Workplace romance: Who’s on top?

by Cameron Edmond14 Nov 2013

A tryst between work colleagues isn’t grossly uncommon. A study from CareerBuilder found 39% of workers have dated a co-worker at least once in their career, with 17% doing so at least twice, and 30% of those who have done so have ended up marrying that same person.

However, Kevin Herring, president of Ascent Management Consulting, feels that a romantic relationship between a team leader and one of their staff can negatively impact an organisation’s culture.

“While a workplace tryst may provide temporary bliss for the couple involved, bliss is not what the rest of the team will experience. Team openness, trust, collaboration, and commitment all suffer when a leader and one team member form an ‘item’,” he wrote on

Regardless of good intentions, the couple will begin to place their personal relationship above team objectives and commitments, and this may lead to favouritism. This can result in a breakdown of trust, as well as damaging morale, employee engagement and general work processes.

While Herring indicates that the problem may be one for team members to deal directly with the implicated manager before referring it on to the HR leader, his advice rings true for more hands-on HR professionals or those seeing this kind of behaviour within their own team, as well.

Chances are one is likely to only be suspicious of such a relationship and not have evidence for it. In this case, HR should confront the leader they believe is involved with a team member with thoughtfulness and compassion about their behaviour and indicate how it is affecting the team.

Although this conversation may not solve any of the greater problems inherent between a romance blooming between a team member and their leader, having the conversation may mean the leader reconsiders the risks and ramifications of a relationship of this kind.


Have you had to deal with this situation? Please share your stories and insights on this complex and unwieldy scenario.



  • by kevin 15/11/2013 12:00:20 PM

    Having experienced this first hand (not personally involved) it is extremely toxic on other working relationships and trust. It also causes people to no longer confide in others and wonder if, what was discussed in confidence was disclosed and how far back this may have gone. So people not only wonder about the present but the past.

    It can also break down the formal management structure and mess with responsibilities and accountabilities. I understand in the military they will not allow the parties to remain in the same group or division because of the potential damaging affects. Perhaps management should also adopt the military solution.

  • by Peter 18/11/2013 1:39:32 PM

    I have personally been involved in this situation and I have to say it severely affected the team. I was the team leader and my partner was one of the team. The other team members immediately threw up a wall around us and the team ceased to work (as a team). Although we were both single people at the time it became a seriously toxic situation. Senior management (unaware of the situation) promoted me interstate at which time I had to inform them of the relationship. I was advised that the move was open to me but my partner could not work with me although the company would pay for 'our' move if she chose to move with me..
    We took the move and my partner soon found other work but I will never forget the hostility and the effect on the team.

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