Two-thirds find romance in the office (but don't tell the boss)

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The will-they, won't-they flirting between Dawn and Tim in the hit sitcom The Office kept a nation gripped last year. And when the secretary left her factory-floor boyfriend for Tim at the end of the final series, even grown men were heard to sigh with relief.

But new research has found that office relationships often cause workplace chaos, with tension, jealousy, accusations of favouritism and decreased productivity.

Love across the desks can lead to marriage and promotion or sackings and a broken heart, according to the study by Human and Legal Resources, the employment law advisor.

But, despite the pitfalls, the majority of people have found - and often lost - romance between the workstations. A survey of 1,000 people found that two-thirds have been seduced by someone at work. The event was a one-night stand for 14 per cent, while 17 per cent had a short-lived fling. Four out of 10 people said their office relationship had lasted for more than three months, although, in 70 per cent of cases, the romance was now over.

Workplace familiarity also breeds infidelity, the study found. One or both of the lovers were already married in 30 per cent of cases.

And while Dawn and Tim spent months - or two series and one Christmas special - casting longing looks at each other above the hapless Gareth's head, real-life office lovers are a lot less inhibited. One in three people have had sex in their workplace, with the lifts, stairwells and workstations the most popular options for a tryst.

The hotel and leisure industry is the libidinous hotbed of workplace wooing, with 80 per cent of employees admitting to a relationship.

Despite the innuendo surrounding doctors and nurses, not to mention the raunchy love triangles depicted in shows such as ER and Holby City, healthcare and medical workers are the least likely to have seduced or have been seduced by their colleagues.

Derek Kemp, the chairman of Human and Legal Resources, said: "It's hardly surprising that so many people have had workplace relationships when you think about the amount of time most of us spend at work. The problem comes with the way employers deal with the whole idea of office romances.

"They tend to have no written policy about them, so no one knows what the score is, or they go to the other extreme and ban them completely, which only adds to more problems."

Some British companies have started copying US firms by introducing so-called "love contracts", which are clauses that either deter inter-office relationships or prohibit them entirely.

This, according to Mr Kemp, only drives love-struck workers into secrecy. Two-thirds of those questioned said they had tried to keep their extra-curricular activities secret from other people at work.

Meanwhile, one in five people left their job as a direct result of having an office romance, and 2 per cent were sacked. Half of those who had indulged in an office flirtation said it had adversely affected their work or productivity.

The problems were exacerbated when it came to the 46 per cent of romances where one person, usually the man, was in a more senior position than their lover.

One in five people who had watched a colleague have an affair with a boss said the relationship had resulted in favouritism to the subordinate. And 13 per cent of those who had romanced someone more senior admitted it had helped them to get promotion.

Mr Kemp said that companies need to implement positive policies which allow office relationships and encourage people to be open about their affairs.