In a measure of the direct impact of the #MeToo movement, more than 1 in 4 workers indicated that recent allegations of sexual harassment against prominent men have made them less likely to think that romantic relationships between colleagues are acceptable.
That result is one of the many striking findings from Vault's 2018 Office Romance Survey—an annual survey of attitudes of workers regarding consensual romantic relationships between colleagues.
Recent events have had a greater impact on men's perspectives than on women's: more than 31% of men are now more likely to find a workplace romance unacceptable. Meanwhile, nearly 75% of women say the revelations have not at all affected their views of workplace romances.
Selected Comments on the #MeToo Effect from Respondents:
- "As a man, I would never make the first move at this point."
- "I'm a woman. Nothing in the #MeToo movement is news to me."
- "My views that consent is the cornerstone of any relationship have not changed as a result of the #MeToo movement. But I'm glad that more people are getting on board."
- "The #MeToo movement just 'concreted' the glass ceiling. Don't even want to be in same room alone with opposite sex."
That heightened awareness is also evident when it comes to the power dynamics at play within relationships: 43% of respondents believe that romances between colleagues at different levels are unacceptable—the highest proportion since the survey began in 2013, and a spike of almost 15% compared to results in previous years.
Perhaps with this in mind, this year's group of respondents reported having had few romances with those with whom they had a reporting relationship at work: just 10% of those who have had an office romance admitted to having one with a supervisor, and 16% with a subordinate.
- "Dating a supervisor or subordinate is borderline illegal and at a minimum can put the organization in a position to be sued if other peer employees believe they have been treated wrongly due to favoritism stemming from a personal relationship between their supervisor and peer colleague."
- "[Dating a subordinate is] way too risky—plus everyone is so paranoid now you'd have to be an idiot."
Are Companies Responding to the Threat?
In another potential sign of the impact of the #MeToo movement, 45% of respondents indicated that their company had some kind of policy on office romances—the highest level since the survey began. It is unclear whether this is due to companies creating new policies, employees becoming aware of existing policies, or simply a variation in the sample.
However, more than a third of respondents are unaware of whether their company has a policy.
Colleagues don't care—as long as work doesn't suffer
Overall, just 4% of our respondents indicated that they found the idea of any kind of workplace romance between consenting colleagues to be unacceptable. However, in addition to the 43% who believe that power disparities between colleagues present problems, 34% of respondents indicated that relationships between colleagues who work on projects together are unacceptable.
Similarly, many professionals take a dim view of relationships between employees and vendors, and those who work in the same departments:
Most employees have done it
52% of respondents admitted to having had at least one office romance, with "random hookups" being the most common type of relationship.
Given that finding, the most common way that office romances start isn't too surprising: office parties and happy hours.
- "He approached me and kissed me at a happy hour get together."
- "My serious relationship began in the office as a friendship with a girl working in the same department."
- "Our hookup turned into a serious four-year relationship. During those years, we continued to work together. We literally traveled the world together [for work]. We also progressed quickly in the firm because we never complained about travel and could give each other open and honest feedback."
The Price of Cheating
Nearly half of employees know co-workers who have had affairs, and almost 20 percent of respondents themselves have had an affair with a colleague.
And those affairs frequently resulted in the end of a long-term relationship, even if they didn’t directly affect the participants’ careers:
Despite the difficulties, most would do it again
When it came to regrets, this year's panel didn't seem to have too many: 78% of those who have had a previous office romance indicated that they would be open to doing so again—the highest proportion since the survey began.
- "I understand the reasons people avoid them, but the heart wants what the heart wants. As long as there wasn't a supervisor relationship in place that could be interpreted as harassment, it's fine by me."
- "If the relationship could start and remain discreet until it was serious enough to tell other people, I would have the relationship. I think that especially as a driven young professional who worked hard/lots of hours with people who I really liked and had a ton in common with that it isn't necessarily a bad thing to date those people. I just would be VERY protective of my professional reputation and the relationship and want to keep them as separate as possible so as not to interfere with my work or my relationship."
Vault's 2018 office romance survey received 654 responses from professionals in a number of industries. Approximately 70% of responses came from the Law, Banking, Accounting and Consulting professions. A further 7% came from professionals in the Technology sector.
62% of responses were from men, and 38% from women.
While the Vault survey has previously covered the lighter side of office romances and their impact on the workplace, this year it included questions that specifically asked respondents to assess the impact of the ongoing #MeToo movement and coverage of widespread allegations of sexual misconduct on their attitudes. These questions were presented at the end of the survey, to avoid priming respondents or prejudicing their responses to other questions.
For any questions regarding the survey, please feel free to contact Vault editor Phil Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org