Justin is a combat veteran & writer who served the Marines for 13 years. Justin received a BSBA in 2015 and MBA (marketing focus) in 2017.
Whether it's the confined spaces, the hyper-caffeinated employees, the sexy power point presentations or florescent lights, co-workers often find themselves captivated or captive to an office crush. As someone who has a ridiculously successful and beautiful wife in the workplace, I've witnessed exactly what can happen when leaders show a little too much "special" attention to a subordinate. Her very real struggle in dealing with this all-too-common dilemma inspired me to help others find an escape from this precarious position. From inappropriate comments, all the way to full-on professions of love (actually happened), I've witnessed the personal and professional damage that can be avoided with a little bit of direction. By the way, I fully realize that these workplace dilemmas are often created on both ends, by both genders and can go in either direction and there's often no one to blame (although there often is as well). For the sake of this article, we'll focus on professional women in the workplace.
I'd love to tell you that it's not your responsibility, but the responsibility of your leaders. In an ideal environment with flawless leadership, this would be the case. Great leaders will protect their employees and themselves from social discomfort wherever possible. At some point; however, it will likely become essential for subordinates to protect themselves in the face of a love struck leader who just can't control him/herself. Now the responsibility is unfortunately in your hands.
Plenty of you already know the reasons and personally understand them - they've had an effect on your career experience in some way or another. Personal reasons can include feelings of disrespect, loss of professional comfort and worse, even a need to move jobs. These reasons are powerful enough for any self-respecting professional to seek a solution.
On the organizational level, there are a few other reasons to take control of these uncomfortable situations. Morale, motivation, cohesiveness, teamwork and more are all deformed by a boss that just won't back off. It should be no surprise that this breakdown in overall motivation and initiative of employees within any organization will result in bad business and decrease performance.
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If the fundamental detriment to yourself and your organization isn't enough to get your attention, according to Quartz (qz.com), research conducted on 281 women working in 38 law firms revealed that women who engage in flirting in the workplace tend to deal with many negative consequences which include an average salary lower than those to do not. You can read more data here: Strategic flirting in the workplace backfires on women.
Break the Crush
You shouldn't have to leave the position you've worked for because of one boss with a lack of self-control. If you want to stay at the company, you should. Ultimately (if it comes down to it), HR will agree. Diving into all the "drama" that may be associated with this ordeal; however, might be something you'd really like to avoid for personal and professional reasons. So how can you break the cycle and break the crush without losing your job or disrupting the otherwise suitable working environment?
As I mentioned in a previous article, the power of being subtle is typically your biggest ally. This tactic comes into play in this situation as well, but is perhaps a little less necessary. As a subordinate, you may find that you have to stand up for yourself more confidently than, say, a leader dealing with a crush on her/him. For the sake of keeping the peace, you'll want to start off more subtly and work your way into overt battle only if necessary. Let's get started...
The first rule of breaking the crush, is to create rules (boundaries).
In many discussions on this topic, I've found that many professional women simply don't know where to draw the line. That's exactly the way it works, the line is intentionally made blurry by your supervisor/boss so as to avoid getting in hot water with you and/or the company. That being the case, you'll have to make your own lines. Not grey lines, but deep, dark, concrete lines that set off alarms when crossed. As a general rule remember this, if it makes you personally uncomfortable, it's not ok (no, that doesn't excuse you from giving that presentation on Friday).
Rules to Help You Create Your Very Own Personal Boundaries
- Don't accept compliments on the way you look, dress, smell, etc. This might sound like HR 101, but you've also realized by now that it's often easier said than done. If possible, completely ignore these statements, if faced with an inescapable situation, politely say "thanks" without showing signs of being flattered and change the subject.
- Don't compliment him on the way he looks, dresses, smells, etc. It should be obvious, but doing so subconsciously tells your boss that you are noticing his physical attributes. Even something this slight could also unintentionally tell him that you're interested.
- Don't laugh at inappropriate jokes, especially if they aren't even funny. This might be one of the most common issues faced by female professionals. Everyone knows that "technically" it's not ok but will expect you to be cool anyway. Laughing along encourages the behavior and inadvertently condones it.
- Sex talk is notok, not even around you. Never allow yourself to believe that you're in the wrong. Many employees and bosses will "test the waters" by telling sex jokes and making comments that are not directly aimed toward you but reference other females. Allowing this to occur will only make matters worse. Recently, a close friend of mine stated that she was told "you can walk away if you don't like it." Wrong. They can walk away if you don't like it, you're the one doing your job while they waste company time.
- Don't confuse required work time with personal flirt time. One of the "grey" lines crossed all too often, is the personal v. work time line. In a past experience, my wife was often asked out to lunch with her boss. Feeling as though it would be rude to deny the offer, she would find herself reluctantly headed to lunch, alone with the boss. Don't be afraid to ask if the lunch is work related and invite others to join you. "Who all is going? Is it work related? I have other lunch plans if it's not a work thing."
- Never speak negatively about your spouse (if you have one), or your love life in general if you're single (especially a lack thereof). Men (and women) subconsciously look for "gaps" in your relationship that they might hope to fill. Even if it's only in their mind, a boss might believe that they can give you something that your lacking relationship isn't. Offering information about these gaps in your personal life is like an open invitation for unwelcome attention from someone with a crush.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.