I share a desk set-up with an engaged couple

A reader writes:

I have an…interesting situation developing at my work.

I started working in my current position last summer, and it’s my first job after grad school. The field I broke into with this job is notoriously hard to enter, and even though I have very little experience, I’m alone in the department. Since I’m a department of one person, I have to share my office with another department. That isn’t too much of a problem, since my work is at least tangentially related to theirs and we work well together (there are some issues in the company, but this is quite aside from that).

We’re sitting here in “desk groups” of three, so three desks are shoved together (like Tetris) because otherwise we wouldn’t have the space. I’m in a group with the deputy head of the department I share the office with, who will soon be promoted to be the head of the department (because the current head will focus on other things). Let’s call him Fergus. Fergus is senior to me both in the company and in years, but we have the same level of education (this is important because he’s class-conscious).

Jane will be returning from maternity leave next month — where we are, you can take up to a year of maternity leave — and even though we have two empty desks right now, Fergus has designated that she will sit at the empty desk in our group. The thing is, Jane is Fergus’ fiancée, and the baby she had last year was his. Jane is also in the department that Fergus is deputy head of/will be head of soon.

I’m generally not a fan of couples at work where one partner is managing the other, because of power dynamics. And while I was still working in academia, I’ve seen too many couples working together and how much tension that has created in the group. I’m sure they will claim that they will act professionally but my colleagues have already said that last year, before Jane left, there were looks, smiles, and much flirting.

Is there a way to elegantly address this and maybe get Jane to take the desk in the other group? There’s just be 10 feet between them, but those would be crucial 10 feet! Jane doesn’t see a problem with the arrangement and Fergus is not open to feedback or to being criticized, and the other colleagues in the department neither have the standing to say something, nor will be affected in the same manner I am, being in the middle of them. The other free desk will soon be occupied by someone new joining the department. I can’t switch to my own manager’s office, because that would be sensible, but the room would be overcrowded and we’re already sitting like sardines most of the time. There’s no other office for anyone to go to.

That is ridiculous.

It’s enormously problematic that Fergus is going to be managing his soon-to-be wife. Most companies don’t allow that, and for good reason.

And then on top of that, you’re going to be sitting at a three-way desk set-up with them? Nooooo.

You’re a department of one, so you don’t report to Fergus at all, right? Assuming so, you get to act as your own manager here, meaning that you can say something like, “Hey, if Jane is going to be sitting here, I’m going to move to the empty desk that you were talking about putting New Hire at. New Hire can take my desk. I think it’ll be too odd sitting in the middle of a couple. Any objections to that plan?”

Or you could say this to Fergus: “Hey, I feel weird about sharing a desk grouping with an engaged couple — just too much potential for weirdness for my comfort level. So I can move or we can put Jane somewhere else — which do you prefer?”

Or, before their current department head moves on, you could talk to her and explain your concern, and have her arrange for a reshuffling.

But yeah, this is bonkers on a number of fronts.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 167 comments… read them below }

  1. Jules the First*

    Ohhhhh…I actually did this for about six months, except that Jane, Fergus and I shared two desks (and just one phone!) between the three of us. Honestly, it only (sort of) worked because Jane or Fergus was out of the office a couple of days a week. Particularly hellish were the days where they had a row at home before they came to work…

  2. David*

    I know that there are plenty of readers here who have met their partners as a result of working with them and have successfully managed to maintain professionalism working for the same employer, but stuff like this just makes me wonder if we need a movement to say couples working for the same COMPANY is not okay. I’m not talking about laws or corporate policies or anything, just rather that we change the societal norm around this. I have a situation where I manage a woman whose husband is managed by one of my peers. Even with that level of separation there are still some challenges, and we aren’t even talking about one of them managing the other.

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

    1. Aurion*

      Well, the size of a company matters a lot. Two coworkers at Google, with its bazillion departments and teams, would probably be okay if they were in different teams/departments and can maintain professionalism otherwise (or if they don’t interact with each other professionally).

      At my small family-owned company, I would never so much as go out on a date with anyone I work with.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yeah, this. At my current job it is entirely possible that a married couple both working for the company wouldn’t be in the same *building* at some of our locations – and depending on what teams they were on, it’s also entirely possible they’d never have to interact in the course of their job duties.

      2. Fiennes*


        It would be pretty hard if two employees of, say, Wal-Mart were banned from dating even though they work at different stores/have nothing to do with supervising each other. Or waitstaff at chain restaurants across town, etc. Thr biggest company I ever worked for had about 20k employees nationwide; a solid 19,950 of those would’ve presented no work conflicts at all, if in fact I ever ran into them outside the big holiday party.

        1. Liane*

          I worked at that retailer for several years, one year of which my husband worked for them, in the same store. We had several family groups–couples, parent/child, etc.–with no problems. In our case, Husband was 10p-7a overnight inventory and I did customer service, usually the 7a-4p shift. So we didn’t see each other at work unless it was a quick hi as he was heading out the door and I was walking in.

      3. Ribbe*

        Also, if you live in a small town where there’s just one major employer, it can be tough to not have couples both working there.

        1. Not Karen*

          Or a big town with one major employer. LastJob had 30,000 employees at that location. The town’s population was 100,000.

        2. SpaceySteph*

          Or a limited field where there may be only one employer in that field in the area. Honestly, making this a thing would be a hardship on my family, and on that of a lot of couples I know. If we ever look to move from where we live, we would almost certainly be seeking jobs at the same company again.

          My husband and I work for the same company in different departments and have literally never interacted professionally. That should be enough for folks.

      4. Whats In A Name*

        I agree size matters in this case. I work with the biggest employer in our town; their rule is family members can’t have supervisors who report to the same VP. With 20 some VP’s it’s generally not an issue here.

        1. MWKate*

          My workplace will not even hire family members, except for spouses (because they say it’s discriminating based on marital status?). Unless of course – said family member has a skill they really want. Or it’s short term, so really – unless they decide they want to make an exception.

          Which resulted in them not being willing to hire my cousin who is almost 10 years younger than me and I talk to at holidays (occasionally) and like a few facebook statuses a year – for a different department. They did however hire my best friend to sit 2 cubicles away.

          1. Abby*

            In some place such as the town where I work it is illegal to discriminate against marital status so I can see this thinking on the spouse exception.

      5. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, we’ve had married couples at my job but they’ve always been at different departments that did not share disciplines or physical space (like, she was IT and he was customer service, or whatever) and it wasn’t an issue because they only saw each other occasionally during the day. I have coworkers whom I literally only see a few times a year, so dating one of them wouldn’t be a big issue (no plans to do so, though). But I would never, OMG, date somebody in my own or a closely-linked department. Bad scene.

      6. Honeybee*

        Yeah, I work at a giant company and one of my coworkers is married to someone else who works here, but on a team that has nothing to do with our team. They rarely ever see each other on an average day. In fact, we were eating in a cafe one day and she noticed he was in the cafe too and was surprised, because his building is literally a 5-minute drive from us.

      7. Lizard*

        I actually have some married friends who work at Google in completely different areas and they have practically zero interaction at work. I think they have lunch together once a week or so but otherwise it’s basically like they work at different companies.

        My parents were faculty at the same university. They were in separate departments so there was no supervisory issue, but the departments were very small and within the same smallish graduate school, so their offices and labs were not only in the same building but actually on the same floor. I grew up with it so it seemed totally normal to me, but in retrospect I wonder if it was weird for them. It seems like it’s a much more typical situation in academia than elsewhere, though.

    2. turquoisecow*

      I think a lot depends on the person and, like Aurion said, the size of the company. If both halves of the company are working for a 20,000 person company, and are in different departments, then I doubt there will be as many issues as if they are working for a 20 person company, or in the same department.

      I worked at a company of relatively large size, and two coworkers became a couple (and eventually married). Once their relationship was known, one of them moved to a separate part of the department where they would not work together, but were in separate and unrelated but similar jobs. Think they were both in teapot polishing, but she specialized in blue teapots and he in black teapots. They were still in the teapot managing department, but aside from department-wide meetings, didn’t really need to interact for their jobs. It wasn’t feasible to move either of them to a completely different department, since they were unqualified for that, but they moved to opposite sides. I didn’t work directly with either of them, so I can’t say how well this work, but I didn’t hear anything about how they were taking long lunches or flirting on the job, so I assume they both conducted themselves professionally.

      Several years before that, I worked in a supermarket, and two of my coworkers were dating for many years. They were both low-key people, so many of us didn’t even know they were in a relationship. They both worked in the same department, and while they would sometimes work the same shift, they never worked in a situation where one of them had to supervise the other. They were both qualified to supervise the cashiers, be a cashier, and run the customer service desk. So sometimes one of them would be working customer service (who had to work *with* the front end supervisor, but was not directly under them) and another would be supervising the cashiers, but never would they schedule one of them to be a cashier whilst the other was supervising. This arrangement continued for years without issue (until they finally broke up).

      I get the desire to blatantly say “NO” to couples working together, but I think working for the same company is a little extreme, unless the company is very small.

      1. Fiennes*

        Your coworkers are a good argument for letting people try to manage their personal lives like adults; plenty of people can be professional about this. As long as one isn’t supervising the other, there’s every chance things will be fine.

      2. Kathleen Adams*

        But in this case, Fergus will be Jane’s supervisor. The discussion about whether people should work the same place as their spouse is a very different discussion from that of whether people should supervise their spouse.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Oh, I agree. I was replying to David’s statement that maybe spouses/relations/etc should not work at the same company at all. That is okay. Supervising, not so much.

          The OP hasn’t seen Fergus and Jane work together so we don’t know – maybe they’re a great team – but to avoid any question of impropriety the company should have immediately split them up when they became a couple. (Not just different desks, but different departments at the very least, and increased pressure for one to find a new place of employment) Ideally, one of them would have decided to leave the company on their own, but if not, the company should have pushed for it.

    3. Jesmlet*

      If neither member of the couple is managing the other and neither are in HR, I really don’t see why it would be a problem. There are many other areas of our work lives where we are expected to keep things professional and this should be no different. Otherwise, where is the cut off? Can best friends work together? Can siblings? Is the romantic component of a close relationship any more significant than other close relationships? We shouldn’t let a couple bad examples screw everyone else up.

      1. AD*

        There have been many, many letters here over the years that show the different challenges (sometimes in surprising ways) that arise from having significant others work closely with each other, on the same team or in close or adjoining departments. Examples that go beyond if one manages the other.

        It’s a mistake to think “Oh it’s fine if there’s no power dynamic between them”. There are lots of ways that it can impact their work, and in how they are perceived by others. A very small example is the recent letter where the husband showed up at his wife’s desk while she was in meetings or conversations with colleagues and would glower at people if the wife wasn’t ready to go to lunch RIGHT THAT SECOND. This isn’t to say we have to outlaw spouses/SOs from working in the same environment, but it’s worth giving more than a cursory thought to.

        1. Mike C.*

          In that case, it really had little to do with the fact that there was a husband/wife relationship and more to do with the expectation that one employee was on a strict schedule and the other was not.

          1. AD*

            I said it was one small example (and yes, an example caused primarily by the husband’s odd behavior – although I don’t think a “friend” would have the same expectation as that guy seemed to have that his wife be available at the same time he was).

            But as a hiring manager, it would definitely give me pause to consider hiring the spouse or SO of someone on a close team/in our department.

            1. Jesmlet*

              But the issue didn’t arise from their relationship, it was caused by general unprofessional behavior, which again is something we expect people to manage on their own. Sure, the relationship probably makes unprofessional behavior a bit more likely, but I don’t think that makes it okay for us to issue a blanket moratorium on couples working for the same company because it is entirely possible to act like a professional adult in those circumstances so long as their personal bias had no bearing on work matters.

              1. AD*

                No one said anything about a blanket moratorium, but I think it’s naive to think that spousal relationships don’t bring in a very different dynamic (that could be fine, or could be problematic) to the working environment because they are more than coworkers.

                And whether we like to acknowledge it or not, there are all sorts of things that could pop up that any manager worth their salt would be considering in advance. What if Bob and Sally are working in the same department/division, and Bob is laid-off or fired? How will that impact Sally’s performance? What if Sally isn’t promoted, and Bob doesn’t react well to that on his team, and starts giving Sally’s manager the cold shoulder? As others said, the size of the organization is key but there are still things to consider and it feels wrong if we don’t acknowledge that.

        2. Gadfly*

          LastJob had a father and 3 daughters who were at various times peers or supervisors of each other due to reorganization of departments. And while they were professional/low key enough about it that many didn’t know unless they were told, it still made a lot of little things that didn’t seem quite right make sense once you knew. Rightly or wrongly, there was a sense of at least mild preference going on.

        3. Kj*

          I had a professor in grad school who did couples therapy with her husband. They were both therapists and they did cotherapy with couples together. Honestly, it freaked me out a little. I can’t imagine that it added to therapy and can think of a million ways it might detract from therapy. I don’t get couples who share a profession much less the highly idiosyncratic profession of therapist. I’m so grateful my husband does not work with people the way I do.

        4. JessaB*

          I don’t mind same company but definitely not same team or office and certainly not desks next to each other. It’s bad enough if you’re the two bosses and they’re trying to reasonably co-ordinate holiday time (as opposed to the bad way in which spouse x puts in and then spouse y complains loudly because they can’t have the same time off and they never bothered to sit down and compare dept. calendars.)

      2. Kyrielle*

        Even if one is in HR, depending on what they do. Our internal recruiters are technically HR, but they have 0 interaction with any employee who isn’t a hiring manager….

        1. Jesmlet*

          This was a response to David’s specific comment saying that he didn’t think any couples should work at the same company, not to the post as a whole. I agree that when supervision comes into play, couples should not work together.

      3. Annonymouse*

        Romantic relationships aren’t as simple as friend relationships at work.

        If one partner does something the other doesn’t like at either environment there is a chance it can take over both environments.

        There is also the always together no down time element that friends don’t have.

        Also there can be bias – conscious or unconscious – towards a partner that makes it hard to be objective when dealing with them for promotions, conflicts or any other situation.

        Even worse if the partner can’t seperate personal and professional there is the expectation that that partner should always be on there side – even if they are wrong.

        1. Observer*

          Except for the “no downtime” all of this can apply to family relationships and friendships.

          1. Zombii*

            But also the “no downtime” if the family members or friends happen to be living together. (Call center life meant lots of people having lots of roommates, and most of the time the family/friend roommate conflicts were worse than the romantic relationship conflicts—whenever a couple decided they hated each other, one of them would move out; not so much withe family/friends for some reason.)

    4. hbc*

      That’s probably extreme, but if we can get the societal norm to be a blanket opposition to chain-of-command relationships, I’m there with you. I mean, I’m almost always the one to say, “Well, it depends on how they actually behave…”, but a boss/employee relationship is flat-out bonkers. You think he’s going to properly address it when she’s taking off too much time to care for *his* kid? That he’d cut his household income by terminating her if performance warranted it? That it’s impossible that he used some of his power to pressure her into the relationship or that she wouldn’t claim such a thing if the relationship or the job heads south?

      So I’m cool with the sales manager dating someone working the production line unless and until she starts pushing the production manager for better shifts for her SO or they’re caught making out behind the drill press or whatever, but I have zero tolerance on being directly up and down the org chart.

      1. Genevieve Shockley*

        >but a boss/employee relationship is flat-out bonkers.<

        Could this not get into an area where charges of sexual harassment (in the work force) could come into play? I mean, there is obviously already a sexual relationship and they aren't even married. So if he should tell his SO to do something that she didn't like, isn't it possible that she could turn around and file harassment charges?

    5. Mike C.*

      I really think size matters here, both in terms of employees and the distance you can put between a couple. I know plenty of couples (dating, married and divorced!) and my location is large enough to where it will never, ever be an issue. My brother works here in the same building (lol), and I’ve only run into him on accident once in the several years we’ve both been here.

      But if you cannot put that distance between people, then yeah you need to clamp down.

      1. Product person*

        Yes. The startup I worked for was acquired by a ridiculously large company were my husband works (we aren’t the largest location and only in my city there’s more than 6K employees).

        My husband and I work in different buildings of the same complex, never interact, have entirely different chains of command. To me it’s like we’re still working for different companies, and it would be detrimental for the company to have rules preventing this type of thing from happening.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, most couples I know only see each other coming and leaving, since we give preferential parking to car-poolers.

    6. David*

      Just to clarify for everyone, I’m intentionally making an extreme case. I fully appreciate all the caveats, but ended by saying “this is why we can’t have nice things” because some folks just ruin it for everyone else.

    7. tsktsk*


      As someone who works at the same company as my spouse this is so extreme. I work in a completely different field from what he works on here and we never interact with one another outside of commuting in and periodically we will go out to lunch together. At the end of the day its no one’s business who I am involved with as long as we do not manage one another. I wouldn’t waste my time with any organization that feels the need to manage their adult employees like children.

    8. KL*

      No. Maybe your company can’t have nice things, but mine’s doing just fine. To me, your problem sounds more like an internal issue than a “married people should work for the same company issue.” I work at the same university my husband does. I’m in a separate unit from him, and I work with members of his office almost daily. I don’t work with him, but that because our our job duties are different. If we ever need to collaborate for some reason, we will do so in a professional manner. We act professionally at work because we are professionals.

      Frankly, I don’t see why your bad experience warrants that no married couple should ever work for the same company, especially when it’s a large one. And yes, I do not believe couples should supervise each other. That does have problems. But should not work for the same company, that’s absurd.

      1. Dankar*

        Yeah, university jobs would be even more of a logistical nightmare if spousal hires (or even just hiring two spouses at separate times) were prohibited. It’s hard enough to get a job in the same general area if both work in academia. Imagine if an area’s single university was banned from hiring the other spouse…

        At that point, academics might as well not get married at all, since it would be nearly-impossible to live together and have a career.

        1. TL -*

          I’m in academia and I’ve known a few couples who were “professionally working together” except that they really weren’t.

          Within the university, fine. Within the same department, not so fine. Within the same chain of command, really, really not okay.

          1. Artemesia*

            I know one couple who shared a position until their kids were older when the university anxious to keep them both created a second tenure line so both had roles. Worked fine — both were prominent in their specialty. I know another couple who did research together, won awards together and were terrific as teachers, researchers and colleagues together, so it can work.

            On the other hand their are lots of resented spousal hires out there as well who are viewed as having taken a position that a stronger candidate would have had.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Our department hired a very prominent researcher whose stipulation in accepting the job offer was that there had to be a position for his doctoral student/romantic partner. She was given a tenure-track position that she may otherwise not have been hired for, and the fact that they are romantically involved is the open secret in our department. I figured it out after about six months of noticing little odd things that didn’t quite add up, so I asked, “Why does female professor care whether male professor knows that she bought a new shirt?” and all the weirdness was finally explained.I

          2. Hollis*

            I know an academic couple in the same field who got hired by the same department at the same university. They both got tenure, and then…they got divorced. And both continued working in the same department for several years. I have no idea how everybody coped with that.

      2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        One of my previous jobs was at a company with around 300 employees. There were several couples who worked there, as well as people with other family relationships. (Parents/children, siblings, aunt/niece, etc.) The only rule I think they had is that employees could not report to the same team manager. Since most of the departments had multiple managers, this was easy enough to work out. My immediate coworker had one daughter who supervised another team in the department, and another daughter and her daughter (coworker’s granddaughter) who worked in another department within the company.

      3. Marcela*

        I was in the same situation most of my career. I worked in the same academic groups my husband was, but I was software development and he is a researcher. We were never in the same project together, we did not share offices or desks, and in our daily lives he was just one of my users. Nothing unprofessional happened, because we know how to behave when working. And both of us have great reputations in our respective circles.

    9. Thlayli*

      There are lots of ways of dealing with it in large firms. I used to work in a bookmakers (betting shop
      – legal where I am) and we had thousands of locations. There was a rule that family members and close friends could not work in the same location.

      Sometimes it genuinely isn’t a problem. In my last job there were a husband and wife team who met at work. He was her line manager and was married with a kid. He split up with his wife and married his subordinate. They both continued to work there and as far as I could tell they had no major issues work wise. I never met his first wife but I kind of felt bad for her though.

    10. Engineer Woman*

      In an early job, there were 2 married engineers in my department: one a manufacturing engineer and one a quality engineer, reporting to different groups but working on the same product. Working closely with both, I didn’t know for months they were married (despite having the same last name, and not a common one at that) and they were so completely professional. Never saw or felt a personal disagreement between them and nor any public displays of affection, although they were obviously affectionate – the wife became pregnant and they were both so happy about it.

      My tale as a witness to a married couple at work is a good one. But I can see how not all can be.

    11. Abby*

      My husband works at a company with over 8,000 employees. You can both work at the company and be in totally separate buildings. I think that becomes impractical to ban outright.

      Many universities recruit spouses or partners to work there.

    1. TheBeetsMotel*

      Yeeeep. And Jim and Pam are glurgy and unprofessional at the best of times… Lord knows how it would play out in real life.

      1. Edith*

        Jim was co-manager with Michael for the better part of season 6, so yes, he did directly manage his wife. And Jan managed Michael as his boss. And with the time skip in the series finale Dwight had spent the past year managing his fiancée Angela and would presumably continue to do so as her husband.

        1. Edith*

          The part about Jan was unclearly worded. There were points during Jan and Michael’s on again/off again relationship in which they were dating while she was his direct superior. HR even had them fill out a relationship disclosure form, but no other action was taken by corporate. That is in contrast to Michael’s relationship with Holly, in which the second corporate found out about it they transferred Holly to another branch.

    2. Amber T*

      Third time this week a letter specifically reminded me of The Office. I thought it was because I just started rewatching the series, but everyone else is picking up on it too!

      The difference here, of course, is that OP sounds like a level headed person, and not… well, Dwight like.

      – Beets, Bears, Battlestar Galactica.

  3. Lisa*

    Soooooo is Fergus in charge of assigning desks? Or it it more freeform? Seems if you are your own department you can assign your own desk and just move. Assuming the new hire is in Fergus’s department you could say it makes more sense for the new hire to sit in the three grouping with their team.

    1. Candy*

      Yeah, if they’re a department of one person, then all they need to do is grab their things, get up, and move. If there’s a free desk that no one is using then they don’t need to confer with or ask permission from anyone.

      I would talk to IT in the morning about making sure my computer and phone were set up if necessary and then just move my things at the end of the day and come in the next morning, sit down at my new workstation, and start working. When others ask, I’d just laugh it off and say I preferred the lighting better over here or something.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        +1 I’d likely do this too. Maybe I would information my manager first? Just to be nice, not because I’d think I need their permission.

        1. OhNo*

          Yeah, it wouldn’t hurt to run it by your manager. It could be the manager will want to you be able to collaborate closely with Fergus and Jane – although for sanity’s sake, let’s hope not!

    2. MoinMoin*

      My thought also. I thought maybe I was missing something in the letter since that seemed like an obvious solution the OP didn’t address after being pretty thorough with other details.

  4. Kyrielle*

    LW, I would not try to approach Fergus. You’ve broached that and it hasn’t gone well, it sounds like.

    I would approach your manager and see if they’re open to swapping you with New Hire, although that surely will be awkward for NH also.

    1. Hannah*

      Yes I feel a bit bad for the new hire in that scenario because OP will have saved herself, but the overall situation will still exist. At the same time, I’d definitely be looking out for myself first in a situation like this.

      1. Newby*

        Sometimes the best you can do is remove yourself from the situation. It does suck for new hire though. Maybe if new hire complains as well, management will take notice since then there will be multiple complaints.

    2. Chickaletta*

      True, there’s probably no need to run it by Fergus first since OP doesn’t report to him. Since he’s not open to criticism, I’d just leave him out of the decision entirely and not open that box. Unless I’m missing something here…

    3. lowercase holly*

      hopefully OP’s manager will see how weird the situation is when OP asks about moving and will do something to save new hire. poor new hire.

  5. Fiennes*

    I’m wondering whether this is something that will have to be a real problem rather than a potential one before OP can take action without ruffling too many feathers. The truly berserk part of this is that Fergus is supervising Jane to begin with; compared to that, the seating is a smaller issue for the company at large, so if nobody sees a problem with the first part, will they see a problem with the second?

    Personally, I would hang on, let the lovebirds settle in, then finagle my move out of their orbit based on the specific issues (chit-chat, etc) that arise. Right now OP is stuck saying, “I know you’re not going to be professional about this” — and however true that may be, it’s unlikely to go over well.

    1. Kate*

      Seconded. There are certainly couples who can behave professionally at work, and though based on the comments from others, it doesn’t seem like this couple will, I agree that it’s highly unlikely to go over well to frame it that way. Once Jane gets started, it might be easier to say, “Hey, I’m going to move to that empty desk over there so you guys can talk business without distracting me.” Or something of that ilk.

    2. Whats In A Name*

      This is a really good perspective – both of them are. He is approaching with an assumption – not fact based on past behavior.

      The seating arrangements actually stood out to me as more of an issue than the nepotism. And people in this company complain they don’t have enough privacy in cubes with 6 foot walls……

      1. Liane*

        “not fact based on past behavior.”

        OP states that “my colleagues have already said that last year, before Jane left, there were looks, smiles, and much flirting.” I’d say that’s factual enough for OP to be legitimately concerned. :)
        *However,* the Big Problem here isn’t that they may resume flirting or the seating arrangements. It’s that One Will Be Supervising the Other.

        1. Purest Green*

          And if they’re new parents, it’s possible OP might be dealing with a baby in the workspace at least once, given the history of flirting and the boss-employee relationship.

        2. Thlayli*

          Looks and smiles are not an issue at all – I actually don’t see why that would bother anyone. Flirting is a grey area because it means different things to different people. It could mean anything from a wink (which wouldn’t bother me) to full- on groping that is definitely out of line. Flirting with your husband definitely becomes less common when you have a baby though – way too tired!

          I’d be more worried about snide comments about who stayed sleeping while the other person got up with a teething baby than about flirting!

          I think the best thing is to move desk if possible and aside from that just wait and see what if any inappropriate behaviour occurs. You never know it might never happen.

          1. Kinder and Gentler Manager*

            Thank you for this perspective – I was sitting here thinking it’s pretty unreasonable to expect an engaged couple to pretend they don’t know each other at work. :) “Looks and smiles and flirting” is definitely not detailed enough to say that it’s automatically inappropriate.

    3. BeautifulVoid*

      This was my thought, too. I’m sympathetic to OP and see the potential for problems here, but I wonder if she might be jumping the gun a little bit. She’ll probably come across as more reasonable and get better results if she waits until there’s an actual problem she can point to and say “This is affecting my work in XYZ ways”.

  6. Kimberly R*

    Does OP actually have to ask Fergus about switching desks? Can OP just say that lighting is better/the vent doesn’t blow on me/any other excuse that sounds plausible and just move to the empty desk? I imagine it will be horribly uncomfortable for the new hire but OP would be moved. I do think its worth addressing with the outgoing manager but other than that, considering that Fergus isn’t willing to listen to reason, it doesn’t sound like the OP can change anything but could make an enemy of Fergus.

    1. AJ*

      I agree with Kimberly R. If Fergus thinks it’s going to be completely OK to manage his fiancé/wife then it’s likely he’s a person who gets offended easily. I like Kimberly’s idea. Or you could say “I have a hard time tuning things out, it’s going to be very distracting for me to be so near to two people talking to each other about work different than mine. I need to move to the other desk so I can remain productive.” Or if you want/need to bring up the couple issue, why don’t you come up with a “friend”? “I have a friend who worked very closely with a couple at her job. It started out fine, but things eventually got really awkward for her. I like our current working relationship, I think we do a good job of XYZ together. I am going to move to the other desk so we can keep that up”.

  7. Looey*

    I think you would get more traction if you waited to see if this is actually going to be a problem rather than assuming it will be. All you have at the moment is heresay and memories of a year ago – things may have settled down since then. Give them a month and then, if it’s a problem, go to your boss and don’t forget to provide solid examples, not just “they smiled at each other”.

    1. Artemesia*

      Once Jane is plumped down in her chair next to you and her lovey-boo, it will be a LOT more awkward than pre-empting this. I’d move to the other open seat and just do it. Or talk to the manager about being uncomfortable sitting with the lovebirds and letting her know you are moving or ask to move whichever you think has the better chance of success. A decent manager would not allow this to occur.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah, I agree. And in this case, I think OP is better off taking his coworkers’ feedback as true (i.e., that there was flirting, looks, and giggling pre-parental leave) and plan from that perspective. I know OP hasn’t had first-hand experience with this, but I don’t think OP has to suffer before it’s ok to request to move. Moving now seems less drama-making than asking to move later.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      But if OP waits and it is a problem, there won’t be a free desk anymore (because of New Hire joining).

      I’d probably move just in case; it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    This reminds me of high school, when other people would have to work on group projects with my boyfriend and me. Some couples could keep it completely professional, but it doesn’t sound like this couple is one of those.

  9. Mike C.*

    This is a serious, massive conflict of interest. If your company has any sort of regulatory obligations or codes of conduct that they follow, something like this will be on the list.

  10. Zaralynda*

    My parents own a consulting business together (they have 1 other employee). My mom mostly works off-site (at home) but occasionally she has to go to a meeting at the client site, so she sits on a corner of my Dad’s desk. One day my Dad loudly yelled “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” and stormed out of the cube farm (it was a response to an email). Everyone in the cube farm was deadly quiet and my Mom whispered “It wasn’t me”.
    Yeah, that can be awkward.

    1. Mike C.*

      At the last place I worked it was a family business, and I remember my boss telling me how Thanksgiving dinner devolved into an argument over equipment budgets.

    2. Liane*

      I found this amusing, but I am sure it was horribly embarrassing to both your parents and the client’s employees in the moment.

  11. BadPlanning*

    Extrapolating from other AAM letters, this seems like a slippery slope to bringing the toddler in to also hang out at the tables…

    1. Evan Þ*

      That’s it! Maybe New Hire can go somewhere else, and the toddler can have the third seat in Jane and Fergus’s pod!


        1. OP*

          …considering they don’t have daycare yet… ;)

          but yeah, I think I’d have reason to really put my foot down there. and I do hope the kid will be around, maximum, for a minute or two to pick up mom and/or dad.

  12. Jamie*

    How is this managing family/partners allowed anywhere.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be managed by someone who would benefit as much as I from my salary so would have personal incentive to get me as much as possible at raise time…

    Just being facetious but seriously this stuff happens in some family businesses so you need to deal but I can’t believe it’s happening elsewhere.

    1. tigerStripes*

      Where I work, people can and sometimes do have relationships with co-workers, including long lasting marriages, but people aren’t allowed to date their supervisors/subordinates.

  13. bunniferous*

    Okay, I fail to see the actual problem.

    If OP and these people do not supervise each other, then why not just ignore the lovebirds and not worry about what they do or do not do? I am not saying this is a good idea for them to be that close together because I agree with the majority, but for OP in particular…..how is this going to affect her work? THAT is what I would focus on. Now of course if this does affect her work, then there is absolutely something to talk about.

    1. Chleo*

      Because it’s obnoxious, it’s a distraction, and it’s a conflict of interest, pretty simple. OP will have to sit between them, and the rest of the department gets to watch Fergus and Jane together. Worst case scenario, he gives her preferential treatment; best case scenario, they act like a couple. Even the most professional people find it hard to treat their SO with distant professionalism when they work together, PARTICULARLY if one is senior to the other. Like he’s really going to reprimand the mother of his child if she doesn’t perform her job duties appropriately? And besides, it’s a lot harder to ignore Gazes, footsies, and tickling than you’d think. It’s bad enough having an hour-and-a-half dinner with my brother and his fiancee. If I had to work with them eight hours a day too? Yikes. Could they turn out to be professional? Maybe. But the rest of the department’s already weighed in that it played enough of a role before the maternity leave that they all noticed it. As Alison said, there’s a reason most companies have policies against this.

      1. Fiennes*

        But the single biggest problem – the conflict of interest- will not be affected by the placement of OP’s desk.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          But exposure to real-time conflicts will be mitigated by not having to sit int he middle of it.

        2. Thlayli*

          The conflict of interest is the biggest problem for the company but it doesn’t seem to affect OP at all. Op is in a different department and there’s no indication at all in the letter that the conflict of interest will Affect OP specifically. That is for fergus’ boss to worry about, not OP.

          It also seems like OP is making assumptions about how the couple will behave based on previous experience with other couples and on gossip. Which isn’t really fair to do.

          The obvious answer is to Move desks and wait to see if any problems arise.

          I understand OPs concern though and I don’t necessarily think it’s childish to be worried about something that may or may not happen.

    2. Confused Again*


      I may be reading between the lines but am I the only one who feels the problem isn’t so much the relationship between Fergus and Jane, but the relationship between Fergus and OP? Personally, I don’t see a problem with couples working together, provided it’s not in an industry were accusations of things like bribery could be made and they both act professionally. The fact that OP doesn’t feel comfortable flagging to Fergus, ‘Hey, buddy, sure Jane’s a great lady but I don’t feel like playing third wheel here so can she/I move to another desk?’ is a massive red flag. Surely if Fergus is a reasonable human being he can see why this situation is less than ideal and will either move Jane. let the OP move or come up with a non-childish reason why neither of those work.

      It also makes me question why OP wants Jane to move (unless I missed something in the letter, in which case, oopppps!) rather than just moving themselves. I get that OP doesn’t approve of the office dynamic here but as they are not even in the same department as our love birds, nor seems to be part of the company’s management or HR team (who I will assume know and are cool with the situation) then OP doesn’t really have any place to be judge-y on this.

      1. Elsajeni*

        I can see why the OP would rather Jane move — if she genuinely thinks sharing a desk with Fergus and Jane would be terrible, then the best solution is to arrange it so that no one has to share with them. OP moving to a different desk is better for her, but I imagine she’d feel bad about setting up the incoming new hire to be stuck with the same situation she found unacceptable for herself.

        1. DesiArcy*

          Especially since unlike Jane, the poor new hire will be reporting to Fergus and is not seen by him as an “equal” for class reasons.

    3. TL -*

      Because sitting in between 2 people in a relationship is awkward, but also because the OP presumably does have to work with their department and if she has an issue with Jane or Jane’s work, even if it’s as small as, “Oh, you forgot to put the date on the TPS report,” or, “Please don’t eat pickles at the desk. I hate the way they smell,” she now has to factor in Fergus’ response nearly as heavily as she has to factor in Jane’s. And if she’s frustrated with either of them, if she lets it show, she has to assume she’ll get a response as a unit, rather than the normal coworker, “Fergus left his trash on the desk again” moment of frustration with few repercussions.

      (Also, what’s a TPS report?)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It’s a testing procedure report. But used in the vernacular, it refers to a mundane busywork task. The slang comes from the movie Office Space, when the character’s boss berates him for not putting a cover sheet on his TPS reports.

  14. Clever Name*

    This is so weird. What is the company thinking? I don’t think I could handle such a desk arrangement even with coworkers who weren’t engaged to each other.

  15. Chickie Manages It All*

    If there are other desk options, I would definitely move into one of those quietly without mention of the potentially tricky situation. “I’m going to put myself out here closer to blah blah blah.”

    If there are no clear options, perhaps OP should have a talk with their own boss or HR. “I have some concerns about this situation. I’m glad to try to make this work and want you to know I’ll definitely do my part. Wanted you know just in case we need to find me another place to sit.”

    As OP is a department of one, perhaps headphone use could come in handy, too.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Sometimes all you can do is remove yourself from a situation (and, if OP goes with Alison’s “tell Fergus” suggestion, he might move Jane, so it wouldn’t).

      1. Myrin*

        Additionally, the new hire will be joining Fergus and Jane’s department so it at least makes sense for them to sit next to the two which isn’t the case for OP who could theoretically sit wherever.

      2. Bellatrix*

        You make some good points, but I’d still go against removing yourself by putting a new hire in the situation. A first day is rough as it is, let alone when you toss in a pair of loved birds. And a new hire won’t have any political capital to resolve the situation by speaking up, which OP does.

        I always try to be super nice to new coworkers and stand up for them when necessary, because being new is hard.

    2. Czhorat*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking.

      And a new hire lacks awareness of the office politics and often doesn’t have the perceived standing to hold their own in a conflict. The OP moving doesn’t solve the potential problem; t reassigns it to someone else.

      Unless op is Fergus’s boss, it quite honestly isn’t their place to decide who is allowed to work for whom. I, personally, think e best thing to do is just let it be.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Right? I was thinking this… I love my SO, but I wouldn’t want to be a foot away from them all day (and night) every day (and night). I need separation of work and personal life. Haha.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      Came here to say this! I could deal with being in the same organization and maybe seeing each other in the occasional meeting or in the lunch room (we have a few couples like this at work), but sharing a desk all day every day and then going home together every night? Oh hell no, and my husband would quite rightly say the same about me!

  16. A.*

    Jeez, even when my now-husband and I were in COLLEGE and had a few classes together, we’d make sure to sit apart to ensure no one felt weird about it. This has waaaaayyyy too much potential for awkwardness.

    1. Dankar*

      Oh, heck no! I made sure to sit next to my SO in all our shared gen ed classes. Who else would tutor me on the math for dummies work without making laughing at me?

      (That being said, I was so busy being lost on the material that I doubt anyone knew we were dating.)

  17. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*


    1. Valerie*

      Yeah, a few “Ugh, please stop!” or “Could you guys please handle this at home?” comments should get you or someone moved pretty fast. :D

  18. Myrin*

    I’m re-reading the letter and I’m just now realising that I don’t understand why this part is in there: “we [Fergus and OP] have the same level of education (this is important because he’s class-conscious)”. I’m wondering if it’s just an additional piece of info about Fergus or if OP meant to tie something back to this point and then forgot about it? Does Fergus see OP as a prefered desk-partner because they share the same kind of educational background and would make a fuss about OP moving somewhere else? Or am I reading way too much into this little detail that’s not actually important to the overall point?

    1. Confused Again*

      This struck me as really odd too, and kind of lead me to the conclusion I made above that there seems to be a deeper problem between OP and Fergus and their working relationship, above and beyond him making OP a third wheel.

      1. OP*

        It’s not very easy to explain without making him sound horrible, which he isn’t.

        When he speaks to me he assumes I automatically understand what he’s talking of, and he also speaks to me on the same level. With people with a “lower” (or no) degree [think the equivalent of grad school and no grad school for example, everyone has perfectly adequate education in their field] he’s a little stilted, very distant and painstakingly checks whatever they do, and not just in his own department. Ultimately he cares not much about anything else but his work and what other people care about, unless he’s speaking with someone of the same background.

        Example, since we’re so few people at the site everyone pitches in and does random small things, like idk take one of the trash bags downstairs when we share an elevator with the cleaners anyway or handle some things ourselves that we could have an admin do but they’re swamped, bring the broken shredder into the shop on the way into the other building rather than making them run to pick it up, he’s never do that unless it was with/for someone of the same background. I’m not sure I explained it well, it’s an undercurrent that everyone notices though.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Does that mean that you might be better situated to speak to him, though? Because if he’s going to talk down to other coworkers, it seems like you may have more sway? (Although you did say he doesn’t take feedback well and is kind of prickly…)

          1. Freya UK*

            I know right, he sounds f*cking awful. I’m a fiercely intelligent woman – I didn’t go to uni because it wasn’t the right route for me at the time, not because I couldn’t (coincidentally I’m now thinking I might, here in my early thirties). Anyone who treats me in a derogatory fashion because I don’t have a degree swiftly learns their lesson.

            1. Zombii*

              Pay those people no attention, they’re not worth your time.

              signed, 33 and going back to school (it sucks but it’ll apparently take me somewhere better, so…)

        2. Thlayli*

          Obviously you know him and I don’t but from what I understand he manages everyone else in the office apart from you. Is it possible he is behaving that way not because of their level of education but because he is their boss? What you’ve described sounds to me like someone trying to behave professionally with their subordinates but it coming across as a little stilted. (Avoiding conversations about non work-related matters, not doing admin-type or cleaning stuff for subordinates). Honestly it sounds like he’s trying his best to be as professional a manager as possible but he’s just a little awkward about it.

  19. VonSchmidt*

    On paper, I manage my spouse. Technically, we each have our own areas of expertise but we are in the same department. I have an office, my spouse is in with the rest of our small team. I enjoy that we co -manage our team. We work for a large employer in a small town, so there is A LOT of family working with family. HR hates this but if they want workers, they have to put up[ with it. We work professionally and do a great job. We do not do performance evals, and at our level raises are doled out annually and determined by the corner office. My biggest pet peeve is not having had a decent 2 week vacation together in 8 years, heck we cannot even get a long weekend off without a call. I have considered employment elsewhere but the commute, carpooling, and being able to work together is just too nice to give up. I’m realize this situation could be problematic, but we are able to make it work. YMMV

    1. TL -*

      Well, you’re able to make it work. I think it’s more about how the other employees feel, to be honest.

      I used to work for a husband and wife pair (who co-managedish, actually) and they would also say that they were making it work and everything was totally professional and not really affected by their marriage. They were very, very wrong.

    2. Al Lo*

      I also technically manage my spouse.

      We work in the performing arts, and for an organization that has a handful of family relationships scattered throughout, including spouses co-teaching a class, parent/child pairs in varying levels of working together, and so on.

      I think it works for us because our CEO models it every day. Her daughter is high in our chain of command, but their work relationship is modeled as being very separate from their family relationship. There are moments when it bleeds through, but not dramatically, and not detrimentally. The biggest detriment is on paper, when funders see the same last name.

      My husband and I have complementary skill sets and have worked together since before we started dating (i.e. one of us directing a show; the other designing sound or something similar). We have gone back and forth in being the “manager” of the other on various projects, and I think it works for us. When we started dating, we were working on 2 projects simultaneously — one where he was the boss, and one where I was. It really set the tone, and 10 years later, we still navigate that line.

      There are challenges, for sure. I work hard to keep things appropriately separated, both at work and at home. I’m extra-conscious of appearances in the way I manage him vs. the way I manage others. I check in with my boss regularly, and I ask her opinion on decisions that I wouldn’t necessarily with another report, just to be sure that I’m keeping everything above-board, and not making decisions based on my marriage rather than based on the work relationship. I’ve been careful to build in extra checks and balances, and so far, it’s working.

      For us, working together is great. We do it well, and our personalities work with it. For a lot of people, it doesn’t work, either in the marriage or in the workplace, and I find myself extra vigilant on both to make sure we’re still doing okay.

  20. Queen Anne of Cleves*

    This reminds me of a story which is about two people working together who get into a relationship. A friend of mine whose parents are uber wealthy had a housekeeper and a grounds keeper. One day the house keeper asked for the following Friday and Monday off. Why? She was getting married. To whom? The grounds keeper. My friend’s mom never even knew they were dating. That’s how you date someone at work!

    1. Engineer Woman*

      This is great. I hope your friend’s mom got them a really nice wedding/marriage gift.

  21. Allison*

    There are some couples I’m fine hanging out with, I might be a third wheel but it doesn’t feel that awkward. Being the third wheel at work? Nooooope. It’s different there – you’re around them all day, you can’t just get up and leave if things get weird, and they’re not necessarily buddies you choose to hang with. You’re totally justified in wanting to move.

  22. Bea*

    I’m so used to family owned and operated setups this is outside my wheelhouse. The best part of hiring your family is that there’s no filter needed most of the time.

    I can see this being a huge issue in larger companies though where a couple is distracting and obnoxious more than anything. You already assume working in a family owned place there’s a difference in the dynamics than finding your partner after you both just happen to start working together in a corporation.

  23. OP*

    Alison, thank you for addressing my letter and thank all the commenters for answering!

    I shall try to address a few of the most common points, rather than repeating them in various iterations, if that’s okay.

    We’re a small company, less than 50 at our site, less than 150 nationwide. The department Fergus and Jane belong to has seven employees and with that is one of the largest. Five of those seven will be in my/our office. We’re in a city of five million, I assume one part of a couple could theoretically find work elsewhere as we’re in a pretty abundant industry.

    Here’s a bit of a systemic problem, because this is all very hm “old boys’ club”, which I know is not a way to run a company, and I didn’t know about it when I first joined the company. In fact, I am theoretically the highest ranking woman (I say theoretically because I’m sure there’s some of the admins whose word weighs heavier than mine, but if you’d look at the organisation chart there I am). It makes for some very exhausting episodes, and sometimes I have to pick my battles. Fergus is in a close working relationship with the “second in command”. The whole thing is probably why my manager agrees that it’s a bad setup, but won’t say anything about it.

    Fergus decides where people in his department sit. We’ve had some shuffling in regards to desk in the last couple of months, but overall Fergus makes the decisions in his department. This, of course, does not theoretically affect me, practically I get to take the desk that’s “left over”, because I’m just attached to the office as there’s no other space for me at the site. So I can’t simply go and take the free desk without causing a bit of a stir, and in fact the two free desks are in the “worst” placement (so making an argument of better light is hard to make).
    I have, in fact, said something to the effect of, “Don’t you think it would make sense for Jane to sit where Jim [colleague who was her maternity replacement] since they’ll be doing the same work?”, but that was summarily denied. Not for good reasons, but it was denied anyway.

    Fergus and me:
    In the words of my manager, Fergus sometimes behaves like a little king and manages processes and people that are not his to manage. This is something I try to be indifferent about, though (my manager would blow a gasket if he did it to me, plus he perceives me to be on “his level” since we have the same educational background). On the other hand when Fergus perceives someone to be inferior to him it’s easy to notice that because he treats them like that. It doesn’t sit super well with me, but it hasn’t reached a level where I feel I should say something, he’s not using slurs, he’s not being derogative, he simply does it a little “from above”.

    I guess part of the reason why he wants Jane and also me in his desk group is that he’s not always as discreet as maybe he should be. I mentioned the old boys’ club before, sometimes he makes calls that may not be for everyone’s ear. Since I manage pretty much all processes that run the company, sooner or later all of those things come to me anyway, so whatever I hear pretty much doesn’t matter. As for Jane … she probably shouldn’t hear it, but I guess no one is under any illusions whether Fergus talks about whatever goes on at home.

    Ultimately, no I don’t have a problem with Fergus. I don’t always appreciate the way he does his managing, but that’s for his reports to complain about ultimately.

    Fergus and Jane:
    Yes, the baby has been to the office a couple of times, but so far Jane brought her to pick him up for lunch and they were gone in two minutes. So I sincerely hope that this will not be a general thing.
    As for nepotism… Well, I can’t really say. What I can say is that sometimes he has calls and then makes statements in her behalf, but this might be simply more convenient than having her come in. I don’t know, I won’t judge that before I see it. However, and maybe this is just my opinion, a company should avoid even the appearance of it, but maybe that’s just me. I’ve heard from several sides already “this shouldn’t be”, but I’m not sure if no one says anything to them, or if Fergus doesn’t want to hear it. Both is possible.

    How it will affect me:
    Maybe I should have made more of a point in this, and I apologize. There is already a lot of noise in the office (I do use headphones when I can get away with it, but that’s not always possible because I’m often running around from desk to copy machine to cabinet to, you get the drift), and having seen them interact a couple of times, it will get worse and even more distracting. It’s true that I assume nepotism, but it’s the look of the whole thing. There’s already grumbling about how he wants to review her performance and working in a cloud of tension where everyone breathes a sigh of relief when both parties leave the room is not great.

    However, I’ll try to once more make my case with Fergus with more direct words and then talk again to my manager. If that doesn’t work I will take the advice of some of the commenters and bring this up later in a more formal setting.

    Thanks all for your input, and thank you again Alison for featuring my letter!

    1. OP*

      (Oh and one thing before it confuses anyone, I am a department of one, but I’m in a junior position, so I do have a manager who signs off on my time off and who gives me advice and who has done what I do a few jobs ago, and who does my performance review. Our relationship is more like between coworkers than manager and report.)

      1. Thlayli*

        I see why Fergus wouldn’t want the new hire at his desk if he makes sensitive calls.

        You could try listening to an iPod or something to block out noise when moving around.

        Other than that I think you should wait to see if there actually is a problem before complaining. Complaining about how you think someone might behave in future is just going to make you look bad.

        Also remember that while it’s your opinion (and Alison and other commenters opinion) that couples shouldn’t manage each other, it doesn’t seem to be your employers opinion. so complaining about that is just going to make you look like you are criticising your companies policy. I would stay away from making any complaints about husband/wife working together. If their BEHAVIOUR causes a problem in the future then by all means make a complaint but ensure any complaints you make are specifically about the problems not about your own personal opinion on how your employer should treat couples. Otherwise you will come across very badly in your employers eyes.

        And give us an update!

        1. Hrovitnir*

          I can understand why people think OP should wait until there’s a problem, but seriously, changing something once it’s already happening is so much harder than doing it before. The momentum is already in one direction so it’s no longer about redirecting and instead having to walk it back, and people naturally resist it.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Thanks so much for following up, OP! This sounds like a really sticky situation, and I’m sorry you’re stuck in the middle of it. :(

      (I wish I had advice to offer, but this sounds like a pretty difficult set up. I hope your convo with Fergus goes well!)

    3. Darrow*

      Is your manager at a higher level than Fergus? Or at least on equal footing? If yes then it may be beneficial to have him speak to Fergus on your behalf to better convince him to allow you to work at a different desk.

    4. Cassandra*

      Bluetooth headphones might be a small win for you, OP. I recently got a pair and it’s lovely to be untethered.

  24. Mabel*

    Just jumping in without reading all of the comments, so I’m sorry if someone already said this, but could the OP just move his/her stuff to the other desk without saying anything? Or if that’s too weird, maybe just saying the light is better over there or something like that? I guess it really bugs me that the OP has to figure out how to deal with this nonsense. But since s/he is their own dept, I was thinking (hoping) they might not have to say anything.

  25. GraceW*

    In entertainment, there a lot of coupled teams, and no one thinks twice about it.
    Since Jane hasn’t even returned to the office yet, why anticipate a problem? It sounds like the OP just doesn’t like Ferguson.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      Got to admit, I’m laughing out loud, given that Hollywood/music/the theatre/TV sets/orchestras etc etc relationship dysfunction is pretty legendary! I mean, not that everyone has affairs, but there are special circumstances that make affairs and so on more likely, and relationships to change as people might get together on one set/tour/programme etc, but work away from each other on the next.

      Or maybe you’re talking about different parts of the entertainment industry, and I’m misunderstanding?

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        (I don’t mean to stereotype a whole industry with that comment, but it doesn’t seem likely that relationships within management chains are frowned upon pretty much everywhere else, because they are generally bad to work with, but work in entertainment…)

  26. anonforthis*

    I’ve been in a situation where a man appointed, managed and promoted his mistress. The two of them had a daily meeting where they would discuss work-related projects while the rest of the team was drip-fed scraps of information on a need-to-know basis (we had a team meeting maybe once a year). After a while I understood that this was done so that the rest of the team would stay ignorant and not be a threat to the mistress’s career progression. He had designated her as his successor, and just as planned she is know leading the team. Everyone in the company knows about the situation and it’s sadly not the only case of blatant nepotism.

    This kind of situation is very damaging whether we are talking about spouses, lovers or best friends. Of course it’s natural that people will form relationships with work colleagues but they should not be in the same chain of command, the same department or even departments that work closely together.

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