The situation in my office is most likely not a new one, but has served to create an unstable, and at times hostile working environment. We have a department equally divided male and female co-workers. Our boss is generous and likeable, however, he has created an atmosphere of pro men, and so dividing the office into an “if you are female, you are not welcome, unless you want to fool around a little”.
Along with this, he has a reputation of having numerous affairs with some of his secretaries (as well as female attorneys outside our office) with whom all have remained loyal to him for fear of losing their positions.
Although I have tried to remain neutral, I find myself caught in the middle. While I do not condone the actions of the “boys club”, I more emphatically do not condone the cattiness of the women. Because I am female, the rest of the women now do not trust me. I refuse to participate in catty gossip that is none of my business My boss has always been good to me, so I really do not feel the resentment the other women feel. Now there is a rumor circulating about my boss and another female. My boss is demanding that I tell him where it came from and I cannot tell him. Can you help?
Thanks and regards,
No Fooling Around
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
Dear No Fooling Around,
Recently, I wrote an article on my website about the differences between men and women in the workplace based on my observations and interactions over the past several years. In order to balance it out, I asked some of my most respected women colleagues to weigh in on the situation. The bottom line is that some women are not going to act professionally regardless of the situation. My guess is that the source of the cattiness is that you have a relatively solid professional relationship with the boss, while others felt compelled to take their relationship to a more (ahem) intimate level. Jealousy can be a powerful motivator.
In sexual harassment terms, a hostile work environment may be either overt or in some cases it may be implied. You might consider consulting with an attorney (or at a minimum, a trusted outside HR professional with experience in handling sexual harassment cases) and share with them some of the happenings within your department. If you are being treated the way you are because you are not engaging in the same behavior as others, you may have a case for going to your own HR department and documenting a claim. Regardless of what you do, begin documenting everything you observe and that you could prove in a court of law (even if it doesn’t ever go that far).
As far as your manager’s asking where the rumor originated, why don’t you try and tactfully turn the question around on him, asking him how he thinks the rumor may have started? If his Casanova reputation is so well known, you might gently remind him that his past actions may be catching up to him. While you neither condone nor condemn his behavior, in many people’s eyes, perception is reality. This could be your opportunity to coach him on his behavior and the environment he is creating.
You may also ask yourself if this is an environment in which you care to continue working, if it has become unstable and hostile. The culture of a department can become self-perpetuating if there is no leadership present to make the needed course corrections. Hence, if the boss is the source of the problems, you might not expect things to improve in the near future.
Thank you for writing to Office Politics.
Best of luck,
Timothy Johnson, Author
Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.