Unintended Threesome

Question:

My boss has had an ongoing romantic relationship with another employee. The other employee has made multiple sexual advances to me which I denied (I am married). The boss found out that his girlfriend/employee made advances towards me and now treats me in a negative manner. In addition, because I rejected her advances, she treats me with an attitude and speaks badly about me. Should I inform his boss of what has created an unhealthy work environment for me?

Signed,

Man In The Middle


Answer:

Dear Man In The Middle:

There is no quick and easy answer to your question because there are several variables that might have an impact on the situation.

Consider some of these things as ways to think through it and arrive at a decision that you think will work best.

1. Is there a rule against managers having a relationship with an employee? Has anyone ever been sanctioned or dismissed for it? Has anyone ever complained or hinted about this particular situation? If so, what was done? What do you think would be done if you complained?

In a larger organization, in a government office or in more structured organizations, such complaints would most likely be taken seriously and investigated. In a small company, a “rough and ready” environment, if there is no rule against such relationships, or where such complaints have traditionally not been acted upon, it might not help for you to complain–and could create even more problems for you.

2. How long has the relationship been going on? If it’s been going on for a long time, undoubtedly others know about it yet nothing has been done. That might give you a clue about whether the higher level boss views it as problematic or not.

3. How did your boss find out about what his girlfriend did? Don’t you think it’s more likely that the girlfriend said you made advances to HER–and complained to your boss about it? Do you have any way to counteract such a complaint?

How long ago did her advances start and when did they stop? Were they blatant or just suggestive? Were any others aware of it or aware of your reaction? Do you think she may have tried the same thing with others? Did you ever say anything to anyone about it, so you could have verification if needed?

4. Regarding the negative things you say your boss has been doing. Are they completely unjustified or could your boss say he is simply doing his job as it relates to you and your work? How have they changed over time? (This is good to point out, to show there has been a difference.)

What are the negative result of the way your boss acts towards you now? (This is an important issue so you can show the harmful results if you complain. Instead of only focusing on how you feel, emphasize how it effects your work. For example, it makes you hesitant to come to him for assistance or it makes you avoid communications with him.)

5. Regarding the things the coworker does or says: Is there any way to prove what she has said or done? For example, has she made remarks in meetings or done things that are obvious to others? How do you know she has said things about you? If you were told by a coworker, perhaps that person will support you if you make a complaint.

6. Are there any options other than complaining to the higher level boss? For example, was your relationship with your boss formerly good enough that you could have talked to him about why he is acting the way he is? Or, did you never have a good relationship with him?

**Is your reputation and influence with the higher level boss such that you will immediately get his attention with your complaint–or not?

**Does your coworker have enough credibility that others are believing the negative things she says about you? Or, are you respected or liked well enough that those things just make her look badly to others?

7. The optimal solution for you is whatever is most likely to make the negative situation stop. You want to work effectively and with satisfaction and enjoyment and not worry about side issues and relationships. So, the answers to all those questions might help you decide what is most likely to get you what you want.

If there is a rule about boss-subordinate relationships and your company is likely to enforce that rule, you will probably get relief by complaining higher up. If not, you may find yourself viewed as a trouble-maker. On the other hand, if you say nothing, the problematic treatment you’re getting may continue.

Or, you may be able to talk to your boss and express concern about how things have changed. Without telling him you know of his relationship, with the coworker, you could at least give him a chance to rethink his actions. (That might not stop the actions of the coworker however.) You may find it helpful to weigh how bad the current situation is and how long you think it will last, against what you think will happen if you complain. If you think you will be supported if you complain, you may want to do so to avoid having this happen to someone else and having it get worse for you.

If you think, from prior history, this won’t be supported, and if your work situation is irritating but not severely problematic, you may want to wait to see what develops before you go higher.

As I said at the beginning, there is no easy answer. But perhaps doing some rational analysis of the situation will help you develop a plan of action. Best wishes to you as you consider the totality of your work situation and make your decision. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you decide and what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe