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McDonald’s fired its CEO for having a consensual relationship with an employee, just a week after U.S. Rep. Katie Hill stepped down due to a similar allegation. These cases come as a growing number of companies and academic institutions crack down on office romances. A June 2018 survey found that 78% of human resources executives said their employers did not allow relationships between managers and direct reports, up from 70% in January. These bans are reasonable in part because people in positions of power may have a hard time recognizing the coercive nature of an unbalanced relationship. One study indicates that individuals who make romantic advances toward coworkers underestimate how uncomfortable the targets of their advances feel in rejecting them. In a phenomenon dubbed the “power amplification effect” by psychologist Adam Galinsky, these dynamics can be amplified when there’s an uneven power dynamic, so that even polite requests can feel like directives when they come from a superior. People in power tend to be unaware of the influence they wield over others because they are less likely to take into account the other party’s perspective. That ultimately leaves it up to the subordinate to recognize and highlight potential abuses if and when they occur. However, research finds that we tend to overestimate how comfortable they would feel calling out inappropriate advances. Banning sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates serves to protect involved parties from the risk of retaliation and prevent concerns about favoritism. It also recognizes that even well-intentioned people can have blind spots when it comes to the power dynamics at play in their own relationships.

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