From a human resource perspective dealing with inter office relationships are part and parcel of the breadth of a HR practitioners scope. Our biggest concern of course being the conflict of interest, the perception of favouritism and the emotional safety of all employees. Office relationships and affairs are so common that many major employers have policies and procedures in place to mitigate fall out and reduce the organisational risk from the mind-field of potentially disastrous outcomes to the brand. Those risks include the HR nightmare the Deputy Prime Minister’s offices is now experiencing with repeated frontpage headlines of suggestions of improper conduct and cover ups.
We all know of and support many happy relationships which began from two people meeting at work, however it is the human resource teams remit to protect the organisation from those instances where the love turns sour. Barnaby’s situation incorporates many of the normal elements we navigate in our roles. Once the relationship is disclosed, we assume the parties signed a conflict of interest disclaimer and the reporting relationship was immediately changed. It would not be unheard of for another department to create a role for a high performing employee that the organisation did not want to lose, as Canavan’s Office did.
Where the media and the public becomes intrigued is whether that was based on a necessary skill set the department needed to obtain or the inappropriate use of power and influence. Not to replace the role when Vikki Campion left, leaves the Office open to question of the veracity of the requirement for the job function within the unit. The Daily Telegraph’s report that the relationship caused ‘serious dysfunction’ within the Deputy Premiers Office makes the hair on any practitioner’s arms stand up. Such financial and reputation repercussions in our world could be catastrophic for the organisation and could have legs in front of Fairwork.
The other element is Barnaby using his considerable weight to add to the same sex marriage debate as he performed the most grievous of insults to the sanctity of marriage. The hypocrisy adds to the already painful memories for the LGBTIQ community with the public questioning of their basic rights. If Barnaby was an Executive in our firm, HR would prohibit the public messaging and championing of an issue by someone we knew not to be living the values…. If we knew a member of staff was not supportive to minorities, we wouldn’t put them on our Diversity Committee. If we knew a member of staff committed theft, we wouldn’t make them our CFO. You get my point as to the idiocy of making him a spokesperson for the traditional views of marriage (albeit not that many Gen X’s and younger care as much as our predecessors about people leaving unhappy marriages, but then again, we weren’t on a nationally broadcast soapbox espousing the virtues of it before going home to our mistress.)
Certainly, what we wouldn’t do in HR is put them up as any type of Ambassadors of a set cause. No one is inviting Don Burke to be a Male Champion of Change or Wayne Carey to represent White Ribbon for similar reasons. In our personal lives, if it concerned one of our friends, many of us would say ‘it is a private matter’ much like many politicians are doing from Julie Bishop to Darren Chester. It is lovely to have such a ‘bro code’ of what happens in Canberra stays in Canberra but not for the workplace. While the opposite tack of scandalous gossiping may have its own ramifications in line with organisation harassment and bullying policies, to suggest a relationship between a senior member of staff with someone significantly junior in age and job level is a ‘private matter’ would not fly in any Australian Business I know of. Politicians of all people are not exempt from such scrutiny, just ask Stormy Daniels.
The intertwining of business and personal is one of the largest challenges HR departments deal with and at worst is linked to repeated tardiness, drops in performance or factions in team dynamics. The Christmas party has long been the most dreaded event on the HR calendar for this reason. As HR practitioners we tread carefully and consciously, gently ensuring all staff understand their obligations and responsibilities as values led employees. And we trust them to adhere to such standards, without ending up on front page news with our logo in the background.
Written by Amy Cato