Some of the hottest potatoes in business involve workplace relationships or crushes. If you have a crush on your boss, things can be even trickier to manage. Being attracted to your boss can have many implications for your work, your relationships, and even your career. Knowing how to manage your feelings is therefore essential for you to make the right decisions and handle the situation tactfully, respectfully, and considering the interests of all parties: your work, your boss, and of course, yourself.
This article covers the consequences of having a crush on your boss, what policies govern workplace romances, the implications of workplace relationships, and how to manage and overcome your attraction.
Why it’s inappropriate to have a crush on your boss
While it’s not complete career suicide, being attracted to your boss is inadvisable and can result in several consequences. There are situations where the crush is reciprocated or becomes a relationship. Organisations have policies which might forbid this, meaning either your boss or you will need to resign or transfer, which can lead to well-performing teams being broken up, loss of morale, and disruption to the career of one of you (or both of you).
A crush might inhibit work getting done or affect the quality of work. If your crush on your boss becomes a distraction or impacts the way you interact with them, this will create challenges with work execution, as well as communication, and teamwork. You might also find it increasingly challenging to be given feedback from your boss, for example, in performance reviews.
If your attraction becomes public, your reputation as a serious, professional employee might be tarnished. This may also be the case for your boss too, even if they haven’t done anything and are completely unaware of your feelings. If your workplace reputation is impacted, your credibility suffers. This will make it difficult to influence others, work in certain teams, or perform your role to the best of your ability.
Most companies have guidelines covering the situations related to having a relationship with your boss. These are often outlined in employee handbooks, employment contracts, policies, or wider regulatory compliance. Policies are your best reference if you want to learn more, and the relevant standards are either focused on ‘workplace relationships’ or ‘conflicts of interest’.
Workplace relationship policies often prohibit relationships between employees who fall into the following categories:
- A manager and his/her subordinate.
- A senior manager/director/executive and any other employee in the organisation.
- An employee and an employee working in a ‘high risk’ division, such as human resources (HR), payroll, finance, or security.
- Employees and suppliers or vendors.
- Sometimes, relationships between two equal-level employees in the same team.
Such policies will mandate that the above relationships are declared before someone is hired into the organisation, or as soon as a relationship begins. If this doesn’t happen, then one or both parties might be subject to disciplinary action.
Even if they are declared, the result might be that the workplace connection between the people in a relationship is broken, either by one person resigning or being moved to a different department or position which permits the relationship. Even if your workplace allows relationships, it’s often frowned upon.
Conflict of interest policies do not directly cover relationships, but cover situations which might arise because of a workplace crush or relationship. Conflicts of interest are when circumstances or relationships create a challenge with the fair or ethical execution of work. For example, you might work in procurement, and your job is to buy printers for your office. Your husband/wife/partner works in sales for a printer manufacturer, and you decide to offer a new printer contact to their company. That would be a conflict of interest.
Again, conflict of interest policies ask that high-risk workplace relationships are declared, otherwise disciplinary action might follow.
Your work relationship
Having a crush on your boss can damage many workplace relationships. A crush might be viewed by colleagues as inappropriate, immature, and a distraction to the goals of the team. Therefore, and as discussed previously, it might impact your ability to get work done.
Workplace crushes can create rumours which might not be true, or significantly exaggerate the facts. Even if your boss is unaware of your crush on them, they might also be perceived as having a part to play, and therefore can also be subject to office gossip.
Rumours and gossip are hugely damaging and inappropriate. They spread like wildfire and there is very little you can do to quell them. Rumours and gossip can add further damage to your credibility, harm your career prospects and sadly, in many cases, cause a detrimental impact on mental health.
Some people who have a crush on their boss might feel that the only way out, or to find closure, is to make their feelings known. This is very risky and while we can’t possibly say if this is a good idea or not — every situation is different — it is important to understand the risk of rejection if you tell your boss how you feel.
If your boss rejects your advances, the most serious outcome is that he/she might file a sexual harassment complaint. Even if harassment was the furthest thing from your mind when you developed a crush on your boss, harassment complaints are all about how the other person perceives your actions. Be very mindful of this as such complaints, if found to be true, can cost you your job and possibly destroy your career.
Rejection can also lead to your boss reporting the situation to HR, purely for their information. This might result in you being moved to a different division or even just an awkward conversation with an HR representative asking what is going on. Even if your boss doesn’t take the matter further, the atmosphere or rapport between the two of you might become awkward and resentful, creating barriers to getting work done.
Of course, the other outcome is that your boss laughs it off, and you both carry on as normal. That’s the best-case scenario, and a reasonably common one.
Leaving your job
As mentioned, a common outcome of a crush on your boss is for one of you having to leave your role. This will be the case if your working relationship becomes untenable, the working environment and gossip between colleagues become too much of a distraction, or that your crush becomes reality, and the two of you start a relationship.
The first thing all parties (you, your boss, and HR) would need to focus on is redeployment. Maybe no one needs to leave the organisation. Redeployment can simply mean a lateral transfer of someone to a different department to break the working relationship or create distance. In some cases, this might even lead to one of you getting promoted.
If redeployment isn’t an option, then the only remaining action is resignation. This will be handled sensitively and carefully. Providing you didn’t try to hide the relationship or go against company policy, and therefore no misconduct occurred, it is likely the person resigning will be allowed to work their notice, or have paid it in lieu of working, and an amicable separation will follow. In most businesses, the separation will be legal, but could cause lasting consequences, too.
Be very careful of situations where you might consider proactively choosing between your job or your boss. It’s risky to quit your job and then ask the boss if they are interested in a relationship, as you could then be without a relationship and a job. Try to clear the air with your boss before you turn in your notice.
How to overcome crushes
Can crushes really be overcome? Absolutely! With some discipline and conscious actions, crushes can be minimised and mitigated. Here are ten tips to do just that.
1. Find ways to keep yourself busy and engaged at work
One of the best ways to overcome a workplace crush is just to keep your head down and get some serious work done. Do all you can to keep busy and productive at work, such as taking on extra projects, visiting people in their offices rather than remaining at your desk near your boss, or even accepting secondments or volunteering opportunities. The busier you are, the less your mind will be on your crush.
2. Find new opportunities to socialise
Seek socialisation opportunities both inside and outside of the workplace. This simply might include getting out and meeting new people, for example, through activity clubs or craft groups. Inside work, focus on improving your social skills by getting to know others in the office. This should help you take your mind off your boss.
3. Focus on your boss’ work traits
Do all you can to view your boss as a boss, not a crush. Remind yourself of all the good they might be doing, such as how they are professionally supporting you, how you can learn from them, and that you are there to take instructions from them and to help them with their work. If you focus on this (admittedly challenging) mindset, overcoming your crush might be a little easier.
4. Be aware of your behaviour
Crushes can manifest themselves through unwanted verbal or visual cues, especially through body language. Be acutely aware of how you are looking and acting when you are with your boss, especially when other people are around. Don’t pull too far the other way by avoiding them, though. Striking the balance of what normal interactions might look like is difficult, but less likely to stoke the rumour mill.
5. Reflect on reality
Rein in your expectations. Reflect on the reality, which is that your boss is your boss, and nothing more. Do all you can to not read into things or overthink how your boss is acting towards you. Take time at the end of each working day to reflect on how things stand and how things need to remain.
6. Be aware of the consequences
If you feel the crush on your boss is not going away, or it is getting worse, then read up on the ‘what ifs’. Go through all relevant workplace policies, standards, and guidelines to ensure you completely understand the consequence of your crush becoming public or a relationship developing. If a relationship is starting to develop, then proactively consider alternative jobs or work, as the unfortunate likelihood is that you will be the one asked to resign, not your boss.
7. Talk it over with a confidante
If your crush is becoming a problem, find someone to talk it over with. This person can give you sound advice on what to do, as well as just be there as someone to vent to, which might make you feel better. A confidante might be anyone you are close to, such as a friend or family member, but they can also be a colleague. If they are the latter, ensure that you trust them implicitly, in case they can’t resist sharing your woes with other people in the office.
8. Don’t do anything rash
Whatever signals you are getting from your boss, don’t do anything rash. Certainly don’t resign in the hope of a relationship developing. If your crush on your boss isn’t going away, be patient, because maybe your feelings will be short-lived, or the boss might leave of their own accord. A million things might happen, so don’t put your job on the line unnecessarily.
9. Take a holiday
Sometimes, it might be best to take a holiday to get away from all the drama. If there is gossip or rumour-spreading, then getting away for a bit might be the best thing to quell such talk. Alternatively, a holiday might be just the ticket for you to get over your crush. Your feelings might be different when you return, although do be mindful of the famous saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
10. Confront the issue or move on
Finally, a little word on what to do if the situation becomes critical and your crush seriously distracts you from functioning effectively at work, or gossip and rumours are starting to become a serious issue. It might be time to discuss things with your boss or consider moving on, either by resigning or asking for a transfer. This is very much a last resort. A crush on your boss should never automatically lead you to resign. But ultimately, your happiness and mental health will always take precedence over everything else.
A crush on your boss can rouse many emotions: guilt, fear, excitement, stress, and so on. Anything at work relating to matters of the heart is almost always at odds with an effective professional life, and so it’s vitally important to rationalise a crush on your boss by considering the consequences of what might happen if it goes too far.
Take steps to address your crush on your boss, knowing that this takes effort and discipline. And finally, understand what to do if it all becomes a bit too much, or rumours about your crush get out, or your dreams become reality and two of you become an item.
Join the discussion! Have you ever felt attracted to a boss? How did it turn out for you? What did you do to overcome the inappropriate attraction? We’d love to know what happened in the comments below!
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 29 August 2015.