Today’s specimen wends its way to the Volcano Lair from a junior investment banker of the distaff persuasion (let us call her “Tempted”). She solicits my advice on whether a workplace dalliance with a more senior colleague, one who is already in a committed relationship, would have a detrimental or indeed even positive effect on her professional advancement. She acknowledges being attracted to said individual, finding both his attentions pleasing and his person enticing.
As this situation is quite common in my industry—and, I imagine, many others—for reasons which I outline below, I thought it might be helpful to publish herewith a lightly edited version of the reply I sent Tempted earlier today.
Dear Tempted — Speaking purely from a professional perspective, which you seem to want me to do, screwing around with this guy sounds like a really bad idea. Some random thoughts:
I recommend you extract yourself gently from any real engagement with this guy. Remind him of his girlfriend, tell him you’ve met someone special, tell him you’re worried how this will affect your chances at the firm, anything. You can flirt with him—mildly—but for heaven’s sake keep your clothes on. Unless you both fall madly in love—in which case one or both of you shouldn’t care about getting new jobs elsewhere, as you will likely have to do—this is a really bad idea.
- Sleeping with a woman does not raise a man’s professional opinion of her. Ever. Unless she is a prostitute.
- Sex, emotions, and relationships are messy. How would you keep this quiet at your firm? Office romances get out. You won’t be able to prevent it.
- You say he is smart and cute, and his attentions flatter your vanity. I expect you appeal to him at least in part because he is in a position of power and authority (or at least seniority) to you. This sounds like a lousy basis for a work relationship, or indeed any sort of relationship.
- If your firm employs more than 100 people, it will likely have explicit guidelines about intra-office romances, especially among people who work together. Check them out. You and your colleague might be violating workplace rules by proceeding.
- Sleeping with a more senior banker will earn you a reputation as someone who sleeps your way to the top. This is a really shitty reputation to have, whether among men or women, especially if it is not true.
- You will likely get the short end of any stick in this situation. He has a permanent job and an established reputation at your company. You don’t. If push comes to shove, you are the one who is likely to get the boot.
- Odds are most relationships at your age don’t last. Unless both of you are truly in love—and it sure doesn’t sound that way—it will not last. How will you be able to work together in the future? Never underestimate how knowing how someone looks naked or what embarrassing little quirks they have in bed can undermine a professional working relationship.
I would offer you this same confidential advice if you worked for me and came to me in person. Good luck, and be careful.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love sex. Sex is a wonderful thing, and one of the few unalloyed perks of being human, in my opinion. If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass whether all the healthy young girls and boys who work for me fucked each other like bunnies all the time they weren’t in the office. Why, I might even set up a mattress in the break room so they could sneak off for a little horizontal tango during lunch hour, just so they could work the nasty into their work schedules more efficiently.
And it is no surprise temptation is there. Throw together smart, attractive, ambitious, and energetic young men and women (or men and men, or women and women, for that matter)1 for 16 hours a day of high-pressure, high-stakes work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Make sure they develop an elite esprit de corps of shared suffering and accomplishment, compounded by societal envy and disapproval of what they do, and give them rare opportunities to blow off steam together in dark nightclubs and bars and the company of way too much alcohol. It’s a wonder every female investment banker under the age of 30 isn’t pregnant all the time.
But sex is messy. Sex is tangled up with all sorts of emotions, good and bad, and sex makes for a very awkward work environment. It is the rare couple who can conduct an affair at work that does not spill over into recriminations, drama, and undermining behavior, and that is just among their coworkers. In a work environment, sex fucks things up. As a boss, I won’t tolerate it. I just have too much goddamn work to do.
So keep it in your pants, boys. Keep your legs crossed, girls. At least with each other. Because if anything interferes with getting that big LBO pitch for Yahoo! done this weekend, I swear I will fucking geld you.
She’s Got Legs (June 11, 2011)
Thank You for Smoking (August 6, 2010)
Fingernails that Shine Like Justice (May 21, 2007)
1 Hey, whatever floats your boat. I don’t care. I would simply observe that gay men and lesbians tend to be even scarcer in my industry than straight women.
© 2011 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.