November 17, 2008
Jeffrey Seglin, a visiting fellow at Harvard University's Center for the Study of Values in Public Life, in his recent Workplace Ethics column reports that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has been cleared of wrongdoing in having an affair with one of his staffers. The Executive Board concluded that "there was no harassment, favoritism, or any other abuse of authority by the managing director.'' However, they noted that the "the incident was regrettable and reflected a serious error of judgment on the part of the managing director.'' The fact that Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the female employee were both married, sadly, did not seem to influence their decision to exonerate the Chairman.
Last year, Paul Wolfowitz, the then Chairman of the World Bank had to resign his post when it was discovered that not only he had a relationship with an employee but that he also secured a pay increase for her.
Last year it was also revealed that the president of the Red Cross had a relationship with an employee and had to resign.
Workplace romance is very common. According to a Vault Workplace survey, 58 % of the respondents admitted to being or having been in a romantic relationship with a co-worker.
According to a Society of Human Resource Management survey, 48% of the companies surveyed allow but discourage workplace romance while 31% did not permit them. Ruder Finn has no specific policy on this issue.
It is, however, a high-risk situation and often an accident waiting to happen if the relationship ends bitterly. In that situation, the risks of retaliation, sexual harassment claims, and lawsuits are very high.
What are the ethical guidelines that can prevent an office romance from turning into a disaster in the workplace?
Here are some ideas.
1. Report your relationship to your manager or to human resources executive.
2. Be discreet (if possible) about your relationship. This will avoid perception of favoritism among your co-workers. Also public displays of affection may make your co-workers uncomfortable.
3. Make sure that your romance is not a distraction in the work you that could lead to lower productivity.
If you believe that the relationship is serious and could lead to a lifetime commitment it might be wise for either one of you two to change jobs particularly if the romance is between a supervisor and a subordinate or between an employee and a client/customer. In my view, such human love relationships have a priority over a job or even a career.
As Norman Cousins once said:
"Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences."