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My boss is hitting on me

Lunch Date

Q: I work in a large corporation where my department is mostly males. I usually bring my lunch or have lunch with either women from other departments or men who are at the same corporate title level. Lately, my boss has been asking me to lunch whether for my birthday or for annual review. Each time, I decline for scheduling conflicts.

Since our company is going through budgeting, I feel rather uncomfortable having lunch on the company dime (in the past, he used the corporate charge card). Plus, I feel pressured to have lunch during a review of my performance which will be discussed. How do I handle this situation?

A: Um... am I missing something here? Isn't he hitting on you? Or not. I don't think there's anything wrong with having lunch with the boss, by the way. I have lunch with my boss all the time. He's a manly man, of course, so there's no question of propriety. But even when my boss was a woman I used to lunch with her as well. Lunch is a generally de-sexualized meal, unlike breakfast (you look so beautiful in the morning) and dinner (where should we go AFTER?).

That said, there are two issues. First, I'm sure it's fine for him to use his corporate plastic, but it's not fine for you, unless company rules permit it. Never bend the rules on expenses directly in front of your boss unless you have a direct order to do so. The other issue, of course, is that he's hitting on you.

Nobody takes a subordinate out to lunch for her birthday, one-on-one, without some kind of soppy agenda, I'm sorry. Call me a cynic, but it's hard to believe he's not interested in you. Does he take people out for lunch all the time? Is a birthday and a performance review the same thing in terms of lunchability? If you were three feet tall with a hairy nose and protruding eyeballs, do you think he would take you?

Stay friendly. Continue to have scheduling problems with anything that makes you uncomfortable. But it's probable, in my opinion, that you're drifting toward the day when you have to say, "Ned, I like you as a boss but let's keep it professional between us, okay?" Be ready for it, so when the time comes you'll be cool, nice and appropriate, and able to spare his pride as much as possible. You do want that performance review to go well.

Q: Get me out of this dilemma!! Through 17 years and four jobs I never realized that loony egoistic bosses do exist. I work in a senior position managing international business for a very large company. We recently hired a CEO who has brought in his cronies, and one out of them has become my boss. The guy is NOT from the industry -- has no experience in our line of business, but has a know-it-all attitude, bosses people around and expects butt-kissing, which I am not used to. Please suggest a way out.

A: You point out an interesting phenomenon -- in times of change, all kinds of buttheads come out of the woodwork. Acquisitions, the arrival of new senior management, hard economic times, the advent of a consultant in the mix, all of these things can destabilize the ant-hill and bring out the really vicious soldier ants to disturb the workers.

I'm sorry there's no easy answer for your deal here. I have two pieces of advice. The first is to either go to a store or go online and purchase my book, Crazy Bosses. It has a lot of stuff in it that addresses your question. That's why I wrote it. Hope you enjoy it.

The second piece of advice is to cool your jets and be patient. You know, the more I work for a living -- a development that shows no sign of abatement, sadly -- the more I realize that a lot of really serious problems just go away if you wait them out. This is NOT a strategy that works with specific assignments, by the way. Those you have to move fast on and do well. But life situations, particularly at work, have a way of moderating over time. The things that upset us in January often seem negligible in June.

Do your job well. Try to get along with people. Keep your thoughts to yourself. And wait for the Jell-O to set a bit. You could end up being a nice tasty nugget inside it once it does.

Q: Stanley, I've been reading your blog for weeks now, and I'm loving it. I have a question that I haven't seen discussed here yet. I work for a company that has a lot a female employees. This isn't a bad thing at all. It just that all my bosses are female; in fact it seems that everyone in a position of power are female. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. I don't have a problem with anyone here, but I've been noticing things, strange things.

Any time a position opens up, a woman always gets the job. I've been with the company two years, and in those two years women have been the only people promoted (and yes, men are applying for these jobs too). It also seems to me that only the women are given the chance to take on new tasks and learn new skills.

My dilemma is this: I think the company is great (its a large pharmaceutical company) they have great benefits and vacation time, but it's getting to the point where I don't think I'm going to be able to advance there. It seems to me that there is almost a sexist vibe to the place. Does it sound like I'm being paranoid? Have you ever ran across a situation like this? What are your thoughts?

A: My thought is that you are the subject of a culture that favors one sex over another. This is a situation that women have been forced to deal with for years, as have African-American people, gay people, Jewish people, Hispanic people, and many other people who I'm not going to be able to mention in this list but should be included. It's possible that your senior management feels that men have a leg up everywhere else in the world and they are providing one haven for ambitious, able women to break through the glass ceiling. I'm just guessing. Whatever you call it, it's discrimination.

There are a couple of ways people deal with it. 1) They litigate. This usually involves a long and aggravating process that costs people money, destroys careers and sometimes ends up with the plaintiff receiving some money. I have never seen it help a career, but sometimes it's the right thing to do and should be done. It doesn't sound like you are there, though, and that's probably a good thing for your overall mental health. Those kinds of lawsuits are really grim.

Or 2) They wheedle and cajole. Even monolithic, discriminatory organizations sometimes yield to fairness and efficiency. One day, if you make friends and influence people, somebody at a meeting may say, "Hey, we don't have ANY males in senior management at all. Shouldn't we promote Bob?"

And finally, 3) They threaten to move. The only problem with this is that if you threaten, you have to be willing to act on that threat. NEVER threaten to leave unless you have another gig lined up and in the bag. And at that point? Why not really leave altogether? 4) Any ideas, you guys?

I guess in the end I go with #2. You like your place. You realize the barriers that are up against you. You sense there may be a way in. I'm always more comfortable sticking with the evil I know rather than flying into those I know not of.

Q: I have a boss who shows lack of self control. You could do 10 things right, but he will blame you on the one thing you did wrong. He is very selfish and self centered. When you jump 10 feet high one day he expects you to jump 20 feet the next day.

He will never admit he is wrong, or if he makes a mistake, he will take advantage of you, having you do more then what is required of you. You can try to mention and discuss matters with him, but he will either ignore you, or say he is listening, and turn around and do it again. I am going to look for another waitress job, but how do I explain my problem in the interview without making my boss look like a jerk, even though he is?

A: If they don't bring up your boss in the interview -- and they very well might not -- then don't bring him up. Say that you are looking for new opportunities and that you like your prospective hours better, like that. They don't need to know about any unpleasantness if it doesn't come up. Prospective employers don't really care if your prior boss was a butthead, because they fear that you might find them to be buttheads too. They're not looking for people with good butthead-o-meters. Just good workers.

If the guy won't give you a good recommendation, however, that could be a problem. Get good write ups from prior bosses if you can, and if you can't, you may have to level with your new potential bosses about the fact that you and Mr. Nerdlinger didn't get along.

When you do this, be careful. Don't say, "He was a jerk and a wiener." Bosses don't like it when employees squeal on abusive creeps. They may see themselves in that other guy. Instead, just say, "My previous boss and I had some issues. He had some anger management issues, which I understand given the stress he was under, and while I'm pretty thick skinned I decided I'd rather work in a place where people are shown appropriate respect." Who could argue with that?

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