Has your organization been seeing an increase in post-pandemic workplace romances?
You’re not alone.
Research by the SHRM has found that 33% of US workers were involved in a workplace romance in 2021. This marked a 6% increase from pre-Covid times.
But why should you be concerned in the first place?
Workplace relationships can become messy with power imbalances, especially between supervisors and subordinates. Think of the mess McDonald's had in 2019 when their then-CEO was accused of sexual relations with associates.
You may also have disruptive breakups that could affect the employees’ performances. And the possibility of extramarital affairs can bring up further complications.
Studies have shown that most extramarital affairs start at the workplace. While each person at the office is free to live their lives as they choose, such affairs could impact the workplace too. Consequences could spill over to other workers, leading to problems across the board.
Between workplace affairs and relationships between supervisors and subordinates, or just between employees, you’ve probably had to handle a few messy ones.
Yet they’re inevitable.
Strict rules against them only serve to make them private, not stop them.
But understanding why they happen in the first place is important as you’d have to frame employee-friendly policies around it to ensure that employee advocacy doesn’t take a hit or negative turn.
Why the Increase in Post-pandemic Workplace Romances?
When colleagues date, it is often caused by several things.
- Long periods spent in each other’s company, solving different challenges. This could enable feelings of attraction to grow from a crush to a full-blown relationship.
- They could have shared goals and attitudes. One’s workmates may often have similar plans for life that make them appear ideal partners.
- Autonomy in their jobs lets them make decisions and move around in the office, forming connections with others.
These general reasons mixed up with particular pandemic-related reasons are responsible for the increased post-pandemic workplace romances.
I’ve listed a few below.
1. Changed Attitude Towards Workplace Romance
The pandemic brought about lockdowns and social distancing, cutting people off from the social circles they had become accustomed to. The increased isolation brought with it increased feelings of loneliness among people.
Loneliness was not new to people but was a problem in the workplace even before the pandemic. Millennials were incredibly lonely before the pandemic, according to a report by YouGov. The pandemic served to increase this feeling.
Many employees were cut off from their social networks and left to communicate primarily with their workmates, that too digitally.
Coming out on the other side of the pandemic, it is no surprise that the shared feelings of loneliness warmed some people up to pursuing workplace romances.
2. Search for Connection
The need for human connection was epitomized by the pandemic-induced lockdowns.
Many people found themselves deprived of physical touch or any form of physical interaction outside a screen for the first time.
Workplace chats over lunch were replaced by Zoom calls and messages over Slack or your company’s preferred communication software.
Use different types of CRM software to provide easy access of information required to perform their job in effective manner.
People also sought online connections via social media but were limited by social media bans on sites like Facebook.
This, coupled with the self-isolation required in case one caught Covid-19, deprived people of human connections.
Unsurprisingly, they sought to form connections with their colleagues; or some links evolved into more intimate relationships.
Returning to the office further enabled people to seek physical connections with those close to them.
In this case, the co-workers that spend 8 hours or more each day with them seem to be the preferred choice for a large number of employees.
3. Safer Environment for Workplace Romances
One negative workplace tendency that the pandemic reduced was workplace gossip. Remote work meant that people were no longer in the same office five days a week.
They could no longer see what everyone was doing without a shared space. This created an opportunity for some employees to explore their attraction outside of the prying eyes of their colleagues.
For instance, if Anna from Marketing was flirting with Tom from HR, they were probably flirting via apps like WhatsApp from their home offices. They could meet up without the knowledge of the rest of the company too.
Where fear of being the center of gossip deterred people from dating their workmates before, they could now connect when working remotely.
The post-pandemic workplace romances you may have seen could have emerged from the remote working period. Perhaps by the time you saw them, they already had time to flourish in private and only publicized with their return to the office.
4. Shared Vulnerability
The pandemic also brought about shared trauma.
People went through similar experiences of fear, loss, uncertainty, and isolation. The shared experiences also created vulnerability among people and often lead to blurred lines between private and professional lives.
As workers seek to navigate the new normal, they are likely to lower their boundaries.
Think of the colleague who tested positive for Covid and all the support messages they got.
One of their teammates could have been exceptionally caring and thoughtful, checking up on them often. Perhaps they even sent them care packages and spoke to them long after work hours to keep them company.
And, if they discovered they had feelings for each other during those conversations, a romantic relationship could blossom.
A good idea here is to consider conducting pulse checks to keep updated on the mental health of your employees. Prepare 360 feedback survey-questions and send out survey forms to understand them and find ways to improve their experience, especially with the increased post-pandemic workplace romances.
Time to Re-assess Company Policies on Post-pandemic Workplace Romances
Post-pandemic workplace romances are inevitable. The pandemic has brought people closer and has made them even more likely.
This increase in office romances then creates a need to address potential problems that could arise from these romances.
If your HR team hasn’t already, it may be time to review the company policy on workplace romantic relationships.
You may also need to remind your teams of what the policy is and equip them with knowledge on how they can protect themselves and others from negative consequences.
Whether that’s a reminder on refraining from gossip that could affect a person’s ability to perform; or a refresher on the company policies, strategies that put employees’ best interests forward are needed.