Monday, June 24, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

An imbalance of power

Romantic relationships in the workplace can have severe consequences on the employees and the company alike

Update : 01 Nov 2022, 09:17 PM

The other night, my cousin Shagufta called and, in a strange voice, she said, “Do you know what happened?” I was curious; she said, “Mrs Nahida has asked Rejwan (her husband) out on a date. She had hinted that in return she would do everything in her power to ensure that Rejwan does not miss out in the next round of office reshuffle.” 

Mrs Nahida is the company chairman's niece. She is quite higher up in Rejwan's line management and wields a lot of clout within the company. Lately, Rejwan's company has been in the process of being merged with another big fish in the sector and Rejwan, like a few of his colleagues, was worried about his future in the company.

Rejwan and Shagufta had just had their second baby, and Shagufta left her job months earlier. They need the flow of income to not be interrupted at a time like this. The revelation took my full attention to listen to the details.  

This particular instance sounds like a scene from a movie, but stories like this might actually happen if a superior co-worker exerts his/her authority to have relationships or affairs. Where the nature of the relationship is extramarital, it could bring chaos or disasters in the lives of both parties unless it is handled with utmost caution. There is always a power imbalance in the relationship, giving the one in the better position an undue upper hand.  

Boss-subordinate relationships are common in the workplaces and, most of the time, they are short-term and exploitative. The relationship tends to work to the benefit of both parties. The subordinate's accomplishments may be compromised as a result of the relationship, or the superior may mistreat the subordinate in an effort to remove any hint of bias from their judgements.

According to different career surveys, instances like this have hit much more in recent days nationally and globally in the professional world. Abusing power at work and trying to form relationships, whether it be extramarital or not, has the potential to be detrimental to morale or professional productivity if there are improper displays of affection, favouritism on the part of a boss who dates a subordinate, a disastrous breakdown that compels co-workers to choose "sides," or gender discrimination.

Interestingly, women are not always the victims -- men are victims too in their professional and personal lives. You can take the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard case, for example.

Some would say co-workers typically talk to one another for 8 to 10 hours a day. The individuals tend to get to know each other quite well because of the long hours spent together, and they also frequently have little time to spend with their partners outside of work. With only the slightest spark between them, the co-workers may find themselves gradually growing closer as a result of their shared objectives, and unwittingly heading in the direction of infidelity.

That seems like a little bit of a leap, doesn't it? But a lot of hidden forces can drive the couple towards a closer, adulterous relationship. For example, there are situations where co-workers and bosses abuse their positions and authority for their personal gain in the name of spending time at work and using subordinate co-workers.

A management hierarchy exists in the majority of professional bodies. Decisions can be made more easily as a result of the effective operation of enterprises. Power can, however, be employed both well and improperly in a salable setting. Utilizing one's position of authority to attempt to influence another person's intimate behaviour is both inappropriate and unlawful in the workplace.  It would be considered as sexual harassment through the misuse of power if a superior favours their employee in exchange for an intimate relationship.

Workplace romances are frequent, but if a superior has a connection with a subordinate, it may turn out to be problematic. After all, we are only human and subject to messes. Everyone has heard horror stories about horrible bosses. A lot of this behaviour stems from feeling ignored and having unfulfilled desires in the past or conjugal relationships, leading to poor communication skills and limits. Moreover, if an affair is revealed, it may also cause the office's professional atmosphere to disintegrate and result in staff members losing respect for their manager.

Power imbalance?

It is difficult to say whether someone's involvement in a romantic relationship in the workplace was truly his/her choice when the other party was in a position of control over them. Perhaps your secretary or junior executive is just seeing you because he or she fears -- and with good reason -- that they will be dismissed, harassed, victimized, or be treated badly if the advances have been discouraged or thwarted rather than having developed a fondness for you.

What should be done?

This issue requires preventative corporate policies, which are crucial. Employers must have confidence in clearly defined standards of behaviour before they can deal with employees who may be in violation. In cases when there is a love relationship between a superior and a subordinate, employers should act quickly to prevent conflicts of interest and seek legal counsel on how to handle the circumstance. The majority of times, circumstances will be grave enough to call for actions similar to something destructive.

Nasrin Pervin is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English and Modern languages, North South University.

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