Navigating workplace relationships amid sexual misconduct allegations

ELMIRA, N.Y. (18 NEWS) - It's mid February and love is in the air, not just at home, but in the workplace too.

A study conducted by Vault, a career and jobs intel company, found that over 50 percent of Americans said they've had an office fling.

"I think relationships in the workplace definitely vary by industry," Human Resources consultant and Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Elmira College Matthew Burr said. "I think it just depends on kind of the company culture and also the demographics of the organization as well."

Workplace relationships are more prevalent in some age groups. For example 66 percent of surveyed Baby Boomers said they've had a workplace fling of some sort, followed by 59 percent of Gen X'ers. But just 44 percent of employees between the ages 18 and 34 reported a relationship with a colleague.

Hospitality and tourism ranked highest among industries where office romances are most common, with 61 percent of employees in those fields reporting they've had some kind of workplace relationship.

Burr said these relationships could cause problems, that's because not all is fair in love at work.
  
"It could create favoritism, it could cause conflict within the organization, within the work group and we've got to try to prevent as much of that as possible," he said.

In fact, nearly 33 percent of survey participants felt that a co-worker had gained a professional advantage because of a romantic relationship with a co-worker or supervisor. 
  
"I think that there's concern on my part as an HR professional and a professor teaching students, if it's a supervisor dating a subordinate that could be an issue in the workplace and how do we address those things as an organization, as leaders?" Burr said. "It's either moving people, retraining so there isn't that favoritism sort of underlying potential conflict there as well."

Though it may be frowned upon, 23 percent of those surveyed said they have dated a subordinate, and 16 percent said they've dated a supervisor. More specifically, 32 percent of men reported dating a subordinate, whereas only 12 percent of women reported doing so. On the flip side, 20 percent of women reported dating a supervisor, whereas only 13 percent of men surveyed said they've dated their boss.
  
"What if people break up?" Burr said. "It's another issue in itself within the workplace we've got to deal with the fallout from that as well."

And as for extra-marital affairs, nearly 25 percent of those surveyed who had an affair at the office said that it resulted in the end of a marriage or long-term relationship. 

Beyond that, 13 percent of employees said they saw an affair impact their colleague's career, while 12 percent said that an affair affected their own career. And if you think you're keeping it under wraps, think again: 46 percent of respondents said they knew about a married colleague's workplace affair.

But even if you aren't married, Burr said keeping your workplace relationship a secret isn't a good idea.

"I think we need to create a culture where we're able to communicate, people feel open to communication trusting to go communicate to the HR person or the owner of the business," he said. "Making sure that we have that trust with our employees we don't find out through social media or through another forum."

As for the recent headlines regarding sexual misconduct allegations in the workplace, Burr said legislative change is likely imminent.
  
"California is changing laws on sexual-harassment in the workplace and things like that," he said. "So once California changes New York usually follows right behind them. We've got to be more proactive and not as reactive as organizations and addressing these things and investigating them, making sure we're doing full investigations, closing out investigations, not avoiding the conflict. Those are big things I see in the workplace that are coming to be more relevant now."

For more statistics on workplace romances follow this link.


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