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How to Handle an Office Affair

How to Handle an Office Affair

October 30, 2009

A reader writes:

Our office is rife with gossip regarding a married man in our office and young single co-worker. The man has a brand new baby at home and knowing that he is having an affair behind his wife’s back is rather upsetting to some of us on moral and character grounds, but also it is making us uncomfortable (wife drops in sometimes) and is a distraction. They are not in a boss/reporting relationship but are peers.

In addition they seem to take long lunches, are constantly using email and Microsoft communicator company software for endless chat sessions even though it’s not permitted for private activity. It’s bad for morale for all of us to be working full stop and see them goofing of a good part of each day.

Does HR care about such things? If they can’t be reprimanded for being causing full blown gossip epidemic, they could at least be disciplined for wasting company time? I am on the same work team with them and have difficulty looking them in the eye sometimes.

You have two different issues here: (1) Your coworkers’ affair is making you uncomfortable, and (2) your coworkers are slacking off. You need to treat them as two separate issues.

Regarding the affair, if your company doesn’t have a policy against fraternization, then these two probably aren’t violating any actual rule. And I’m not sure their affair is really their coworkers’ business — if indeed there even is an affair; it sounds like no one knows for sure, although they’re displaying the signs of at least an emotional affair.

You can certainly keep a chilly distance from people whose behavior you object to, but I wouldn’t recommend confronting someone you don’t seem close to about something that you don’t know for sure is happening and which really isn’t your business if it is.

I suppose if you’re determined to address this in some way, regardless of the above, the best way to do it might be to tell the man (since he’s the married one) something like: “Hey Bill, I wanted to give you a heads-up that there’s a lot of gossip going around about you and Beth. I’m sure there’s nothing to it, but that kind of thing can really affect someone’s career, to say nothing of rumors getting back to your wife, so I wanted to make sure you knew.”

The slacking off is a different issue. If it’s impacting your own work, you should talk to your manager about what you’ve observed. If it’s not — well, if your management team is at all competent, it’s going to be noticed and addressed at some point.

But again, if you’re determined to address it in some way, you could just be straightforward with the two perpetrators: “Hey, we’re working our asses off over here, and it’s starting to feel like you’re on a date. Could we get some help?”

But overall, I think you want to be clear in your head about what is and isn’t your business. Sometimes things are irritating and offensive, but still not necessarily ours to get involved in.

Related Reads:
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Sex in the Workplace
Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
The 25 Species of Coworkers

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