Britain's bosses relaxed about workplace relationships

2006

With more than half of Britain's bosses believing that it is not an abuse of power to have a relationship with a more junior colleague, a new survey suggests that workplaces are becoming hotbeds of flirtatious fun and sexual shenanigans.

In the wake of the revelation that Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, had an affair with his secretary, a survey on relationships in business by communications consultancy The Aziz Corporation found that 53 per cent of Britain's bosses now view such relationships as acceptable.

A similar proportion (55 per cent) felt that a relationship with a more senior colleague or client would not be a problem while almost three-quarters (73 per cent) felt the same about a relationship with a colleague of the same seniority.

This relaxed attitude to workplace relationships is underlined by the fact that more than eight out of 10 also believe that it is perfectly acceptable to look for a future partner at work

Indeed, one in three have been involved in a long term relationship with a colleague, and more than a third have had a fling with someone at work.

"It appears it is now acceptable to mix business and pleasure, reflecting the fact that you are likely to spend more time with your colleagues than with your family or friends," said Professor Khalid Aziz, Chairman of The Aziz Corporation.

"The shared intensity of the workplace has, for a long time, acted to ignite passions and with our culture of long working hours, this only looks set to continue."

The research also reveals bosses' own experiences of office fraternisation, with more than four out of 10 admitting that they have fancied someone at work and not known how to act upon it and more than a quarter having sent a flirtatious email to someone they work with.

A startling one in eight (13 per cent) also confessed to having had sex or 'intimate relations' in the office itself.

But as Khalid Aziz pointed out, while office life may have become more relaxed, people need to consider the possible repercussions of an office romance.

Whilst 14 per cent of men have had to tolerate inappropriate behaviour or comments from a client or superior because they did not want to jeopardise the working relationship, this rises to almost half (43 per cent) of women.

This gender disparity extends to acts of physical harassment, with nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of women admitting to having been groped or fondled by a client or more senior colleague, compared to just eight per cent of men.

Half of women and one in three men have had to turn down the unwelcome advances of a colleague or client, the survey suggested.

"The boundaries of 'normal' business behaviour have become increasingly hazy and many companies find themselves in uncharted territory," Khalid Aziz added.

"It can be difficult, and indeed unlawful, to ban workplace relationships and ensuring clear guidelines in which both the employee and the company feel protected from sexual harassment is more easily said than done.

"The recent decision by the Equal Opportunities Commission whereby lewd emails now constitute a form of sexual harassment should be a warning to workers that sending raunchy emails may get them a rather different response to the one they bargained for."

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