Gossip About the Boss’s Flirting

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about gossiping about the boss’s flirting:
For several weeks many of my co-workers had been noticing very flirtatious behaviors between the boss and another co-worker. Most of them were small things, so I just brushed it off as probably nothing. I chose not to speak to anyone and would just smile and walk away when people would say the comments. As time passed, I had started to see the behaviors, such as very close proximity, whispers and giggles during staff events, and texting one another. I did not believe that he was cheating on his wife, but could see the flirting with this one co-worker.

In a conversation with one of my closest colleagues, I told her that many people had been noticing something strange between these two and asked if she had noticed.

A week later I got called into his office. Apparently the person I spoke with went to two other people and told them that he was cheating on his wife. It got back to him. When she was confronted by him, she said that she had gotten the information from me and one other co-worker. I apologized because I felt awful that it had gotten that far, but was also infuriated because it had been the whispers through the whole building and I had only talked to one person about my feelings. Looking back now, it was definitely the wrong person, but there is nothing I can do about that now. He asked me to give him names and I told him that there were just several comments from several people. I told him that I did not believe the rumor that there was actually something physical between them. He told me that I am just as guilty as the person who gave my name and that he was very upset for my part of the gossip chain. I apologized again.

Now my work environment is awful. I am in a job where I need to go to my boss several times for support and no longer feel welcome. He avoids me and I avoid him. He later sent me an email recapturing the events of that meeting, which was the first contact they we had had since. I don’t know how to fix my work environment. I know I should not have said anything, but I also feel that I was not completely out of line. I feel like the situation was handled very poorly. Especially since more than half of his staff were involved. I just want work to be a pleasant place to be and I don’t see that in the foreseeable future. Please help!!!

Can I Fix It?

Dear Aren’t Regrets Enough?

Unfortunately, what has been said can’t be unsaid. That’s the nature of communication. It’s not reversible, nor is your boss’s past interaction with the coworker that caused the gossip. You apologized for your gossip. Now the best you can do is to learn from your mistake and resolve not to talk about anyone’s behavior unless it is illegal without going to him/her first.

Can you live it down? Can you fix it? Will the avoidance of him for you and your for him continue? Probably for a while, but because you need to meet with your boss to do your job, this distancing should gradually stop. Perhaps his “email recapturing the events of that meeting” will signal it is his last reprimand and his guilt about his behavior. If not, you can try to earn your way back by good performance. However, you had best not grovel or walk on eggs in fear of his continued dislike for you. Therefore if a pattern of avoidance continues and frustrates doing high performance work, you have at least two options: 1. Confront him asserting that the past should be past–both with his flirting and texting that provoked the gossip and for your gossip about it. 2. Request a transfer or seek another job. I don’t think these are good options, nor should be a third one to go above him to his boss or to Human Resources.

I have observed that bosses can live down their misdeeds and that so can the bossed. Attraction and flirting will happen and sometimes its consequence is incidental and even helps pass the time; other times it can be destructive for those involved. Whatever happened that caused the gossip in your work setting, time will tell if it is corrected or persists. If it distracts from getting the job done, it will cause someone to say so. But not you. You, your coworkers and boss are employed to make your workplace successful. Make that your intension by thinking as a major stakeholder. Ask yourself what you might do to make your boss and coworkers jobs more effective and easier. Be a cheerleader.

When corporations such as BP or as did Union Carbide have made catastrophic blunders, correcting them took time. They had to learn from them–what them might do to prevent them and to find ways to cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy, and create innovative ways to make up for their losses. You can do that in your workplace—initiate quietly cutting waste here and there and being someone who helps make your boss and coworkers work more pleasant. Does this make sense? If not, does it at least spur you to see yourself not as a victim? There is a bigger picture than that between you and your boss. It is your work organization and its mission. Can you now care about that?

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. We welcome hearing more from you regarding about what you do.
William Gorden