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Reflection Paper #4 – Romantic Workplace Relationships Page 1

I was interested in thinking further on the impact of organizational culture on workplace

romance. Sias (2009)pointed to the type of organization (conservative or liberal) and the climate

of the workplace (hot or cold) as factors that could affect the development of workplace romantic

relationships.

Organizations that are conservative, slow paced, traditional, conventional, with climates

that are impersonal and formal tended to discourage formation of romantic relationships (Sias,

2009). Conversely, an organization that is fast paced, action oriented, dynamic and high-

pressured, and has a climate where employees are visible and physical appearance is valued tend

to “stimulate sexual excitement” (p. 133) and can foster romantic relationships. I can point to my

own experience at firms where I worked and clearly see hot vs. cold organizations from a sexual/

relational standpoint. I worked for a regional stock brokerage firm, where risk was rewarded,

where understanding the rules was important and some success was knowing how and when to

challenge boundaries, where there were long working hours and the pressure could be intense.

This was a “hot” or “liberal” organization. Here there were office flings, office parties (spouses

were not invited) were wide-open and stories abounded the next day around the proverbial water

cooler on who was seen with whom. I contrast this to another financial services firm I worked

for, a life insurance company. I would describe this firm as “cold” and “conservative”; it is

based in the Midwest and prides itself on longstanding traditions. The company is hierarchical

and bureaucratic. Success comes from doing the same things well day in and day out. Around

the office, interactions were collegial and professional; workplace romance was discreetly but

obviously discouraged. The three-story office building did not have a breakroom (the coffee area
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was the size of a closet) and there were no real places to casually congregate in the building.

Office parties occurred once a year, at Christmas, and were on a command-performance basis

with spouses; the drinking opened people up but did so without sexual messaging – here it was

peer to peer competitiveness that surfaced in unpolished, out-in-the-open ways.

My personal experience mirrors the factors mentioned by Sias (2009). However, I

believe that there is another factor that affects workplace romance; the issue of time/era, and

how the cultural climate of norms and mores impact romantic relationships at work. I look

specifically at how this played out in my personal experiences. I worked for a stock brokerage

firm in the 1980’s and early 90’s. At this company, it was not usual for office romances,

dalliances, one-night stands and various welcome and unwelcome flirting to occur. This was

culturally a time in America that tended to be less focused on “morals”, it was a time where

Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” Wall Street was a lifestyle narrative that spilled over and

affected society. Madonna was on top, and songs like “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang

Chung were the rage (Internet, Top Hits 1987). It was a time before political correctness and

sexual harassment, a time before these issues added risks and consequences to workplace

romance (lawsuits and reputational damage have now been added to the negative consequences

of heartbreak, job troubles or being let go). Things changed culturally, and by the time I was

working for the insurance company in the late 1990’s, the pendulum had swung back towards

“family values” such that the overall American environment was less conducive to office

romances. Popular music of the time mirrored the changes; U2 and Jennifer Lopez were on the

charts and popular songs included “Family Affair” by Mary J. Bilge (Internet, Top Hits 2001).
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Not only did the corporate environment I was now working in discourage office romance, but the

bigger social conditions served to reinforce the discouragement of sexual behaviors at work.

While workplace romantic relationships can blossom in any workplace and in any social

environment, I believe that the distinctions of corporate culture and business style can and do

have impact on the development of romantic relationships at work. In addition, overall cultural

norms and mores seem to, based on my experiences, affect by either encouraging or discouraging

romantic involvement at work.


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References

Retrieved March 1, 2010. http://www.musicoutfitters.com/topsongs/1987.htm

Retrieved March 1, 2010. http://www.musicoutfitters.com/topsongs/2001.htm

Sias, P. M. (2009). Organizing relationships: Traditional and emerging perspectives on

workplace relationships. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.