More than 50 years ago, when Sigmund Freud was asked the prescription for a healthy life he came up with two simple ingredients: work and love. But what the doctor had in mind was an integrated personality, not an integrated work force.
The corporate executives of today may also believe wholeheartedly in love and work, but they appear to be wary of love at work. Since Mary Cunningham and Bill Agee became a case study in how not to mix business and pleasure, a torrid interest has grown around the subject of love between executives.
Now the Harvard Business Review, which caters to the classiest of corporate leaders, has come out with some advice on dealing with dalliance at the top. In this month's issue, senior editor Eliza Collins concludes, after studying the business dynamics of four affairs, that "Love between managers is dangerous because it challenges--and can break down--the organizational structure."
The new coalition, the love coalition, makes everybody anxious, she says. It threatens to exclude others, makes subordinates worry about the judgment and the fairness of bosses who are blinded by love.
Having analyzed this, Collins makes some fairly bold recommendations. The senior executive should intervene in the executive love affair because "of the high degree of stress in the corporation."
"If the company sees rats in the basement they've got to get them out," said Collins in an interview. "It does have a responsibility to run an environment in which people can work."
Short of hiring a pied piper then, the best interest of business is apparently to separate love or at least one lover from work. Collins suggests that the senior executive persuade "the person least essential to the company," to leave. She advises this reluctantly because the less important person is still "in almost all cases a woman."
Much of Collins' description of how a love affair can disrupt the office environment is astute. But her generalizations and recommendations are somewhere between offensive and dangerous.
For openers, a piece like this in the prestigious Review feeds into the wave of literature on how women are confronting the corporate world with all "their" messy little problems. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has been running an apparently endless series on the woes of young executive mothers. Apparently there are no young executive fathers.
Now the new women are mucking up the structure, by bringing love relationships into the board room, instead of keeping them where they belong, say, in the steno pool. The notion is that executives are so freaked out by their love that they cease functioning rationally at work. Love comes in and business school training goes out.
But there are others, like Anne Jardim, a dean of the Simmons Graduate School of Management, who remain unconvinced of Collins' basic premise. For every bungled relationship, Jardim can count another "in which the people involved handled it with discretion, became scrupulously fair and survived."
More to the point, she says it is probably unnecessary and insulting to call in "Big Daddy" to separate adult executive lovers.
Rosabeth Kanter, professor of sociology and management at Yale University, suggests that senior executives handle love affairs the way they handle alcohol. Do nothing until there is an issue in job performance. Perhaps, she suggests, there should be a checklist for problem lovers that asks: how is this showing up at work?
The reality is that there are all sorts of special relationships between executives, all sorts of political and personal alliances in the corporate power structure that are untinged by sex. Kanter is not convinced that sexual love between executives is either widespread or disruptive enough for the sort of radical advice Collins has offered.
"People can behave in absolutely adolescent ways," says Kanter of executive lovers, "But it doesn't last that long in that stage. If we can indulge people when they are going through divorce or alcoholism, then we can indulge them with love."
What is most unsettling about the new advice on executives in love is that, once again, the business world is being fed the illusion that they can and, indeed, should manage emotions by removing them from the work place. The prime candidate for emotional excision is, as always, love: first, family love and, now, sexual love.
In this case, the solution Collins recommends would effectively remove even the "carrier" of love in this society: women. We go back again to the notion that a healthy business personality is different from a healthy human personality. The message? If you want to get ahead in business, keep love off the books.