(Article published in the Sep 23, 2009
issue of Manila Standard Today)
The jury is still out on office romance. A Workplace Romance Survey, made in the US in 2006 of 493 human resource professionals and 409 employees (for whatever worth it may have, like the surveys on who is the leading presidentiable as of a certain date chosen with the result in view) is said to report that not many companies have policies against office romance.
Only 9% were against it; 70% did not have a formal policy about it, one way or another. I know of no similar survey in the Philippines; but I do know that not many employers adopt the strict “one-must-go” policy that used to prevail in Far East Bank and Trust Company. A number of businesses, on the other hand, take the view that romance in the office is none of the office’s business.
Per se, an office romance is really not a bad thing. In the past 40 years that I have been a slave to my various employers, I have seen not a few office romances bloom into happy marriages and, perhaps by reason of my seniority or my, at least, non-prohibitory stance, or both, I have willingly stood church sponsor at some weddings of my officemates. In the law office I now work for, we have colleagues who are couples, in various shapes and forms. Very very seldom have I personally known any such conjunctions to have had any deleterious impact on the way we serve our clients or deal with one another.
The more problematic liason is the office affair, i.e. the kind of amorous relationship among co-workers where at least one of the parties is married to another. That form of office romance is fraught with traps and pitfalls for both parties, ranging from just being ostracized by co-workers on the one hand, to, on the other, resulting in the loss of one’s career in the enterprise, if not even loss of one’s job. In extreme cases, one or both decide to leave, either of their own accord or on account of strong suggestion from superiors. Like being summoned to Singapore, for instance, or some other regional office.
Unfortunately, the burden of
the risk is fluid and not borne evenly by the participants. This is
particularly true in the most combustible situation of all, namely, an
office affair where the male CEO maintains an affair with a female
subordinate who is also part of senior management and thus also member of
At the incubation stage of the office affair, the lover-superior (“superior” only in terms of company position and not necessarily in pre-eminence or competency, much less in personal values) is vulnerable to a sexual harassment accusation by the mistress-to-be subordinate. Only once have I heard of a male (for some reason traceable to my Tondo youth, I cannot use the dignified word “man”) complain of “sexual harassment” by one whom he had impregnated. That freak incident shook for days my faith on the legal maxim “res ipsa loquitur” but happily has remained solitary. And I thus now still believe that as a rule, no male can rightfully complain about being sexually harassed. Aroused, maybe; but not harassed.
But once there is a mating of the minds, i.e. the woman ceases to mind, and the shell of secrecy is broken, the risk shifts to the mistress-staff. From then on, it is she who unfairly bears till the end most of the unpleasant risk. The male-superior, in our country heavily influenced by Western mores, is, in many cases, at worst just reassigned, or warned, or denied temporarily a usually automatic promotion. But he suffers little else economically or socially within the workplace.
On the other hand, the mistress-staff is subjected to great suffering, internal and external. She gets into the danger of destroying her career in the company and possibly what remains of the respectability of her marriage. She is socially blamed and thus unfairly penalized for not resisting the overtures of his lover-superior. Talk becomes rife that she secured her previous advancement, merited though it may be, by not disdaining, if not by inviting, his advances. She loses the trust of her colleagues (even of those who used to be her smoking barkada) and, that social isolation breaks her spirit and eventually devastates her career.
As a result of this uneven sharing of the infidelity burden, the mistress-staff is often heard giving voice to the devils of doubt disturbing her soul, almost wailing: “Last night…I was trying to get an assurance from you…I was playing it safe, if you can not deliver I would want to work on my marriage. I do not want to be in a situation where I am left with nothing. I do not have you and I have not saved my marriage (and destroyed my career and my reputation)…”
For her to regain self-respect, as well as to spare herself the dagger tips of her colleagues’ condescending looks, the mistress-staff usually needs to take a leave and, after a respectable absence, to quietly resign as soon as she is no longer missed at work. The most common line used to justify the resignation is “to go abroad” even if often, what she really just needs is time to look for her own place because her husband had by then already thrown her overboard.
The mistress-staff is thus constrained to transfer to another company, ideally, to one with no professional or social connections to her former employer, often to a new town to ensure this. If it is true, as she had normally professed to her lover-superior, that her marriage had already floundered on the rocks “before this thing started”, this change of workplace would not be difficult. Otherwise, it opens a new slew of problems, essentially of justifying (i.e.lying about) to the cuckold the career change, that we need not deal with at this time.
The consequences of an office affair on the male-superior are not as daunting and that is what really makes the male-superior undaunted. In perverse Western style, he continues to swagger about in the work place, publicly claimimg to be the fastest six-shooter in town even as he privately admits to his amour and/or wife inability to shoot due to some form of sexual dysfunction. Attacks of this private male infirmity usually occur when the lover-superior is given an “Can stand improvement” rating by the region.
Still, convention demands that the lover-superior respect his duties towards his mistress-staff. His most serious obligation is to manage company events so that neither his wife nor the mistress-staff gets into the same office gathering that could result in an embarrassing situation for all concerned. Such gatherings are rare; but they ought to be handled properly when they present themselves.
The most common instance he must carefully control is an office celebration where office workers are encouraged to bring in their wives, i.e., each worker brings his own legal wife, to an office party or program, say, during the anniversary of its founding or of its recruitment of a foundling.
Here the unfair distribution of anguish is most pronounced. Once more, the mistress-staff is the greater sufferer. Upon discovering that she and the lover-superior’s wife will be in the same event, out of town to open, say, a branch in Cebu, she is likely to say, “Is this for real? First, I have to worry about you being there…then I have to worry about “N” [name of lover-superior’s wife] being there too. I wish you could just be there for the night activity and not during the activities. But if you must really go and you want/have to bring “N” with you, I would definitely feel very uncomfortable but it’s something I have to deal with…” She feels like the suffering servant without angels to minister to her.
The lover-superior, in the face of such agony, is likely, of course, to be deaf and unresponsive. What he says, at most, will be something like, “Nothing has been decided except that I will be going. Not decided, for two days or one evening. However, you have to face up to reality and you can’t keep avoiding “N”.
In other words, he must reassert that what cannot be changed should be endured. The mistress-staff must, in the system of order in that perverted universe, conform to the company demands. Indeed, regardless of the relative positions they take when together in bed, the lover-superior must appear before 5:00 p.m., outwardly and, particularly, to the rest of the company as on top.
But as the organism matures, the employer that lives up to its professed
values, is left no choice but to intervene in the prognosis of the office
romance disease. It must do so in order to arrest the contagion of the
office affair decease. It, for its own good, must dictate what for the
company is the male-superior’s and the mistress-staff’s optimal locations
should be: Out!