The workplace can be the birthplace of some of our best friendships, and for others, even romance. This comes as no surprise, seeing as we spend one-third of our lives at work. Between afternoon coffees and after-work drinks, friendships, and even more, can blossom.
We often have unique bonds with the people we work with, as they understand the intricacies of our jobs and careers in a way that our family and friends can’t. So, it’s only natural that there is some crossover between our professional and personal lives in our social circles.
But whilst positive relationships can come from the workplace, there is equal opportunity for conflict and unwanted attention to arising too. When things go too far, your own safety is the most important thing, and your company should do everything they can to safeguard members of staff.
Whilst encouraging a relaxed, friendly atmosphere is a key part of promoting employee social health, there must also be clear rules on what kinds of behavior will and will not be tolerated in the workplace between employees and managers alike.
Identifying the Flirty Behavior
When it comes to dealing with romantic advances or overly flirty behavior, it can be a pretty awkward situation. As with all interactions with the people around us, there is a possibility that miscommunications can take place. Before making any decisions or taking action, it’s important to first step back and identify what the problem is.
1. Is It Innocent?
There’s a chance that your overly flirtatious colleague is simply a little over-friendly, and doesn’t even realize that they’re crossing a line. Maybe they ask what you perceive as flirty questions in an effort to genuinely get to know you as a person, rather than in a romantic way.
The reality is that some people are not so good at reading social cues, and if they have a playful nature anyway, it can lead to them being flirtatious when really they’re aiming for friendly. If this is the case, then all it takes is a simple conversation or some hint-dropping to steer them in the right direction.
2. Is It Inappropriate?
Overly flirtatious or suggestive behavior that makes you feel unsafe is a form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Pay attention to how it makes you feel when you are around the individual in question, and what they say or do to you.
Inappropriate behavior can come in many different forms, from lewd comments and telling inappropriate jokes, to offering promotions in exchange for sexual favors. These are just a few, but there are many other types of sexual harassment to look out for in the workplace too.
Whether it’s harmless or posing a danger to you or your job, any inappropriate behavior should be dealt with as soon as possible.
What Counts as Inappropriate Behavior?
Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, commonplace in the professional environment, with around one-fifth of Americans having experienced it in the workplace.
Whereas in the past, sexual harassment at work was largely ignored, and considered a part of the male-dominated workplace culture, nowadays with the rise of the #MeToo movement in recent years, things are much different.
Women and men alike who experience sexual harassment now have much more support and are encouraged to come forward and get the support they need.
Sexual harassment can occur in a wide variety of forms and situations, a few of which we’ve listed below:
- Inappropriate comments.
- Making jokes of a sexual nature.
- Touching without consent.
- Offering pay rises or promotions in exchange for sexual favors.
- Romantically pursuing you after you say no.
- Sending indecent emails.
- Stalking social media profiles.
- Sexual assault.
- Sending unsolicited images or photos.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways that sexual harassment can manifest itself in the workplace, and there are many other forms of it.
One of the best ways that you can decipher what is inappropriate behavior and what isn’t is by paying attention to how you feel when you are around the person, as well as the type of things your colleague says or does to you.
If you feel comfortable with their flirting, and possibly even reciprocate it, then you know there isn’t a problem. However, if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe around this person, then that is the biggest indicator that they are behaving inappropriately with you.
How to Take Action Against an Overly Flirtatious Colleague
If the attention your colleague is showing you is making you feel uncomfortable. Then it’s crucial that you take action of some kind.
Whether it is dealing with the situation yourself or seeking support from your organization or manager, unwarranted romantic advances are unacceptable in the workplace.
But it is completely up to you how you deal with inappropriate behavior. Here are just some of the things that you can do to deal with an overly flirtatious colleague.
1. Talk to a Trusted Colleague
One thing to do would be to talk to a colleague that you trust. They can offer you advice and even support in dealing with the situation. This can be a good way to also see if there is a pattern of behavior, as well as whether they notice the extra attention you receive from the colleague in question.
Having a confidante of sorts can prove to be a great source of emotional support for anyone dealing with sexual harassment, and can be valuable down the line if you choose to make a formal complaint with your employer.
2. It’s Okay to Tell a White Lie
The same way you would lie about having a boyfriend in a bar to ward off romantic advances from a stranger, if you aren’t comfortable with directly rejecting your overly flirtatious colleague, then this is an option too.
There’s no harm in telling a small white lie to save any awkwardness that may linger after a rejection. Especially in the workplace, where social politics can drastically affect your productivity and morale levels, this is a way to let your colleague down gently and to let them know you aren’t interested.
The main aim of this approach is to make it clear that you aren’t available in a romantic setting, and already being interested in or involved with someone else is an easier, less awkward way to do this.
3. Keep It Strictly Professional
The main priority for many in the workplace is to maintain a good level of professionalism. This is in regards to the work itself, the connections you make, and the way you conduct yourself whilst at work. So dealing with an overly flirtatious colleague can come in the form of going back to the basics of work conduct.
If you focus on keeping things strictly professional, then this can be a way to subtly let them know that you aren’t interested in reciprocating any flirty behavior. In practice, this could be that when they do make a comment, you redirect the conversation to professional or work matters.
Even a persistent admirer should get the message if you show a complete lack of reciprocity.
4. Set Boundaries
If you feel comfortable doing so, there could be a relatively simple fix to dealing with an overly flirtatious colleague – by talking to them. By addressing the issue head-on, you can clear up any misunderstandings and set some clear boundaries so they know not to cross the line with you again.
This can be simply done with a question of “Are you trying to hit on me?”, or “What are you trying to achieve here?”. Directly addressing the flirty behavior forces your co-worker to explain themselves as well as be accountable for their actions.
In the event that your colleague doesn’t realize that they are being inappropriate, this could be helpful for both you and them. They are presented with an opportunity to take responsibility for, and change, their behavior, and you can take charge of the situation and keep your boundaries in place.
If the employee in question was intentionally trying to flirt with you, then setting boundaries with them is a necessary action to stop this behavior. Once they know that you aren’t interested in them romantically, they should distance themselves from you or change their behavior.
Unwanted flirting in the workplace can cause tension and even pose a risk to your job, so it is better to nip it in the bud sooner rather than later.
5. Make a Formal Complaint
If hint-dropping or even confronting your colleague about their behavior doesn’t work, then the next step is to lodge a formal complaint. Reporting a flirtatious co-worker to your human resources department or management is the more effective route to take to keep yourself safe and protected from unwanted attention from a fellow employee.
Companies have to have safeguarding policies in place that protect employees who are the victims of sexual harassment, and clear disciplinary guidelines for the consequences of inappropriate behavior.
If you want to make a formal complaint, you should follow your organization’s reporting policies. As with any kind of complaint, you will need to recount your experiences and build a good case for your complaint. Therefore it is important to have evidence and corroboration for your claim.
6. Keep A Record
It can be difficult to remember every inappropriate comment or action your colleague exhibits, so keeping a record of evidence is crucial when reporting sexual harassment. Try writing down any comments or jokes they make, and if you are able to, recording your colleague is a surefire way to prove your claim.
Depending on how your complaint procedure works, any evidence of harassment that is gathered can be crucial in ensuring you receive the help and support you need from higher management.
7. Have Someone to Corroborate Your Story
If you have shared your concerns with a fellow colleague, they can act as corroboration for your complaint. Whether you have shared your experiences with them, or have witnessed any misconduct themselves when it comes to proving that your claim is valid having a witness to the behavior is of paramount importance.
Why Is It Important to Deal With Inappropriate Behavior?
While it might be tempting to ignore your overly flirtatious colleague to save face or maintain pleasant relations in the workplace, in the long run, this approach can do more harm than good. From the emotional and mental toll, it can take on you, contributing to a culture of enabling harassment in the workplace, taking action is the best option for everyone.
1. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable at work
If you want to do your best work and advance in your career, then the workplace must be a space where you feel comfortable and safe. So regardless of work politics, your own safety and productivity need to be the first priority.
A flirting co-worker’s incessant notes, non-consensual touching, and never-ending compliments can actually make the workplace a toxic place for you. It can have a significant impact on your mental health and stress levels too.
2. There could be a pattern of behavior
Although we would hope that this isn’t the case, there could be a repeat sexual predator in your midst at work. And when inappropriate behavior goes unchecked, the person making others uncomfortable is only enabled by ignorance.
Reporting or addressing an issue with an overly flirtatious colleague could help to highlight a pattern of behavior, which would help to not only safeguard you but other people in your office who may have experienced the same thing.
3. Your company has a duty of care
Sexual harassment or misconduct in the workplace is not your fault. It’s also not something you need to shoulder alone. Organizations have a duty of care for each and every member of staff and should be a supporting presence for anyone who has been a victim of sexual harassment.
So reaching out to a manager or lodging a formal complaint is a completely rational response to misconduct in the office. Regardless of yours or the perpetrator’s position in the company, your organization should do everything possible to ensure that everyone feels safe and comfortable at work, at all times.
An overly flirtatious colleague could be innocent, but if it makes you feel uncomfortable then it is unacceptable in any environment, not just in the workplace.