Workplace Romance

Over what could loosely be described as my professional career I have encountered the following situations (European also includes Britain):

1. A lead engineer in a giant European company reporting directly to his long-term partner, who was in a very senior position.

2. An HR manager in a smallish European/American/Russian JV reporting directly to her husband, who was the company General Director. When an employee had a serious row with her over his terms and conditions, it was escalated to her husband for arbitration.

3. A lead engineer in a giant European company reporting directly to her husband, who was in a reasonably senior position.

4. A woman working in a giant European company who was tasked with managing a subcontractor on behalf of her husband, who was the actual contract holder. Any disputes between the subcontractor and her would be escalated to her husband to resolve.

5. A very senior site manager working overseas for a giant European company got his (local) secretary pregnant. He sent his family back home and moved his new mistress into his company-provided house. His boss couldn’t complain too much because he’d done much the same thing several years earlier.

6. A lead engineer working in a large European company embarked on a relationship with one of his trainee engineers, who was about 30 years his junior.

All of the above situations were not only allowed to continue, but some were even known at the outset. The excuse given was that the company had to find positions for both partners and this was difficult at the best of times. Others didn’t want to lose an experienced staff member, so turned a blind eye.

By contrast, I once met a man working for ExxonMobil who managed a team of translators and began a relationship with one of his direct reports. They declared the relationship in short order and they were told one of them would have to resign. The woman got a job elsewhere, they married, and had kids.

It is perhaps significant that all of these happened outside the country where the respective companies were based. Whether this is also permitted in their HQ I don’t know. What this taught me is that a lot of management is simply individuals doing whatever is most convenient to them at the time, principles and ethics be damned. The Americans seem to be a little more professional in this regard, and I don’t think it comes as a surprise that the sole exception came from ExxonMobil.

For my part, I was told early in my career never to “poke the payroll”. It was good advice.

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45 thoughts on “Workplace Romance

  1. Oh Christ, he’s gone native

    Yeah, it’s kinda hard to describe some companies without identifying them if you insist on making that split. 😉

    If I were working in the field of washing powder and I mentioned a giant Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company, it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out who they were.

  2. Yes it never works, there may be exceptions where a workplace romance starts in work and blossoms into a marriage, nothing wrong with that and chances are that they are not directly reporting to each other. I am so fortunate that despite a few near misses I have never crossed that line, there is a God.

    I have had quite a number of work experiences with Exxon Mobil, their executives are completely focused, top of their game and excellent guys to work with. My only problem with them is that they have this EM mode ingrained in them outside of the workplace. They don’t like guys like me that intentionally order a carton beer for a close out meeting on a Friday, its fun to watch them say that they cant drink this cold beer, plus its my meeting so they have to bear it. Or last minute check in at an international airport, when they are all standing around in their ironed chinos very concerned about my whereabouts and saying that they were about to activate their missing persons procedures and that they were not impressed with me turning up with a black eye and reeking of booze. They really hate it that you are paid more than them and you don’t report to them. And that is the way it will be for me.

    I call them the Stepford Husbands.

  3. I have had quite a number of work experiences with Exxon Mobil, their executives are completely focused, top of their game and excellent guys to work with.

    Yup!

    My only problem with them is that they have this EM mode ingrained in them outside of the workplace. They don’t like guys like me that intentionally order a carton beer for a close out meeting on a Friday …they are all standing around in their ironed chinos very concerned about my whereabouts and saying that they were about to activate their missing persons procedures

    That too!

  4. Even friendships with work colleagues can be a problem. Those people who you think of as your mates, what will they do when they land in the shit and see an opportunity to dump the blame on you? That boss who is your mate, how do you feel when he has to bollock you over something or even fire you?

    One of the sadder sights in work is the look on the younger staff’s faces when the person they are chummy with turns out to be a bit of a c*nt when it is in their interests.

  5. One of the sadder sights in work is the look on the younger staff’s faces when the person they are chummy with turns out to be a bit of a c*nt when it is in their interests.

    Indeed. We’ve all learned that the hard way. The biggest fucking-over I got in my career was at the hands of a man who mere weeks before had attended my birthday party. I only took the position because I thought it would help him out of a fix. I don’t think he actually set out to screw me over, but when it became convenient for him to do so, he did. I learned that lesson well.

  6. “Even friendships with work colleagues can be a problem”

    The problem the other way round – the department needs to reduce headcount, the department head is BFF with one of the staff and frosty with most of the rest. Does anyone have faith that procedures are all going to be followed correctly to decide who is in the firing line? And even if procedures are actually followed, will anyone believe it was fair and unbiased? The problem is essentially the same as if the manager had to consider sacking their partner or spouse, and breeds a lot of resentment and mistrust. Ditto for disciplinary proceedings, internal audits, promotion openings, allocation of juicy vs hellish work…

  7. “when the person they are chummy with turns out to be a bit of a c*nt ”

    A Latino lad at our place, good at work, not a team player, a confirmed ladies man, recently divorced with two kids, always chatting up the girls in our office, probably shagged a few of them, the much tolerated jack the lad.

    Anyhow I had to sack him this morning, he actually broke down and wept (and no Tim you cant feign weeping), I offered to fly him back to Sydney and phoned up our travel agent and got him a flight right there and then. One of the girls in the office unbeknownst that he was getting the arse asked me quite loudly which cost code Leonardo’s flight should be coded to, in an eyebrow and attention raising way, I loudly said I dont care as he aint coming back. The office girls were a bit quiet for the rest of the day.

  8. 1: in a university, my boss married to her boss, secretly at first.

    2: in a university, two lab colleagues without a common language between them got pregnant on first date and therefore got married. Last I heard they are still married and have three more sprogs.

    3: also in a university (there’s a trend here, isn’t there), my boss (f) married someone at equivalent level in another department.

    4: a prof with infamous rumours of wandering hands and other appendages – in a department of around 30 people I was one of three men and the other two were gay. Same prof was also married to a junior colleague.

    5: still in the unis, my boss (f) engaged to someone in the same department, then had an affair with someone else in a different department and ended up marrying them.

    6: at #4, male staff being propositioned by female juniors for contract extensions.

    7: finally not at the unis, a colleague left her husband for someone at equivalent level in the same company.

    8: myself? Once propositioned by a tipsy client (turned down).

  9. also in a university (there’s a trend here, isn’t there)

    I’m awaiting dearieme’s input with bated breath.

  10. A Latino lad at our place, good at work, not a team player, a confirmed ladies man, recently divorced with two kids, always chatting up the girls in our office, probably shagged a few of them, the much tolerated jack the lad.

    Every office has one.

  11. if I may ask, what did you have to fire him for?

    My guess would be trying to muscle in on Bardon’s harem.

  12. “what did you have to fire him for?”

    This guy was a serial offender, I nicknamed him OJ Simpson after his last big one, which wasn’t the sackable offence. We normally don’t carry guys like that but he was a really talented bloke and specialised in something that I dont have a lot of other guys to cover. I actually took him to an AFL corporate box recently and got on quite well with him.

    I cleared him of another charge last Thursday. On Friday my Ops Manager said that he had rorted his accommodation expense by $10 a night for a duration and that he had bragged about this. All things been equal we would have counselled him and taken the money back and given him a final warning, again. But in this case enough was enough, it’s not nice to lose your job for stealing a lousy $10 a night just before Christmas but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

    Kill one, scare a million.

  13. Yes that’s it.

    Unlike the other guy that I told a week ago that I was finishing up on the 22nd Dec, I have dinged him many times yet he was still in complete and utter denial when he copped it. He spat the dummy big time, stormed out of the office, slamming laptops around, mumbling about lawyers before he sped off from the car park. His missus is a Jock HR Dragon that thinks I am friendly with her and also that she is tasty, is there anything worse a man could endure in life. He is now back working out his notice, I think his RNZAF background has shone through in the end.

  14. @Bardon,

    You have people work out their notice? On the odd occasion that I have been party to a firing, we give them a couple of hours to sort their offices and computers out, hand off their work in progress, and they then get to enjoy their 3 months of gardening leave.

  15. “You have people work out their notice?”

    Normally we don’t but in this case it suited me as I just didn’t have another regional accountant handy and had planned to chop him early next year, but one of the owners said it had to be by Christmas and I had no choice under law but to go now and offer him notice. It’s worked out well because we have his replacement on board and he is handing over his duties in an orderly fashion.

    Oh I can tell you some great stories on termination of executives, fucking ripping yarns, the last one I negotiated earlier this year resulted in me getting an awful lot of shares gifted to me from the dude I was punting.

  16. On the odd occasion that I have been party to a firing, we give them a couple of hours to sort their offices and computers out, hand off their work in progress, and they then get to enjoy their 3 months of gardening leave.

    As a friend of mine once joked: “It’s nice to leave voluntarily for once. It’s just not the same without a security guard standing behind you and a bin-liner full of personal effects!”

  17. “European also covers Britain

    Oh Christ, he’s gone native”

    It’s a peculiarly parochial English view that Europe excludes the UK. In Scottish schools in my day what the English seem to call Europe was known as The Continent. Europe consisted of “Britain” (i.e. the UK) and The Continent.

  18. I briefly worked for a shipping company in the 1970s, and in the handbook for the staff it said that if a man and woman working for the company became engaged to be married, the woman would be expected to leave the company.

  19. My best story along those lines, from the few cases I’ve seen up-close is this.

    Guy thinks he’s mega. He transferred in laterally from pure engineering – product R&D in a big design consultancy in France. It seems his value-add there must have been to save projects (and hence €€€€€) by coming in at the right moment with a pointed comment as to why xyz wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t it be better to do abc instead. Thereby justifying his salary with the savings made from avoiding a massive screwup.

    Anyway, he comes in to us, and he’s kind of stubborn, not willing to learn from the rest of us with way more than his 5 minutes of experience, and refuses to respect the “house style” as to how the work is laid-out and performed. Also, very much not a team player – one of those “exactly what does he do in his office all day?” types.

    When coaching him, he’d take forever to produce a draft, and it would be incomplete. I’d send it back with “You need to put in such-and-such a section according to the house style as I’ve asked you n-times already”, and possibly some other preliminary comments. It should have been a couple of hours work for a junior at most. Comes back half a week later with a couple of minor changes, still without the section required.

    So we’d go around this a few times before the deadline approached too close, then I’d just say “stuff it” and finish it myself.

    This procedure repeated itself Every Single Time. He just would not do anything that he, personally, with his 5 minutes experience, didn’t see the point of or the interest in (because he’d not had the experience to see it).

    Ultimately, with time pressure, we started giving him less and less work, since it was taking more time than if we did it ourselves (which was less stressful in any case). Not that he was producing much anyway. Manager tried all sorts, but the chap in question was firmly of the view that all the comments were just “differences of opinion” that could be ignored. He also seemed to think he knew better than the official guidelines. Oh, and that his work was fantastic.

    Even checking translations he wouldn’t do properly, leaving certain “trigger words” with bad legal consequence in there cos he didn’t see the reason why it should have bad consequences (knowing better than the caselaw, as he did….).

    Ultimately, he was given a piece of work for our biggest client – it only needed to be about 10-15 pages long and for a senior would have been about 10-15 billed hours. He had nothing else to do, and yet he kept requesting the deadline be extended. I’d given up coaching him on the “you can’t teach pork” principle (he was a highly intelligent chap, but was resistant to taking instruction), and someone else had taken him on.

    So the final deadline was given as lunchtime on the day before he left on holiday, so the coach could spend an hour on it, and he’d have most of the afternoon to make some touch-ups.

    Lunchtime comes and goes. OK, 1400h then. 1400h comes and goes. Finally, at 1558 the draft is sent. 1600h on the dot he’s out the door and on holiday.

    Turns out he’d spent a month doing a cut-and-paste of what the client had sent, putting it into our template. And including all the errors that the client had left in there…..

    Obviously you can’t send that to the client after a month and bill it…. So his coach had to re-do it from scratch in quite a hurry…

    So 2 weeks later when he comes back from holiday, he’s called into the manager and is confronted with the situation. He has a smart-arse answer for everything:

    1558h? “I had foreseen to leave at 1600h”.
    Copy-paste? “I stayed faithful to the original text”.
    Everything else was just “difference of opinion”.
    The fact that he billed next to nothing? “Your problem not mine”

    Basically in 2 years he never grasped what his job was supposed to be (it’s really obvious, tbh, and you’d have to be pig-headed not to get it), and he never understood the economics of what he was doing – that there was no value add in poking holes in what the client was doing, since that was not his job and not what they paid us for.

    He then gave everyone the legal runaround for a year or so before it was all finally settled, and he’s still not found another job (which is a shame for him, really).

  20. abacab,

    For several years I’ve thought it would be quite easy to bullshit your way past HR into a large organisation and simply do fuck all except for faithfully repeat everything your manager says. I reckon it would be at least a year, possibly more, before you’d actually be fired.

  21. @TimN

    In a large org, it probably is. Particularly if your “deliverables” are not easily definable or quantifiable. In a small org, particularly in an hourly-billed environment, someone not pulling their weight gets noticed really, really quickly. Juniors you expect to be a net cost, but you expect to see that improve over time. One of the reasons I’m reticent to hire at my new place is the whole “don’t hire unless you’re prepared to fire” thing.

    Oh, something else about Our Fellow that I described above – his behaviour towards coaches etc. deteriorated to the point where we became convinced he was trying to get fired (it’s better in CH to be fired than to quit if you want unemployment insurance). We confronted him with this at the horrific exit interview, to which he reacted with surprise.

  22. @dearieme

    Also geologically parochial (!) to decide that the Continent(al shelf) ends in the Channel.

    I suppose The Mainland works.

  23. In a large org, it probably is. Particularly if your “deliverables” are not easily definable or quantifiable.

    Here’s the thing. *Every* organisation I’ve worked in seemed to me to have a large percentage of people who did fuck all, and an even larger portion of managers who didn’t have the first idea how to manage. I’ve worked for a fair few companies, from small consultancies to giant, lumbering oil majors.

    When people talk about government fuckups, they assume the private sector is better because of the profit and loss thing. When you look at large private companies and point out how badly they can be run, people say this wouldn’t happen in a smaller company without so much money and places to hide. Well, I worked in one of them and it was chock-full of cretins from the top management down. Then people will say a company that needs to deliver stuff and has billable hours won’t tolerate slackers and useless idiots. No? I have evidence to the contrary, in spades.

    I’d love to encounter an organisation that didn’t have a load of incompetents in it. I have mates in the Royal Marines, and even they don’t manage to weed out all the idiots. Looking at it, the last time I thought everyone around me could be relied upon and there were no idiots, I was a teenager working on a farm and four of us were trying to get the straw in before it rained that night.

  24. I suppose The Mainland works

    No, the Mainland is Great Britain (as opposed to the smaller islands in the British Isles, like Skye, Jura, the Isles of Wight and Man, Ireland, etc).

  25. Then people will say a company that needs to deliver stuff and has billable hours won’t tolerate slackers and useless idiots

    If someone honestly does no work at all, it will be obvious very quickly in a small, private company, and they won’t be there long.

    If, however, they can manage to do the bare minimum of work — so everything takes five times longer than it should, but always gets done just before the absolutely-final deadline, then yes, it will be a long time before they get finally canned (partly because hiring people is such a hassle that it’s always easier to fool yourself, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they might just improve, rather than to call HR and tell them to start putting out job adverts, scheduling interviews, etc, again).

    Doing zero work is like active aggression: it’s obvious and invites retaliation.

    Slacking off, on the other hand, if done properly, is pure passive aggression, and you can go a long way being masterfully passive-aggressive.

  26. “No, the Mainland is Great Britain”

    Well if that one’s taken, Eurasia can be “The Island” then. It’s all relative anyway.

  27. Slacking off, on the other hand, if done properly, is pure passive aggression, and you can go a long way being masterfully passive-aggressive.

    True. I suppose most people accused of doing nothing actually do something, it’s just of no value.

  28. @TimN – indeed, but in a small org bad performance gets noticed. Whether anything is done about it (or indeed even can be done about it due to capacity / hiring issues) is a different question.

    Where I worked before (large), there wasn’t a single good manager I could identify on the professional side. On the back office side, the one good manager got pushed aside for a bad one who was on side with upper management, and then was ultimately fired (she works for me now).

    Management was run on a patronage basis – types on-side with upper mgt got the middle management roles, irrespective of any competence or skill. Loyalty was bought with undeserved bonuses. Plus, it was like living in a “how not to manage” handbook – their idea of objectives was to make them impossible and then discuss afterwards why you hadn’t met their impossible target. Also, upper management and finance calculated on the basis of completely unrelated objectives per head…… Great. And they had no interest in local conditions – nobody ever asked whether there was enough work for 6 in CH, for instance – they just imposed a hiring target without ever considering where the work would come from.

    And the best bit? The CEO was brought in from a consultancy that specialised in management-consulting for *exactly* what his task as CEO would be. And he fell flat on his arse in short order, unsurprisingly, once he held the reins himself. He’s now been fired…

  29. @TimN – indeed, but in a small org bad performance gets noticed.

    It does in big organisations too. The reason nothing is done about it is because performance – as you or I understand it – is wholly unnecessary.

    Management was run on a patronage basis – types on-side with upper mgt got the middle management roles, irrespective of any competence or skill. Loyalty was bought with undeserved bonuses. Plus, it was like living in a “how not to manage” handbook – their idea of objectives was to make them impossible and then discuss afterwards why you hadn’t met their impossible target. Also, upper management and finance calculated on the basis of completely unrelated objectives per head

    Frankly, I think this is probably the norm across most organisations. I suspect it’s simply down to human nature.

  30. “Over what could loosely be described as my professional career…” Your attitude towards employment seems to be optimal. And your implementation of “work-life balance” is the envy of us all.

  31. Back to the point – my boss once started shagging someone who was two levels down but reported, indirectly through someone else, to my boss. Lady two levels down was married. Boss was married. CEO was soft on both even though relationship was declared. Both divorced and married each other.

    What was bad was that subordinate was a manipulative social climber with no conscience. My boss was a buzzword bingo merchant. Put my peer in a very very difficult position.

    I was incredulous that this was allowed to carry on but it taught me an important lesson. Be chummy with your boss. Can’t say I find that easy though. The other lesson was hire attractive women, the subordinate in this case was one of those slim pointy faced types who looks like some unattractive shrew.

  32. I try to have a career but my superiors all seem to believe that I just have a job.

    I reckon it has to do with the balance of capital and labour. Lots of capital like oil companies and banks – plenty of unproductive labour. Professional services firms – much harder to be get away with being unproductive. That being said we do seem to employ a fair number of people whose job it seems to be to write emails that I don’t read. To wit, the CEO.

  33. ‘also in a university (there’s a trend here, isn’t there)

    I’m awaiting dearieme’s input with bated breath.”

    I very much enjoyed my early years of university employment.

  34. I reckon it has to do with the balance of capital and labour. Lots of capital like oil companies and banks – plenty of unproductive labour. Professional services firms – much harder to be get away with being unproductive.

    Yup. I think the worst thing that happened to oil majors regarding their long-term viability was the oil boom.

  35. I very much enjoyed my early years of university employment.

    Yuck. I think I’ll stay well clear of the lab stools.

  36. “I’ll stay well clear of the lab stools.” No need. I steered well clear of women from the same lab, and from any woman who might gain or lose academically.

  37. Would it not be against European law to try and stop it happening and continuing?

    That’s a good question!

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