Blogconfidential: Mission creep

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Mission creep

November 25, 2010

About 18 months ago, I started work at the university where I am still employed. However, my first day was marred by a disturbing encounter with the institution's business manager.

Standing in the department's small kitchen while I made a cup of tea, he came over to greet me. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me how happy he was to see me. Unfortunately, his hand remained there for what seemed like several minutes. Feeling increasingly uncomfortable, I finally decided to speak up. Perhaps I could have put it more gently, but I told him bluntly that I had not given him permission to touch me. He immediately leapt back, apologising.

As I settled into the work environment, I discovered that everyone in my department feels uneasy around him. He invades the space of others and generally acts like a creep.

Last month, I submitted an initial proposal for a new commercially oriented diploma in the private sector. I had done a great deal of groundwork and my academic lead was impressed. However, the proposal needed to be passed by the business manager.

I emailed it to him, but he wanted to meet me in order to talk through a few "concerns". Although I asked him to discuss the issues by email instead, he insisted on a face-to-face rendezvous.

As I entered his room he closed the door, locking it shut. I had to ask him to unlock it, which clearly unnerved him.

The meeting was very short and in the end he claimed that the project was not viable. I think his decision was influenced by my reaction to him. Is there any way of taking this further?

You should never have gone to this meeting on your own. Leaving yourself open to potential harassment at work by a man who seems to have "form" in this area ought to be avoided.

Clearly, at the very least, this man has a problem with boundaries. Putting his arm around you when you had just met may seem on the face of it to be a friendly gesture, but he was violating your personal space and you found it unsettling. You were right to speak up, although the words you used were perhaps more aggressive than you intended (this is understandable: you were caught by surprise).

Locking the door during the meeting seems rather sinister, and it must have taken courage to ask him to unlock it. Well done.

Being creepy is not a crime, but you must continue to set firm boundaries with him so that he knows you cannot be pushed around. You should also avoid being alone with him if it makes you uncomfortable.

In terms of the project, don't give up yet. If your proposal is viable, you and your academic lead should be able to put together a strong case in its favour. Business managers do wield a lot of power, but if you can garner enough support and get positive second opinions, you may yet win through.

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