Sex, Relationships, & Romance at Work are Akward & Inappropriate

Romance & Relationship Policy at Work & the Workplace

Back in the days of the palm pilot, it was affixed to me just like my cell phone. Living without it to manage my calendar and my life was a big, big issue. I have what I refer to as a “control problem” when it comes to my time. I’m casual on the surface but organized when it comes to meetings, events, and work relationships in my life.

It was a warm fall evening and I became panic stricken when I realized that I left my palm at the office. With sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate, I raced back to the office to find an employee and my boss in the throes of passion on the office floor. Gross. It was forever burned into my mind and I couldn’t look away. Someone else had an elevated heart rate but for different reasons than I.

Awkward. Eww. How does one manage the ackwardness of relationships, sex and romance at work?

Romance & Relationship Policy at Work & the Workplace

Given that many employees work 12 to 14 hour days, it’s no surprise that feelings and attraction develop between co-workers. In fact, 37 percent of employees report they have been involved with a co-worker romantically and a surprising 12 percent admit to making love while at work. I think this number is in fact higher based on the number of complaints, sexual harassment and investigations I’ve been involved in. Shared interests and passions create chemistry, and long work nights create opportunities to get a bit cozier than what might feel appropriate during the day. Sex at work is just a part of life.

Open floor plans and the presence of security cameras are making it harder for employees to commit the cardinal sin but do employers have a responsibility beyond this to prevent office affairs? While you can’t control attraction, there are some proactive measures you can take to keep the workplace “PG.

Sometimes, it’s better to compromise

Create a policy that looks out for the interests of your workplace as a whole and your employees. While an across-the-board ban on relationships may seem like the simpler thing, it could also prevent employees from meeting someone with whom they are truly compatible. Rather than simply having a no-tolerance policy concerning interpersonal relationships between employees, consider requesting that they report them to human resources. The fewer secrets, the better off your workplace will be. Employees will be less likely to sneak around and engage in “extra curricular activities” when they know their relationship is on the books, so to speak.

Communication is key

Despite the fact that most employers do have some kind of policy in place, 41 percent of workers say they’re unsure whether their employer has a policy regarding office romances and 28 percent believe their current or most recent employer does not have this kind of policy. Make sure employees are aware of any policies you have and that they feel comfortable addressing the issue with you.

A good friend of mine worked at a healthcare technology company that catered to young, hungry, and fiercely competitive workforce. Their motto was the more you were in the office, the more you work, and thus, the more productive you really are. Senior leaders encouraged office relationships, romances, flings, and dating with people from work. Because if you were in the office, you were likely to get more work done than skipping out early to take your sweetie out on the town.  Company mixers and social hours were designed to encourage personal connections and dating with colleagues.

A Nepotism Policy Isn’t Always the Answer

The balancing act between maintaining a policy like this and prying into employees’ personal lives can be difficult, but the key to its success is respect. Just as other employee issues, such as medical leave or disciplinary action, wouldn’t be discussed with others, relationships shouldn’t be either. Sex and love are far more gossip-worthy than most HR issues, so trust and respect will be a vital part of employees buying into your policy.

Does your workplace have an anti-nepotism or nepotism policy that covers dating, family, or relationships at work?  What kind of policies does your human resources department have when it comes to love, romance, and relationships at the office? Have they been successful?

This post was originally published on the Glassdoor Blog where I’m a regular contributor.  Click here to view. 

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Laura Nick says

    Around the office, nepotism helps my brother and sex helps me. Everyone is fine with it so why knock it.


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