Of men and women

Should you have sex with your boss to get ahead?

Based on the questions I receive from readers, there seems to be a substantial segment of charming, ambitious female blog readers among you who wonder: “Should I have sex with my boss to get ahead in my career?” Perhaps there is an equally large number of good-looking male readers among you who are in the same predicament, but too shy to ask.

I’m reminded of an iconic 1990 American movie, “Pretty Woman” which made Julia Roberts a movie star. She plays a lovely, good-hearted prostitute here in Los Angeles, who gets hired by a rich businessman (Richard Gere) in town for a weeklong business trip. They stay in a beautiful suite at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire Hotel, he buys her fabulous clothes on Rodeo Drive, and he ends up her boyfriend, giving her enough money to leave prostitution and go to college. The movie is one of the important movies of American pop culture and typical of the American Dream that says that anyone can get ahead through cagey hard work and a little luck.

Along these lines is the current hit movie in China, “Go LaLa Go.” Du Lala, is a cute, brash, intelligent 30-something Chinese woman who successfully breaks the glass ceiling in the macho corporate world. In the novel which spawned the movie, Du Lala’s equally cute and ambitious female colleague gets ahead by – you guessed it – sleeping with her boss. Enjoy the preview:

These movies prompt today’s burning question: Should you have sex with your boss to get ahead in your career?

No. I do not believe that workplace sex is ever viable as a long-term career strategy. The “sleep-up strategy,” as one of our blog readers calls it, may sound good in theory, but the fact is that it’s more likely a career-ender than a career-helper. In the workplace, gossip rules, and the #1 topic that people like to gossip about is who’s having sex with whom. Once your co-workers start noticing the sly glances and little pet names that you and your boss share, your image will be formed no longer by your intelligence or your outstanding workplace contributions, but by a reputation as a person so incompetent that you had to resort to sex to get ahead. Your jealous co-workers will find ways to undermine you that you’ll never even know about, and even the promotions that you rightfully earned will be cast as evidence of unfair treatment.

This is the sort of reputational damage that can follow you for years, anytime your name comes up: “Ah yes, Jenny, you know she slept her way up.” And all that’s if your romance goes well. If it ends badly, you may have a hard time getting from him the plum assignments, exposure and supervisorial support that are crucial to career success.

Now I’m realistic enough to know that co-workers are often the people you spend the most time with, and in those close quarters, accidents do happen, as do longer-term workplace romances. If you and your boss decide you want to pursue a romantic relationship, I recommend that you go together to your company and request that one of you be reassigned. Do this before he gives you any exciting new assignments, promotions, or other workplace benefits.

Bottom line:

  • Rule #1: No sex with your boss
  • Rule #2: If you break Rule #1, either stop having sex with him, or stop having him as your boss.

Comments in English and Chinese are welcome, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.