Sunday 17 November 2019

What it's like... to be married to the boss

Sarah Kennedy

Consensual relationship are the buzzwords currently relieving CEOs like McDonald’s Steve Easterbrook of their jobs.

 The 52-year-old’s fling with a colleague is against company policy, and in his parting email to staff this week, Easterbrook described it as a “mistake”.

No wonder: having seen how complicated sexual relationships at work can be first hand, the bitter truth is that they always result in someone, somewhere, being compromised.

When I met my husband, Duncan, we were similar ages and both working immediately below our respective bosses at the same company.

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We worked separately, and became friendly outside of the office because there was a sociable scene back then.

We started dating, but kept it quiet. Or so we thought – it turned out everyone knew as we had been spotted together on a date.

We stayed in our separate lanes and managed to make it work by having no interaction at all in the office. However, after a few years, he was promoted to managing director, and that’s when things took a sharp turn for the worse.

Potentially, being married to the boss could have been an extremely enjoyable, powerful position for me.

Old scores could be settled, I would know what was happening to who and everyone would be afraid of me.

Unfortunately, the reality was entirely different. First, and I don’t mean to be unkind about my husband, but he is such a goody-goody. He would never spill the beans about anything to me.

Day-to-day at the office, the changes were swift. I started to notice universal backing away from me by everyone except those I worked with was very painful.

Office friendships with women I had previously spent lunchtimes shopping with became complicated and melted away.


The IT guy turned up immediately to fix my tech blips, everyone greeted me very nicely each morning and I could always get a courier within minutes.

Everyone was behaving weirdly towards me.

Once, I tried to find out which gym the super-fit marketing woman went to. After stopping her for a chat on the stairs to ask about her fitness, she fudged some excuses about “always trying out different places” and then claimed she had to get to a meeting.

I knew she simply didn’t want me to join her gym. Presumably, she thought it was bad enough having to always be nice to me at work.

There were also incidents of drama that played out far more fiercely because I was married to the boss.

One Valentine’s Day, it was 4pm before any flowers turned up for me from Duncan and, when they did, I immediately stuffed them in the bin, declaring it was too late.

How shocking for the juniors sitting across from me in the office. What sort of a person shoves a bunch of roses in with the rubbish?

I realised right then that I had to leave. Immediately. I wanted my privacy back and wasn’t enjoying being under the spotlight.

Who wants to be in a marriage and worry that expressing oneself, or any anger with a partner, could get one into trouble of some kind?

Also, office gossip was everywhere: rumours began to circulate that I was only working in the company because of my relationship.

I had, before meeting him, spent years climbing the career ladder – and doing a very good job of it.

However, that didn’t matter when it came to idle water cooler chat.

I never knew that marriage to the boss could make me feel so unprofessional, unpopular and insecure.

We’ve since moved to New York, and in the intervening 20 years I’ve never regretted quitting.

The decision was a mutual one for me and Duncan. He was the greater earner and I was already exploring other opportunities because we knew our position could only go on so long.

Since moving to New York, I’ve also found that an old-school American culture looms large.

I have a theory that it’s to do with the existence of cheerleaders. American boys grow up in high schools where the girls compete to cheer them on and catch their attention.

Since the #MeToo movement took off in 2017, HR departments are more insistent than ever that nothing untoward goes on during, or after, hours.

A friend of mine is a director in a fashion company where a recent brief from his HR bosses included a total ban on any kind of after-work social activity with junior staffers – particularly involving alcohol.

As a senior manager, he has been told very firmly that he can’t socialise: he is, in fact, gay, and his staff are mainly female, but there can be no mitigating circumstances, they’ve said, to the rule.

It’s worth remembering that no one of any gender or persuasion is safe from compromising situations involving sexual relationships at work when they happen, and perhaps McDonald’s has made the right move by banning them entirely.

Blurred lines between colleagues and romance, as I’ve found, usually become even more complicated than you think.


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