Career Advice: My Divorced Boss is on the Make

She is looking but I need to focus on my job. How do I say no and still stay on her good side?

Q: My boss recently finalized her divorce and she’s now back looking for love. I wish her luck, but I also wish I didn’t have to hear about who she’s dating, who she’s attracted to and whether it would be inappropriate to mix work with pleasure. Plus, it makes me a little uncomfortable when she wants to grab lunch and talk about a project, something we’ve done from time to time in the past. I’m a single guy, and while I don’t mind mixing lunch and project management, I sure don’t want anyone thinking I’m the next guy on her list. How do I avoid her swiping right and still keep my job and reputation intact?

A: Whoa, Cowboy. Hold your horses. Just because she’s newly single doesn’t mean she’s looking to you to fill the void. Nevertheless, I hear you: While gin and tonic mix just fine, love and work, not always so much.

These days are also particularly charged, with the ongoing #MeToo reckoning putting workplace behavior and harassment in an overdue spotlight. CareerBuilder’s 2018 annual survey on office romance offers a glimmer of promise, reporting a 10-year low in relationship dalliances in the office. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed report engaging in office shenanigans, versus 41 percent in the previous year and 40 percent in 2008. Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s chief human resources officer, makes it clear, however, that these results don’t exactly put out that fire. “The fact remains that office romance has been around forever and will continue to be,” she says. She advises setting ground rules, staying professional and keeping your personal lives private as the antidote to backlash and gossip.

You indicate you and your boss have enjoyed a good working relationship, grabbing lunch together to talk about projects and the like. If you can, maybe you could take it to her straight: Tell her you applaud her for getting back out there, but that it’s uncomfortable when “out there” becomes “in here” too. You’re a single guy, so maybe you can offer her some ideas on where to meet people these days. It’s a cold, hard world out there and she’s probably out of practice when it comes to the dating scene.

As for the day-to-day work dynamic, remember to follow Haefner’s suggestion and keep it

professional. Keep the door open when you meet and consider inviting a colleague to join you if she invites you to problem-solve over lunch. When discussions venture toward her love interests, deftly but quickly change the subject or excuse yourself for an important call. Chances are she’ll get the hint.

Hawaii’s a small place and the pickings for single adults are sometimes slim. The odds are good that she’ll eventually date someone whose path she also crosses in the office, whether it’s an employee, vendor, client or good-looking guy down the hall who rides his bike to work. CareerBuilder’s survey helps explain the attraction: Over 30 percent of people who find love at work end up marrying each other. That doesn’t hold a matrimonial candle to eharmony, where 71 percent of women and 69 percent of men find their spouses within a year of joining the site, but the office romance doesn’t require an endless questionnaire. Effectively resolving the paper jam in the copy room may be a fruitless endeavor, but it seems love can blossom most anywhere, even amid the boxes of paper and toner.

Q: I’m a contract employee in a small personal services business. I’m passionate about the services we provide our clients, and I took the job because I believed the owners of the company shared my visions about building a business centered on quality and service. After months of collaborating with the owners on new ideas, new services, a new business model and a new compensation structure, the owners have told me that they’re reducing my pay and will not be moving forward on any of our discussions. I was flabbergasted, things got heated, and they accused me of taking advantage of them over recent months. My ideas were really good, I thought we had something amazing in the works and I believed we were friends. Now I’m barely scraping by and scratching my head. What do I do now? 

A: Yikes! Looks like there was some epic confusion in the ti leaves you were reading. I hate to be the one to tell you this (and I’m guessing I’m not the first): Your best bet is to probably keep a low profile at work and start planning your exit and graceful landing someplace else.

Here’s the thing: Your collaboration and ideas probably were amazing, and maybe there was endless potential. But for reasons you may never know, your employer has slammed on the brakes.

Business owners are human beings too, and running a successful small business is no easy feat. As the wildly popular book, “E-Myth Revisited,” makes clear, most small businesses ultimately fail because they’re run by technicians, not entrepreneurs. A talented baker can turn out mouth-watering cakes over and over again and still not know how to read a balance sheet. Maybe your bosses are gifted technicians, but the reality of growing the business is overwhelming for them. Maybe your ideas intimidate them. Maybe they think you’re staging a hostile takeover.

Whatever the reason, it sounds like you probably don’t belong there anymore. I recently gave my daughter a shirt that read, “You may be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people.” Go get yourself one of those shirts and a copy of “E-Myth Revisited” and start looking for greener pastures. They’re your ideas. Run with them and pretty soon you may be the guy in the corner office. And when you plop down at that big desk, remember to treat your employees better than these guys treated you.


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