Office Romances: Millennials Feel They Have a Positive Impact on Performance

Here’s another reason why Millennials are so different from the other generations in the workplace: not only are they more open to office romances, but they see them as having a positive effect on their morale and job performance.

According to a new survey of American workers by Workplace Options and Public Policy Polling, “opinions about inter-office romances differ widely across generations.” That’s not a big surprise, but what does jump out from the research is how much of a difference there is. For example:

  •  A whopping 84 percent of Millennials say they would engage in romance with a co-worker, compared to 36 percent of Gen. X workers, and 29 percent of Baby Boomers.
  • Some 71 percent of employed Millennials see a workplace romance as having positive effects such as improved performance and morale.
  • While 40 percent of Millennials report no negative effects whatsoever from an office romance, only 10 percent of older workers shared that sentiment, meaning the majority of employed Americans feel more harm could be done than good; and,
  • The Millennial generation is also more open to dating their supervisors than all other age groups combined. Some 40 percent of Millennials said they would date their supervisor, compared to 12 percent of older respondents.

Dangerous relationships

The national survey was conducted by the North Carolina firm Public Policy Polling between January 13-16, 2012. The survey polled 556 working Americans and has a margin of error of plus/minus 4.2 percent.

“Relationships between co-workers of similar stature are one thing, but relationships between supervisors and direct reports can be dangerous,” said Dean Debnam, CEO of Workplace Options, in a press release about the survey. “Regardless of the culture or industry of any given company, clear communication about personal relationships among co-workers is vital. Employees must be made aware of where the boundaries are so that things that occur on personal time don’t become a distraction or a source of conflict in the workplace.”

Yes, relationships between supervisors and their direct reports can be dangerous — and I’d add a few more adjectives like perilous, career-altering, and downright crazy. Any supervisor who gets involved in one is putting their current job (and possibly even their career) at risk.

A controversial opinion?

I’ve seen what happens when co-workers get involved, and all too often, it isn’t pretty. As I put it last year in A Valentine’s Day Sermon: Why Office Relationships Are Self-Destructive:

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Yes, people in the workplace have romantic relationships, as they have had since humans started working in organized groups together, and they probably will continue to do so as long as we live on this planet.

The question in my mind is never about WILL people have relationships at work, because we know they will no matter how foolish or self-destructive that course of action might be. No, the question that should trouble any manager or savvy HR professional is this: WHY do so many people carry on relationships in the office when they know how dangerous and troublesome they can be?”

Believe it or not, my perspective is a somewhat controversial one. For some reason, a lot of people don’t believe that workplace romances can be highly problematic — probably because they haven’t had a lot of experience dealing with the fallout when one goes bad.

When I write about all the bad things that can happen with an office romance, and how many times I have had to deal with the negative fallout, I get a lot of comments from people who want to play up the love and pooh-pooh the all-too-common breakdowns.

Foolish, dumb, and self-destructive

If you read A Valentine’s Day Sermon: Why Office Relationships Are Self-Destructive, you’ll get one specific example of a bad romance that impacted a lot of people from my own career, but I’m sure many of you have similar examples that are equally illustrative. Feel free to post some here, because I’d like to read about some of them.

But, I still keep coming back to what I wrote last year, because it is as true now as it was then:

There’s an old workplace truism that bears repeating and remembering: The smarter you are, the dumber you’ll seem when you do something foolish.

Getting involved sexually with people you work with is about as foolish, dumb and self-destructive as it gets. Today, on yet another Valentine’s Day, that’s a message I wish more workers would remember.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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