We all know that male bosses shouldn’t sexually harass their female subordinates, and that female employees should promptly rebuff and report any inappropriate comments by their male bosses to HR or management. But what if you’re a female professional and genuinely like your male boss, as a friend? Is it ever okay to be “just friends” with the boss? Some of my recent cases have brought home the message that when it comes to male supervisors and female subordinates, even being “just friends” with the boss is extremely risky.
The problem lies in perception. You may be completely well-intentioned. Your boss may be a family man, a genuinely nice guy. However, as soon as the friendship becomes known in the office, the time bomb starts ticking. Your coworkers may perceive the friendship as something more. An innocent lunch shared with your boss off-campus becomes fodder for speculation and gossip. Work-related telephone calls from your boss or one-on-ones with him only fuel the rumors more. Rumors in the workplace have a tendency to get out of hand quickly. If the rumors are made known to management, they may have send in HR to investigate whether the relationship is “consensual.” Your integrity, your judgment, and your credibility will be called into question. Even if the investigation reveals nothing more than the “just friends” relationship, the damage to your career is done.
My advice to any female professional who is considering a “just friends” relationship with their male boss give careful consideration to the way such relationship will be perceived by everyone else in the workplace. It takes just one disgruntled employee to start a vicious and hurtful rumor that can spread like wildfire, damaging your valuable, hard-earned career in the process.