Bradwell Mhonderwa Business Ethics
ROMANTIC relationships are gradually becoming a common feature in today’s workplaces as more employees become involved.
Workplace romance exists when two people working for the same organisation engage in a sexual relationship.
Such a relationship could be between employees at the same level, between a supervisor and his/her subordinate, or it could be a flirtation between the big boss and one of his female subordinates.
While so many reasons have been advanced as the cause of sexual relationships in the workplace, what seems to drive most of these relationships is the fact that the workplace is where employees spend most of their time, which makes it a fertile ground for such unions.
Indeed, people sometimes grow strong attachments with their co-workers that go beyond mere friendships to become very strong bonds of intimacy.
The long hours spent together at the office allow employees of common interest to get to understand each other very well, with this sometimes ending in a blossoming romantic relationship.
At face value, such relationships may look innocent and harmless, but in reality they are a source of ethical problems in the workplace, including disappointments and frustrations for the individuals involved.
Moreover, not all such relationships are a result of mutual attraction. Some of these relationships are forced on subordinates by corrupt bosses who take advantage of their powerful positions to manipulate vulnerable female employees into dating them.
Talk of “carpet interviews” and other such inappropriate sexual behaviours, then you understand the challenges organisations are facing in terms of workplace romance.
There are also instances where female employees entice their bosses into such relationships with the intention to secure favours that may include promotions, special assignments and other niceties not enjoyed by other employees.
As is the case with all other love affairs, romantic relationships in the workplace are fraught with moments of exhilaration, joy, happiness, sorrow, tension, conflict and heartbreaks.
Conflict in romantic workplace relationships is un- avoidable and manifests in a number of ways.
A relationship between a supervisor and someone he/she directly supervises presents the greatest potential of conflict detrimental to work performance.
When a supervisor is dating a subordinate, there is bound to be a conflict of interest between the supervisor’s professional conduct and the need to please his/her “sweetheart”.
The supervisor’s decisions particularly on assigning duties are bound to be skewed in favour of his/her lover resulting in accusations of favouritism and unfair treatment being levelled by other employees.
Conflict can also arise in a situation where the boss may misconstrue gestures coming from a female subordinate.
In such a case, the employee may seem particularly interested in having a relationship with the boss through her smiles which for the boss are irresistibly warm and flirting.
But maybe, she is simply a kind and cheerful person who is not even thinking of getting into such a relationship, or she probably is just trying to curry favour with the boss on pending work assignments.
Unfortunately at this point the boss is fully convinced that she really wants him, so he asks her for a date.
However, in response, she is appalled that her boss has misunderstood her and she now feels uncomfort- able around him.
Again, conflict may arise when one or both parties involved in the relationship are married.
Conflict emanating from such relationships can be catastrophic as it has in some instances wrecked careers and marriages.
A relationship between two employees affects more than just those two people. The love-struck pair may not notice or care about this, but the effects of such a relationship have far-reaching consequences.
Suppose Rudo and Peter who work for the same company decide to be involved and it’s known among colleagues.
Now, when Peter goes into Rudo’s office on official business and closes the door behind him, what will other employees think is taking place in that office?
Can flirting or kissing be ruled out here? And worse still, if the two finally break up, will the tension between the two not affect other employees?
Surely, these are some of the things potential lovers in the workplace need to consider before getting into these relationships.
Workplace “love-birds” need to be aware of the hazards that may come from their romantic relationship.
Even if everyone in the organisation knows about the affair, it is important to do everything possible to avoid public displays of that affection.
Since ethics is also about considering how our actions affect the rights and well-being of others, romantic relationships on the job raise bona fide ethical concerns and should not be encouraged.
In fact, work and romance should never be found in the same place. But if it so happens that you find yourself in such a relationship, it is wise to remain ethical and avoid doing wrong things while at work.
Your contacts must as much as is possible remain professional and the relationship should never interfere with your work.
To mitigate the negative effects of romantic relationships in the workplace, many organisations have come up with policies on dating and relationships.
For some organisations, a relationship may be acceptable if one of the dating mates transfers to another department so that the relationship does not interfere with the flow of work and for others the partners may be required to alert the employer of their relationship and/or pending marriage.
While workplace romance may cause problems, I don’t think a blanket ban on such relationships is good either. Yes, those that are inappropriate must be banished, but relationships that are genuine should be allowed to grow, but under clear corporate guidance in order to mitigate their downsides.
Bradwell Mhonderwa is an ethics coach and trainer with the Business Ethics Centre. Send feedback to [email protected], or call 0772 913 875