Business Travel

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about business travel: He has never taken his assistant with him before. I don’t have a reason to be uncomfortable with this. But I don’t think it is an appropriate situation.

My husband is the boss of a company and is going on a business trip to Europe. He is taking his female assistant with him. Is it inappropriate for a married man to take a female assistant on a business trip? There are two other people going: The head of sales and a manager. He has never taken his assistant with him before. I don’t have a reason to be uncomfortable with this. But I don’t think it is an appropriate situation.

Signed, Baffled

Dear Baffled:

It seems you ARE uncomfortable with your husband traveling with his assistant, so that is reason enough to discuss this with him–and I hope you will do so. But let me also mention a couple of perspectives about the matter, as someone who has traveled with bosses as well as male and female assistants, and who now has an adult daughter in the same traveling situation. There are certainly cases in which bosses and assistants have a relationship that is personal or sexual–but they don’t have to go to Europe to have the relationship. And if others are traveling with them, its especially unlikely that is their intent.

So, your first thing to consider is: Are you primarily suspicious about your husband having a female assistant? And if so, why? If you have valid concerns based on past situations or current indicators of problems, those should be discussed, and perhaps you should get an outside resource to assist you.If you don’t like him working closely with a woman, that is probably something that will bother you until you can work through it emotionally. If a man or woman has an assistant, the assistant will almost always be a woman. That’s just the way it is!

If you don’t mind the fact that your husband’s assistant is often in contact with him at work when he is in town, then you can think about what is it that makes traveling to another country a problem. Is it the fact that they will be at the same hotel, and you think there are reasons to believe that will be a temptation for them, either because of his attitude or hers? Or is it that you think she will have no business function there, and you wonder why she is going at all?

Those are honest questions and are the kinds of things you can discuss when you talk to your husband about them.It might be useful to consider some OTHER reasons managers or executives take their assistants:

*It conveys status. In some business environments if you can travel without an assistant the view is that you must not be very high powered. After all, how much status can you have if you make your own phone calls, arrange your own reservations and so forth?In one business I work with, they refer to their assistants as “horse holders”! I’m serious! The managers and executives sit at the big table and their assistants–males and females–sit in chairs that ring the wall, with PDAs, phones, briefcases and so forth ready! Sounds like a movie, but it’s true.

*It makes travel easier when the person who made the reservations is right there to ensure that things go well. Traveling is not only not fun when its done for business, it’s tiring and stressful, so anything that makes it easier is appreciated.*It adds a comfort level to everything to have someone along you know and trust. I once took along a female subordinate, just because I wanted someone to talk to after meetings. I thought taking a woman would cause less talk than taking a man. Wrong!

*It’s a way to reward someone who has worked hard and likely would never get to make such a trip on her own. The average assistant is underpaid and overworked, and bosses know it. So, having the company make it possible for the assistant to travel to a special place is a way to say thanks, and it doesn’t cost the boss anything! As a final thought: My daughter travels around the world on business, and views it like driving across town, only with much more hassle. She told me not long ago that a trip to Cancun had been cancelled and that several people at work who don’t travel with their assignments, had said they were sure she was disappointed. My daughter said she has stopped trying to explain that she is thrilled when a trip is cancelled, because it means she can spend time with her husband and enjoy her home, as well as not having to deal with all the issues related to airline travel. So, if your husband travels a lot, and if you have a good relationship, he would probably rather be home.

On the other hand, if he wants to develop a relationship with his assistant he doesn’t need to take her to Europe to do it. If you have sensed there is a closer relationship with his assistant than you think is appropriate, or you have reason to believe he could be using this as a cover for a liaison, those are things you should talk about now. Ultimately it will be a matter of confidence and faith on the part of each of you, especially you. That is when the strength of a marriage, and the love of the two people involved, is shown. Best wishes as you consider this and talk to your husband about it.

Tina Lewis Rowe