


Dr. Al Lee