Should Firms Ban Office Romance?

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

Not sure if you read a recent article about a very high-profile individual at BlackRock who was fired for engaging in a consensual relationship with a staff member. The fired individual is married, so I guess it doesn’t matter whether it was “consensual” or not since it was wrong.

Our office manager is sleeping with one of our principals. Both of these people are married, but unfortunately not to each other. The staff (I am not an advisor) all knows this is going on, so we walk on eggshells. The office manager isn’t very good and she makes a ton of mistakes. But of course no one can say anything about it because she is our leader’s love interest.

I worked for another advisory firm where we had a clear “no-dating colleagues” policy. One of the advisors (unmarried) and one of the operations people (recently divorced at the time) ended up involved, but both quit to avoid problems at the firm. Six years later they are happily married and running their own firm!

I have two questions. Is there anything we should say or do about the existing situation? Is there a policy that can effectively regulate this behavior, like at my last firm?


Dear A.A.,

This is the principal of the firm? And you have no rules in place? Even if there were rules, they might not apply to the principal/owner. The short answer to your first question is “no,” there is not a lot you can do except gather colleagues together who also feel the pain of this situation and try to approach the principal in an objective and straightforward manner to outline specifically how this is impacting the rest of the firm.

Years ago I had a client, an independent advisory firm, with several partners and one had engaged in an illicit relationship with a support staff member. The situation just about tore the firm apart because people took sides and the person involved in the relationship threw her weight around and was untouchable. Eventually she left and the partners had to work very hard to repair their relationship (which they ultimately did). But I saw firsthand how destructive this thing can be to a thriving firm. I wouldn’t recommend any one person go speak to the principal, unless there is someone who has an excellent relationship with him and could take him out for lunch to have a one-on-one discussion. Rather, I would suggest gathering as a team and verbalizing your respect for his personal life and the fact that you don’t judge his behavior, but then outlining the ways the behavior is impacting you and other team members.