Workplace

Diane Stafford: Roses from your boss? Bad idea

According to a Harris Poll for CareerBuilder, about one-fourth of co-workers have dated fellow employees.
According to a Harris Poll for CareerBuilder, about one-fourth of co-workers have dated fellow employees.

Hollywood paints sweet pictures of boss-employee romances. Out in the real work world, they’re often less rosy at the finale.

Since many people spend a significant chunk of their waking hours at work, it’s not at all surprising if love blooms between co-workers. According to a new Harris Poll for CareerBuilder, about one-fourth of co-workers have dated fellow employees.

Aside from causing office gossip, such relationships shouldn’t cause big workplace problems. Why shouldn’t two people with similar interests be drawn to each other? Why shouldn’t people who understand each other’s environments form a bond?

Each Valentine’s Day, though, workplace experts send out a flurry of memos warning of an office romance nuance that can be quite disruptive. That happens when the relationship is between a boss and someone who reports to him or her. And it doesn’t necessarily mean between an employee and a direct supervisor. It could be with anyone higher in the organization.

Some office policies directly prohibit boss-employee relationships. But in matters of the heart (or other life force), such bans have simply fostered creativity, otherwise known as sneaking around.

Other office policies are more lenient and merely ask that managers avoid direct supervision of employees they’re dating or married to. That may work smoothly if co-workers see no special treatment of the boss’s loved one.

But here are the real-world ramifications of boss-employee liaisons:

▪ The boss has more power. If the relationship sours, the boss probably stays on the job. The underling probably leaves.

▪ The company has greater liability if the end is really sour. Charges of bullying, sexual harassment and other unfair treatment could turn into lawsuits that are expensive to settle or defend.

▪ Even if the relationship doesn’t end badly, other workers may have real or perceived grievances about unfair assignments, raises or special deals while it goes on.

Keeping peace in the workplace is hard enough without serving up an easy target for complaints. Gender and racial bias, “old boy networks” and even teacher’s pet perceptions — and realities — abound.

Then there are family-owned companies where blood naturally runs thicker than hired relationships. Plenty of non-relatives see favoritism in those workplaces.

This isn’t meant to be a downer when love is in the air. If a soulmate materializes at work, so be it. No rule says the co-workers you spend time with must be kept at arm’s length. But, as employment law attorneys advise, it’s wise to enter workplace relationships aware of possible consequences.

Don’t naively assume that the person who adores you now will worship you later. And don’t believe you can keep your relationship a secret. Co-workers have pretty good Cupid-detection radar.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

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