Female respondents to the study, carried out for the US Centre for Work-Life Policy, said they felt that no matter how high achieving, female executives will not reach the top of their profession unless they find a “sponsor” who will speak out on their behalf.
More often than not, the sponsors are in a position of power and influence – and almost always male and married.
And this is the especially worrying part of this study: sleeping with the boss, if both parties are single, may be ill-advised (the survey showed that 61 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women lose respect for a leader involved in an affair, plus the career benefits could be wiped out if the relationship ends), but embarking on a liaison with a superior who is married leads to all kinds of problems.
Some years back, I coined the phrase “office piranha” to describe women of a certain age – late 30s, single, looking for someone with a proven track record to father their babies – who zoom in on company high-fliers. For piranhas, a boost to their career and a potential husband and sire make for a potent mix. And men, who are particularly open to flattery, are drawn to such women, often believing they can give them a new lease of life.
But affairs have a nasty habit of ending in tears. What works in an office environment (sexual frisson makes going to work so much more exciting) doesn’t necessarily work outside it.
More than that, embarking on a relationship with a colleague when one or both of you are in a serious relationship with someone else can lead to untold heartache. When it’s your boss, then as well as threatening their marriage (likely to be longstanding), you run the risk of alienating yourself from fellow workers. Interestingly, the study also found that when an office romance with a superior falls apart, about half those questioned would feel animosity towards the involved couple, with many believing productivity will fall as a result.
Men, as we know, aren’t as good as women at multi-tasking, which is why senior male executive who’s in an extra-marital relationship with one of his staff will find it difficult to concentrate on his work. If the company is a small one that relies heavily on his input, in today’s difficult economic climate an affair of the heart could spell disaster for the firm.
Many of our clients’ marriages have fallen apart because of office romances and one thing that stands out is that middle-aged men who ditch their long-term wives for a younger model often say that, once the novelty has worn off, they are in exactly the same situation they were in before. The most thrilling of relationships is likely to become mundane over time – especially when the illicit element is no longer there.