The group is afraid to blow the whistle for fear of retribution.
Q: The (female) boss of my small team at the large firm where I work is having an affair with one of my (male) peers.
Both are married with kids. They spend hours together in each others’ offices with the door shut, sneak out for lunches and go on supposed work trips that happen to “coincide.”
My boss constantly gives this peer undue credit and puts down the rest of us in his presence. She also seems distracted, to the detriment of the team, and shares confidential information about compensation and people in the company with him.
Essentially, they are hurting our team and creating a toxic environment.
In our ethically focused company, this affair, if discovered, would lead to immediate termination for both. But my other team members are afraid to blow the whistle for fear of retribution.
I have contemplated going to human resources, but that might be risky. I could find another job if I had to, but this would be a tough blow to a wobbly team, and I feel a sense of loyalty. That said, the toxicity and unfairness of this situation is mind-boggling.
What is my best course of action?
A: Start by breaking down this litany of criticisms a bit. Separate what you know from what you believe or suspect. And set aside demonstrable workplace problems from behavior that annoys or appalls you.
Remember that, in general, the marital fidelity of a co-worker isn’t your business, or your firm’s. This should help clarify what your real goal is here, and what you might plausibly do.
It seems reasonable to have a conversation with human resources that focuses on specific problems: If a manager’s favoritism for a particular employee is really lowering morale or causing other trouble, that’s a legitimate issue, whatever the underlying reason. I’m not sure how you could know your boss is sharing confidential information, but that also sounds like a concrete problem.
Think about how to express your concerns in terms of the actual workplace behavior and its effects on the team — rather than on what you believe is the root cause. If the situation is as blatant as you suggest, this shouldn’t be hard.
Office romances are, of course, not uncommon. And it’s a good idea for a company to have spelled-out guidance and expectations, especially to address a relationship that crosses the supervisor/subordinate line — which can lead to, for example, allegations of sexual harassment. (Some companies even ask romantically involved employees to sign a “love contract” or similar document, basically shielding the employer from such claims.) But plenty have no policy, and I suspect many more look the other way unless a relationship starts causing tangible problems.
In fact, if the behavior is as you’ve described it, it’s hard to believe HR or management doesn’t already have some idea. That’s another reason for you to focus on specific problems hurting your team. Let management worry about what might be causing them — and what to do about it.
A date with the boss’ son?
Q: I am an office manager, and at times work with my boss’ son. He has invited me to go out with him. He’s a nice guy, and if he weren’t related to my boss (who runs the company), I would consider dating him. But I don’t believe it’s wise. So I have politely declined his invitations, although I haven’t explained my reason. However, he continues to ask.
I am not in a relationship, and I’d like to date, but my job leaves little time to find someone. This fellow seems decent and would be an easy fit, but I certainly don’t want it to ruin my career should a relationship go south.
Should I just be blunt and tell him to back off, or should I go for it?
A: While The Workologist is no dating expert, I can’t help but notice how lukewarm you are about this fellow: He’s asking, he’s “decent,” and you’re too busy to find someone better? Given your very reasonable qualms, it hardly seems worth it.
You’re right to consider this — or any office romance — from the perspective of what happens if it ends badly. Let’s generously assume that this guy wouldn’t try to wreck your career, which could expose him to a legal claim; it might still be a drag to interact with him if things sour.
Either way, don’t be coy or vague — that could be misread. Be direct and explain your concerns. If you decide to “go for it,” you should be transparent with your employer, and make sure you’re not running crosswise of any company policy. This would apply even if we weren’t talking about the boss’ son, but that detail makes it particularly important not to be covert. But if all of this is just too much trouble, then be clear that it’s nothing personal but the answer is no.
Then download some dating apps.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. Submit questions to Rob Walker at email@example.com.