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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Myth of the Consensual Workplace Romance

I'm approaching 30 years working in private sector workplaces and I have learned a few things: loyalty is rewarded if you work for good people, getting behind can be cured by staying later, and a workplace romance is never a good idea.

The reason is that the presence of position power and romantic attachment are toxic.

This combination is toxic to relationships and to the workplace in several ways.

1. You can't hide a romance...don't even try. Once an individual with position power is perceived to show favor to someone on staff then favoritism is introduced, real or perceived, into the workplace.

2. Judgement gets clouded. The person with postion power may rationalize that they're being fair to everyone, but that's not always the case. Its worse when they lie to themselves that nobody knows.

3. The staff starts seeing ghosts. Even when no favoritism or romantic activity is going on, the perception that it is becomes the easy-out, blame-all for everything that goes wrong.

4. You can never tell when "yes" means "I dare not say no". Even if it starts as "yes", at some point one party tires of the relationship, doesn't feel that they can back out, and continues on somewhat or even totally against their will. At that point it becomes Sexual Harassment.

I have a little personal experience with this. My wife and I met at work over 30 years ago. Our relationship was complicated by our constant disagreements at work and about work. She left that job, I went back to college, and the rest is history. That we can sleep together but can't work together is not insignificant. Power sharing in a relationship is negotiated and voluntary. Power at work is structured and granted to individuals by more senior individuals through corporate governance. It is coercive by its nature and not negotiated. When coercive power is introduced into a romantic situation and supplants negotiated power a "yes" can never be certain.

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