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Romantic relationships at work

Loooking for all the wrong places????

I’ve been holding on to this article for a while now.


It seems risky to take a strong stance on such a taboo subject. But in two decades of work I’ve seen my fair share of work romances pop up and I believe these are thoughts worth sharing.


I’d like to explore why work romances occur so often and how to handle them when they surface.


I’d be willing to bet that you’ve either been in a work romance or have worked closely with someone who has. Sometimes these are innocent explorations for the young. But often times not. Often they are ‘affairs’ that raise eyebrows, break trust and leave a big emotional wake.


So why would someone risk it all for love at the office?


I have some thoughts.


1.     Challenge. Humans bond through hard work and shared experiences, particularly tough ones. And I mean, what’s more challenging than a 2 hour meeting at 2pm on Friday????


In all seriousness, work is tough. Leadership is very tough. I’ve worked through anger, tears, fear and relentless pressure with my leadership team. We have gone through absolute hell together. And as a result, we are bonded for life.


These intense experiences can create love or love-like emotions.


2.     Time. In a report published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,  Professor of Communication Studies Jeffrey Hall found that it takes roughly 50 hours of time together to move from mere acquaintance to casual friend, 90 hours to go from that stage to simple “friend” status and more than 200 hours before you can consider someone your close friend.


So……what happens when you spend 2,080 hours a year with someone?


You get the point. We’ve now layered 2 ingredients into our recipe for attraction. Let's add another.


3.     Radiance. Researcher Esther Perel (run…don’t walk to read more about her work) has discovered that people in long term relationships are most attracted to their partner “When I See Them In Their Element.” 


This is radiance and confidence—and it’s probably the biggest turn-on across the board. This is about seeing our partner from a comfortable distance. “I am most drawn to my partner when I see him in the studio, when she is onstage, when they are doing something about which they’re really passionate.”

I think many people feel totally in their element at work. We are doing work we are great at and passionate about.  

So with all of these factors present at work I can understand why love blooms at work. It’s the perfect environment to discover and foster love.


But what do we do about work relationships as leaders? Because as lovely as this sounds, it’s not an ideal scenario and can be very stressful.


Policies do need to exist early and they should be regular reviewed for appropriateness. The size, structure and culture of an organization will determine the type of policies that exist. The time to create a policy is not when you discover you need a policy. Take a 10,000 foot view before crafting the  policy and work with other businesses to understand how they handle this.


You all know by now that I am so not a litigious person. While you should certainly take feedback from your attorney on the matter, please take a broader look around. The top priority is not to avoid lawsuits. It’s to build a company that is successful by many measures.


As for employees entering into a relationship, my recommendation would be to discover the viability of the relationship as soon as possible. Date intensively and spend a lot of time together outside of work. You must determine if the relationship works outside…of work.

Undersanding the 3 factors above may help to you see the 'relationship' more clearly. The Conscious Leadership Group addresses how sexual attraction occurs at work in this thought provoking article.

They offer that sexual energy always exists and can be a positive force. If we recognize the feelings, understand why they occur and harness the energy in a platonic way, we can increase creativity in a mature and healthy manner.

Nevertheless, if your relationship is going to move forward, this is not the time to have an organic, on again off again kind of fling. The stakes are high and you owe it to yourself and your peers to be intentional.


You may consider the following tools to accelerate this process: 8 Dates, Where Should We Begin (a game of stories), or a third party counselor to facilitate meaningful conversations about the future potential of your relationship and your professional direction (whether you will or will not be able to work together).


There are a million reasons to not pursue a romantic relationship at work. Work is complicated enough. But…. the human heart is bedazzling and irrational and true love is resilient.


There is no one size solution. But I will confidently say that these engagements require the highest level of intentionality possible. Be clear about why this relationship is worth pursuing and be respectful of those impacted.


For leaders, staying out of judgement and blame is key. Utilize your ‘above the line’ presence and lean on impact, thoughtful policies and kindness.


Humans are messy. But we already knew this right???


May you live and leadWell,




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