There are people in positions of responsibility in hundreds of companies who could at any moment put the company in the press in some very seedy sex and financial shenanigans scandal.
Relationships with colleagues and, more frequently, relationships with representatives of other companies with whom important business is done, often become intimate. The intimacy may be partly the sincere expression of personal feelings, at least in the beginning. There will always be an overlay of how the relationship’s intimacy tends to assure positive business activity. Intimacy tends to result eventually in over reaching, even though business benefits may be present in its early stages. But this is business, not high school.
Very few of these situations remain unknown. They are usually known and discussed from time to time by colleagues in cynical or humorous asides, and tolerated until they blow up in a very embarrassing context.
If your HR manual has some stated policy that purports to limit fraternization, not dealing with it once it becomes known will present a problem when the matter blows up and you try to invoke the policy that you ignored. Unless your business is sex, sex and business have to be kept separate. Much as you might prefer just to mind your own business and leave people to do what they do, a laissez faire attitude regarding fraternization will bring you sexual harassment complaints and lawsuits. Consider also that those left out of an intimate situation will feel discriminated against in favor of the sexual participants. It’s a no-win situation. The current experience of the recent former governor of New York is a perfect display of the nastiness potential of inappropriate sexual activity in business and the professions. Law firms are just as open to this as any other business. “Making partner” is the subject of a lot of seedy humor.
If you decide to deal with it early on before it becomes the juicy tidbit of the month, you have options that don’t require career threatening results. If you sweep it under the rug, those positive options will probably disappear or become extremely limited.
If you were to ask yourself which relationships in your company, by reason of their nature and the identity of the people involved, present the prospect of undesirable, potentially publicized intimacy, you will probably know exactly where to start looking.
This goes beyond sexual harassment issues in the office. Think of the other expensive outside relationships that may be held together by issues other than the pure business opportunity in question. Start with brand managers and advertising agencies, for example. There are several other departments with similarly inviting ingredients.
What your company will be accused of if this is neglected is guaranteed to be something that you really would like to avert. It comes out at the most exquisitely inconvenient moments. It comes out through inquiries into other matters that simply turn up the peccadilloes going on in your organization. The governor of New York was not caught in an investigation into the sexual conduct of the governor of New York. He was caught up in an investigation of money laundering and racketeering. Think of the many contexts in which your company records may have to be revealed — especially expense account records.
Especially if you are in the habit of touting the morality/integrity of your organization, not being at least liminally vigilant about promiscuity in your business relationships will bite very hard when it “goes public.”
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