RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And on this Valentine's Day, we're going to talk about how love can be a tricky affair in the workplace. Office romances do happen, and they can lead to disastrous consequences.
Lucy Kellaway writes about this in her new novel, "In Office Hours." Kellaway's day job is as a workplace columnist for the Financial Times newspaper in London, and that's where she joined us from.
Ms. LUCY KELLAWAY (Associate Editor and Management Columnist, Financial Times): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: So you've worked in and written about office culture for I think much of your career. You may be the person to tell us how common office romances are.
Ms. KELLAWAY: Well, office romances are incredibly common. What is interesting is there is sort of the legit romances in offices. I, in fact, had one of those myself with the man who I'm currently married to. But what I was really interested in was the illegitimate ones, the dead secret ones that break all the taboos. And because they break the taboos, we don't know how many of them there are, but anecdotal evidence suggests there are rather more than one ever thinks.
MONTAGNE: There are two affairs going on in your novel, one between a 40-something successful executive manager, Stella, and her younger male assistant; the other is between a young researcher, Bella, and an older colleague. Is there a reason you chose to write about affairs involving an age difference, and a difference in workplace seniority?
Ms. KELLAWAY: What I wanted to look at was the traditional model of office affairs, where you have the senior male boss who has an affair with his personal assistant. Now, in my novel, one of these affairs is like that. But I wanted to contrast that to a more modern thing where the senior person is a woman and she has an affair with somebody who is junior to her and much younger.
MONTAGNE: What differences did you end up writing about?
Ms. KELLAWAY: Well, at least in my novel the senior man takes it more in his stride. He's done this before. It's sort of how he's expected to behave. The woman, on the other hand, is being very controlling because, you know, she's got her kids, she's got her successful career and she finds herself completely out of control. You know, she sort of stops sleeping, she's really, really all over the place and sort of hanging on by her fingernails.
MONTAGNE: Why does she do something like this, which seems not just risky to her marriage but to her career?
Ms. KELLAWAY: Yes. I think that there are quite a few reasons for it. One is the risk taking gene, you know, if you are successful in business you take a lot of risks. You get a sort of adrenaline from that. Powerful people of both sexes get used to a lot of adoration and that does turn their heads. And in this novel Stella is so admired by this young man. And she, like most women of her age, wants to go on feeling attractive.
The other reason why they do it is proximity. You know, if you work with somebody that closely you get to know them terribly, terribly well in this rather charged atmosphere. And with Stella, she fights against having this affair. She knows it's wrong. She knows it's crazy, but she's already convinced herself she's in love with this man and so it's too late.
MONTAGNE: All the women seem to pay a far heavier price than their male colleagues that they have affairs with.
Ms. KELLAWAY: Yes, that is absolutely true. In the end both the women lose their jobs as a result. I mean it's completely standard. In the case of a man who has an affair with his personal assistant when it goes wrong, it is the woman who goes. She's junior. She's dispensable and he's not.
In the other case it was more a scandal. You know, we're used to the idea that powerful men have affairs with junior women. But the idea that this woman was having this humiliatingly public affair with a young man was just too much and she resigned in the scandal.
MONTAGNE: Do these secret office romances tend to really end, you know, in some sort of catastrophic situation, bad feelings, end in tears?
Ms. KELLAWAY: Well, it's very difficult to see how they wouldn't. The professional and the personal are on a collision course. You know, your professional life determines that you behave in this very orderly sort of polite public way. And if what is going on inside you is this massively tempestuous, secret, emotional thing, it's not just going to just sort of peter out into a perfectly orderly state. Collision courses do result in the end in a collision and that is indeed what happens in the book.
MONTAGNE: Lucy, thanks very much.
Ms. KELLAWAY: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Lucy Kellaway is a columnist for the Financial Times in London. Her new novel about office romance is called "In Office Hours."
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