Sex and the City – the risks of workplace affairs

18 August 2011

A recent survey has been reported as saying that 72% of those bankers surveyed have had at least one affair and that 87% of affairs are with a work colleague. Of course, it is hard to get reliable answers to questions about this sort of thing but this does suggest that the recent revelation of an alleged affair between Sir Fred Goodwin with “a senior colleague” whose identity is still protected by super-injunction is not an isolated incident. 

Workplace relationships have always been a problem for employers with their potential where the manager is involved to upset team dynamics amid accusations of favouritism and to produce serious tensions and even claims for discrimination when they come to an end (which, according to the survey, is after an average of 21 days for male and 136 days for female bankers – am I missing something here or are there some inconsistencies in these results?). 

Employers often have rules either prohibiting relationships altogether or, more usually, requiring them to be declared so that action can be taken. Typically this involves ensuring the employees do not work together, particularly if one has been managing the other. This can be easier said than done in small organisations or where the employees have very specialised skills. 

The Financial Services Autority (FSA) is apparently investigating any link between Sir Fred Goodwin’s alleged affair and the collapse of RBS. There were probably other things going on (overpaying for ABN Amro, the credit crunch, the near collapse of the financial system…) but it is worth remembering that in FSA regulated businesses there can be particular concerns about this kind of relationship. 

In a world where different parts of an organisation are divided by Chinese walls, where the back office is supposed to monitor the activities of traders, and where compliance officers need to act with a certain degree of independence to perform their role properly, any undisclosed relationship which enables one employee to exercise excessive influence over another can raise very serious risk issues.  This is the case whether or not there has been any breach of the seven statements of principle against which the FSA judges the behaviour of approved persons set out in the FSA Handbook.

For more information please contact: Adrian Crawford.

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