At the center of every social interaction is some variant of exchange. Whether it be friends trading pleasantries or vendors and clients exchanging money for goods; every social interaction is an exchange. For this very reason, it is perplexing how once money enters the picture the interaction has been ethically tainted. Surely, examples of bribery have many moral considerations to address. However, the disdain expressed for people who monetize a hobby is devoid of any justifiable logic. In a sense, even the exchange of nonmonetary goods such as ideas and goodwill can be abstractly viewed as a form of commerce. Much like bartering goods and services, the trading of ideas tends to make people better off. Why should the exchange of ideas enjoy the moral high ground while trading tangible goods for money is treated with ethical inferiority? Odds are that will be a question for another day.
It should be noted that nonmonetary interpersonal exchange extends well beyond interchanging nontangible ideas. It can also apply to displays of affection. One form of interpersonal exchange that seems to be most salient in the minds of people would be sexual intercourse. Outside of the deeply ingrained biological proclivity to crave sexual contact, such acts have been mystified by being shrouded in a mystique of societal taboo. Only serving to make anything about sex more alluring; sex being nothing more than “..forbidden fruit..”. Especially when it is outside of the contexts in which is societal prescribed is being permissible. Irrespective of the context in which sexual intercourse takes place, if it is consensual, it is a form of exchange.
Even in instances where sexual relations are consensual, such interactions among co-workers operate in a moral grey area. Most Human Resource departments frown upon such conduct, but rather ever outright condemn it or impose disciplinary action. However, once the exchange is between various tiers of management and their subordinates any appeal to the morality of such an interaction becomes more dubious. Not fixate on equalitarian concerns, but there is an institutional asymmetry of power. An individual’s boss has quite a bit of authority over them. After all, having the power to sever someone from their ability to earn an income is a lot of power to wield. An individual’s boss can also influence the trajectory of one’s career. Introducing sex into the mix spells a recipe for calamity.
An hourly employee having a sexual relationship with their boss is a prime example of a prisoner’s dilemma. Ideally, both parties or either individual would decline to engage in any sexual conduct. As we all know the world, we live in is far from ideal. Even if it were to happen, to not allow the incident to influence any aspect of their professional lives. Again, humans are emotional creatures. When David Hume described the servile relationship between people and their passions, he was correct. Unfortunately, such an incident cannot remain neutral, almost always bleeds into other the work life. Regardless of whether the exchange occurs on or off company property.
It would be in the best interest of both individuals to move on from their regrettable tryst (or chronic series of amorous activities). That would defy human nature, even if it would be the rational course of action. There is the ill-fated inclination of people to weaponize such situations for their interests. Falling into the categorical definition of a Prisoner’s Dilemma. The manager could threaten to demote their subordinate or even fire them if they tell anyone about their affair. The same penalties could also be applied if the subordinate decides that they are no longer interested in continuing the sexual relationship. Reciprocally the subordinate could also fight fire with fire. Deciding to use the sexual encounter as a point of leverage for either reprisal or career advancement. Opting to seize this opportunity and continue this unethical relationship with their boss. Even in some cases using past encounters as the focal point of an extortion or blackmail attempt. Either individual using their past rendezvouses in a manner that will harm the other is an unquestionable noncooperative strategy. The key factors of lacking trust and the institutional/moral disapproval of such engagements are conducive to defection. If you can’t rely on the other to be cooperative and work in everyone’s mutual interest, you might as well save yourself.