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Take boss’ office romance concerns to management

QUESTION: Our new manager is having an affair with a young woman in our office. The two of them often disappear for hours at a time. Since this relationship began, our co-worker has become arrogant and rude. She used to be polite and helpful.

Everyone is upset about the change in our office atmosphere, but no one will speak up. I seem to be the only person willing to address the issue, but I don’t know how to do it diplomatically. Where do I go and what do I say?

ANSWER: Boss-employee romances always create problems. Talking directly with the participants is pointless, since people in the throes of lust are seldom rational. And when one of them is your boss, there’s a risk of retribution.

A better option is to find someone in upper management or human resources who can sit this new manager down for a frank talk about inappropriate workplace relationships. When you meet with that person, keep the tone calm and businesslike.

For example: “Our group used to be very effective, but lately things have changed. There’s a rumor that Bob and Mary are having a relationship outside of work. We don’t know if that’s true, but the two of them are often gone for hours, and Mary has become difficult to work with. We’re afraid to discuss this with Bob, so we hope that you can help.”

Although your cautious colleagues may try to make you the sole spokesperson, they should also attend this meeting. When several people deliver the same message, management is much more likely to pay attention.

QUESTION: In our department, the employees have to deal with some very difficult high-level managers. If we won’t let them do exactly what they want, they complain to our boss. She always gives in and never backs us up.

How can we tell her that she is wrong to change our decisions?

ANSWER: The underlying issue here is power.

You say you “won’t let them” have their way, but these executives obviously understand the limits of your authority.

Your manager may capitulate because she knows they can have her overruled as well.

If you can’t get your boss to support what you recommend, then you may need to recommend what she will support.

Continuing to give advice that is routinely overturned will only undermine your credibility, so everyone must agree on a clear set of standards.

Instead of criticizing your manager’s timidity, request some specific guidelines.

For example: “Whenever the executives disagree with us, they go to you for a different opinion. This makes us seem incompetent, so we need to understand which rules will be enforced.” Then review the most controversial issues.

If your manager lacks the authority to impose standards, then you will also need support from her boss. To counteract a power play, you must equalize the power.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com.

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