Valentines Day seems like the perfect occasion to discuss office romances. Could someone please explain to me why two consenting adults who work together and are having an affair should be fired or asked to resign? I truly do not get it. If the affair is not consensual and there is the possibility of unethical promotion or financial benefit, then dismissal or resignation definitely would be justified, but that is not always the case.
Jeff Zucker, the President of CNN has now resigned because he was having a consensual affair with fellow executive and longtime coworker, Allison Gollust. Even if one or both of the consenting parties are already married, whose business is that? Unless the affair does not interfere with business decisions, and one of the consenting parties is not a direct report then I say let them have at it. Predatory behaviour is obviously a separate issue and totally unacceptable.
The military is rigid in its condemnation of extra-marital affairs. Several high-ranking members of the Canadian military were recently removed from active duty for such behaviour and I’m puzzled as to how their commands were so negatively affected that they were forced to forfeit a lifetime of service. After all, several decades ago Emperor Trudeau The First stated clearly that government has no place in the bedrooms of Canadians.
I debated whether to blog about this issue because my husband and I are perpetrators of this actual scenario—an office affair. Then, I thought that perhaps first-hand experience and the perspective of an “offender” might provide valuable insight. My husband and I had known each other for thirty years as totally platonic coworkers before beginning our personal relationship. In fact, he was the last person on earth I could have envisioned ending up with. But I did, and we have been happily married for twenty years now.
The issue of subordination always looms over workplace affairs. One person, usually the man, generally has a position in the company hierarchy superior to the other person. That’s when personal ethics and discretion are imperative. If one of the participants is a direct report of the other, then ethics could be compromised and reporting should be changed. Barrack Obama reported to Michelle in their early days of working for the same law firm. Their affair turned out to be worth the risk.
A couple of years ago I posted my comments on the dismissal of Steve Easterbrook, President of McDonald’s who had a consensual workplace affair. I understand that McDonald’s prefers to maintain their brand image of family values, but let’s face it, you can’t tell me that no one else at McDonald’s isn’t having an affair with a coworker. Who cares? It’s the business of the individuals involved and no one else unless it affects business practices.
When I reflect on all the friends and people I know personally over the years who had workplace affairs, many of whom eventually got married, the numbers would be too high to tally. So many people I worked with over forty years in the corporate world met their spouses at work. Not all of those relationships started out with both parties being single but many did. Many conducted a portion of their affair on the company expense account. Out-of-town business trips were particularly conducive.
I’ve always maintained that the workplace is the best place to meet potential spouses. Spending eight or ten hours a day, five (or more) days a week gives you a very clear idea of that person’s true character. Seeing how someone interacts with others in the workplace is a clear indicator of character. We see firsthand whether they are honest, conscientious, kind, bullying, helpful, lazy, resourceful, generous, deceitful, cooperative, conciliatory, or stupid. It’s a far more reliable indicator than online dating questionnaires.
Apparently, Zucker’s big sin was not reporting the affair, although there is considerable speculation that the real reasons were more complicated and perhaps political. When my husband and I became an item in the workplace, our boss at the time was notified early on. We were discreet for as long as possible because these relationships do not always go the way ours did and they do have the potential to turn nasty if one of the parties involved feels betrayed or becomes bitter.
As long as there are men, women and various permutations of gender thrown together for several hours on a daily basis, there will always be workplace love affairs. It is an undeniable and unstoppable reality. Some companies have rules; others do not. We are fortunate our company did not.