The news is filled with allegations of inappropriate advances and comments from people (seemingly, it’s always men) in positions of power to those they manage. I don’t want to focus on these, they aren’t the office romances I am talking about. Workplace romantic relationships, for the purpose of this article, are defined as any relationship where two people voluntarily engage in a non-work relationship. We will include single colleagues who date, colleagues who are married and work together, and are married to someone else and engage in a romantic relationship (whether they are boss/employee or colleagues). Each has their own challenges, which I will discuss.
Let’s first examine the married couples. I have worked with a number of companies where the owners were married or someone in a key role within the company (managing partner, CEO, president…) hired their spouse to work for them. While the skills a partner may bring to the company could be beneficial, the challenges of having your spouse work with you are often not worth the upside.
The spouse is protective and influences through emotion. In any relationship, you want what you perceive is best for your spouse. When you work together it’s nearly impossible to separate how you feel about them and their emotional well-being from the business. What might be right for the business may not be good for the spouse or the family. As the partner, how can you honestly influence someone to make the right business decision when you are negatively impacted?
Exceptions are made for the spouse. Much easier to accept that your spouse needs to leave at 2PM to pick up your child than simply an employee. You will often give them a pass on being accountable to meet deadlines, details such as PTO are ignored, office dress code, and more. This causes frustration for others in the office and leads to lots of gossip.
It’s difficult to fire your spouse. I’ve seen it so many times. You hire your spouse to work with you (or be your partner) because they have a set of skills you need. Time marches on and you realize that what they bring to the table in terms of skills isn’t what you need anymore. Or their behavior/attitude or communication skills are a constant problem within the company. And it’s hard, maybe impossible unless you are comfortable with divorce, to fire your spouse.
Married couples who work together become a unit. If Sally works in accounting and her husband works in sales can you discipline, fire, or let one go without expecting performance problems from the other? Of course not, they are a unit!
What about single colleagues who date? A few obvious challenges are:
What happens if they break up? Nothing good. Performance from one or both is likely impacted. Gossip is rampant. And if they work on the same team expect sniping, blaming, and other behaviors.
They become a unit and want the same options. They want to take PTO at the same time, working over-time isn’t an option when they ride share. If one is attending a conference the other believes they should attend also. One gets a raise so should the other…and the list goes on.
Potential to lose two employees. If one leaves the company, the likelihood is the other will as well. If one is unhappy or dissatisfied, they influence the other. You get the picture.
Colleagues that are married to someone else yet engage in an office romance…what could happen? Take aside your own ethical view of extra-marital relationships and look at this pragmatically. Of course, there are the same considerations as other relationships: what if they break up, they become a unit, exceptions and excuses are made, it’s difficult to fire one, etc. And other problems occur.
Hiding the affair is difficult and gossip becomes the norm. While you may think others don’t know about your affair, and they may not know the details, they certainly know something is going on. I worked with a company where the president was having an affair with the head of marketing. Every time there was a conference or customer meeting they both left a day or two early and stayed a day or two longer than anyone else. How they thought others didn’t notice is puzzling.
The impact on the home front is obvious. No matter what you think, you can’t go home and be the same with your spouse and kids when you are involved romantically and sexually with someone else. The home situation becomes challenging, which causes stress, which bleeds into work
Whether you are single colleagues and work in different departments, married and run the business together, or any other relationship, romance in the workplace can and will affect the successful operation of the company. What seems innocent or harmless is until it isn’t. Before you step into the world of workplace romantic relationships, consider the cons. Then consider them again, and be prepared for what will inevitably occur.
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