Should I Quit Over Concern About The Affair of Two Others?

Question:

I’ve been employed by an international multi-million dollar company that manufactures and sells medical instruments, for over two years. My question pertains to the specific location I work in. Just over a year ago, one of the Human Resources associates began having an affair with a department Lead, who is married. At least that’s what everyone (not an exaggeration) says. The Lead has admitted to it, but the HR associate hasn’t and probably won’t. They often collaborate on work-related projects and she (HR) gives him (Lead) commendations and publicized thanks in the form of company-wide emails for whatever help he provides. Their flirtations are obvious and occur anytime they’re in the same space together.

It occurred to me that, if he were to do or say something that required intervention from HR, there is a significant conflict of interest and HR would probably rule in his favor because of the affair. I have no interest in or intention of letting any of HR’s superiors know what’s going on (assuming they don’t already), so my question is: Is it unreasonable of me to want to look for work elsewhere partly because of this?

Knowing it’s happening and is so obvious and can create problems for others makes me feel uncomfortable and somewhat insecure as a worker who relies on HR. If it is unreasonable, could you offer any advice for accepting it and dealing with it? Thank you.

Response:
My advice is to base your decision about leaving your job on something more than an alleged or even an actual affair, unless you have been affected by it negatively and have tried to remedy the situation. However, you know your own situation best and may wish to leave for enough other reasons that this is just the final one. If you have something equal or better to go to, it might be best for you to move on, so you can work in a place you can enjoy wholeheartedly.  If you don’t think you can easily find other work and you need this salary, perhaps you can give it a bit more time before you take such a drastic step.

Here are some things to consider:

1. There may be other romantic relationships in your business—there probably are—and you have not been affected adversely by those. So, there is no reason to think you will be in this case. If you are at a lower level than they are, organizationally, it is especially unlikely. If you are a Lead, an HR Associate or in another higher level position and you have been or expect to be adversely affected, that may be reason enough to be proactive about leaving before the negative thing happens.

2. It is a very slender thread of a reason to want to leave on the off-chance that the Lead would be the recipient of favoritism if he was the subject of an HR investigation. That scenario would require a whole chain of events that may or may not happen. If it would happen, it doesn’t seem to be likely that you would be adversely affected by it, unless the Lead is your Lead and you are considering making a complaint about him and you think the investigation would be skewed in his favor just because of his relationship with the HR Associate.

HR Associates don’t have decision-making authority about sanctions, so she couldn’t completely change the result of an investigation. She might lie about what the investigation has disclosed, but she would have to provide statements and other evidence and would have to be willing to alter those too. It could happen, but it doesn’t seem likely. You seem sure that everyone knows about the relationship. If that includes the managers of both people, then anything they might try to do in collusion with each other, would be suspected right away.

3. You mention the fact that the Lead gets recognition for his work with the HR Associate. If he has not done the work, the recognition is undeserved. If the undeserved recognition he gets is harming your own career, you have a reason to be upset. Or, if he is being promoted over you or others unfairly, that is a concern as well.  However, if he has done some work, the recognition may be excessive, but overall it might be fair. I know it’s frustrating for someone to get special treatment or recognition, but if the two people involved were male friends or long-term female friends, it probably wouldn’t seem intolerable, just irritating. Try to separate the supposed relationship from events in which those people are involved, so you can accurately judge whether it is excessively troublesome to you or not.

4. Think about your own work. Do you find it fulfilling? Is the workplace clean, comfortable and conducive to good work? Do you have at least a few friends to chat with now and then? Are you developing some useful skills or abilities? If you enjoy your job and have a reason to look forward to it, perhaps that will be reason enough to stay. If you dread going to work or if you feel isolated and unwelcome by coworkers,  I can understand the desire to find a place that is more satisfying.

5. Here is another approach to deciding about going or staying: If, when you applied for the job, you had been told by someone in the company, that an HR Associate and a Lead in a Department were strongly suspected of having an affair, but nothing was being done about it at the time, would you have taken the job or would you have declined it?

If you would have accepted it, even knowing about the alleged relationship, consider what has changed in your thought process since then. If you would have declined it then, perhaps that gives more credence to your thought that the idea is so bothersome to you, you would rather leave the company.

None of those points may be definitive enough to completely make your decision, but perhaps they will inspire some further thinking and introspection on your part.

Best wishes to you! If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you decide. Your thoughts may be helpful for others in similar situations.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors