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STATE OF THE HEART

Office romances flourished during the pandemic

Valentine's Day in New York during the coronavirus pandemic
Reuters/Caitlin Ochs
A woman holds roses in front of the Brooklyn Bridge on Valentine’s Day during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the Brooklyn borough of New…
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

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Is it possible to find a soulmate on Zoom? Could Slack be a channel for love letters at work?

According to a new survey of US-based workers by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a quarter of respondents revealed that they began a romantic relationship with a colleague during the pandemic or continued an existing romance in the past year. And despite not being able to go to the office and see people in person in this new WFH world, half of respondents reported that they’ve developed a crush on someone they work with—a 7% increase from last year.

Liz Supinski, SHRM’s director of research products, explains that kindling emotional bonds with a colleague has been one way to allay the feelings of isolation and loneliness many remote workers felt during periods of lockdown. “For many parts of the country, work has been the only place where people can still go [virtually],” she says. “[For] Millennials who were already meeting and socializing online, Zoom dating has been a trend anyway and might even make a ‘workplace romance’ feel less risky if you’re not actually conducting it in the workplace.” (See also: Quartz’s complete guide to the online dating industry.)

Working with romantic relationships

Despite the rise of workplace romance, SHRM’s survey indicates that a vast majority of companies don’t require workers to disclose interpersonal relationships. And even if they did, 75% of respondents say they’re likely to hide their romantic entanglements from their employers.

Clandestine romances can pose myriad issues, especially if the people involved work on the same team. We’ve seen this unfold publicly recently with CNN’s former president Jeff Zucker, who resigned from his post after admitting that he began secretly dating the company’s chief marketing officer, Allison Gollust, during the pandemic.

Even without explicit policies governing interpersonal relationships among staff, employment lawyer Vanessa Matsis-McCready, warns that a romance conducted via office channels can still be liable to legal scrutiny. “Using company virtual platforms like Slack, Zoom or Teams is not a tool for private communication, as the software is company property,” she said. “Employees should also be mindful not to misuse such company property or make statements, share images, or the like that could be against company policy.”

But for all the known risks, experts say that there are pragmatic reasons to root for love in the office. Romantic relationships among colleagues it turns out can result in increased productivity and morale at work, Alexander Alonso, SHRM’s chief knowledge told Quartz last year.“You’ll start to see that people will actually become much more invested in their work and become more productive,” he explained “It provides a reason for them to be more engaged in their work, at least for the first year or so of the relationship.”

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