-4

Similar to my previous series of questions (here and here), this question involves dealing with the unpleasant consequences of dating a colleague.

Today, I found out my girlfriend, a project manager, will be in charge of another project, for which 2 - 3 members of my team will be needed. All in all, I will have now lost close to half my team during the life of the 2 projects. Ad nauseam, the same HR solution I wrote of before of having team members on projects led by my girlfriend be removed from my vertical reporting stack will be used to mitigate the conflict of interest between my team members' horizontal manager (my GF) and their vertical functional manager (me).

Two new developments occurred this week:

  • Team members complained to me the removal of colleagues is affecting their day to day work and want a replacement resource. Privately, a team member said instability would be a factor in deciding whether he would want to look for another job.

  • My manager in my 1:1 said he wants me to take on more responsibility.

Due to budgetary constraints, backfill for team members reporting vertically to my GF is highly unlikely to infeasible. I realize this unpleasantness is my own making and the result of our romantic relationship. It's painful to think that this messiness may lead to relationship breakup.

  • How can I push back against management request to take on additional tasks, at least until I get new resources?

  • Should I admit that my team's output may suffer or would this be an admission of incapacity, weakness, and bad judgement (i.e. Dating coworker in the first place)?

  • How should I respond to team member who hinted he may be looking for a new job due to team structural instability? Do I need to be completely honest as I feel my dating life is of no concern to him?

Edit: Some answers are saying that the relationship is not relevant. To clarify, when team members on project are removed from my vertical reporting chain, I lose my entire ability to direct what they do, at least during life of the project. If I am not dating the PM, I retain vertical supervision , and hence can at least have a degree of supervision over team members reporting horizontally to my GF. It's the prohibition by HR of me having any supervisory influence that's the root of the problem. Traditional two manager reporting style in matrix management organization is not feasible here due to HR imposed constraint.

Also, both of us want the relationship to work, and only want to consider breaking up if push comes to shove.

12
  • 9
    I don't get it, your team is being cut in capacity but you are afraid to say "hey boss, we are going to deliver less because, duh, we got half the team"? All the "in my other post" make me feel like I am missing something obvious.
    – Aida Paul
    Sep 6, 2023 at 7:25
  • 5
    I guess my previous answer workplace.stackexchange.com/a/192729/5418 is still on point here. This will continue to be messy unless you find a way to address the fundamental underlying problem.
    – Hilmar
    Sep 6, 2023 at 11:23
  • 2
    @Anthony well... Yes, but also it is affecting your work negatively. And from the previous questions it has been doing so for a longer while, so I suspect that unless you solve it the underlaying problem like Hilmar suggests, the company may be setting up to resolve it for you, and I don't think that will involve a transfer within.
    – Aida Paul
    Sep 6, 2023 at 12:36
  • 7
    It's not clear, to me, how your relationship impacts anything here. Whether you are the vertical manager of X or not, if X is expected to work on a given project for any reason, you've effectively lost X as far as team productivity is concerned. What concrete difference would you expect, productivity-wise, from not dating your girlfriend? Sep 6, 2023 at 13:21
  • 2
    Look, honestly... it sounds like you're looking for a reason to break up and you're projecting non-relationship problems onto your relationship. Sep 6, 2023 at 15:20

4 Answers 4

17

I realise that I'm something of a stuck record on this, but I still think your focus on your relationship with your co-worker is clouding your perception here. Your team's reduction in available capacity isn't because you're dating your co-worker - it's because some members of your team are being tasked with a large project (let's call it Project X). Since I highly doubt that the existence of his project (or their assignment to it) is predicated on the existence of the relationship then if you weren't in this relationship you'd have just the same level of resources occupied by the the project.

So what would you do in that situation? Presumably you'd have no problem going to your manager and saying that your teams ability to take on additional work was reduced due to commitments on Project X - so this is exactly what you need to do here. Don't go to your manager and say your team is struggling because of your relationship, because it simply isn't true.

How should I respond to team member who hinted he may be looking for a new job due to team structural instability? Do I need to be completely honest as I feel my dating life is of no concern to him?

You're temporarily losing some of senior parts of the team to a large project, that's potentially unsettling for sure, but it's not exactly unusual either. I don't know how your behaving around your team but if you're demonstrating a similar level of anxiety and self-flagellation to what's coming across in your posts that is going to be a source of disquiet in of itself!

So how you respond to your team-member is with empathy ("Being short-handed sucks!") and confidence ("This is only temporary!"), and let them know that you've got their back. At the end of the day if the team-member really wants to leave they will do and nothing you can say will stop them.

To clarify, when team members on project are removed from my vertical reporting chain, I lose my entire ability to direct what they do, at least during life of the project. If I am not dating the PM, I retain vertical supervision , and hence can at least have a degree of supervision over team members reporting horizontally to my GF. It's the prohibition by HR of me having any supervisory influence that's the root of the problem. Traditional two manager reporting style in matrix management organization is not feasible here due to HR imposed constraint.

This really isn't the problem you think it is IMHO; your team members being seconded to the PM and Project X aren't disappearing to the far side of the moon. Say your direct report "Bob" comes to you with a need for a slice of time from Project X team member "Alice". Were Alice still in your vertical reporting line you would have to weigh the impact on the project of her giving that time to Bob's need. If it's a minor impact to Alice's work and a major benefit to Bob's you'd probably go ahead, when Alice is reporting to the PM you'd have to funnel that request via the PM (since the decision now rests with her) - but the math doesn't change on the decision, because the same factors are in play, with the same consequences, there's a trivial bit of extra bureaucracy barely worth the name. So unless your organisation operates in some absurdly extreme silo-mentality where teams are never allowed to collaborate with each other it is all doable. If Project X is consuming Alice's time to an extent where they can't spare any time slices for Bob that would be the same regardless of who Alice is reporting to.

1
  • Perfect answer. The whole "girlfriend" thing is mostly irrelevant to the whole situation. Sep 6, 2023 at 23:44
5
  • How can I push back against management request to take on additional tasks, at least until I get new resources?
  • Should I admit that my team's output may suffer or would this be an admission of incapacity, weakness, and bad judgement (i.e: Dating coworker in the first place)?

At the end of the day, unless several of your former team were sitting on their arses doing nothing all day your new smaller team is going to be able to achieve less. But rather than trying to refuse new tasks, you need to sit down with your manager and talk about prioritisation. You may be able to give some useful input into this, but if you have 10 peoples' worth of work an 5 people, then your manager needs to decide what gets done and what gets left.

How should I respond to team member who hinted he may be looking for a new job due to team structural instability?

This really depends on the outcome of the discussion with your manager. If the answer you get from above is "tough, you need to get all the work done" then you and your team are being set up to fail (possibly as a way to resolve the problems caused by this) - and if that's the case then you should both be looking for new jobs anyway.

If you can work out a positive way forward with your manager, then you should be able to reassure your team member that there will be more stability going forward, and that they're not going to end up trying to do two peoples' jobs at once.

Do I need to be completely honest as I feel my dating life is of no concern to him?

This was true up until the point where you dating life started to have a direct negative impact on your team member. Obviously you still have a right to privacy, and you don't need to share everything with them. But if your choices mean that your team are losing out on mentoring, have lost team members and are now overworked, and could potentially be losing out on bonuses or promotions then they have every right to be concerned. And if your response to that is "none of your business" then I would not 100% expect them to be searching for new jobs.


But ultimately, you need to have a serious think and consider whether your position at the company is still viable. From this (and your previous) posts, it sounds like there's a pretty clear conflict between your relationship with one of your colleagues, and you ability to work and lead a team effectively - and your company isn't willing or able to fully mange this conflict.

If you end up in a position where your team is unhappy, under-resourced, over-worked and getting blamed for not meeting targets, then that's not really fair on them - and it's also going to put you under a lot of stress and pressure, which can easily lead to resentment on both sides.

There's a reason people warn against relationships with colleagues. And if it does come down to you having to choose between your relationship and your job, then the sooner you make that decision the better for everyone involved.

3
  • 3
    While I've been told that I am too cynical about being heavily against in office relationships, this example is clearly past the theoretical consequences of it, so as brutal as the final paragraph may sound I think it's correct, so +1.
    – Aida Paul
    Sep 6, 2023 at 9:33
  • I have no problem with in-office relationships. I have a massive problem with companies that are either unwilling or incompetent to handle them with the care and tact required.
    – Ian Kemp
    Sep 6, 2023 at 13:48
  • @TymoteuszPaul I'm not following how the relationship is impacting the team. If someone told me "X, Y, Z are going to be working on a different project so you will be understaffed...but good news, they will still report to manager A same as you do." I would be very underwhelmed by that "good news", if anything it would be a negative if they still counted against us for cost or if they take up manager A's time which could be spent supporting the now understaffed team. Sep 6, 2023 at 13:54
5

As we've told many other people, backstory matters to you but really isn't relevant. Forget the relationship aspect entirely and focus on the situation as it exists now.

Headcount changes, schedules change. Headcount continues to change, schedules continue to change. Failing to allow for that puts pressure on people, they depart, schedule continues to change despite trying to pretend otherwise. The only way this wouldn't happen is if the first person departing had been contributing nothing.

Management knows this. Prioritize appropriately, pick up some of the slack yourself if you can (I would say you owe the company some extra effort, but that's between you and your manager and your conscience), take on responsibilities as assigned (it's called career growth). Do your job.

You made your choices. That's done. They had consequences. That's done too. Deal with the outcome exactly as you would if you had gotten here by another path.

Effects on your relationship with your girlfriend are for the two of you to manage. I submit that if this is enough to damage it, it isn't much of a relationship.

In woodworking terms: Stop fretting, start coping.

And in the immortal words of Super Chicken, "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it."

3

If you weren't dating the project manager and these team members still reported to you, what would that look like? Presumably, there is some general agreement about how much time someone allocated to a project spends on the project vs. how much time they spend on team activities. You'd be doing something like telling your team members to spend 75% of their time on the project they're allocated to and 25% of their time on other team functions like mentorship, code reviews, etc.. There is no reason that needs to change when those team members no longer report to you or to your vertical.

Go to their new manager, the project manager (PM). Presumably, her project plan was built on the assumption that she'd have 75% of your senior resource. Explain that you need 25% of that resource's time for team activities. She instructs her resource to spend 25% of their time on mentorship, code reviews, etc. for your team. Both you and your girlfriend get the same number of hours from this senior resource that you would have had were you not in a relationship, HR is satisfied that there is no conflict of interest, and all is well. The only difference is that instead of the PM coming to you asking for hours from your resource, you're going to her asking for hours from her resource.

Now, if the issue is that the amount of project work your team is being asked to take on exceeds the number of hours your team has to perform that work or leaves too little time for team activities then your relationship with the PM is irrelevant and you need to bring that capacity issue up to management. But if there are enough working hours to accomplish everything when the resources report to you, there are enough working hours to accomplish everything when the resources report to the PM. A change in reporting structure doesn't change the work that get accomplished. It merely changes who needs to make the request for a person's time and who needs to approve it.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .