Opinion: Corporate giants should let the staff screw around

16th July 2017 3:31 PM
Amber Harrison. Photo: Twitter Amber Harrison. Photo: Twitter

CAN we have a moment's silence for the office romance?

Somehow, in 2017, when nobody was looking, workplace hanky-panky got outlawed. No more photocopier frisson. No farewell-drinks-induced mortification.

Corporate Australia - the creatives who brought you the Global Financial Crisis and "learnings" - have been overcome by a new Calvinism, and banned sex on the grounds it might harm the share price.

I didn't sign up for this. I doubt you did, either.

Here's a newsflash for the Fortune 500: consensual sexual attraction is not your biggest problem right now.

In fact, if there's no sexual attraction in your workplace, you're employing the wrong people.

Normal, healthy, nice human beings find one another appealing. Once, the punishment for having mutually agreeable sex with the wrong people - the boardroom bunny-boiler or the lunchroom Lothario - was just family destruction and an embarrassing doctor's visit.

Now the punishment, decreed by an executive vice-president you've never met, is the end of your career.

In just the past few months, romantic attractions or liaisons have seriously damaged the careers of bosses at Channel Seven, Border Force (hard to resist a man in crypto-Fascist uniform), the Australian Football League and insurer QBE, which docked the pay of its chief executive, John Neal, by $550,000 for failing to disclose his relationship with an employee

Serial girlfriend Amber Harrison, who got entangled with Seven chief executive Tim Worner, has seen the public destruction of her reputation and probably her career in the bitter legal dispute with the network, after it claimed she breached a confidentiality agreement. Harrison has a history, with evidence presented in court that she previously told friends she took not dissimilar revenge against a radio executive after an office fling.

Seven boss Tim Worner and his former lover and executive assistant Amber Harrison.
Seven boss Tim Worner and his former lover and executive assistant Amber Harrison. Supplied

But how did Seven end up in this situation in the first place? Why is consensual sex with the boss a problem that has to be concealed in the first place?

We all know it's hard for middle-aged power blokes to resist the smiles of an adoring young admin assistant who's prepared to do plenty of overtime.

But you'd think by now every man who reaches the top in business would be wary of the women who think power is an aphrodisiac (to wit: the qualities that make them such a riot at the Christmas party will appear somewhat less exciting when you're sitting in the Industrial Relations Tribunal or the Family Court).

So is consensual sex - even when it's a really bad idea - worse than bullying or harassment? Is it worse than sacking mums on maternity leave, or creating a culture of stick-aroundism that prevents everyone from seeing their kids at bedtime?

I'd say no. I'd say corporate giants should let the staff screw around if they want to, and leave the consequences where they belong - in the private domain.

Originally published as Why is consensual sex with the boss a problem?