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Monday, January 17, 2011

Flirting with Disaster: Sex on the Job

The workplace can be an intimate setting where you and your colleagues are working closely together for long hours on projects of mutual interest. It's not unusual for sexual attractions to develop on the job, especially under these circumstances. But acting on those sexual attractions, even if you're both single, is like flirting with disaster.

Flirting with Disaster: Sex on the Job

What might start out as a romantic encounter or a fun and sex encounter can end up costing you your job and, possibly, your reputation in your industry.

The following vignette is a composite account, with all identifying information changed, of what could happen if you get sexually involved at work:

Ray was a successful account manager in his mid-30s at a public relations firm. He had a reputation for being smart and creative. He was becoming increasingly visible at his company due to his success with his accounts, and his boss told him on more than one occasion that senior management had their eye on him for future promotions.

Ray was also single and attractive, and many women in the office were interested in him. In the past, he dated a couple of women at work when he first started on the job. But, when he became an account manager, he decided that office romances were too risky because when the relationship ended, there tended to be hard feelings on one or both sides and he had to continue to have contact with these women, which made it very uncomfortable.

When Sally, the new administrative assistant, began working at the firm, Ray felt an instant sexual attraction for her. She was attractive, sexy smart, and single. Ray also sensed that Sally was attracted to him. He thought about what it might be like to go out with her, but he had no intention of asking her out since they worked together.

A few months later, Ray was working on a project with a short deadline and he was working long hours to try to meet the deadline. His boss assigned Sally to assist Ray as the deadline approached so Ray and Sally found themselves working in close quarters, alone, late at night.

When they were alone, they tended to flirt with each other a little but the pressure to complete the project kept them focused on their task. There was a lot at stake.

On the final night of the project, Ray thought they were really working well as a team. Without Sally's help, Ray knew that he wouldn't have completed the project on time. He also knew that Sally was underemployed as an administrative assistant, and she hoped that she might make a good junior account assistant.

When they had put the final touches on the presentation, they both breathed a sigh of relief. It was late at night and they were both tired. Ray was about to call a limousine service to take Sally home when he looked up at her, saw her staring at him with obvious interest and, without thinking, he kissed her.

As Ray described it to me when he came to see me in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC, maybe it was the excitement of completing the project and the sexual tension that was building up between them but, before he knew it, they were having sex on the floor.

When it was over, according to Ray, he felt embarrassed and guilty for initiating the sexual encounter between them. He knew that they couldn't get involved again, and he told Sally this. She told him that she was disappointed and hoped he would change his mind.

After that, Ray found it very awkward to see Sally at work. He tried to pretend that nothing happened between them, but it was hard. He sensed that Sally was hurt and annoyed with him because he only interacted with her when he absolutely had to and he kept it professional.
A few months later, Sally was assigned to help Ray again with another project deadline. Ray tried to get another administrative assistant to help him, but no one else was available. So, once again, Ray and Sally were alone in the office. Ray tried to focus on the project document, but he was very sexually aroused by Sally and he knew that she felt the same way. Since they had already had been sexually involved, it was that much more tempting.

Ray decided to work in another office and to give Sally work to do in her area. He thought if he didn't have to look at her, he wouldn't be so distracted by the sexual attraction between them. But by the end of the night, the forbidden nature of the situation made it even more tantalizing, and Ray went back to Sally's place, against his better judgment, and they spent the night together.

Afterwards, Ray told Sally again that, even though they had fun together, he wasn't interested in dating her because it would be too complicated. Once again, Sally was annoyed and hurt. She told Ray that they could date without anyone knowing about it, but Ray wasn't interested.

Soon after that, Sally applied for a position as an account manager. Ray's boss asked Ray what he thought about Sally for the job. Ray told his boss that he thought Sally would make a good junior account manager, but he didn't think that she was ready for the more senior position. He told me that he based this solely on her skills and experience, and it had nothing to do with his sexual encounters with her.

But that's not how Sally saw it. When she heard that Ray didn't think she was qualified for the job, she assumed that he was saying this because he was uncomfortable with her due to their sexual encounters. And she went straight to the EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity Office) officer and filed a sexual harassment complaint against Ray.

There was an investigation, which was very humiliating for Ray. He admitted that he had sex with Sally on two occasions, but he denied that this had anything to do with his opinion that she was not ready for the job. Soon after that, Ray's boss reprimanded Ray for getting sexually involved with a someone at work. He told Ray that, as a manager, he should have known better. He was mandated to attend an EEO training on sexual harassment. He was also told, informally, that, even though he was not being terminated, his future with the company was dim and encouraged to resign as soon as possible.

Due to the recession, it took Ray more than a year to find a comparable job and, in the meantime, he had exhausted his savings.

By the time Ray came to see me, he was doing well on his new job, but he was emotionally traumatized by what he allowed to happen at his former job, which is why he came to therapy.

Ray was lucky that Sally didn't go outside the firm to sue for damages, and he realized this. He had a lot to consider in therapy when he thought about his impulsive behavior on his former job.

Getting sexually involved at work can turn out to be a personal and career disaster. This is not to say that many people don't meet at work and eventually get married without a problem, but for many other people, it creates tremendous problems. Even if your company doesn't have a policy where employees are not allowed to date each other, you would be wise to carefully consider getting sexually involved with someone at work.

I am a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, Somatic Experiencing therapist, and EMDR therapist.

I have helped many clients with personal and career issues.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.