Workplace Dating & Sexual Harassment Issues
Workplace romance and sexual harassment in the workplace are the topics to be covered in this paper. There is a great deal of scholarly literature on those issues and they will be reviewed and critiqued in this paper, along with statistics that show workplace dating is an ongoing (although controversial and potentially tension-creating) phenomenon .
How Common is Workplace Dating?
The issue of workplace romance is not a new one, and from the available literature is appears that the workplace is an ideal environment for meeting, dating, and even falling in love with a co-worker. According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), a recent study showed that "…40% of the respondents" to a survey reported they met their future spouse "at or through work."
In the Kansas City Business Journal another survey (conducted by CareerBuilder.com) is presented that shows "more than a third" of 7,000 individuals that responded to the poll have dated a co-worker (Hawley, 2012). Moreover, thirty-one percent of participants in the survey who admitted to having dated a co-worker said "…their office romances ended in marriage" (Hawley). Dating the boss in the workplace adds possible tension and stress to both individuals on some level, but the survey that Hawley references shows that "Almost one in five people (18%) say they've dated their boss"; 35% of women say they have dated a supervisor or superior person compared with only 23% of men (Hawley).
The responses to the CareerBuilder.com survey show that 37% of those who have had workplace romances have kept those relationships a secret (Hawley). Moreover, 19% of respondents say they are "more attracted to people who work in similar jobs" and 13% indicated that the most common "spark to a relationship" was meeting a co-worker somewhere outside of the work environment (Hawley).
In the research presented by SIOP, Associate Professor Charles A. Pierce (University of Memphis) reports that "the development of interpersonal relationships at work is inevitable" since men and women spend "most of the weekday hours together." Pierce adds that there are positives; for example, workplace romance participants "…are happier with their jobs, and more motivated…and perform better" (SIOP),
However, there are a substantial number of drawbacks and serious issues that can occur when an office romance goes sour, or the two participants act in unprofessional ways during the workday.
The Scholarly Literature on Workplace Romance
Should Workplace Dating be Flat-Out Prohibited?
There are companies that are either considering approaches to managing workplace dating or flat-out deciding to prohibit workplace dating. In the Journal of Business Ethics the author (C. Boyd) writes that many executives have been fired or forced to resign due to "romantic entanglement" (Boyd, 2010). He mentions the head of the American Red Cross (in 2007); the President of the World Bank (2007); the President and CEO of Boeing; and other top executives (including the SVP of Marketing Communication from Wal-Mart) have either resigned or been fired for improper hierarchal romantic involvement. And there was the case of the newly-hired Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Business Review (Suzy Wetlaufer) who had an affair with the CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch; the interesting aspect to this case is that Wetlaufer was assigned to interview Welch and wound up getting intimately involved with the GE icon Welch (Boyd, 325).
Meanwhile, why are companies worried about relationships in the workplace? Boyd writes that many organizations feel they have a "moral duty" to protect employees from "sexuality in the workplace" (326). On a deeper level, some companies worry about the sparks that could turn into a terrible fire when married employees engage in adultery in the workplace, Boyd continues (326). The author mentions specific employment sectors in which bans on dating in the workplace are "grounded in an inherent conflict of interest" -- such as police officers or prison employees dating "known felons or the children of known felons" (327).
The reason behind the rule...
It boils down to what Schultz (2003) insists vis-a-vis workplace romance: "Classical organizational theory holds that sexuality and other 'personal' forces are at odds with productivity and out of place in organizational life" (Boyd, 327).
The fear of sexual harassment suits, referenced elsewhere in this paper, is the driver that leads some companies to prohibit workplace dating. Two potential outcomes of a romance that developed in the workplace are mentioned by Boyd on page 328: a) if the romance fails and there is an unfortunate breakup, one of the partner's attempts to reconcile the affair could be "perceived by the other former partner as harassment" -- and the employer, it is presumed, could be held to be responsible for "not protecting that employee" from the perceived harassment (even though the other party in the romance may believe that he is just trying to repair the relationship and is not trying to harass the other party); and b) when the workplace romance is between a superior and a subordinate, there is a potential for one of the subordinate's co-workers "…could sue for sexual harassment because of real or perceived favoritism" that could arise from the relationship (Boyd, 328).
The Scholarly Literature on Workplace Romance
Social Media "Spill-over"
Lisa A. Mainiero writes in the peer-reviewed journal The Academy of Management Perspectives that social media has come in to play a significant role in the matter of workplace romance and workplace harassment. Mainiero a whole "new realm of legal and ethical implications" come into the forefront because of digital / social media (Mainiero, 2013). For example, co-workers (while at work) can "friend" one another on Facebook, "connect" with each other as colleagues on LinkedIn, and they can even "monitor each other's locations" by logging into Foursquare right before a lunch meeting (Mainiero, 187).
There is also Twitter, of course, and "tweets" between two people can be expected (albeit the tone and substance of those tweets can be seen as too personal for the workplace), and there is the additional potential for tension vis-a-vis the photos posted on Instagram. In the Mainiero article the author mentions that "an innocent vacation photo" of someone "cavorting on the beach in a bikini" that somehow gets passed around "may draw unwanted attention" (187).
The question is raised about potential instances of sexual harassment through social media; for example, if there is bad blood between two employees who fell in love and then broke up in a painful clash of some kind, rude, angry texts passed from one party to the other could be seen as sexual harassment. And the question that is pertinent in this case is, if the sexual harassment takes place outside the boundaries of the workplace, will this require changes to the company human relations (HR) guidelines? Even though the two are not at work, because they are employees and one is harassing the other, this could be construed as harassment by the HR department. And this is why Mainiero is suggesting that social media is bringing with it the need for "…a new standard of consensual romance vs. sexual harassment" (188).
Commenting on the quality of workplace romances, Mainiero references numerous scholarly studies that show (and she is paraphrasing here) that the majority of romantic relationship in the workplace are "…sincere, love-motivated, and of the long-term companionate variety as opposed to short-lived flings or job-motivated utilitarian relationships" (188). In fact there is evidence that workplace romances are "positively associated with one's job performance" and that organizational "commitment" is increased when two employees have fallen in love (188). In other words, an employee's feelings towards his or her job are enhanced through what the author calls a "spillover effect." Indeed, love brings out the best in many people, and being in love and happily so means going to work is a pleasure because the one you love is there and waiting to see you.
The downside discussed by Mainiero is always possible; and for example when a "hierarchical workplace romance" is used by one party in the romance to advance a career, this can be disruptive to others. That is, when a female worker is having an affair with a supervisor, and the sense of favoritism is seen by others, this creates a very negative vibe in that workplace. "The entire group" of employees in the workplace can be negatively impacted when a male boss who is dating a female employee seems to be giving her "lighter workloads, promotions, pay increases, or other special benefits" (Mainiero, 189).
There is a serious risk of sexual harassment after a workplace romance goes sour, a topic which was briefly touched on…
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