Romance at Workplace : Debate (Part - 1)

Sanjeev Himachali

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Romance at Workplace : Debate (Part - 1)

Recently, we had one very interesting debate on “workplace Romance”. What if one of your male employees likes to spend his “Free time” with one of his female Colleague. We tried to find following things:

1. Is it wrong or right?

2. If the management have any right to intervene?

3. Should there be any policy to have a check on such “interactions”?

4. It is his or her personal life and no one should interfere.

5. If this is a right of an individual and the organization let them continue?

I am sure you will find this debate…an interesting one.

The list of participants: Veena Dhamankar, Arun Kottolli, Vivek Raghuvanshi, Gopika Rani, Madhukar Kaushik, Usha Gowri, Meera, Deepak Miglani, Puja Jhunjhunwala, S. Madhavan, Rajendran Mani, Jyotsna Cheruvu, Saumitra Yadav and Sanjeev Sharma (Himachali)

Veena Dhamankar: I recently had an experience. One of my office (female) colleagues is closely involved with one male colleague. They go for lunch together; they sit in bus together and wherever they go they are together. Because of that lot many discussions, chit chatting etc is going in the company. Ours is a male dominated organization and only few female employees are working.

One day my President called me and asked me to talk to that girl and prompt them that such things are not good at working place. So I called her and talked to her very politely that I've received a feedback like this and. . . . etc. You will not believe what answer she gave:

“I sit with that person in bus because I don’t find myself comfortable with others. I like that person and it is my personal matter what others have to do with this. And I'll not stop all this because people are discussing”.

Gopika Rani: Option 1: - Find out whether the resources are very potential for the project?

If so try to shift one resource to other project; so that you can cover this issue to some extent. But still they get connected each other either through chatting/mail/going for coffee/juice etc.

Secondly if they are an average/ additional resource try to eliminate the resource.

To avoid the recruitment cost you can place this resource in any of the other Co. , those who need that sort of resource and get required resource through them also.

Option 2: Find out their expertise and keep them engaged always, so that they dedicate and concentrate more on the work and spend less time during office hours.

Sanjeev Sharma: Well, as your female colleague has made a statement that. . . " I sit with that person in bus because I don’t find myself comfortable with others. I like that person and it is my personal matter what others have to do with this. And I'll not stop all this because people are discussing. "

If I have to address this problem and my reply for that lady would be. . . "Ok. It’s your personal life and you are free to do anything, but when you do your “personal or private things" at public places. . . people have every right to comment on that and interfere in that. After reaching home. . . whatever you do. . . that is your private or personal thing; on holidays whatever you do. . . that is your personal thing; but as long as you are in office. . .in the premises of the company or using anything given by company. . . such as bus. . . it is not a “personal" thing. You are not an individual but you are representing our company. . . by your behavior and actions. Choose what you want. . . "A private life" or a “Career in an organization".

Vivek Raghuvanshi: I guess it amounts to *Sexual Harassment* provided there is a power relationship i. e. the man is a senior and the girl is a junior, also if the girl is the direct beneficiary i. e. for promotion etc. ,

What you require to do is counseling.

Now if the girl is not filing for *** harassment, I think we are making a mountain out of a molehill.

However if a lady wines and dines with her male executive, we must not read more than what is required. On the other hand you could put them under *Discreet Surveillance* to know for sure about *physical chemistry*

Veena Dhamankar This is not the case of *** harassment. It is the case of how these people who are involved with each other behave at work place and in spite of verbal counseling they have not stopped their acts.

Puja Jhunjhunwala: I think the entire conversation has taken a real turn. . . What I fail to understand is why is it so important that the two people in question sit separately.

I agree we can’t be bothered about office gossip all the time. In my view, a gentler probing might help as to why the girl is friendly only with the guy. Also, speak to the guy also. . . what I would suggest is…not to call them in office, even separately. Arrange an accidental meeting maybe near the coffee machine, corridor anywhere. . . cause calling them to office will lead to further murmurs in the office.

Sanjeev Sharma: Vivek. . . I don't know from where you got this notion of “Sexual Harassment". In this particular case. . . there is nothing that constitutes to be “Sexual Harassment". It is a simple case of “Companionship" in the organization and since it has become “Talk of the Organization". . . HR has to play its role of “Discipline Enforcement". As we say in our HR-Department. . . "either my way or Highway". One Counseling has already been done the we can have one more counseling by the reporting managers of both the people…followed by warning…and finally termination.

Vivek Raghuvanshi: It is not a case of *** harassment. Try sacking / dismissing the girl and you can be sure that she will file for *** harassment because the man (ideally) will be either a senior i. e. Manager or CEO or Director.

It is not *** harassment if chemistry exists. It may not be love either. It may not be a platonic relationship either. What I am talking about is that if you sack the girl or if she does not get promotion because of whatsoever the reason and if you decide to sack her or she leaves the origination then Bingo; we have a case of *** harassment, which she will create and file in the court of law and the Judge will then educate your organization *What technically constitutes *** Harassment*.

Sanjeev Sharma: Nowhere in this is mentioned that the guy is senior or director or any VP. In my response, I never mentioned that “Sack or Terminate Girl Only". I mentioned, if required then sack both. I was never biased in saying that “Sack the Lady". It is all about interpretation and perception.

Jyotsna Cheruvu: What Sanjeev says is true to the extent that one needs to follow the rules of the game as long as you’re playing. But the question I would like to put in is, in a male dominant office, where in the president interferes and directs the HR, why is it that the girl is called first (or it sound like she is only called)? Let it be for both separately and check the opinions of both of them equal. Probably the counseling should go on seniority basis. Ladies first may not be the right way here.

And it is necessary that the girl and the boy made known that anything disturbing the environment needs serious consideration from HR.

Arun Kottolli: Work place interpersonal relationships are a complex issue. In the story, the situation in that company has a lot to do with interpersonal relationships.

I totally disagree that this is a situation of “Sexual Harassment" - basically, there is no element of “sex" involved in any form, therefore it is not *** harassment, but this is a case of " Work place Discrimination" based on Gender. i. e. , the management is discriminating a person for the simple fact of her being a woman. If that person happened to be a man, then the management would not have any issues. (And if it does, then again it will be a “Work place discrimination" based on *** orientation) - either way the company management is at fault.

Given this exact situation, if such an event were to happen in Europe or US, then the employee would have sued the company on discrimination charges and would have won.

What constitutes a *** harassment - see: http://en.

Sexual harassment is harassment or unwelcome attention of a *** nature. It includes a range of behavior from mild transgressions and annoyances to serious abuses, which can even involve forced *** activity. (Dziech et al 1990, Boland 2002) *** harassment is considered a form of illegal discrimination, and is a form of abuse (sexual and psychological) and bullying.

Given this definition of *** harassment, I don't think this is a case of *** harassment, but IT IS A CASE OF DISCRIMINATION.

Arun Kottolli : Work place relationships are common in the US & Europe. History tells us that companies, which tried to formulate policies to regulate interaction between men & women, have failed miserably. What I would suggest is to create a company policy clearly citing Indian laws on *** harassment & workplace discrimination, and then conduct a campaign educating all employees about it.

HR should create a process based on legal grounds first, before developing policies. Else such policies will be disregarded and the HR will get a bad reputation. Think about this situation as an opportunity to improve the management process rather than an opportunity to develop a new policy.

To illustrate this with an extreme example, think what will happen if the police department decides to implement a policy to regulate how people should walk in the streets: what should be pace, the distance between steps, distance between people etc. I am sure one can come up with such a policy, but is it enforceable? Will that policy stand legal scrutiny? Will people follow it? - The answer is NO.

In the same way, HR policies must be developed through a process - which makes all policies enforceable, legally binding and a vast majority of employees are keen to follow it.

Arun Kottolli: Employees will follow the company policy only if it is:

Legally binding Enforceable Employees like that policy

Often I come across policies, which are illegal, and employees hate these policies and in effect totally non-enforceable

Arun Kottolli: Sanjeev, I totally disagree on your solution. Basically, I do not see that either the lady or the gentleman in question here has done anything illegal. Working closely or talking often or sitting next to each other in a bus is NOT A CRIME in India (it may be in IRAN or other countries), so the employees have done nothing wrong, and therefore the company & the HR manager is at fault.

In such circumstances, the company management (HR included) is at fault for talking to the lady in the first place. If you were to make such a statement to a person and if it were to be presented in the court of law, the judge will constitute your statement as “Workplace discrimination" and your company will be held liable.

Just because a person is working in a company, the person does not forfeit his/her personal life. What you said could be extended to a point that employees should not have any personal life when they are at work - even talking to family would then constitute “personal life". Such policies will FAIL and make companies look bad.

Take another example; if a person is talking to his wife/spouse over a phone while at work, will you interfere with that!! ("Personal or private things" at public places. . . people have every right to comment on that and interfere in that. ) I don't think you can interfere - even though that employee was doing a personal thing (talking to spouse) at a public place. And if you do, you will be in trouble.

People can comment - because they have freedom of speech in India, but the law restricts freedom of action.

BTW, sometime ago, there was a lot of talk on why employees hate HR. - One of the reasons for employees to hate HR is that HR often comes up with policies which are against the fundamental rights of people and these policies do not stand legal scrutiny.

Saumitra Yadav: First of all i must pay my respect to the lady for her upright stand on her basic & fundamental right to live the way she wants to. Please understand one thing it is no crime when two people from opposite sex are staying together in the office premises unless they are not showing any indecent behavior, which is publically not permitted, & not hampering the job, which they have been assigned. Suppose they are in love, so what let them may be, it is the case of two consenting adults finding emotional solace in each other. They are responsible for there behavior & they perfectly understand the outcome of their relationship.

From company point of view you must see are they in senior & junior position, is the senior providing extra benefits to the junior which he or she does not deserve, are there relationship is hampering the career of other co-worker. As a HR person your concern should be limited to the above-mentioned two things, that's all. We must understand that in today's competitive world every body is stressed to limit & in constant search of true friend who can share his or her stress & these relationship are the outcome of these situations so we must handle it with maturity & understanding.

Marguerite: Arun, Your message I felt is very correct. Am surprised how people claim that interfering into someone s personal issue is their birthright. I do not understand how a management can become a judge about people having affairs (be it extra marital or whatever). As far as there is no disturbance in the output and they do not get involved publicly into anything that is obscene, it is not the headache or the duty of the management to counsel them. The management must be busy with things that are important about attaining its objectives for the year. In a company where there are thousands of employees working can all such affairs be taken for an issue?

I think reacting to this extend about such issues is not going to be of any use. We need more focus on improving the bottom lines of the originations that we work for. That is the principle purpose why all of us (even HR) are recruited for in a company.

Sanjeev Sharma: In this course of exchanging our views on this particular case…there were two things that caught my eyes:

1) Assumption and Presumption: You were given one case…along with some facts and you let your mind run…don’t know where to assume and presume so many things. Which were not related to the case. 2) Negativity in thoughts: Assumptions and Presumptions…to an extent are acceptable but these were so wild and negative. People went on to say things like: a. Find out if those people are married or not? b. Find out if they have any physical relation or not? c. People went on to assume that the guy is a senior person and he is *** harassing the lady. d. Management is biased

Excuse me, you are HR-Professionals, Trainers and Coaches and you cannot afford to be so negative, so wild and vague in your thoughts. For a moment I thought that by default I have entered into a fish-market.

Somebody mentioned that “One of the reasons for employees to hate HR is that HR often comes up with policies which are against the fundamental rights of people and these policies do not stand legal scrutiny”.

People don’t hate HR because there are policies and procedures…limiting their “Personal Freedom”. People hate HR…because those policies are not “properly communicated” or not “Uniformly Implemented”. That reminds me…successful companies across the globe are those companies, which have “Stringiest” Code of Conduct; Policies, Process and Procedures to follow; Strict “enforced “ discipline and rules.

Someone also mentioned, “if a person is talking to his wife/spouse over a phone while at work, will you interfere with that. I don't think you can interfere - even though that employee was doing a personal thing (talking to spouse) at a public place. And if you do, you will be in trouble”.

My reply is “Yes”, people can interfere even if your are talking to your spouse at public places…if your talk or interaction or conduct with your spouse is such that it is creating disturbance for others or distracting focus and concentration of others. Go to any reputed restaurant in USA and talk to your spouse in a loud voice…you will know what I mean.

Talking to your spouse during office hours (if you are not in same office)…is OK but if such talk or interaction is regular and frequent …then again, it comes under the “Code of Conduct” of the company. If your boss notice that almost everyday and most of the time your are talking to your spouse…he have right to raise his objection. If I am the boss and such thing happens in my department; I will not take any stress or make any noise, just call the person to cabin and say, “I will give you paid leaves, take as many as you want. Go to your spouse…talk to your spouse…interact with your spouse…do whatever you want to do and come back once you are through”.

If I have a company…I am in business and my main focus is to earn profit…make my company a global name. I respect the personal life of my employees and also their privacy but I am not doing any charity. I or for that matter, no company will tolerate that their “employees are enjoying their personal life at the cost of the company”.

In this particular case, nobody is actually bothered as what these two people are doing but now, it is disturbing others…distracting the concentration and focus of others…affecting the work-environment, hence objectionable. Any freedom is good, if that freedom is enjoyed within certain limits…within the cover of discipline. Freedom without discipline can cause destruction and damage.

Madhukar Kaushik: Saumitra, With due regards to yours and others’ similar opinions, it is quite easy for each one of us to advise Veena, but, it is a difficult situation for her - she simply can not sermonize her President, upholding whatever is going on.

While advocating the validity of such openly practiced relationship, let us not forget the context in which we live. I have seen even many husbands and wife pairs working in same office, same department, but even they don’t do any exhibition of their relationship. Wise are those who know where their LAKSHMAN REKHA gets drawn.

Indian Society will need many years still to become Americanized (I am not talking of Metro Cities)

Conclusive remarks given by Arun Kottolli: Basically, I think there is a cultural issue here. I come from a cultural background, which encourages strong individualism, and the company policies are designed with that in mind. But in India, it is a collectivism that is more prevalent and important - therefore policies are designed with the collective in mind. The BPO/Call center examples highlight the collective mindset and the policies being implemented are in that direction.

In the current example, I think what Sanjeev is talking about, primarily comes from the background that collective benefits must rule over Individual rights. And I think that Individual rights must be honored.

Girl talking to a guy or vice versa, As in the case here - where there is no physical contact or a drop in their work related performance, is not illegal as per the law and therefore company cannot have a policy banning it.

If two people exchange confidential information, or indulged in a physical act at public place - that is illegal. You can have a policy to prevent such activities.

With lots of love and care

Sanjeev Himachali (E-mail: ; ) (Blog: )


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