Flirting at work: Can it go too far?
When an employee seems more interested in playing the field at work than closing deals, co-workers may feel ill-at-ease. How can managers tell the office flirt to tone it down?
Helena Katz, Jobboom.com
When dealing with the office flirt, managers need to be both direct and discreet. But when is an appropriate time to intervene? As soon as colleagues are uncomfortable with the flirt’s behaviour or the way they dress, experts say.
How far is too far?
Julie Bulmash, professor and co-ordinator of the human resources program at George Brown College in Toronto, says an employee is deemed too flirtatious when their actions affect a team’s productivity and morale. Working with a flirt can make others feel uncomfortable because the behaviour is perceived as unprofessional and can cross their personal boundaries.
As Bill Johnston, adviser with the Canadian Management Centre says, if it is disruptive, “you could see it as a type of sexual harassment and it has crossed a line.” That’s when managers need to step in.
There’s no need to embarrass the office flirt about his or her behaviour. “All this stuff is confidential and needs to be done behind closed doors,” Bulmash says. She recommends that managers focus the discussion on the employee’s behaviour and how it affects others.
Organizational development consultant Caroline Samné agrees, adding that it’s important to provide real examples. “You have to concretely tell them what it is you want them to do or not do. For example, ‘Joe doesn’t like it when you sit so close and put your arm around him. He feels like his space is being infringed upon.’ Otherwise, you are leaving it open to interpretation.”
If the employee’s choice of clothing is the issue, haul out the company’s dress policy. If the flirt only partially conforms to the dress code, Bullmarsh suggests meeting face-to-face. “The manager needs to schedule a meeting with the employee to discuss the company policy, expectations, etc. ”
And if the company doesn’t have a dress code? “Develop a policy and make staff aware of it immediately,” Bulmash says. “Then everyone is treated equally and the guidelines are consistent, clear and everyone is treated equitably.”