Why a boss's extra-marital affair can create a toxic work culture

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Why a boss's extra-marital affair can create a toxic work culture
Bill Gates attends Global Champions Tour of Monaco at Port de Hercule on June 30, 2018 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.fotopress/Getty Images
  • The New York Times and Wall Street Journal report Bill Gates tried to approach employees for dates.
  • When your boss has an affair, it can trickle down into workplace culture and create toxicity.
  • Affairs can also be coercive if they are between a boss and an employee.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates used his workplace to ask women out on dates in the past, according to reports in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Six Microsoft employees told the Times Gates' advancements made them uncomfortable, though they tried to ignore it.

It isn't uncommon for workplace romances to pop up, but when a boss engages in a relationship with someone they manage, it can lead to serious problems.

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According to Christina Jeffrey, assistant director at Humantold and mental health counselor, if a boss is having an affair, it can impact the entire office and even make it an unsafe environment, depending on the circumstances.

If your boss is unhappy in their personal life, it can disrupt workplace dynamics

If your boss is having trouble in their marriage and is juggling an affair on top of it, it's likely that toxicity will trickle-down into the workplace, Jeffrey told Insider.

"We are human and prone to messiness, after all. We all have heard stories of horrible bosses," Jeffrey said. "I would argue that a lot of this behavior goes back to feeling unheard and having needs unmet, resulting in poor communication skills and boundaries."

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An affair might put additional stress on your boss, which could impact their leadership, make them snappier, and overall cause them to be less attentive at work, she said.

A boss's affair could break down the trust and professionalism required in an office

If your boss is having an affair, it could change the energy of the office. Since affairs are inherently secretive, having one could cause a manager to come off like they're hiding something from their employees, Jeffrey said.

"All of this can affect the tone of an office by denigrating the trust within the culture, not even perhaps at a conscious level of awareness, more as a sense of unease or a feeling of walking on eggshells," Jeffrey told Insider.

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This air of secrecy may make employees less trusting and forthcoming towards their boss, creating communication problems.

If an affair is uncovered, it could also lead to a breakdown of the professional atmosphere of the office and cause employees to lose respect for their manager.

A manager having an affair with an employee can be coercive and create an unsafe environment

While a boss having an affair outside of the office can impact the workplace culture, a manager having an affair with an employee can make the office unsafe.

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Because there is an inherent power difference between a boss and an employee, Jeffrey said this dynamic can make an employee feel like they have to say yes to the relationship even if they don't want to.

"Romance is about attraction, chemistry, mutual engagement, and consent," Jeffrey previously told Insider. "Coercion is about power, dominance, and control."

Affairs, by nature, are secret so this can make them even more dangerous for the employee involved. According to Jeffrey, the best thing to do if you and your boss are having an affair is to go to HR or identify a safe person to tell.

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