No more affairs! Is the age of the office romance over?

Cropped shot of manageress holding hand of colleague at work. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Cropped shot of manageress holding hand of colleague at work. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Office relationships could now be a thing of the past, especially as some companies now insist on you letting HR know if you're having one. Nicky Barrell investigates

Is it the end of furtive glances across the office desk and charged clandestine meetings at the photocopier?

Almost a quarter of us are married, engaged or in a relationship with a current or former colleague and more than half of us have at some point been caught up in a workplace relationship or affair.

Office romance is a risky business – at best it can lead to happily ever after with a long term relationship, marriage and kids –at worse it can have a very public fall out with either party deciding to quit or being forced out.

But for the majority of us who have dated a colleague, you just have to overcome the embarrassment or even heartache of seeing your ex on a daily basis – where instead of sharing passionate nights you are yet again sharing opinions about the latest company statistics.

Many of us can remember the highs and lows of sales rep Tim and receptionist Dawn's slow realisation they had fallen in love with each other in the unlikely setting of Slough branch of Wenham Hogg Paper Company (The Office).

But according to Direct Line Insurance's latest research, workplace romances are on the decline and even declared out of bounds in around one in 20 UK companies.

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Over three quarters (78 per cent) of HR professionals who took part in the survey state that recent campaigns against sexual harassment in the workplace have made relationships between colleagues less acceptable.

According to HR directors, as the working environment changes, it makes it more difficult for colleagues to date, with over 78% of companies updating or reviewing their policy on workplace relationships in the last year and nearly a third making changes to their existing policy.

Ipswich Borough Council is one of such organisation which states in its HR policy. 'Employees must declare any close personal relationship with another employee of the council where the relationship could cause, or be perceived to cause a conflict of interest.'

The policy is applied to cases of where contracts or funding is awarded or there is a risk of conflict in the employment relationship between two staff members ie manager and an employee.

And even if a workplace romance is blossoming more than three quarters of people don't inform their manager or HR department – leaving 21 million secret romances.

Legal experts say any outright 'bans' on workplace romances are unlikely to be enforceable as it may breach individuals' rights for respect of their private and family lives, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act.

Cassandra Andrews, director of Cassandra Andrews Ltd in Norfolk said: 'When you're working with people for eight hours a day, you've an opportunity to get to know them and develop connections and you have got things in common'

But clearly you need to also protect your business and there is a line between protecting business interest and being too involved in employees personal lives.

'I believe that you have responsibility as an employer to look at an employee holistically and in terms of employee experience it is about getting the best performance out of your employees.'

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