Should A Manager Date An Employee?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about dating coworkers:

I am in a predicament. I am the manager of a hotel and have an assistant manager that is really cute and a single mother. Ever since I took this job, she seems to have taken a liking to me, and I have done the same to her and her daughter. We have been to dinner together, and she has invited me over to watch movies. We have kept this from being made public at work and will continue to do so. I know that it is against company policy to date coworkers, but I really feel there is a connection. What advise do you have? I feel like I am going to miss an opportunity of a lifetime.

Signed, Troubled

Dear Troubled:

I can understand your problem and your concern. Often people who meet at work find that they like each other and want to be together outside of work. Sometimes they even fall in love and are married or establish long-term relationships. It makes a great television series to have two people in that situation, where the attraction grows every season until the final episode.

Real life isn’t always that easy. Between bosses and those they supervise a personal relationship often leads to serious problems for both people. I am glad one or both of you are not married and involved only in a sexual relationship. It sounds as though you want a friendship, dating and even something permanent. Whether or not she feels that way is something else. But, if you feel this person is so special that you do not want to risk missing out on a future with her and she feels the same way, you will have some decisions to make. Your comments indicate that you have already decided the path you want to take, but I will share some thoughts that might help you with your decisions.

1. I’ll start with the more negative potentials. Ask the Workplace Doctors receives messages from people in work places all over the world. Many of them involve complaints about the fact that a boss is having a relationship with an employee. In each case they comment that the boss and the subordinate thinks no one knows. People always know, or at least they strongly suspect, when there is a relationship between two people at work. There is simply something in the way two people who are involved interact with each other. It is either that they are flirtatious or that they spend a few extra minutes together or that they carefully avoid each other. It doesn’t seem to matter: People always know. So, even though you are careful, you can bet that someone will find out. And, it doesn’t matter that you are only having dinner or going to the movies, the assumption will be that you have another kind of relationship.

2. When YOUR boss finds out that you are involved with a subordinate, in violation of the rules, you may be told you have to stop or you may be fired. Or she might be fired for violating the rules. Or both of you will be fired. That tends to bring a relationship to a halt anyway or at least puts a terrible strain on it. Think about the consequences to both of you–especially if she is a single mother. Review your employee manual and see exactly what the policy says about a situation such as yours and what it says will be the result. That will remind you of how seriously the organization takes such situations.

3. If you do become involved more than you already are, what will happen if one of you decides it isn’t a good idea after all? Will you be OK with never referring to it ever again? You will have to do that. Many sexual harassment complaints involve workplace relationships that ended. You might not think your assistant manager would do that, but it happens all the time. She might think you wouldn’t bother her at work with questions about why she wants to stop the relationship, but that happens all the time too. You might not think she would come to work and take violent action about the fact that you’ve decided not to continue seeing her outside of work, but that is something else that occurs. When people stop dating or stop anything else they were doing, it is very difficult to pretend it never happened. When emotions are involved, there is no predicting how people will behave.

4. If you have a romantic relationship with this person and she does something wrong at work, will you feel comfortable telling her so, or reprimanding her or asking for her dismissal? Be aware of the impact a relationship has on your ability to do your job. Also think about how hypocritical and difficult it would be for you to correct another employee who is violating rules when you are violating them yourself. This is especially true when the employee you are correcting uses your situation as a reason why he or she should not get in trouble.

5. After you have considered those problem issues, think about whether or not it would be possible for one or both of you to find another work situation–either different shifts or different hotels. Likely neither of you wants to quit just so you can officially date. But, you may have to whether you want to or not if the truth is known. If it would be worth it to you or her to lose your jobs, then you wouldn’t mind moving on to other employment on your own. Talk honestly to your friend and ask her if she sees a future for the two of you. If the two of you think this will lead to marriage, one of you will have to find other work anyway. If you don’t think it will lead to marriage, it is a short-term relationship that may not mean as much to either of you as your jobs and future careers. After I say all of that, I also realize that attraction is very difficult to ignore. This will require maturity and good judgment by both of you. But, it is something that both of you should talk about openly so that you are both aware of the potentially bad results as well as options for avoiding those results. Best wishes to you as you deal with this personal and professional challenge. WEGO at work means more that dating. It refers to collaboration and commitment to the goals and policies of the organization.

Tina Lewis Rowe