I was inspired to write this when I saw an article of Tavis Smiley, saying, “Where else are you going to meet people in this business?” in response to PBS pulling his distribution deal in light of sexual misconduct accusations. I hear this every single time a work sexual harassment/sexual misconduct situation comes up. It’s used as a way to try to make someone feel sorry for the person (because now that person looks sad and lonely). The question usually makes people uncomfortable and they don’t have a readily available fix for this situation so this is usually where the conversation dies off. This could be on purpose or it could be them subconsciously doing it. Either way, it’s a way to take the heat off of a person. And it usually gets the job done. But for psychotherapists, like me, this is just the beginning of the conversation. And it should be the same for you.
I am writing this post to address the question, “But where else am I going to meet people?”. The short answer is “…not at work.” I want to talk about 1) the psychological importance of keeping up a balance between the time you spend at work and your personal time, 2) the risks of dating coworkers, and 3) why employers “dating” employees is inappropriate at best because it potentially leads to abuse.
One of the first things that pops into my head when I hear, “But where else am I going to meet people?” is:
Why are you spending so much time at work?
No, but seriously why? Why do people spend so much time at work? Part of it is society’s expectations/pressures. This society values working at least 40 hours a week. Someone’s job/career becomes their whole identity and our jobs can have a huge influence on many of our internal clocks and schedules. This society also values our ability to work. Look at how health insurance is mainly connected to one’s job instead of health and wellness being a basic human right for all. Society (read: capitalism) even sees dedicating your whole self to labor as linked to your morals. How often do you hear someone talking about deserving something because they are “hard-working”? So many people have dedicated years of their lives to companies and were paid in dust. People are used up and spit out when they no longer have that same energy instead of valued for the effort they’ve invested into the company and any wisdom they gained. People are seen as expendable and very easily replaced like machine parts. People are not valued beyond what they can produce right now. And this, along with society teaching people to see their job as their main identity, results in people whose mental health is neglected. An employee’s monthly deliverables are valued over encouraging employees to take breaks, use vacation time, engage in self-care individually and as a team, etc.
And before anyone says “How is that a job’s responsibility?”: Companies ask, strongly encourage, require, and/or demand that their employees work overtime on a regular basis. Many people are often asked to work on their off days. Many people are asked to perform the duties of 2-3 people while only getting paid 1 person’s salary. Employers demand loyalty from their workers, but what do they do to earn that loyalty? What does your job do to earn your over time? Do you get paid enough to justify that effort? Do you get enough time off? How is your health insurance? If your job is sacrificing your mental health and there aren’t even any material benefits…come on.
Time for some self-reflection. If you are noticing that you are spending so much time at work that you don’t have time to date or to make time for hobbies, that is a red flag. Something is wrong with your schedule. Contrary to America’s puritan values, work should not be the center of someone’s life. You are more than a laborer. Work is supposed to be 1 of MANY parts of your life. There’s a reason you aren’t as content or as fulfilled as you’d like to be. There are parts of your life that are unfulfilled while all of your focus is being dedicated to work. More times than not, your job is not worth the unconditional loyalty they demand from you. Clock out and figure out who you are outside of work.
Assuming you want to date someone who is compatible with you, it would make the most sense to use hobbies, events, socials, meet-ups, parties, extracurricular workshops/classes, hookup/dating apps and websites…you know, situations that were basically created for the purpose of meeting other people. You know that saying, “There’s a time and a place for everything”? That’s wisdom. Being on the same page is important. There’s less room for miscommunication. Less room for “I thought they were into me!” when it’s actually “I was just being nice!”. When people are at work, they’re more likely to focus on being polite to protect feelings rather than being open/clear about their lack of interest. No one wants to be the mean one. It’s easy to get into unrequited love/lust situations at work because you’re looking in the wrong place. Like looking to buy a hammer at a mattress store. Don’t get mad. Look somewhere else.
When you have other things going on in your life, it’s really easy to avoid workplace sexual and romantic relationships. I think because many people spend too much time at their workplace, it is easy to forget why they are there. Keeping an active personal life is an example of self-care and setting boundaries. When you know that you have other things to do after work, you conserve your energy throughout the day to make space for all your activities. That’s a good thing.
I know we hear about all the stories of coworkers meeting each other and falling in love. Or of couples who have started businesses together with little to no stresses on the relationship and they’re “fine” and live happily ever after the end. But that’s rare. The average person has more stories about the coworkers who dated each other and then all the sitcom-level nonsense that went down. So let’s be real. Coworkers dating while working together is distracting. You can say it isn’t, but it is. Everyone at the workplace knows when coworkers are dating and everyone knows when they’re fighting. It stalls the work day in obvious ways (people using coworkers as mouthpieces, which slows things down) and/or subtle ways (going out of your way to communicate only via email as a way to avoid face-to-face contact). It’s poor boundaries because now you’re seeing this same person all day with no breaks, which isn’t the best for most relationships anyway. Eventually y’all are going to get on each other’s nerves. And that’s assuming that there wasn’t any toxicity or abuse in the relationship to start with. That turns a situation from uncomfortable to potentially dangerous, not just for the partners, but for everyone at the workplace. Despite the fairy tale exceptions, it is generally risky for coworkers to date each other while working in the same workplace. And like I said earlier, when you have other things going on in your life, it’s not necessary to take on those kinds of low-benefit, high cost risks.
Although I see gray areas for coworkers dating each other (meaning I admit that there are situations in which coworkers could be in healthy relationships while working together despite the huge risk to the work environment):
Employers having sex with and/or “dating” employees is inappropriate.
This is due to the unequal power dynamics between employer and employee. Healthy interpersonal relationships are ones in which all the people involved respect and treat each other like equal human beings (I am not talking about D/s or M/s sexual dynamics in BDSM here) and where everyone is in a position to be able to give their enthusiastic consent. When the power is not shared equally in a relationship, there is the potential for abuse and neglect. When 1 person makes substantially less than another AND relies on that person financially, that power imbalance creates a potential for abuse [That is what makes paying everyone the same wage for a task regardless of their gender so powerful. It further decreases the opportunities for someone to be taken advantage of]. It is impossible to truly give consent, let alone enthusiastic consent, if the relationship is unbalanced from jump. If 1 person has the power to fire the other person in the relationship, that could mean loss of income, an inability to pay rent and bills, and possible homelessness because of the boss’s personal feelings.
If someone has that kind of power over you, you eventually are probably going to be careful of how you act around them, treading lightly around them, and more likely to agree to things you don’t really wanna do to keep them happy and keep the peace.
On the other side, your happiness is completely linked to their ability to keep a roof over their head. If you have that control over someone, they can never be their full, true selves with you without risking their livelihood. If you are cool with that, well…it definitely says a lot about what you are looking for in a “relationship”.
Because of this inherent inability to consent, this situation is a landmine for abuse. Even if it’s begun with best of intentions, a boss having sex and/or dating an employee is all fine and good until the moment it’s not. And then what? It’s messy for no real reason. The temporary thrill isn’t worth it in the long run. And there are much better thrills without the huge costs/risks.
There’s a time and a place for everything. Work isn’t supposed to be your everything and work was not created for dating. It’s not the most efficient place to date. Look at your job description. Listen to your mind & body. Your dissatisfaction is a sign that you need to diversify your life, not that you need to rely even more on this 1 area of your life. Having better boundaries creates a better work environment (because everyone is on the same page and there’s no room for miscommunication) and creates a better personal life for you.
TLDR: Where else can you go to find people? Clock out and explore the other interests/areas of your life. Again, there’s a time and a place for everything. Thanks for reading.
Next post will be a part 1 of a piece on adults using corporal punishment and public humiliation to discipline children on 2/25/18.