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workplace romances




“Date at Your Own Risk”: Coworkers Perceptions of Workplace Romances


Study finds honesty is the best policy with coworkers

April 16, 2014—Workplace romances are very common in contemporary organizations. In 2004, The Wall Street Journal reported that 47% of employees were currently involved in a workplace romance, and 19% would engage in one if the opportunity arose. However, little attention has been placed on other colleague reactions to workplace romances, and how they might perceive those involved.

In an article published in theWestern Journal of Communication, authors Renee Cowan and Sean Horan studied how coworkers described workplace romance disclosures and their reactions to them. Among other findings, the researchers learned that if the coworker found out about the WR through a personal disclosure, rather than by an impersonal revelation, they experienced a more positive reaction—both toward the romance and toward the person disclosing the information.

“I was drawn to the study of workplace romance because such relationships are incredibly common yet, across social sciences, are under-researched,” explains Horan.  “By studying workplace romance, we are better able to gain an understanding of the implications of such relationships for both work and life.”

A “workplace romance” can be identified as a relationship between two members of an organization in which sexual attraction is present, affection is communicated, and both members recognize the relationship to be something more than just professional and platonic. Cowan and Horan posed two questions to research: how do other members of an organization learn about workplace romances, and what are the other members of an organization’s reactions to learning of a workplace romance?

Their research uncovered several interesting findings. First, the method in which a coworker finds out about a workplace romance, whether personal or impersonal, heavily influences whether they have a positive or negative reaction to it. And second, a coworker’s reaction to a workplace romance is not only influenced by method of disclosure, but also: who the participants involved in the romance are; their personal views on workplace romances in general; and finally the culture of the organization/business unit.  

“What I found most interesting about our results was organizational culture really mattered in how these relationships were understood and evaluated by coworkers,” says Cowan.  “These findings are important because of the prevalence of these relationships in contemporary organizations, and their potential for both highly positive and negative outcomes for individuals and organizations as a whole.”


Love at the Office? Understanding Workplace Romance Disclosures and Reactions from the Coworker Perspective,” Renee L. Cowan  Sean M. Horan. Western Journal of Communication, Volume 78, Issue 2, pages 238-253. Published online: 05 Feb 2014. DOI:10.1080/10570314.2013.866688.



Press materials provided by Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.

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