Office coach: Risky to confront sexist boss

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. The owner of our small business appears to be having an affair. “Barry’s” office is about 10 feet from my desk, and the door is always open, so I hear everything he says. For the past month, Barry has been having highly suggestive phone conversations with a woman whom he apparently sees in the evenings or on weekends.

To make matters worse, Barry’s wife works here, although she’s located on the other side of the building. If she happens to walk by during one of these calls, he immediately hangs up. Barry knows I can hear him, so he obviously expects me to keep this information secret. This seems very unfair because I regularly work with his wife.

I should also mention that Barry is extremely condescending and often makes sexist remarks, even though all 10 of our employees are female. Although I’m sick of Barry’s behavior, I don’t want to quit because I love my job and my co-workers. I’m feeling very powerless and unsure about what to do.

A. Anyone who broadcasts an adulterous relationship with his wife nearby is either a complete idiot or hoping to get caught. But regardless of Barry’s motivations, becoming involved in his marital issues would be a recipe for disaster, so your best bet is to continue ignoring these indiscretions.

As for Barry’s other offenses, you could attempt to have a calm, professional talk about how his condescending and demeaning language is affecting the staff. However, given that he seems neither mature nor reasonable, that would probably be a fruitless effort that could put your own job at risk.

Your sense of powerlessness is shared by many employees of small, privately owned companies, because under those circumstances, the owner has almost complete control. Realistically, therefore, you will ultimately have to decide whether the benefits of this job outweigh the fact that your boss is an insensitive jerk.

Q. As the manager of a newly formed team, I am concerned about my most senior team member. “Stephanie” also applied for the manager position, but I was chosen instead. I have avoided meeting with her one-on-one because I don’t believe I owe her an explanation for my promotion. Now I’m afraid Stephanie may be trying to undermine my authority and turn the team against me. How should I handle this?

A. Avoiding Stephanie because you “don’t owe her an explanation” was an error in judgment. While you shouldn’t be expected to justify your promotion, an initial conversation to learn about her background and her interests might have gotten the relationship off to a better start and prevented a power struggle.

However, there may still be time to turn things around. Instead of treating Stephanie like a problem, engage her in a collaborative discussion about how the two of you can work together to make this new team a success. Once you stop viewing this as an adversarial relationship, you might find that Stephanie can be a valuable ally.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

Twitter: @officecoach