How Can I Tell If My Manager Likes Me The Same Way I Like Him?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about
having personal feelings for a manager. 

Question: I have feelings for my manager and I know he is single. I am trying to figure out if he likes me as well. He’s called me sweetie a couple of times and given me hi-fives. Should I get to know him better before I tell him how I feel? What are the signs that he likes me in that way? What kind of touching is acceptable?

Answer:

There are several issues that have an effect on what you do about your feelings for your manager. The main one is whether the manager is also the owner or if he is employed by someone else. Related to that is whether there are other employees or only you and the manager.

Most businesses would consider it a firing offense for a manager to have a relationship with an employee. The liability is too great for the business, to let that happen. Also, when a manager is involved with an employee, other employees resent it and inevitably complain about it.

So, consider what would happen to your manager if it became known that you and he had a relationship, even if it was just at work and not actually dating. I don’t think you’d want to be responsible for him losing his job—and you probably don’t want to lose yours, either.

That also answers your question about what kind of touching is acceptable. High-Fives are acceptable and so are fist-bumps, but almost nothing else is. The thing to remember is that your manager is probably aware of what is considered sexually harassing behavior. Among those things can be touching shoulders or backs, holding someone’s hand unnecessarily, and almost every physical contact that isn’t required to get the work done. So, even though you might consider it welcome behavior, you are still an employee and managers usually have been reminded in training and policy notices that they should keep their hands off employees of either gender–and employees should do the same.

You ask if you should get to know your manager better before telling him about your feelings, which implies you are a new employee. If so, you may not be aware that “sweetie” is something he calls many girls and that he gives high-fives to a lot of people to compliment them. Neither of those things sound very intimate, they just sound friendly. (But, it points out that managers and other bosses should not use personal phrases if they don’t want to give the wrong impression.)

Your manager may like you and think you’re attractive, but not enough to risk his job. If he’s single, he may have relationships you don’t know about. The only way to know for sure if he is attracted to you enough to tell you, is rather drastic: Quit your job and see if he asks you out. Or, quit your job and contact him and tell him that even though you’re not working there, you’d like to still be friends. Saying it that way might lead to something.

If you don’t want to do that, your only option is to focus on work, stay friendly without putting him on the spot or causing talk at work that could lead to problems for both of you. He may just continue as he has been—being friendly but nothing more. Or, he might decide to break the rules and ask you for a date. Or, he’ll break the rules and ask you to have a sexual relationship with him but that’s all. Or, he’ll tell you he would like to go out with you, but he can’t, because he’s your manager.

If he stays friendly but doesn’t hint at anything more, you’ll have to accept that the feelings you have for him are not reciprocated or that if they are, he doesn’t intend to do anything about it. If he asks you out, you will need to decide if you want to cause him to risk his job and maybe his career—and yours too. If he just wants a secret sexual relationship, you will need to decide if that’s the kind of person you are or want to be and if you want to risk your job in the process. If he says he wants to date you but can’t, you’ll need to decide if you want to quit, so the two of you can have a relationship for however long it lasts.

I think at this stage, your best course of action is to do your job very well, so he will feel positively about you as an employee. Let him think of you as the most dependable employee he manages—and one who never causes him personal or business problems. Respect and liking may lead to something else.

If this is clearly a short-term job, because you’ll be leaving for school one day or finding more long-term work, maybe you can tell him you’ll miss working there when you have to move on. That will open the door for him to say something about how it would at least allow him to ask you out. He might say it jokingly, but you would know he probably meant it. You could then decide if you want to stay or not.

If you look at our archives you will see that we receive many questions from female employees saying they have feelings for their supervisors, managers or other bosses. We’ve never heard back from any of them saying they ended up in a long-term relationship. It could happen, but it’s just not very likely. I think managers like yours want to be friendly and they even may enjoy flirting. But when it comes to doing anything that could jeopardize their careers, they keep their distance.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors