Office Love

Office Love

Yes, you read that title right, today's topic is not politically correct, but it is a reality...

Japan is known as a nation of workaholics. Regardless of what you think about their productivity, the fact is that most people are expected to stay in the office from 9am to around 8pm, and even after that they are often arm-twisted in to going drinking with colleagues and/or the boss. This means that there isn't much opportunity to socialize outside the work environment.

Long ago, major Japanese corporations understood this situation, and deliberately set about trying to hire bright, attractive young women who might one day end up marrying their bright, hardworking young men. The young couples would even be sponsored into company-owned apartments so that they could have a family with the company blessing. Of course the female would be expected to leave as soon as such a partnership occurred. Times have moved on, and companies these days generally hire for profit, but the concept of "Office Love" is still alive and well.

Although such a quaint term, Office Love can really create a mess in a company if people don't know the rules - which a lot of newly arrived foreigners do not. Let's talk about singles first. Personally I've hired well over a thousand people in the last 20 years, and about 20 or so marriages have resulted from young employees meeting each other and falling in love. We have never had an official "Rules of Office Love" in our company work rules - and in my company we don't ban personal relationships - but there are some commonsense rules to follow...!

Rule Number One is that a manager must NEVER conduct a relationship with someone they have power over. The pledge of trust with senior management would be forever broken and careers ruined if it came out that a partner was receiving unfair attention, pay raises, etc. If you're getting into a relationship with someone in your team, immediately ask for a transfer for one of you.

Rule Number Two is DON'T bring your relationship to work. This can be hard sometimes - especially if one of the partners is infatuated. If a personal spat comes to the attention of HR, you can expect that Western companies in particular will probably ask one of the partners to leave the company. In a Japanese company, HR will ask a colleague to talk some sense into the person creating the problems. Generally though, I find that Japanese couples are very, very discrete about their company relationships. One couple I know kept their marriage secret for about 2 years! Only when the woman became pregnant and decided to leave the company was it apparently OK for everyone to know.

So you will have gathered from the above, that Office Love is not verboten in most Japanese or bicultural companies. For Western companies in Japan, there are varying rules, but generally most managers are tolerant of relationships so long as they are discrete.

Lastly, there is the relationship that few want to see, but which is quite common, that of the foreign married boss with a Japanese secretary or subordinate. All I can say is "Don't go there." If you find yourself getting into this kind of relationship, one of you has to move out of the company ASAP. Extramarital relationships are destructive at the best of times, but in addition to this, a foreign boss conducting a relationship that becomes known about in the office, will absolutely kill any trust and respect that his (usually a "him") staff might have for him, rendering him impotent in terms of managing his team. This kind of situation can usually only be solved by firing the philanderer and his/her lover - and that's usually what happens. So, like I said - don't go there...

If you are considering a career in the recruiting industry, you can drop Terrie Lloyd an email for more advice at terrie.lloyd@daijob.com. You can also see his weekly newsletter, called Terrie's Take, at www.terrie.com.

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