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Office romance hits a 10-year low, for good reason

  • Fewer people report having dated a co-worker, according to a new survey by CareerBuilder.
  • "There's an overall awareness that has permeated the workplace, and people are being more cautious," says career expert Barbara Safani.
Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly Halpert and John Krasinski as Jim Halpert in "The Office."
Danny Feld | NBCU
Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly Halpert and John Krasinski as Jim Halpert in "The Office."

This Valentine's Day, office workers would be wise to think twice before sneaking a box of chocolates to the cutie in the adjacent cube.

The #MeToo movement has importantly illuminated the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace — and put a serious damper on any interoffice romantic sentiment.

Office romance is now at a 10-year low, according to a new report by CareerBuilder. Only 36 percent of workers said they have dated a co-worker. That's down from 41 percent last year and 40 percent a decade ago.

"There's an overall awareness that has permeated the workplace, and people are being more cautious," said Barbara Safani, president of Career Solvers in New York.

"Office romance is experiencing a dip," added Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder's chief human resources officer, "whether it's impacted by the current environment around sexual harassment or by workers not wanting to admit the truth."

Men, in general, were more likely to report a romance. Thirty-seven percent of male workers said they had dated a co-worker, compared with 35 percent of women. One in 5 men said they have dated someone at work two or more times in their career, compared with just 15 percent women who said they had done so.

Beware of the workplace hook-up

"No matter how you look at office romance, it's a lot more gray and murky than people realize," Haefner said.

In many office relationships, there is often a power dynamic at play, CareerBuilder found. Thirty percent said they have dated someone who was at a higher level in the organization than they were.

And more often, it's men who are in the position with seniority. Thirty-five percent of female co-workers reported dating someone senior to them, compared with 25 percent of their male counterparts.

"No matter how you look at office romance, it's a lot more grey and murky than people realize." -Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder

When the romance sours, women are also much more likely to take the hit. Nine percent of women have left a job because a romantic relationship at work went sour, versus only 3 percent of men.

Haefner recommends these tips for workers navigating a workplace romance:

1. Check the rules. Be sure that you are familiar with your company's policy on dating before getting into any kind of relationship. It may be on the employer's website or in their employee handbook; otherwise, check with HR.
2. Keep your personal life out of the office — and off of social media. Many workers choose to keep their relationship a secret at work, but posting on Facebook or Instagram will quickly undo any attempts to fly under the radar.
3. Don't let your romance impact your other relationships. If you don't properly separate your romantic and work life, your romance may color your co-workers' judgment with regard to promotions, projects and other responsibilities — leading to problems down the road.

CareerBuilder polled over 800 full-time, private-sector workers across a variety of industries and company sizes. The survey was conducted Nov. 28 through Dec. 20, in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

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