Down with the Office Fascists; as Bosses Threaten to Snoop on Workplace Romances, Telephone Calls and Emails

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID THOMAS

A FRIEND of mine fell in love with a beautiful redhead who worked in the same office. But he had no idea how she felt about him until he found himself sitting next to her at a company dinner.

As the meal wore on, the redhead disappeared to the bathroom. She returned and pressed something into my pal's hand. It was a sensuous scrap of silk.

For the next several months, the couple conducted a clandestine office romance, until they finally felt ready to tell their colleagues what was going on. A dozen years later, they are happily married with two beautiful children.

Theirs is a story with a cheeky start, and a happy, wholesome ending. But if it happened today, in the ever-worsening climate of rampant Office Fascism, things might be very different.

Romance has no place in today's mean- spirited workplace. Companies such as Marks & Spencer, the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest - not to mention parts of the Civil Service - are now introducing rules that make office romances a breach of contract and therefore, presumably, a sackable offence.

Some firms even forbid relationships among staff that occur outside office hours, away from the workplace.

As if that were not bad enough, the Government revealed this week that it is planning to grant employers the right to snoop on their workers' telephone calls and emails without having to seek their consent.

What it all adds up to is this.

You can't have a lover at work.

And if you try to call the lover you might have somewhere else, your boss can listen in while you do it.

These are just the latest examples of the ways in which employers are increasingly seeking the right to control every aspect of their workers' lives.

And because we British work the longest hours in Europe, that effectively would mean that the majority of our waking hours would be conducted amid a mood of thought-control that smacks more of a totalitarian state than a supposed free-market economy.

HOW ironic, then, that our own Prime Minister married his wife thanks to an office romance.

For Tony Blair met Cherie Booth when they were both young barristers in Derry Irvine's chambers.

And how odd, too, that the emails which our bosses wish to intercept have almost certainly been created on Microsoft programs. Because its boss Bill Gates was just another lonely, geeky, multibillionaire until he fell in love with his wife Melinda - one of his own employees.

How, I wonder, would Gates have felt if anyone had stuck their noses into his electronic love-letters?

You've got to wonder whether people who make these rules and pass these laws have any concept of the way the rest of us live.

Apparently, office romances have got to be stopped because they disrupt work and create opportunities for sexual harassment that might leave companies open to legal action.

Well, you could look at it that way. Or you could argue that a little bit of romance can sometimes be a bonus for an otherwise committed, dedicated employee.

According to the Industrial Society, half of us meet our partners at work, and I can quite understand why. When, for example, I was the editor of Punch, the magazine may have been devoted to comedy, but the office was one long romance.

My deputy editor went out with one of the secretaries, who had been the publisher's girlfriend.

The art director fell in love with the cartoon editor. People were just doing what came naturally.

The vast majority of the staff were under 30. I was the only married person in the place.

And as my old grandma used to say, courtesy of P. …