In the workplace, consensual personal activities of individuals always affect the working relationship in undesirable ways. Often intimate relationships between co-workers emit preferential treatment at its best and discriminatory acts at its worst. Although Title VII does not declare intimate relationships in the workplace as an immoral, unethical and distasteful act, enough room for discrimination often produce a resultant effect when persons are disadvantaged due to a preferential treatment of another.
There is a potential for hostility when widespread favoritism exists between male and female employees. In a professional working relationship, the workplace would be ideally free from intimate relationships to prohibit favoritism and thereby banning nepotism. Office romances though are not illegal and discriminatory given the increased amount of time spent together by co-workers giving value to their work. However, work is a serious business and management requires workers to act rationally while doing their job. This phenomenon should be a cause for concern when personal issues interfere with work-related issues. The three-way love triangle situation between Lisa Nowak, Bill Oefelein and Corlean Shipman threaten the traditional ideas of anti-nepotism and non-fraternization in the workplace.
NASA capitalizes on its human workforce to proffer its interests. Although it’s governing code of conduct according to NASA’s Shana Dale upon interview (Orlando Sentinel, 2007) do not necessarily insisted regulations that guard and meddle on astronauts and other federal employee’s personal lives.
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No matter how we try to justify this explanation for NASA’s lapses I continue to insist that American companies have a natural desire to keep personal relationships at bay in the workplace in the face of corporate dilemmas over discrimination and harassments. Often management sees that relationships within the company lead to a conflict of interests and inefficiency resulting from spending time and energy on non-work related activities (Avelenda, 1998: 691). Under the guise of protecting employees from claims of sexual harassment, policies would often widen to informally restrict fraternization and intra-organizational intimate interaction.
It was therefore a shock to learn how NASA completely disregarded the personal lives of its employees. Astronauts are usually subjected to stringent rules and equally invasive medical procedures. Nowak no doubt had undergone extensive medical and psychological examinations if protocols were followed prior and after her July 4, 2006 on the STS-121 mission which included a trip to the International Space Station according to NASA (2006).
Her NASA bio declared her as a flight engineer with a rank of captain who logged almost 13 days in space and garnered the honor as the first Italian American in space. Her confrontation with a fellow NASA employee who was reportedly a rival for the affections of another space shuttle pilot definitely exhibits her gullibility to submit to effects of an emotional strain that is aggravated by strained relationships.
NASA’s lapses in the face of the current situation involving the triangle love affair of their employees indicated the organization’s past disinterest over interpersonal issues involving their own working family. NASA has forgotten that Nowak at the age 43 and likely at the prime of her life after her shuttle trip last summer may have felt a bleak end to her career as an astronaut whose second and third spaceflights would be tough to get after space shuttles are scheduled for retirement in 2010(Orlando Sentinel, Feb.,2007).
Bouts of depression are also not uncommon to astronauts who come home and are considered as heroes and overachievers. To recall, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin as the second man to step on the moon after Neil Armstrong had alcohol problems after their successful return from their mission. NASA has therefore dismissed the complexities of an unpredictable human emotional response in the face of scientific calculable predictability.
In response to Nowak’s arrest NASA should review the procedures involved in their psychological evaluations. The military have been instrumental in submitting their personnel particularly pilots for psychological intervention following extraordinary stress like divorce or deaths in the family (Christian Science Monitor; September, 2004). NASA may not have been helpful on this aspect.
They may have forgotten how catastrophic consequences are brought about by a human element of error. It would therefore be beneficial for NASA and its employees to understand the stress of working in the space program and at least delegate focus on the personal relationships among its astronauts. Mccurdy (1999) once said that astronauts, like police officers, treat their profession as a way of life, not just a job. Despite any self-discipline, astronauts are enjoined to focus on their goals and keep on pursuing such goals which was seen in Nowak’s single-minded pursuit against a foe.
It would help NASA if it should also establish protocols and policies that treat the grievances of their own personnel. A professional independent body that provides proper psychological help and emotional assistance and counseling for its personnel should be made available for its employees. This body’s aim is for the recognition of possible emotional and psychological trauma experience by its key personnel without being used to leverage employment standing in the organization.
Any official involvement into the diagnosis and treatment would alert and divert employee-patients away from the program. Secondly, NASA must also work to regulate workplace fraternizing relationships through a less authoritative disapproval of intra-organizational romance. This would be properly implemented when put into writing for NASA to be able to eliminate its involvement in the future as an employer liability. Further, when inter-organizational romance and sexual relationships are frowned upon naturally, the well-discipline NASA astronauts would be consistent in their efforts to refrain from intimate relationships with their co-workers. Another alternative also is for NASA to require employees to report any consensual relationships within its initiation and aftermath through the proper human relations body.
In the face of the current scenario between Lisa Nowak, Bill Oefelein and Corlean Shipman, given the organization’s growing exposure and in conjunction with being held liable for its apparent disregard for the well-being of its employees; I feel that NASA has an ethical and moral responsibility to support Nowak through her misdemeanor and refrain from painting her faults and deviant behavior. After all, Bill Oefelein seemingly exercised his dominion by maintaining two romantic relationships at the same time with two different women in the same organization thereby causing trouble for both.
To restrict this trend, it would serve NASA if Oefelein should face a temporary suspension as well. Corlean Shipman is entirely the innocent party and ould not benefit any organizing body to involve her in any internal disciplinary measure that Oefelien shall face. Lisa Nowak is already facing criminal charges and yet, NASA is duty-bound to support her through this ordeal after all it has been remiss in its duties towards its employees and the whole scientific community and the public.
Society must therefore scrutinize the various policies involve in National scientific and military organizations and regulate the intimate relationships of employees within their organization. This is to ensure that employees are not placed in an unnecessary position that requires them to choose between duty and relationship to enhance productivity and protect them from any emotional turmoil.
Title VII may not be so keen on fraternization within official work and duty but somehow this has provided an avenue for harassment and discrimination in the past (Avelenda, 693). NASA as a healthy organization geared towards training personnel for space excellence must also recognize the full potential of allowing people to deal with their emotional problems with the assistance and help of independent human relations services that provide psychological evaluation, treatment and counseling for personnel particularly the ones who are involved in missions.
Willoughby, Mariano, Cabbage, M., Lundy, S. and Hunt, A. (2007).The Orlando Sentinel. February 7.
Avelenda, Saily M. (1998).Comment: Love and Marriage in the American Workplace: Why No-Spouse Policies Don't Work. PA. J. LAB. ; EMP. 691, 693 .
United States. NASA. (2006) Astronaut Biography: Lisa Nowak.
Accessed : 04 April, 2007
Editorial. (2004). Anyone Ever Prepared To Kill? Christian Science Monitor Magazine, September 29.
McCurdy, Howard. (1999). Space and the American Imagination, new ed. Smithsonian.
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