The staid Harvard Business Review tackled a subject more usually seen in the pages of Cosmopolitan--romances between executives in the same corporation--and concluded in a hard-hearted business manner that "love threatens the organization's stability."
The article "Managers and Lovers" in the September-October issue of the prestigious business journal, moreover, advised corporate bosses to fire the lover who is least valuable to the company--which author Eliza G. C. Collins said in today's business world is most likely to be the woman.
"Love between managers is dangerous because it challenges--and can break down--the organizational structure . . . their romance affects the organization's power alliances," she said in the article.
Collins, a senior editor of the Harvard Business Review, said the article was published because of the growing corporate problem of inter-office romances between senior executives--a reflection of the recent rise of women into the business hierarchy.
In typical Harvard Business School style, she cites four case histories, but said in a telephone interview that "there's probably more out there than anyone knows about. It's very, very common now. If there are women out there, there is going to be some degree of romantic attachment."
These serious romances between executives, furthermore, are replacing the "short-term sexual sprees" between male bosses and lower-level female employes, generally secretaries, she wrote. This phenomenon was most vividly dramatized in the 1960 Oscar-winning film starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLean, "The Apartment."
But Collins analyzes the subject academically from a corporate perspective, which seems to reverse the customary moral distinction between casual sex and deeper relationships based on love. A temporary office affair "may be considered immoral," but presents only "minor problems" to a corporation unless there is sexual harrassment, she said.
"But on occasion an encounter will develop into a love relationship, which constitutes a threat to business," she said.
The internal corporate problems intensify, furthermore, when one or both of the partners is married to someone else, Collins said. That carries the corporate problem into the homes, as spouses of fellow executives exhibit signs of jealousy and choose sides between their fellow workers.
Most love affairs start secretly, and the participants generally believe they remain that way. But according to Collins, other executives aren't "as blind as the lovers" and almost from the start know "something was going on."
"People in love look different," wrote Collins. "They glow. But those on the outside don't always see the glow as love; sometimes it appears to be a stigma left by the steamiest kind of sex."
This is apt to create "organizational anxiety" as "through a filter of lust" co-workers see "the romance as a danger to the social order" of their corporate world. They fear their own close, non-sexual business and personal ties to one of the lovers--generally the higher ranking one in the corporate world--can be jeopardized by the affairs. Moreover, there is a fear that informal communications networks within an organization are threatened by the "pillow talk" between lovers, especially if one is a higher-ranking manager than the other.
In one case cited by Collins, one of the partners, a woman, received hate notes in the interoffice mail.
Since women generally are lower on the corporate totem pole than men, they are faced with the greatest personal and professional problems from interoffice romances. Male managers, for instance, stop asking the women to lunch and halt corridor conversations when they walk by.
"The women were being iced, and they knew it. Because they were cut out, they felt illicit, immoral or dirty. At the worst times, these women believed what others implied: that they were no better than the secretarial meat of the corporate-caveman era," wrote Collins from her case studies.
Further, the women executives felt they had achieved a new role in life through their business success. "The affair threatens to reveal the pretense: that she is just a woman after all," Collins said.
The women became angry at the corporation, their fellow workers and their colleagues' wives. Mostly, though, they are angry at "people's view of them as playthings. . . . Each woman had sacrificed a personal life for her career; now they seemed near to sacrificing their career for threatened relationships," she continued.
But all is not rosy for the men. "Caught between loyalty to his subordinates and peers and the woman he loves, the male executive begins to feel a way he hasn't felt in a long time: out of control," said Collins. He too becomes angry, often because he cannot protect the woman he loves. Ultimately they may turn this joint anger at the corporation onto each other, threatening their relationship.
Much as chief executives would like to maintain a hands-off attitude of what they see as personal matters, Collins said they must intrude "to protect the interest of the corporation and preserve the careers of the two people if possible. It is a difficult juggling act."
She advised the chief executive officers "to deal with the romance as they would any business problem," stressing that the relationship represents a conflict of interest within the corporate hierarchy. He should "persuade the couple that either the person least essential to the company or both has to go"--something Collins sees as "painful but, I regret to say, inevitable."
If both really are equal in ability, she recommended firing the man "because though it might not be sexist to let the woman go, it can appear that way."
But the boss has the obligation to help the fired executive find a new and even better job.
Grim as that all sounds, Collins ended the journal article with a box score of the case studies. In all four cases, the couples involved were faced with the harsh realities she described. In all cases, one of the two was forced to quit, but found another job. In all cases, the relationships and careers of both partners prospered.
But in each case, it was the woman who quit.