Work Late, Because You Might Meet Your Spouse: Office Romance By Numbers

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B2T840 Close up of computer keyboard with heart-shape wire. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.

We all know how it starts. You meet over by the vending machine; he buys you a Nutrigrain bar; you tell him you like his cufflinks. The next thing you know, you've been dating for six months and the whole office now refers to you as "the two-headed monster." Yes, every office has an office romance or two (or ten, depending on your industry), and they can be good or bad, fast-burning or long-lasting--or just plain embarrassing. They can also be mysterious, under-the-table affairs, but no more: a poll of over 3000 workers has led to concrete findings about office romance, and we've compiled the results here, just in time for Valentine's Day.

Vending machine or no vending machine, everyone has to meet somewhere. Among those surveyed by Career Builder, 12 percent said their relationship started when they ran into their co-worker outside of work. 11 percent said it started at a work happy hour, and 10 percent said it happened during a late night on the job. The lunchroom, always a seething cauldron of desire, also gave a strong showing, with another 10 percent starting a relationship after sharing their lunch break. Nine percent, however, said that they fell in love with a co-worker at first sight.

"Work is a great way to get to know how somebody conducts themselves professionally and personally," said one responder to a survey about office dating. "It's also much easier than meeting someone in a bar or club."

Once you're in relationship, though, there's still the question of how and when you break the news to your peers (not to mention your boss). Do you keep it a secret, or do you approach it as openly as possible? It's a complicated matter. According to Human Workplace founder Liz Ryan, some companies are so cynical about their anti-sexual harassment measures that they've instituted "Love Contracts" to ensure, in writing, that employees who decide to date are doing so by choice.

It's not terribly surprising, then, that 39 percent of those surveyed said they chose to keep their relationship a secret from other employees. However, 26 percent said they accidentally ran into co-workers while they were out with an office sweetheart; 43 percent of these pretended, when caught, that they weren't dating.
Data Source: Career Builder
Chart: Mack Gelber

Then there's the even knottier question of how your relationship could affect your job performance. Dance instructor Jessica Legenfelder, who met her husband 15 years ago at work, told the Wall Street Journal that she has a "no goo-goo eyes" policy about workplace romances under her watch, while Earth Source Organics president Audrey Darrow said that flirtation on the manufacturing line led to a decrease in productivity.

But sometimes it goes the other way, and an office relationship leads to an uptick in your personal stock. Three percent of the surveyed said that their relationship helped them progress in their career, while 24 percent admitted that their sweetheart was a higher-up at their company--including their boss. That's a whole other can of worms; Ryan argues that when bosses date their subordinates, it opens them up to claims of preferential treatment. Answers also varied along gender lines: 20 percent of women have dated a supervisor, as opposed to 9 percent of men, reported. On the other hand, 25 percent of men have dated a subordinate, while only 10 percent of women explored their options further down the totem pole.

Finally, while 7 percent said that they left a job because an office relationship soured, the overall picture is a still fairly bright. Twenty percent of those surveyed said that they married their office sweetheart (although another 20 percent admitted that at least one participant in their relationship was married at the time). That's a higher number than the percentage of people who got married after meeting on an online dating site in the past year. So while meeting at the office may come with more baggage than the bar across the street, it's still a valid place to meet a potential mate. Just be aware of the hurdles involved, and please, please don't date while you're an intern.
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