Should Colleagues Really Have to Share Hotel Rooms?

Last Updated Dec 17, 2009 6:35 PM EST

Dear Stanley,

My company sends us out of town for business travel including conferences and parties that we're required to attend. They problem is that they want us to share a hotel room. Is this legal in this day and age of sexual harassment? Even if it's a same-sex roommate, it just doesn't seem right. What if you have some kind of weird nighttime ritual, or you just don't want your coworkers seeing you in your PJs?


Dr. Denton
Dear Dr.,

What do you mean "even if it's a same-sex roommate"? Are you suggesting that the corporation mandates co-ed bunking on business trips? I truly have never heard of that. I mean, right now I'm thinking about what it would be like to bunk with my former executive vice president of corporate communications. She was pretty fabulous. We were both married, of course. That would certainly have meant that nothing would have gone on, but still ... hmm.

At any rate, I'm going to answer your question as if things were as I believe to be standard in corporate America, i.e., a same-sex sharing situation. And I guess I'll have to say that while it's very weird, I grant you, I understand why your chintzy company wants to do it. They're worried about T&E, as in Travel and Entertainment. You yourself note that there are many people being sent all over the place for a variety of reasons. This kind of tab can really add up for a business that cares about its bottom line. The managers have a choice: they can limit travel, which can hurt the enterprise, or they can ask people to suck it up a little bit and camp together. It's good for the controllers when they get to the end of the quarter. But it's pretty horrible for those who have to see the director of strategic planning in his boxer shorts.

Business is all about seeing people in a certain role, where they dress, act, and perform their functions along clear, defined lines. Conforming to the expectations of others -- to one extent or another, depending on the culture -- is the organizational definition of sanity. A guy who wears a bowtie when others are in hoodies is considered odd. One who yells at the CEO, even if the CEO has earned that wrath, is by definition out of his or her mind. And when you bunk with another person you've only ever seen in slacks, a blazer, and a club tie, it's difficult to deal with the sight of his skinny legs popping out of a hotel bathrobe. For ever after, it might be difficult to view this individual as a serious person you need to fear or treat with appropriate structural respect. And suppose they make strange noises in their sleep? Or talk babytalk on the phone with their significant other before bedtime? No. It's very bad. For these and other reasons, I think the decision of companies to implement this scheme is misdirected. It's penny wise and pound foolish, because in the end, fewer people will want to travel, and that's counterproductive.

As for advice? Well, first of all, I would not complain to the authorities. They're trying to save money. Saving money saves jobs, you know. If they can save money without cutting headcount, good for them. You should be in favor of that kind of effort. Also, people who bitch about non-bloody budget cuts are viewed as party guests who put a turd in the punch bowl. The marching orders are clear: Get with the program.

This doesn't mean you have to like it, of course. You might try to go to places and events that aren't quite as popular as others. Instead of the massive bash in Vegas, opt for the smaller sales conference in San Diego. Maybe you can snag a single more easily in that situation and still have some fun. If you must go to one of the Soviet-style collective rooming events, think it through. Who could you possibly live with as a roommate? No bosses, obviously. That is just TOO weird. A peer, then. Somebody who you like, can talk with, possibly share a bottle of wine from the mini-bar with. Find that person and set up the arrangement beforehand, avoiding the horror of being passively assigned your nighttime companion. Once you've proactively found your match, establish certain rules beforehand. Like: both of you wear sweatpants. Nobody complains about the other guy's sleep schedule. No TV after midnight. Each gets his own towel. Whatever.

And when you're on location? Stay out late. Get up early. And don't make the colleague look at anything that might give him nightmares. I think you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, I sure won't be rooming with you, Bud.