Sunday, April 29, 2007


Given how much time people spend at work, it's no wonder that workplace romances erupt on a regular basis. The challenge for anyone trying to maintain a relationship with a co-worker, however, is how to do so without letting it interfere with either employee's work.

With the real or perceived fear of sexual-harassment lawsuits, you'd think that most companies would have thought through how to handle workplace relationships. They haven't. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 72 percent of the companies surveyed in its most recent annual poll on workplace romance had no policy covering such relationships.

At most companies, in short, employees are on their own when it comes to navigating the often-choppy waters of romance with a co-worker.

When a manager dates a subordinate, the situation is even more complicated -- complicated enough that it's reasonable to wonder if it's ever OK to date someone when you have power over that person's job security.

A reader from Manhattan writes to tell me that she is romantically involved with her boss -- who, of course, is the one who praises her to upper management and will be recommending her for promotion.

She's confident that she deserves such praise and support, being "smart, capable, competent, responsible and inherently good at what I do," but she wonders how her relationship with her superior redefines her role in the workplace. Since the relationship began, she says, they are more prone to argument and spend more time together, both at and outside of their workplace.

Her company has no written policy against relationships, but nevertheless she's worried about crossing those ethical boundaries at work.

"How can you ever recover," she asks, "once you've headed down that road?"

Except in unusual circumstances, company executives have no business telling people with whom they should or shouldn't fall in love. But I do believe that they have a responsibility to make sure that romances between employees don't have an adverse affect on the company or on its other employees. If there's a relationship between a manager and a subordinate, it's critical for someone else at the company to be informed of that fact, to make sure that the relationship is consensual and that the manager isn't using his or her position inappropriately.

The right thing to do, in short, is for anyone involved in such a relationship to make it known, at least to some extent. So long as only the participants know of the relationship, the possibility for inappropriate effects is always present.

In this case, the couple should have talked to someone at the company about their relationship before it went very far. Since her manager has power over her career, it was his responsibility to talk to his manager or to someone in human resources. In a perfect world they would have received good advice on how to proceed, and in particular how to keep their private lives separate from the company's business. One possible result, for example, might have been my reader's being reassigned to a different manager.

But this isn't a perfect world. As it happens, the manager also has a live-in girlfriend who doesn't know about the affair. He has no plans to leave his girlfriend -- though he assures my reader that she is the only one with whom he is cheating on his partner -- so, under the circumstances, he's unwilling to disclose their relationship to any third party.

The circumstances make clear that the manager is an unethical manipulator who can't be expected to do the right thing. That leaves it up to my reader, who should see his inability to respond appropriately to this question as a warning flare signaling her to detour off this particular road as quickly as possible.


Anonymous said...

All of us spend more time with people we work with than any other group of people. So why is it strange to find a great deal of romancing at work. I would bet that more of it goes on than is admitted. So if the 2 people are in this relationship, and there is a live in girlfriend, well what do we have to do with it. Move on to your own personal problems!

Anonymous said...

People who read the above comment might wonder if the writer is one of the bosses preying on his/her subordinates.
The problem is when someone is sleeping their way to the top and others, more competent and capable, are being passed over because they are not participating in the extracurricular requirements for promotion. It's why sexual harassment laws were passed in the first place. It's also why a number of companies do have regulations in place about socializing with your employees. Maybe the person promoted is the best candidate, but it doesn't look like it from an outsider's perspective.

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh at the part where the boss told this "smart" employee/girlfriend that she was the only one he was cheating on his live-in girlfriend with. Give that fellow a medal! It's going to end, and chances are he's going to be the one to end it before going on to another monogomous cheating relationship. At that point, "smart" girl is on her own. They say that trying to sneak a love affair past people is like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster - and someone in that company is bound to suspect what's going on. What happens when that person is passed over for a promotion in favor of the bed partner? Whether or not she thinks she deserves the praise and perks is neither here nor there. The whole thing smells - I wish that young woman would wake up!

Anonymous said...

The thing I'd say about workplace relationships is, Don't be stupid about it!

By stupid I mean flaunting - like the married secretary I worked with who flaunted a relationship with a newly-hired boy-toy. Result: Her boy-toy got fired!

Or like the married woman with 4 kids, the youngest still only about 5 years old, who bragged with glee about her relationship with a clinical psychologist 26 years her senior and also married, whose wife worked as a clinician in another office of the same government agency.

Result: A co-worker, fed up with the bragging, finally told the psychologist, who immediately told the nurse to keep her mouth shut!

Or like the thirty-something receptionist getting early-morning booty calls from a 70-something psychiatrist on Viagra. She rubbed it in by coyly referring to him as He, and asking her co-worker, You do know who I mean when I say He, don't you? Finally she went too far and came in late saying it annoys her "to get woke up too early, like when He gets up to leave." At that the co-worker, sick of covering for the lateness because she knew the reason, confronted the latecomer who then ran nervously to her lover's office for advice. He told her to get a transfer as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffrey Seglin:

I enjoyed your articles about office I am going through this myself. Unfortunately my husband is the one who is having the affair with his subordinate. He continues to deny the affair yet the woman he works with husband has contacted me on several occasions and they have confessed to the affair for going on for many months. Yet the woman and her husbands are working things out and going for counseling, Apparently the employer has taken some measures to transfer them elsewhere.....don't know exact details.

My questions are:

Why is it that a large corporation one of the big three allow these things to happen?

Signs of office romance:

1. First off they travel together all the time and the other 10 engineers don't travel with the boss,

2. Check the company cell phone and it will show them how often calls are to each engineer and at what times of the day,

3. Check out the supplier lunches/meetings they attend,

4. Check the e-mail frequency...
I myself work in the Human resources department and have to monitor these things in a lot smaller organizations over the last 20 years...and I find it amazing that the big 3 can't or isn't doing the same nor putting a stop to this inappropriate conduct

But then again, they want to keep it quiet and not have it out in the open since it does look bad on the company. Let's be frank...I myself know of 4 marriages at the same company over the last year, that have ended due to this, and what makes matters worse is that children are involved, and the caring mothers are at home left paying for the husband mistakes. Mind you I'm not saying that it doesn't take 2, but the fact of the matter is that the big 3 have to put in measures to monitor their supervisors, engineers, management team and be held accountable and discipline where necessary.

The article in Saturday's paper is dead on, and no way should a manager/supervisor be having an affair with a subordinate since they are responsible for doing their performance appraisals, salary increases, future promotions, approving expense requisitions, dictating work related trips, etc.

It's unfortunate that my 16 year marriage was exposed to this, and I had to find out by the above ways as well as the many love letters that were written by my x.

The fact that office romances should be controlled, and policies should be in place,which should all be monitored from the Human resources department as well as the security department. The parking lots are controlled in these facilities with cameras, etc. so how hard is it to get a computer program in place to monitor the e-mails etc. And who is approving the cell phone bills? As well the trips out of the country, company cell phones, should be used for business purposes and not for after hours calls, in the middle of the day calls to another personal cell phone...if it is business related they have the company extension phones at their desk and can go to meet with the person.

Wake up America and let your employers work for you......understand that the laws in Canada and the laws in the States are quite different. At least in Michigan you can file and prove adultery and be compensated, in Canada you have to go through many hoops to achieve this, and at best get all parties to come to court.

Big 3 you have the money to control this and should be as a responsible employer....if there was a way to track all the divorces from Canadian commuters who work in the states, it would be overwhelming to see and then to be able to have the companies record and stop such conduct would also be interesting to read. As have the stats prove the number of managers/supervisors vs the administrative asssitants and engineers that are applicable....

Just stating the harassment policy and posting it on the walls, doesn't cut it, it is time that everyone has rights in the work place, and that people and employers deal with this sooner then later. It is too easy to walk away from a marriage these days, and not realize that yes you spend many hours at work with people, but should be able to draw the line there, and that the EAP (employee assistance programs) in place can't detect the relationships but are the after math. Something has to be put in place to stop it before it gets to that state. Managers/Supervisors require control and represent the company, yet are showing many inappropriate conduct to their staff. As well once the cat is out of the bag, how credible is this supervisor now? Many times he is looked upon as a disgrace, and embarrassment, and the rest of the department are guessing what was really happening in those meetings, company trips, and lunches together, and questioning all the trips to Ohio to visit suppliers....You can't hide for long....

One thing for sure is that I've learnt a valuable lesson.

A Canadian Mom that hopes that the employers are made more accountable.....we all have rights.

I pray that my children don't grow up to think that this is what the automotive world is about!

"Everyone is doing it" is no basis for doing it yourself

Years ago, after I had left my job as a magazine editor and took a significant cut in pay to become an assistant professor at a liberal ...