The reality of work relationships: Dangerous clichés
Wednesday, July 06, 2016
There are 168 hours in a week. Assuming a modest seven hours of sleep per night, removing those 49 hours leaves us with 119 waking hours. Working a full-time job, we commit more than a third (approximately 37 percent) of our waking hours going to, being at and returning from work. Thus, it is understandable why and how we develop personal relationships with our co-workers.
However, problems can arise when relationships become intimate. This series will take a look at workplace relationships from three perspectives: the employer, the high-risk employee and the in-love co-workers.
In the first article, we reviewed relationships from the perspective of the in-love couple. Here we will take a look at the trickier side of employee relationships by examining those who are fraught with risk.
Common sense does not usually prevail in matters of the heart. Fortunately, however, the biggest problems are associated with some of the most obviously troublesome pairings. If this sounds like your situation, understand the risks before you go too far.
1. If you are the older (married) man ...
Many harassment investigations begin with men telling me the relationship was consensual, yet no investigation ever ends with the accused man telling me he would engage in a similar relationship again.
Regardless of whether men hold a position of power over their younger female co-workers, there is a general understanding that they should know better and that their age and presumably higher position in the company does give them some kind of leverage. Even if that leverage is used positively on behalf of the woman, when the relationship ends — if it does not end amicably — none of it will look good.
It may seem like a good idea or easy to get away with, but a sexual harassment complaint — whether it is true or not — is a bell that cannot be unrung.
2. If you are the younger (single) woman ...
Cozying up with a more experienced man at the firm can provide great fun, perspective and in some cases inside insight that can directly or indirectly help your career.
But none of that is worth it if people find out. Your credibility will inevitably be called into question as will any promotion or recognition you have ever received. Understand the risk to your reputation before heading down this path.
3. If you are the executive with your assistant ...
In addition to the issues noted in the first example, executive assistants know everything about their executives. While this makes it easily understandable how a relationship could develop, it also should make it clear how costly a breakup could be.
If you are an executive, don't do it. Your assistant has access to your personal information as well as sensitive and confidential company information. It is irresponsible and not worth the risk to your position, your assistant's career or the risk to the firm (about which you are supposed to care as an executive).
None of this is to say that clichéd relationships cannot work.
The work relationships that seem to have the best chance at succeeding are young single executives in startups and 20-something startup co-workers (admittedly there is often overlap between those groups). There is something about the culture in these work environments that supports and can handle the consequences of intimate relationships between co-workers.
For more on that, stay tuned for part three in our series for a look at relationships from the employer's perspective.
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