Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Workplace dating taboo and the workplace con as applied to the academic world

 The San Francisco Chronicle has just published an extraordinarily good and in-depth article on dating in the workplace. To follow are excerpts from the article interspersed with commentary from the dankprofessor.

However, blog readers should be aware that these excerpts compose a small percentage of the entire article.  For those seriously interested in workplace as well as university place dating do click the Chronicle link and read the entire article.

For some prefatory commentary, the dankprofessor observes that this article puts to shame the notion that universities which embrace student professor dating bans are only embracing what has been embraced in the corporate world and is working in the corporate world.  Professor Gayle Binion of UC Santa Barbara,  the leading advocate of bans for the UC system, has used this argument ad nauseum.  For example in the recent LA Times article on campus banning, she argues in defense of the banning that limits on banning are common in many workplaces and academia is “kind of late coming to it.” So what is good for the corporate world is held by Binion to be good for the academic world. But as this article points out that not only are dating bans not good for the corporate world, but that widespread enforced dating taboos never really existed  What I felt at the time about the Binion statement and what I can now state without inhibition is that her argument is utter poppycock.  Read on to fully appreciate said poppycock.

“… The phrase “office romance” is so stigmatized that its very mention can elicit smirks. But the reality is about as far from its sleazy reputation as one can imagine. Workplace dating is the taboo that wasn’t. Finding a mate on the job has become downright respectable. After all, if Bill Gates can meet Melinda French at the office, what’s to stop the rest of us from doing the same thing?

It’s likely that the greater acceptance of workplace romance has a lot to do with its inevitability, given the changing nature of American society. The most recent figures from the Census Bureau show that the median age of marriage for women is just shy of 26; for men, 27. In 1970, those numbers were 21 and 23, respectively. It follows that the older you are, the less likely you are to marry your college sweetheart. Says Renee Banks, human resources director at Chronicle Books (no relation to The San Francisco Chronicle): “I definitely think it’s a reality that work is where people meet these days. When you don’t meet at college, that’s a pool of people that’s taken away from you.

After college, the pool of candidates moves to the office, and since Expedia.com statistics show that 40 percent of employees log more than 50 hours of work a week, their personal lives are chopped down to virtually nothing. Work is the place where people spend the majority of their days, make their friends and yes – meet mates. Said Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing, a New York- and Louisiana-based marketing firm: “People move to New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco for work, so they are disconnected from family and friends. Where else are they going to meet people if not the office? A health club?”

The Internet, you might respond. But even bloggers – many of whom spend their lives online – are beginning to dismiss online dating services as an ineffective way of meeting a significant other. “People my age are sick of the impersonal nature of Internet dating,” says Jessica Valenti, 28, the voice behind the popular blog Feministing.com and author of the book “Full Frontal Feminism.” Valenti is now dating a man she met through work; he hired her to write for the Web site where he works. “It’s nice to be around people who care about the same things as you do. My blogger boyfriend understands if I am on a computer at 2 a.m., and isn’t offended.”

Office romance gets a bad rap because the phrase conjures up images of Christmas party hook-ups and Clintonesque gropings, but potential couples tend to take months, if not years, to recognize and act on the vibe between them. (This is in no small part because of an understandable instinct to protect their paychecks.) As a result, people who form an emotional attachment at work often won’t make a move until they’re absolutely sure there’s something substantial between them that might go the distance, which is precisely why it so often does.”

….

“Pixar, like most of the companies we contacted for this article, would not discuss its workplace romance policy, if any. But if Pearl’s and Stanton’s perception that there is none is correct, Pixar is in the majority. Nearly 70 percent of companies have no policy at all. Sometimes emphatically so. Said Netflix spokesman Steve Swayze: “We like to think of ourselves as rule-averse. We hire adults and we expect adult behavior. Personal stuff is personal, and if it isn’t interfering with work, it’s not worth spending any time on.”

Pixar gets the dankprofessor’s highest award for furthering freedom of association in the workplace.  Such a simple notion that is generally discarded by those who are into power and control of their employees- their employees are adults and that personal stuff should be personal. The fact that such a notion is held to be an anachronistic one by almost all human resources personnel and the cadre of lawyers advising and defending employers indicates the level of disconnect existent in the workplace as well as in the university place. The article continues-

“Very few companies ban workplace romance entirely, probably for a very pragmatic reason: Enforcing such a ban is nearly impossible. Says Robyn Zazulia, 27, who met her fiance Alex Rogin, 34, when they worked on a project together at Wells Fargo: “I have a very good girlfriend who worked for a small company of 200 people, but there were very clear rules, explicit rules prohibiting intercompany dating. But nobody followed it; there was a lot of inter-company dating there because they worked together at far-flung places without friends or family around.” And why would companies want to try to outlaw behavior that enhances so many employees’ lives? Each couple interviewed for this story said that they were only one of many at the same firm.

The companies that do have a written policy on office romance commonly prohibit supervisors and subordinates from being romantically involved in an effort to avoid conflicts of interest and charges of sexual harassment. For example, Schwab restricts management or supervisors from having a close personal relationship with employees they supervise. In the event such a relationship forms, the parties are required to report it to their superiors or to human resources. Said Sarah Bulgatz, Schwab’s director of corporate PR: “They can work together – absolutely – as long as one is not the direct or indirect supervisor of the other.”

Nevertheless, as we found when we did the research for our book “Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding – and Managing – Romance on the Job,” there is an enormous disconnect between the attitude of HR directors toward office romance and the paranoia of corporate attorneys and public relations departments when it comes to discussing the topic, which may be why people believe that companies frown on interoffice dating. In the example of one company we contacted for this story, an executive said that in-house counsel would not allow him to discuss the firm’s office romance policy on the record. We had intended to interview a young female employee of one of the company’s subsidiaries, but when she sought permission she was told she couldn’t even voice her opinions on the topic – let alone talk about her own experiences dating colleagues – if we said where she worked. Which means that it’s fine to date the people you work with, but talking about it could get you fired.

Chris Edmonds-Waters, head of HR for SVB Financial Group, a diversified financial services firm of 1,600 employees in San Francisco, says companies should stop being afraid of talking about office romance, whether within or without the company. “It’s good corporate hygiene,” he says. “All companies should have a policy on workplace relationships and should communicate that policy because it guides people’s behaviors and gives them a resource to use if they run into a sticky issue. It’s the fair and right thing to do.”

Policy or none, managers who find couples forming where they see potential risk occasionally ask them to sign a legal document pioneered by a San Francisco law firm called – you can’t make this stuff up – the “love contract.” According to Stephen Tedesco, a partner at the firm of Littler Mendelson, they do “steady business” writing contracts that confirm there is a romantic relationship between the two parties, that it is consensual, that no offensive conduct has occurred and that they agree to conduct themselves in a professional manner. Says Tedesco, “The love contract does prevent someone from rewriting the past if the behavior goes from non-offensive to offensive.”

It also guards against the possibility that an office romance – particularly between people who are highly placed – does not become fodder for a claim of sexual favoritism in response to the sort of behavior made famous in the early 1980s by William Agee, CEO of the manufacturing conglomerate Bendix. Agee hired a fresh grad from the Harvard Business School named Mary Cunningham and proceeded to promote her up the ranks so quickly that a national scandal ensued. They later married. Thanks to a 2005 California Supreme Court ruling, co-workers who witness such favor-granting are free to file a third-party claim of sexual harassment.

But outside of such blatant misbehavior, colleagues have no problem with co-workers who couple. According to a new survey from Yahoo! HotJobs, almost half of the respondents said they don’t really care if two co-workers become involved. If anything, they approve; 56 percent say they support colleagues becoming romantically involved, as Jennifer Taylor and Eliza Laffin discovered. When Jennifer Taylor was hired at Macromedia in the spring of 2003, her boss kept talking about a colleague named Eliza. “You and Eliza are going to love each other,” the boss would say. “You’re from Vermont; she’s from Vermont; you went to Brown; she went to Brown – you’re just going to love each other.”

In a city where single women chronically complain about the shortage of available men, the matter-of-fact acceptance of workplace relationships by Bay Area companies offers unattached workers a new way to look for love. And interestingly, it’s just as effective for older singles – men and women, gay or straight. When Careerbuilder.com broke down its office romance stats by age, they found that the numbers of workers who said they have had an office romance is virtually the same from ages 25 to 64. Schwab’s Sharon Hanna, 56, is living proof. She had met Dana Jones, 52, back in 1990 when Jones joined the department where Hanna worked as a supervisor. They were lunch-break friends for years before she launched into a dinner-party-giving phase immediately after breaking off a relationship. “One night the date I’d invited for myself was a total dud and after the party my girlfriend said, ‘Ditch him; the interesting guy at the dinner was Dana!’ That was a pivotal moment; until that moment I was oblivious.”

“If we hadn’t met at work we would never have gotten together,” Hanna added.

End of excerpts.

The dankprofessor wishes to highlight the statement in the article “..that the greater acceptance of workplace romance has a lot to do with its inevitability.  Such will be inevitable where you have a high concentration of eligible men and women who are in close proximity with each other on an everyday basis.  Romances will occur in such a setting; only thru a creation of a totalitarian regime in which the workplace is saturated by informants can the numbers be decreased.  Of course, the implementation of such a regime will not lead to worker efficiency, but rather lead to the workplace being dysfunctional.  Interestingly enough, advocates of such bans hold that if there are no such bans, such will lead to demoralization of employees and at the university the disintegraton of the teacher student learning process.  Such is about as far from the truth that one can get.  The opposite is closer to the truth- the fewer the bans the greater likelihood that there be a more productive workplace and university place.  The powerful bottom line is that these bans simply cannot undermine, effectively combat the principle of dating propinquity; maybe I should call it the law of dating propinquity.  People will seek eligible persons out in their immediate environment for dating and mating; only a police state can diminish the level of propinquitous mating and dating.

Of course, the reality of pervasive dating within the workplace is obscured to outsiders by rules that supposedly function to prevent such dating.  The major function of such rules is generally a window dressing function, a public relations function that communicates to the world at large that sexual harassment rules and fraternization rules are being embraced.  In other words, many companies are not walking the walk but rather talking the talk when it comes to these rules.  As noted in the article, the major sin is talking about the rules not being applied and not the violation of said rules. 

Another way of looking at this situation is not walking the walk but talking the talk is a giant con game, and the victims of the con include our universities which embrace these rules since it is believed that they work in the so-called real world and since also  within the university there are feminist ideologues who justify said rules in the context of differential power precludes consent. Combining workplace con artistry with the campus feminist mystifying rhetoric, campus administrators, professors, and students end up being the victims of this con voluntarily giving up their rights to consent and their rights of freedom of association.

—————————————————————
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2007

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November 13, 2007 - Posted by | consensual relationships, corporate dating bans, dating, ethics, feminism, fraternization, higher education, sexual politics, student professor dating, Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Finally, an article which reflects my feelings on the subject! For years I have been arguing that it is an egregious violation of one’s Civil Rights for an employer/college to take adverse action against anybody over consensual dating, away from the workplace or campus. If said employer/college is a public institution, you could throw in Constitutional Rights, as well.
    I agree that enforcement would be problematic. Would a mere sighting of two people (professor/student; supervisor/supervisee) at a restaurant, movie theater, or of one entering the other’s residence be grounds for “discipline”? Also, if a member of Human Resources/college administration knew the couple were dating, but didn’t report them, would he/she be “in trouble”, once the association is discovered? I don’t believe that being a “rat” should be a requiremant for working in Human Resources/college administration!
    The feminist notion that there can be no true consent to dating, if a difference of power & status exist, is sheer nonesence! Take me going out with a higher up. Would I revert to a boy under 18, who had no capacity to go out with her? If she asked me, and I politely said “no”, I would have the sexual harassment policy to fall back on, if she later made my work life miserable. I would have the right to say “yes”, as well as “no”, as I am a “big boy”!
    The notion of dating bans being mere window dressing has some merit. Harvard was the first major college to “probibit” professor/student dating, in 1984. In 1999, I met a nephew of a fan, who was attending Harvard,at a tailgate party, outside Yankee Stadium. When I brought up the subject to him, he said that this kind of dating DOES go on. However, no professor/instructor had been fired. If so, that would have been reported in the Harvard Crimson.
    In summation, I feel that people shouldn’t be “closet heterosexuals”, wherever they work. So long as the association is consensual, conducted after work, and doesn’t interfere with workplace activities, bosses should keep their noses out of employees’ affairs (pun semi-intended)!

    Comment by Donald Visconti | July 19, 2009 | Reply


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