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Sex & Relationships

What’s the real deal with office romance?

A survey by SimplyHired examines the experiences and feelings of people who’ve had office affairs and people who haven’t.
(Andrey Popov)

If you’re a fan of rom-coms, you might have the feeling that office affairs happen all the time. Certainly, when there’s chemistry between you and someone with whom you spend all day, it may not seem like the craziest thing, even if it constitutes cheating on someone else. But how often do co-workers really hook up? And what does their affair do to their work relationships? Job-search company SimplyHired got to wondering about this, so they surveyed 482 people who’ve had a sexual relationship at work, and 456 people who haven’t. The gender split was about equal, with just slightly more women responding. The results, a Big Think exclusive, provide some fascinating insights into office love.

To begin with, there’s definitely some ambivalence about the whole thing.



Okay, the juicy stuff. Certainly, not all office affairs involve cheating. SimplyHired found that an encouraging 77% of men and 69% of women who’d been in office relationships were not cheating on anyone. Overall, though, women were 1.5 times more likely to cheat than men.


The temptation is more common in some industries than others, with people in education being the most likely to cheat, a scandalous perk in a notoriously underpaid career.


Fans of Grey’s Anatomy — you know who you are — may be disappointed to learn that you’re least like to cheat on anyone if you’re in health care.


Dating by pay grade

Everything in an office is political in one way or another, and so it’s interesting to see if office relationships respect the company hierarchy or not. While most affairs occur between people working at the same level, that’s not always the case, according to SimplyHired’s respondents who’d had affairs.


The bottom section of the infographic above looks at the seriousness of the relationships these respondents had had. Most considered their relationships more casual than not, with the exceptions of those pairing off with a direct subordinate. This may be because this kind of relationship is especially dicey and therefore most likely to be attempted only when the higher-up is serious about it. This is borne out in the survey results that show the highest level of regret for an affair is felt by upper-level participants.


One has to wonder about the power dynamic inherent in any intimate relationship between a boss and a direct subordinate; it certainly has the potential to be predatory.

On the other hand, some people are fine with sleeping their way to the top, or at least the higher middle. Just 3% of women think this is an acceptable idea, but 10% of men — one can just hear their potential partners thinking, “as if.”


After the love is gone

Who would want to work with an ex? Surprisingly, only a small percentage of people leave their jobs after an office passion cools, just 9% of men and 11% of women. Still, if your partner was your superior, you’re twice as likely to want to find another place to work.

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Now get back to work

Your own experience — or what you suspect is going on around you — may vary. But deciding to get intimate with a co-worker always requires some complex calculus. Or maybe the heart — or some other body part — just wants what it wants.


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