What Romance Really Means for the Office

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There are so many difference ways a workplace affair could go down. Maybe it's finding your soulmate as you both reach for the coffee maker; it's equally possible that one person's flirting is another person's harassment. Most of us have seen office flings happen one way or another. New research suggests that it's not just a sign of lonely hearts and opportunists, though.

A study just released by an international team has uncovered one of the primary reasons why people flirt on the clock, despite strong social and professional taboos against it. Ultimately, it has less to do with attraction and more to do with simple stress relief. If the flirting is welcome, and if it comes from a colleague over a supervisor, "it makes people feel good about themselves, which can then protect them from stressors in their lives," said first author Leah Sheppard of Washington State University. Office flirtation even helped alleviate some stress-related insomnia.

There's a catch, though: Often the stress those employees are trying to relieve is workplace injustice. It's part of a larger system of behaviors that stem from trying to cope with pressure — for instance, your bad boss may be yelling at you because it actually conserves energy, versus fretting and stewing. We seek out different escapes depending on what kind of frustrating supervisors we're dealing with. If you're nervous about zero-tolerance policies or you just don't want to play the office romance game, there are ways to keep that stress from following you home after work.