Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Love Business English: in Honor of Valentine's Day

Pam and Jim from the Office. An example of a
successful office romance.
In honor of Valentine's Day, I've chosen an article on workplace romances to help you improve your Business English. Ahhh, the workplace romance. We all have stories of love at the office. I remember when an old boss of mine disappeared for several days in Europe immediately following an official business trip. Coincidentally, a young assistant at the office was also in Europe for those same three days!

An old friend of mine fell in love during a summer internship. She ended up leaving her husband. The man she fell in love with left his wife. They now have children and are, as far as I know, happily married. So sometimes the office romance does end happily (even when it starts out as "an affair," because one or both of the love-birds is married).

Now, let's get down to business and look at our article for today. It's called "When Cupid Visits the Office, Rules Can Cut Risks" and it is from the Wall Street Journal. We will look at an extract from the article first, with words and phrases to study highlighted in blue.
Companies by now are well-acquainted with the hazards of workplace romance. But, if recent incidents are any indicator, they still find it tricky to put a lid on office passions.
Some companies have attempted to regulate the romantic sparks that fly between co-workers, mindful of the potential legal fallout.
Still, even the best-crafted rules can't guard against workers who follow their instincts instead of consulting the employee handbook.
Inappropriate relationships can topple careers, and allegations of unwanted attention or favoritism can cost companies millions of dollars and land businesses in the headlines for all the wrong reasons…
Lawyers say companies that do lay out ground rules for dating may be able to head some lawsuits off at the pass—or at least curb corporate liability should matters end up in court.
"It's not just about warding off or fending off a claim of harassment. You also don't want to create the kind of environment or perception that that's a way to get ahead," said David S. Baffa, an employment lawyer and head of the workplace-compliance practice at Chicago law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
Now let's look at the highlighted words and phrases:

(to) put a lid on – to stop; to stop something from increasing. This is often used to discuss spending. For example: Expenses are getting out of control. We need to put a lid on spending.

sparks fly / make sparks fly / when sparks fly – this refers to the reaction between two people. Here, the reference is to "romantic" sparks -- in other words, two people attracted to each other. Taylor Swift has a popular love song called "Sparks Fly" (¯Sing it: 'Cause I see sparks fly whenever you smile'¯). Also, note that the sparks flying can refer to anger between two people. For example: Doug and Marie disagree on everything. If they're both at the meeting, sparks will fly.

fallout – consequences; bad results of a situation (in this case, the "legal fallout" refers to the lawsuits or legal troubles that may happen following an unsuccessful office romance)

(to) topple – to cause to fall (in both the figurative and the literal sense: when you stack blocks on top of each other and the tower gets tall, you put one more on and the whole thing topples over).

ground rules – basic rules; rules that everybody should be know and follow (Note: I've never worked at a company that laid out the ground rules for dating. All the employee manuals I've seen are pretty boring -- how many days in advance to ask for a vacation day, insurance policies -- nothing so interesting as How to Behave if You've Fallen in Love with a Co-worker).

head something off at the pass – to stop something from happening (in this case, to stop a lawsuit from happening).

(to) curb – to reduce (This verb is also often associated with spending.Example: Money is tight. We need to curb spending).

(to) ward off – to stop something from happening; to hold something off (This phrasal verb is often associated with illness. Example: Many people at my office are sick right now. I'm doing my best to ward off illness).

(to) fend off – to stop something from happening (Note that this is very similar in meaning to "ward off").

(to) get ahead – to advance in one's career (Yes, one way to get ahead may be to become romantic partners with the right person in the organization -- but the lawyer in this article says the company should not create an atmosphere where people think that).

I hope you've enjoyed this Valentine's Day lesson. If so, check out More Speak English Like an American, which is full of more useful idioms and vocabulary for Business English. And office romance, too!

1 comment:

Ja said...

This was a really good material for teaching! Thank you so much. :)