Don’t: It ain’t worth the pain

The recent firing of McDonald’s global CEO Steve Easterbrook for violating the company’s policy on relationships in the workplace has sparked a conversation about office romances. Should they still be off-limits in 2019?

We asked two people in the retail sector to weigh in on the topic in an online debate. This is the argument against; here’s the argument for.

Contra: Rhonda Brigthon-Hall, MWAH

It used to be that around 50 per cent of us met our partners at work. That was when ‘work’ was a place to go all day, every day, all week. With the advent of the internet and the changing nature of work (and working from all sorts of places at all sorts of hours), that number has been dropping rapidly for some time. We’re now more often than not to find love away from work.

And that’s not a bad thing.

While I don’t want to be the bah humbug of finding love, I’ve cleaned up enough messes to know that it ain’t worth the pain. Here’s some of the problems (and I’m naming just the top 5 of a very long list):

  1. It challenges fairness. You’re not that good an actor. Not sure about you, but I treat the people I love better than anyone, and at work, it’s best if you treat everyone the same. Even if you’re some sort of robot, and think you’re treating your love the same as everyone else, everyone else will assume you’re like us, and treating them better. Perception is everything.
  2. It’s a whole separate reputation. You want a great reputation, not the juiciest one. You want to be famous for being great at your job, being a great leader, a nice person and a good collaborator. Being a great lover – or the even just the subject of scurrilous gossip – is a distracting addition to that list of career-worthy attributes you’ve been building up.
  3. Power imbalances are just the start of understanding the complex system that is work. “We’re both consenting adults,” says the 45-year old thrice-divorced executive on a $2 million p.a. salary dating the 25-year old grad who keeps turning up with new handbagsBut are you really equal? (Not intended to refer to one of Australia’s biggest every discrimination cases that ruined the professional lives of all involved.)
  4. Not every relationship works out, but some do. What happens when…? I wish you a long and happy life together, but if you fell in love at work, plan forward. What happens if it works out? One of you will have to leave, as two career executives from one house is one too many on a team of peers. What happens if it doesn’t work out? Are you really OK to see them every day. Every. Single. Day
  5. How much do you love your job? Do you want to be talking about it 24/7? Wouldn’t you rather discuss something else over the dinner table or as you’re walking through Yosemite National Park? Wouldn’t you rather hear about some other field or profession or team? Different stories, different adventures?

And that’s before we get to practical logistics like what happens to the business when you two always take matching holidays, or the high drama of multiple office romances involving the same person.

As we say to people, there are 25 million in Australia – 78 per cent of them are over the age of consent – that’s about 19.5 million people for you to choose from.

Go for a walk, join a club, get on the internet, do some volunteering and ask friends for introductions to cool people. Find love in a place that gives it a chance of survival – where it can be nurtured and cared for, not kept in a shroud of secrecy or the proverbial cupboard.

Rhonda Brighton-Hall is a director of the Australian Human Resources Institute and recognised as one of Australia’s foremost experts in human resources, specialising in leadership, diversity and the future of work.


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