Is It OK to Sleep with Your Controller?

Company policies about office romances vary widely. What's yours?

Forget backdating as a company woe, what about plain old dating?

The NASA love triangle — which involves a female astronaut charged with attempting to murder a female acquaintance of a male colleague, a space shuttle pilot — shines a new light on corporate policies about dating co-workers.

According to a new study of 100 human resource executives, 35 percent of those polled said that their companies had no formal policy, while 45 percent said that their companies allow relationships between colleagues, as long as they are not between supervisor and subordinate.

The survey, conducted by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, also revealed that another 14 percent of the respondents claimed that while their companies don’t have a formal dating policy, management “discourages” romances between co-workers. A tiny 3 percent of the surveyed managers explained that their companies turn a blind eye to dating, maintaining a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.”

NASA spokesman Jason Sharp told CFO.com that NASA does not have a policy regarding dating among its civilian workers, but notes that the two astronauts involved were Navy pilots, and could be subject to the military’s stricter rules regarding fraternization.

According to published reports, Space Shuttle Discovery specialist Lisa Marie Nowak drove 900 miles from Houston to Orlando, wearing an adult diaper to avoid bathroom breaks, allegedly to kill Colleen Shipman, a civilian who she believed was romantically involved with Navy Commander and astronaut William Oefelein. She has been charged with attempted murder.

“Admittedly, a formal policy on workplace romance would have done little for NASA, where it appears that the unrequited affections of one astronaut for another drove her to make some pretty poor decisions. No policy can prevent this type of irrational behavior,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of the outplacement firm.

“However, most companies would benefit by spelling out the rules of workplace romance. It would be foolhardy to completely outlaw all romantic associations between co-workers, but companies can prohibit such relationships between supervisors and their subordinates,” Challenger added.

More companies may be forced to set office-dating policies as the number of romantically involved workers grows. A survey conducted in 2006 by online career site Vault.com found that 58 percent of workers admit to having been involved in an office romance, up from 46 percent three years ago. Of the nearly 700 workers surveyed, 38 percent said that they knew of an ongoing office romance.

More interesting, 28 percent of those polled admitted to having a tryst in the office, a 5 percentage jump compared to the 2005 survey. Where are the trysts taking place? The most cited office locales include: the conference room, the boss’s office, the office of one of the participants, the bathroom, server room, elevator, and supply closet.

Cupid’s arrows seems to be hitting his mark more often because workers are spending more time on the job, and the use of social and professional networking sites is proliferating, says Challenger. Internet sites, such as LinkedIn, MySpace, and Friendster, “make[s] the time it takes for an office romance to bud about as fast as your internet connection,” quips Challenger.

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