my boss is always making out with his girlfriend at work

While visiting my nieces (ages 9 and 12) this weekend, they asked to take a stab at answering an Ask a Manager question … and then clamored to have their answers posted. So the following question has answers from all three of us.

A reader writes:

We work in a fairly small division of the company. The last few months, our boss has been dating a woman, and she is always in his office, despite not working for this company. She has basically taken up residence there. They are often snuggling or making out with the door wide open.

This makes it uncomfortable for us to go and talk to him about actual work-related things because it feels like we’re intruding. The other issue is that she is always in his office while he is on business conference calls on speaker phone and when he is going over payroll. He is a VP and is privy to information that we shouldn’t know, and she especially shouldn’t know since she does not even work here. This seems extremely unprofessional to all of us.

We have brought it up to his boss, but he turns a deaf ear because they are friends. Is it ok to talk to him about this or should we talk to HR, or is it best to leave the matter alone? Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

The answer from 9-year-old niece A. (unedited):

Yes, I think you should just talk to your boss about this. Don’t just barge into his office whithout any warning, just simply call him up and say you would like to talk to him WITHOUT his girlfriend. Say you think that his girlfriend is disrupting the other workers and soulden’t be in his office as it makes you uncomfortadble.

You may also say that you think that she should not be hearing about your privet information, pay checks, warning noteses, etc., as it makes you uncomfortable . If he objects to this, yes, you should tell H.R. Explain that he is with his girlfriend most of the time and that it makes you uncomfortable. Good luck!

The answer from 12-year-old niece M. (also unedited):

First of all, your boss should realize that at work, one has to be professional. If you, your coworkers, and your work quality were not being directly affected by this “snuggling”, I would say that it is your boss’ business, and his life, and although it is extremely unprofessional, you have no right to ask them to stop, but rather should ask them to perhaps close the door while they are kissing. However, since you and your colleagues feel as if you can’t ask/ talk to him while she is there, you need to talk to him about it… when she’s not there to interject or influence his actions.

You — with some coworkers — could gently tell him, “It is hard to tell you this, but some people have expressed their concerns about (insert girlfriend’s name) spending so much time in your office. We have been worried about intruding and have not been able to ask you questions. We are also worried about (insert girlfriend’s name) seeing our private information. We know she would never do anything with it, but we feel it is a violation of our privacy. We were just wondering if you could remember to act professionally so that we do not feel so uncomfortable.”

I am disturbed by his boss’ reaction to your concerns, especially if it has been brought up with him more than once with various employees. But that is another problem in itself if your manager’s boss won’t listen to you about issues in the workplace. Being friendly with your manager should not make it harder, but easier to talk to him about this. You could suggest he say something similar to what I wrote above. Talking to HR could help, too, but I recommend addressing the issue with your boss first. Maybe he truly doesn’t realize how everyone feels about this, and would quickly change his inappropriate actions. If you talk to others before him, he might feel as if you are going behind his back, and become defensive. If he refuses and denies all you are requesting, it is time to go to HR or your manager’s boss again. I hope this unprofessional issue gets resolved.

The answer from 40-year-old Ask a Manager:

What?! Making out with someone at work in front of employees (let alone regularly – what the $%&?!) and having a girlfriend basically camp out in his office day after day are so far over the line of what’s acceptable that I have to wonder if he’s some hormone-ravaged teenager on some kind of work apprenticeship through his high school, since I’m having trouble imaging a post-pubescent adult thinking this is okay (and as you can see above, even non-adults don’t think it’s okay).

In any case, normally and ideally, the first step would be to talk to your manager, since he’s the person who’s making you uncomfortable. Ideally, you’d find a moment when his girlfriend isn’t there and talk to him privately and say something like, “Hey, it’s hard to talk with you about work-related matters when Jane is here – is there some system we can set up to ensure that we have time with you when we need it?” (And I love that M. and A.’s instincts were to just talk directly to the guy rather than instantly turning to some higher authority to step in.)

However, this guy sounds removed enough from reality that he might just tell you to come on in and talk with the girlfriend there and not worry about her. And of course, in an ideal world, you’d be able to respond, “I feel a little weird about that, and about someone who doesn’t work for the company being in the room for conversations that might be sensitive or confidential” … but the reality is that this is your boss and there’s a power dynamic in play, and he’s already shown that he’s not adhering to normal standards of professionalism, and so there’s no reason to be confident that having this perfectly reasonable conversation won’t come back to bite you if he’s resentful or annoyed by the request.

Because of that, your best bet might be to skip this step – as much as it pains me to say it – and instead go straight to HR. Which also pains me to say, because I don’t really like recommending going to HR about much. But since his boss doesn’t care (which is also absurd and calls into questions the boss’s judgment and ability to manage as well), someone with more sense than this duo should be aware of all of this and put a stop to it.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. Sarah G*

    Your nieces are impressive! And I love any 12-yr-old that knows how to use affect/effect properly, which is more than many adults can do.

    1. JM in England*

      Agreed Sarah, they both seem wise beyond their years or could it have something to do with having such an awesome aunt!

    2. KarenT*

      My favourite part of this is that Alison’s nieces are more mature than the manager in question!

      I don’t even have a comment about the question at hand, because seriously, this is beyond the pale.

  2. Joanna Reichert*

    Okay, this is really cute and I’d love to see more of your nieces! Maybe a bi-monthly feature of their answers would be appropriate?

    And yeah, this is gross and disturbing and how the heck is this guy a VP?? I would seriously consider going to HR (since his own boss is too much of a tool to do anything) and say this, “Oh, c’mon, are we on hidden camera show?” When they ask what you mean, you can explain the outrageous behavior and say, “There’s no way this is par for the course, right? This has to be a joke to gauge our reactions?”

    1. JM in England*

      Just goes to show the power dynamic that is in play here. If one of the rank-&-file did the same as this boss, they would be fired on the spot, no? At least they would in England……….

      Actually had a similar situation happen at a previous job. My then boss was caught canoodling with his partner in the janitor’s cupboard. However, because he was friends with the department manager, he was effectively let off!

      1. OneoftheMichelles*

        At least JM’s boss had the self-awareness and (attempted) tact to Hide in the janitor’s closet. OP’s boss is on a whole other level.

        Since they keep doing all this with the door open, why not knock on the door frame and say, “Sorry to bother you, but I need to talk privately with Jim for a few minutes.” You could either do this to have the *hey, you need to know, ‘cuz other people are so uncomfortable that they aren’t going to tell you this….* conversation OR just have everyone in your office really consistently approach him this way every. time. they. need. to. speak. to. him. (Yes, this is pushy, but makes the point without yelling or getting into a debate… I’d only try the 2nd thing if everyone was able to keep a friendly attitude.)

        If OP’s boss is VP, doesn’t that mean that his boss is President and outranks or matches rank with HR? Is it likely that the HR people in this “division” of a company will have the sway to put this situation to rest?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Is it likely that the HR people in this “division” of a company will have the sway to put this situation to rest?

          HR should never be able to unilaterally overrule a manager above a certain level, but their role is to point out things that could be problems for the company and escalate them to someone higher if needed. (In this case, they’d point out the confidentiality issues, the workplace environment being created, etc. Ultimately it’s up to someone above them to make the final call if HR reaches an impasse with the manager/his boss.)

          1. OK Then*

            Thank you for this. I am told frequently, “But you’re HR! You need to fix this!” My responses is usually, “No, you are the manager of this person. I am here to guide you if needed, and to advise you of the law where warranted, not take care of your problems FOR you.” I say it a little more professionally than that, but you get the idea. I feel like the dumping ground of employee problems sometimes.

  3. Karyn*

    OK, first off, your nieces are adorable. I love the spelling errors from the 9 year old. :) But it’s SO SAD that their reactions are mature and well-spoken, whereas the guy in question’s actions are completely unbelievable coming from what I assume to be a grown man.

    I agree with Alison’s advice. I also don’t recommend going to HR for much, but if they’re decent HR people, the first thought they’ll have is, “OH CRAP. Potential sexual harassment suit AHOY!” Even if you don’t bring that up (and I don’t recommend doing so), most HR people I know would jump straight to that point in their brains. And that will probably (hopefully) take care of it.

    1. A Bug!*

      I second that sentiment. It speaks so poorly of that manager’s professionalism that he’s blown out of the water by a pair of pre-teens, even if they are unusually insightful pre-teens.

      M. and A., your answers were both level-headed and very reasonable! Nicely done.

      I just can’t wrap my brain around this situation. One bonehead I can believe. But both him and his own boss? And the girlfriend who apparently doesn’t feel uncomfortable with it in the slightest, either? I’m not by most measures a prude, but when you’re at work, you need to be at work. Unless your job description includes smooching people, then save the smooching for downtime. Wowsers bowsers. How is that a tough concept?

      1. A Bug!*

        And by “downtime” I mean “off work time”, and not the sort of “sitting on hold” downtime in which a person might take a moment to read a blog or fill out a word puzzle.

        1. Rana*

          Okay, now I’m amused by the idea of some people keeping make-out buddies in their cubicles for those times when they’re on hold or otherwise killing time.

          (The actual practice, of course, would be awful.)

    2. Josh S*

      The sexual harassment angle is the one that jumped immediately to mind as well. Any decent HR person will put the kibosh on this ASAP, or at least make clear to the boss what the expectations for professionalism are.

      And if HR doesn’t immediately glom onto that, you can always couch it in a, “Hey, I just wanted to make you aware of a potential area of liability for the company. Boss is doing all this stuff with his GF, and it’s making a pretty sexualized and uncomfortable environment. Some of the people have complained, and I don’t want the company to get in trouble…”

      And how has it gone this long without anyone saying — How does this boss think it’s OK to get *PAID* to make out with his girlfriend all day!?! Unbelievable!

  4. bearing*

    “Being friendly with your manager should not make it harder, but easier to talk to him about this.”

    This is a brilliant insight from M. I would call it “common sense” except that, sadly, this kind of sense is not so common.

  5. Malissa*

    First….Ewww……ewwww ……ewwww

    Second….What smart niece’s you have. Great instincts on those two.

    Third… I’d address the boss directly. I’d ask the girlfriend to leave the room. If she must stay then she can hear about what a hindrance she’s become.

    Fourth…I’d be brushing up my resume and working my network.

    1. OneoftheMichelles*

      “I’d ask the girlfriend to leave the room. If she must stay then she can hear about what a hindrance she’s become.”

      Yeah, I totally second this. Although I’d stay away from characterizing anyone (calling the guy’s girlfriend a “hindrance” isn’t likely to win anyone over) and focus on the specific difficulties arising from their unfettered love…

  6. LSG*

    Way to go, nieces! I love how brave, straightforward, and compassionate you advised being, and how well you expressed yourselves.

  7. Carrie in Scotland*

    Love the answers by all! Brightened up a dull Monday. I have no advice to the OP, just sounds a horrible place to be in.

  8. Anon*

    Your nieces both did such a great job! Ms.12yearold in particular has a great writing style. Well done to both of them!

  9. Canuck*

    I also applaud the well thought out and mature responses from your nieces. It is all the more impressive since, I’m assuming, that neither of them has actually held a job yet! Well, I’m hoping that they haven’t had to work yet, anyways :)

  10. Chocolate Teapot*

    Very mature responses. Mine perhaps not so.

    Apart from my standard reaction of nuh-nuh-nuhring the fantasy theme from Romeo and Juliet by Tchaikovsky very loudly (or at least wanting to do so out loud), I think HR is the way to go, especially if it sounds like the girlfriend is on a par with the hole punch and novelty pen pot as a permanent fixture in the office.

    But what would happen if somehow she did get on the payroll?

  11. Elizabeth West*

    Nice job, nieces! I hope we get more great advice from you in the future! :)

    LOL Alison– “what the $%&?!” is exactly what I thought. Soooo gross and inappropriate at the office. If this were on a sitcom, it would even be unbelievable there. What is wrong with his boss, that he can’t put a stop to it? :\

  12. Anonymous*

    After HR doesn’t do anything about this, I think the next place I’d go would be the local press. Preferably with cell-phone video in hand. They’ll love it, and that might actually get your boss dealt with.

    Also, if OP is in a field like finance where there are conflict-of-interest or insider information regulations, I’d call the Feds to boot. Just the hint of an investigation would be enough to do the job. And since everyone at the office knows what’s going on, they can’t finger you as the one who blew the whistle.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If it’s a private business, it’s not likely to be a press story.

      If HR doesn’t do anything, and no one above the people involved will do anything, then that’s that — the business has said that they’re fine with this. And that’s their prerogative, as silly a call as it is.

      1. Anonymous*

        Depends on how high up in the chain he is and how small the town. Very small town it might be of gossip. If he is head of a large corp the board or shareholders might care (see Best Buy). But otherwise I’d agree that press won’t do much.

        Now if it is a gvt agency or nonprofit it could be a big thing.

        Strange how we pay less and expect more from people doing good things and pay more and expect less from people actively harming the world.

  13. AMG*

    Great job, A and M!

    I wonder if OP could simply print out this post with the comments and leave it anonymously for the boss (and a copy for the boss’ boss) so that they could see that they don’t even have the tact and sense of a 9-year old and a 12-year old (although, these are very smart, mature kids with uncommon good sense). Perhaps this will embarass the boss into some self control and self awareness. What a goofball. Even Michael Scott wouldn’t do this.

    1. Liz*

      And highlighting any comments which state that Alison’s nieces are more mature than he is.

  14. Anonymously Anonymous*

    “Ewww ….get a room! No one wants to see or hear you spit swapping..” –would be my first thoughts about what to say..

    Agreeing with the nieces. Well said!

  15. Sascha*

    Great job, Nieces!!! Your insight, thoughtfulness, and coherence makes me hope for our future. :) I work at a university and I wish I could receive emails as well-written as A and M…

  16. Anonymous*

    This situation is a catastrophe and is deplorable. Who knows what info the girlfriend will pass on after a breakup. I say send an anonymous letter not e mail to the HR director explaining everything. I say do it anonymously because you never know if you will be identified and retaliated against. Even HR has loose lips.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m really not a fan of anonymous notes in the workplace (or anywhere really). It’s unprofessional, and if you care enough about something to mention it, you should care enough to use your name.

      1. Anonymous*

        If you don’t see that a person would be afraid of retaliation and not trust the HR then you are a bad HR manager. If you choose to ignore an anonymous complaint and not investigate it you are a bad HR manager. If you do not see that there could be possible internal problems then you are a bad HR manager. I have seen over and over HR ignoring problems and I have seen retaliation.

          1. some1*

            +1. IME, when someone has already shown they are unreasonable (as the boss & the GF have here), they tend to focus on the unfairness of an anonymous note rather than changing behavior.

            Also, early in my career a co-worker complained about me. My supervisor kept the complaint anonymous, but it was more than obvious from the wording and turn-of-phrase used which one of my co-workers it was. If this is a small office the boss might very well be able to tell who authored a note.

  17. mooseknuckle*

    Awesome replies from the nieces :)

    and….forget the idiot bosses/managers, how can any woman (or man for that matter) just hang out at someone’s job ALL day long just to make out??? I get visiting once ina while, but seriously, just sitting and hanging out? how does a person NOT feel comfortable in that situation?

    This sounds like something that would happen on the office or 30 Rock.

  18. Elle-p*

    Your nieces are far, far more mature and thoughtful than I was at their ages. What great insights they have. They sound like they’ve got great future careers ahead of them, hopefully taking over from terrible managers like this one.

  19. FD*

    “I am disturbed by his boss’ reaction to your concerns, especially if it has been brought up with him more than once with various employees.”

    I love this. I’m imagining myself saying that at that age in the prissiest voice *ever* (I was a very prissy 12-year-old). Managers in training!

  20. Kyle Jones*

    First of all, KUDOS to both of your nieces. Excellent and insightful responses.

    As for the boss, unless he is an owner or part-owner, I cannot fathom why he has not already been reprimanded by his own superiors for having a visitor on site for such an extended period of time. I immediately think about the liability, etc.

  21. Jessa*

    I agree with everyone who says we should have a regular column with the nieces, they’re amazing, and oh, so smart. They’re going to go far in whatever careers they decide to have. They’ve learnt a lot from Aunt Alison.

    And another yes to telling HR, asap. This, even if other people in the office don’t care, is a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. Also depending on the industry confidential information being passed to the boss’s friend, can be a legal issue as well.

  22. MJ*

    First off — I’d like to vote for a regular AAMN (Ask a manager’s nieces) feature on this blog! Because seriously, these responses are awesome :o)

    Secondly — I work in the same office as my husband, we’re both 23, and we know better than to canoodle (or, indeed, be anything other than professional-friendly) in this office. How on earth does this guy think what he’s doing is normal or appropriate?!

    1. FD*

      I agree, we need a regular feature with the nieces. It could be “Niece Nineteenth” or something (to go with the rest of her alliteration features.

  23. Jamie*

    Just getting caught up, hate falling behind in AAM reading but this was awesome. I have to admit that 9 and 12 year old me would have championed the romance and wanted everyone to mind their own business. So clearly Alison’s nieces have a bright future.

    And of you had one more A niece you would have an AAM set. You should totally get your family working on that!

  24. Jessie*

    I hope both A & M keep writing – those were very articulate, thoughtful answers and it is clear that they are both very skilled writers! Thanks to both for their great insight!

    I agree with them, and Alison, 100%.

  25. Nikki J.*

    That is so impressive! You clearly have been a wonderful influence on those girls. They are better writers and have more structured thought than I’ve seen from some college kids.

  26. Angry Writer*

    OMG hilarity! What bright young things they are! If I only I had 1/10th as much of a clue about the working world as they already seem to (not sure I’d even heard of HR until my sr. year of college!) I love the quotes around “snuggling.”

  27. Grey*

    My first thought was, “Why didn’t Alison answer this too”?

    You look much younger than 40.

  28. Melissa*

    I’d love to hear from your nieces semi-regularly as well! It’s so funny, because this is such a tough situation to advise and they gave pretty mature and mostly correct answers.

    And this is totally ridiculous…even high schoolers in food service and retail know better than this.

  29. Editor*

    I am fantasizing about putting creepy Compulsive Meeting Photos Guy outside this manager’s office, where he could obsessively take cell phone photos of the couple making out on company time.

  30. uncomfortable*

    Thank you so much for the advice Allison, A & M and thank you everyone for all of the helpful comments. We were starting to think maybe we were all being too sensitive about this but it really helps to know we’re not crazy. I did bring the situation up to his boss (the GM) again so we will see what happens. HR is a bit of problem because although we are a small division, the company as a whole is very large and HR is outsourced to an HR company in another state. Thank you again for all the advice, hopefully this will resolve itself!

  31. Beth Anne*

    WOW…just WOW…what is with all these inappropriate significant others…didn’t we have a post a few weeks/months ago about someones girlfriend in their office? I’m glad to see your nieces give excellent advice!

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