Trouble At The Top–Plant Manager and H.R. Manager Affair

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a complicated affair at the top:
Q. I am a plant manager who is having an affair with the HR manager. She happens to be still married! Ironically, she is married to HR manager for another company. He has now learned of the affair and is threatening both me and his wife. He made an ultimatum to her to stop it, and if she does, he will keep it on the down low. If not, he intends to ruin both of us at work, getting both fired. She has wanted to divorce for a year, and over the past 5-6 years, she has threatened numerous times. She has been happy since our affair started. However, about 4 months ago, once her husband learned of it, he is now verbally and phycological abusive.

What are our options? She wants out, wants to protect both our jobs. We are unsure of what to do next. She doesn’t love him any longer and we are very compatible. There are also 2 children involved still in school. Signed–Needs advice.

A. Dear Needs Advice:
Unfortunately there probably are no options that will satisfy your and her situation. Before I discuss this further, you should know, I shared your question with Dr. Mark Mindell, who has had a life-time career as a HR manager with several major companies. Mark has served as a guest respondent from time to time.

His explication spells out the central issues: “First, let’s simplify the issues.  The following information is not relevant to the workplace issues you and your partner face:  (1) the relationship between the HR Manager and her husband; (2) the degree to which your ‘partner’ and her husband is happy or not with what they know about your affair with the HR manager; the degree to which your partner and her husband have children and (3) any ‘threats’ made to get you or your partner terminated.  The only thing that matters in terms of your question is what are the risks and likely outcomes if your affair with the HR manager becomes known and the company’s policies regarding employee relationships.  Your partner should know these inside and out given that she represents HR.
“When it is all said and done, what matters most is your company’s policy regarding relationships between employees.  That said, the fact that this is an HR Manager with your own company suggests a serious lack of good judgment on her part (she should know better) and you, as a plant manager, should also know that an affair is not going to look good for someone such as yourself either.  Again, though, the result of your affair becoming known will likely depend on your company policies.  Your partner, though, is probably likely to face harsh penalties given that she is an HR Manager.
“Beyond that, I cannot help with any questions around your partner and her husband except to say that, if it were me, I would absolutely assume that the information about the affair will become public regardless of the outcome of her marriage.  And I would develop your response around that assumption.  And to repeat myself, at best your affair will show very poor judgment (even worse for your partner) and, at worst, you will be disciplined according to your company’s policies and past precedence.”

Dr. Mindell’s advice should help you to be proactive rather than worry about the next few days or weeks. You were instrumental in causing a problem, that if it becomes known can make your position as plant manager problematic to say the least. So let me suggest a question that you should answer: Would your superior(s) prefer to learn from you of the problem you helped create, or to be informed of it some other way?

In short, you should know that one way, the best way, to predict the future is to help shape it. Such as candidly disclosing to the appropriate persons above of the affair and to seek their advice and action. Ask their advice and listen. Don’t respond defensively. Listen and think with them about what is best for the company. That might mean continuing in your role as plant manager or of suspension, demotion, or firing. The same will be true for your HR manager.  If this were known by those above, it would diminish the power of her husband’s threat. She might not agree with this choice but it is not solely hers to decide.

Also separately, she should ask herself, is it better to have a proactive role in predicting the future? How? By informing her husband that whether she seeks a divorce or does as he wishes and stops the affair, it will be better for her to work than to be fired. Money talks. Her husband should realize the price they would pay and he would pay if her income is no more.

Your two options are 1. to remain silent and hope no one hears of it and that your HR manager complies with her husband’s threat to cut off your affair or 2. to assume the affair will become known, and rather than be confronted by your firing or some other discipline, arrange a meeting to inform her/him of the affair.

From what you say, I assume you want to continue the relationship with her. If that is your desire and also her wish, would it not be best for you two to wait until she is divorced and your and her job future is decided? For now, she had best persuade her husband that it would be best for the children and him if she could keep her job. I repeat. Money talks. Her husband should realize that even if his wife divorces, it will be to his advantage for her to work. If not, he most likely will have to provide the income for her and the children. These no doubt are possibilities you and she have already considered. Therefore, today in deciding each of your next moves most likely is wiser that procrastination.

A few lines of penned years ago, by a colleague, are:
“Always in my heart abides this constant choice,
This resolution,
To ever be a part,
Not of the problem,
But of the solution.”      

It’s too late to avoid creating a problem, but not too late to be a part of the solution. Of course, it is wise to think through this analysis before acting. You will need to decide how to act soon.
Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden