When a business trip goes bad: Mixing work and leisure

Question:

I run a fast-growing venture development company and depend on a team of hard-charging managers who develop new business opportunities. All are hard-headed type-A personalities.

They regularly travel together on business in teams of two, three and four. When traveling, they go out to dinner together and continue business discussions. Recently, there’s been tension on the team. One manager, although married, meets women and brings them to dinners. This complicates talking shop.

When others complained, this manager told them that work needed to end at six and they needed to lighten up. It also appears obvious that this manager invites these women to his room afterward.

How do we handle this? Is it any of my business? Do I need to investigate?

Answer:

According to former employment attorney turned HR consultant Rick Birdsall, “When your team hits the road, their off-hours socializing achieves multiple business purposes including team connectedness and cross-pollination of information. Your manager fractures these team dynamics by introducing unknown third parties into the process.”

If your team continues their business discussions during dinners and you pay for their meals, these dinners may constitute an extension of the work day. As an employer, you thus have partial responsibility for what happens during the dinners, even though they’re conducted after 6 p.m. This means you need to investigate questions such as whether the manager’s conduct that makes it “obvious” he invites women to his room creates a sexually hostile environment for others. At the same time, this manager may have a reasonable expectation of privacy for what happens when he’s off-duty at night in his hotel room.

Birdsall adds, “Your manager risks losing the other team members’ respect and may have already done so. You can translate ‘lighten up’ as ‘accept my behavior.’ ” But they’re not buying what he’s selling. You need to consider whether this manager’s behavior fits want you want from a leader in your company.”

Also, if your other team members want to talk shop after six, but can’t without risking your manager’s guests learning about your team’s plans and strategies, what does “lighten up” cost in team morale or opportunities?

In addition to investigating, you need to define your expectations for what happens on the road. Employees and managers have the right to privacy and freedom of off-the-job associations, but what happens on the employer’s dime generally winds up an employer issue.

©Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at http://www.bullywhisperer.com.

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