Is the current climate around sexual harassment driving down the number of workers dating coworkers? Maybe.

According to CareerBuilder's Annual Valentine's Day survey conducted by The Harris Poll, office romance is at a 10-year low, with 36% of workers reporting dating a coworker, down from 41% last year and 40% in 2008.

Thirty-seven percent of men say they have dated a coworker compared to 35% of women, while one in five male workers (20%) say they have dated someone at work two or more times in their career, compared to just 15% of their female colleagues.

This survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll from Nov. 28 and Dec. 20, 2017, and included a representative sample of 809 full-time workers across industries and company sizes in the U.S. private sector.

"Office romance is experiencing a dip, and whether it's impacted by the current environment around sexual harassment or by workers not wanting to admit the truth, the fact remains that office romance has been around forever and will continue to be," says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

"To avoid negative consequences at work, it's important to set ground rules within your relationship that help you stay professional in the office and keep your personal life private."

Dating Up

Before getting into a relationship in the workplace, it may be best to avoid two types of workers—those who you report to and those who report to you.

Twenty-two percent of workers have dated someone who was their boss at the time. Of those who have dated at work, more than a quarter of women (27%) say they have dated someone who was their boss compared to just 16% of men.

Additionally, 30% of these workers say they have dated someone who was at a higher level in the organization than they were. Thirty-five percent of female coworkers reported dating someone at a higher level in the company, compared to 25% of their male coworkers.

It's All Fun and Games…Until Somebody Gets Hurt

Some relationships that started at work had a happy ending—31% of workers who dated at work ended up getting married.

Twenty-two percent of workers have dated someone who was their boss at the time.
However, it's not always this way—almost a quarter of workers (24%) had an affair with a colleague where one person involved was married at the time (27% of men compared to 21% of women).

Six percent of workers have left a job because a romantic relationship with someone at work went sour (9% of women compared to 3% of men).

Tips for Navigating a Workplace Romance

Haefner recommends these tips for workers exploring a romantic relationship with a coworker:

1. Check the rules. In some cases, employers have a policy that prohibits employees from dating one another. Be sure that you know your company's policy before getting into any kind of relationship. If you don't know the policy, check with HR.

2. Keep your personal life out of the office. It's important to remember to keep your personal life out of your work one and beware of social media. While 41% of workers today choose to keep their relationship a secret at work, posting on social media may make it much more difficult to keep from your coworkers.

3. Don't let your romance impact your relationship with your coworkers. If you don't properly separate your romantic and work life, your romance may color people's judgment regarding promotions, projects, team building, and responsibilities.

Advice for Managers

CBIA HR Counsel Mark Soycher regularly conducts sexual harassment prevention training for employers, including guidance on "managing" workplace romances that are going well, and those that have gone sour.

Soycher cautions that in today's 24/7 connected world where the division between work and home is often blurred, failed workplace romances may lead not only to divorce court but possibly complaints of workplace harassment and discrimination.

"These cases can be incredibly divisive and difficult to untangle, especially when both parties are key employees," says Soycher.

"The best way for managers to avoid disruption and litigation is to be alert to possible conflict, develop suitable policies, and communicate expectations for professional, respectful, productive conduct."

Register now for CBIA's Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, March 1 from 8:30–11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Wallingford. A second program will take place April 25 from 8:30–11:30 a.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott in Norwich.