Should You Date A Subordinate?

Should You Date A Subordinate?

By Mark Swartz


On Valentine’s Day and other romantic occasions, it’s traditional to shower your beloved with gifts. Chocolates or flowers are the norm. Jewelry works nicely too.

Complications arise when you deliver these expressions of intimacy to your special someone – and you’re their boss!

Even if the feelings are reciprocal and you’re being discreet (or think you are) about dating a subordinate, it’s a relationship fraught with perils. If you attempt to do so, make sure to prepare yourselves for likely repercussions. There’s a power imbalance here with serious implications.


Why You Should Resist Your Impulses

There are many good reasons to suppress your amour for a direct report. These hindrances may not dissuade you. So at least go forth without illusions.


The Object of Your Affection May Object

Many a subordinate’s admiring glance or lingering smile has been mistaken for affection. Your direct reports naturally need to attract your attention and convey fondness. You hold their job in your hands, after all.

If you approach one of your employees with romantic or lustful intent, they might not want it. At a minimum that would be hugely awkward for both of you. Do so bluntly and you could face a sexual harassment suit.


They May Consent For the Wrong Reasons

Your desired employee might accept your advances even if they don’t want to. They might fear the career consequences of rejecting you. Conversely they could exploit you merely to advance their own interests.

How will you really know if their closeness with you is authentic?


You Put Your Lover’s Reputation at Risk

You and the subordinate you’re dating may genuinely fall in love. And you might be scrupulous about ensuring they are never shown favouritism. That won’t prevent jealous colleagues or skeptical executives from judging harshly.

Will your lover ever get proper credit for their work? Or will every promotion, raise and acknowledgment they receive from you be tainted by suspicion of special treatment.


Your Own Professional Judgment Will Be Questioned

So, this is how you behave when given a little power. Unable to prevent yourself from crossing a precarious line. Exposing you and your lover to accusations and ridicule. Putting the employer in a squeeze if things should go awry and get publicized.

Now, let’s review your request to be promoted. Not.


Reasons to Go Ahead Anyway

Despite the obvious obstacles, proceeding with your impulses might not be a terrible idea. Why? Because true love blooms rarely. Maybe this will end up being your one true soulmate.

Even if the dating doesn’t evolve into long-term commitment, it creates a deeper bond between the two of you that can make working together a pleasure. Staying late to finish up tasks side-by-side becomes a date. Everyone wins.


Give It a Proper Chance To Blossom

If you do go ahead, ensure that you minimize the risk to either of your careers. Take it step by step and see how it plays out.


Find Out If the Relationship Allowed

For starters, review the employer’s policy on office romances. Does it prohibit boss/subordinate couplings? You wouldn’t want to jeopardize your jobs over Cupid’s arrow.


Reduce Chances of Getting Cited For Harassment

Declaring your feelings of attraction to a subordinate should be done in stages. Start subtly. Check their reaction with each slight advance you make. If they are uncomfortable at any point, think twice before moving forward.

If you begin dating each other, follow the employer’s rules. Must you declare your involvement to the company in writing that you and your paramour swear you’re in the romance voluntarily?

That’s not a bad idea in any event. Keep in mind that should things end badly, a scorned lover could pursue harassment claims against both you and the employer.


Be Discreet

Trying to hide your romance isn’t a great idea. People are bound to find out eventually. At that point your staff and upper management will see you as deceitful.

On the other hand, flaunting your fling will surely rankle others. They’re certain to question whether your lover is getting special treatment at work. Never mind that public displays of affection may leave some feeling ill at ease.


Don’t Let the Relationship Affect Work

Never show favouritism only to your beloved. That will raise red flags and create resentment in an instant. Also make efforts to remove yourself or your dating partner from potential conflicts of interest.

Having a lover’s tiff? Keep it away from the office. Moreover don’t penalize the subordinate work-wise if you’re mad at them for a relationship hitch. You might as well file the paperwork yourself for a harassment suit against you.


Don’t Date a Gossip Or Have an Affair

When you become intimate with someone, you tend to start sharing the details of your private life. Finances, personal history and secrets, your bedroom happenings…all enter the picture. If your lover betrays your confidences at work it could devastate your reputation. 

As for having an affair with a subordinate, it’s definitely a bad idea. Do you really want to ruin an existing relationship, on top of all the other problems inherent in a boss/employee tryst? 

Better to flirt professionally, or date a colleague, and avoid putting your reputations or careers at risk.


And remember, have a happy Valentine’s Day!