Mantalk: Men, if you want to sink your career, go ahead and date a colleague

Men, if you want to sink your career, go ahead and date a colleague. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

Flirting with office spouses (whatever that means) probably gets a lump in your pants but my brother in Christ, it’s not always peaches and cream

A few weeks back, I was on a tête-à-tête with a certain CEO of a multinational (yes, I am namedropping) when he, sounding like a pregnant pause waiting to happen, muttered something profound: “Eddy at 28 I was starting my career as a doctor. And I will never forget what my then-gaffer told me: Don’t screw the crew, the boat always sinks.”

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like particularly life-changing wisdom, and I listened politely, not keenly. Other than that scene in the Titanic, what do I know about boats and crews anyway? But the longer I have worked, the more I see it—and oh, how easy it is to see it. He was not advocating for anything except working harder when you’re young. He was musing about priorities. It was a timely life lesson, a masterclass in office politics. He was warning me about making my life small before it needed to be.

Don’t screw the crew. The boat always sinks.

He had no reason to tell me that and I rolled with the punches because in my heydays in the office, I too have fancied a just-out-of-campus intern. Or two. Or three. I needn’t worry that I would get caught, we were almost age mates anyway, and if anyone asked, I could use my boyish charm to feign ignorance. What is it those who say things say? Accusation does not constitute crime. To some, this would be the life. To me, life was in limbo.

Youth may be wasted on the young but the actual difference between youth and age is rarely physical, not even mental. It could be the yoke of all the years you’ve lived resting on your shoulders. Some call it experience, but that doesn’t quite touch the nerve since having a considerable past does not necessarily confer any wisdom. I could have found his words patronising if not condescending, nonetheless looking back, I can see the wood for the trees. 

Don’t screw the crew. Why? Because from then on you are walking on eggshells and as a bachelor, you know how expensive eggs have gotten lately (Sh15 at my place, Sh20 at someone’s daughter's place). 

Don’t even get me started on how you have to start playing office chess, having your ears on the ground to snuff out water-dispenser gossip.  You watch the opinions you share, and the ideas you have, having to factor in how your new partner might take it—that’s what the hot iron of relationships do; compromise—because now, you have skin in the game. Just the wrong game. It is lowbrow culture.

As you fawn at your lover, management frowns at office romance and for good reason. I know HR, long derided for acting like Victorian patriarchs gets a lot of stick for their shtick—water bottles with chia seeds and cucumbers—but I tend to believe that romance can get in the way of ambition. And what is a man without ambition anyway? This is not to say that women are not ambitious. I know of women with desperate blood-thirsty ambition that they would sell their grandmothers to get Coca-Cola famous. It’s just that ambition is more essential in men.

Here’s an even more interesting fact—the average person spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime; a little over a decade. Thus, in Sakaja’s Nairobi’s get-money-at-all-costs city, it is easy to find comfort in the hands of Jane from Accounting. It will look like the next best thing since Manchester United’s 7 nil spanking, but I put it to you that everyone has an endgame, and rarely, if ever, does it end with a happily-ever-after. After all, however much the punters may love Mickey Mouse, nobody expects him to run Disneyland. I mean unless you are the CEO do you think Jane from Accounting really wants to marry Stephen from IT? No. They are just not it.

Men have long been pros at compartmentalisation; we like—or at least liked—to keep the spheres of our work and private lives separate, so it shouldn’t be that hard to nip it in the bud; and with reasonable cause. Hitting at your colleague in the lift these days is floating on clouds: your object of affection and/or lust could simply whip out a smartphone and 4K you into global infamy via social media.  

I hate to be blunt, but on the off chance that you don’t actually watch the rock and live under one, you may have noticed the rise of #MeToo. That was the nine-inch nail in the coffin of clandestine office romance. If bosses hadn’t spent so many years getting fancy with the spices of ingrained power dynamics for their own sexual benefit, we probably wouldn’t be wrapped in all this red tape. 

And if prevention is indeed better than cure then don’t put yourself in a position where it becomes a he-said-she-said. You won’t win the war, and if you do, it will be a pyrrhic victory. I am a veteran of these streets, so you can trust my word. Those who have read their Bible know that the Romans have a phrase for it—ah yes, I just remembered: don’t poop where you eat.

Unless you are writing a memoir in the guise of a telenovela, you really have no business fluttering your eyelashes at your employer’s staff. See how that wording suddenly makes it look like a HR complaint?  It’s the same underlying thinking behind the infamous ‘Chomoka na fresher’ pale campus. And so we ‘circle back’ to the ancient but prescient chestnut, choices and consequences. Choices have consequences. 

The ‘r’ in freedom is for responsibility. Surprise! That’s how life works, whether you are the boss or the subordinate, the hammer or the nail. In fact, this is a truth that is as old as the office itself, where gossip shoots thrive like weeds, choking and distorting the truth, where once you were known for your Excel skills (do people still use Excel?) and now, you are famous for your 3P1H formula—and let’s be honest, three pumps and a huff (3P1H) is not the reputation anyone should aspire to.

Before you let your libido sink your career, therefore, make sure you know what you're letting yourself in for. Stop dipping your pen in the office ink. It’s less of being prudes—and more of just getting some work done. For every Michelle and Barrack Obama, there is a Bill and Melinda gates. It may work out, or it may not, but do you really want to stake your career in it? Flirting with office spouses (whatever that means) probably gets a lump in your pants but my brother in Christ, it’s not always peaches and cream.

We don’t date our colleagues because of the potential repercussions if the romance turns sour. Look I don’t know about you but as a man, I’m here as the ghost of unemployment future to tell you that it is doubly hard to get promotions let alone a job in this country. So when that office intern passes by or that junior offers to do long nights, don’t get ideas. If your ambition is to get noticed at the workplace by the ladies, you, my dear friend, are after the wrong raise.