A pat on the back, compliments, a jokey remark – what can start out as seemingly friendly gestures can sometimes become a cause for concern. So what should you do if your boss is a little too friendly? We asked the career experts to share their advice.
While most of us enjoy a little friendly office banter, you shouldn’t have to put up with anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Whether your boss is male or female, sexual innuendo or unwanted attention can soon turn to harassment, so is best nipped in the bud.
‘If this attention from your boss is making you uncomfortable, then let them know,’ advises Corinne Mills, Managing Director of Personal Career Management.
‘Telling them face to face that you’re interested in them professionally but not romantically will make the message clear. If you don’t say anything, the attention is likely to persist or even increase as they test how far they need to go in order to get a clear response from you.’
While it can be a difficult conversation to have, keeping quiet could make the situation worse, says Clare Whitmell who blogs on careers at www.JobMarketSuccess.com.
‘Many people, especially women, don’t like to make a fuss or cause offence and so hope the flirting is innocent or will go away. Keep quiet though and your silence or ‘shyness’ could even be taken as a sign of encouragement.’
Deflect the attention
Sometimes it can be hard to tell what’s appropriate and what isn’t – especially if the flirting is in the early stages, when your boss may be testing you for a reaction. If you feel mildly uncomfortable, but your boss hasn’t made any overt gestures, you could always try deflecting their attention.
‘Take every opportunity to mention a partner whether you have one or not,’ says Richard Maun, career coach and author of “My Boss is a Bastard”.
‘When you book time off work, mention the exotic holiday you’re going on together. Or say your partner’s birthday is coming up and ask for his advice on what to buy as a gift. Drop enough hints that you’re in a relationship and he should soon get the message.
‘And if your manager is married, make a habit of asking after his/her family, particularly if you’ve met them in the past.’
If your manager persists in coming on to you, try to reduce any opportunities for flirtation. For example, make sure any meetings take place in the office and aren’t scheduled at lunch time when it can be difficult to refuse coffee out or lunch in the pub.
‘Try to avoid situations where you know your boss is likely to flirt with you, for example if you’re both entertaining a client,’ suggests Clare.
‘If one-to-one meetings are a problem, try to book them in an open office setting or leave the door to the room open.’
It can be hard to know how to react; especially when comments take you off guard, so have a plan of action ready for the next time something happens to make you feel uncomfortable.
For example, if your boss sits too close to you, move away. If he makes personal or suggestive comments, rather than laugh it off nervously (which he could take as encouragement), stare at him blankly and change the subject to something work related.
While you’re likely to dress smartly for work anyway, dressing conservatively will help underline your professional status and avoid there being any mixed messages.
What to say
The relationship you have with your boss is the most important one you have at work – so of course you’ll want to handle the situation with care. If dropping hints hasn’t worked, you may need to spell it out another way.
‘To express your disapproval without condemning their behaviour outright, you could always say something like, “I make it a rule never to mix business with pleasure. I know you’re only joking, but sometimes I feel uncomfortable when you mess about.”
‘You should then take the conversation straight back to work and ask for his professional advice on a current project.’
If you’ve been made to feel uncomfortable on several occasions, consider keeping a written record – including the date, time, location, what was said and if there were witnesses. You should also keep a record of your actions to try and stop the harassment. Hopefully you won’t need this, but should you decide to file a complaint, it will help make a case.
If you’ve told your boss directly that you’re not interested and he continues to behave inappropriately, it’s time to look into your company’s sexual harassment policy.
Don’t be afraid to talk with HR – you can ask for an informal chat to raise your concerns before you decide whether to file a complaint. If your boss is behaving inappropriately with you, there’s a chance that he’s on record for having done something similar in the past.
Photo Courtesy Of: Beermug