Steve Easterbrook, C.E.O. of McDonald’s Corp. recently resigned his position because he had a consensual affair with a fellow employee of the firm. Yikes!! I have to say I feel sorry for him because I met both my first and second husbands through work, so I’m speaking from a position of experience. And many of my friends also met their spouses and partners through work. In fact, I’m inclined to think that with today’s busy lifestyles and the long hours demanded by career-building, I don’t know a better way to meet someone. When you’ve sat in meetings together, attended business functions and witnessed the behaviours of your fellow employees at the office Christmas party, you learn a lot about a person. We spend so many hours each week with our coworkers that it’s natural they become like family, with some relationships growing closer than others. We see our coworkers at their worst while under stress, at their magnanimous best when being rewarded for superior performance and we soon learn who’s kind, who’s ethical, who is lazy and who is honest. The hours we spend with our coworkers under stressful conditions offers the most comprehensive insights into their character.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone bullying or pressure by office predators in order to gain leverage. Heavens, no. We’ve all walked this earth long enough to know that scum bags exist but that’s not what we’re talking about here. This is about genuine consensual romantic relationships developing between coworkers, apart from #metoo. Having worked most of my career in the construction industry which is heavily weighted with male employees, the pickings were pretty good. There were many young engineers, tradespeople, technicians and other staff who mingled often with office staff. In the early years, most supervisory and management positions were male-dominated but as women entered more non-traditional fields, their numbers increased. We often joked about the ensuing relationships that inevitably developed and we were tempted sometimes to sit down and make a list of the marriages that sprang from work-related relationships in our company alone. There were dozens and perhaps even into the hundreds that resulted in people getting together at work, my own marriage being one of them.
I don’t know the specifics of Steve Easterbrook’s relationship. Perhaps he was married. Perhaps his partner was a subordinate. There are so many variables that may have been unsavory but it’s not our place to moralize. Love happens. Apparently, McDonald’s has a company policy that forbids consensual relationships with fellow employees. Their rationale is that they’re a company with strong family values and their executives and employees at all levels have to respect that dictum. Politicians are often subjected to the same moral scrutiny but as evidenced by today’s American President, it really doesn’t hold much water these days. The moral right makes the rules and they’re allowed to break them.
When relationships develop between females and a male with a higher position in the corporate hierarchy, there could be serious fallout if the relationship falls apart. It’s difficult to work with someone you’ve broken up with and women are often dealt the losing hand in these circumstances. Her male superior may want her out-of-sight, out-of-mind and find it easier to terminate her. That’s the price women have unfortunately paid for failed workplace relationships since the beginning of time. When there’s an imbalance of power, the power exerts itself. I’m no longer in the workforce but I hope that has eased up with the #metoo movement and allowed women to continue working in the same environment if they wish to do so.
My husband and I worked together for nearly 30 years before we became “an item” and we have now been together for nearly 20 years. He was certainly above me in the management structure but I did not directly report to him. We’ve had many discussions recently about how our relationship would or could have been handled under current circumstances. Fortunately, the firm we worked for did not have a “No Fraternization” policy and as a result, many happy marriages resulted from employees working together. In fact, some of the offspring of those marriages are now second-generation employees. That is a good thing for everyone. Just ask Bill and Melinda Gates or Barrack and Michelle Obama. Michelle was Barrack Obama’s boss at the law firm where they both worked and I’d say that turned out to be a rather productive relationship.
I think the American military has similar policies to McDonald’s and as a result, a very senior military advisor was recently forced to retire early when it was disclosed he’d had an affair with another officer. The military may have specific reasons for their policy, but I don’t think any corporation has the right to dictate to its workers that they cannot become romantically involved. It has no business in the bedrooms of its employees, but I do think discretion on the part of coworkers is essential. As long they are doing their job and their relationship is not negatively impacting their performance, then the employer should have no say in the matter. If I’d worked for companies with such out-dated policies I’d probably be an old maid today instead of enjoying my life with someone I love and share a similar value system with. I feel for ya’ Steve Easterbrook. I hope your next employer is more open-minded. What do you think?