Mark Hurd... David Letterman... <Fill in the Blank>...
What do those guys have in common? They all made choices related to relationships in the workplace that were ultimately leveraged against them.
I'm a big advocate of avoiding workplace relationships of any kind if you're a manager of people. I know, many of you met your former spouse at your company. I get it. It worked well for you and I'm happy for you. The thing is, for every you, there's 5 people it doesn't work out as well for. Especially if they're managers of people...
Here's what I've traditionally told managers about workplace relationships starring them:
1. If you choose to have a relationship in the workplace, you at least need to ensure it's not with someone on your team.
2. Even if the workplace relationship you choose to engage in isn't with someone on your team, you're still held to a higher expectation of judgment than employees without direct reports. You represent the company. That can always come back to bite you...
3. Your willingness to have a relationship with someone in your company always presents greater risk that you'll be held hostage at a future date.
How could you be held hostage, especially if your fling was with someone from another team?
Repeat after me....the following formula applies:
Down economy + Employees worrying about their jobs = Complaints against your behavior...
BECAUSE.... Complaints against your behavior = Job protection because your company wants to avoid the expense and drama of a retaliation claim.
Bottom Line - Complaint (whether there is merit or not) = Protection
Third party claims - meaning those filed by employees who weren't even involved in the relationship in question, are on the rise. Take a look at the logic behind the "Gender Plus" claim now on the rise related to office romance as reported by BusinessWeek:
"Third party discrimination claims have helped further the rise in retaliation and develop the legal theory of "Gender Plus." Regarding the latter, courts have ruled that when a romance enters the office, an employee can prove discrimination based on gender "plus" another particular characteristic. If a manager's failed office romance forces him or her to focus more heavily on the work, his increasing demands on, for example, a pregnant underling could give her the grounds for a lawsuit. Under Gender Plus, the pregnant woman could allege that the office romance had provided an underlying basis for a separate act of discrimination. "When the courts find in favor of the client, then interpretation of the law gets expanded," says Dr. John A. Pearce II, an endowed chairman at Villanova School of Business. "We're seeing the emergence of more and more third party cases. Attorneys go to court and say, 'Following the logic of these laws, we think that you ought to find in favor of our client in this particular new twist.' And that's exactly what's happened."
Is your head spinning yet? Basically, what this means is your office romance as a manager can and will be held against you. As the workforce educates themselves on the direction of the courts on this issue, you're more likely than ever to be held hostage by your judgment related to office romance. The complaint is as likely to come from onlookers as it is from your sweetheart.
If you choose to engage and get used in this fashion, only one phrase comes to mind. As the poet Ice-T once said, "You played yourself".