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How to handle your office romance (professionally).

With the amount of time that we generally spend with our colleagues, it comes as no surprise that love may sometimes blossom in the workplace.  Increasing exposure and familiarity to our fellow coworkers can increase the risk of attraction which may culminate into a relationship. Employers, on the other hand, do not typically promote office romance and are more inclined to discourage it. They also realise that it is probably unrealistic to police peoples feelings and ban office romance entirely.  The approach taken by most companies is to outline and set guidelines around acceptable behaviour during working hours for couples, as well as address potential conflicts of interest.

Six things to consider if you find yourself involved with a coworker.

If you are one of the people who happen to have found love in the workplace, here are some tips on what you should do.

  1. Check your company policies. Once you feel that things could get serious, check what rules and policies your employer has around romantic relationships at work. Read and understand the guidelines, in particular, any implications you need to consider. If there is nothing in place, speak to your HR for guidelines.
  2. Disclose your relationship to the employer. This may feel intrusive, but disclosure could be the difference between saving your job and potentially getting fired if the relationship particularly presents a conflict of interest. In many cases, employees are not permitted to make any business decisions that may impact a romantic partner. These are decisions such as hiring, firing, disciplinary enquiries, promotions, performance ratings, bonuses and increases as favouritism may be raised as a concern. In cases where there is a direct reporting relationship, one of you will often have to be moved and in some cases leave the company if no provisions for a transfer can be made. Even if your work does not intersect, it may happen that a transfer or promotion takes place in future and you end up working under your partner. You do not need to disclose every date you go for with a coworker, it is probably only necessary if it is getting serious.
  3. Plan for your breakup. As unpleasant as this sounds, it is important to have a frank discussion with your partner about how your relationship will potentially impact your work dynamics and what you will do in the event of a breakup. Look at the worst case scenario where the separation is not amicable, how will you handle this particularly if you have to work with each other. What may happen is that one party ends up being forced to leave the company if the breakup dynamics make it unbearable to be around the person at work.
  4. Keep issues separate. As much as possible, avoid work discussions in your personal time and try and not let what is happening in your relationship impact your work and vice versa. You have to agree on the best way to approach this as a couple. Also, do not disclose confidential information that your partner is not privy to in their role at work.
  5. No Public Display of Affection (PDA) at the office. Keep professional boundaries during work hours. Do not hold hands, kiss, or do anything you would not do with a fellow colleague during work hours. Avoid incessantly hanging out with each other, people already know you are a couple and may be inclined to give you privacy if they see you together. By all means, function independently and not as a duo.
  6. Be prepared to sign a love contract. Love contracts are declarations that companies can make employees in a relationship sign. A Love Contract can;
    • Restate the guidelines on sexual harassment and make the couple acknowledge that the relationship is consensual and does not violate any sexual harassment or company dating policies.
    • Provide parameters for professional conduct during working hours for the couple.
    • Serve as an agreement to refrain from any acts of retaliation if the relationship ends.

Office romance comes with potentially complex dynamics and it is important to manage it professionally. Finding out your company rules and guidelines is important to ensure that you are not in breach of any policies. As uncomfortable as it may be, disclosure to HR should be a strong consideration if things are getting serious, particularly where potential conflicts of interests may arise.

How to deal with an incompetent boss

Being Incompetent – what does it mean?

Identifying incompetence is not always a clear-cut process as this characteristic can present itself in different forms. Incompetence must not be confused with “bad leadership”. The two are close cousins but dissimilar in their nature. For example, a manager can be competent technically but bad at leadership, which can render them ineffective. This article will focus on managers who are incompetent. Simply put, these are managers that have consistently failed to perform satisfactorily in their roles.

Characteristics of incompetence include; inadequate knowledge, experience and skills to fulfil the managerial requirements; inability to apply suitable judgment to make sound decisions, lack of insight and understanding, ineffective task management and failure to deliver on goals.

The following are additional indicators of incompetence in a line manager;

  • Absent managers. Incompetence is sometimes in the form of completely withdrawn managers who never make time for their subordinates. The result of the manager’s detachment and lack of availability to team members often leads to; lack of direction on key tasks, insufficient feedback on progress and poor clarity around expectations. This type of incompetence is an extreme form of “laissezfais” management, resulting in free-range, “leaderless” and self-ruling employees.
  • Lack of decision-making capabilities. A high proportion of decisions made by incompetent managers have a negative impact on output. Their deficiency in this area is often evident in their constant indecisiveness, making decisions too late or not at all and poorly planned or miscalculated decisions.
  • Seldom honours deadlines or commitments. Most obligations made by incompetent managers do not materialise and there is sporadic adherence to deadlines. They also do not institute consequences for lack of delivery. As such, it is difficult for their team to ever see anything come to completion.
  • Is a people pleaser: Some managers incompetence emanates from their desire to be liked by their subordinates. They are extremely agreeable on everything and prioritise being a crowd-pleaser and a “fun buddy” over the achieving of departmental goals.
  • Lacks direction: Another sign of incompetence is the inability to provide clear direction and in cases where the direction is given, it is often not well considered, does not take into consideration key elements and is detrimental in its impact.

Tips to deal with an incompetent manager.

The natural inclination when it comes to incompetent managers is the desire to report them. This approach can be feasible, especially in extreme and undeniable cases of incompetence. If you are going to report your boss, it is important to understand the political current in the company and how well your boss manages impressions, especially to “higher up’s”. Complaining to the people who promoted the incompetent boss may not always yield results. The said people may be reluctant to consider that they made a mistake and may be motivated to continue justifying their appointment. It is also common for peers and higher up’s to want to protect “one of their own”. In this regard, a more feasible option may be to find ways to work around the incompetent boss and ensure his/her presence does not impact your own career growth.

Document everything.

If you have to eventually illustrate your manager’s incompetence, especially in a situation where your own work comes under question due to the boss’s incompetence, document all interactions and key events in a log or through emails. If for example, your boss verbally committed to sending you a document that you need in order to complete a task, follow it up with an email. If the deadline passes, note in the email that you have not received the information you need in time to complete the task. Keep track of all the times you are not able to deliver on your work due to an action (or lack thereof) by your boss.

Step-up, become the informal leader.

Bad management can stagnate your career growth, therefore stepping up can have a positive effect on your own development. Identify your boss’s main weaknesses and tactfully intervene to fill those gaps. For example, if there is no direction on your team project, offer to draw up a project plan and volunteer to provide weekly updates and track deliverables. Run this by your boss first as it’s important to not appear as if you’re trying to subvert their authority. The idea is to give the boss the illusion of control and even graciously give them credit for things everyone knows they didn’t do. The strategy is to disassociate yourself from your bosses incompetence and associate your name with good work to avoid any negative impact on your overall reputation and ability to progress.

Find sponsors or mentors within the company.

Another strategy to fill the managerial or leadership vacuum you may be experiencing as a result of your incompetent boss is to find a mentor or sponsor (an influential person who can support, advocate and vouch for you) within the company. Aligning yourself with another leader in the company through requesting their mentorship, advice and guidance can help you to fill the management gaps. In addition, you also position yourself to get noticed by other senior leaders and potentially get support.

If you find yourself working under an incompetent manager, trying to report them may not always yield the results you want. As such, it is important to device ways to work around them for your own benefit. Running away does not also guarantee that you will get a great manager in the next situation, that is why equipping yourself is a skill you can use even in future similar scenarios.

Listen to my Capricorn FM Interview discussing this topic.

Why a competency-based CV may be for you!

A competency-based CV, also referred to as a “Skills” or “Functional” CV, focuses on highlighting your experience and knowledge by organising them into similar categories or groups. This is opposed to a “Traditional CV” that focuses on the chronological order of your work history where you list your skills and tasks under each respective employer. A competency-based CV generally contains the same information as a normal CV, but is structured in a way that steers the focus away from job titles and length at each company, in favour of highlighting key skills. In order to draft a competency-based CV, think of the skills you have consistently used well throughout your career and present them as a collective. It is also optimal for showcasing transferable skills i.e. skills you gained in one environment that you can use in another.

If for example, you did Project Management at 3 different employers, you will consolidate all your project management skills under one category.  Think of it as a box of Smarties, if the different colours represent your entire work experience, a competency-based CV is like taking the same colour smarties and grouping them together.

A major benefit of the competency-based CV is that it allows prospective employers to immediately align your work experience and skills with the requirements of the role you are applying to, especially if your previous job titles are not an obvious link to what you are applying to.

Who should consider a competency-based CV?

A competency-based CV is a great option for job seekers who;

  • want to change industries
  • want to switch careers
  • have occupied different unrelated roles (e.g. marketing, accounting, real estate) and may confuse employers about their career identity
  • have a spotty work history and want to downplay employment gaps
  • have a lengthy work history and are worried about age discrimination.

Competency-based CV Template

The front page of your competency-based CV should have a list of 4 or 5 carefully selected key skills that are directly relevant to the position that you are applying for. Here is an example of a job seeker who has worked in several unrelated roles and industries and needs to consolidate his experience in a manner that does not confuse employers about what role he fits into. The template can be downloaded on MS Word on this link.