Romantic Relationship at Wor‪k

In the theme of Valentine’s Day, Christy and Dr. Palermo chat about romantic relationships in the workplace. We’ll be discussing if it’s a good idea, what levels of professionalism to keep when we are in relationships at work, and the different effects for men and women, and what to do about handling a relationship breakdown at work.

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Christy Mori (00:01):

Welcome to Gears, Action, Growth, shifting business cultures, one conversation at a time. My name is Christy Mori, and I’m joining Dr. Josephine Palermo whose superpower is to create business cultures that transform organizations team by team. Today, we’ll be discussing romantic relationships at work to get into the spirit of Valentine’s Day. Hope you get value from it.

C: Hey Jo, how are you going this afternoon?

Dr Josephine Palermo (00:37): Good. I’m really good. It’s nice and warm in Melbourne the way I like it. Yes. Yes.

Christy Mori (00:41): Yes. Oh yeah. It’s hot though. Its thirty-one one degrees, isn’t it? Fantastic. We’re just coming out of lockdown. We were in a five day lockdown. We weren’t sure, but we’ve had such great weather. I wonder if the weather actually helps people from being too down about it. I’m not sure.

Dr Josephine Palermo (00:57): Yeah, it’s possible. I think I’ve, you know, I really feel bad for people overseas at the moment in winter in the Northern part of the world, because you’re right. I mean, you know, you, you do feel a bit down with if you don’t get that sun on your face from time to time, so yeah it could be worse for those guys.

Christy Mori (01:14): Yeah. I know. And we have emphasize with them. Actually, my family is in Canada, so yeah. Yeah, so definitely, definitely lucky to be here. So to launch this week again, this was supposed to be our Valentine’s day special, but we had some technical problems. That’s why we’re recording this a bit later, but I think it would still be really fun to do. And today this topic will generally apply to anyone if you’re in a business or not as we, if you have coworkers, basically, if you work in a place and there’s coworkers and these things will apply because we’re talking about romantic relationships at work. So we’ll be chatting about: is it a good idea to pursue a romantic relationship at work and what are some professional protocols that need to be kept that when you are involved romantically at work and how to handle a breakup in the workplace. So I feel like these are very accessible topics for everybody. Sorry we missed it for Valentine’s day, but we’ll just have it for Valentine’s month or whenever actually.

Dr Josephine Palermo (02:29): It shouldn’t be a Valentine’s month anyway, Christy. So…

Christy Mori (02:35): So Why not? Yeah. So what do you think Jo is it good to pursue romantic relationship in the workplace?

Is It a Good Idea to Pursue a Romantic Relationship at Work?

Dr Josephine Palermo (02:43): You know, I think romantic relationships are going to happen. So, you know, you can’t really, I think put the brakes on them and if you’re involved or thinking about getting involved in a romantic relationship with someone who’s a coworker I don’t think that it necessarily is bad news. I think it could work really well. And, but you do need to be aware of the context. So I think that’s why we’re having a conversation today and, you know romantic relationships will blossom at work because workplaces are natural environments where you have opportunities for romantic attachments. You know, you, you get to know people and you spend a lot of time with people. And, and in fact, I met my ex-husband at a workplace. And so I’m a really good example of how, you know, romantic relationships can be really positive and can, can, you know, we had we are no longer together, but we’re great friends still. And hi Martin and we’re, you know, we, we, we made it work. And in fact we were like a bit of a power couple in our industry. So we had a great time together at the time. So I think it can work really well.

Christy Mori (03:57):

Right. Yeah. I know that I have some similar experiences as well. And I know like some of my friends have actually married people who they met in the workplace. So specifically it’s not always colleagues actually, but colleagues is the most common. Like it could be someone who’s an affiliate of the business or something.

Dr Josephine Palermo (04:17): Exactly, it might be a client or a supplier. I mean, in my case, we were both in the same sort of ma… larger network of colleagues, but we didn’t ended up doing some work together. So that can happen when you have a networked sort of group. And yeah, so it can be, you know, whoever is coming in and out of work and, you know, we’re virtual now. So even in the virtual space anyone you consider and, and, you know, I was actually just as a preparation for this conversation. I did go and have a look at some of the research and there’s not much research actually. I don’t know. I think there should be more, so you know, all of you social psych researchers get on it, but, but the research that I did find did suggest that you can you can have some really positive benefits of you know, romantic attachments at work.

Dr Josephine Palermo (05:09) So people, for example, in a romantic attachment are more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction. So, you know, that makes sense, I guess, and they’re also likely to you know, perceive more job autonomy as a positive thing in their role. And most people around them don’t see romantic attachments as a problem unless it starts to impact the workplace culture in a negative way. So I think that, you know, that’s where you get to some of the detrimental effects. And and, and also there are some situations which we’ll talk about that are just no go zones. And for example, if you’re thinking about, or you’re already involved in a romantic relationship with someone who is either your boss or you are their boss, that to me is a no way zone. Like it’s just a no go zone.

Dr Josephine Palermo (06:07):

And that’s where the organization has to have some policies in place to really help people navigate through that. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have the relationship, but what it might mean is that you have to remove that person from, from being, you know, under your care or because there’s just no way you can be objective in relation to, you know performance and, and in assessing them. And in the kind of opportunities that you give them, there’s just no way that you can be objective when you’re in a romantic relationship with that person. And that’s where, you know, that’s really, that can be open to abuse and it often doesn’t start that way. It doesn’t have to start that way, but it can be open to abuse. So you just don’t want to be in a power imbalance in an organization. And that’s really important. I think that, that, that, that people understand that. I think it’s much easier when there’s less of a power differential between the two people.

Christy Mori (07:11): Mm. Yeah. I think that leads to our next question about some professional protocols that need to be kept when we’re involved, romantically at work. So you’ve touched on a few about just sort of making sure that there, it doesn’t affect the work itself or the environment.

Professional Protocols that Need to be Kept When You are Involved Romantically

Dr Josephine Palermo (07:27): Yeah, that’s right. And, you know, and in some ways it’s, it’s, it’s not to say that you have to go out of your way to not affect the workplace culture, because what, I don’t want people to think, Oh, I have to hide my relationship. And that’s the only way to not affect the workplace culture. What you’ve got to do is be transparent about it. So because, because otherwise people will notice that something’s not quite right. And that, for example, there’s, there’s, you know, more intimacy or perhaps, you know, sometimes people avoid each other and that’s, that’s gonna cause some weirdness. So, so what you’ve got to do is think how could my relationship make others feel and how do I, how do I bring up that topic so that people don’t feel you know, uncomfortable and that there’s no issue of dishonesty or lack of transparency, because I think that that’s the main problem when you either hide a relationship or your not being totally upfront and in the same way that we manage other risks in organizations, it’s about declaring it.

Dr Josephine Palermo (08:38): And I’m not saying, you know, you have to write an email to everyone in the organization, but, but particularly it’s a good idea to let your boss know, it’s a good idea to let other, any other managers know, and you need to declare that. And then so that they can put things in place if, for example you know, the, the, there might be a bit of a conflict of interest in the, in the future. So, so just declaring it is important. I also think that there’s this, you’ve got to have this understanding that when you’re in a relationship with someone at work, and particularly if you both work for the same organization, it’s, you’ve got to consider the third party. And the third parties is the company you work for. Even for example, if it’s with the client, you’ve got to consider the third party is the company you work for, because, you know, we know that all good.., that relationships can end, you know I think we’ve played, we placed far too much of a kind of failure attribution when they end, sometimes relationships end because they just run their course and they end, and that’s, that’s a good thing.

Dr Josephine Palermo (09:48): So, you know, but, but definitely the life cycle of a relationship is a beginning, a middle and an end. And so, so one of the things we’ve got to be aware of is, is thinking about, well, what happens if this relationship ends and it doesn’t end on good terms, or the parties don’t want to talk to each other anymore. They don’t want to be next to each other, or there’s some kind of other conflict in place. And so, and, and so kind of getting prepared in terms of how, how the company, or how the organization will deal with that conflict again, is important because, you know, it’s bound to happen. And so what that might mean again, is setting up things up front in relation to, you know, if you’re in a romantic relationship with someone and again, there’s a, it could be that it’s your client and you’re the account manager for that client. It’s a good idea for the organization to maybe either put someone else to buddy with you, so sort of diffuse that situation, or if they can move you out of that accounting, accounting responsibility so that you’re no longer the sole liaison point to the company for that client. So there’s lots of things to think about in terms of diffusing the conflict even before the conflict has happened.

Christy Mori (11:08): And it’s interesting that in real life, you’re saying that transparency is really important. Where else when we see it on TV, I just recently actually started getting addicted to this show called ‘Startup’. And it’s a bunch of like young entrepreneurs, like trying to go for it, like Silicon Valley. And obviously there’s a girl there’s you know, guys who are coders and they’re all like trying to make it. And obviously there’s going to be romantic relationships. And a lot of the times it’s really confusing because like, but it’s also a TV show. So it makes it look very exciting that nobody knows about you, you know, but everybody’s catching onto it. And that’s part of that’s part of the show and yes, but we don’t really get that kind of actually…, the American version of the office actually, they have an HR rep that nobody really likes, like Toby, I think is the name.

Christy Mori (12:05): And all the people who are in relationships, they announce it to him, but like, like, like they’ll go to him and so it’s interesting that, so even though it’s like, that’s a satirical show, it’s like, ‘Oh, they aren’t doing the right thing’ by announcing it to him. And then he’ll say, ‘Oh yeah’…, he always says, ‘Oh, do I need to fill out paperwork? Or like, how long are you guys going out for?’ Like, he asks these really questions that are not very romantic, I would say, like it’s not really like…you know, really. Yeah. Romantic situation go to your HR rep. But what you’re saying is like, that is really what would be the considerate thing to do is to actually reveal the relationship.

Dr Josephine Palermo (12:50): Exactly. Exactly and I know some people kind of like in your, in the other show ‘Startup’, which I must start watching. I hadn’t heard about that.

Christy Mori (12:58): You’ll get addicted. Yeah!

Dr Josephine Palermo (13:00): I get addicted to everything. I know. I know I’ll start watching it.

Christy Mori (13:03): You might like it. Yeah.

Dr Josephine Palermo (13:06): Yeah. I’m sure I will. But, but you know, this is the thing we kind of, I guess we, we glamorize this kind of idea of, kind of a secret affair. And and obviously, you know, you don’t really want to declare something in the early stages when you’re not sure about how it’s going as well. Right. So there, you know, there is that there’s a kind of human factor there, but, but if you’ve gone six months, 12 months, you’re still working together. Hopefully you’re not this person’s boss, but sometimes you are, and nobody knows about this relationship then how is the company being considered in this regard? How is, how are, how is the company making sure that from a risk perspective, they’re taking care of their own interests. And and because there might be things that the company is aware of, that the people in the relationship are not aware of.

Dr Josephine Palermo (14:09): So, so you can’t assume that the people in the relationship know every single risk, they might not be aware of strategy, for example, that might affect and cause a conflict between the two people in that, in that group or it, or they might not be aware of the future direction of the organization. And maybe it’s going in a particular way where people in that relationship are not in a power differential, but maybe they’re looking to promote one of them and make one of them report to the other one. If they knew that these two people were in a relationship, they would think differently about that. And I’m not saying they would not promote someone, but they would, they would make sure that that to avoid the risk that that’s managed very well. Cause cause what we’re really talking about here is power and power is kind of like a dirty word when it comes to workplaces and relationships because and I’m saying it’s a dirty word because you know, we would might think that, you know, sex is a dirty word in this discussion, but it’s not, it’s power.

Dr Josephine Palermo (15:22): Power that is the dirty word because power is often intangible and people who have power will often use that power. And I’m not suggesting that everyone in power abuses power, but they have a position of privilege because of that power and attention flows up towards that power. So we are very attentive of the people around us who are more powerful than we are because they control the resources and they are other people that make decisions about things that affect our lives very often in work. And so particularly in a workplace you have, and I’ll talk about Australia. You have more males in power, in positions of power then you have females. We know that because if you look at the statistics of women on boards and women CEOs, we know that you have more males in power. You also have research that says people are more likely to attribute the motivation for getting into a relationship with someone powerful in a negative way when it comes to the woman, but not the man.

Dr Josephine Palermo (16:38):

So people, and men and women will make this court will make this attribution bias as well. So men and women are more in this, in the research study that I read, are more likely to have more negative sort of speculations about why that woman is getting into that relationship regardless of the facts. So this, this, so, so what it, what it’s sort of saying is that we have to consider the power relationships. That’s why I keep talking about is this person, your boss, are you their boss? And we have to consider the power differential that we in society today in Australia currently demonstrate towards males and females. It’s it’s and, and it’s a fact, it actually is a fact because we can see it in the statistics. So, so there’s that. And then also we’ve had a lot of conversation in the public particularly lately around the MeToo campaign and, and, you know, that’s been great, that’s been for, I guess, the to, for bringing a lot of stories that were, were told before about sexual harassment and also, you know, more in the more darker side, sexual abuse as well.

Dr Josephine Palermo (18:03): And so, so what that tells us is that there are, there are women today and there are sometimes there are some men, but it’s in the main women who are going to be the victims of some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. And that’s why it’s important that we tread carefully. It’s important that we look at where the power imbalances are and, and that we we are very careful about how we manage relationships. Also very careful about how we get into relationships. So consent is always important because in particularly if you’re in a position of power and you’re, maybe you’re interested in someone who’s in a lesser position of power in the organization, consent is going to be really important. So you need to be asking that person, are they okay with every single step as the relationship progresses? Because they’re in, in less of a powerful position than the person in power, they have more to lose in other words. So, so I’m sorry, you know, that’s not, maybe it’s better that we had this conversation after Valentine’s day.

Christy Mori (19:18):

Yeah. Yeah. This is interesting to tell you the truth, everyone, I didn’t actually think our conversation was heading in this direction. Like this is very this is very important and I’m glad you said this, but yeah, I actually had to kind of imagine like overall, like more romantic kind of theme. Yeah, you’re right, it’s interesting. No, it’s great. I think you’re right. Yeah.

Dr Josephine Palermo (19:42):

And Christy to me the message is to young women, because also when I look at the research on relationships, a lot of when there is a power differential, a lot of that power differential will be with more you know, younger women will be involved in that if you look at the research. So, so it’s just it’s just take care and be aware kind of message. For both parties, because I think that, and I think that we can have in the workplace, we can have great relationships. I’m all for bringing all the warmth and love that I have to my relationships at work. So I’m not, I’m even talking about my friendships, you know, I’ll, I’ll hug people and I’ll kiss them hello and all of that. But when I lead a team and I have direct reports, I’m very careful I have to be because, because I’m the person in control, I’m the person who has power.

Dr Josephine Palermo (20:40):

I have more power than the people that I’m who that are reporting to me. Right. It’s just affects you just have to be careful and considerate. And it takes a level of maturity. And this is why, you know, at the beginning I was saying just, you know, if you’re in a relationship and it’s, it’s, it’s firmed, I can, you know, if the relationship is confirmed in your head, that it’s something that you, you know that’s going to happen in the workplace then telling someone is always a good way to just circumvent, circumvent that and navigate the risks that might be involved. And there might not be any risks. Like, as I said, I had a beautiful relationship with someone I met at work and we had the most wonderful time. And we would you know, we did great work together too, because we were both really motivated to work. And we were passionate about the same industry and, you know, we were very creative together. And so we were, we were, you know, an asset to our organization because of that. Yeah. So, so, but, so we’re just kind of, I’m just sort of painting the other picture.

Christy Mori (21:49):

Yeah, no, that, that’s fine. That’s fine. It’s not Valentine’s day by the way. So [laughing], and this is a business oriented podcast, everyone. So this isn’t a relationship podcast, exactly. But these are just very practical things that maybe people need to hear. And lastly, well, why don’t we just go in for the deep end, how to go about a break at work. This is also something that we don’t, you know, I never thought about ending off with, but at the same time, it’s like, there are some practicalities, I guess, because work is work and this one is tricky because not everyone has the option to leave their job after an uncomfortable scenario. So maybe you, we need that job or, you know, it’s not so easy. So how do we go about, and it’s not that great to go into a relationship thinking what happens if we break up? Yeah. So in this kind of situation, but if breakups do happen, and then when that happens, what do you suggest for people to kind of go about it? It’s just a natural phase that could happen.

How to Handle A Break Up

Dr Josephine Palermo (23:00):

I think there’s some there’s some processes that you have to go through when you, when you end anything and especially something that has an emotional, such an emotional kind of you know, load load of content, like a relationship. So, so there’s a, it’s almost like a grieving process in a way. And so there’ll be different stages of that. And that’s going to happen with a workplace relationship as you know, any relationship. I guess to your point, though, it’s harder to hide the effects of that because your you know, you’ll be at, you made me be working with people who know the person you’re breaking up with, or you’re broken up with and you, it can also become quite sort of you know, a public event, which is not always something that people want and probably not anything people want ever.

Dr Josephine Palermo (23:55):

So, so what, what you need to do is firstly, work out what you need, what kind of support do you need to navigate the emotions of the situation? And that could be, you know counseling for you. It could be it can even be sometimes going to a, a couples therapist to break up. If the other part is willing to break up, because there are, there are ways more constructive ways to do that. And, and so counselors will often work with couples to help them break up in a, in a more positive way. So, so that could be something that that you particularly, you know, might think about.

Christy Mori (24:41):

That’s like an ideal scenario, isn’t it Jo, that two people will be like, let’s have a third person.

Dr Josephine Palermo (24:50):

I know. I wish that…more breakups could be like that.

Christy Mori (24:51):

Yeah, sure. But most people have like emotion and it’s quite up-ended.

Dr Josephine Palermo (25:00):

That’s right. And, and so, so that’s why getting a counselor for yourself is really important. And it might be that it could be that there’s, you know, there’s different, there’s different spectrums here. If your feeling highly distressed, then you probably do want to see a counselor and you’ve got, you can go to your GP and in Australia you can get a mental health plan. And you know, we’re, we have a Medicare system that pays for that. So, so that’s something that, that you can do on the other side of the spectrum, who do you have around you? Who’s a supportive person who you can talk to because keeping it in is, is, is the worst thing you can do expressing that emotion and kind of talking through with someone who has your interests at heart is actually the best, the best thing to do.

Dr Josephine Palermo (25:50):

And one of the things that I always tell my friends, and even my colleagues who are going through breakups is you absolutely want to express emotion, but you don’t have to stay distressed. I think we have this, we make an assumption that we should feel bad when a relationship when we go through a relationship breakup for as long as it takes. And absolutely I’m not suggesting that you cut off emotion or anything like that, but going and getting a little bit more support than people are used to helps you regulate that emotional response too, and get you back into recovery quicker. It’s like, for example, if you had a broken leg, you would go to the doctor because you know that you can’t fix that leg on your own. So you would go to the doctor, get support from them. They might give you crutches.

Dr Josephine Palermo (26:43):

They might put your leg in a cast which supports your leg and you go into recovery. We never think about our emotional lives that way, but I’ve always thought about my emotional life, that way, Christy. So I’ve always at the end of my relationships and I’ve had a few, the end of my relationships. I’ve always sought support from a counselor that I trust because I don’t want to stay in that distressed state for longer than as required then I need to cause I, I value myself and I want to get back to being my best self. And when I’m distressed, obviously you can’t be your best self. You, your, you need to support yourself during distress, right? So, so that’s something that’s a bit of self-awareness. And then the, I guess the other thing is, is to ask people again, it’s reaching out for and ask people for help.

Dr Josephine Palermo (27:35):

There might be some things you need at work. You might need some time off, you might need to maybe do some, you know, different type of work where you don’t see that person as much. So people will usually be quite supportive and organizations will be as supportive as, as they can be. And it does depend on the workplace because sometimes it’s just not possible to, to kind of give people that, that space that they need when they’re going through a breakup. But, but I think asking for help is, is, is a normal part of going through a breakup as well. And because, you know, on a human level, anyone that’s going through a breakup is going to really need support and understanding because it can induce really high levels of anxiety and stress, and that can actually culminate in physical effects.

Dr Josephine Palermo (28:29):

So you don’t want it to get to that point where you are so distressed that you’re getting, getting those physical symptoms that really stop you from living the life you want, you want to live. So most organizations are going to be able to support you. And, and I know it’s a tricky one because some people might feel like they can’t ask for that help. And if that’s the case, then the second thing to do is actually go and seek some professional help. And it, and once you actually do that, you’ll see that they might also work with you on some other strategies that you can put in place just to help you through the process. So I agree with you, Christy, don’t leave your job. You, especially, if you value your job, than a breakup is not the right reason to leave your job.

Dr Josephine Palermo (29:19):

And in fact, I always say this never make a big decision when you’re feeling emotional distress, because you’re not thinking with that kind of you know, the, the, the part of your brain, the frontal cortex. You’re not thinking with the part of the brain that is going to navigate pros and cons properly in high order, higher order reasoning. So don’t make decisions like that when you go through a breakup, the main job is to go through the distress in a way that leads you to recovery in a time frame that suits you. But, but in a time frame that’s kind of as quick as it possibly can be for you.

Christy Mori (30:00):

That’s very wise. Yeah. That’s really, really great. I think a lot of people, if you’re listening I think, yeah, this would be really beneficial. I know that this wasn’t the most entertaining of all of our podcasts, but I really hope that it actually helps people. Cause these are really great tips you’ve given Jo and they’re very, very insightful. So we’ll wrap up at this point, but we really appreciate any feedback or any questions that you know, you, the audience want answered regarding romance in the workplace. Hope this topic was insightful and maybe even enjoyable to listen, maybe more insightful, but we really want to hear some of your questions and comments about workplace romance at [email protected] And do you have a story to share? We’d like to hear it! Happy belated Valentine’s day everyone. And whether you believe in celebrating or not, we hope you get some value from this podcast and we wish you the best in all your relationships, not just romantic ones. We’ll be back to do it all over again next week. And we might even have a part two of this topic if people are interested. In the meantime, please stay safe and we’ll catch you next time. Bye everybody.

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