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I could use some feedback on this one. My boss (began about 6 months ago, and I have been in my position for 3 years) is a charismatic guy, and we got along well. A position opened up that my former boss basically hand-picked my friend K, and K eventually got the job in June/July. Then, in late August/early September, they admitted their feelings for one another and have made it clear that they cannot keep it from me and that they have no secrets from me because I am directly involved both as her friend (and co-worker) and as his assistant. They specifically said that this relationship would not affect their ability to do their jobs or would affect their work.

Now, however, I have seen significant changes, and when I try to respectfully bring them up/judiciously question him, there is hostility. Recently they had a disagreement and were "breaking off until she decided if she wants this or not" (she has issues with his being divorced), and within the hour he made a comment to me that he said was joking, but basically said we should all attend an emotional intelligence conference and I should because "You're [as in me] more messed up than the others of us." I waited until the next day to address it with him (as he has told me to always do, as we have an open communication line), but he refused to acknowledge that his relationship with K is affecting him. Instead, he turned it around to avoid discussing the possibility and corrected me on something I was doing that he didn't like (which, admittedly was true, but it was an inappropriate time to bring it up).

Since then, and because the stress of the job is settling in on him (as I had noted to him that it would), he has been very terse, condescending, and I honestly am receiving the brunt of his sullenness and frustration, as he obviously will not show it to her. He shows his "showman" side to others but my professional and personal concerns are shot down, dismissed, and conversations instead turned around to critique me on something. I have been very mindful lately about how I respond to his ideas (I used to shoot them down right away but we discussed that), and I have kept my outside emotions out of work and not expressed negative emotions in the office in order to ensure professionalism.

He and I were fine until a couple of weeks ago, specifically about 10 days ago, and could freely discuss with one another anything that seemed off, and I take his concerns and work on them. Now, however, I see a distinct unwillingness for him to be challenged or questioned at all. I realize that I am his assistant, but I have a position that is akin to an assistant director load, giving me more weight and credibility; now, however, he has changed in the last 10 days.

K is aware of this and how it is seriously affecting me, even as I have intentionally been quieter and reserved in order to avoid confrontation (as it has been only dismissed lately anyway). It is now, however, affecting both work relationships and my friendship with K.

I should note that my boss is someone who, although an idea person and engaging leader, sees work and friendship as inherently intertwined. There is a high level of growing hypocrisy, too, with him not following the same guidelines he sets for faculty or even the guidelines he suggests for us being professional with our emotions in the office. Also, K and he have said they will not go out or spend time alone together while she figures things out because it makes it more difficult on her, and then they do just that.

Additionally, no one else at work knows about their dating (they oscillate between "we're together" and "we're taking a break to figure things out") and they are intentionally keeping it quiet until such time that they are fully moving forward and feel they should tell the faculty.

So, all, what am I supposed to do in this situation?

5

One of the three of you needs to get into a different reporting chain. Preferably one of them, for many good reasons some of which you've illustrated... but if they don't have that much sense I recommend getting yourself out of the fraught environment.

You really don't want to be around when this turns into an ethics-and-policy-violation case, if not a full-blown sexual harrassment lawsuit.

And I really hope you aren't using your real name here.

2

Should never have let yourself get involved to start with, I see two pragmatic options, the first depends on how much I would want to take on... which in my case would be zero. So:-

Option one) tell them straight out you don't want to know about it and just ignore whatever they're up to and ignore any attempts to get you involved in any capacity such as a shoulder to cry on or an Agony Aunt.

Option two) Inform someone higher up in the food chain to deal with in a general manner.

In summary, ask yourself if you want to be involved at all, then choose whichever is best fit for you based on logic rather than friendship, this is unstable and will not end well for someone, make sure that someone isn't you.

2

They specifically said that this relationship would not affect their ability to do their jobs or would affect their work.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at this point I think you should have made it very clear that a) You wanted to hear nothing about the relationship, and b) If, at your sole discretion, it was affecting work, you would report the situation to higher ups / HR for everyone's benefit.

Getting yourself into a different reporting chain is also good advice (which has been made already), but assuming that's not possible, I'd tackle this point:

I should note that my boss is someone who, although an idea person and engaging leader, sees work and friendship as inherently intertwined.

Whether your boss sees this is somewhat irrelevant, but I think you need to keep them entirely separate, stay out of the whole relationship situation from now on, and interrupt any personal comments / questions that come your way with something akin to "I'm going to have to stop you there - I'm afraid I don't want to hear about any more personal matters while at work." This won't work if you do it halfheartedly - you need to take the same, firm, approach every time, regardless of the situation.

If, after that, he still acts unprofessionally, you don't really have many other options I can see. You could either talk to HR / higher ups and deal with the potential consequences (boss & K being potentially even more antagonistic), or leave on as good a note as you can and look elsewhere.

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