Inappropriate questions from a manager

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Q: My manager repeatedly asks personal questions of me and others all the time.  He will ask about health issues, family planning issues and household income issues.  When we have company events, he tends to drink too much, and his questions even become more invasive.  I am embarrassed for him, but I also feel awkward when he asks me these questions.  Further, he can sometimes ask these questions publicly.  #awkward

A: It sounds like your manager oversteps his boundaries on a number of issues.  He may be well-meaning but it sounds like he is intrusive.  Health issues, family planning issues and household income issues are all very personal topics.  While you didn’t specifically share a particular question, I envision many of these questions to be not only very invasive, but also potentially illegal.  Your manager should not be asking about your private health information, or your plans to have a family.

Some employees may try to use humor.  “Bob, not sure if you should be asking that.  I am uber wealthy, and I have five homes, six vehicles and loads of money in investments.  I am just not sure what to do with all of my money!”  The danger with this type of response, is that you may lead him to thinking that this is all a light-hearted joke.  However, some may feel comfortable with this first step.

Another option would be to state “Bob, some of these questions are really off-putting.  They make me feel weirdly uncomfortable, even when you ask others these questions.”

Some might also reply with “Bob, your questions seem too personal for me.  I am happy to talk about my latest favorite restaurant, how my new puppy is doing or how my cooking skills are improving.”

Ideally, it would be helpful if you enlist a few co-workers to respond to “Bob” in a similar way.  If “Bob” hears this from several employees, he may begin to get the message.  If you are the only one, he may perceive you as a complainer.  If there is a consistent reply back to Bob, then he may be more reluctant to ask these types of questions.

Alcohol almost always makes these situations worse.  His judgement will be impacted, and his questions may even go further.

Some people never get it and will keep prying.  If needed, you may want to contact your HR Representative.  There is “safety in numbers.”  If others have been the target of Bob’s in appropriate questions, he would be less able to identify you.  Additionally, if some of the events, where alcohol is involved, might be more public.  Hopefully “Bob” will get it and change his behavior.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.