With all the talk of late about inappropriate passes (or worse) from bosses, we should remember that harassment has many forms. Unwanted advances can also go in the other direction, such as when an employee has a crush (or worse) on their boss.
Now I’m not in any way minimizing the very real situation where the person in power — the boss — takes advantage of an employee. There’s absolutely no excuse for that. And we’ve let it go on far too long. With internal support, including Human Resources, more often than not helping to “smooth” things over for the boss. (Read that as cover up!)
When the crush is coming from your own staff
But what do you do if one of your staff members starts coming on to you? Well, not all that many years ago, I was in that uncomfortable situation. And when an employee has a crush on you, it’s not funny. In fact, it can get kind of creepy. As in my case.
The early stages
In his mind, or so I imagine, his initial advances probably came from a good place. “Larry” just wanted me to know how much he liked me. And he wanted to offer me a chance to get to know him.
Admittedly, he caught me off guard that first time. He brought me a fish he had caught “for me.” (Really.) So I remained calm, thanked him, and wrote it off as just one of his oddities. But the next time, when he gave me some vegetables from his garden, I realized this was not just him being nice.
Something about his body language and tone were not just employee to boss. He was leaning into me and smiling in a way that made me very uncomfortable. And when that light goes off, you need to act. It was clear my employee has a crush, but even more seemed to be going on in his mind.
I started to take action
So I spoke with my deputy director and made sure she was in the room when I met with Larry. I also documented everything. In the meantime, he increased his “moves”, including suggesting I was getting older and needed to have kids soon. We had reached creepy.
Our meetings (there were a few) made it clear to us that his actions were inappropriate and needed to stop. And I continued to document all of it, this time having a witness to add her documentation. Even in our meetings, he kept acting like we were a couple. Clearly, it had escalated into something I needed to put an end to.
In city government, these things can take time. And often unions can help stop any efforts to get rid of an employee. His record was clean, it seemed. But, my deputy director found out he’s done this before with other bosses. And so I decided that someone needed to get this in his record and stop him. And I needed to get him transferred. Fast. And I did. Thankfully.
So what if your employee has a crush on you?
Well, I think the first thing you need to do is make it absolutely clear that you do not welcome the advances. Unless, of course, you do. But, if so, please be careful … these things can get tricky.
And you need to start documenting it in emails to someone else you trust, even if you aren’t quite sure. Playing along as a fun flirtation or trying to ignore it can make it much harder to set firm boundaries later on. And you need firm boundaries.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the beginnings. I know that well. But the sooner you catch it, the better your chances of keeping it from getting out of control. And, even if you’re in a place where there’s resistance to giving you support, keep trying.
Show your own determination not to accept an uncomfortable situation that you have to face every working day. And remember that your efforts can also help others down the line. Behaviors like this don’t usually disappear.
But what if your employee has a crush and you like them?
I know there have been many workplace relationships that turned out to have happy endings. So I’m not telling you to be an automaton without feelings. You just have to use your best judgment and instincts.
You need to stay clear-eyed about what this might mean for you both. Think about what might happen later on if it doesn’t work out. Also make sure you don’t ignore any “this is not ok” feelings that might arise.
And remember … as a boss, you have an extra obligation to think this through for both of you. These things can affect careers and deeply affect life-changing emotions. So just think it through carefully, ok?
Your personal stories welcome. Have you ever been on either side of this?
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