Subordinate With Crush Won’t Accept “No!”

Question:

I have a subordinate who has a crush on me. I’ve told him it is inappropriate and underscored that I am his boss. Yet, he continues to ask me about ‘getting a bite to eat’ or doing something else outside of work.

On the face of it, it is clear, but really, I’ve gotten myself into this mess. He is Mr. Desperately Lonely – comes to work at 6.30AM and leaves at 6.30pm. He has no activities or interests outside work. His big highlight is babysitting his grandkids. Me, I came into the office where the politics were really messy, and this subordinate was very helpful and kind. Plus, I was going through a lot of personal stuff — yes, I was needy. So I showed him kindness by talking to him and was open. And, against my better judgment I agreed to take my kid and go with him and his grandkid to a baseball game. It was very weird experience. He is kind of “not right” in an Aspergers way. Anywway, that was last summer. I had a hard time being clear initially, because politically, I needed him to be on my side, and be my ally.

I did not want to alienate him, so I tried to be indirect, and ignored his ‘crush’ for the most part, thinking it would just work itself out.

Then, he gave me a present for Xmas and Valentines day and both times I went ballistic and told him he can’t do that since it is inappropriate, and that if he didn’t stop I would need to find another job. I told him “I am not your girlfriend, I am your boss. You need to stop.” I told him he could not come into my office to chat, and made very clear what else he can and can’t do.

From Feb 14 to about June, he seemed to be behaving, but, I thought I would up pictures of a boyfriend, who I invented, a tactic, which I thought couldn’t hurt. After I put up the pictures, about 2 wks ago, Mr. D.L said that since he was going to work for another supervisor, he wanted to date me. Before he said this, he asked first if I was dating anyone, and thinking that he saw the pictures, when I said yes, he seemed to fall back.

So the pictures worked.

I haven’t told anyone in the office about the situation. I finally told my boss last week, as a way to let him know a problem occurred and I handled it and how. I didn’t go into all the details because I was uncomfortable and I just want to move on. He thought it was kind of funny, as I did too. Now I am just wondering if I did the right thing by telling my boss.

I don’t want to file a complaint. I don’t want to embarass the subordinate, and I sure as hell don’t want to air the mistakes I made. I need to work with the guy, since he sits next door to me, and also for political reasons. As a single working mom, I need my job.

Signed,

Worried


Answer:

Dear Worried:

We are primarily a workplace communication resource–and this goes far past that kind of issue. However, I am concerned enough about it that I want to respond.

This situation may seem to be merely frustrating and mildly amusing–and I can understand both reactions. However, there is tremendous potential for great harm. I hope you will be very cautious about your own actions and monitor the actions of the employee.

1.) Mr. D.L. is obsessively interested in you, to the point that he ignores your clear demands that he stop communicating with you in a personal way. That obsessiveness means he is also capable of doing what it takes to ensure that you do not become involved with someone else. He may never hurt you or others–or he might feel compelled to hurt you, kill you (or himself or others) all for the sake of love.

That’s tough truth, but it’s the truth and it happens all the time. So, treating this like a mild issue can jeopardize your safety and the safety of co-workers, friends and family. 2.) Mr. D.L. is sexually harassing you. Be clear about that. You told him that you are not interested in an outside-the-office-friendship. He has not been led on and has no reason to continue his requests or his interest–yet he continues to do so.

What if another subordinate of yours came to you and told you that D.L. kept asking her out and hinting about a relationship, even though she had vehemently told him no? I would hope you would conduct an investigation and ask for either sanction or dismissal for him. You have that same protection. 3.) Although you are not at fault for D.L.’s actions, you have been inconsistent in your reactions and that must stop. You can’t “go ballistic” one day and worry about alienating him the next day. He could easily make the argument that he didn’t take you seriously because you never really did anything about it. You only said YOU would have to find another job! You worry about embarrassing him, but he apparently doesn’t worry about how you feel!

4.) You don’t say what size the organization is, but if you have an HR section that has someone you trust and respect, you should talk to them about this. For one thing, you don’t know but what you are one in a long line of people D.L. has bothered. For another, HR needs to know of your concerns–and they may have advice. There may also be a company requirement for action about these situations–there should be! 5.) If you decide to wait for the next time D.L. says or does something, at least start now to show more careful and appropriate behavior on your part. Your demeanor should be civil and courteous but without a personal tone. Never, ever, ever again have a personal conversation with him. Keep your conversation focused on work. The moment he says something personal, either change the subject (if the comment is mild) or tell him to stop (if the conversation is related to your personal life), then take official action about it. That may involve an official reprimand all the way to dismissal, but something should be done. You need to do that or you will be dealing with this for as long as you work there–if something worse doesn’t happen.

Put as many things as possible in writing, to avoid personal conversations and to have documentation of your interactions.

If you decide to give D.L. that “one more” chance, make sure it’s the last chance. The very next time, work with your manager and HR to take serious action. 6.) Be aware of your safety around D.L. Do not stay after hours with him there. Monitor his actions. Let your child know to not let D.L. or anyone else into the home when you are not there. Don’t open the door to him if he comes by. Don’t get in a car with him and don’t do anything else that puts you alone with him.

All of that may seem excessive, but it isn’t.

7.) Finally, I want you to think about your career and your future. I think you realize that you have not shown the kind of leadership, managerial control or problem solving actions that present you as you would like to be seen.

You have let a subordinate repeatedly do something you have repeatedly warned him not to do. You haven’t kept the best interests of the organization in mind. And, you have failed to take a strong stance when it became clear there was a problem. You even resorted to the high school thing of pretending to have a boyfriend to get rid of an unwanted suitor! I don’t mean to sound harsh, but that is the way a CEO would see it. Take down that photo of the fake boyfriend and be a strong person and a strong manager. This is your chance to show strength and competence–don’t miss out on the opportunity.

You need to decide on the right course and stick with it, without allowing yourself to be intimidated or coerced–and without feeling sympathy for someone who has made your work life so unpleasant. Get your work life under control and get the subordinate under control at the same time. But do it while working with your own manager and with HR. Document everything you do. Your actions early on are not the most important issue here. The employee’s actions now and how you deal with them, are the things that really matter. Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.