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I am manager in the cybersecurity division of my employer managing a technical team of security engineers / analysts. I have been with my company for close to 10 years and am well respected.

Recently I started dating another colleague who works as a project manager on a project that 2 of my team members were recently assigned to. As a result of having disclosed the relationship to HR due to requirement of company policy, HR shifted my two team members to report directly to their PM during the life of the project. (functional in lieu of horizontal manager as we are a matrix organization). I did not want to have to potentially pick sides between my GF and my team members on her project if they were to have work issues while they were on her project, which I said to HR. To comment from @Nvoigt, the existence of our dating relationship constrains me from easily bringing my team members off the project without scrutiny.

This week, I learned that the project for which two of my team members will be working on needed an very senior engineer from my team. This senior engineer plays a very important role in my vertical management chain (think technical lead / architect). He also mentors junior engineers on the team of which I have quite a few. As a result, if my very senior engineer were to be removed from my vertical reporting stack, productivity of my team will be severely degraded for the life of the project which can be up to quarter or more. In addition, my more junior team members will be harmed in 2 ways:

  • Needing to pick up the work of the senior engineer temporarily reporting to my girlfriend , the PM.

  • Loss of mentorship and guidance on daily tasks from the leaving senior engineer

As I said in my previous question, this HR imposed "solution" will continue to occur for as long as my GF and I are dating and will occur ad nausem on future projects for as long as I have team members on projects for which she is the PM. This uncomfortable scenario for me is not a one and done scenario. No backfill for the senior engineer is expected. I cannot influence what projects she may lead, how many projects, or the resource needs of those projects in the future. My GF is of much lesser seniority, having only about 3 years of experience in the company.

I realize this uncomfortable scenario is my own making, having begun a romantic relationship and the solution to resolve the conflict of interest was imposed on me by HR, not of my own choosing. I never expected HR could worsen the issue so much so far as team stability is concerned.

Update: Motoubatsu was a bit prophetic when he implied that my existing team members may raise concerns. Well, just today one of my team members raised a concern in 1:1 that he may need more training to take on additional work from the senior engineer removed from my reporting chain and that he wants continuity in career mentorship / technical coaching. I can't promise anything so I only said I will do best as I can within constraints I have, god forbid problem does not worsen.

As distasteful as I find this, Hilmar may be right if push comes to shove.

  • How do I communicate to my more junior team members of the unpleasant consequences for them? (loss of mentorship and additional work burden they may need to pick up)

  • How can I mitigate the productivity impairment of my team?

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    Presumably you've raised all this with your manager? What is their proposed solution? Aug 11, 2023 at 6:22
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    If that senior engineer is supposed to work on another project from now on, how would it help if they still reported to you? Would you call them off that project to work on your team again? It seems the problem is losing the engineer to another task alltogether, not who is his line manager.
    – nvoigt
    Aug 11, 2023 at 6:42
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    That sounds like it's your manager's job to escalate it to the point in the organization where they can say that HRs actions are having a detrimental effect on your staff/team's productivity. And either the organization will agree with you on the cost imposed....or they won't and they will agree with HR. Your language makes it sound like HR are some kind of rogue unit, doing what they want, whereas ultimately, at some level, they are accountable to the business. Aug 11, 2023 at 12:35
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    FORGET THE WORD UNFAIR. It isn't helpful and just keeps you from being able to focus on working with the situation as it is. "Suboptimal", maybe, if you really have a better solution that satisfies all the business's requirements... but unless it's illegal, a business is allowed to make decisions you think are suboptimal, and if you can't convince them otherwise you just have to work with what they give you. (I'm starting to be tempted to make this observation it's own Question, just so it's available to be cited)
    – keshlam
    Aug 11, 2023 at 12:57
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    I don't quite understand how HR's change would have the impact you fear. If mentoring junior engineers is something the senior engineer would have done while reporting to you and focusing on work for your girlfriend, why would the senior engineer be unable to mentor junior engineers while reporting to your girlfriend? Mentoring is something that regularly happens across organizational boundaries. Unless your girlfriend says something like "Senior engineer, you report to me so I want you to be 100% dedicated to my project. Ignore all responsibilities to your old team," what's the issue? Aug 11, 2023 at 17:17

3 Answers 3

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Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you are asking the wrong questions. Given the history of your previous questions around this topic I think it's time to level up and figure out where you are.

There is nothing inherently wrong with dating at work and many people have found their life partner there and ended up in happy and fulfilling long term relationships.

However, this requires the romantic partners (or family members, etc.) to be at a "safe distance". That means their roles, responsibilities and reporting structures are far enough apart, i.e. the personal relationship doesn't create any conflict of interest and there is little intersection or overlap at work.

The problem here is that your partner and you are NOT at a "safe distance". Work issues are constantly overlapping and need to be frequently managed and mitigated.

The sad truth here is that this is not long term sustainable. Despite best efforts and intentions, it will be a constant source of friction and frustration and the mitigations will negatively impact the performance of you and your teams. Your question being a case in point here. It's not great for either of your careers either.

The only viable long term solution that I can see is that one of you takes it on the chin and starts looking for a different role. That's a difficult decision to make and it's not fair, but I'm afraid it's the reality on the ground.

Note that a new role can certainly be at the same company, as long as it meets the "safe distance" criteria. In fact, "different role/same company" may the easiest/best solution here. From what I can tell your employer has made an honest effort to accommodate you, so chances are, they would more than willing to support a local role change.

FWIW: as a hiring manager, I would respect the heck out of someone willing to make this sacrifice for a committed relationship. It would be a big plus in my book.

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I think you might be overreacting a bit here, and I think your (understandable) sensitivity to the comingling of the professional and personal is making you see things more negatively then they really are. In none of your questions around this situation have I seen any signs that your team is unhappy with the situation, nor that your fears regarding negative impacts on them have actually come to pass.

You're dating a co-worker, HR has taken some (seemingly) sensible measures to protect the company and employees from complications - that's all that's actually happened. And it's not actually that big a deal - it naturally feels that way to you because this new relationship has a significant impact across your life in general (as is good and proper!) but for everyone else... not so much. So try not to let your perspective get too skewed.

The two ways you say your juniors are going to be impacted:

Needing to pick up the work of the senior engineer temporarily reporting to my girlfriend , the PM.

Loss of mentorship and guidance on daily tasks from the leaving senior engineer

Are arguably just as applicable in the scenario where you weren't dating the PM - this senior engineer's workload from the new project would be the same regardless of who they nominally reported to during it. And they also aren't cut-and-dried negatives either - picking up more "senior" duties during the limited availability of a senior is bread and butter stuff for how juniors progress in an organisation.

So the answer to both of these:

How do I communicate to my more junior team members of the unpleasant consequences for them? (loss of mentorship and additional work burden they may need to pick up)

How can I mitigate the productivity impairment of my team?

Is that you handle them exactly as you would in any other situation where a senior team member was going to be consumed with a large project. Yes, there's going to be more slack to be picked up for a period, but yes that's a great opportunity for other team members to shine and show what they can do. If the senior has any spare bandwidth from the project to help and support the junior team members they're going to have that time whether they report to you or to the PM - and there's no reason to believe that they wouldn't be able to use that time in the same way.

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  • Aren't you a prophet? :) Just today team member gave me feedback. See update.
    – Anthony
    Aug 21, 2023 at 21:03
  • I'm confused which bit is prophetic? Aug 22, 2023 at 11:19
  • Where the OP of this answer said no negative impact YET, implying possibility of there being some adverse impact in future. 1:1 feedback is example
    – Anthony
    Aug 22, 2023 at 15:16
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    @Anthony I still think you're overly focussed on the "moved from my reporting chain" aspect - the need for this team member to pick up additional duties is because of the Senior engineer being on the project.
    – motosubatsu
    Aug 22, 2023 at 15:55
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How do I communicate to my more junior team members of the unpleasant consequences for them? (loss of mentorship and additional work burden they may need to pick up)

First of all remember people and leaders are not permanent. The loss of mentorship isn't that big a deal. They can receive mentorship from people that are not in their chain of command.

How can I mitigate the productivity impairment of my team?

The nature of the matrix organization is what is causing these repeated conflicts. Two people who never interact at work aren't a big concern to the company beyond the normal uncomfortable interactions if the relationship ends. But the two of you are closely aligned within the company

If the conflict is 100% removed, the company can replace the people on the team.

You could find a position within the company that will never be closely aligned with the person you are dating.

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