Colleagues-With-Benefits: Who's Doing What at Work

Published: Feb 07, 2011

Topics: Workplace Issues       

It's no secret that that the average employee spends more time at work than they do with their families—or that people have been working even longer hours due to the lousy economy. And all those extra hours in the office means even more time spent in close proximity to colleagues, greatly increasing the likelihood that co-worker chemistry will bubble over and take relationships beyond the strictly professional.

How common is such a situation? Well, according to Vault's 2011 Office Romance Survey, the chances are that if you haven't had a fling with a colleague at some point, then the person sitting next to you has: 59 percent of survey respondents confessed to having had a colleagues-with-benefits relationship.

Of course, a stat like that raises far more questions than it answers. Fortunately, we have the answers to a lot of those questions as well. Here are just a few of the things we discovered from the survey this year.

Men are from Mars…

This will likely come as no surprise to anyone, but men and women have very different outlooks on relationships. One example: while a little under a third of both sexes have suffered some level of discomfort over an intra-office relationship between two other co-workers, women are significantly more likely to worry about the impact of their own workplace flings on their co-workers than men are. Of those who had been in office romances, some 34 percent of women felt the experience impacted their personal or professional relationships with other coworkers. Just 26 percent of men reported having felt the same way.

Is there a correlation between those feelings and the type of relationships that men and women experience at work? While 23 percent of men* and 15 percent of women* claim to have had short-term flings at work, the numbers almost reverse when it comes to long-term, serious relationships blossoming at the office: 22 percent of women* and just 14.7 percent of men* report being in or having had such

Sleeping your way to the top

In a world where information travels at warp speed and almost every phone has a camera (if not two), it can seem hard to believe that there are still people who can get away with climbing the corporate ladder by performing extra-curricular activities with the boss. And yet 38 percent of respondents told Vault that they felt they had been in situations where a coworker gained a professional advantage because of a romantic relationship with a colleague or superior.

And, while comments from workers who suggest that they "do what you have to do to move up the ranks" may sound brazen, the tactic also seems to be a successful one—at least in some fields. " "There was a news anchor at my station that was sleeping with the General Manager. I'm sure that didn't hurt her status at the station," said one respondent. "I found out years later that the reason I was passed over for a position that I was promised was so that the supervisor could relocate his paramour to the same city, " said another.

A question of power

Of course, it's entirely possible that sexual politics at work are imaginary—at least in the conventional "casting couch" sense; of those respondents who had participated in office flings, fewer than 20 percent had dated a supervisor, and only a quarter had dated a subordinate.

But where relationships at different levels do occur, men date subordinates twice as much as women do (34 percent, compared to 13), and are half as likely to have dated a supervisor (just 14 percent of relationships involve a subordinate male, compared to 24 percent where women are subordinate).

You can make up your own mind about what that says about traditional power structures in the corporate world, but our respondents are pretty clear about the ramifications for your career: "A recipe for disaster," says one. "Usually the junior person loses." Another, who dated the owner of the company they were working for, simply described the relationship as a "big mistake."

Not only that, but relationships between coworkers at different levels were deemed to be the least appropriate out of any kind of office romance: 34 percent of respondents deemed such relationships "unacceptable."

Is it worth it?

Despite the obvious risks involved, people are clearly still willing to put passion ahead of their career. Even the lousy economy isn't deterring office romances: 65 percent of respondents told Vault that it has had no effect whatsoever on their willingness to take romantic risks at work, with only 31 percent claiming that they are less willing now than before the recession.

Then there are those who throw caution to the wind altogether: one-third of those who have had office romances admitted to having trysts in the office, with 4 percent getting caught in the act.

Perhaps the most notable statistic, however, is this one: of those who have had office romances, 63 percent said they would participate in one again. If that's not a ringing endorsement for mixing business with pleasure, we've never seen one!

View Vault's 2011 Office Romance Survey Slideshow