my employee has a crush on me, and it’s making me uncomfortable managing him

A reader writes:

I am a female manager at a small, mostly male company, and directly manage several people (all male). One of the six has worked for me for multiple years. Since he began his employment, I always felt he had a “crush” on me and kept my distance (as much as feasible being his direct manager).

His “crush” has gotten increasingly more obsessive over the past year (constantly staring at me, using absurd reasons to contact me through email/messenger/texts, whether at work or evening/weekends, and getting extremely emotional/upset if I do not frequently talk with him or provide feedback for his every task). He never says anything inappropriate or makes any advances but is making me increasingly more uncomfortable.

My tendency to avoid the employee combined with my obvious annoyance with his increasingly absurd reasons to interact with me is reflecting poorly on my management skills — to the extent that my manager is questioning my abilities to manage.

I think your move here is to address the problematic behaviors, while leaving the presumed cause of the behaviors (the crush) out of it. In fact, it doesn’t really matter if there’s a crush in play or not, because what he’s doing is really inappropriate regardless of what’s motivating it.

It also might be easier for you to tackle this stuff if you remove “crush” from your thinking and instead just see “weird, unprofessional, and annoying performance issues that I need to address like any other.”

More specifically, that would mean the following:

* Address the staring. When you see him staring, meet his eyes and say, “Is there something you needed?” Do this every time you see it. Chances are good that it’s going to jog him into realizing that he’s staring, and he’ll stop. But if that doesn’t happen, then you can address the pattern: “Hey, I keep noticing you looking at me. What’s up?” Followed by, if necessary, “Could you cut that out? It’s unnerving to me. Thank you.”

* Address the constant emailing/texting. “I’m finding that I’m getting so many emails and texts from you that it’s interfering with my ability to focus on other projects. Can you please save up anything that’s not time-sensitive for our weekly check-in (or for one long email a week, or whatever makes sense in your context)?” Then, if it continues: “As I mentioned previously, I need you to save this sort of thing up for our weekly check-in, but it’s still happening. What’s going on?”

* Address the emotional reaction if you don’t talk with him “enough”: “I’m not going to be able to provide you with feedback on every small task, although I’m glad to debrief some key projects during our weekly meeting. Why don’t you propose one or two each week that you’d like to debrief and we can do that then? Beyond that, though, I need the person in your role to work pretty independently, without daily interaction with me. Is that something you can do?”

And again, the key here is to see all of this the same way you’d see any other performance issue. “Motivated by a crush” doesn’t move him to a special category where he’s not manageable or where it’s okay for you to avoid him.

Take on the specific behaviors, forget the crush, and see what happens.

{ 236 comments… read them below }

  1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    Ugh, OP. I think the first thing to say is something that gets said a lot here; he is creating the awkwardness, not you.

    I would also consider looping your manager in a bit if he has noticed your avoidance. Leave crush out, but something like “Bob is displaying X disquieting behaviours. I am dealing with it by Y. Are there other things I could be doing?”

    And don’t afraid to be direct with this guy – that’s part of being his manager.

    1. fposte*

      In fact, I’d reverse it–be afraid of *not* being direct with this guy, because otherwise you’re not doing your job.

      (I wouldn’t loop in the manager to ask for help at this point, though, since the OP’s ability to manage the situation is already being questioned.)

      1. Amber T*

        Or, by looping in the manager now, OP could be acknowledging both problems. Posing it like UKAnon wrote, OP could say “I realize I’m having a bit of difficulty managing Bob because he’s been displaying X behaviors. I’m going to start dealing with it by doing Y, but are there other things I could be doing?”

        1. fposte*

          Honestly, I’d wait until I’d started doing it. The manager’s already in–there’s no need to loop–and she wants the OP to be more active.

      2. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Sorry, I should have been clearer :) By “I’m doing Y” I was assuming OP had already taken some actions – but I think demonstrating her management proactively and keeping her manager in the loop in case of blowback could be useful (which may depend on her relationship with her manager)

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s relying too much on using her own manager as a safety net when she’s supposed to be the boss. This isn’t a big deal situation; it’s something she should be able to handle on her own, and there’s not much to gain from notification anyway.

  2. caryatid*

    yeah, i would also argue to document your conversations with him or at least make your manager aware for transparency’s sake. especially in case he ever escalates his behavior.

  3. TotesMaGoats*

    While I understand why you went with “he’s crushing on me”, there could be any number of other non-romantic related reasons he’s acting like that. Completely agree with AAM on what to do. Address it in the moment without any mention of the crush aspect.

    I would also talk with your manage about how this is making you feel. It’s obviously impacting your behavior and your manager should help you with this. Coach you like you will your direct report.

    1. fposte*

      I wasn’t sure about going to the OP’s manager, because I don’t think it’s inherent to the situation, but this is a framing that makes it plausible for me–it’s that the OP is thrown by the situation and needs some guidance.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, I missed that the OP’s manager is questioning her on her handling already. Which seems like a reasonable judgment, given that she’s been hesitant to deal directly with the behavior, but I don’t know that I’d go back to the manager at this point without a plan then, given that this is already ID’ed as a weak spot.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          The problem is that we don’t know what OP’s manager is seeing that causes concern for the manager. I would go in with a plan but if manager is getting radio silence from OP but seeing something, I’d say to still go to manager. You have to frame it the right way but I’m not sure that keeping quiet will help.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think it’s fine for the OP to say to her manager, “Look, I’ve been thrown by this because of ___. But here’s what I’m doing about it.” But I think it’s important that she actually start taking those actions first, because otherwise the manager is going to wonder why she still hasn’t.

            1. LBK*

              Agreed – I think the manager can be looped in once action has been taken as a means of showing that she’s addressing the concern that her manager raised, but there’s a higher bar when you’re in management for when you can escalate something without already having taken steps to fix it. It’s anticipated at that level that you’ll have experience with navigating challenging situations.

              1. fposte*

                Right. If I were the OP’s manager and I’d told her I have concerns about her managing, having her come back to me and tell me she’s not yet taken action on what isn’t that complicated a situation would cement my doubts, not relieve them.

                I think looping your own manager in is something to be done judiciously, not as a default; most of the time you’re expected to manage your staff without bringing other people into it, and you especially want to be able to do that if there’s concern about your management.

                1. LBK*

                  If I were the OP’s manager and I’d told her I have concerns about her managing, having her come back to me and tell me she’s not yet taken action on what isn’t that complicated a situation would cement my doubts, not relieve them.

                  Yep, my exact thought (I had actually written something similar in my comment originally and then deleted it).

          2. AnotherHRPro*

            It does not really matter if the employee has a crush or not. As a manager, you have to develop effective working relationships with all types of employees (weird or not). The OP needs to stop avoiding this employee and address any odd or inappropriate behavior. The worst thing you can do is treat this employee differently by avoiding interaction. Instead, make the interactions just like you have with everyone else and address issues with the employee just like you would address any other behavior that is not acceptable (i.e., coming in late, work not getting done, etc.).

            The fact that the OP’s manager has noticed something speaks to the fact that the OP is not currently managing this employee properly. It is fine to let the manager know the “why” but it is more important to change how the OP is dealing with this and tell the manager what she is now doing to correct the situation.

    2. Rae*

      Agreed. To me it seemed like Atypical example of a poorly behaved millennial. The lack of social cues, over dependence on electronics, constant need for feedback reeks of the worst part of the current generation. (and thus why such horrible stereotypes are proliferated)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wait, no, no, please don’t generation-bash here! I know the media makes it so tempting to categorize people that way, but I’ve worked with people of all ages who display those traits.

        1. Rae*

          Yes, some do, but this behavior is a subset of actions that is a struggle among some millennials. Other generations have their own issues. My point is that these behaviors do not equal crush by any stretch.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            If we’re going to make sweeping generalizations, it is not so much a millennial thing as it is a textbook example of men who fixate on a woman, demand her attention, and resist the imposition of boundaries. This is way beyond the kinds of behaviors that millennials are stereotyped as doing.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              To be clear, I’m not saying that’s what’s going on, but it’s much closer to that kind of thing than a “typical” millennial.

          2. Lizzy*

            Oh please, this behavior has long existed before millennials entered the workforce. It might seem like a millennial problem with how sophisticated technology has become in recent years, but has been prevalent in the workforce for decades. Technology advances, but the behavior remains the same. I know plenty of men and women who have similar stories going back to the early 90’s.

          3. Ezri*

            I get your original point, but it’s more accurate to say that some people in general struggle with those things rather than plastering millennials with the generalization. Being socially and professionally clueless is not a new thing, and it’s not just my generation guilty of it.

          4. UsedToDoSupport*

            I don’t know about that. This baby boomer has dealt with the exact same situation many times over the decades. This doesn’t belong to any one generation. Or any one sex — a male coworker had this problem with a female subordinate.

        2. Susan*

          Thank you for this! It’s so annoying to always see these sweeping generalizations about an entire generation.

        3. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          Yep – and people of all ages who are quite ready to stereotype.

          /the Millennial whose contacts all know how inappropriate this is.

      2. LBK*

        I don’t see any indication of the employee’s age – what makes you assume he’s a millennial? We just had a letter a few weeks ago about someone who was exhibiting similar behavior (including texting) who was older, so it’s certainly not exclusive to any generation.

          1. Ezri*

            Yeah, all I saw was that she mentioned the guys is needy via texting and IM; but to me the needy part is weird, not the use of technology.

      3. Walnut*

        Maybe the fact that people cling to using stereotypes to judge people for behaviors that have a myriad of other potential explanations is the reason that stereotypes continue to proliferate?

        1. Owl*

          I know, right? What a strange comment. “I’m assuming that this guy is acting like a stereotype, thereby perpetuating stereotypes!”

          1. Cactus*

            Agreed, it’s ridiculous.

            Also, since when did anyone get a choice as to when they were born or to the general cultural milieu in which they spent their formative years?

    3. LBK*

      I agree that some of this reads more like an employee who’s trying to suck up to the OP or just has misconceptions about what makes a good employee (eg trying to show he’s hard-working by contacting the OP outside of work hours, in the same way that some people make a big show of sending emails late at night to make a point that they’re still in the office/online).

      That isn’t to say the OP is wrong or what the employee’s doing is therefore okay. However, I think it will make it easier to do exactly what Alison says and mentally remove the crush element when addressing this, because almost all of this could be done by someone who didn’t have romantic intentions.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    This is really good advice because it echos what I tell people who want to require emotional labor from women but don’t apply those expectations to men: tell an employee what to DO not how to BE.  Similarly, you can’t tell this guy to not make you uncomfortable, but you can tell him specific things to not do that will ease your discomfort.  

    You do need to address this issue so it doesn’t affect your work performance.  That’s super important because if you don’t, you’re letting this guy “win” because he’s affecting the way you do your job crush or no crush.

    But don’t beat yourself up about it.  Figuring out an ideal solution is super hard because we humans naturally expect others to act appropriately and respectfully.  When they don’t, our brains freeze up and procrastination seems like a better option because we’re socialized, especially women, to not raise a stink or confront such behavior.

    1. CollegeAdmin*

      ….I tell people who want to require emotional labor from women but don’t apply those expectations to men: tell an employee what to DO not how to BE

      Wow, I really like this – amazing way to put it. Major props to you, Snarkus Aurelius!

      1. LL*

        Seriously. People expect women to spend time and energy finding ways to avoid bruising fragile egos, but not men . Men are expected to just handle things directly.

        I was in a similar situation as OP’s with a coworker who became resentful and began trying to undermine me when I made it clear I did not want anything more than a strictly professional relationship. I felt that my only options were to just deal with him politely or complain to our boss.

        I told my grandpa (who was a defense attorney in the 60’s) and he said something that made me think: “Do you think a man would be expected to just put up with that BS? Stand up for yourself!” So the next time this coworker started pestering me with a time-wasting issue just for attention, I looked him dead in the eye and said “Jim, stop wasting my time.” He was shocked and sputtering because he expected me to just politely acquiesce. Sure enough, a lot of the pestering stopped after that! I have no idea why I was so afraid to be blunt earlier.

        I think Alison’s advice here is spot-on since OP is in a supervisory role, but I think in general, women shouldn’t be afraid to be strong and direct when someone at work makes them uncomfortable or deliberately wastes their time.

    2. Emmie*

      I’d like to know more about the emotional labor part. I do not know what that is, but I’d like to know.

    3. Liz T*

      I’d be interested in hearing more about when and where you advise people about this! Do you mean emotional labor in professional settings?

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I almost always recommend it in professional settings. 

        Before I knew what it was, I couldn’t put my finger on why I didn’t get along with my boss.  She would always give these vague suggestions that were more about my personality than my work.  She would say stuff like, “Don’t frown so much because it makes me nervous,” or “What’s upsetting you now?” when nothing was.  It was my face.  But she always told me I would stress her out, and she wanted me to change my behavior so she’d feel better.  None of her suggestions really meant anything because they were so abstract and subjective to her moods.

        A light bulb went off when a male coworker slammed a door and pounded a fist on her desk, and she called him “passionate.”

        Demanding emotional labor is a weird way to control someone and throw them off their game.  You come to work to work, right?  You don’t come to smile and make sure your coworker is having a good day.  

        When I hear someone complaining about a coworker’s response to something, I tell that person to be specific and make your requests limited to actions versus personality traits.  Actions are empirical requests that aren’t up for debate where as asking someone to be cheerful is useless.

    4. Biff*

      Can you please expand on what you mean by ’emotional labor?’ I feel like this is what I need to learn today.

            1. OriginalEmma*

              I can’t get enough of these and I want to tell all my girlfriends, cousins, cousin’s cousins, and on and on.

              1. Ihmmy*

                yeah I shared it a bunch of times with people I thought would appreciate it… I need to convince a few male friends/partners/etc they should read it too though.

    5. The IT Manager*

      I had to Google it. Interesting. And I am so glad I don’t have to do emotional labor. I would suck at it.

      From Wikipedia:
      Emotional labor or emotion work is a requirement of a job that employees display required emotions toward customers or others.[1] Roles that have been identified as requiring emotional labor include flight attendant, daycare worker, nursing home worker, nurse, doctor, store clerk, call center worker, teacher, social worker as well as most roles in a hotel, motel, tavern/bar/pub and restaurant, as well as jobs in the media, such as TV and radio.[2] As particular economies move from a manufacturing to a service-based economy, many more workers in a variety of occupational fields are expected to manage their emotions according to employer demands when compared to sixty years ago.

      1. Aunt Jamesina*

        “And I am so glad I don’t have to do emotional labor. I would suck at it.”. Do you not have to do it because you’re male? Because that’s only proving the point. And women might suck at it, but they’re expected to do it all the same. I’m not trying to rag on you, but maybe it’s worth thinking about why you “don’t” have to do those tasks.

        1. Myrin*

          I thought it was more that IT Manager probably doesn’t work any of the jobs listed under [1] (I mean, usernames can be all kinds of things but I’d say they’re in IT) and/or doesn’t have a boss who, as per [2] requires it.

      2. Elsajeni*

        The phrase is also used more generally to refer to the “thoughtfulness”-type work that goes into maintaining relationships, which is also usually disproportionately expected of women — that’s probably the type of thing Aunt Jamesina is thinking of, above. A (hopefully exaggerated!) example would be the sitcom husband asking his wife “When is my mom’s birthday? Will you pick out a card for me to send her? What should I write in the card? What should I give her?”, or the mom blaming her daughter-in-law instead of her son the year that she doesn’t get her birthday card on time.

    6. OriginalEmma*

      This is really good advice because it echos what I tell people who want to require emotional labor from women but don’t apply those expectations to men: tell an employee what to DO not how to BE.
      Can you expand on this? I understand what emotional labor is, as a woman, but I’m confused about how it applies to the “tell people how to behave, not how to be” concept. How is the emotional labor requirement different here?

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        It’s not.

        This employee is demanding the OP react to him a certain way, and he’s making her responsible for his emotions.  For example, he gets irritated with her when she doesn’t respond to his emails on a timeline he would prefer as opposed to what is appropriate for the situation.

        He wants her to be a certain way — whether that’s his girlfriend or whatever.

        He could tell her what to do, but think about how those requests would go.  “Respond to my emails immediately” or “Return my longing gaze with affection” “Flirt with me” or “Text me back after hours.”  He can’t do that because it’s asinine and inappropriate. It crosses the line the OP was referring to.

        Emotional labor is getting around what everyone commonly understands as gendered and/or inappropriate behavior for the sake of the requester’s emotional satisfaction and no one else’s.  It’s about telling people how to be rather than making the request about the task at hand even though the task is the only thing that’s relevant in these interactions.  If you gave people specific tasks, that emotional nonsense would either get out in the open or it would fall by the wayside because the person requesting it is too embarrassed to be that overt.  

        1. Biff*

          I think you meant that “the expectation of emotional labor is getting around…” Did you? Because it makes more sense to me that way, but I don’t want to misunderstand because I think this is brilliant

  5. Anonymous Educator*

    kept my distance (as much as feasible being his direct manager)

    My tendency to avoid the employee … is reflecting poorly on my management skills

    I would add—in addition to Alison’s great advice about avoiding thinking of the cause of the behavior and addressing the behavior directly instead—that you should try your best not to have his behavior affect you. Who knows what kind of twisted narrative he’s making up in his mind? “Oh, she’s keeping her distance. I can see I’m affecting her. Maybe she’s playing hard to get.” And I’m not saying you’re to blame for him having a crush on you, but one great way to counteract his unprofessional behavior is to maintain yours as much as humanly possible. Don’t overly avoid him or keep your distance. Treat him just like any of your other direct reports, including telling him when he’s not acting professionally.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yes, exactly. As long as he knows he’s affecting her, he could be spinning it into a whole complex soap opera in his head.

  6. voyager1*

    Let’s just cut to the chase, this is harrassment.

    If it was limited to work and didn’t involve staring and texting after hours Imight maybe say he has to get that instant feedback that he is doing a good job.

    But with everything in the letter, it is harrassment. Tell him to stop. I think calling it awkwardness is being really nice.

    1. Swarley*

      I think that’s a bit extreme. It would depend on the kinds of things being sent in the emails and texts, types of conversations had, and what’s occurring when the employee is “upset.” This doesn’t sounds severe or pervasive to me on the surface, but regardless, the initial action should be the same: talk to the employee directly and shut the behaviors down. OP is also in a position of authority over this employee, so if the behaviors do continue, discipline (including termination) are options in the tool kit.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not harassment in the legal sense, and I’m not sure that it is in other senses either. It’s also very, very easy to address, considering that the OP in the one in authority and power here.

    3. JB (not in Houston)*

      I think it *could* be harassment (not in the legal sense), but we don’t have enough details for us to draw that conclusion. From the details we have, it sounds very annoying but not necessarily harassment.

    4. LBK*

      I think harassment implies more aggressive content or frequency of the messages. If he’s asking even vaguely work-related questions after hours once a week or so, that’s certainly annoying, but there isn’t the shade of impropriety or excess that I associated with harassment (even in a colloquial sense). I think he would have to be doing it multiple times a day for the content to be irrelevant.

      1. voyager1*

        I respect your opinions all, but I respectfully disagree. IMHO it’s the staring for me that does it, also the LW is feeling comfortable. Maybe because I am a guy but they way I have always lived, it ain’t good to make a woman uncomfortable the way the LW is describing. But YMMV.

  7. LNB*

    Shout out to AAM for these excellent tips. Yes, remove “crush” from your thinking and focus objectively on what is happening. AAM gave you great pointers. Would love an update post!

    1. JessaB*

      Yes, because also, you can’t really know what’s in his head, is it a crush? Is he just needy? Did he come from a prior job that was crazy micromanaging and horrible and has not learnt new behaviours.

      The problem with parsing this as a crush, is that it makes the OP uncomfortable which drives a weird dynamic into the relationship which may or may not be there.

      Even if it is a crush, if the OP just treats it as regular interaction, the whole “crush is difficult” thing goes away. Because I think it’s the “crush” thing that’s making the OP have problems dealing with this. If it had originally been looked at as some other reasoning, it probably would have been easier.

  8. Katie the Fed*

    Earlier in my career WHEN I was in a quasi-leadership role one of my employees asked me to step into the hall, where he confessed that he was in love with me, had trouble focusing when I was around, etc. He just wanted me to know.

    I didn’t know how to handle it at all except to stammer out of the conversation and go talk to my boss about it. I was so worried I had done something wrong to encourage this. My boss had a talk with the guy and told him if he wasn’t able to deal with his feelings professionally, he needed to find a new position. He stayed but god was it permanently awkward.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      I don’t know that anyone would be able to respond with the exact right words when confronted with that out of the blue. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a manager. I would’ve done the exact same thing. I can only imagine how awkward it was.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hard to say without knowing more details. Part of me wants to do the guy the favor of pretending it never happened and see how he behaved after that. If he was scrupulously professional, then great. If not, then you’d have to address it. But you can’t have him thinking it’s okay to sneak-attack his coworkers with declarations of love, so you probably do have to address it anyway.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            We actually worked together fine after that, because I did manage to stammer out that I don’t date in the office. But…ugh it was so awkward. My biggest concern was that I’d done something to encourage it. :(

            1. caryatid*

              i totally get why that would be your concern, it would probably be mine as well.

              but if you think about it for a moment, what on earth could you have possibly (unintentionally) done to make him FALL IN LOVE with you? that’s just crazy.

                1. caryatid*

                  Katie’s not crazy! not what i meant :)

                  i think it’s crazy for the coworker to interpret someone’s behaviors in a way that would suggest their out-of-the-blue profession of love was welcome or even reciprocated.

                2. Katie the Fed*

                  Ha, thanks for the laugh!

                  I was young – I think when you’re young you tend to blame yourself instead of the people who rightfully deserve your outrage :D

            2. LBK*

              I know this was probably really difficult to go through in real life, but all I can think of is Friends when one of Ross’ students says he’s in love with him. “Am I giving off some kind of sexy professor vibe!?”

            3. Annie Moose*

              This situation (not with a coworker, but with a fellow student in university who I was on a long-term research project with) happened to me, and I had the EXACT same feelings. “What did I do to encourage this? How did I accidentally flirt with him?”

              It took me a long time to realize that I hadn’t. He just made everything up in his head and then assumed I felt the same way. You’re not to blame for the wacko things other people come up with about you. Being friendly to someone is not something to be ashamed of, even if they wildly misinterpreted it!

      1. neverjaunty*

        Because they are His Very Important Feelings and therefore important and therefore it was her job to accommodate them in some way.

        1. Donna*

          Totally. My daughter spent last week trying to convince a male friend not to confess his feelings for his female best friend. He knows she doesn’t feel the same way, knows it will make her extremely uncomfortable, but…he has Very Important Feelings that must be heard!

          1. LENEL*

            I met someone at an event once and I forget exactly how she put it, but her male best friend confessed his love for her and she figured “why not”. She cared about him a lot and decided that it was worthwhile to pursue a relationship with him because she loved him as a friend and didn’t want to lose his friendship which I gather was the ultimatum which accompanied his declaration of love as he “just couldn’t” continue to be around her if he couldn’t be with her.

            I always wondered how it turned out for them long term and remember at 17 thinking that this had to be the only time Very Important Feeling declarations ever really worked out.

    2. Doriana Gray*

      Wow! Your employee was bold – I don’t think I’d ever have the guts to do that to someone I liked, let alone if that person was my supervisor/manager.

      Serious question though – is staring really an indication of a crush? This is for my own personal education (socially awkward person here with very limited romantic experience) – I can see how that, plus the random texts/emails/IMs in the OP’s situation could lean that way.

      1. MegEB*

        Yes, it really is. It doesn’t always mean that staring = romantic feelings; staring could mean that you have food on your chin, or the person staring simply spaced out for a minute. But yes, it can also be an indication of a crush, especially when combined with the excessive communication and overall emotional overinvestment of the employee in question.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          Yeah, I agree with your last sentence. I was just asking independent of those things because I’ve had one guy at work do this every time he sees me (which admittedly isn’t that often – maybe like once or twice every couple weeks for over a year) and my mind would just never go to that place. Interesting.

          1. MashaKasha*

            I’ve had a couple cases of coworker attraction. In my experience, when that happens, you just know. There are vibes. It’s hard to explain; but I am terrible at reading nonverbal cues and I still got the vibes. Of course I then ruled them out as it being just my imagination; then one of the vibe-giving guys changed jobs and sent me an email from his personal account along the lines of “now that we don’t work together, can I ask you out on a date?” (He gave me an option of not replying, which I happily used.)

            1. Doriana Gray*

              Ha! That guy tried it. I’m like you, though – I totally can’t read nonverbal cues. You have to bash me over the head in order to get things. I just always assume that the vibes I’m getting are just me thinking too much (I have a tendency to do that) and reading into things. And I also tend to think the staring thing is spaced-out staring too because I do that entirely too much myself.

    3. ZSD*

      Why would he think it was better to talk about this in a hallway than in your office with the door closed? I mean, I understand that this is a story about a generally awkward situation, but the part about the hallway jumped out at me.

    4. BRR*

      Going off of your post this morning, in a way I appreciate the guy’s directness. It’s irritating when somebody is trying to drop hints and hopes you’ll take the reigns.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        This is true. It was just a little much though. Saying “I’d really like to get to know you better and maybe take out for dinner” is a little preferable to “I think you’re the perfect woman for me and I’ve really fallen in love with you”

        1. neverjaunty*

          Well, I guess the bright side is that he immediately telegraphed his red flags to you. “I’ve projected a bunch of hopes and expectations that I’d like you to fulfil.” Uh…no?

    1. IT Kat*

      Actually, in the post under “You May Like” at the bottom, are several answers for people who have had similar issues and weren’t direct managers of the person in question. Maybe those would help you?

    2. voyager1*

      Tell him you don’t date coworkers (if it is like Katie’s example).

      Tell him you are not interested and want to keep the relationship work related and professional (if like the letter).

      Depending on how the guy handles it you may need to involve someone above you. Hopefully he will be a real man and leave you be and keep interactions to work stuff.

      1. Allison*

        I wouldn’t do that. “I don’t date coworkers” may seem like a great way to let the person down easily without it being personal, but whenever I need to reject someone I try to be clear that I don’t have feelings for them. Rejecting someone because I’m trying to follow rules – “I can’t, I have a boyfriend” or “I don’t date coworkers” or “you’re too young for me” may cause a person to get close to me in the hopes that someday that obstacle will be lifted, with the expectation that he and I will be together when that happens – and then what do I do? If he’s been spending all that time building up an expectation, rejection is going to hurt so much more and there’s an even bigger chance of him blowing up at me.

          1. voyager1*

            Allison,
            I am just curious then, what do you say to a guy: “thanks but your not attractive enough for me.” That seems pretty cruel.

            Elizabeth,
            There shouldn’t be any drama, if a girl says no, you move on. At least that has always been what I did back in the day because that is what my Dad taught me, and what I will teach my son.
            Maybe I am just old fashioned or just old LOL!

            1. some1*

              “There shouldn’t be any drama, if a girl says no, you move on. At least that has always been what I did back in the day because that is what my Dad taught me, and what I will teach my son.
              Maybe I am just old fashioned or just old LOL!”

              It’s not about “drama” so much as natural consequences to telling a lie. If I tell you I don’t date coworkers because I don’t want to date *you*, you are obviously going to know I’m full of it if I start dating another coworker.

              1. voyager1*

                I get the not wanting to tell a lie, that is admirable. But a guy (or gal) should understand that no…means… well no. LOL.

                The reason really is irrelevant, the two times I had to tell a girl no I tried to spare her feelings. Maybe it is gender thing. I wonder if also technology and how we communicate makes a difference. Back in my dating days a cell phone was for just talking LOL. Now days people break up over text, that just seems cruel. But anyway….

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think you’re talking about how things should work in an ideal world, versus how they really do work in practice much of the time (and of course people need to calibrate their responses to account for the latter).

                2. Allison*

                  No, it’s not a gender thing. As a woman – as a *person* – if I made a move on someone I liked and they didn’t feel the same way about me, I’d want them to tell me, quite clearly, that he didn’t want to date me. I don’t want this “I don’t want a relationship right now” nonsense, nor do I want an excuse, I want the truth.

                3. neverjaunty*

                  It is a ‘gender thing’ in that women may feel that they need to offer an excuse, because per that emotional labor thing upthread, women are expected to be nice and not hurt men’s feelings and certainly musn’t be blunt and direct, lest they be a rhymes-with-witch. “No, because of a reason that in no way reflects on you as a person” is, under this cultural attitude, the appropriate rejection.

                  And of course there are a *lot* of guys who refuse to accept that ‘no’ is a complete sentence and that a woman has a right to reject them; they insist on having a Good Enough Reason for that no. Giving a fake Good Enough Reason is an attempt to deflect drama or worse.

                4. Elizabeth West*

                  I agree with Allison. I would be fine with “No thank you, I’m not interested,” and that would be that. I’ve asked a couple of people out and gotten, “Yeah, sounds good!” and then no response or another excuse after that. Just say no, and I’ll be fine; I’m an adult. Don’t leave me wondering what the hell, please.

                  Conversely, I’ve also gotten the hostile response from someone. But he did ask me in front of a whole bunch of other people, and then when I said, “No thank you,” he also flipped out in front of them. Which didn’t make him look very good, LOL.

            2. Allison*

              Wha? No, I don’t say they’re not attractive enough, I say I don’t feel that way about them. It may seem cruel not to give someone a chance, but it’s even more cruel to let someone think there might be a chance for you two later when you know you’re never going to want to date them, now or ever.

            3. Allison*

              “if a girl says no, you move on”

              Right, but if a woman says “I don’t date coworkers,” would you hear “no” or “not right now”? You might take that at a final “no,” but many people hear “we can’t date right now” and think there’ll be a chance once things change somehow.

              1. voyager1*

                Allison,
                I guess I can see that, I personally would move on, but some might wait it out thinking that would change if you don’t work together. That to me is pretty desperate, but yeah I can see a few folks who might do that. I don’t think the number is very high though.

                1. LBK*

                  Agreed with both Allisons – that reading is not as uncommon as you’re thinking it is, particularly among the kind of people that aren’t great at picking up cues to begin with (hence why they would ask out someone who I’d assume hasn’t shown any clear signs of being interested in them). That’s not to say no one ever misreads signals, but I think most people don’t go around asking out others without being about 90% confident that they’re going to say yes, especially coworkers.

                2. voyager1*

                  Okay I am on my phone, but now I am just curious, have to ask, sorry this is out of order. I guess this is for the ladies. Does this happen more often then it doesn’t when you turn a guy down? If yes my mind is just blown. Personally asking a girl out and over is just disrespectful to her IMHO…

                  But now I am just genuinely curious.

                3. Int*

                  Yeah, there are lots of guys who have watched too many RomComs and think that if they’re *persistant* enough, the lady they like will end up in their arms.

                4. Turtle Candle*

                  Yes, it’s quite common in my experience. I have had guys keep pushing after the softpedal no–the “I’m sorry, I don’t date coworkers” was taken as if it was a promise that I’d date him once he no longer worked there (oh, the sulking and accusations of game-playing I got when that turned out not to be the case!). And friends of mine have a multitude of similar stories.

                  Indeed, even, “I’m sorry, but no, I have a boyfriend” led to one dude not only not giving up, but mounting an active campaign to convince me to try out polyamory. I finally had to just say, “Look, I’m not interested in poly, but even if I was, I’m not interested in dating you.”

                  (As a side note, I think–like street harassment–this is something that is invisible to guys in a lot of cases. It’s not just that they are far less likely to be the target of it–it’s that men who try these things on women generally do not do so when other men are around. So they’re just not as likely to see it period. Sadly often, though, when I or another woman has tried to explain it, the response has been ‘well, you’re an outlier,’ or ‘I just can’t believe that happens as much as you think,’ or–worst of all–a sneering, ‘gosh, it must be hard to be so irresistible.’)

                5. Hiding on the Internet Today*

                  Men are more often persistent than not. Soft “no”s get ignored, hard “no”s get protested that I’m an uncaring bitch, Good Enough Reasons get negotiated.

                  I’m trying to recall if any guy I’ve turned down ever just respected it. Oh wait, one did. We got together a few years later and I married him. He believes me when I talk and trusts me to know my own mind.

              2. SuperAnon for this*

                I used that line once on a good friend, because it seemed more polite than “You’re older than I by like a million years, I cannot do that.” By the time we were no longer coworkers, I was in a serious relationship. By the time my SO and I broke up, the guy was in a serious relationship, which actually resulted in marriage and they’re now living happily ever after! So I think that most of the time, “I don’t date coworkers” is pretty safe. A lot can change by the time you’re not working together anymore!

                1. Owl*

                  Your logic is cracking me up a little. You had one (1) experience, therefore you now think that “most” of the time it’s going to go the same way?

              3. L_A*

                I would not say anything insulting, just “I am not interested in you that way”. If he keeps flirting you could say “do not speak to me that way”. Should work. Guys can be unbelievable though. I keep a wedding portrait on my desk where coworkers can see it. One morning a guy came in and slipped in a “good morning beautiful… I mean Ms. L”. What a creepo. He asked me my first day if I was married and his response was “damn, all the good ones are taken”. I found out later that HE is married! He got fired that week for an unrelated reason.

    3. Rae*

      If you’re referring to what it would be to be the young person with a crush, I think that perhaps finding ways to set personal boundaries and other means of validation would be key. I often found with my young employees that they were starved for true validation after a lifetime of participation awards. When they got connected in with softball groups, writing circle–heck even a group that kitted hats for the homeless–they were able to feel valuable and affirmed and any semblance of a crush stopped.

      1. fposte*

        This is strange to me. Crushes are normal. They’re not a sign that people don’t have enough going on in their lives.

        1. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)*

          I like feeling valuable and affirmed AND having crushes. I agree it’s strange – the two are not one in the same!

          Now I like feeling valuable and affirmed AND have my fiance dote on me. Still two different things!

        2. Kelly L.*

          Yup. This really has nothing to do with participation awards or Not Being Busy(tm). I’ve always had crushes on people. It’s all about coping appropriately with them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Okay, can we take a deep breath here? I’ve asked Rae to stop with the millennial bashing, and from what I can see, she hasn’t posted anything else along those lines since I made that request. I don’t want an increase in hostilities in response.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Point taken, sorry. I didn’t realize the participation award comment had been made before your request because I read it much later. My bad.

    4. Swarley*

      I actually think that the advice would be pretty similar. Address the behaviors in the moment and directly state that you need them to stop. Only difference being that if the behaviors continue you’d escalate the problem to your manager.

  9. Hornswoggler*

    I think there’s another boundary that you have to set, OP, which is to stop him contacting you outside work times. there have been some other useful posts on this site about laying down boundaries on contact outside work, so you could check them out. But I think you need to add something to Alison’s excellent scripts, which is:

    “You must stop contacting me outside work times. You should not contact me about work because I am not at work. You should not contact me with any personal messages either. You will not receive any response outside working hours to any messages you send me.”

  10. Rae*

    I’m with the “it may not be a crush” crowd. There is a certain part of the youngest generation that is socially clueless (staring), overly dependent on texting and non-verbal communication and completely and utterly dependent on constant feedback.
    I think you’re setting yourself up for an ego blow if you put this in the context of a crush. This is an unfortunate subset of people. I know, I’ve worked with them and managed them. Your withdrawing only makes this type of young person more worried.
    I addressed it by having an action plan and what basically amounted to chore charts. Mind you, this was retail management. I did get absurd texts until I was very clear that the weekend wasn’t the appropriate time to ask me if you could have the nice broom this week. One of the guys bought me a pen that clipped to my lanyard because he realized how handy carrying a pen was (err duh). Another would spend extra time cleaning the office. Once I finally asked him after tripping over him for 2 months, it was because the floor was loud and he needed a minute to regroup. It wasn’t flirting, it was horrible social skills.

    1. Helka*

      This isn’t a generational thing. People of all ages can have poor social skills. My late-Boomer parents do quite a lot more texting than early-Millennial I do.

      1. Rae*

        All put together, and from my experience, this set of traits is more common in millennials (especially young millennials) than in other groups of people. Now, other generations come with their own issues when poorly behaved, but the subset of poor social skills, reliance on technology and need for praise is vastly millennial.

        1. Biff*

          I disagree with you on the ‘need for praise’ — I think it’s a need for reassurance. The economy is scary right now (I have a friend with an engineering degree who is struggling mightily to find work.) And when you are young, being let go or fired even for good cause can feel like it came out of the blue because you don’t know a lot yet. I think that creates a very cautious approach in a lot of people. I wouldn’t be concerned about a need for constant feedback unless it really never winds down as the employee settles into the job.

          1. Anx*

            I have had glowing performance reviews on my professionalism (in ‘nonprofessional’ jobs), my work ethic, how well I got along with others, etc. So while I know I’m not good at every job I do (especially now that I have to take what I can get and not what I think I’d be good at ), I am pretty confident that I’m not a universally disagreeable or incompetent employee.

            Still, I’ve just been taken off schedules when demand goes down and let go with no feedback. Was I fired? Laid off? Somewhere in the middle probably.

            But it definitely contributes to my second guessing my performance all of the time. I’m actually in a job where I feel like I’d be given a heads up if my performance were to lead to a firing or putting me on the lay-off block, but I still worry about once a week that I’m about to be fired.

            My parental figures seem pretty incredulous about this whole thing, and don’t believe people are really just let go without a conversation about performance or an assurance that it’s purely a layoff.

            1. Biff*

              There was a letter either here or on Reddit, where someone had been laid off, well, had thought that they had been laid off. But they kept on failing background checks. They finally had a friend check in with the place that laid them off (under the premise that the friend was considering hiring them) and found out that they were listed as fired. I don’t know if it was a mistake in the file or if no one had bothered to tell them, but the fact that there was confusion at all shows the level of dysfunction, IMO.

              I can’t imagine how shocking that must have been, to find out that you’d been fired months after the fact.

        2. Kelly L.*

          I don’t think this is about the technology, though. If this guy were doing this 10 years ago, he’d be pinging her on AIM all the time. If it were 20-25 years ago, he’d be blowing up her home landline. Or driving by her house all the time or something. I’ve dealt with plenty of this kind of stuff from fellow X-ers. The technology is just the means of conveyance.

        3. OriginalEmma*

          Is it common in millenials, or are you just noticing it more often in millenials? Do you notice how often you *don’t* notice it in millenials? How often do you dismiss the behaviors in people who don’t fit your stereotype? I mean, I can erroneously think that Honda Fits are a common type of car…because I also drive one and therefore notice others on the road as well. Confirmation bias is biased.

          1. BuildMeUp*

            Hey, fellow Fit driver! I notice other Fits all the time, too! It’s definitely not as common as that sometimes makes me think it is. At least it makes finding my car in the parking lot easier!

          2. Myrin*

            I thought the same, especially as Rae mentions in another comment that they noticed this behaviour while working in retail management. And at least where I’m from, retail workers tend to be on the younger side because most of them are part-time people in school or uni. So this really could just be an exposure thing – if you primarily deal with young people, obviously you’re only going to see the behaviour of young people.

          3. Rae*

            It’s from working and managing people from the ages of 16 to well over 50. Certain behaviors are more common among age, and some of it is to be expected.

              1. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)*

                I’ve notied Rae is big into millenials today. I think you’re right that it’s confirmation bias. Signed, a millenial cringing every time someone starts saying how terrible and needy we all are. Clearly you have not met my fiance’s mother. :)

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Seriously. I’m not sure if Rae is trying to get a rise out of people or just has STRONG FEELINGS ABOUT MILLENIALS that are crying to be let out, but AAM has already said this kind of stereotyping isn’t appropriate here.

            1. LBK*

              But I think a large part of this is age, not generation. You’ll probably see the same things from people in their 20s ten or twenty years from now and you’ll see less of it from the people in their 30s and 40s (who will be the same Millennials you’re stereotyping now).

              Inexperienced people are always more likely to be at odds with workplace norms by nature of being inexperienced. I highly doubt that 10/30/50 years ago everyone arrived at their first professional job perfectly attuned to how they should operate, and yet I’m sure you’d say that most of your older coworkers have figured out how to do that by now.

              1. MashaKasha*

                Yup. Give it another 20-30 years, and millennials will be complaining about the next generation. “those damn kids with their hoverboards and holographic videochats”

              2. Ezri*

                I tried to make this point further down before I realized how many responses there were – you said it better than me. It’s not about my generation being *more* immature so much as the fact that we just happen to be young right now.

                In 20 years there will be some new stereotype for young people and millennials will be the benchmark that proves “older people don’t act like that”. It’s all perspective.

        4. Ezri*

          You mentioned working retail, though – are you sure it isn’t just confirmation bias? You are probably getting a lot of young workers, and anyone completely new to the workforce is more likely to be young than old statistically. I bet if you went back in time and trained new workers in retail in any other generation, you’d develop the same bias.

          I guess my point is, it’s not really fair to blame social awkwardness and lack of professional polish on being born in a particular decade – most of us experience that to one degree or another in our early adult years.

        5. Omne*

          I’ve directly managed hundreds of employees in a professional environment over the past 10 years. They ran from right out of college to pre-retirement. I’ve never seen a pattern that fits what you are describing.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      I think if the manager, who is in the situation, believes it is a crush, we don’t really need to second-guess her and look for other possible causes. The employee’s behavior is a problem whether it’s a crush or not, and Alison has already said to focus on the behaviors rather than the cause.

    3. Liana*

      First of all – this is not a millenial thing. Social awkwardness stretches across all generations, and blaming this on those darn kids and their texting is neither accurate nor fair. My dad, for example, is socially awkward as hell and I don’t even think he knows what the Internet is.

      Second – suggesting that the OP is making up this crush to boost her own ego is … a really unfortunate position. I’ve been in the OP’s position before, and I can guarantee other commenters have as well, and it’s not amusing, or flattering, or ego-boosting. At best, it’s mildly annoying. At worst, it’s straight up harassment. I really hate this line of thinking because it diminishes the OP’s discomfort and places some of the blame back on her by suggesting her vanity is really at fault. I’m sure there are some people who would be flattered by this, but there’s nothing at all to suggest the OP is one of those people.

      1. Rae*

        There’s not a single thing in the letter that suggests that this is actually a crush. It’s more bad behavior. I don’t see harassment at all as that requires someone to have said stop in the first place.

        1. BuildMeUp*

          Ok, I think this is getting into nitpicking territory. The OP didn’t write in with an essay on all the things that have led her to believe this employee has a crush – she wrote a concise summary of the situation, which she is in and we are not. Second-guessing her lived experience isn’t really helpful here.

        2. alma*

          There’s not a single thing in the letter that suggests that this is actually a crush.

          There’s also not a single thing in this letter that has listed his age, but that hasn’t stopped you from grinding that axe about Millenials.

        3. HRish Dude*

          The person exists in real life and not “in the letter”. Just because the writer doesn’t convey the situation and her perception of it exactly to a specific reader’s satisfaction does not mean that the situation does not exist.

        4. Liana*

          … There is plenty of evidence to suggest it’s a crush. Excessive texting, emotional responses that aren’t in line with the task at hand, and staring? Those are all signs that indicate it could be a crush. The OP laid it out as clearly as she possibly could have. The behavior he’s exhibiting can be a crush and also bad behavior; they’re not mutually exclusive.

          1. Ezri*

            The most important thing being, OP said she feels it’s a crush. There’s no real point in nitpicking beyond that, especially since AAM’s advice is the same regardless of the employee’s motive.

        5. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          I think the problem is assuming that it’s vanity. No woman facing unwanted sexual feelings/advances/harassment feels beautifullyamazinglyspeciallikeomgaren’tIirresistable??!!!? Finding out you’ve misunderstood is usually just a huge relief.

          1. Blurgle*

            I do not understand how anyone could ever see being crushed on as a vanity thing. It’s *terrible*.

        6. Minion*

          I may be completely wrong here, but I’m going to go way out on a limb and suggest that maybe, JUST maybe, the OP didn’t include every single minute little detail that makes her feel that this is a crush. And, while I’m going wildly out in left field, I’m going to also just hint that there is the slightest possibility that the OP is able to judge this person’s actions and behavior with a little bit (probably just a tad) more context than we are, seeing as how we don’t actually know the OP or the potential crusher.
          Speaking of bad behavior, suggesting that someone is seeing a crush only because she needs an ego boost is a bit rude, especially when one only has a small piece of the big picture.

    4. Daisy Steiner*

      This is clearly seen by the OP as an unwanted crush that is making her uncomfortable, so I don’t see how it would be an ‘ego blow’ if it turns out not to be a crush at all.

      1. collegeemployee*

        I agree. The one thing that stuck out to me was that fact that he has worked for her for multiple years and is escalating his behavior. That is not the behavior of a stereotypical insecure kid who has just entered the workforce and is looking for someone to hold his hand. And if she feels something is off, she is probably right and we should take her word for it.

    5. CMT*

      Pretty much every behavior that people complain about in “young people these days” is common to *all* young people. It just manifests itself differently in every generation because technology changes. And older people forget that they were once clueless young adults and the rose-colored glasses of time make them think they always knew everything.

      /end rant about Millenial rants

    6. Rat in the Sugar*

      Classing people as a group and saying they have similar traits because they were born in the same set of years is not that different from using horoscopes. It’s not a good predictor of people’s behavior.

      Also, please don’t refer to us as “an unfortunate subset of people”. Some Millennials suck and some are awesome, same as people of every age.

      1. Biff*

        I think that they meant ‘the socially awkward’ are an unfortunate subset of people. Which is less bad, but still pretty harsh.

        1. Blurgle*

          It’s just as awful – and doubly so, since social awkwardness is too often labelled as “something men do that women have to accommodate”. The mindset seems to be that socially awkward men are misunderstood nice guys while socially awkward women are pathetic worthless losers.

    7. F.*

      Rae, nowhere in the OP’s letter does it state anything about the age of the person in question. For all we know, he may be 20 years OLDER than the writer. As for the sweeping generalizations regarding “the youngest generation”, I have found it is better to regard each person as an individual. Many of the readers here will recall that I took someone to task a few weeks ago for claiming that an “elderly man” was incapable of learning a new phone system because he was “old”. That type of stereotype is no different than claiming that most younger people are socially clueless and overly dependent on electronics and praise.

      In the OP’s case, establishing firm boundaries and treating the employee just like the other employees under her management is the professional way to handle things. Stating that he is to immediately stop certain unprofessional behaviors (staring, off-hours texting, etc.) is a start. I would avoid using language about how the behaviors are affecting the OP (makes her uncomfortable, etc.) The behaviors are unprofessional. Period. His motives are not relevant. Also take a look at his productivity and how he fits in with the rest of the group. If he has poor social skills, it will show up in his working relationships with his coworkers. There may be room for improvement there, too. Make the focus on how he is to behave and produce. If there is no immediate improvement, then a formal PIP may be required in the future. This isn’t just the OP’s problem, it is undoubtedly affecting the entire team.

  11. Allison*

    I don’t have a whole lot of advice to give, but I totally get it.

    I absolutely agree that you should address the behavior. If you say anything to imply you suspect he’s crushing on you, like giving him a “not gonna happen” talk, regardless of how he feels he will most likely get defensive and deny having those feelings. But you probably already know how that goes . . .

    I will say that if you suspect a crush, it’s okay to suspect that. Don’t act on that suspicion, but don’t second guess it either just because you don’t have “facts” to back that up. I’d say, when I suspect a friend of acquaintance of being into me, I’m right 9 times outta 10. Call it a woman’s intuition, but sometimes you just pick up on these things, y’know. So no judgment on your suspicion here.

    Also, this is for everyone including the OP, I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been dealing with unrequited crushes from coworkers as well as friends and fellow dancers, and I realized that the discomfort doesn’t necessarily come from the possibility of being asked out, nor does it come from an offense that someone we don’t like might desire us and fancy themselves “worthy” when we’ve determined they’re not (because that’s not how feelings work). We’re uncomfortable because, once we suspect someone may want us, we have no way of knowing whether our boundaries will be respected. We worry that the behavior, while it could be innocent now, could escalate, and if we try to put a stop to something, will he quietly concede or get angry? Some people push boundaries when they’ve misread signals and think they have an “in” with someone when they don’t, others push boundaries because they’re not getting what they want and feel the only way to succeed is to get aggressive.

    Will this person act, and if so, will it be a “wanna go out?” “no thanks” “okay” situation or will they be angry and belligerent when rejected? Will they keep trying? Will they try to establish a friendship in the hopes it will evolve into a romantic relationship, and then one day explode with anger when they realize it’s not happening? Will they stalk us? Harass us? Force themselves on us? We know not all men do these things, but sadly a lot of men do and almost all women have, at some point, had men violate their boundaries in some way, and it’s not pleasant.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Exactly. I dread and try to avoid romantic interest from men, because I’ve had some bad experiences with ones who have trouble taking no for an answer. Maybe it’s flattering that someone is interested in me, but the awkwardness and worry far outweigh the flattery.

      1. Jennifer*

        Oh yeah, I don’t flirt whatsoever, but with a lot of guys, just having to speak to them at all or talk to them like a normal person is enough to “lead them on,” apparently.

    2. Jennifer*

      Hear, hear. Every time someone gets a crush on me I’m terrified that he’s going to turn into a psycho if I don’t cave in. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten a polite response to “no.” If I were the OP I’d be …pretty freaked out, actually.

    3. catsAreCool*

      “We’re uncomfortable because, once we suspect someone may want us, we have no way of knowing whether our boundaries will be respected. We worry that the behavior, while it could be innocent now, could escalate, and if we try to put a stop to something, will he quietly concede or get angry?” This!!!

  12. Big Tom*

    “it’s interfering with my ability to focus on other projects”

    I would be hesitant about using that particular phrase, only because (if it IS a crush, and as others have said it may not be) it would be easy to twist in one’s mind and hear it as “I can’t stop thinking about you when I get these messages.” Obviously tone and other things can play into lessening that effect, and it’s not the OP’s job to keep people from being creepy weirdos, but most people probably know from perfectly innocent experience how easy it is to hear things in a certain way if you really want to. Having a crush can lead you to overanalyze and conveniently misinterpret a lot of things.

  13. Mena*

    Odd that you’re thinking crush. This could be awkward social skills that he needs specific direction on to avoid. He may not sense how un-nerving his behavior actually is to the recipient (some people just don’t so you need to tell them).

    1. Liana*

      It’s not odd at all, it’s perfectly reasonable. That doesn’t mean it HAS to be a crush, and the employee is just a little clueless, but it’s not an unreasonable conclusion to draw at all given the evidence.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yes, exactly. This kind of behavior is not limited to crush situations. But it is common when you have crush + socially awkward or crush + no respect for boundaries. Definitely doesn’t have to be a crush, but definitely can’t rule it out just based on the letter.

  14. Liana*

    I think Alison’s advice is great, and I like the idea of taking the “crush” aspect out of the conversation entirely – I think if you do mention a possible crush, it becomes easy to latch onto that particular word as a way to derail the conversation about his actual behavior. I would also think about having a casual chat with your manager (depending on your relationship with her). You could keep it brief and simply say that you’ve talked with the employee about being more independent/focused on his own work, or you could make it into a longer conversation about the employee’s performance in general and how you’re working with him to address issues. Either way, I think it’s helpful to let your manager know you’re working on it.

  15. Daisy Steiner*

    I think we should trust the OP’s assessment of the situation. Even if she’s wrong, does it matter? The advice for dealing with it is the same – address the inappropriate/unprofessional behaviour directly and specifically.

    1. BuildMeUp*

      I 100% agree. I feel like this has popped up fairly often recently – people giving all sorts of alternatives to the OP’s read on the situation. We’re not there, so I think we should trust that the OP knows better than us what’s happening.

      1. Myrin*

        Especially since, even if it isn’t really a crush, the advice doesn’t actually change! In fact, that is the beautiful thing about this piece of advice, that it specifically ignores the “crush” angle altogether.

        1. JessaB*

          Exactly. The best way to handle this is to act as if there is no crush even if it’s screamingly obvious there is one. People who have crushes manage to work together properly all the time.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yes, yes, yes. She’s there; we aren’t. And the advice is the same either way.

      And I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it intuition has, in my experience at least, been pretty darn accurate when it comes to sussing out emotional dynamics like crushes (or, on the flip side, grudges). I think it’s not just unhelpful but actively counterproductive in many cases to make people write an ironclad proof that so-and-so is acting weird, or likes them, or doesn’t like them, or whatever. When it comes to emotions, many people (not all! but many) are far better at accurately reading a situation than they are at providing a logical justification for that reading, and may in fact hinder their own ability to respond appropriately if they force themselves to second-guess.

      I say this as someone who has multiple times had weird feelings of the “I think that guy may be hitting on me/interested in me/whatever” type, and I’d often second-guess myself like, “well, I can’t prove it, and I don’t want to be all full of myself, and blah blah blah, so maybe he’s just Like That.” (Often with encouragement from others going nah, nah, nah, he’s just awkward, he’s just young, he’s just ~friendly~, he’s just socially inept, maybe he’s autistic.) And… the thing is, my initial emotional ‘read’ of it has pretty much universally been more accurate than my self-cross-examination.

  16. Emmie*

    I would also think about managing up. Find out from your director how / why this is making you look bad. Discuss the way you handled it, that it wasn’t getting the results you wanted, and how your addressing it now. I find that when our directors / vps see us adapting for a new solution, it improves reputations / impressions. Good luck.

  17. Seal*

    I’m in the “this may not be a crush” crowd as well. One of the employees I inherited when I became department head a few years ago demonstrated similar behaviors as the OP is describing. I can say with absolute certainty that this woman does not have a crush on me; she’s just one of those people who needs a lot of hand-holding. Her previous boss was an abusive micromanager who made her account for every minute of every day for years, including bathroom breaks. As a result, when she first started working for me she came running to me for approval for EVERYTHING, which quickly got annoying. It took a couple of years of coaching to get her to the point where she felt comfortable with the degree of autonomy I expect from my staff, although she is still overly concerned about certain things most people take for granted. I will admit that I tend to keep her at arms length compared to the rest of my staff because she seems to do better with stricter boundaries. I am also very aware of her strengths and limitations and make work assignments accordingly. And sometimes she still drives me crazy with her need for approval on the most mundane tasks; clarifying my expectations generally takes care of any concerns on her end. But many people in and outside of my department comment on how she’s blossomed under my direction, and she regularly states how much she enjoys working for me. Ultimately, she’s good at her job and that’s what matters. So I don’t see her as a problem, just as a unique management challenge.

      1. Seal*

        No staring, but I used to get frantic email messages and the occasional phone call at all hours or when I was on vacation asking that mundane or routine issues be resolved RIGHT NOW. We had to have several discussions about what constitutes an actual emergency and the meeting of the term time-sensitive.

        1. voyager1*

          Seal,
          You sound like a good manager who got a broken employee and fixed her to the point she is growing. That is cool.

    1. F.*

      “So I don’t see (…) as a problem, just as a unique management challenge.” I have to remember this phrase! That’s a great way to look at things.

  18. ravi*

    Seems to be some great suggestions already. Whether this person is attracted to you or not is really irrelevant (unless they are making any inappropriate advances which make you concerned for your safety… this should be reported immediately to HR). The behaviors, independent of the cause, seem to be odd and you’re well within your range of “normal” to request that it stop as the manager. Even if you were peers, seems things wouldn’t change much.

    Rather than speculate on the cause, seems obvious that the following are simple solutions:
    – staring (“Hey, something I can help you with?”, followed by “Can you please not stare, it makes me feel uncomfortable”)
    – constant communication (“Hey, can i have you combine all non-urgent requests or communications into a once [daily, weekly, etc.] summary”)

    Romantic interests are bound to show up in the workplace, but so long as behavior stays appropriate it shouldn’t be an issue.

    Hope things go better!

  19. AnonAcademic*

    I’m curious why commenters have a stake in arguing that it might not be a crush, given that it doesn’t change Alison’s advice about the best options for OP’s response. Is it because people think it’s presumptuous of the OP? Like “Oh I’m so attractive/wonderful that any weird behavior towards me must be because they’re in LOOOOVEEE.” Or is it defensiveness about one’s own socially awkward behavior – the worry that someone has misinterpreted missing social cues as a crush? What is the benefit of invalidating the OP here?

    1. Kelly L.*

      Because of the stupid female socialization where we’re supposed to pretend that no one, anywhere, could possibly find us attractive, aw shucks, this old thing?, and if you do think you pick up on a crush, you’re obviously just vain. (That and one commenter with a weird generational axe to grind.)

      1. fposte*

        And also for non-adversarial reasons. Most of us go through years of “Does this mean he likes me? What do you think???” conversations, after all.

      2. some1*

        Right – like how “ugly” women are never believed to be on the receiving end of unwanted advances, catcalling, harassment, and worse.

      3. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, and on the flip side, you’re also supposed to recognize when you’re being flirted with instantly and shut people down in some mythical way that’s both clear and straightforward and kind and gentle, because otherwise you’re leading them on. So you’re a bad person if you recognize a crush, because you’re full of yourself, and you’re a bad person if you don’t recognize a crush, because you’re leading them on, and then you’re a bad person no matter how you shut it down. Exhausting!

        1. collegeemployee*

          And if you reject them the “wrong” way, you might hear “You think that I am interested you. You are not that hot. I was just trying to be friendly.”

          1. MashaKasha*

            Either way, this is a person who ultimately wanted a relationship with you and thought you two would be a good match; so, based on their reaction, you’ve dodged a bullet! Hooray for silver lining!

    2. Biff*

      I actually don’t think most of the commentors talking about how it might not be a crush are trying to invalidate the OP — I got the impression they were saying that to encourage her to face it head on. At least in the US, people downplay weird behavior that arises from a crush — I feel like pointing out it might not be a crush is in some ways permission for the OP to to NOT downplay it.

    3. MashaKasha*

      It’s either the last, or they somehow think that admitting that a coworker has a crush on you = bragging. Ugh, it is so not.

    4. LBK*

      Echoing Biff above, I think it’s helpful to try to read it that way in this particular situation because it makes it easier to deal with as a purely performance-based issue (exactly how Alison advises to address it).

      I think in some scenarios you’d be right that it’s not helpful to try to explain away his behavior, but those are the scenarios where the romantic behavior is the problem in and of itself – so people trying to excuse it are essentially saying “There’s no problem here to deal with because he’s just being friendly”. Here, there’s still work-specific problems that need to be addressed whether they’re motivated by attraction or not, and trying to remove the emotional aspect of it eliminates some of the awkwardness that surrounds the situation.

  20. Lou*

    Similar to my situation, a co-worker at my new job fancies me, he did say explicit stuff but I told him I find it uncomfortable as I have a boyfriend I love very much. He lives with his girlfriend.

    I have to work with him all the time, there’s no option and I like my job, so I know his crush isn’t going away any time soon.

  21. Jill*

    Ugh. I’m not a manager but I had to deal with a crush situation at work. 8 years and the guy never worked up the nerve to ask me out (so that I could nicely tell him no). Fortunately I didn’t have to work closely with him and had less awkwardness.

    I think once OP starts acting more forcefully using the scripts AAM suggested and using a very pointed, no-nonsense, let’s get back to business tone and body language it’ll snap the employee out of the fantasy land he’s in right now.

  22. Alicia R.*

    I can say I was in a similar situation in a sense. but the difference was I wasn’t a manger at all just a friend. with my situation I was friends with a guy who asked to just be friends at first. then as time went by, and we got to know each other better. then he tried to convince me to date him, keep in my mind we just met and I still don’t know him that well and I don’t like him more than friends. so I finally I had to tell him how I felt about everything and he wasn’t getting it at all . eventually I just let him go and blocked him from my phone.

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