The survey, released as the arrest of former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sex assault charges has unleashed a broad debate in his native France about sex and politics and the line between public and private lives, also showed that one in 10 respondents used the Internet in office hours to flirt.
The poll backs up a trend across the developed world where many meet their long-term partners in the office due to working ever longer hours, and where Internet availability and social media sites make online flirting possible through the workday.
“Workplace life has long been considered a neutral zone, out of bounds to feelings and love. Frankly, it’s actually more like a bar or a nightclub, a place that helps people meet up,” said Ronan Chastellier, a sociologist who presented the survey.
The poll found that 31% of respondents, or roughly one in three, admitted to a consensual workplace encounter but that 63% of those who did, or roughly two in three of them, described it as a fleeting affair.
When on the contrary it lasted, only 17% of those who hooked up were happy to go public with it at work, 22% kept quiet and 6% quit their job to avoid any conflict of interest. The rest mostly ended up in different workplaces, but for reasons other than fear of reprisal.
France, like many countries, has no law banning workplace encounters, although many companies oblige employees to make sure any romantic encounters do not impinge on their work.
The scandal over Strauss-Kahn’s arrest has set off a wave of talk about inappropriate sexual harassment in professional environments, including in France’s national assembly.
Junior civil service minister George Tron quit his job late in May after he was accused of sexual harassment — charges that his lawyer has dismissed — by two women who said he stroked, massaged and nibbled at their feet. Conducted in mid-May by polling agency OpinionWay for labour law publishers Tissot Editions, the new survey on workplace romances covered 1 100 people of at least 18 years of age.
The workplace relations that amounted to more than a fling more generally happened among young employees, principally among the under-35s, the survey results showed.
Chastellier, a university sociologist who also works for an online dating company, said the finding that 9% of people flirted via the Internet during office hours was probably an underestimate given the sensitivity of the matter.
Either way, the poll showed the old adage that said work life and private life do not mix to be largely obsolete.
The main message from the survey, Chastellier said, was: “There’s no mountain too high for the fleet foot of love.”