The Charger Blog

Organizational Psychologist Discusses Research on Workplace Romance

Amy Baker, an associate professor of psychology, was quoted in a Fortune magazine story about employers’ efforts to clamp down on office romance in the #MeToo era.

July 24, 2018

By Dave Cranshaw, Office of Marketing & Communications

Amy Baker headshot
Amy Baker, associate professor, psychology

One of the first classes, Amy Baker, an associate professor of psychology, taught out of graduate school was called "Psychology at Work." The course, which was developed in part by a colleague, included a unit on romantic relationships in the workplace.

"I realized I’d learned nothing about the topic in any of my graduate classes," sake Baker, who earned her master’s and Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Maryland. "Our field is dedicated to applying psychological principles and practices to the workplace, so this blank spot struck me as odd. We had discussed the research on sexual harassment, but nothing on consensual relationships or even flirting. That’s what got me started."

Today, she is a go-to expert on workplace romance, and she was the first researcher quoted in a recent story in Fortune magazine about employers’ efforts to clamp down on office romance in the #MeToo Era.

Despite the #MeToo movement triggering a deeper examination of inappropriate behavior and revealing how damaging romance in the workplace can be – especially between a boss and a subordinate – Baker doesn’t think this will be the end of office flings.

"Oh no, I don’t think it’s ever going to die," she told Fortune. "Emotions are what they are at work."

Her research suggests that observing non-harassing sexual behavior in the workplace is positively associated with stress and turnover intention at the time it occurs, as well as four months later. Likewise, she found that employees who observe more sexual behavior at work have lower job satisfaction.

She says the underlying message of top management must be that their workplace is one of civility where employees advance based on performance. "Office romance in an environment that’s unfair, highly stressed, or political is toxic," she says. "Look at the climate and culture that you’re building. Is it where employees feel respected?"