The One About Sex

Mid-week I caught up with a couple of school friends, Debbie and Dana.  Dana’s recently started working for a really “cool” company as their HRD (you know, the type of company that’s based on Charlotte Street) and so naturally we spent some time asking her how it was all going.

The conversation took an interesting turn when Dana told us how shocked she was when she found out that there’s a very relaxed attitude to relationships at her new place of work.  In all her previous companies, there has been a complete ban on work relationships.

Dana went on to inform us that there’s even a room on the fourth floor where couples go to have “fun” after work.  It’s affectionately called Room 4S.

In the NHS it’s completely different.   My first “experience” of  NHS relationships were stories from a University friend who had just started as a junior doctor.  She would tell me about her adventures in the on-call room at night with the Reg.   She’s now a successful consultant and ended up marrying one of the Regs she met on her first rotation.

I have since worked with Huband & Wife management teams, and seen new romances blossom at work.  I was once involved in a complex fraud investigation, where the Investigatory Officer was having an affair with the Fraud Investigator.  I had no idea at the time. It didn’t affect  the outcome of the investigation, but explained the weird dynamic between the two of them.

Whilst Dana and I were talking about room 4S and our differing attitudes towards it, Debbie was quiet.  She then announced that she’s recently started sleeping with her boss – someone she’s worked with for the last 5 years.  In fact, we’ve all met him (David):  Debbie and David have been good friends for a few years now.  And whilst we wanted to celebrate, Debbie has been told by her HR department to look for another job.

Debbie is gutted: not only because she loves her job and the company she works for, but the fact that she knows that her relationship with David isn’t the only one in the organisation.

Without doubt, relationships at work is a thorny issue.    I’ve seen how relationships (both successful and failed) have an impact on the organisational culture.   Having said that, the most common way to meet your future spouse is still through work.

So the question is:  Is a total ban sensible or appropriate?

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4 comments on “The One About Sex

  1. HRcrowd says:

    Love your post…. thanks.
    Even if you were to have a complete ban, relationships would still take place at work.
    I guess by banning relationships HR has some recourse if things go wrong but how often do companies actually impose the ban?
    I once investigated complaints that an employee had been stalking another employee. He had left threatening notes on her car and had even moved so he could live in the same road as her. After several distressing conversations, I looked at the CCTV cameras – the only person I caught was the VP of Sales with his secretary in a very compromising position, 2 weeks after his wife had given birth to twins.
    We took no action but to this day I wonder whether we have taken a different course if it had been someone else?

  2. garethmjones says:

    Not sure whether the issue here is about banning them or not, but in the way you deal with them. If, as a company, you chose to outlaw relationships then you have to be clear and upfront about the consequences so everyone knows. And, if a relationship comes to light, then both parties have to leave, if that is the ultimate sanction. As long as both parties understood this when they joined, i dont see the problem.

    Problems arise when you either avoid the issue – i.e. have no clear rule or thought – and when the junior person or female has to resign. Not fair. In fact, id say that in an organisation that bans relationships, the boss should be the first to go, not the subordinate. Considering the relationship dynamics between boss and subordinate and the implied ethics attributed to someone in a leadership position, you could say that out of the two parties, the boss is the most guilty.

    If you have a totally open policy, as they do In Dana’s place well thats cool too! We lead busy lives, and for many people, the only social engagement they get is with work colleagues. Again though, even if you allow it and lay on a ‘nooner’ room, you have to be very clear about expectations, including professional behaviour etc.

    So if i was Debbie, i think id be going back in to see the HR team on Monday and announcing my intention to stay exactly where i am.

  3. A total ban seems extreme, especially when so many people meet their partners at work. I agree with Gareth that asking the junior person to move is dodgy (I think she would have pretty good sex discrimination case).

    However, the effect on others in the company of allowing two people in a relationship to work in the same area is usually problematic too. Ask Mark Hurd and HP if worked out well for them. The way I have always done it is to move one into a different area.

    Now I thought we were modern company with Wiis and chill out areas etc, but I can imagine my CEO’s reaction if we introduced a sex room. Perhaps we could use his office; he’s seldom in it.

    http://www.julianxbishop.wordpress.com
    @julianxbishop

  4. Lynsey says:

    The large Company I work for have a policy on work relationships but they’re not completely banned. More of a review on if the business could be affected by the relationship ie looking at reporting lines, conflict of interest. Funnily enough though the Head of HR is married to one of the Senior Ops managers; might be why they are relaxed about it!

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