Do I need to let my boss beat me in the swimming pool

Written by The Financial Times | Updated: Oct 10 2011, 10:03am hrs
My employer offers subsidised membership at a local gym. I swim before going to work, but recently my boss has started doing so too.

Despite being roughly the same age as me he is less fit, but is so competitive that when we are swimming side by side, he keeps trying - and failing - to overtake me. In the changing room afterwards he is in a huff and back in the office has started to put me down.

Do I really have to swim more slowly than is comfortable for the sake of his fragile ego

Manager, male, 32

Lucys answer

Your early morning swims sound pretty awful to me. It is not merely the fact that your boss is so keen on overtaking you, its having to start the day seeing him in his Speedos.

But as this dawn apparition doesnt appear to upset you unduly, I think you ought to try harder to turn it to your advantage. You have all that time with him first thing, when he is protected by neither clothes nor lieutenants, yet instead of making the most of it by striking up a jockish rapport with him, you have done your best to alienate him. Its a poor show.

Otherwise you reveal yourself to have some promise as chief executive material. Winning means so much to you that, no matter how much another person tries to overtake you, you swim faster to thwart him. The idea of deliberately losing, even in casual swimming, upsets you so much that you write to me about it. But you are so politically stupid, you are throwing it all away.

You, of all people, should know that sport is a very serious business for business people, and that it runs in parallel to working life. This means that people who dont care about sport (ie most women, fatties and bookworms) are disadvantaged when they work for a sports-mad company. In these places there is an etiquette that must be observed, and rule one says that you must not disregard the workplace hierarchy on the playing field (or pool).

The boss must never be caught out on first ball - or be out-lapped. The ideal is to give him a good game, but to let him win in the end. Not necessarily every single day, but on the vast majority of them.

You have already blown it badly by serving your boss a watery humiliation every morning. The problem now is how best to repair the damage. As you have gone to such lengths to prove you swim faster than him, he will wonder what is going on if you suddenly slow down.

I suggest you avoid the pool for a fortnight and return to it complaining about how out of shape you are. Then swim fractionally slower than him, trying and failing to overtake him. Feign exhaustion as you get out of the pool, saving your energy for a spot of bonding in the changing rooms.

Your advice

No stamina

I swim every day and see similar issues with people who are colleagues . . . tell him he is an extraordinary marathon swimmer and you wish you had his stamina, but alas you can only manage 20 high-speed sprint lengths and would like to know his secret.

Energy sector manager, male

Be your own fish

You should be swimming as if theres nobody in the pool or as if the pool is full. Just be yourself and do what you have to do regardless. Soon your boss will realise that you swim to stay healthy and not to compete.

Entrepreneur, 60, male

Relax or skip

Going swimming is about relaxing and if you do not succeed in doing so, it would be better skipping it altogether or changing your time of swimming.


Different strokes

Let him pass you. If he is crawling, change to breaststroke. If he is breaststroking, change to doggy paddle. If he is doggy paddling, go practise your dives. There is also butterfly, sidestroke and backstroke.

Anon, male

More than pool

This is a bigger issue than what you should do in the swimming pool. Either you live by corporate rules, or by your own moral code. If the latter, you will inevitably spend a lot of time looking for a new job. But your ex-colleagues will respect you and help you to get those new jobs. You will probably find yourself easier to live with and it leaves a better taste on the tongue.

Anon, male

Speedier Speedo

Just swim faster. Hell get it eventually. Better to find out sooner rather than later if it will cost you the job.


Its not about you

This isnt about you, its about him and the weakness (as he sees it) that youve exposed for everyone to see.

If hes going to be this petulant over something that doesnt matter then whats he going to be like when its something that does

Male, anon

Should I get off the aircraft

I am seated in an aircraft heading back to the terminal. We had been speeding down the runway when the pilot slammed on the brakes and aborted take-off. He told us a warning light had gone off and he had to contact maintenance and see what needed to be done. He then educated us on the airlines core values, concluding with the boast that the most important is passenger safety.

I am not encouraged; my years of experience with corporate values have taught me they bear little relevance to practice. Should I get off the plane

Finance director, male, 54

The Financial Times Limited 2011