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Editor’s Comment: Finding love in the concrete jungle

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Annie Ward

By Annie Hayes, HRZone Editor

Whether you’re a ‘smug married’ or more ‘amorously challenged’ it’s hard to forget that on Monday we feast on the celebrations of love in the shape of St Valentine’s Day; two timely surveys out this week suggest that not only are we looking for romance at work but that we are finding it – Editor’s Comment looks at why the office has become the new ‘dating’ hot spot.


Google ‘valentine’ and you’ll find a host of references to love; some shocking, most just stupid and others eye-opening.

The ‘self-help’ titles range from the sublime to the ridiculous: “The Pig and I: Why it’s so easy to love an animal, and so hard to live with a man.” – you see what I mean!

It is apparent that love is very much in fashion, alive and well. But while we spend many hours thinking, obsessing, analysing and ‘conducting’ our love affairs we are fast becoming a nation of singletons so what has gone wrong and why are we turning to our workmates to fill the void of our lonely hearts?

At last October’s CIPD conference, speaker and author Kjell Nordstrồm said that one of one of the greatest social revolutions of our time is the erosion of the family unit as the basic building block of society.

In Stockholm, where Nordstrồm is from 70-88% of inner cities are comprised of single households. Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) support these findings and show that the pattern of partnership formation has changed over the last 30 years. The proportion of married people has fallen, while the number of single and divorced people have increased.

So it would seem that ‘collections’ of single people are gathered together daily in offices around the UK this together with the fact that we now spend more time at work means that rich-pickings and time-saving can be reaped if we look for love with colleagues.

Recruitment website Jobsite.co.uk claims that as many as 40% of British workers will be looking for love in the workplace this year.

With 44% working more than 40 hours a week, lack of time is the key reason most people give for looking for love at work.

And it seems to be working. About 50% admitted that they had already had a relationship with a colleague. A figure which mirrors findings from Peninsula employment law firm who say that eight in ten workers in their survey of over 1000 people admitted to having had a workplace romance whilst a huge six in ten said they met their partner at work.

Media and marketing professionals were cited as the most eligible ‘love’ candidates while construction workers comparatively got the thumbs down.

Peter Done, Managing Director of Peninsula commented:

“Employees are spending more time with their fellow colleagues because they are working longer hours. This is bringing employees together and naturally relationships form.”

Once workers cross the bridge though what is the impact on productivity?

Done, warns that when romances do disrupt work action needs to be taken.

“Employees need to ensure that they are not taking up the use of company resources such as email as this can be costly to employers. Workplace romances also sound very nice but one has to be careful that they do not grow stale. There are many cases where romances have turned nasty even to the point where dismissing staff has played a part. This can create all sorts of problems in the long run and may lead to employment tribunal.”

The Trades Union Congress believe, however, that bosses shouldn’t play chaperone. They feel that US-style ‘love contracts’ is taking it too far and may indeed contravene some aspects of the Human Rights Act 1998.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s hardly surprising that relationships do start round the water cooler – after all, we work longer hours than anyone else in Europe. Of course it is right to be careful and think through all the implications, but heavy handed rules and blanket bans fail to understand human nature and may very well be illegal.”

But what can you do if a relationship sours?

The TUC say:

“If the relationship ended badly you should be careful not to let personal bad feelings spill over into your working relationship. Otherwise it is possible that you could find yourself being accused of sexual harassment or discrimination, particularly if you are in a position of seniority over your colleague.”

In reality, however, is it ever that easy to get-over your ex when you have to sit side by side day-in-day out with them? Perhaps then that is why some people decide enough is enough and look for alternative employment. It would be interesting to find a statistic on that but I guess it’s not the done thing to cite a ‘messy break-up’ as a reason for wanting to work for a new employer.

While finding new love at work might be fair enough for the singletons what about the temptations of having an affair for those that are married?

Recent history is dotted with the falls from grace of those that have strayed – take Bill Clinton and John Major to name just two.

As our work becomes increasingly all-consuming it begins to creep into the social fabric of our lives. Suddenly the person you spend most time with is your colleague rather than your partner and what can sadly ensue is an affair.

The numbers marrying their colleague second-time round must be on the increase.

A spot of harmless dating is all well and good but workers will need to remind themselves of whose hearts they’re breaking – you have been warned!

We’d like to hear your stories and your views on this topic – simply post your comment below.

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Annie Hayes

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