telling your boss that she smells, misuse of group texts, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Telling your boss that she smells

I have read a ton of articles about employee hygiene issues and how to handle it, but nothing about if your boss has the hygiene issue. Is this something that can be addressed or is it too sensitive of a topic?

I wish I had a more exciting answer to this, but in 99% of situations, you’re not going to be in a position to have the “you smell bad” talk with your boss.

However, you can discreetly ask HR or someone above your boss to handle the situation.

2. Student worker’s inappropriate use of group texting

I’m a college student who works on campus in a tour guide/admissions role. My office employs about 40 other students, with one non-student manager, a student manager, and five student team leads (I am one). In the office, the team leaders are primarily focused on administration (all of the paperwork of guests, shift swaps, planning, etc). Outside of the time I am in the office, I have a group text message with the 10 students on my team. I send them reminders of big events, if the office is going to need more help on particular days, unexpected closings, etc. Other than that, I usually keep it on mute. I work near full-time so I can’t swap shifts, but the other students use the chat to swap and cover shifts.

The problem is, I’ve noticed one student doesn’t quite get texting etiquette. For example, she’ll ask if anyone can cover her shift on a certain time or day, and if she doesn’t receive a response within an hour, she’ll send a passive aggressive text like “Thanks so much for the responses everyone <3!!” There have also been times when parts of the school has been closed for weather/events/holidays, and I’ll send a reminder that our office is still open. Without fail, she’ll eventually respond along the lines of “UGH!!”

Our office can have a club-like feel, but it’s still a job. I’m usually on top of nipping behavior like this at our events (i.e., complaining in front of a family about having to give a tour), but since its over text and there’s usually a delay before I see it, I’m unsure what to do. Do I need to do anything? Should I tell the next level up? Or should I just take her aside and tell her to cut it out?

You should say something, either to her or to your manager. Is your role one where you’re expected to give feedback and corrections? If so, talk to her and say something like, “When you use the group chat, I need you to keep it professional and confine your use of it to actual group business, not complaints or gripes. Some of your messages lately haven’t been appropriate, like X or Y.”

If that’s not really your role, talk to your manager and ask her to give the feedback. (You can also ask your manager for coaching on how to do this yourself! That’s part of her role, and you should benefit from that.)

3. Prospective employer wants business contacts from me

I have applied for and been screened by a recruitment firm for a business development position. The recruiters have forwarded my resume and letter of reference (from my last employer) to the prospective employer. The employer has come back to me (via the recruiters) with a request to supply them with some specific business network contacts.

There’s been no mention as to why they want this data. I feel that is highly unusual and possibly not something I should answer, considering it is valuable information they are potentially getting for free. On one hand I want to believe they may want to see if I am well connected, and on the other hand they may want to mine me for a free contact list. How should I handle this sort of inquiry?

Yeah, that’s super sketchy. They haven’t even interviewed you and they’re asking for you to turn over contact lists. Don’t do it. Say something like this: “I’m not comfortable doing that at this stage, but I’d love to talk with them more in-depth about the position.”

4. Should I participate in this forced appreciation initiative?

I have a question about a new company culture initiative that our senior management is rolling out. They have mentioned several times that we need to focus more on thanking each other, and have tried previously to have a company-wide meeting where everyone just stands around and thanks each other, which I found forced and extremely uncomfortable. They are now rolling out a public message board where we are expected to thank each other publicly and the “best” thank you at the end of the month will get a small reward.

This again makes me very uncomfortable, because I feel like it feels too forced and insincere. I manage a small team and I make a point of thanking them often and giving them context for what they did right in person. With this new initiative in play, do you think I should be doing this in the public forum too? I’m worried because I don’t want my team to think that I’m thanking them because I could be rewarded – I genuinely want to give them positive feedback and encourage their good work, but I also don’t want to be called out as “not a team player” by senior management.

I know this seems like a small thing but I feel like I’m caught in between senior management’s goal and my own goals for my team, and I don’t want my feedback to become disingenuous. Let me know what you think – saying I’m just overthinking it is totally fine too!

I think you have to play along. Part of being a manager is that you have to do annoying stuff sometimes because the optics of a manager sitting it out are just not good, whether it’s attending a staff appreciation event that you’d rather not go to or not freezing out that one dude who’s an ass on your team.

You can certainly explain your objections to decision-makers behind the scenes and advocate for a different approach — but after that, if this is the decision, as a manager you do have to get on board with it.

I agree with you that the system they’ve come up with feels forced and insincere, although its intentions are good. But there will probably be some people on your team who will feel slighted if they’re left out of receiving this particular type of public recognition when everyone else is getting it … and really, of all the initiatives that can backfire, encouraging more thanks and appreciation isn’t the worst thing they could have come up with.

And I wouldn’t worry about people thinking you’re only doing it to get rewarded; if you have decent, trusting relationships with people and you’ve been giving positive feedback all along, that’s not likely to be an issue.

5. Offering to freelance for a former employer’s client

Several years ago, a client privately contacted me for freelance teapot design work, which I declined since they were still an active client of my employer’s. I asked my boss’s advice and they agreed that it was the right call. The client asked my employer to quote the work, which was deemed too expensive and was passed on. At the time, my employer did both teapot design and manufacturing for the client.

I’ve since left the company and have reached out to the client letting them know I’m available for teapot design. I was the only one at my former job who did teapot design, and as far as I know my former employer’s current relationship with the client is occasionally doing small manufacturing updates.

I didn’t sign a non-compete, so while I’m legally in the clear, am I being a jerk?

I don’t think so. You don’t have a non-compete, and the client had already passed on doing this project with your former employer. I think you’re ethically in the clear here. (The exception to this is if you’re in a field where this is Not Done, in which case you’d have to decide if you’re comfortable flouting those norms and taking the potential reputation hit. But there are lots of fields where this would be fine.)

{ 231 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. AnotherLibrarian

    #2 I just want to encourage you to talk to someone about this and get guidance if you’re not sure what to say or if your manager should say something. As someone who supervises students, one of the great gifts you can give the students you oversee is a clear understanding of professional norms before they are out in the world where they might get fired for these texting behaviors. So, I would urge you to speak with her OR if you would prefer, have your manager speak with her. I’ve certainly had my own students come to me with concerns and I always take them seriously. Hopefully, there’s a good manager there who you trust who can guide you through this.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      +1 to all of this. Used to work with student workers and would have been very much open to hearing about this and helping with it.

      You mentioned how there’s a delay before you see it. True, but I suppose the flipside is that, with texting, you have a concrete reminder of what’s been said that you can then point to.

      For the record, you’ll be doing her a big favour. Better she learns this now!

      Reply
    2. Stephanie

      Yeah, seconding this. It’s good to get them to understand professional norms now when the job is something lower stakes like a part-time on-campus job.

      Reply
      1. Casuan

        If you’re considerate & tactful you’d be doing her another favour because not everyone is so kind. The message might be better from you than someone else.
        That thought helps me to broach sensitive subjects with others— thankfully it’s rare!
        Good luck!!

        Reply
    3. Mimi

      This.

      Also it would be good for the other student workers to not have her complaining. I mean if I was working with someone and they sent a passive aggressive message complaing I hadnt replied to a text fast especially one asking for my help by swapping shifts I would be annoyed. And they probably dont need her ugh either.

      Its about both being professional and being respectful of colleagues.

      Reply
      1. Gandalf the Nude

        And she would probably benefit from having that pointed out to her. “Whether you intend it or not, those types of messages come across as passive-aggressive and make your coworkers less inclined to help you. You’d probably get better results if you worked on building good relationships with them and keeping those kinds of remarks to yourself.”

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      2. Meg Murry

        And honestly, I tend not to spot passive aggressiveness until it is extremely over the top, so if I saw a response to the text of “Thanks so much for the responses everyone <3!!" and I didn't know the person was prone to passive aggressive sarcasm I might assume that someone had actually responded outside of the group text and agreed to pick up her shifts, not that she was grumbling about no response. I also think it’s valid to point out to her as others have mentioned that in this kind of group text context, people aren’t ghosting on her by not replying to the group text – it is actually better that people are NOT sending a reply-all text to the group with 9 people saying “sorry, can’t take it” and causing everyone’s phones to beep and buzz constantly.

        At a minimum , I think it’s worth OP replying to just Jane (not the whole group text) by saying “Jane, please don’t send negative, sarcastic or grumbling responses to the group texts. I understand you don’t want to venture out on this snow day [or are frustrated that you aren’t getting fast responses, or whatever] but please keep the group text for things that need to be communicated to the whole group, not just commentary.”

        Reply
    4. blackcat

      +1

      And I honestly think it may be better received if a non-student manager is the one to speak to her. When I quasi-managed other undergrads while an undergrad, I definitely got some “Well, you’re just a student like me, how could you know better?” attitude. Coaching went over much better if it was done by a “real” employee.

      Reply
  2. that guy

    #3 is super dodgy. Why would they need your business contacts? Maybe because they don’t have their own? Which means the business is struggling, and they have no intention of actually hiring someone. I would politely decline and run away

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yeah, this sounds super sketch. I’m sure there’s a job out there where this would be ok/appropriate, but honestly, I can’t think of one. As Ramona Flowers notes below, it might be worth just withdrawing your application, or at least being mentally prepared to pull your app if they’re insistent about your contact list.

      Reply
    2. Camellia

      I’m guessing it’s not really the prospective employer that’s asking, it’s the recruiter trying to get more prospects.

      Reply
      1. SueBee

        That’s the first thought I had too. Similar to recruiters asking for references before you even have an interview.

        Reply
    3. Lily in NYC

      The fact that they asked is shady, but I don’t think it necessarily means they are struggling. For example, people always try to poach my coworkers away because they know that we all have relationships/contacts with venture capitalists. Start-ups and hedge funds are chomping at the bit to get access to our internal stakeholder lists. We also hold CEO events that consist of the top CEOs in specific industries, and I have been offered money twice by people who wanted me to give me their email addresses. I turned them both in to the Dept. of Investigations (I could be held responsible if I didn’t).

      Reply
  3. Ramona Flowers

    #3 Say something like this: “I’m not comfortable doing that at this stage, but I’d love to talk with them more in-depth about the position On reflection I’m withdrawing my candidacy as this position isn’t the right fit due to the UNBELIEVABLE GUMPTION.”

    The request is sketchy. The company shouldn’t have asked and the recruiter shouldn’t have passed it on. I’m sorry to say they could be asking every single person who applies. This sucks, I’m sorry as you were obviously interested in the position, but I’d take it as a giant red flag. This job involves working for loons. Loons with gumption.

    Reply
      1. Lablizard

        I can think of some song titles:
        “Dress code strike”
        “Just call again”
        “Walk right in”
        “It is the bosses’ meeting and I can go if I want to”
        “Stand out in a crowd (make them remember)”

        Reply
          1. Dust Bunny

            I started coming here for the screen names (looking at you, Princess Consuela Banana Hammock and Gandalf the Nude) but it just keeps getting better.

            Reply
            1. Gandalf the Nude

              Quick! Is possible to die of warm fuzzies? We may find out what color proceeds nude in wizard succession.

              Reply
        1. Marillenbaum

          There will be a ballad called “Sensual Wrists” which sounds suspiciously like “Careless Whisper”.

          Reply
          1. Lablizard

            And “Video killed the Cover Letter” – not as catchy as the original, but then again, neither are videos

            Reply
      1. Jessie the First (or second)

        In my industry, that would be normal – partners and senior associates are expected to have a portable “book of business,” and part of your appeal as a candidate is the ability to bring new clients in. So that wouldn’t strike me as odd. Perhaps the OP’s industry has a similar norm. But even so, it would be completely out of line for the interviewer to ask me to provide contact information for my clients. No, no, no, no, no, no. I’d walk away from a job interview that wanted me to do that.

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Same that this would be normal in our field, and agreed that you wouldn’t be asked to provide your “book” with contact information. There’s a reason non-competes and other business information agreements try to prevent sharing that information!

          Reply
    1. Loons with Gumption

      I have commented occasionally here for a long time with a couple of different very generic usernames (that I invariably forget) – I think I need to become Loons With Gumption from here on out! And participate more too :)

      Reply
  4. neverjaunty

    OP #2, in addition to the professionalism talk, she needs a Use Your Damn Head talk. Specifically, “when you ask people for a favor, and you’re snotty to them when they don’t jump up and do it, you paint yourself as the last person anyone would ever do a favor for.”

    That or fire her. Cluelessness and a lack of understanding of professional norms can be taught. Selfish, nasty entitlement? Not as much.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      But that’s presuming a lot beyond what can be observed. You know what she’s doing. Not why. Maybe you’re right. Or maybe she’s trying to be funny, doesn’t get that written communication about work needs to be handled differently because of business norms and the fact that tone of voice gets lost.

      You don’t really get through to people if you fall into black and white thinking, like “the last person anyone would do a favour for” (no way is OP’s worker last on that list). Say stuff like that and you lose your audience.

      I mean no disrespect to student workers but having worked with them, no way is this the hill I’d choose to die on.

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        PS I know you didn’t mean that literally, but it’s still hyperbole.

        She’s sending inappropriate text messages, not killing kittens. It’s not good, but fixable. And I don’t think we can know if she’s snotty or nasty or just has a poor understanding of how to text with colleagues. Which is the kind of mistake someone might make at or near the beginning of their career.

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        1. Mookie

          I may be in the minority here, but I kind of feel like those text messages wouldn’t really be great outside of professional communication, either. If this person is young enough to have been more-or-less reared on mobile phone and texting manners, they should already know that those texts are a little adversarial and obnoxious. I wouldn’t really put up with a friend for long if they were behaving like this.

          I definitely agree that it’s not egregious or requires any discipline at work, though. It might depend on the general sensibilities of the group and what level of tone they’re used to using, both in person and in writing.

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          1. Business Cat

            You’re not wrong, but if she’s been using this communication style in her personal life for awhile she may not know that it’s inappropriate in both spheres because in personal communication it’s a lot less likely one of your college friends will take you aside and explain to you *why* being passive-aggressive is Not Cool. Even if she knows that it’s inappropriate, she may not know what best practices actually are for communication. I was really prone to similar behaviors in adolescence and it took someone sitting down with me and letting me know my behavior was inappropriate and what I should be doing instead to change my outlook and behavior long-term. Even if she takes the feedback less-than-gracefully it’s still feedback she needs if she’s going to be successful in the long-term and it’s good management to let her know that.

            Reply
          2. Jessesgirl72

            No, it’s entitled and spoiled even more than passive aggressive, and I wouldn’t find it acceptable even in a personal context.

            Although, the OP mentioned having to “remind” the tour guides not to complain about how to give a tour in front of the families- i.e. not to complain about doing their bleeping job! If she also was one of those, I’d consider firing her!

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            1. Is it Friday Yet?

              I’m sure the OP knows better than I do, but when I initially read this, I thought she might not have been passive aggressive. Maybe others were texting her one on one instead of through the group text? Either way, it’s an odd message to send.

              Reply
          3. SarahTheEntwife

            She might have a group of friends that are used to sending that sort of thing in a joking kind of way. It’s still clueless and not at all professional, but she might genuinely not realize how abrasive it’s coming off in a professional context and one where people don’t know her very well yet.

            Reply
          4. Bethany

            I think there is a common myth that young people understand the ins and outs of professional communication because they use technology. In reality, teens have always had an in-depth understanding of the norms of teen communication, and make mistakes in adult modes regardless of medium. It’s still clueless, but sometimes college students are clueless about professionalism, and some are better than others at picking up context cues and figuring it out without direct feedback.

            Reply
            1. Queen of the File

              I agree with this 100%. I appreciate (at least in retrospect) every time someone told me something I’m sure many people would think of as painfully obvious or “common knowledge”. It took me a really long time to learn that many of the things my friends liked about me (or were willing to overlook in my behaviour) were not the same things employers and coworkers cared about.

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            2. JamieS

              I agree teenagers and young adults don’t inherently know professional norms by virtue of growing​ up with technology. However I hesitate on putting this in the category of professional norm​ because this strikes me as a common sense issue and not a professional norm issue.

              Reply
          5. INFJ

            Yeah, assuming her response WAS passive-aggressive, that kind of response would be snotty in any situation. It’s completely out of the realm of normal expectations to get a response that fast.

            As someone on that group text, even if I had been willing to look into switching shifts, it may take me more than an hour to figure out if my schedule fits, not to mention I might not have even seen the message yet! (I mean, we’re talking about students here, if it’s during the week, they’re probably in class…. not that students don’t check their phones in class: but they shouldn’t.)

            Reply
        2. neverjaunty

          “Killing kittens” is hyperbole, I think?

          Other commenters have said this better than I did – that this isn’t just “we don’t behave this way at work” that a young person might not understand, like not using emoji in professional emails or leaving early without checking in. This is jerk behavior.

          Reply
      2. JamieS

        I’ve edited neverjaunty’s post for clarity.

        Here’s the revised version: Specifically, “when you ask people who are members of the specific group being referenced which is implied by the context of the situation for a favor, and you’re snotty to them when they don’t jump up and do it, you paint yourself as the last person in the specific group anyone would ever do a favor for.”

        Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I agree with the first part—that it might be worth her manager (or you, if your manager thinks it’s appropriate) to have a “common sense isn’t common” talk… Although I would try to be extremely kind about it, because people often write things in text without realizing how dumb they sound.

      But I’m not sure I can get on board with characterizing the problem employee as selfish, nasty, or entitled. And firing seems pretty extreme/disproportionate to her obnoxious texts. Student workers do all sorts of dumb things because of lack of experience vis-a-vis workplace norms (I know I did, and I’d been working for 4 years at that point!), not because of intrinsic and insurmountable character flaws. I would treat this one as a “dumb thing” scenario before escalating to “intentional nasty entitlement.”

      Reply
      1. SophieChotek

        I agree with PCBH that the employee isn’t necessarily selfish, etc. Maybe a bit out of touch and definitely trying to guilt a response, but that seems like a not-unusual response for students/younger workers used to cell phones and texting.

        We have a similar group messaging system at the coffee shop where I work and if someone texts and asks if anyone can take their shift, if no one responds, it is not unusual for the person to text again and say “can anyone please, please, please, take my shift! I really need it off because [insert reason here, usually quite legit]”…that’s seems nicer than what OP described, but most people know right away if they can or cannot take a shift, so they’ll say “yes” or usually not respond at all, just so everyone doesn’t get an inbox full of “no sorry, can’t”.

        Reply
      2. neverjaunty

        The OP has described these as examples of things this particular worker does, not as “she did this thing one time”. Are student workers often dumb and immature? Yep. Are they perfectly capable of being massive, entitled jerksticks? Also yep.

        Learning that she’s being an ass and that puts her job at risk is an important life lesson and part of the point of a sandbox student job. I totally get folks saying firing her isn’t warranted, but her behavior is not just immature or clueless, it’s completely out of line.

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          But if no one has called her on her problematic communication/texts, then she’s not going to realize how obnoxious and entitled she sounds. Instead, she’s going to think she was fired for texting on a group chat specifically designed for at least one of the things she’s using it for (shift coverage). I understand these aren’t one-off texts, but the frequency only matters if, after being warned/advised, she doesn’t change her behavior. At that point, I think it’s perfectly fine to escalate.

          I agree that she’s being totally obnoxious and out of line. But as OP noted, she may not understand the professional implications of sending extremely annoying and whiny texts (I would argue they’re inappropriate for friends, too, but I’ve seen this so often with college kids). I mean, whining in general is not a good look—cue my side-eye at the comment that student workers, who are employed to give tours, are complaining about giving tours in front of admits and their families.

          Maybe I’m being overly generous about this based on the insane emails my students send me.

          Reply
          1. Anna

            I don’t think you’re being overgenerous. So much of what we see here from Alison is advise to talk to an employee first about correcting the behavior and then consequences if the behavior doesn’t change. I don’t see this as anything different.

            Example: When I first started at my job, I would often say grumpy things about a new policy or whatever because I thought I was being funny. During my review my boss brought up the fact that I tend to be negative and I knew exactly what she was talking about and made an effort to correct. Now I’m a little grumpy about things, my boss knows me better, and I am supportive and positive about most other things. Basically, what I’m saying is, my boss pointed out how I sounded when she could have just fired me for not being a cultural fit. Unless the behavior is egregious, I would come down on the side of correction rather than punishment.

            Reply
          2. neverjaunty

            The whiners are actually WAY worse; they’re representing the university to these families.

            It’s true that students can be immature and unaware of professional norms. I don’t think that buys indulgence for persistent jerk behavior. Growing out of being a twerp happens s lot faster when the grown ups take it seriously.

            Reply
            1. Anna

              Which really only happens when grown ups decide to be grown ups and have difficult conversations instead of just firing someone to avoid it.

              Reply
    3. Meredith

      I certainly view student jobs in large part as learning opportunities. For some, this is their first job ever. We all stumbled a bit when we were green – I wince when I remember some of the things I did as a teenager, even though I was overall earnestly interested in being a good employee. Course correct, get her educated about good communication skills, make disciplinary decisions if things don’t improve.

      Reply
    4. Dust Bunny

      Firing shouldn’t be anywhere near the table yet. These are college kids so she’s what, maybe 20? Does anyone else remember what a bunch of clueless twits we were at twenty? If nobody has addressed this, then it’s waaaaay too early in the game to start throwing around words like “entitled” and “fire”.

      If she has even a minimal amount of sense, all that it will take to fix this is for somebody to take her aside and explain that the “chatty” (and, OK, immature) responses she uses when talking with her friends are not appropriate for workplace communication.

      Now, if she’s corrected and fights it, then you up the stakes. But don’t go from zero to “fire her” without taking into account that an awful lot of people that age simply don’t have the experience to know better.

      Reply
    5. Allison

      Seriously. I know someone who pulls this on Facebook. Always needs a favor – she’ll post something like “I need someone to come over and help me move something, it’s too heavy for me to handle by myself” and when no one responds she’ll either be super passive aggressive with something like “good to know no one really cares about me” or a rant about how she’s always there for people, and no one’s ever there when she needs them, and everyone’s just using her, and she’s going to cut all these toxic people out of her life. Seeing stuff did make me less willing to help her.

      I unfollowed her a while ago, even though it wasn’t directed at me per se, I didn’t need that negativity and guilt tripping popping up on my news feed all the time. If a coworker was doing this, it would make me really dislike working with them in general. What else might provoke that behavior?

      Reply
    6. Bwmn

      While that response may work in some regards – I think that it’s hugely inappropriate for student workers. Student workers are often paid at a rate matching a) their experience (aka typically not much) and b) the value add of having a student doing the job. In this case, to have current students give tours to prospective parents often reads very well because it’s this notion of “hey I can see my kid friends with someone like this” – as opposed to hiring professional tour guides.

      Also, presuming it’s close to the end of the school year, firing a guide would likely just mean having to go short staffed for the rest of the year. And that’s not taking into account the potential for students quitting their college jobs early depending on what their end of the year demands look like.

      Sure, she’s being rude and could use some guidance on better etiquette – but this is hardly a case of “selfish nasty entitlement” that is fireable.

      Reply
    7. Kimberlee, Esq

      I’m going to disagree with you here. I totally agree that being passive aggressive is a bit much and that OP should talk with the student about their tone in texts (aka, absolutely 100% agree with all advice that Alison laid out). But I’ve absolutely sent similar texts to that in a professional context; if you’re trying to figure out if someone can cover your shift, it is infinitely more frustrating to get radio silence than it is to just get “no” responses. She can work on her tone, sure, but I can assure you that this is not so wildly outside of professional norms in most any job with shifts to cover that she’s likely to get fired over it, and calling her snotty or entitled or selfish is just not warranted.

      Reply
    8. Tomato Frog

      She might just be embarrassed that she sent a message and no one replied, and is covering with a joke. And for all we know she’s actually really quick to volunteer to cover for others. There are potential motivations for this bit of tactlessness beyond “selfish, nasty entitlement.”

      Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      You’d be mortified if they did tell you too though, wouldn’t you?

      And it depends on why the boss smells. We have no idea if they’re cycling to work and not showering, or have a health problem, or the office is too hot.

      OP, this sounds hard and I hope you can get help from HR.

      Reply
      1. PB

        Yes, and they may be aware already. A few years ago, I was having some medical problems, and one of the symptoms was increased BO. It was mortifying, and believe me, I knew about it. No one mentioned it, for which I am grateful.

        The letter said this this is a hygiene issue, which, if accurate, is a whole different kettle of fish. But from my experience, these things are always best approached with discretion.

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        1. Parenthetically

          Increased body odor is a super common symptom of pregnancy and I would be so, so mortified if someone pulled me aside right now and questioned my personal hygiene, because believe me, I am acutely aware.

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          1. So anon

            It is super mortifying. When I was a teenager, friends told me that I smelled and it was awful. Having anxiety meant that I sweat a lot and I KNEW it, but deodorant + body spray + showering daily did NOT do the trick. And that was coming from friends, at an age when you would expect that kids don’t have everything figured out hygiene-wise. So… I can’t imagine how embarrassing that would be as an adult at work.

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    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      As a person, not just as a manager! Everyone hopes someone would tell them. But it’s putting an awful lot on an employee to take that on with a manager, given the incredible difficulty and awkwardness of doing it even when you do have authority.

      Reply
      1. Cambridge Comma

        I read an interesting article that I wish I could lay my hands on now about deodorant marketing that say that advertisers identity a substantial subgroup within chronic BO havers that cultivate their smell as a small act of aggression and relish being told that they are disturbing others. So I always wonder now whether the office pongers already know.

        Reply
        1. Panda Bandit

          There is a customer at my job who smells really bad and knows it but doesn’t like when anyone complains about it. I think she takes a certain pride in it?

          Reply
            1. Panda Bandit

              I can’t explain what’s going on with her but I have overheard her saying that nobody better complain about the way she smells.

              And now that I’ve mentioned her, she’ll probably show up tomorrow and walk around the store for a very long time. ;_;

              Reply
              1. beetrootqueen

                ooh i knew someone like this and it was medical and nothing they could do about it so they just decided to own it. it could be that

                Reply
        2. Gadfly

          On the flip side, I read a study once about people being shown a bunch of “new scents” (all were the same uncented lotion on cotton balls) and those accompanied by images of fat women or people of color were more likely to be rated poorly (and worse ratings, like horrible stench versus unpleasant odor) than wilderness scenes or more conventionally attractive individuals.

          So I also always wonder about possible unconscious biases of the one doing the smelling…

          Reply
          1. Lablizard

            Wow. Do you remember what journal? I want to read that article. Antecdotally, I have heard people say people from certain places smell when they don’t. I have a pretty sensitive nose and smell things others can’t often, so my theory was that people have an unconscious bias in these cases. I would love some evidence beyond, “Lablizard’s Olfactory Sensor”

            Reply
            1. SophieChotek

              And were they asked to smell the balls (supposedly the same fragrance? worn by these “unattractive” to “attractive” people.) Sadly, I am not surprised by your report.

              Reply
            2. TL -

              Eh, I don’t doubt the bias exists but people are often sensitive to different smells and don’t notice others. I don’t have a particularly sensitive nose but I’m usually the first person to smell cigarette smoke – my poor coworker came in yesterday (to me) reeking of it and I couldn’t sit near him. He’s not a smoker, he doesn’t live with one, and he couldn’t smell it on himself, so he probably just sat next to a smoker on the bus.
              There’s a chemical we use that I’m the same way with, but in general I’m usually the last to smell something.

              Reply
              1. Lablizard

                My nose seems to have a broad sensitivity palate. I can smell is a sweaty person walked through a room 1/2 hour ago, orange blossoms from 3 blocks away, cigarettes if someone walked through smoke, identify individual spices in refrigerated food, etc.. I used to do a party trick where I could name the shampoo, conditioner, detergent, and soap someone used from 3 feet away. Luckily no smells bother me, I am just aware of them, or my life would be hell.

                In these cases, people are complaining about BO, something I am really good at noticing, so I think some preconceived bias exists, especially because for both groups being smelly is a common stereotype.

                Reply
                1. Parenthetically

                  Similarly sensitive sniffer here, Lablizard! My life becomes extremely disorienting when I have a head cold and can’t smell as well.

                2. Lablizard

                  @Parenthetically because nesting

                  Same! The whole world is off kilter for me until I am uncongested. I will get startled a lot because apparently I use smell to know when someone is approaching and when I am stuffed up I can’t do it.

                3. TL -

                  Ah, I was thinking more food smell, which is going to be much more highly variable in terms of what you can smell. (even for a supersniffer!)
                  But generally, there are huge variances in what you can smell and how well you can smell it – I’m not a supersniffer at all but there are about 3 smells that I can pick up at lower levels than almost anyone else I’ve met. You can be a supersniffer and still be blind to a couple of smells.

              2. Gadfly

                I think this is one of those case where symbolic logic is correct in insisting a but=an and. Unconscious bias exists AND people have different sensitivities (both due to biological factors and socialization factors like the food examples below).

                Reply
            3. Kelly L.

              Unconscious bias, and just not being used to the traditional food smells of some cultures. I think people pick up on lingering food odors on people from some places, while not realizing that they themselves smell like their own diet too. They’re just used to their own food smells so they don’t notice them anymore.

              Reply
              1. Gadfly

                Because of religious restrictions, some of my husband’s friends do not eat meat, eggs, garlic or onions. Many of them are from India and never have eaten these. And they DEFINITELY can smell it. Even as the garlic eaters are judging the curry or hing (asafoetida) smells….

                Reply
            4. Gadfly

              I read a lot and unfortunately only recently started collecting ways to find things like this again (my Pinterest boards, in between recipes I’ll never make ;) )

              I’m pretty sure this is not it–I know the one I read about looked at some other biases as well–but this one is similar:
              http://www.dishlab.org/pubs/ACIRIJO.pdf
              http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v39/n6/full/ijo201514a.html
              http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-obesity-smells-foul-20150320-story.html

              Reply
        3. Elizabeth H.

          Interesting. I have kind of strong feelings about this issue. I really like the “natural” scent on people in general on both others and myself and I don’t wear a lot of deodorant. I would NOT want to bother anyone I work with (nobody has ever said anything to me) but I’m really not bothered by a lot of body odor smells. Most of what smells bad is the chemical reaction with deodorant rather than the body odor all by itself.

          Reply
      2. Mookie

        Alison, just checking, but did you edit or abridge the first letter, or was the subject line “telling your boss that she smells?” If not, are you positive the “hygiene issues” the LW refers to are smells (rather than wearing visibly dirty clothing, not wiping one’s mouth after eating, burping out loud, failing to wash their hands after visiting the toilet, etc.)? I think, in general, some of these issues can be handled if done very discreetly, whereas, as you say, negotiating a conversation about body and mouth odor is just… too awkward and invasive to even be considered.

        And, as a more general note to the first letter, provided it really is about smells, and not to stray into overly precious sandwich territory, some people can’t maintain their own smelliness, particularly if the source is invisible to people within smelling-distance (those sources being medications, medical treatments, trimethylaminuria, bromhidrosis, and so forth).

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I didn’t edit it and that wasn’t the subject line, but 99% of the time when I see people referring to “hygiene issues,” they’re talking about smell. So it could be something else, but I think very, very likely smell. Good catch, though — I didn’t even realize it until you pointed it out.

          Reply
      3. Emi.

        You said to talk to HR or someone above them, but would it also be okay to talk to another manager at the same level as them? Or is it something they shouldn’t hear from a peer?

        Reply
        1. Natalie

          I would definitely rather do that than talking to them directly as a subordinate, if that was my only choice. Even if a peer didn’t want to broach the subject with them, the peer could loop in the managers’ manager.

          Reply
    3. Marni

      I really hesitate to suggest this– but what about an anonymous note? I know those have issues on their own merit but…

      Reply
        1. Mookie

          Also, it’d make someone feel paranoid and persecuted. Some poison pen letters don’t even start out as intentionally malicious, but a note like that is almost guaranteed to be received as one. And I wouldn’t count on it staying anonymous if the recipient decides to make a complaint. A competent manager, I should think, would be more or less obligated to do so and quite publicly, if only to dissuade similar letters from being sent to more junior staff. Addressing hygiene issues could be cast aside in favor of a quest to ferret out the troublemaker and to make sure such notes are never sent again, so it’s probably counterproductive, as well.

          Reply
        2. winter

          Yeah I think that would (could) backfire in a lot of ways. Of course it removes you from the awkwardness, but it could make the manager feel extra especially bad. That’s not the goal.

          Reply
      1. Jessica

        Please, please, never this. I know it can seem like a useful option if you have not lived through the special hell that is examining every one of your relationships with other humans, thinking “Was it you? Could it have been you?” Anonymous letters of any kind are the WORST.
        An alternative, and I’m not saying it’s great, is the signed communication that is in writing, so that you don’t have to talk about it face to face and can both forever act like it never happened. But not anonymously.

        Reply
    4. Casuan

      perhaps something like:
      “Jane, are you aware that sometimes your cologne is a bit strong? I’m sorry to mention it although I thought you’d want to know.”
      If Jane doesn’t get the hint, then go with Alison’s advice.
      Be aware certain odours won’t dissipate overnight, so if your manager is working on correcting this it might take time.
      Good luck!!

      Reply
      1. Natalie

        I think this would be far too obtuse – most people are nose blind to their various smells (whether naturally derived or applied later), so I think the person would probably dial back on their scented products or change brands. I can’t imagine them ever making the leap to thinking it was actually about body odor.

        Reply
      2. HisGirlFriday

        My boss asked me once, before an important event, ‘Come stand next to me — is my perfume too strong? I think I put it on twice this morning, and I don’t want to make people’s eyes water.’

        I assured her, truthfully, her perfume wasn’t too strong — I could barely smell it standing next to her, but I think because it was literally right under her nose, she thought it smelled more strongly than it did.

        But she was definitely aware of it.

        Reply
    5. Susan

      I once had a manager who was known for having BO. I actually didn’t really notice it (mainly because I rarely had close encounters with him), but some people made fun of him behind his back. Even though this guy is kind of a jerk, I always felt bad for him because I think it’s mean to make fun of someone for that, but I was also not going to be the one to tell him. I hope that one of his peers or managers eventually told him.

      Reply
    6. Lablizard

      For the employee, I think the key is how bad the smell is, how much it interferes with work, and how well they know their manager’s personality. If this is more annoyance and not “I can’t focus when we are close and avoid my manager even when I need her”, the employee should just let it go. If it impacts work, that is a tougher call.

      I would feel comfortable saying something to my current manager and one or two prior managers, despite it being awkward, but would never say it to the rest and would just put tiger balm or Vick’s Vapo Rub under my nose if I knew we had a meeting.

      Reply
      1. NotTheSecretary

        Second this.

        I once had a coworker who smelled so bad that I threw up on one particularly noxious day. I can’t imagine what I would have done had he been my manager. If the stench is effecting her ability to work effectively with her manager she should probably go to HR.

        Reply
        1. SophieChotek

          Can’t imagine how awful that must have been! Did the coworker know they smelled and just not cared?

          Reply
          1. NotTheSecretary

            I think there were medical issues at hand with him. It was hard, though, to be understanding when his presence made people (more people than just me!) vomit. He was also just not a very nice person.

            Luckily, I work mostly alone and didn’t have to be near him very often.

            Reply
              1. amy l

                I once worked at a government facility (a jail, believe it or not) and we had an administrative person who reeked. The papers They passed along even had a lingering noxious odor.Grandboss finally moved person out to the warehouse. The person was aware, just didn’t seem to care. Lived alone, wore the same clothes several days in a row, apparently didn’t bathe much. Said person was very aware, but did not change habits.

                Reply
    7. Artemesia

      I don’t see how a subordinate could ever handle this. If there is an HR that is sufficiently discreet, maybe, but otherwise you just endure. I had a boss at one time who I think actually probably showered but didn’t realize that a bra can’t be worn repeatedly without washing. She always had a stale sweat thing going and everyone noticed it. No one was every going to tell her; certainly not me. Since none of us can smell our own bad selves, it is essential to have a friend or partner who can tell the truth on this sort of thing.

      Reply
  5. NoMoreMrFixit

    For #4 how does senior management define “best”? Without clear guidelines this can easily become a popularity contest where a select few repeatedly win the award and everybody else sits back and watches. There is also a potential bias towards those with better communications skills. For example Manager A (hands on) posts a heartfelt paragraph long “thanks” to her accounting team for finding and fixing some serious errors before it became an expensive problem. Manager B (distant, hands off but great writer) crafts a glowing testimonial 1.5 pages long to his maintenance crew for keeping the bathrooms clean. Who gets the award? The better writer or the manager whose team did something more valuable to the company overall?

    Reply
      1. Mimi

        Thats why I thought. They are thanking for thanking but not rewarding for achieving?

        I once had a manager who always said “You are a star” to people when we did things well. And if you were in the weeds or dealing with something difficult he would help but would always say things like “You got a good head on those shoulders, you will figure it out.”

        For me that was way better than any public forum would be. And I do think I would feel less appreciated if I knew he was getting rewarded for it. Like the fear that the shop attendant is only saying a dress is flattering so you will buy it. Not because it is.

        Reply
        1. Artemesia

          Yeah but you work with the idiotic culture you are stuck with. If I were this manager, I would be figuring out how to feature all of my people over a few months and also posting about team level triumphs. This doesn’t prevent good feedback and personal praise, but when this is what’s happening, the team wants to see themselves on the billboard.

          Reply
      2. hermit crab

        Oh yeah, I didn’t catch that at first. That’s pretty weird. We do a thing where you can send someone a little electronic thank-you certificate, and each month everyone who’s received one is put in a raffle for a gift card. It’d be so strange to get a gift for giving the thanks!

        Reply
        1. Tuckerman

          When I worked with young kids, I wanted them to recognize and appreciate their classmates’ acts of kindness. So every time a kid came up to me and told me about something nice another kid did (Fergus helped me re-build my Lego creation when it broke), I put a popcorn kernel in a jar. When the jar filled up, we had a class popcorn party.

          Reply
          1. Artemesia

            I have a rather negative grandchild; I think I will borrow this idea. the more great things she can remember from school today (I pick her up once a week for a sleepover) the more kernels go in the jar. It seems like the kind of thing most kids would get a kick out of.

            Reply
      3. Gandalf the Nude

        Oh, I assumed that was poor phrasing and that the reward was going to the thankees, which doesn’t really incentivize the thankers but potentially does encourage folks to do good work. But if it really does mean a reward for the thankers? Yeah, that’s pretty weird.

        Reply
      4. NLMC

        That’s what I thought too. We have a similar program at my work but the person who receives the thanks is eligible for the prize which is a very much coveted assigned parking spot for the quarter.

        Reply
    1. Lablizard

      I dunno, clean bathrooms are pretty important and probably the people who keep them that way are rarely recognized as providing a valuable service. In fact, they probably only ever hear complaints because people don’t think about them unless something​is missed.

      I do agree that rewarding the best “Thanks” is subjective and kind of weird. I also agree that rewarding the person who did the thanking, but not the people who did the work is kind of crap. I could maybe get on board with a bulletin board with monthly “Thank You” notes without any ranking or rewards.

      Reply
      1. SophieChotek

        I agree about the point about subjective wording and well-written thank you notes (or ones with more detail, versus “Jane was great, thanks”) likely being scored higher.

        Bathrooms — yeah — those are important. Could be outside company contracted to clean though. (Would they even be eligible then? Although since it’s the “thanker” receiving the award, I suppose technically yes)

        Reply
    2. copy run start

      Something similar was developed at a place I used to work. It absolutely turned into a popularity contest, but only within the 1/3 of the office that wanted to participate. So the people who won weren’t necessarily the most popular overall even, they were just well liked within that subgroup. This gimmick completely distracted everyone from recognizing and dealing with issues in the office as an added bonus.

      Reply
    3. INFJ

      When my previous company did something like this (same exact set up, but for peer recognition instead of management), all of the accolades were put in a hat (or something), and drawn at random for the winner.

      ALSO, both the thanker and the thankee were given the prize.

      Reply
  6. Ramona Flowers

    #5 I think you’re fine. As they don’t have a teapot designer it doesn’t sound like it’s work they’re actually equipped to do.

    It’s probably wise to be a bit thoughtful about this stuff – you may not have signed a non-compete but you can run into people again. But this really sounds fine!

    Reply
  7. Gadfly

    Ugh. OP4, I’m predicting there will be a lot of people feeling very unappreciated after this roles out. There are always certain personality types and roles that seem to attract thanks, and others who can bust their butts and never be noticed until they are gone. And having their faces rubbed in it, implying their hard work doesn’t really count as much, that tends to incline them to get to the gone part sooner rather than later.

    Reply
    1. Spoonie

      OldJob had an appreciation…thing. The qualifications for it were attendance based. That’s it. So you could be working your butt off and not be put in the pool because you got in a car accident on your way to work one day. It was bizarre.

      The prize? Literally *the worst* reserved parking spot in the garage. I told one of my coworkers if I ever won I wasn’t using it. Getting in would be a nightmare, as would leaving because it was directly in the flow of the gate.

      Reply
    2. Temperance

      I hate stuff like this, because it’s mostly a popularity contest, IMO. My boss at my last job disliked me strongly, so she would constantly reward my counterpart, even though I was doing more personal/high-level work for her and wroking as her freaking marketing assistant. (He was not smart/savvy enough to do the tasks she wanted, so she gave them to me, begrudgingly, but she still hated me. )

      Reply
    3. Ama

      Yeah, I keep thinking of the public appreciation “award” at my last university employer, which recognized so many administrators that were terrible at their jobs but a favorite of a Dean or senior leader that it sort of became a self-fulfilling prophecy — the section heads that actually did have strong administrators to nominate stopped bothering because their nominations would just be ignored in favor of someone who did one special project for the President’s office while ignoring their regular duties.

      For example, the HR rep assigned to the grad school I worked for got one the year she messed up every single new faculty appointment to our school and went on maternity leave without giving us a heads up. The VP of Finance got one for “successfully” implementing a new payroll system that everyone but leadership knew was a total disaster — at least on that one she ended up demoted a year later when the senior leadership finally realized she’d been lying to them about how well things were going.

      I don’t actually need public recognition if I’m getting praise from my boss in private, but in my experience it is really easy for even the best-intentioned public program to wind up making people feel invisible.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        I am reminded of the big kerfuffle a new VP for finance made about implementing the new travel agency plan that would result in 700,000 in income/savings for the organizations. Turns out it was $70,000 cuz you know decimal points. To achieve this people whose travel had been arranged well for decades by a much loved local agency, were alienated and infuriated.

        The same people implemented a disastrous new telephone plan that was costly, woefully inadequate and didn’t include features that would have maximized line use. Very expensive and abandoned in a couple of years.

        But initially both these initiatives were showered with honor and praise and some bonuses for the klutzes who inflicted them on the organization.

        Reply
  8. Shabu Shabu

    You sound like you have a good head on your shoulders #2! In college the only time I viewed a fellow student worker as unprofessional was when I called to offer this student a highly coveted job and she answered the phone only to say, “hold on, I’m taking a shooooott!” SMH ;) There were likely…I’ll just say that there were many other opportunities for us to learn and develop professionally that we may not have realized at the time.

    If you do talk to her I hope this student responds well to your feedback and doesn’t text you “Ur a party pooper! :(” back.

    Reply
      1. Shabu Shabu

        We did! And she’s a surgeon now, LOL.

        At the time I was feet away from the supervisor and he asked me what the students said when I offered them the job, so I told him. We had her come in that weekend and he advised her not to answer the phone like that ever again (he was nice about it though).

        Reply
    1. Thlayli

      I called a student in final year once about his project and his voicemail message was something along the lines of “im probably off getting drunk so leave a message hahaha”. Afterwards I asked him was that the phone number he was giving to potential employers. It was. He’d set the voicemail up years prior and totally forgot about it.

      Reply
      1. Parenthetically

        OH MY HECK. That’s poetic. I’m just picturing the blood draining from his face as the penny dropped.

        Reply
  9. only acting normal

    #4
    So the person doing the thanking (potentially) gets the reward at the end of the month? That’s just weird. Why not reward the person being thanked? They’re the one who did something worth rewarding.

    Reply
    1. Mookie

      This is one of very few examples I can think of that actually embodies all the scorn we heap on Participation Trophies. Some people do a great job and some people get to observe them doing that. It’s like the world’s most useless scout badge.

      Reply
      1. only acting normal

        It’s a step beyond participation trophies.
        Here the participants get nothing, the winning players get cheered, and the spectator who cheered loudest gets the trophy. O.o

        Reply
  10. Casuan

    re OP1: What would be the advise if it was the manager who wrote in?
    “I manage a small team &I have a horrid dilemma. Because of [condition] I have body odour. Which is bad enough by itself, although now I think my staff is noticing. Do I ignore it? Do I tell others I’m aware of this & that I’m trying fix this?”

    Reply
      1. Ayla K

        I think Casuan was asking about how to handle a situation where the LW knows that they smell and wants to know if they should acknowledge it to their team, not if a manager thinks one of their employees smells.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          That’s what I get for skimming — I read it totally wrong!

          In that case, yeah, I think it’s better to say something if you’re comfortable with it — “I know that this is an issue, it’s related to a medical condition, I’m sorry for the impact on others, thanks for bearing with me.”

          Reply
  11. Stellaaaaa

    OP2: Does this employee maybe have a hangup when it comes to getting a response to text messages? She reacts weirdly when her coworkers don’t respond to her, even just to say no. She responds with (possibly) sarcasm when you don’t think a response is necessary at all, like she’s reaching for something to say just to send an answer. It sounds like she’s just the type of person who thinks that every text warrants a response. You could tell her that this isn’t her social life and that this isn’t a job where everyone always needs to check in with each other. She’s stuck in a “zomg they all ghosted me!” mindset.

    Reply
  12. Hannah

    #2 I feel like a group text invites informal messages. Maybe this is just her personality and this is how she would text her friends. I think it would make more sense for formal work communication to go through email so that there are clearer boundaries between a group text (on people’s personal phones) and a real work communication. I don’t text my coworkers about work at all, and I’m in my mid 20s, but maybe I’m just out of touch and this is totally normal these days.

    Reply
    1. Snowglobe

      Texting may make sense for employees that don’t have desks in the office. I’m assuming these campus tour guides only come in when they are scheduled to give tours. Texting is probably the most reliable way to contact them.

      Reply
          1. Natalie

            Okay, and if that’s the case they can either turn their data back on, or speak up about it if that can’t be done for some reason. My point is that expecting them to have routine email access for scheduling is not a ridiculous proposition, so if the LW thinks that the texting medium in particular is a problem, they can certainly try switching to email.

            Reply
            1. Allison

              Or have them connect to wifi, I’m under the impression most schools have universal or near-universal wifi at this point. Switching to email is certainly worth exploring, at the very least, but it seems like texting isn’t the issue, it’s one person using it badly.

              Reply
          2. Judy

            If there is any cross pollination between Android and iOS in the group, you have to have data on to receive group texts (on the Android phones). It doesn’t use data, but you won’t see the texts until you have data on.

            It might be better to use a tool like remind, so everyone can connect how they want (app, text or email).

            Reply
        1. Koko

          I wouldn’t say so. They might not have data plans on their phone or they might not even really use email. I worked alongside some student workers at my moonlight job a couple years ago and a lot of them couldn’t afford data plans and a lot of them just didn’t use email. It’s a thing with the younger generation. They might have an email address but they check it once every week or only use it for signing up for things or communicating with professors only. They are much more likely to use texting, WhatsApp, Messenger, and the like as their main mode of communication.

          Eventually they may enter the office professional world and start using email more often, but as student workers this might very well be the one thing in their life asking them to use email for communication.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            “Doesn’t routinely use email” isn’t the same thing “doesn’t have regular access to email”. It’s perfectly acceptable for a boss to tell a student worker they need to check their email more often, if the boss has decided email is the best communication for work.

            Anyway, this is getting into Sandwiches Land.

            Reply
            1. aebhel

              I don’t think so? It’s inconveniencing an entire group of people because one of them is behaving badly on a particular medium. The boss *could* decide that student workers need to check their email more often, but if the only reason behind that is that one person is being an unprofessional ass on group messages, that seems like it’s dodging the actual issue.

              (Also, I think there’s a big difference between ‘some people are allergic to sandwiches!’ and ‘data plans are expensive and some broke people, like college students, don’t have them, or don’t have great ones’.)

              Reply
              1. Squeeble

                There is a difference, but suggesting the team use email rather than texting isn’t an outrageous thought. Maybe it won’t work for the reasons above, but it’s fine to suggest.

                Reply
          2. Stellaaaaa

            If you’re going to go that route, you could also counter it by saying that it’s not helpful for OP to let the student workers think it’s acceptable to completely ignore work-related texts from a coworker, even an annoying one. At some point, OP – their manager – has to be empowered to tell them what to do. Believe me, college students are always on their phones. Something can be worked out for the odd student who doesn’t have a data plan.

            Reply
        2. LBK

          Hmm, I dunno. Something about sending work emails to a personal address rubs me the wrong way (since I’m assuming these students don’t have work-specific emails and/or don’t have access to those emails outside of work). I can’t put my finger on why texting feels better, though, since that’s equally crossing the personal/professional line. Maybe because people don’t usually have designated personal and private phones/phone numbers the way you typically have a work and personal email address?

          I dunno. Something about reaching me via my personal email for work stuff when I have an email address specifically for work stuff (that I can shut down and ignore when I’m not at work) feels more violating of the work/life balance.

          Reply
          1. Emilia Bedelia

            They’re student workers, so presumably they have a student email address.

            I was very recently a student worker, and all communication for my job went through my school email. As did all communication for classes, other extracurriculars, school-wide announcements, etc. It is not at all unreasonable to expect student workers to check their email routinely.
            “Emergency” communication could be through text if it’s crucial that they get the information ASAP (office closed today, don’t come in. Boss is sick, someone needs to be there ASAP to cover. I lost my key, someone let me into the building) but in general I think communicating through email is a completely reasonable thing to expect.
            (Also, as an aside, how much work/life blurring can you do when you’re a tour guide? It seems literally impossible to me to take your work home.)

            Reply
            1. LBK

              A student email is still a personal email as far as I’m concerned. If it wasn’t assigned to you by your workplace for the express purpose of receiving work emails, it’s not a work email address.

              Reply
    2. Chloe Silverado

      My team has a group text, but we all get a cell phone allowance and we do a lot of offsite work. It’s great for quick questions that require an immediate response. Everyone keeps it professional. It works for us but wouldn’t make sense for everyone.

      Reply
    3. The Cosmic Avenger

      Really? I was going to say that I have very informal IMs with some of my coworkers, but then I will speak and email with them in the same manner. However, if my boss is in on the conversation/group IM/group email, it will be less informal. (Although we still chat about our home life somewhat, as we are a fairly close team.) I haven’t used group texts for work, but I have had occasion to text individual coworkers, including bosses, and as a whole my texts are about the same level of formality/informality as my emails and conversations would be with that person.

      Reply
    4. fposte

      I think it makes more sense to introduce the one problem to the concept of audience-appropriate tone, which she needs to learn anyway, rather than changing a whole communication method because of somebody who’s awkward at it.

      Reply
      1. WS

        Agreed. Personally I think it’s strange that the OP is texting reminders, etc. instead of emailing them but that’s just because when I’ve been part of group texts for works it’s always been with peers, not leads/managers. But if this system is working for them then there’s no need to change it. And it would probably be more work to get everyone to switch over to a new communication method rather than talking to one student anyway. (Especially if this is the norm for the whole office and not just the OP’s team.)

        Reply
      2. Bwmn

        I agree with this. But I also would add that for some student job set ups – more senior students can be in somewhat supervisory roles of more junior students. I’ve particularly seen this happen around residence life/RA positions and student tours – and it may also just be a reality that the staff member supervising this group isn’t bothered by this kind of tone with texting.

        In addition to what people have said about student jobs being a place to learn, I’ve also found that they can be places where a more rigid approach to “professionalism” can be met with a bit of an eye roll. For instance, if you want a certain type of student to be giving tours or be an RA because they represent a demeanor that is perceived as being better with students/prospective parents – then coming in super rigid about other aspects (like tone in texting) would weed out desired candidates. For more mature young people who’ve had more professional experience, I understand how frustrating this can be…..but it is also something to keep in mind.

        Reply
      3. Anna

        Exactly this. It’s not the method of communication that’s the problem, folks. Let’s not solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

        Reply
    5. aebhel

      For a lot of situations, though, email would be clunky and inconvenient, and a group text is much more efficient. I have a group text for several of my employees that I use for snow day notifications, for example; a lot of them don’t check their email regularly when they’re outside of work and would rather be notified by text.

      If it’s working for everyone else, I don’t think it makes sense to switch to another platform just because one person in the group is being unprofessional (and I don’t think it’s that hard to realize that hey, being a passive-aggressive whiner to your coworkers probably isn’t a great idea regardless of whether it’s in email or text. The platform isn’t the problem; the behavior is.)

      Reply
      1. Parenthetically

        Teacher here. We’ve definitely found that texts are a more efficient way to communicate need-to-know information with parents. And overall, for groups that sometimes need to communicate scheduling-type things, it’s SO much faster to just click on the group text and say, “Who’s going to be there this week?”

        All that to say, yes, the platform is fine; the behavior is what needs to be addressed.

        Reply
    6. Is it Friday Yet?

      I came here to say this as well. If I got the group message about the office still being open when the rest of the school was closed, and someone responded “Ugh!” I wouldn’t think anything of it. I feel like that’s less likely to happen through email. I kind of question how hard the OP should come down on her for this since the messages are probably going to a personal cell phone, and I doubt she’s being compensated for data, the cell phone, etc. If it was a work phone, that would be totally different.

      Reply
    7. Student LW #2

      Just as a quick explanation: more formal communication (changes in the tour, official scheduling etc). comes through email from non student manager and student manager. Part of the reason the group text is used so frequently is because we are actually required to keep our phones on and on ringer (as opposed to vibrate) during our shifts. We use them to notify guides that may be out about a late family or coordinate routes on busy days.

      Reply
  13. Kinder and Gentler Manager

    OP #3 – in my line of work, business developers frequently do supply a list of contacts prior to a former offer. Now, the list is limited to just names of businesses or organizations, with no individuals or contact information attached.

    The reason for this is that they usually want to make sure your list varies at a significant level from the already held contacts. A business developer who knows who we already know is not going to make as much impact as one who knows who we don’t!

    Reply
    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Oooh, that’s a good idea. Maybe even titles, depending on the industry. That could show that the applicant knows what they’re doing without giving away their work product.

      Reply
    2. Jessesgirl72

      Before a formal offer is different than before even the first interview! The OP hasn’t even had a phone interview!

      Reply
      1. Kinder and Gentler Manager

        I know how we do it in my company but am it aware of others – and I guess I see this akin to asking for portfolio samples when I am screening graphic designers. A list of companies where you have contacts is kind of the biz dev version of a portfolio.

        Reply
  14. Kinder and Gentler Manager

    Oh, and OP#1, unknowingly being a person who smells is literally up there with plane crashes and public speaking on my list of fears. I would want to know but I would probably cry my face off while finding out so an anonymous tip to HR would be how I would prefer.

    Reply
    1. the gold digger

      My husband and I have developed a code to use in front of other people: “Would you like me to get you some water?” = “You are getting bad breath.”

      Every time I hear him say this, I feel the blood drain from my face as I wonder if anyone else has noticed my bad breath. At work, I am ruthless about drinking water because Lord have mercy, I do not want to be the person nobody wants to stand next to. I would also be mortified to the point of tears if someone said something to HR, but I would also rather know so I could take more steps to solve the problem.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        Oof, I dealt with a chronic halitosis problem for a while and every time my boyfriend would try to discreetly offer me a piece of gum I would be mortified, sometimes even to the point of feeling angry that it was being pointed out (even though I’d obviously prefer to not go around with bad breath). It’s just so embarrassing, especially since it can be hard to prevent (I still don’t know what caused it or eventually made it go away since I didn’t do anything differently with my dental or eating habits).

        Reply
    2. Allison

      Same here! I didn’t worry about it when I was younger, but now I’m constantly concerned about my smell. I’d want to know if my smell was bothering someone, but I will admit that how I’d feel in response to being told depends on who tells me and how they tell me.

      Story time, I take partner dance classes at a studio that discourages unsolicited peer feedback, unless someone is hurting you. I’d want to know if my dancing is hurting someone, because I’m not a jerk, and usually I respond well to that kind of feedback, although I may feel bad for inadvertently causing someone pain. But recently, the way I was leading a move was causing someone pain, and the way she told me was so jarring and accusatory that it made me feel really guilty and anxious for the rest of the night.

      Reply
  15. Sheworkshardforthemoney

    #4. My current workplace has a bulletin board where people are encouraged to leave “thank you” notes to each other. They run along the line of, “Thanks Jane for picking up extra fruit for the meeting!” or “Shout out to Joe for his handling of the difficult client/issue.”
    There is no quota or requirement to post a note but most people read them and are pleased to see their name up in stars.

    Reply
    1. Elemeno P.

      My company did this as well. It was a massive service-focused company, and the message board served as a way to a) get managers in the habit of thanking their employees on a regular basis and b) making employees more visible to upper management.

      A manager who already thanked their team often in person would just additionally post a message on the board thanking them again. A manager who didn’t thank their team often would post on the board because other managers were posting on the board, and they might start doing it more regularly. Employees could also thank each other, so recognition was all over the place and it was nice.

      There weren’t incentives, but there was a little chart on the home page for “Most Thank Yous Sent” and “Most Thank Yous Received.” Everyone up to the CEO used this board, so they could see those names and what they were being thanked for, and it really helped when it came time for internal promotions.

      Reply
    2. bentley

      We had something like that at my old job. At the end of the month, one of the recipients was picked at random to get a small gift.

      Reply
    3. all aboard the anon train

      We had something like this at a previous company and at the end of the month, five employees were picked at random to win an extra $50 in their next paycheck. I’m not usually one for forced praise and I don’t even particularly like receiving praise, but it was still a unexpected, but nice surprise when you saw your name up there or got the extra $50.

      Reply
      1. only acting normal

        We have similar where I work now. Anyone can nominate anyone for a (very) small monetary reward, then the nominations get reviewed by management, and the ones that are approved get put in a company wide notice. I’ve had two over the years which is a nice boost.
        However, the “award” that gave me the biggest warm glow (I’m still smiling) is completely unofficial – there is a soft toy that is given each week by the previous winner to a person they think deserves acknowledgement for being a great co-worker. (I’ve never seen a complete *bleep* get the toy, but I’ve seen plenty get the money!)

        Reply
      2. Gadfly

        OldJob had something similar and I hated it. In part because I rarely got thanked and I am pretty sure part of it was I almost always took care of things painlessly enough I didn’t get noticed. People who got thanked got thanked after things got painful and then were fixed. And I wasn’t the only one. Other people I respected for being able to put out potential disaster fires the moment a match was struck never seemed to be thanked.

        It seems rigged against the REALLY super competent people (not saying that is what I am, but it is what I am for.) Which makes me even angrier when it goes the route of Elmeno P’s example. But that happens with or without job boards.

        So besides the satisfaction of hearing that things fell apart after you left, what do you do to get noticed when you just handle things constantly and consistently well?

        Reply
    4. Lablizard

      We had one of those and my co-worker wrote a hilarious poem thanking me for always being available to bounce ideas off of. I liked it so much that I made a copy and still have it years later.

      Reply
    5. tigerlily

      I used to work for a disaster relief organization where people would volunteer for a certain amount of time to help with disaster recovery – people would come down for a weekend or a week or a month, whatever. All the volunteers/staff lived together in a giant bunkhouse and each night we would all have dinner together – summer camp style. At the end of dinner we would have announcements, introduce new volunteers, etc and would celebrate “stud awards.” Anyone could stand up and award someone else for being a stud that day – for going above and beyond or doing something especially awesome that day. Usually there were about five or six stud awards a night. Super cheesy, yes, but a nice way to celebrate hard work, community, and generosity in the midst of a disaster.

      Reply
    6. anonymousop4

      Op#4 here. I don’t think that the idea of having a bulletin board is a bad idea at all, but I always think it’s better to provide the resource and then hope people use it than try to force something.

      Reply
  16. Hot Pink Squirrel

    #4

    Thank you TeaPots & Co. for the participation trophys you have everyone post here for me. My mom always tells me how awesome I am and it’s so great that I get paid and praised for it now without having to actually produce anything of tangible substance.

    Reply
    1. Shadow

      The sad part is this is what the majority of employees say they want-small pats on the back that make them feel appreciated. So when these kinds of programs come out it’s bound to feel as insincere as a parent forcing their kid to say thank you/please/sorry. But it’s basically the same thing-the company is trying to condition people to eventually do it on their own which will make it much more authentic.

      Reply
  17. Delta Delta

    #4 reminds me of when I was a kid. If my brother and I got into some sort of scrape and my mother determined it to be my fault, there’d be the obligatory punishment and speech about how I had to apologize to my brother. I’d always say no, then she’d say, “say you’re sorry,” which would prompt me to say, “but I’m not sorry,” which led to her say, “just say it anyway.” Not effective or sincere or true.

    Reply
  18. Camellia

    #4 – If you thank your people frequently, can you just post those thanks afterwards? That way your team will know it’s sincere and not just something you made up to get the reward. Then the reward becomes irrelevant.

    Reply
  19. Camellia

    #3 “The employer has come back to me (via the recruiters) with a request to supply them with some specific business network contacts.”

    I’m guessing it’s really the recruiter asking, not the potential employer. But then I am a nasty suspicious person.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      This was my read of it too, that the recruiter may be saying that, but probably it’s the recruiter wanting to connect with more people.

      Reply
  20. Enginerd

    Can OP2 actually tell her not to complain on the group text? If she’s complaining to other coworkers about working conditions it was my understanding that’s protected by FLSA. After the Chipotle facebook fiasco I wouldn’t think there’s much you can do about complaints.

    Reply
    1. Natalie

      Having the general right to discuss pay and working conditions doesn’t mean one has the right to do so whenever and wherever they wish. If they were sitting in a meeting chatting amongst themselves, their manager can still ask them to stop even if it turns out they’re chatting about pay.

      Reply
    2. LBK

      I haven’t heard about the Chipotle fiasco you reference and Google isn’t coming up with anything, do you have a link? Curious what the situation was now.

      Reply
    3. Perse's Mom

      Well, yes, OP2 can explain the behavior is unprofessional and probably hinders her chances of getting someone else to do what she’s asking?

      I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the FLSA cares about a college student’s passive-aggressive behavior that another student hasn’t yet picked up her shift (unless it can be proven to have something to do with her gender or race or religion, but there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of that here).

      Reply
    4. Enginerd

      Sorry it was twitter not FB:

      http://www.businessinsider.com/chipotle-banned-from-punishing-employees-for-tweeting-2016-8

      Our corporate reps have basically told us that yes they can pretty much do it where and when they wish, might be different due to the union here but they flew in the head of labor negotiations from corporate HR last fall to discuss it with us before management went into contract negotiations. From what I gathered the law was pretty vague and almost always sides with the employees. You can ask them to stop but not mandate it was what we were told.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        Ah, okay, that seems like a totally different situation. Policing your employees’ complaints made outside of work on their personal social media account isn’t the same as someone immediately responding directly to a supervisor’s communication. If managers couldn’t legally stem the flow of complaining it would be really hard for some of them to do their jobs; that’s not the same as stifling all concerns about workplace conditions. And I also think even the NLRB would struggle to justify defending a complaint as generic as “ugh”.

        Reply
      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        The Chipotle thing was because it was too broad. The NLRB prevents you from prohibiting employees from discussing wages and working conditions; Chipotle’s rule was so broad that it would have banned that.

        You can still, as always, talk to someone about a communication problem like the one in the OP’s letter.

        Reply
  21. Bossy Magoo

    #4: At our company we have a recognition program similar where anyone can recognize anyone else – peer to peer, supervisor to staff, staff to supervisor. I’m not a manager, but I believe a piece of the managers’ reviews include utilization of the recognition program. I was all harumph harumph about it at first too, but I have to be honest, when I get one it does make me feel pretty good. And when I fill one out I’m usually pleased with myself thinking that I’ve done a good thing for someone else. Even if it feels forced and fake, do it with the most amount of sincerity you can, and after awhile you might find it really is a good thing.

    Reply
  22. Kyrielle

    OP #4 – I would continue to praise them in the moment, *and then* do the public praise thing over the same topic. That way, they get the consistent praise you’ve been giving in a format you’ve been using, and then they see you supporting the corporate initiative by…saying the same thing again. :) Because I don’t think cutting out the in-the-moment feedback is a good thing either, when it already exists.

    Reply
  23. Anon Anon

    #1 — It stinks (pun intended), but this is something that after talking to HR you just have to suck up and deal with. I have a co-worker who smells horrible – to the point where you have to air out your office after she’s visited you. It’s bad. Her boss won’t say anything to her because he’s afraid he’ll hurt her feelings, although he avoids her as much as possible. And HR defers to her boss.

    And sadly, after awhile you adjust to the smell to some degree. That is what our stinky co-worker’s office mates say.

    Reply
  24. Numbers In Boxes

    RE: #2, the example given isn’t necessarily rude. I for one don’t think it’s appropriate to reply to a mass text with another mass text, especially when there might be some back and forth between individuals required to reach a resolution. #2 may not have complete knowledge of the situation. Instead, I read that the Student in question mass texts coworkers for assistance with Issue, other students working out Issue amongst themselves, and then a second mass text thanking the people who responded AND letting those that had not previously responded that Issue is no longer a concern.

    Reply
  25. MoinMoin

    #5 It seems a little sketchy that a client would try to contract work with an employee outside of the employee’s business when the employee does that work for that client within that business and the client only knows that employee through that business (if that makes sense). Like if I buy a lot of cakes from a bakery for my company but then ask the baker to make me cakes at home for cheaper… I don’t know.
    Anyway, my point is maybe think if that’s an indication of how they handle business relationships before you do contract work for them. But I know nothing about design or contract work, so if it isn’t odd to you it might just be my uninformed perspective.

    Reply
  26. Jeanne

    #4 is something my company tried around 1999. It went on for a few months then petered out. About 4 thank you notes were posted. It just wasn’t something we cared about. I don’t know how to word it exactly. It definitely seemed forced. Also, we didn’t much care if any thank yous were seen by the next department. It seems like one of those things thought up by a morale committee because they need ideas but it isn’t practical. I don’t want a thank you note. I want a good review and a good raise and a manager who treats me decently.

    Reply
    1. Shadow

      I heard somewhere that the culture goes as the CEO goes and it’s totally true. These things become ingrained when it’s ingrained and valued at the top and always fail when someone else is tasked with coming up with a cheap and easy solution.

      Reply
  27. Not Stinky

    I used to have to Fabreeze the hallways outside stinky guy’s office. The whole floor complained about him. Then when he left for the day I went in the office and Fabreezed it! We hide stick-ups and room deodorants in there anything to help. It was so gross. Lucky for me he was only a temp and was there about 4 months.

    Reply
  28. ArtK

    I worked for a company that had what I thought was a great “thanks” program — like all good and useful things it cost money and got killed by the budget axe. Every employee was granted the ability to send and receive a limited number of “Thanks Awards” to colleagues. I think the number was 6 to send and 3 to receive — something along those lines. The recipient could then choose from some fairly low cost, but decent quality items in a catalog. I have a nice fleece jacket, two sports chairs, a backpack and some BBQ tools from that program. The workforce was worldwide, so any kind of bulletin board would not have worked and nobody would have looked on a web site to see who got thanked.

    Reply
    1. MoinMoin

      If everyone is doing it, it seems odd that you can’t also receive 6. If you expect everyone to participate, where do the rest go? It’s like they were cynics about it from the start.

      Reply
      1. ArtK

        I don’t recall the exact numbers since this was many years ago. At one point, they may have been even or the other way around.

        Reply
  29. Mimzy

    OP #2 Please also speak with her about replying “UGH” on things she doesn’t like. If she continues to voice her displeasure of following company policy or doing certain tasks in this manner, she risks getting labelled a Negative Nelly. This can impact her upwards movement in some companies.

    Reply
  30. Gene

    $LastJob instituted a Quality Performance Noted (QPN) program that essentially pitted workgroups against each other. I don’t even remember what the “prize” for the winning workgroup was, but since it was government, it definitely wasn’t time off or extra money.

    A couple of workgroups gamed the system, writing QPNs for literally anything remotely praiseworthy, “Bunny Rabbit did a great job opening the door for me this morning when my hands were full,” “Mr. Moose was great answering the phones today,” “Banana Man really entertained our visitors today,” “Grandfather Clock kept perfect time this week,” and the like.

    With the literal flood of forms pouring in, the program ended quickly.

    Reply
  31. yoyomah

    #3 I am individual who asked this question, & I have some feedback I received from the recruiter.
    – This request was made by the employer, before the first interview with them.
    – After some (light) push back from me, the recruiter advised me that the prospective employer was searching looking for a connection on how I could provide added value to his company if they hired me. I can see that.
    – My response included a short list of names, organizations and how these contacts could be of benefit. No more, no less.
    – I let the recruiter know that under no circumstances would provide phone numbers, or email addresses. Not for free.
    This would be the second time in my career that I fielded this question. The first time (6 years ago), was much more direct and that company was looking for in-depth contact info for free. I advised the recruiter of this story and he mentioned that; unfortunately this is a tactic to gather inside info for free, and that I was right to be skeptical of their intentions. Thanks for the responses.

    Reply
  32. Thinking Outside the Boss

    For the OP on #5, I don’t see anything wrong with what you have planned. In fact, if the roles were reversed, your former employer probably wouldn’t think twice about accepting the work. Assume they no longer do teapot design. If they were contacted by the client, former employer would have three choices: (1) refer the design work to you; (2) lie and say they did teapot design and train someone to do it; or (3) say no / refer the work to someone else.

    If they felt they could make a profit off of it, they would definitely do #2 despite the fact that you’re available. They might very well do #3 even if they knew you’d really like the business.

    Best of luck!

    Reply

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