Office Romances Are Sometimes Inevitable, Often Problematic

By Ana Veciana-Suarez
Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In light of McDonald’s recent firing of CEO Steve Easterbrook, Ana Veciana-Suarez takes a look at romance in the office. Is it worth it?

Tribune News Service

Finding love is no easy mission, and for the many people who spend most of their waking hours working, the office may serve as the perfect setting for a romantic relationship. It’s not difficult to imagine bonding over a project, sharing daily travails and triumphs, enjoying the benefits of a ready ear and an understanding heart. I bet it’s also pretty dang difficult to tamp down physical attraction when the person sits in the next cubicle over or in the office down the hall.
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I was thinking about the quicksand qualities of office flings after McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired for having a consensual relationship with an unnamed employee. About a week before that firing made big news, Rep. Katie Hill had announced she was resigning from Congress after being accused of having had relationships with both a subordinate and a campaign staffer.

The two should’ve known better. Like many employers, the House of Representatives and McDonald’s prohibit sexual relationships between supervisors and employees. For good reason. The optics and the pitfalls of these relationships, the imbalance of power, the possibility of accusations and lawsuits, are awful. We’ve all heard about the many high-profile predatory bosses who demanded sexual favors in exchange for jobs or promotions, a practice that’s a lot more common than we care to admit.

Yet, I know of two couples, still married decades later, who met in the office when he was the boss and she an employee.

Heck, Microsoft founder Bill Gates began dating his wife Melinda when she worked for him. Back then, few companies had a policy to ban such relationships, and in the case of my friends, both couples told their higher-ups. In one case, the employee was willingly reassigned, and in the other, the boss ended up leaving for a better job.

Would those budding romances have been possible in the #MeToo era? I doubt it. It’s safer for gun-shy companies to ban potential powder kegs instead of waiting for the explosion. There are far too many possibilities for favoritism, or retaliation.

But more and more companies are doing more than prohibiting boss-underling relations. They’re also issuing bans, partial or otherwise, on office dating between peers.

Google, Facebook and Airbnb, for example, allow employees only one shot when asking out a fellow employee. So … comb you hair, smile pleasantly, wear your snappiest threads and practice in front of the mirror before firing off that all-important question

I suppose companies want to avoid the awkwardness or hostility that follows a series of ask-outs and turn-downs. They also want to steer clear of compromising situations, such as the one this past September when two airline employees were videoed spitting, slapping and punching each other in the jetway of the Denver airport. No word on what led to the fight, but it was well known the two were in an “intimate relationship.”

Still, I wonder if a date ban at work is realistic or even enforceable.

A 2018 Career Builder Survey found that 36% of employees have been involved in an office romance. But here’s the real eye-opener: About 25% admitted to an affair with a colleague when one of them was married to someone else.

If romantic relationships weren’t complicated enough, this same survey found that 70% of those work romances didn’t pan out, and about 6% of the decoupled ended up leaving their jobs as a result. That’s understandable: no one wants to see an ex for eight hours a day.

While every company should, and must, protect its employees from harassment and exploitation, I can’t imagine policy, written or implied, guaranteeing a workplace free of the inevitable attraction that bubbles up when you throw together people with common interests. The minefield of love and sex, whether in the office or on a dating app, reminds me of an old Spanish saying: El hombre es fuego; la mujer, estopa; llega el diablo y sopla.

Man is fire, woman wick, and when the devil arrives, he blows and puffs.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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