The way office romances are judged is that men do it for love and women do it to get ahead.
According to a recent survey of 8,000 workers by the job-search website CareerBuilder.com, four out of 10 employees have dated someone at work; 17 percent have done it twice. It makes perfect sense: There are more singles in the workforce than ever before, spending more than half their waking hours on the job. With co-workers there’s a familiarity and commonality, not to mention proximity and convenience. There’s often plenty to talk about. Although the CareerBuilder survey also found that 72 percent of workers who have office relationships don’t try to hide them—compared with 46 percent five years ago—interoffice dating, even among colleagues on equal levels or in different departments, is not without complications or negative reactions. And though both men and women who take part in office relationships are judged, women, it seems, bear that judgment far more.
A 2009 study published in the Western Journal of Communication found that most employees have negative perceptions of workplace romance, even though so many of them have taken part in it themselves, and largely direct their annoyance or anger at the woman.
Most researchers believe there are three primary motivating factors behind dating someone at work—love, ego, and job—and that how or whether colleagues accept an interoffice couple depends on what they view as the motivations behind it. As it turns out, those perceived motivations appear to vary depending on whether you’re a man or a woman. The WJC study found that in most situations, employees believe that women are motivated by job—the prospect of some employment-related advantage—while men by the less professionally threatening love or ego.
More so than males, female employees in an office relationship, even a lateral one, are more likely to be suspected of using their relationships to get ahead and of being loyal to their romantic partner above all else.
Whether favoritism between couples at work is real or perceived may not even matter. One of the biggest reasons employers tend to discourage interoffice affairs is because they generate gossip—and gossip wastes time and fosters distrust and dissatisfaction. Women are more likely than men to be the targets of that office gossip, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Sex Roles. That might explain why office gossip about a romantically involved couple would tend to target the woman over the man. Even those who are not dating superiors become subject to accusations of favoritism from co-workers when it comes to promotions, restructuring of teams, or financial bonuses. They become easy targets for those colleagues inclined to use office gossip as a means to undermine, or get ahead themselves.