An office romance could ruin workplace culture, lead to exclusion and sabotage

JIANGXI, China — Fictional workplace romances have certainly made for some great television, but not everyone is Jim and Pam (or even Sam and Diane). Interesting new research reports romantic relationships between co-workers has a connection to perceived ostracism and knowledge sabotage by other colleagues. In other words, getting involved with a co-worker romantically may lead to feeling like a pariah or outcast around the office or workplace.

Previous research has established that engaging in a workplace romance can influence employees’ work-related attitudes and behaviors — including job satisfaction and performance. However, the relationship between workplace romance and ostracism has been unclear. So, Jun Qiu from the Nanchang Institute of Technology and colleagues set out to better understand if romantic relationships between co-workers can really lead to social exclusion. The team accomplished this by conducting a multi-source, time-lagged research project designed to collect data from service sector employees in Pakistan.

The research team sent out surveys to participants every eight weeks, three times in total. In all, they collected responses from 343 people for a positive rate of 69 percent. The surveys asked workers about their relationship status, and also attempted to measure workplace ostracism (being ignored at work), as well as knowledge sabotage, for example, a co-worker purposely supplying the wrong information or documents. After collecting the final surveys, researchers analyzed all of the data using statistical software.

Office co-workers, colleagues talking, flirting
(© JustLife –

That analysis revealed that romantically involved co-workers felt ostracized and sabotaged by other employees who may view their relationship in a negative light. Researchers stress, however, that future studies are necessary to determine the generalizability of this specific experiment, considering all included participants were employed in Pakistan’s service sector, which could mean there are numerous cultural variables at play as well.

Also, study authors did not say how many of the 343 participants were currently involved in a workplace romance, and gender may play a role in perceived ostracism as well. The team says future research projects should consider studying whether perceived ostracism increases or decreases if a workplace relationship ends.

“Though workplace romance should be a cornerstone of organizational interventions, a review of existing literature accentuates that only a few organizations maintain a workplace romance policy. Workplace romance is a committed and consensual relationship among two members and can have a range of implications on the constructive spectrum too. Organizations should conduct interpersonal training, which helps employees discern acceptable versus unacceptable behaviors in the workplace,” study authors write in a media release.

“An intimate relationship may disrupt an intimate flow of knowledge in the absence of appropriate HR policies.”

The study is published in PLoS ONE.

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John Anderer

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