Ask a Boss: What Should I Do About My Employee’s Affair?

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Dear Boss,

I am having trouble deciding where to draw the line between personal business and professional business here, and I’m hoping you can weigh in with some advice on how much responsibility I have to get involved in this situation.

I am a director at midsize company where I manage ten mangers, each of whom manages between 10 and 20 employees. One of the managers (I’ll call her Anna) is single and attractive, and frequently catches the eye of our male clients and even some colleagues. She has always brushed off the attention quickly and it has never been an issue. Anna is very personable and her management style is unique in that her employees feel very comfortable sharing details of their lives they don’t always share with the rest of the team, but she is always very professional and they still respect her as their manager. I’ve always admired this about her. I know firsthand that it can be difficult to strike the right balance, and she always has until now.

About a year ago, another manager hired an employee (I’ll call him Alex) who seems to have hit it off with Anna. Their jobs are such that the two departments don’t need to interact much (if ever) professionally, and our company has no policy against office relationships as long as a manager is not involved with someone they supervise. This isn’t the case with Alex and Anna, and so they aren’t in violation of any policy. Furthermore, they continue to behave professionally around each other at work. Though it’s obvious they’ve hit it off (they go off-site together for lunch often, are constantly in each other’s offices during downtime, etc.), they’ve never done anything that in itself would concern me as her supervisor.

Though I already suspected they were more than friends, this was recently confirmed when I was with Anna in a meeting. She left the table, leaving her phone in plain sight, and I saw a message from Alex that began with, “Hey babe, I’m so glad I got to spend the night with my lips against yours … ” I noticed that she has since changed the privacy settings so that her texts don’t display on her phone, so maybe she realized that I’d seen it, and at the very least, I know it won’t happen again.

Anyway, Alex and Anna’s private relationship isn’t the issue. The issue here is that I happen to know Alex is married because he and his wife live down the street from me. He never wears his wedding ring at work or speaks of his wife and children that I know he has, and I have a strong feeling that Anna doesn’t know. She and I are not close enough that I’d feel comfortable approaching her to tip her off as “just a friend,” nor do I think it would be appropriate as her boss. After all, she very well may know this is an affair and be okay with it, but I really, really do not believe that’s the case because he’s been unusually mum about them at work. (There’s also not really any situation in which I could “casually” ask Alex about his wife in front of Anna either.)

As her supervisor, do you have any advice? I worry that it could tarnish her reputation at work if people learn she is engaged in an affair with a married man at her office, but is that really my place to say something? Or should I just assume that Anna will deduce this on her own? Surely there will be red flags. What would you do?

For what it’s worth, Alex seems to be an exceptional employee and a likeable guy. That doesn’t mean I support what he’s doing in his personal life, but I know people do things for all sorts of reasons we can’t possibly know from the outside, and I don’t hold this against him professionally at all.

Well, it’s certainly possible that Alex has been honest with everyone involved here — he could have an open marriage with his wife, and he could have been honest with Anna about that.

And it would be a extraordinarily ballsy move to not only be cheating on his spouse and lying to his affair partner about his marital status, but to attempt to deceive his entire office about his marital status as well. Surely some of Alex’s co-workers must know he’s married, and could end up inadvertently mentioning that in front of Anna at any time. (Or maybe not. Maybe he’s kept the existence of his wife hidden all this time, in order to keep his options open at work? Who knows.) So Alex is either being honest with Anna or he’s shockingly reckless.

But people have been known to be shockingly reckless, so that’s not really conclusive.

Anyway, this is all just speculation, which is hard to avoid because the situation is so intriguing. But the question before you is still: Should you say something to Anna?

I think you have three options here: say something directly, say something less direct that allows her to save face, or decide that it’s none of your business and say nothing.

If you decide to talk to Anna directly, you could frame it this way: “Hey, if I’ve misinterpreted, please ignore me entirely. But in case I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing between you and Alex, I want to make sure you know that he’s married. He and his wife live down the street from me. I really don’t want to overstep here and so I’m going to drop this now and butt out, but I started to worry that he may not have told you that.”

This approach has some risks to it. If it turns out that she already knew he was married and is seeing him anyway, it’s going to be awkward and she’s probably going to wonder how you’ll handle it if you continue to see her with Alex in the future. (You might think, “Well, that’s the consequence of having an affair with a married co-worker.” But if Alex’s marriage is an open one and he’s not betraying anyone, now you have someone working for you who’s worried about you judging her personal life.)

On the other hand, if it turns out that Anna didn’t know Alex was married, you’ll presumably have done her a favor — but it still may feel like an overstep, particularly since you’re her manager. Even if she’s grateful that you told her, it still might make things really weird between the two of you.

Saying something less direct might allow you to sidestep those issues. For example, could you just mention casually that you live down the street from Alex and his wife? That’s a notable enough thing that you could conceivably mention it simply because you know she’s friends with him, even if you had no suspicions of an affair. Sample language: “It’s great that you and Alex seem to have such rapport. He’s a nice guy, isn’t he? He and his wife actually live right down the street from me.” (I know, that’s still a little awkward. But it’s less awkward than a big “your boyfriend is married” sit-down.)

I’m not normally a fan of indirect hints and generally think you should be straightforward with people when there’s something you want to say. But this situation is delicate enough that the second approach here might check the box for “delivered information” without injecting awkwardness between the two of you.

Then there’s the third option, which is to decide that all of this is none of your business. There’s a strong argument for taking this approach. Anna is an adult who presumably can manage her own relationships, including romantic disappointments, and her own reputation around the office. And there are a lot of possible configurations of what’s really going on between her and Alex where intervention from her boss might play really oddly. I don’t think you’re being in any way negligent if you choose to file this in the “not my business” category and move on.

But I also don’t think you’d be outrageously out of line to raise it either! So I just wrote a bunch of words without giving you a concrete answer. (Sorry.) Ultimately, this one comes down to what your relationship with Anna is like and how comfortable you think each of you would be with each of the options here. I’d make the call based on those two factors.

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Ask a Boss: What Should I Do About My Employee’s Affair?