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From my most recent question, I am a manager with about 10 years of experience, working in a company with a matrix management structure in which team members also have a PM for a secondary manager.

I recently started dating another employee who is a PM for a project two of my team members will be joining. We both want to continue our relationship.

As a result of both of us having disclosed our dating relationship to HR per company policy, HR wants to move my 2 team members out of my vertical functional command to report directly to the PM so she becomes their functional manager and project manager during the life cycle of the project which can be up to a quarter or more.

The current reporting structure is a conflict of interest and puts me in a highly undesirable position of potentially having to mediate between my 2 team members and the PM I am dating were performance issues to develop while they report horizontally to her.

I am reluctant to accept the proposed solution by HR as the stability of my team is impaired by the frequent changing of functional managers for team members on projects, for as long as I am dating her... In the future, this same dilemma may develop on new projects ad nausem. Moreover, this is the first time the PM directly managed people vertically. I also do not want set the precedence that having team members being shuttled back and forth for a problem not of their making is somehow an optimal solution as @Nvoigt said. If my girlfriend is not an PM and will never have horizontal reports, this dilemma would be moot.

My goal is to foremost not have my two team members' career be negatively affected as a result of the conflict of interest. Secondarily, I do not want our personal relationship in early dating phase to be marred by possible disagreements arising at work.

  • How can I push back professionally that the HR proposal is untenable in the long run in my opinion?

  • Is such action advisable coming from a manager?

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    "My goal is to foremost not have my two team members' career be negatively affected as a result of the dating relationship between their two managers" - Can you please enhance on why/how you think this "restructure" negatively affects these two persons?
    – DarkCygnus
    Jul 28, 2023 at 0:29
  • @DarkCygnus, the old reporting structure could harm them because of the personal relationship between their functional manager (me) and my date (their PM horizontally). New proposed structure avoids this , but harms my team stability like I described
    – Anthony
    Jul 28, 2023 at 0:32
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    I understood that. However, you mention that these two member's career can be negatively impacted by the restructure... I think it does not. The only thing impacted is your "two-digit" team stability (as projects come, restructures will happen to avoid conflict of interests), but not their career (they still have projects and learn and grow and are managed by someone, alas, not you).... that's why I wanted to clarify what you mean by affect these two person's careers.
    – DarkCygnus
    Jul 28, 2023 at 0:34
  • @DarkCygnus, edited to clarify negative impact to team members is only under current structure
    – Anthony
    Jul 28, 2023 at 0:37
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Anthony
    Jul 28, 2023 at 13:33

5 Answers 5

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+200

I think that we (and you) are starting to see now how having a romantic relationship with coworkers can become a problem, and why it is general knowledge and suggestion to avoid such relationships at work.

Before answering your actual question I want to remark on something you said and that will be the reality from now on: as long as you two are dating, conflicts of interest will exist, and restructures and other techniques and protocols will take place however HR deems fit.

A more negative way to phrase this could be "either you two stop dating or restructures and instability etc. will continue to happen", but I will not say this as it is not my feelings and relationship... but, again, see the implications of dating someone at work now?

How can I push back professionally that the HR proposal is untenable in the long run in my opinion?

It's ok to push back if you see trouble ahead, but if you do you have to provide them with alternate options or protocols to avoid the conflict of interests.

...I must remark (with all due respect) that such "troubles ahead" are consequences/implications of the existence of this relationship. Were you not dating, these "troubles" would not exist...

A naive idea I came up with is that, if two members are "taken away from you", then HR should "balance" the situation and provide your team with two replacements. Of course, these replacements have to be moved from another team, so... not the perfect solution I reckon (I doubt there will be a perfect solution here).

In other words, don't "just" push back. Provide alternatives when you do so (otherwise HR may come up with alternatives that, again, have their issues).

However, if you are adamant on keeping the relationship, consider that accepting what HR proposed may be the only solution here.

My goal is to foremost not have my two team members' career be negatively affected as a result of the conflict of interest. Secondarily, I do not want our personal relationship in early dating phase to be marred by possible disagreements arising at work.

The solution that HR proposes avoids the conflict of interest, and effectively addresses both of your concerns. Perhaps it's not "ideal" for you, but it satisfies your concerns any way.

Good luck and I hope everything works best for all parts involved.

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  • If I speak to my manager about having him assume temporary functional management of these team members, what do you think? I outlined this solution in my previous post.
    – Anthony
    Jul 28, 2023 at 15:21
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    @Anthony - What problem does that solve? You'd still seemingly have the same concerns with team stability. And as a practical matter, it may be harder for your manager to take on managing a rotating cast of people from your team than it will be for different PMs to take on a couple of direct reports for a few months. Jul 28, 2023 at 19:32
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... HR wants to move my 2 team members out of my vertical functional command to report directly to the PM...

HR believes this is a good solution. I suppose you don't have much of a choice. HR defines and enforces the rules here.

Basically, they want to have abandon cautions to prevent the scenario where you may unintentionally have some unfair influences over the either the 2 team members or the PM (your girlfriend).

They want an absolutely clear solution so that there is no confusion for everyone involved.


How can I push back professionally that the HR proposal is untenable in the long run in my opinion?

I suggest you should not push back. Again, HR defines and enforces the rules here.

I know some couples in similar situations as yours. Some of them decide to leave their company and work elsewhere so that their relationship won't be influenced by HR policy. (And they may get a higher salary elsewhere too.)


Is such action advisable coming from a manager?

No.

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HR's idea seems quite reasonable. No actual organizational changes, just a change of a name in a box in the HR system for the duration of the project. Do you have reason to think it more than that?

Come up with an alternative.

You need to suggest at least one alternative that addresses the (legitimate) HR concerns and your concerns. A negative push back alone will be perceived badly.

Focus on Results

Here's the thing ... you can't eliminate the problems here. These people work for you and will be on a project that she manages, regardless of the name in the manager box in the HR system. There will still be an invisible dotted line between you and the team members, and you have relationships already.

Your concern should be making sure things run smoothly (IOW the results) not what the org chart looks like.

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  • Like I said, as long as we are dating, instability via shuttling of resources will continue to happen. Loss of control by me and possible bad precedent are also undesirable. How does this factor in to your answer? It's not a one and done transaction.
    – Anthony
    Aug 3, 2023 at 0:12
  • What does IOW mean ? Aug 3, 2023 at 2:56
  • @Job_September_2020 IOW usually stands for ‘in other words’.
    – gidds
    Aug 3, 2023 at 20:39
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If you really feel you need to push back on this, despite it probably being established company practice for such situations, your best bet is to come up with an alternative proposal which removes any appearance of possible bias at least as effectively as this one does, and which can be made to fit the current management tree without serious disruption. Those are HR's primary goals right now; if you can present a solution which is clearly better at achieving them you may be able to convince them to try it.

Otherwise, they're going to do what they know works, whether or not it's optimal on other axes.

You can't fight them. They may or may not be open to another way of cooperating with them. Good luck.

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So let me find an analogy: you had a judge and a district attorney, who were in a relationship. This is seen as a conflict of interest. So as a "solution" they cut out the judge and just let the district attorney write the verdict and determine the sentence all alone, without a judge, to prevent the judge from being unduly influenced by the district attorney.

That is so ridiculous I don't even know where to start.

Removing the balance of power, because the balance might potentially be slightly off, that is such a laughable non-solution, it really can only be thought up by an HR department or the writers for a dystopian TV show on Netflix.

There is zero logic in this. The obvious move would have been, to put those team members under another manager. I mean who are they going to complain to about their PM if needed now? You were deemed to be biased, so now they cannot complain to anybody at all.

I think there is nothing you can expect from HR as this point. They have proven to be incompetent.

Treat them like that. Try to get as much done without them as you can. I'm not saying involving them was a mistake. It was your duty. But sometimes, your duty can uncover how incompetent people really are.

Talk to the PM and the two team members. Find out if there is a better solution you can all agree on. If there is, bring this to HR, preferably by the team members, to not be perceived as trying to circumvent what HR decided. If they can suggest a better way of doing it, better for them (because they are the people to protect here, in order to protect the company), HR might listen.

There is no way something is going to change for the better, if you ask open ended questions to an incompetent person or department. You tried, it got ridiculously worse. Don't try to collaborate with them, unless you have a specific goal in mind and support from others.

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    If putting them under another manager is the obvious thing, why not suggest that? Jul 30, 2023 at 12:30

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