Some background information: I've gone to the same chain of gyms for a few years now, and my boss recently joined. During last week's session, he approached me and we chatted about work and music (which is totally fine with me) but then he suggested we meet this weekend and exercise together.

We have different goals, and I prefer to lift alone so I can do whatever I want (I lift pretty heavy and follow a custom routine)... And he is known for getting upset with colleagues over personal conflicts.

I enjoy working with my boss, but I'm not sure I could relax with him outside of work. Additionally, I'd prefer not to use short term avoidance as the solution. So how can I keep the business and personal separate without it affecting our work relationship?

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    Hi dev_feed, welcome to The Workplace. You pose an interesting question and I'm looking forward to seeing answers here. One request: would you mind editing your title to better resemble your question at the bottom? That one is more general-purpose and I would expect it to attract answers of better quality.
    – CMW
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 12:00
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    @CMW I certainly will, thanks for your suggestion.
    – dev_feed
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 12:07
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    @gnat That question is rather different. There is an existing relationship in the question you linked, making it rather specific. This question is about avoiding new relationships. There are also no answers in that question that would satisfactorily answer this question.
    – Styphon
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 13:24
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    @gnat can you offer any suggestions on what specifically makes it a duplicate? I would be happy to make another edit if it generates more accurate responses.
    – dev_feed
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 13:38

3 Answers 3


My recommendation would be honesty.

While you can't really control 100% how someone will take it, saying "Hey, it's nice seeing you randomly in the gym, I enjoyed chatting the other day. But I really like keeping my own workout schedule and working out with a custom routine on my own." is totally fair and absolutely true. Keep it about you—you like your own routine, you like the chance to get away from work people and work thoughts when you're working out. You don't need to make any accusations about his behavior here, it's really just your preference, which is valid and justified.

I think you're right to not use short term avoidance, as working out is a regular enough pattern that you'd have to be clear about your preference sooner or later.

You can't really control his expectations and his reaction, but as long as you can make it really clear that it's not a personal thing, is a preference about how you work out, I think you'd be OK with the majority of bosses.

It's probably best to find a casual time—stop by his office when he's alone and his door is open, find few minutes after a meeting when it's just the two of you - something not too loaded and formal, but not public either. It was a casual invite so it can be a casual refusal.

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    I like your recommendation to make it about me, that way he understands I wouldn't have even considered it for any one else and it's nothing personal
    – dev_feed
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 13:42
  • Typo - your last "casual" is a "causal" :) Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 11:26

So how can I keep the business and personal separate without it affecting our work relationship?

The reality is most people aren't asking for marriage levels of commitment in situations like this. Saying "no" isn't going to crush them. Simply saying, "I'm not really interested, I like to work out by myself and have done so for years" is a perfectly reasonable response.

Our tendency is to assume, "this person is going to hate me and I will destroy their life dreams" if we tell them the truth, when in reality this is hardly the case. We make it seem like saying no will cause the asker (the boss in this case) to feel rejected and upset and we avoid this.

I have had similar situations come about because I live close to some coworkers and we have a nearly 30 mile commute. They have approached me about carpooling and I really do not want to do so for personal reasons. It's amazing how much better received "hey, I'm not really interested, I like driving myself" was compared to how I worried it would be...

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    Downvoter care to comment?
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 13:53
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    Not the downvoter, but I have had bosses who have decided that Everyone Should All Be Friends and have become quite forceful when the employees weren't interested in weekend BBQs at his house. Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 16:34
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    The reality is most people aren't asking for marriage levels of commitment in situations like this ... but some people get creepily close to that. And if they have the Power of Management too... shudder Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 19:40
  • @AllenGould: understood. I think in that situation that the problem is the boss’s rather than the employee though. You can’t force someone to be your friend, whether they work for you or not. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 17:34

Simply be honest with your boss. He should respect that. Just say to him that whilst you're fine chatting with him when you happen to bump into him you don't feel comfortable in mixing your personal and professional lives.

Anyone who is reasonable will accept that and simply move on. There's no need for it to be a big deal.

Just make sure to be polite when you are talking with him and keep it focused on the fact that you want to keep the relationships separate.

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    I have several times in the past done this with my bosses. They would request me on FB or ask if I want to hang out and I simply state to them that I keep my personal and professional life completely separate. If they want to have a work event with other colleagues than great, if it's just hanging out as friends than ultimately it would reduce the quality of my work in the end.
    – Paul Muir
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 13:19
  • I guess you're right, it's probably unfair of me to assume he'll be unreasonable with me now just because it seemed that way with someone else in the past.
    – dev_feed
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 13:44

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