- Seventy-seven percent of 1,656 respondents to a survey by HR consultancy The Shift Work Shop said they’d had a sexual or romantic relationship with a co-worker at some point, according to data sent to HR Dive — a jump from 58% reporting the same in 2021. Respondents were more likely to identify those relationships as “potentially problematic” as well, with 37% saying so, compared to 17% in 2021.
- Close emotional relationships at work are also increasingly common. Sixty-four percent of workers reported having a close friend or “work spouse,” the study showed — a substantial leap from 24% reporting the same in 2021.
- Sexual harassment is common as well, the survey found. Perhaps surprisingly, it is a particular issue for remote workers, with more than half (56%) reporting the experience, compared with 50% of in-person workers. Native American or Indigenous workers and Black workers were most likely to report sexual harassment, and the proportion of men reporting sexual harassment grew compared to 2021.
The Shift Work Shop’s survey found that despite the increased focus on sexual propriety since #MeToo, sexual dynamics in the workplace remain common, of both a consensual and nonconsensual nature.
The findings may be surprising given the tendency of remote and hybrid work to physically separate workers. But the separation may have simply shifted the dynamics of romantic or unwanted workplace relationships, rather than eliminating them.
The movement to digital messaging apps for office communication may have created an “air of informality around workplace communication,” according to a New York Times article on the topic from June 2021. The feeling of detachment from traditional norms and rules “can exacerbate misconduct, especially given how difficult it can be to discern intent from text stripped of tonal cues,” the paper noted.
This is borne out in The Shift Work Shop’s data, which showed 53% of workers had experienced workplace sexual harassment via email, Slack or other messaging apps.
In terms of consensual relationships, The Shift Work Shop’s data shows far more romantic entanglements than the Society of Human Resource Management found in its poll from January; SHRM found a more modest one-third of workers were currently or had previously been romantically involved with a co-worker.
“One hypothesis we have is that while our survey respondents represented a broad spectrum of the U.S. audience, the survey did skew towards the 25- to 34-year-old demographic,” Amanda Rue, founder of The Shift Work Shop, told HR Dive of the potential reason for the variation of the survey's findings from SHRM’s. “We believe this age group may be more likely to engage in workplace romances and report doing so.”
However, Rue noted, instances were still fairly high across the board. “We also believe this is because those that are most likely to opt in to a survey about sexual harassment and sexism may have personal experiences with both sexual harassment and workplace relationships,” she said.
Like The Shift Work Shop, however, SHRM found that workplace romance had risen after the onset of the pandemic.
In June, SHRM’s HR magazine laid out some best practices for HR pros regarding workplace relationships, including having a formal policy, requiring disclosure, keeping documentation and not banning such relationships.