Romantic relationships between coworkers may deteriorate workplace culture

June 4, 2023

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Romantic relationships between coworkers may deteriorate workplace culture

Workplace ostracism refers to an employee’s perception of being excluded, ignored, or rejected in the workplace. A study published in PLOS ONE suggests that romantic relationships between coworkers are associated with perceived ostracism and knowledge sabotage by other colleagues.

Workplace romance can impact employees’ work-related attitudes and behaviors, such as performance outcomes and job satisfaction. However, the relationship between workplace romance and workplace ostracism is unclear. To better understand whether romantic relationships between coworkers can lead them to ostracize others, social science researchers conducted a multisource, time-lagged research to collect data from service sector employees.

The researchers administered questionnaires to 343 participants who were questioned about their relationship status. The questionnaire attempted to measure workplace ostracism, such as being ignored at work, as well as knowledge sabotage. An example of this might be a coworker deliberately supplying the wrong information or document in an attempt to harm one of the partners in the relationship. After collecting the final surveys, researchers analyzed the data using statistical software.

They found that romantically involved coworkers were associated with feeling ostracized and sabotaged by other employees who may view their relationship unfavorably.

What the researchers say: “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,” the lead author explained. “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”.

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

So, what? The study is interesting, but very limited. For one thing, the number of people taking the questionnaire is relatively small. Secondly it is limited to one country—Pakistan—which is culturally dissimilar to Western or developed Asian countries.

Also, the authors’ questionnaire leaves out the issue of power differentials which are often in play in romantic relationships at work, and which can be very disruptive and even destructive.

However, the researchers do make a number of interesting observations which could do with further study, such as what they have to say about the issue of knowledge sabotage.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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