coworker eats with his mouth open, new hire keeps disappearing, and more

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

1. My coworker makes loud eating noises all day

I work in a small start-up company with just six in-house employees in a large open concept space. My boss aims for an inclusive “round table” feel so we’re encouraged to dialogue throughout the day, i.e. no headphones.

A new-ish hire of ours who works in a different department, but does work on 90% of my projects, has a terribly bad habit of eating with his mouth open. Lip-smacking, guzzling noise, just awfully loud chewing … it’s unbearable since he snacks consistently through the day on things like chips and nuts (although it’s really all foods that this happens with). I can’t focus and I can see my annoyance is effecting how I view his work — sloppy, to put it plainly.

He’s a very nice guy, and I’ve mentioned to my direct boss (our CEO) that this bothers me, but there have been no solutions offered other than the vague “deal with it.” I’m not sure how to address this, especially since his peer review is coming up and I’m afraid my personal opinion of hating working near him is clouding my judgement on his work and additional to the team. Would it be rude to ask him to chew with his mouth closed? Can I just slack message something that abrupt or should I ask in person?

If you have a decent relationship with him, just say, “Dude, please chew more quietly and with your mouth shut.”

If that doesn’t work, then get more serious the next time: “Hey, I’m sorry to keep raising this, but you tend to eat really loudly and it’s distracting. Keeping your mouth shut when you eat should fix a lot of it. Could you please try to be more aware of it?”

2. New hire is constantly disappearing

We recently hired someone who is in his third week on the job. He is very junior and needs a lot of training. This is not unexpected. He is, however, constantly disappearing for 10-30 minutes at a time. It’s hard to get anything done when it takes him so long to turn around very simple review comments. I’ll casually walk around the office to see if he’s simply chatting with coworkers or getting some water but he’s nowhere.

I don’t know how to address this as it’s slightly different than an employee who is always late or leaving early. I’ve made comments (via email) such as “I’m not sure where you’ve disappeared to, but stop by when you’re back.”

You need to be more direct. You’re relying on him to pick up on your hints, but it’s not working. You need to say, “I’ve noticed that you’re regularly away from your desk for 10-30 minutes at a time and I’m unable to find you. I need you to be more reliably at your desk, meaning that you’re there the vast majority of the time unless you’re at lunch, getting water, or in the bathroom. Can you do that?”

Do be prepared for the possibility that he has a medical need for really long bathroom breaks — but if that’s the case, he needs to talk to you about what sort of accommodations he needs, awkward as that might feel.

3. My coworker jokes about suicide

I’ve recently gone through a very rough break-up and work has become somewhat of a haven for me. It’s been a really good distraction during such a hard time. That being said, I have a coworker who’s impeding on that, and I’m not sure how to deal with it.

The coworker, Jane (fake name), went through a rough divorce about 5 years ago. She doesn’t seem to have bounced back well. She has mental health problems, and discusses them very openly. When someone asks how her weekend went, a typical response is “Well, on Saturday morning I was lying in bed thinking of creative ways of to kill myself, but then [friend] suggested we go to brunch and so I did and it was good.”

Things like this don’t just crop up every now and then. Jane talks about her mental health issues extremely often (at least two or three times a day), and it’s always unprompted. I know that she has a good support network around her and as far as I’m aware she’s not actually in danger of harming herself. This just seems to be the way she likes to express herself.

The problem is it creates a really stressful and suffocating environment for me. I’d really like to ask her to tone it down but have no idea how, and if I brought it to my manager (who’s a personal friend of Jane’s since before she or him started at our company) I don’t know that he’d have the emotional intelligence to handle it well. Any ideas on what to do?

Some people genuinely don’t know that talking lightly about suicide is upsetting to others. It sounds weird, but it’s true. But most of those people will stop if you ask them directly.

Try saying this: “Jane, it’s upsetting to me when you speak so lightly of suicide. If you really mean those remarks, I want to give you a hotline number to call the next time you’re feeling that way, but if you’re joking around, will you stop making those remarks in front of me?”

4. If we miss an hour’s introduction, we can’t go to a week-long course

I work for a big international company in Europe. After promotions, employees go on week-long courses in different countries. Since we’re such a big company, several hundred people from several countries attend each course. The courses are very intense, with classes and activities 12 hours a day. They’re very fun and a big part of the employee experience.

I’m up for promotion and we have already gotten the dates for “our course” after the summer. We take a very early flight Sunday, and there is an hour-long program opening during Sunday afternoon.

Because of summer and holidays, several people who will be going are attending weddings and other events out of town the Saturday before the flight and can’t make it to the airport that early. They offered to catch (and even pay for) a different flight. They would arrive Sunday evening in time for classes starting Monday morning. They’ve met a roadblock. New international rules for the firm say employees who miss the Sunday afternoon opening event cannot attend the course.

Naturally, there are huge protests, since they wouldn’t actually miss any of the course content! (If it matters, the firm has had a huge drive to improve employee engagement and retention this year.) What should we do? Accept it? Start a petition? (;)) Miss the course? It should also be said that this course is for fairly junior employees. Are we right to protest this or should people just accept that they will miss the course?

You can push back professionally — which means a group of you talking to someone with the authority to change this and laying out your concerns. You don’t want to come at it protesting the rule, exactly — rather you want to frame it more like this: “We’re excited about taking this course and have been really looking forward to it. Because it’s over the summer, many of us have travel plans already booked for that weekend that would be hard to change, including things like family weddings. Those of us who are impacted are willing to do whatever’s needed to make this work, including shouldering the cost of a later flight that Sunday. Would you be willing to reconsider this rule or make an exception? We hate to see it get in the way of people attending, especially since everyone in question would be there for all of the course content.”

If they stand firm, it’s reasonable to ask, “Can you give us some insight into why the rule changed so that we understand the rationale behind it?”

But ultimately, if they stand firm, it doesn’t make sense to push it beyond this.

5. New leader has a homophobic history

I recently started a new position that I love overall, with a company I greatly admire for its ethics and willingness to take a stand on social injustices. One of the leaders above me (let’s call him Fernando False) is also fairly new to the company, and I’ve had a hard time feeling comfortable with him; his interactions with many team members just feel forced, when overall we’re a genuine and candid group. He’s been a bit cagey about his background, which I chalked up to being a private person.

I did some light Googling to try to glean more about where he’s coming from, and quickly found a college newspaper article about him being accused of harassing another student, including yelling homophobic slurs at them, and was nearly expelled. Apparently Fernando was a star athlete, making this newsworthy. This article came up as a top result when I searched his full name in quotation marks, but not without. Would you do anything with this information? I feel like my instinct of discomfort with him was right on, and I doubt my company would have hired him had they stumbled upon this information.

They very well might not have hired him (although it might depend on how recent or long ago the incident was), but in most organizations it’s going to be a lot messier for them to do something about it now.

How recently did it happen? If it was within the last year or two, I could see discreetly mentioning it to your manager, in a “hey, I came across this and it made me uneasy” kind of way. But if it was a long time ago, I think this is just something for you to file away for your own knowledge … and of course, if you see any signs of problematic behavior from present-day him (harassment, bigotry, discrimination, etc.), report the present-day stuff.

{ 512 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Susan

    #2 – Is it possible that this employee is a smoker? I have had this experience with many smokers. They will go to the bathroom, or to get a cup of coffee, or to ask Fergus about something, etc., and “just stop for a quick cigarette on the way back.” Same goes for after a meeting — the meeting is over by 10:00 but they don’t come back until 10:15 because they stopped for a smoke break. And yes, I know not all smokers do this, but some do, and that seems to fit this situation. If that is the case, many employers have rules/guidelines for breaks, so he might need to be reminded to keep his smoke breaks within these guidelines.

    Reply
        1. many bells down

          The smell of cigarette smoke really bothers me, so I never dated guys who smoked – but I discovered one day that the guy I was dating DID smoke. Somehow he never smelled of it, not even his breath, and he never smoked indoors.

          Reply
      1. KR

        Well, I suppose OP might not have put the two factors together or perhaps smokes herself so she doesn’t recognize the smell as well.

        Reply
      1. Liet-Kynes

        Why covert? It doesn’t matter why he’s gone. The expectation is that he’ll be available and at his desk, ready to work.

        Reply
    1. ReadItWithSpanishAccent

      Yes, to me it sounds as bad smoker behavior too. In my country is very frowned upon and it a good part of job ads add the subtle “non-smoking environment” to the job description.

      Reply
    2. the wall of creativity

      Must be a smoker. Can’t think of anything else he could possibly be doing.
      QUACK QUACK!

      Reply
        1. Zombii

          1. Don’t bother being discreet because everyone else is in it too.
          2. Double points for in the parking lot if you’re not using a vehicle.

          Reply
    3. Monodon monoceros

      I don’t think it really matters whether he’s a smoker, or disappearing to eat donuts, or sitting and staring into space for 30 mins, though. OP doesn’t have to figure out what he’s doing, they just need to tell him to be at his desk (except for the regular breaks, of course).

      Reply
      1. LBK

        It might make it easier to address it depending on what it is, though, or at least shape how the OP has the conversation. And if nothing else it will satisfy the curiosity of the commentariat here at AAM, which I think is reason enough :)

        Reply
      2. Artemesia

        This. And you don’t need a policy for everyone. This is a pattern of not being available to work and he needs to be treated like a grade schooler for awhile i.e. told he needs to be at his desk except during mandated breaks and needs to request permission for other breaks. This is not a one or two time issue but a big deal that needs to be met head on. If he has a medical issue then he needs to request accommodation. I would also be curious and probably try to figure out what he is doing. If he is in fact spending a lot of time in the bathroom then that would be obvious I would think.

        Reply
      3. Jesmlet

        I disagree that it doesn’t matter to the extent that if it’s for a medical condition like Crohn’s, they should find a way to accommodate him. I had a friend in college with that and his professors and the band director found a way to make it work but it’s not a super comfortable topic to broach, especially with new coworkers.

        Reply
        1. Monodon monoceros

          But isn’t that up to the employee to disclose? What I’m saying is that OP doesn’t have to do a lot of detective work to figure out what the problem is, like following him to see where he goes, as someone above suggested (I do not think she should do that). She can just tell him that he needs to be at his desk, and if he has issues with that, then he needs to let her know.

          Reply
        2. Jeanne

          It may be uncomfortable. But you do not qualify for an accomodation unless you ask for one. You can tell HR instead of your coworkers. But they aren’t required to accomodate maybes.

          Reply
      4. Red 5

        It only matters if it’s medical. I’ve got a condition that if it’s in a bad mood I could easily end up in the bathroom for 15 minutes, and sometimes repeatedly. For me this is only very occasional, and nobody’s noticed it where I work now. But when I worked retail it could get really obnoxious to deal with because medical conditions that involve bathrooms are not anybody’s favorite conversations.

        That said, there’s nothing wrong with just asking him where he’s at, and if he says “I’m sorry, I sometimes need long bathroom breaks” just make sure he’s aware of your expectations for his availability. I know several people with similar problems, outside of retail and horrible bosses, we’ve never had a problem figuring out a way to manage it and get our work done.

        I could also make a case that if they’re in an open office plan, he might be stepping away for a couple other medical possibilities. Or to make phone calls, I used to have coworkers that were constantly on the phone. That would be unacceptable, naturally. But anything medical can be managed.

        Reply
    4. The Southern Gothic

      I have this exact situation with my team lead. She is constantly MIA, but I only found out recently that she is a smoker and will “disappear” at random times to go smoke, leaving other call center reps to pick up the slack.

      Reply
  2. Covfefe

    #1 There are people that do not know that they are chewing loudly. If he’s a nice guy, I don’t think there would be a problem telling him to chew more quietly.

    Reply
    1. Personal Best in Consecutive Days Lived

      This. I love Alison’s script but I would change one word; I’d say “please keep your mouth closed” instead of “shut.” In this context I feel it has less negative connotations. :)

      Reply
    2. Audiophile

      How do you pronounce your name?

      I noticed a lot of people aren’t aware how loud their chewing is. Many people in my family fall into this category.

      Reply
    3. LBK

      Yes, growing up my sister used to yell at me regularly for chewing loudly, but it’s not like I was doing it intentionally, and I could never really figure out a way to chew differently other than chewing more slowly, which seemed to minimize the sound but wasn’t practical for eating in a reasonable time.

      Reply
      1. Pommette

        I honestly think that most loud chewers are like you: it’s just how you are, and it’s not something that you can change. The only reformed loud chewers I’ve met were people who either 1- immigrated to a region with completely different norms about noisy eating and made a concerted effort to change or 2- finally found effective treatment treatment for allergies that had afflicted them for years.

        Adults who chew loudly and grew up in an area where loud chewing is frowned upon have definitely already been told to stop. They have definitely already tried to change. If they haven’t, it’s probably because they can’t.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          I did also eventually have braces, so it’s possible it was something physical with my jaw that caused it. I don’t get complaints about it anymore, so either having my bite fixed corrected it or no one has the boldness of a sibling to tell me I’m still doing it!

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        2. Artemesia

          I’ve either lived in some sort of odd bubble all my life or am the loud chewer because I have never encountered one. It is that common?

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          1. Myrin

            Yeah, I’m bewildered by this as well. Like I said in another comment, my sister occasionally comments that I chew loudly, but it doesn’t seem to happen regularly (and she has misophonia, albeit to another sound, so who knows what someone else would say about my chewing) and I myself have never met anyone who chewed with their mouth closed but whom I considered loud anyway. I feel like I’m in a parallel universe.

            Reply
          2. Mockingjay

            My daughter is a loud chewer because she is a mouth breather. She learned to keep her mouth closed while eating (small bites, breathe in between). Sinus passage issues.

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          3. Statler von Waldorf

            I never eat in front of people if I can help it because of this. I’m one of those eaters. I didn’t do it as a kid, my sinus’s got deformed after taking a few steel toed boots to the face in adulthood. I have the choice of eating very slowly so I can catch my breath between bites, or at a reasonable pace where I don’t close my mouth. I am aware that it bothers people, which is why I am very private about my eating.

            Reply
          4. Red 5

            I had a coworker at one point that I would actually ask to not be assigned lunch breaks at the same time he was because he somehow managed to make the most noise a human being could make while eating and I couldn’t for the life of me even figure out how. One day he was eating an apple and I thought I was going to go insane.

            But other than when my mental health is already frayed, he’s the only one I can recall. They’re not as common as it seems, but when you encounter one it’s REALLY memorable.

            Reply
        3. JKP

          Agree that adults who chew with their mouths open have already been told to stop. I once went on a 1st date with a guy who chewed with his mouth open all through dinner. I tried not to make him self-conscious, since he already seemed a bit nervous, so as gently as I could (like you might tell someone their fly was down) I told him, “I don’t know if you realize that you’re chewing with your mouth open, but it’s a little distracting.” His reply was “Yeah, people tell me that all the time.” And he continued to chew with his mouth open. No 2nd date for him, and he was totally baffled as to why.

          Reply
          1. teclatrans

            I was in my 30s before someone brought it to my attention (roommate, and she continued to complain about my chewing being loud even with my mouth closed). I had never realized I breathed through my mouth, either (or, more accurately, thay such breathing was abnormal).

            Mouth breathing (and hence, open-mouthed chewing) can come from sinuses or restricted tongue movement or, really, a whole host of things.

            Noisy chewing….well, a beloved family member drives me crazy eith how loudly he chews, but this is a relatively new development. I suspect it goes along with his sleep apnea.

            Reply
    4. BabyShark

      One of my college roommates chewed with her mouth open. It was awful. I love her dearly but gah she made so much noise. One day she was eating a bowl of cereal in the living room while I was reading and finally I said to her “you realize you chew with your mouth open, right?” She said, “huh. I guess I do, I never really noticed.” And then went right back to chomp chomp chomping. Ughhh.

      Reply
      1. Amadeo

        I would have thrown my book at her. My 6 year old nephew is also really, really bad about this and I have to remind him constantly to chew with his lips together because the sound drives me straight up the wall.

        I probably would have snapped at the poor coworker a long time ago. #1, I’d make sure to tell him that you don’t care if he eats, but he needs to do it with his lips together, mouth closed.

        Reply
      2. teclatrans

        But…but….you didn’t tell her that her chewing was bothering you, you just shared an observation. I would have done the same as she, in all ignorance. (Specifically, I would assume that, since we were not eating at a table together where my chewing would make you have to see my food, how i chew my food shouldn’t matter to you. I never would have known that there was something else disturbing to you, beyond maybe a strict concern with manners.)

        Reply
    5. Violet

      My husband chews loudly, with his mouth open, always. It has annoyed me for 17 years, and I hate it and complain about it, but ultimately it’s something I’ve learned to live with.

      For me, it really comes down to choosing my battles. If a coworker is otherwise a great person to work with, but chews loudly, I would do my very best to just let it go… it beats having a coworker who lies about having cancer, drinks my juice and claims it was my fault, or kicks me until I bruise.

      You may get used to it and, if the coworker is sensitive, never saying anything will preserve the relationship. I once had a coworker who would have the most loud and annoying laugh and never said anything about it. Over time, she and I grew to be good friends and it just didn’t bother me anymore.

      Reply
      1. Howdy Do

        I’ve never been told I was a particularly loud chewer and I’m not an open mouth eater but it really does some people just naturally are and my sympathies are with them-I just would hate that any time I ate anything for 8 hours everyday (I’m a semi-constant snacker like the coworker) I would have to carefully modulate my way of chewing (but the LW can’t help that she’s sensitive to the sound so I’d say it’s more of an indictment of open office plans and not allowing people to wear headphones at least some of the time!)

        Reply
    6. flibbertyG

      To be fair, there’s also a condition that causes people to be very sensitive to certain noises, and chewing is one. My friend is OBSESSED with the sound of other people chewing … I can’t even hear it. She thinks THEY are the problem for being so rude as to chew loudly / eat often, but actually I think she’s kinda in the wrong …

      Reply
      1. RVA Cat

        Plus, they’re *eating*, a function necessary to sustain life.

        Cracking your knuckles, however… *boils with rage*

        Reply
        1. Anna

          I think there are some things you have to learn to let go and this might be one of them. Sure, they chew with their mouth open and that’s gross and loud, but the OP isn’t required to let it bug her.

          Reply
          1. gingerblue

            Think of the thing that bothers you most in the world, and then explain to yourself that you’re just not required to let it bother you.

            This guy is gross and loud. That’s on him, not the OP. It’s reasonable to expect other adults to manage a level of manners most people master by the time they’re in grade school.

            Reply
          2. 42

            “Isn’t required to let it bug her”?

            It’s the same level of basic and elementary manners as if the coworker was picking his nose in front of her. Ugh.

            Reply
            1. Anna

              No, she’s not required because her reaction is hers to own. There is plenty of stuff that people do that bugs the shit out of me, but as an adult human in the world, I can let it bug the shit out of me constantly or I can get on with my day. Because I am not required to put the energy into it that getting annoyed needs.

              My office desk faces the very small, used to be residential, bathroom that almost everyone in this building uses. I can literally tell you who has prostate problems, who actually washes their hands, and who just rinses them off and dries. It’s gross. But I am not required to let it bother me. I can invest a lot time and energy into thinking about it, if I want, or I could just get on with my day, do my work, and not let it distract me.

              Reply
              1. 42

                Sorry, I’m a stickler for basic adult human manners when in a group or in public. He can do whatever he wants when he’s at home.

                Reply
                1. OP #1

                  Yeah I really try not to let it bother me, actively attempt to tune out the noise. I don’t think this would be as big of an issue if it didn’t tie into the overall “is this person super sloppy in general” question.

                  I will say that it is above-average volume and strange sound effects, so basic adult manners certainly should have come into play by now. I mean, he is 39 and a grown, married adult.

            2. Michelle

              Not picking your nose doesn’t require holding your breath, or intense concentration on forcing your finger to stay out of your nose. That’s what chewing with my mouth closed is like for me. I don’t breathe well through my nose, and I have problems my jaw (which I have tried everything short of surgery to treat, since it causes much worse problems than chewing with my mouth open).

              I would rather eat alone in an empty room than spend the entirety of every meal trying to force my mouth to work differently.

              Reply
        2. Musereader

          I have a sinus issue and i litterally cannot breathe if i chew with my mouth closed, othr people have to live with it

          Reply
      2. deets

        I also struggle with misophonia, and it’s a tricky balance. I really can’t describe how overpowering and grating the trigger sounds are, but it’s very, very difficult to ignore. I mostly deal with it by using headphones in the office (where most of my trigger sounds seem to happen), but I’ve definitely felt some of those rages that seem otherwise irrational.

        Reply
      3. Red 5

        If she legit has misophonia, then it’s the annoying kind of situation where nobody’s wrong. I would _love_ to not be so averse to the sound of lawnmowers and leaf blowers, because it actually makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. BUT, I also recognize that the guy they hired to mow the lawn is just doing his job and it’s not his fault, and I put on headphones or leave. Her putting the blame entirely on them is wrong, and isn’t a kind thing for her to do, but could really be a mental health issue that just sucks.

        All that being said, I know a lot of people who like to say they have misophonia in the same way people love to laugh and say “I change my mind all the time, I’m so bipolar” or “I like having my socks match, I’m kind of OCD.” “I really don’t like that sound” and an actual mental disorder are different.

        Reply
  3. Ramona Flowers

    #3 I think Alison’s script is fantastic, except I’d change the last line to: “but if you’re joking around, I need you to stop making those remarks in front of me,” so it doesn’t sound in any way optional.

    If she says she is not joking, and you give her a hotline number, and she keeps doing it, you could try something like this, and to keep saying this every time: “I’m sorry you’re feeling like this. It’s important that you get some support and I hope you’ll explore the resources I’ve given you.” Which is not invalidating, but sets boundaries.

    It’s always possible other people feel uncomfortable, too. (I’m also curious about whether she says things like this to your manager.) I’m sorry about your break-up and I hope things get easier for you soon.

    Reply
    1. NoMoreMrFixit

      Definitely do this. I lost a family member to suicide and it’s still a touchy subject with me. Suffering from depression and being unemployed doesn’t help either and people joking about this subject freaks me out badly. I’m really sorry to hear both of you are facing problems in life. But she needs to accept some boundaries.

      Prayers and well wishes for everyone.

      Reply
      1. Case of the Mondays

        I read this issue differently. It sounds like she is struggling with mental health issues and wants to be open about what it is like to live like that. Reduce the stigma. We wouldn’t judge a coworker who said she couldn’t get out of bed all day because of a migraine or a stomach bug. This coworker likely is battling suicidal thoughts on a daily or weekly basis. Why should she have to censor herself about that to make others feel more comfortable? That’s extremely isolating.

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          Censoring oneself to make others feel more comfortable is a basic part of interacting in a group. Not every thought needs to be shared.

          That goes triple in the workplace, where it doesn’t fly to resolve “In future I’ll just avoid Cersei and her constant talk of (politics, her sex life, her suicide attempts, her children’s latest acts of genius, how the weather is different now).”

          Reply
            1. Dawn

              Talking about it is one thing, then there’s bringing it up constantly (probably for shock value). Talking about a mental health issue is a great way to open up a dialogue, but dropping into conversation non-stop is just fishing for attention.

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            2. OhNo

              You draw the line at the comfort level of all of the participants in the conversation – including those who you may not be directly speaking to, but who have no choice but to hear it.

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              1. fposte

                Yes, absolutely agreed. This is kind of related to wearing a slave collar at work–you don’t have to make sure nobody knows this is your life (at least to me, though that wasn’t a universal take on the slave collar), but it’s also not fair to repeatedly and overtly expose other people to that level of intimacy without their consent.

                Even if it were just (“just”) Crohn’s, it’s not really reducing the stigma to detail one’s poop in the workplace, so I don’t do that. And talking about poop isn’t likely to make somebody else’s Crohn’s flare, whereas talking about suicidal ideation *is* a problem for some people who struggle with the same.

                That doesn’t mean that people have to keep their mouths shut forevermore about diseases, but it does mean that they have to consider their audience and the effect their words have on them, which usually means that some symptoms are best shared with intimates whose responses you know enough to judge.

                Reply
                1. myswtghst

                  Even if it were just (“just”) Crohn’s, it’s not really reducing the stigma to detail one’s poop in the workplace, so I don’t do that. And talking about poop isn’t likely to make somebody else’s Crohn’s flare, whereas talking about suicidal ideation *is* a problem for some people who struggle with the same.

                  This really sums it up for me. There is a level of destigmatization which is generally a good thing and okay for nearly all audiences (mentioning a disease, making general statements about the impacts, etc…), and there is a level of oversharing which is too much for people who haven’t consented to being a part of those conversations (detailing suicidal ideation, describing bowel movements, etc…).

                  I think it is important to have conversations about mental illness, and to treat “I stayed in bed all day Saturday because I was depressed” the same as we would “I stayed in bed all day Saturday with a fever”. But joking about something like suicide that directly and indirectly impacts a lot of people, and could have pretty severe repercussions beyond someone being offended, just isn’t the same thing.

                2. BeautifulVoid

                  *raises hand* Crohn’s person over here. There’s also ways to talk about one’s health problems openly, without being ashamed, without getting into gory detail. I mean, for me, I see a difference between “my stomach was really bothering me all weekend, kind of put a damper on my plans” and “I accidentally pooped in the shower”. Likewise, I don’t think people would take issue with Jane sometimes mentioning her depression and even ways it’s affected her life, but the discussion about “creative ways to kill herself” is what’s over the line.

                  But I do agree with some others that where that line is (and it might even be different for different people) can be tricky.

              2. Fictional Butt

                Exactly. I 100% believe that uncomfortable conversations are important, and Jane should be able to talk to others about her depression–but no one should be forced into that conversation, especially not her coworkers. They didn’t sign up to be her emotional support, or to get a daily lesson about what it’s like to live with mental illness. Whether they want to avoid the topic because it’s triggering or just because they don’t want to hear it, they are totally within their rights to ask her to stop. Just like I could ask my coworker to stop constantly talking about politics, or golf, or their relationship, or literally anything they were going on about that I wasn’t interested in hearing.

                Reply
                1. mrs__peel

                  Well said!

                  As someone who’s become emotionally worn out over the last few years from supporting a depressed, occasionally suicidal partner (and close friends with similar issues), I’m definitely *not* okay with being used for that type of emotional support by mere work acquaintances.

                  Work is my respite from that type of thing, and I have zero ability or desire to be a work colleague’s unpaid therapist.

                  I’m 100% in favor of reducing the stigma around mental illness, but what’s described is not really doing that in way.

              3. 42

                On top of that, if someone is routinely discussing suicide, it would tend to (over time) decrease the alarmed reaction that such a declaration usually elicits. You hear it once, you immediately direct the person to a suicide hotline. Hear it repeatedly, you either get annoyed or block it out completely.

                So this isn’t a “destigmatizing” process in the least.

                Reply
                1. General Ginger

                  It would be nice if suicidal ideation could be resolved in the long-term by one call to a hotline. Just saying.

            3. TootsNYC

              Well, we don’t talk about bathroom activities in much detail.

              And in this case, there’s no need to parse out rules, because our OP is going to directly ask Jane to stop.

              It’s not that Jane should have known to never bring this up–that’s not what’s going on here.

              It’s that Jane is going to be specifically asked to not joke or speak casually about suicide in front of the OP.

              Once someone has specifically asked you to not discuss something, then the polite thing is to honor that request.

              Reply
            4. Aeryn Sun

              I’m all for destigmatizing mental health issues and discussing them, but joking about it could make things more difficult for others dealing with mental health / suicidal thoughts. Joking about things is what I do to blow off steam / cope with other things, so I get it, but it’s not going to be a good way to cope for everyone, and could be actively harmful for others with suicidal thoughts.

              Reply
            5. Falling Diphthong

              The lines move constantly, depending on the topic being discussed and who is present. Most people learn them by experience and common sense. Someone with autism might need to ask someone at work to give them a set of explicit rules like “You can talk about A with Alex and Chris to a moderate level, but if Pat shows up you need to drop it, and if it’s someone you don’t know you dial it way back to the rare glancing reference. When it’s just you and Wakeen, you’re allowed to go on about A in any depth as long as you want, so long as you spend half the time listening to him talk about A.”

              Borrowing from Bloo, there are many things you can talk about with Team You. Your coworkers and the coffee shop barista are not automatically on that team by virtue of being unable to get away from you.

              Reply
            6. Liet-Kynes

              The line is “am I expecting people to do emotional labor on my behalf, and if so, are they close enough to me that that’s a reasonable expectation?”

              Reply
            7. lb

              Think of this as related to the recent letter about what to answer when someone says “how are you?” in the office. There may be a time and place for discussing mental health openly in the workplace and I’m not necessarily opposed to people doing that in the correct context. But that context is not ever in response to “how was your weekend?” or other sorts of casual workplace interactions.

              Reply
            8. Red 5

              When your way of dealing with your mental health is negatively affecting the mental health of the person you’re talking to. It’s really that easy.

              The OP said she has a support system and other people to talk to, a person who is wanting some consideration of their own struggles should be able to be compassionate towards someone else who is struggling and needs to cope with it in a different way. Forcing them to live in your world and cope in the way you’ve decided is best for you when it’s detrimental to their health is just a jerk move.*

              *The universal you to help keep the sentence from being convoluted, I’m not saying you do this or would think of doing it or even that it’s what the OP’s co-worker is doing. I’m fairly positive said co-worker has no idea it’s hurtful to the OP and I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she’d stop or at least lessen it if she knew. Even rephrase. I know a lot of people with mental illnesses that don’t always mesh well, and almost everyone is very good at knowing how to treat each other well.

              Reply
        2. Bloo

          I totally agree but as someone who has these thoughts on a daily to weekly basis, I’ve accepted that most people can’t handle hearing about it. So I will express those thoughts to my close friends (my Team Me) that can handle it. I do wish there was less of a stigma but it’s getting better.

          Reply
          1. Anna

            I’m not even sure this particular thing is about stigma, exactly. Destigmatizing mental illness should allow someone to say, “I struggled this weekend” just like anyone else is able to say, “I had a really bad cold.” I think the difference is you wouldn’t go into details about how exactly you were sick with your cold and if we extend the analogy, talking about contemplating suicide would be that level of detail.

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            1. Perse's Mom

              I would agree here.

              There’s also the fact that while I would feel sympathetic to Susie talking about how awful her cold was, if Wakeen starts making joke-sounding comments about suicide… as someone who can remember the bloodstain on the floor from a close relative attempting suicide, that’s not going to evoke anything resembling sympathy in me. I fully understand that some people partly cope with their issues via humor, but this is a very risky sort of humor that could backfire tremendously.

              Reply
              1. KellyK

                Absolutely agree. Dark humor is a perfectly valid coping method, but you have to know your audience really well and be really careful who you make those kind of comments to. A coping method that just passes your trauma on to others by triggering stuff from their own background is not a good coping method.

                That kind of joking is pretty much never okay at work. Not only don’t you know that level of detail about your coworkers’ histories, personalities, and senses of humor well enough, but you’re also in a more open, public space. Even if Fergus and I have been best friends for the last decade and I know he’ll appreciate my flippant “I’m laughing bitterly so I don’t cry or scream” commentary, Jane could still walk by and overhear.

                Reply
                1. Red 5

                  Exactly this. My family has an extremely dark sense of humor, and we can be very frank and matter of fact about a lot of things. But I also know I need to mitigate that and tailor my comments to my audience. Just because we can laugh at cancer because that’s how we needed to deal, it doesn’t mean there might not be somebody walking by who recently lost a parent or loved one that wouldn’t find the jokes hurtful. And the last thing I would ever want is for my coping mechanism to make somebody else’s life difficult in any way.

              2. Annie Moose

                Yeah.

                I’ve had depression before, and I’ve thought about dying. And when you’re right down in the depths of it, at least for me, a coping method (and, in my case, something of a cry for help) was to make jokes about killing myself. “Well, I thought about killing myself, but then we went out to brunch instead” sounds like exactly the kind of dark joke I’ve made when I’ve been depressed. (and honestly, it’s not even entirely a joke, it’d often be at least half true)

                But these jokes can be deeply distressing and hurtful to other people–it was a coping mechanism for me, but could have a terrible impact on someone else! Even when I’m struggling with mental health issues, I have a responsibility to not hurt other people. And making these kinds of jokes without being very careful about my audience is something that has enormous potential to be hurtful.

                (and, like others have said, even if it’s literal and not at least partly joking, it can still be TMI. It’s possible to discuss depression and ideation without getting into specifics that can be distressing or unpleasant for others to hear. It’s possible to say that you’ve been struggling etc. without getting into the specifics.)

                Reply
        3. Marillenbaum

          I think it’s an issue of the level of detail. It’s one thing to say “I was out with a stomach bug” versus “I spent the day wracked with moltenous lava-poops and intense stomach cramps”. Similarly, it’s one thing to say “I’m having some issues with my depression/anxiety/what have you” versus discussing the details of one’s suicidal ideation.

          Reply
          1. Jeanne

            You’ve got it. I’m all for being open about having depression or anxiety. I don’t think we need to tell every detail to every person every day. The main purpose of work is…Work! You work with many types of people and need to be aware of that.

            Reply
            1. JessaB

              I have learnt never to be eating or drinking actively when reading AAM. It has saved my keyboard from getting food on it, and saved my sinuses from snorking Pepsi into my nose whilst laughing.

              Reply
          2. Falling Diphthong

            When I was in the Peace Corps in Africa, part of the explicit training when you were going back to the US was “Yeah, do not discuss your exciting technicolor diarrhea with your colleagues. I know it becomes a normal thing to compete with your fellow volunteers, but this is not considered normal back home.”

            A reminder that people really are endlessly malleable to new social norms.

            Reply
          3. Mints

            +1
            My friend group is fairly open about saying “I was in a depression funk last weekend” and it sounds the same to me as “My allergies were pretty bad last weekend”

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        4. Fictional Butt

          FWIW, I frequently lose entire weekends to migraines and I don’t feel that’s an appropriate thing for me to constantly talk about at work. I mention migraines occasionally, but I think it’s just basic courtesy to not constantly dump my problems on others. “Being open” and “reducing the stigma” are important, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to bring up your medical issues in every conversation, especially at work where you have a captive audience.

          Jane has the right to talk about her daily suicidal thoughts, but her coworkers also have the right to not be the recipient of someone else’s suicidal thoughts daily. That’s why mental health professionals exist (and get paid the big bucks. Or so I hear).

          Reply
          1. Kate

            This! I lost a day and a half of the weekend to a migraine recently. I mentioned it, almost word for word as above, to a couple of people at work. I did not go into excruciating detail about how I almost vomited every time I drank water even, and I didn’t repeat it over and over all day/week.

            Reply
        5. LizB

          I think there’s a difference between the remark the OP quoted and something like “I couldn’t get out of bed Saturday morning because of my mental health, but brunch with a friend helped a lot.” It’s the difference between “I was laid up with a stomach bug all weekend” (OK) and “Man, it was coming out both ends! I had to use the toilet and the tub at the same time!” (less OK). There are appropriate ways to be open about mental health issues in the workplace, and there are over-the-line ways, just like with any other health issue.

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        6. Tina

          Suicidal ideation has been a part of my life since junior high and sometimes when I’m having a bad spell making comments or jokes about suicide is a coping mechanism. Joking about it or bringing it up in a casual manner makes it seem less like the terrible scary thing that it is (it’s like saying Voldemort instead of he-who-must-not-be-named; it takes away some of the power of those thoughts). BUT, I would neverrrrr make these comments/jokes at work. It’s just not professional! Suicide is an act of violence. You wouldn’t answer the questions “How was your weekend?” by saying “My husband got on my nerves and I fantasized about slitting his throat.” Also if it made somebody uncomfortable or upset so hear me say those things I would absolutely want to know so I could make sure not to do it in front of them.

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        7. Liet-Kynes

          “It sounds like she is struggling with mental health issues and wants to be open about what it is like to live like that. Reduce the stigma….Why should she have to censor herself about that to make others feel more comfortable? That’s extremely isolating.”

          Because we all censor ourselves to make others feel more comfortable, in myriad ways. We’re all dealing with struggles and pains and issues that, in the name of decorum, we don’t overshare with our coworkers. It has nothing to do with stigma and everything to do with discretion. “I was laying in bed thinking of creative ways to kill myself before someone invited me to brunch” is oversharing and too much information, period, full stop. “I had a really rocky morning on Saturday, but thankfully a good friend got me out of my own head” would be the level of information I’d be comfortable getting from a coworker, and shares what’s going on in a way that’s not uncomfortable or a burden. And sorry, telling people you work with about your suicidal ideations is putting an onus to act and help on them that’s too much to ask from people who don’t necessarily associate with you voluntarily. That’s stuff you lay on your closest confidants and your committed support network, not coworkers.

          Reply
          1. Fictional Butt

            Right. Not to be too blunt about it, but Jane isn’t there to reduce stigma or be open about living with mental illness, she’s there to do her job alongside other people. I would bet that every single person in that office has some private struggle or life experience that the others don’t fully understand, and that might be educational and beneficial to the others to learn about, but work isn’t a group therapy session where everyone gets a chance to share their story. I have firsthand knowledge of how isolating illness can be, but that’s why you have to build up a strong network of loved ones and supporters–not just people who happen to be around.

            Reply
            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

              And, not to put too fine a point on it, the coworkers aren’t there to help her cope or comisserate or be part of Team Jane, they’re there to do a job alongside other people and get paid for it. As someone with strong boundaries and a general practice of discretion and emotional distance from coworkers, I would frankly resent the implied demand for emotional labor these kinds of jokes and comments entail. We’re all there because our bosses wanted to buy some aspect of our expertise or experience, not because we want to be friends and intimates.

              Reply
          2. Falling Diphthong

            Telling people you work with about your suicidal ideations is putting an onus to act and help on them.

            This is very true. People feel like they should say the exact right thing because otherwise what if you follow through? Thus defaulting to offering hotline numbers (because they know they are not at all equipped to deal with this but other people might be, you should talk to them) or terrified awkward silence.

            Reply
            1. JessaB

              This is the reason I have my phone set with a hotline and that new text thing where you can get anonymous help by texting their number. Someone mentions suicide to me, seriously or not, I’m handing them my phone with the text message started and telling them to chat to someone who can really help, because I normally wouldn’t have the spoons to because of my own mental health.

              Someone mentions suicide and I take them at their word. And my instinct is to get them help from an expert. I have a feeling those that are just blowing smoke, or joking, or trying to get an “OMG OMG you poor dear how can I help,” response, are going to be met with someone who believes them unconditionally.

              If they need help really, they can get it, but if they’re blowing smoke, my “this is an emergency,” response usually at least stops them from doing it to me.

              Reply
              1. General Ginger

                I struggle with suicidal ideation, and when I joke about it — I am being absolutely serious, too. I’m not blowing smoke. Being able to casually joke about it is a major coping method for me. I wouldn’t make these casual jokes at work, nor in front of people who tell me they’re uncomfortable and want me to stop. So if you want me to stop, and told me to stop, I would. But the “if you need help really, they can get it, here is a hotline” approach would honestly feel awful to me. I am getting help. I have support, I have a great therapist. I don’t want a hotline, I need to be able to say, this shitty thing is happening to me but it’s stupid and mockable and I’m trying to not let it get me. Again, if you were uncomfortable with that, I would stop — but I am not comfortable with the premise that if I am joking about this, it can’t possibly be a real problem.

                Reply
                1. Liet-Kynes

                  “Being able to casually joke about it is a major coping method for me.”

                  And like I said: this carries with it the expectation that everybody you joke about it with is interested in willingly taking on the emotional labor of figuring out how to deal with that statement, sussing out whether you need immediate help, and processing whatever their own emotional response to the joke is. As someone with loved ones who’ve committed suicide, it would be really tough to hear a joke about it.

                  Also, should not have to ask you to stop. You’re crossing a boundary you should expect to be there, by default. If the person isn’t a confidant, they’re not a position where they should be expected to assist you in coping.

                2. General Ginger

                  @liet-kynes — let me rephrase: I wouldn’t joke like this in front of people I didn’t know for sure were OK with it. My “if you tell me to stop” refers to people who are generally OK with it — and tell me that right now they’re not.

                3. Liet-Kynes

                  Oh, gotcha. I think that’s reasonable. Ambushing people with this would be a problem, but if you’re 100% sure they’re cool with it, that’s not the scenario I had in mind.

        8. Sarah

          I actually do think constant discussion of physical health issues in the workplace is also unacceptable, at least if it gets to the level of multiple times per day and making coworkers uncomfortable. Of course it’s fine to occasionally mention that you’re feeling under the weather on a particular day or that you have a doctor’s appointment scheduled so you’ll be out Friday morning. But I don’t want to know all the gory details of my coworkers’s health conditions multiple times per day, and they don’t need to know about mine either.

          Reply
          1. Red 5

            I’m so with you on this. I tend to be fairly private about my health issues (which are many) and it baffles the heck out of me to have co-workers just start laying out their medical history instead of saying “I’m not feeling well.” I don’t want people to lie and say they’re fine when they aren’t, but IDK, I don’t need to hear a play by play of somebodies bunions unless it’s somehow a funny story.

            Reply
        9. Statler von Waldorf

          As someone who has visible scars on his wrist from a suicide attempt, and has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution against my will, I have a fair bit of experience with mental health issues. I totally understand using humor to deal with dark situations, and indeed I do the same thing myself. I’m going to disagree with the idea that talking about suicide is like talking about p0op, and is something that should only be done with close friends. There is stigma around suicide, and insisting that it never be brought up because someone might be bothered by it just feeds that stigma.

          However, there is a big flip side to this. As soon as anyone tells me that it’s making them uncomfortable, I stop. I always remember that dark humor is like food … not everyone gets it. Some people have lost loved ones to suicide, and there are just as entitled to their feeling as I am to mine.

          Reply
          1. Liet-Kynes

            “There is stigma around suicide, and insisting that it never be brought up because someone might be bothered by it just feeds that stigma.”

            So I should be expected to listen to someone joke about killing themselves the same way a few friends did in high school and college….because of my abstract duty not to feed a stigma? Talk of suicide fills me with sadness and guilt and anger, and like I keep saying, getting over that after you inflict it on me is a demand for emotional labor that’s not reasonable.

            Reply
            1. Statler von Waldorf

              Nope. All I expect is that if it bothers you that you speak up, and I will stop. Even if you don’t specifically say so, if it’s obviously causing you distress I will stop as well. What I won’t do is never speak of it for fear that it hypothetically might bother someone.

              Reply
              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                That’s unfortunate. Because it will bother someone. And that someone is likely not to say anything to you because the situation is already awkward enough.

                Reply
                1. Statler von Waldorf

                  If someone won’t speak up about something that bothers them, then I’m afraid that isn’t my problem, it’s theirs. I’m still not feeding the stigma by censoring myself on this subject.

          2. mrs__peel

            Suicide is one of those things (like sex, religion, etc.) that’s just not an acceptable topic for casual conversation or jokes in the workplace, period.

            In any workplace, the odds are high that someone has been affected by the suicide of a close friend or family member, or is personally struggling with depression. It doesn’t take a huge leap to realize that those kinds of jokes and comments are likely to be distressing for somebody. The onus shouldn’t be placed on other people to object to it.

            (If someone is having an especially hard time and needs to talk to their boss or a close friend at work *privately* about their mental health, how it affects their job, etc., that’s a very different situation than joking about it in common areas).

            Reply
            1. Statler von Waldorf

              Sorry, buy I still disagree with that statement, period. A lot of people in my current workplace find me talking about my same-sex partner as distressing. Not in graphic terms, just that I have one seems to bother them an awful lot. Am I to not talk about that either?

              Reply
              1. mrs__peel

                That’s a totally different situation, and those folks are being unreasonable.

                Level of detail is important when it comes to the appropriateness of workplace interactions. Mentioning a partner at work *should* be completely reasonable (though, obviously, in many places with rampant discrimination it’s not that simple). But going into graphic detail about one’s sex life and what you both got up to over the weekend (regardless of sexual orientation) would be inappropriate for the workplace.

                Similarly, noting briefly to colleagues that you had a tough weekend or are dealing with an ongoing health issue like depression would probably be fine to most people. But going into detail about suicidal thoughts would be seen by most co-workers as inappropriate.

                Joking about suicide is something that’s highly likely to cause emotional distress to a certain percentage of co-workers, and perhaps trigger some of their own mental health issues if they’ve dealt with similar feelings. If that doesn’t bother you, then I guess I don’t know what to tell you.

                Reply
                1. Statler von Waldorf

                  Not long ago, it would have been very reasonable for me to never mention that my same sex partner even existed. You have heard of “don’t ask, don’t tell” right? Social mores change over time. If people who suffer from mental health issues refuse to be open about it, things won’t change. I find the situation far more similar than different.

                2. Linguist Curmudgeon

                  The existence of gay people doesn’t give folks PTSD, the way a close friend committing suicide sometimes does. They are not remotely comparable.

              2. myswtghst

                The people who are “distressed” because someone talks about their same-gender partner are distressed because of their own biases. They are the oppressors, and honestly, I’m okay with them being “distressed”.

                The people who are likely to be distressed by a joke about suicide are often people who are directly impacted by suicide / mental illness. They deserve compassion, not additional distress.

                Reply
                1. Statler von Waldorf

                  People are bothered about mental health issues because of their own biases just as much. I’ve been living my crazy life for years. The vast, vast majority of the people bothered by this aren’t bothered because they lost a loved one to suicide. They are bothered because they think that mental health issues shouldn’t be talked about. It makes them uncomfortable. They believe that I should just shut up and deal. It’s not hypothetical to me, this is my actual real life experience with dealing with the subject.

                  Furthermore, I do have compassion for people impacted by mental illness. I’ve been a volunteer at a crisis center to help people impacted by mental illness for several years now, just to be clear. So please don’t paint me with that brush.

                  I also have compassion for people with peanut allergies. When I find out that someone has a peanut allergy, I stop eating peanuts around them. What I don’t do is stop eating peanuts forever, just because one person has an allergy.

                  Anyways, I don’t think I can be any clearer here, so I’m walking away from this before Alison has to chide me for dragging this comment thread off-topic. Again.

              3. paul

                You seem hell bent on doing something that’s going to make a lot of people very uncomfortable and do nothing to de-stigmatize mental illness. Cracking jokes about a topic that’s painful for a whole passel of people isn’t just harmful to your professional reputation; it is actively rude and incredibly crass.

                Reply
                1. Statler von Waldorf

                  Crass is a great word that doesn’t get used enough. I’ll even agree that it’s probably a good fit for my behavior in this situation. I can live with that. I do try and shy away from being actively rude though. That’s why I stop when it’s obviously upsetting someone, even if they don’t ask me to.

                  Mostly, I disagree strongly that it doesn’t do anything to destigmatize it though. I’ve had far more than one person talk to me privately about how my openness about all the aspects of my mental health struggles has changed their minds on how they view mental illness. Part of that openness is that I’m able to joke about it.

          3. myswtghst

            There is stigma around suicide, and insisting that it never be brought up because someone might be bothered by it just feeds that stigma.

            After reading through quite a few of the comments on this post, I have to say I take issue with this statement.

            From what I can see, the majority of comments aren’t insisting suicide never be brought up; they’re stating we should be conscientious of how we bring it up and who our audience is. Also, it isn’t about someone being “bothered” – it’s about it being actively harmful for people who struggle with suicidal ideation and might be triggered to hear it described in detail, or emotionally traumatizing for people who have lost someone to suicide to hear it joked about unexpectedly.

            While I completely agree that we need to reduce the stigma around mental illness and suicide, I also believe that in the workplace, there is a certain amount of tact required when talking about just about anything (including mental illness, physical illness, and death). Talking about therapy as a normal, beneficial thing is great. Treating mental illness the same as we do physical illness when it impacts work (and life!) is necessary. Not tip-toeing around the fact that a death was due to suicide is important. But I just can’t get on board with joking about suicide at work as a way to reduce stigma.

            Reply
            1. mrs__peel

              Very well said.

              For me, personally, if I heard someone making those types of jokes at work, it would bring back some of the worst moments of my life very vividly. I really don’t want to deal with crying in front of my co-workers over extremely personal matters.

              I’m also a very private person and tend to be a “peacemaker” type at the office, so it would probably be difficult for me to speak up and say that it bothered me.

              Reply
    2. Whats In A Name

      I definitely agree here & I also think Alison might be right in her not realizing how it affects other people. It could be some type of self-deprecating humor she is attempting or her way of communicating or a more serious issue, but I agree making her aware of how uncomfortable it makes OP is the right first step.

      I had a friend whose brother committed suicide and until they pointed out to me how flippantly I’d say things like “ugh, I could just kill myself for being so stupid” I never even realized I did it. I am so happy he pointed it out and have eliminated that from my vocabulary completely.

      Reply
      1. LJL

        Agreed. I had a friend who joked about creative ways to kill himself when we were kids. He committed suicide at 16. I have completely lost my sense of humor on suicide jokes after that. I hope a reminder will help her to realize that these kinds of jokes can be hurtful.

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        1. TootsNYC

          actually, this makes me worry about Jane a little, so I like that Alison started the script with the possibility that this is a danger for her.

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        2. General Ginger

          I am so sorry about your friend.

          FWIW, I struggle with suicidal ideation pretty much on an ongoing basis. I wouldn’t make such comments and jokes at work, or in front of people I know have an issue with it (for any reason), but being able to joke about my suicidal ideation is one of the few ways I can reduce it to something that’s not bigger and better than me. If I didn’t have people in my life to whom I could make such jokes, coping would be a lot harder.

          Reply
    3. LCL

      If a person asked me to change some aspect of my voice or speech because it was bothering them, I would listen respectfully until they told me I needed me to do it for them. Once the word need left their mouth, I might turn around and walk away, or laugh mockingly, or perhaps tell them to eff right off. Or say ‘well I need 2 weeks vacation but I ain’t getting that either.’ Or sing the line from the Rolling Stones song at them. Asking a coworker to stop doing something because you ‘need’ a certain behavior is infantilizing and patronizing. If I am doing something that offends you, even if I didn’t have any bad intent, for God’s sake tell me directly.

      The word need is fine in terms of a work process-Random needs the TPS reports from Brand before he can start processing invoices. Need because someone is bothering or offending you somehow is kinda passive aggressive, and definitely annoying.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I hope in real life that isn’t true–that you wouldn’t laugh mockingly at somebody upset at suicide jokes because of her phraseology.

        Reply
        1. LCL

          In real life it would never get to that point. The person would say ‘stop telling suicide jokes’ and I would say ‘ I am sorry and I will stop.’ They would get a real apology, not the sorry you were offended kind of apology. The mockery or more likely turning around and walking away would happen if they kept on with the therapy speak after I apologized and said I would stop.

          I get why suicide talk is disturbing to some. We have substance abuse and suicide in my family too. Like most families I expect, just some talk about it and some conceal it.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Okay; it initially sounded more like you’d be responding to how they indicated the problem, and I was thinking people upset about suicide might not be great at choosing their words.

            Reply
      2. Falling Diphthong

        So if someone said: “I need you to not joke about suicide, because it brings up such painful reminders of my spouse’s suicide” you would laugh mockingly and tell them you needed a two week vacation and to eff off?

        I’m with FPoste on being the exact perfect word police.

        Reply
        1. LCL

          No. I am referring to the suggestion that Alison’s suggested response needs the LAST line changed. To have the whole interaction is fine. But to end with the line ‘I need you to stop making those remarks in front of me’ after you have ALREADY discussed this is infantilizing and patronizing.

          Leading with ‘I need you to not joke about suicide…etc’ would elicit an ‘oh I’m sorry’. Ending with what you need, after we have just discussed this, is overstepping both of our boundaries. I am responsible for behaving like a decent human being to you, and for apologizing and stopping it if I’m not. I’m not responsible for any of your mental health needs. It’s hard enough to tend to my own peace and wellbeing, I have no business getting involved in yours.

          Reply
      3. Elizabeth H.

        I’m not crazy about the phrasing either. “I need you to do (x)” is really only appropriate coming from a manager. I agree it sounds infantilizing and patronizing if it comes from a peer and is related to a non-work behavior. It’s the same way that it would be rude if a peer said “I need you to give me those numbers by the end of the week. Can you do that?”, it is weird if a peer says “I need you to stop making those kinds of comments to me because they bother me. Can you do that?” I think it sounds dramatic as opposed to just saying “Those comments bother me. Can you please stop making them to or in front of me?” So in general I agree with your sentiments.

        This is just a wording detail though.

        Reply
        1. Lissa

          Yeah I get the aversion to “need” in this context, just because I’ve seen it used to jump all over people who are doing something someone doesn’t like in a passive-aggressive unhelpful way. I feel the same way about responding to somebody who says something you don’t like with “No. Just no.” It sets one person up as Authority Of What is Acceptable in a way that I personally find super offputting.

          That said I realize it’s just a phrasing thing and if somebody used it in a way that was obviously serious/heartfelt, like about suicide jokes, I sure wouldn’t nitpick their word choice (though privately would still be grump and wish they’d said “dude, knock it off!” instead). But if it was about a less sensitive issue I would have a hard time not responding negatively.

          Reply
  4. Emma

    #1 – Oh, man. I’ve never been able to speak up when a coworker was a loud open-mouth chewer, even when I was screaming inside. (Misophonia to the max here.) Since one particular coworker wasn’t super easy to talk to, I always felt like it would come across like I was “singling them out” and/or being rude, since they were so clearly oblivious to the noise they were making in an otherwise silent office. (How???) I went back and forth between fuming and being completely dumbstruck by how anyone could be so inconsiderate.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      My estranged dad eats like this and refuses to entertain the idea that anyone else could object to it.

      Reply
      1. blackcat

        Are you my estranged brother in law? Because my father in law does this. He has a big beard, and food always ends up all over it, too.

        It’s so gross, and it is the worst. People have talked to him about it. He thinks that how he eats is none of their business.

        (What is odd is that, otherwise, my father in law is very considerate.)

        Reply
          1. blackcat

            I knew it was unlikely. I would prefer to think that there aren’t that many individuals who eat like this. But, alas, it seems like there may be quite a few.

            I do think the OP should be prepared for a response like, “That’s your problem, not mine.”

            Maybe headphones are a good solution, if that’s at all possible….

            Reply
        1. nonegiven

          Would full color, full volume video capture, shown to the perpetrator, on the biggest tv in the house help?

          Reply
    2. Jeanne

      I think it’s impossible to distinguish those who don’t care from those who don’t realize they’re doing it with this problem. Unless of course you talk to them. Singling them out? You know you’re not but the conversation could go badly. I think it’s worth it to try.

      Reply
      1. OhNo

        Same. Especially if it’s accompanied by a lot of crinkling of bags. That combination always drives me bonkers.

        Reply
        1. Rebecca in Dallas

          Ugh, I have two coworkers that sit nearby who just constantly snack. All day, I hear crinkling bags, scraping the bottom of yogurt containers and the crunching. OH GOD the crunching. I have to either put on headphones or walk away from my desk during snack time.

          Reply
    3. peachie

      Oof, same (re: misophonia). I just read an article this week showing that initial studies seem to confirm that it is an actual thing! (Of course, any of us who have it know it’s a real thing, but it’s hard to convince people who don’t have it that triggering sounds cause an uncontrollable, totally irrational fight-or-flight response.)

      I’m glad/lucky that for me, only specific peoples’ chewing noises bug me, and thankfully, I’ve never had that problem at work. But I don’t know what I’d do! If that happened to me in a working lunch or something, I’d probably get up and use the restroom or something. It’s such an awful feeling for me–I’m really not an angry or violent person at all, but when I hear one of those ‘trigger sounds’ I just snap.

      Reply
    4. kittycritter

      I go through this exact thing on a daily basis. We have an open office plan, and my co-worker who sits directly behind me is an egregious loud eater. I hear smacking and chewing throughout the day. He always gets takeout for lunch, then brings it back to his desk to eat it, and I sit here screaming inside! Once I see him walking back to his desk with his takeout, that is my queue to get the hell up & away from my desk – I’ll either go work in a conference room for a while, or take my own lunch break and leave the building for awhile. It’s such a sensitive subject to bring up – eating habits are very personal! – and I would never feel comfortable commenting to him about it, since we do have an open office plan and others would definitely hear me. I don’t want to embarrass him, but I don’t see how he doesn’t realize he’s chewing and smacking so loudly!

      Reply
    5. LabTech

      Yup, a coworker I share an office with grazes on loud, crunchy foods all day: Carrot sticks, kettle chips, bell peppers (Why would anyone bite into a bellpepper like an apple?!) And now that Ramadan just started, the whole annoying crunchy food thing is going to be all the more grating. He also doesn’t so much as acknowledge when I say good morning, so that whole communicating with him thing doesn’t seem very … palatable.

      Reply
      1. Liet-Kynes

        Oh god. I’ve fasted in the past, and that would turn me into a raging hangry beast. It’s fine until you see or hear food, and then it’s like OH GOD MUST EAT FOOD NAO

        And Ramadan mubarak!

        Reply
      2. Rebecca in Dallas

        Bahaha, one of my good family friends used to eat bell peppers like apples! I mean, he was a small child at the time and I think his parents were like, “Whatever, at least he’s eating vegetables” but I have never else encountered someone who did that.

        Reply
          1. teclatrans

            I knew someone who ate raw onions that way too.

            (I didn’t know you could eat raw potatoes and not get an upset stomach?)

            Reply
      3. JessaB

        OMG on the bell pepper, wonder if they’re Iron Chef fans.

        Ramadan Mubarak and may you see Eid in all the seasons of your life.

        Reply
    6. OP #1

      YES! I appreciate Alison’s answer and all the comments. I think I’ll work up the nerve to say something in a polite-as-possible way. Otherwise it’s going to keep distracting me, misophonia is a large problem for me but during mealtimes I can generally tune it out if I’m looking away- but this is just ALL day so it’s a lot harder.

      Reply
  5. Connie-Lynne

    #3, that’s how I lost my husband in February and I have to say that I understand how awful it must be to hear your coworker making light of this. Erich wasn’t the first person I lost that way; just the worst.

    I have had to shut people down from making those comments in front of me a lot since then. It’s shocking how common an idiom it is.

    You’d think it would be easy for me to just tell people, “don’t make those comments, they cut me to the bone,” but it’s harder than you think because I don’t actually want to tell every stranger I meet that I’m a young suicide widow. That’s a terrible burden to give others.

    So what I do when people say that is exactly what Alison suggests: I ask if they’re serious, I offer contacts to professional assistance, I express concern, and I point out that it’s not a joking matter and that their statements worry me.

    I hope your coworker is merely naive, and not in danger. Thanks for caring.

    Reply
    1. Connie-Lynne

      That said, I am in fact open about my mental health issues right now at work — I don’t hide that every Tuesday I leave early to see my shrink, for example. I firmly believe in destigmatizing mental health problems, and let’s be honest, _of course_ I’m seeing a shrink two months after my husband’s sudden death!

      So maybe she is going through something similar and her boundaries are messed up. Who knows.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I do think there’s a difference between destigmatizing mental health, and over-sharing about your personal medical history and struggles. I’m not saying that that’s what you’re doing Connie-Lynne—I’m just highlighting that people sometimes have poor boundaries around these issues but use “destigmatization” as an excuse for pushing against/crossing others’ boundaries.

        Reply
        1. Statler von Waldorf

          I disagree. Some boundaries need to be pushed. Even with the hit that I know I’m taking to my professional reputation by not letting go on this one, this is one of the very few situations where I sincerely believe that it’s worth it.

          However, I know I am definitely in the minority on this one, and unlikely to convince anyone here, so I’m dropping this now.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            We may be thinking of what “destigmatizing practices” in the workplace entail in different ways. In my opinion, it is 100% not ok to make jokes about suicide or suicidal ideation in the workplace.

            There are any number of other statements a person can share about their mental health if they so choose. Folks have provided a lot of help about what those parameters and statements could entail, but most of them do not focus on making light of a serious mental health risk. But I don’t think suicide jokes are the right fight to pick or the right tool for destigmatizing serious mental health concerns.

            Reply
    2. Knitting Cat Lady

      I totally get where you’re coming from.

      I was hospitalized for 6 weeks recently due to a really bad bout of depression. In that time two fellow patients killed themselves.

      Right now I’m at a point where making jokes about suicide is a coping mechanism for me. A sort of gallows humour to show that the concept of suicide has no power over me any more.

      But if anyone tells me they’re bothered by it, I stop.

      I just wanted to put out there that for some of us the jokes are a coping mechanism.

      Reply
      1. Connie-Lynne

        Yes, I make those jokes, too. I’m not just a widow; I’ve tried it myself.

        But I stop and realize that my audience might not know where I’m coming from, and explain. I also don’t wait to be asked to stop; I try to ge cognizant of my audience.

        Reply
      2. Anon for this

        Same. I haven’t made an attempt in a few years and part of how I deal with the constant ideation is gallows humour. Taking the thoughts out of the echo chamber of my head and in to the bright light of day removes some of their power (this will sound silly but it’s like the Harry Potter dementor thing). It’s also a way to signal that I’m not ok but I’m coping because all to often you hear people wonder why we didn’t say anything when we wanted to say something all a long without it being a ‘cry for help’, humour gets it out there in a way that tries to relieve the stress of it. But I run in a social network where that sort of thing in extremely common and we vent like that daily because we’re all on the same page. Switching from on social group to a more ‘normal’ one can throw off you’re understanding of where the boundaries are and what you shouldn’t say to people you’re not emotionally close to. The person in OPs case might be both joking and serious as a method of coping, but work isn’t the place for personal stuff and OP should definitely speak up

        Reply
        1. #3

          OP here,

          Anon for this, you’ve summed up perfectly the way I think Jane is behaving. She’s definitely using her near constant, lighthearted discussion of her mental health issues as a coping mechanism, and I don’t want to rob her of that necessarily, but at the same time I’ve also dealt with mental health issues in the past and I’m trying very hard through my break-up to not get back to the state I was in. I think that’s why Jane’s behaviour really grates at me so much. What you all (and Alison) have recommended is very good advice.

          Reply
          1. Jeanne

            I’m with Connie-Lynne. Coping mechanism or not, work isn’t the place for it. There are many parts of our personal lives that we put on hold at work. I think it’s reasonable to ask her to stop joking about suicide to you. You are not her therapist and you do not have to help her work out her issues.

            Reply
            1. Always anon

              Agreed. As someone else who uses humour about various mental health issues (including suicide) as a coping mechanism, it helps – but it helps at home and with friends. Never in a professional or formal context. Hopefully she’ll realise the boundary issue once it’s pointed out to her, so maybe it’d be helpful to point that out specifically?

              Reply
              1. Data Lady

                Not even sure it helps outside of a work setting, to be honest – it’s only alienating. It’s best to learn not to talk about this stuff with people who aren’t either mental health professionals or dealing with similar issues themselves.

                Reply
                1. OhNo

                  I don’t think you can paint the situation with that broad of a brush. It’s more of a know-your-audience thing than any hard and fast rule – certain people are going to be comfortable with those kind of jokes, and others aren’t (and it could go either way regardless of whether they’re dealing with similar issues).

          2. N

            Oh God, this is hard. I was struggling with pretty severe depression last year and while I wouldn’t have said something like this at work, my friends definitely got those kinds of comments from me from time to time.

            I actually am not sure I would push the suicide hotline, per se, because it can feel a little callous–like it’s annoying to you and you want to hand the problem off to someone else. Like, when I was in that boat people were quick to say “You have a problem and need to seek out xyz resources” but didn’t want to just say hello and ask how I was doing, which to me, personally, would have mattered a lot. I do think that pulling Jane aside and saying you’re worried about her and perhaps asking about her supports might be a better bet. Letting her know that you care and maybe checking in every once in a while or getting lunch can be good. Definitely don’t assume it’s a joke, though.

            Reply
            1. N

              This is not to say that Jane shouldn’t self-censor–just that the conversation should be more, “Let’s not talk about this at work for the benefit of those around us, and I’m going to ask how you’re doing and let you know you’re valued” rather than “I’m going to give you a phone number so you shut up.”

              Reply
        2. Connie-Lynne

          As I said, I also have been there. I worked in 90s goth clubs, FFS, I was at Caltech in the 80s.

          But day-job work isn’t an appropriate place to make these jokes frequently unless you’re sure of your audience. Find your coping mechanisms elsewhere.

          Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Yeah, I agree. In this context, the gallows humor could easily trigger others, and it’s really not ok as a repeat comment/”joke” in the workplace. I know I react to suicide jokes in a similar way to how I react to jokes about sexual assault. Although those two categories are fundamentally different, they’re both jarring and triggering, and there’s a high likelihood someone in your workplace either has direct experience or has someone they care about who has had that experience. Your coworkers should not have to disclose that this bothers them (or why it bothers them) for you to refrain from doing it.

          I understand the therapeutic role that dark humor can fulfill for folks—believe me, I have all sorts of inappropriate-for-work, dark jokes that I find funny—but when we’re at work we have to balance our individual needs with those of the group.

          Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            Good reminder that we tend to know less about our coworkers’ personal lives, and they have fewer options for just avoiding us–it’s not like people you know from your neighborhood coffee shop, or college friend group.

            Reply
          2. myswtghst

            Your coworkers should not have to disclose that this bothers them (or why it bothers them) for you to refrain from doing it.

            This is a really great point. Given the number of people who are impacted by suicide (and mental illness, and sexual assault) but would probably prefer not to talk about it at work, and (as Falling Diphthong below mentions) the fact that coworkers are bit of a captive audience, it’s really a kindness to be considerate in how you talk about those topics at work (if you do at all).

            Reply
      3. Ramona Flowers

        I’m sorry but this isn’t really the kind of thing that’s okay to do until someone says stop.

        I am a suicide attempt survivor and it is really hard for me to speak up about things like this as I actually can’t form words to say it when I need to.

        Some coping mechanisms are okay to do around anyone. Some you need to know if it’s okay before you do them. I’m so sorry things have been difficult for you but I’d really advise not making jokes unless you’re really sure it’s okay with your audience.

        Reply
        1. myswtghst

          Some coping mechanisms are okay to do around anyone. Some you need to know if it’s okay before you do them.

          Yes, this.

          As a sort of related example which came up here recently, some people (myself included) find it helpful to do something with our hands during meetings to stay focused. There are methods to do that which are considered acceptable in most environments (like taking detailed notes, some level of doodling) and methods which might be viewed as unprofessional or distracting to others (like knitting or fidget spinners). You have to know your audience, as it were, and pick the appropriate coping method.

          Reply
      4. BananaPants

        I get that you find it a coping mechanism, but it’s probably not appropriate for the workplace. Others around you might be triggered or otherwise deeply distressed by suicide jokes. People shouldn’t have to tell you to stop; there can be others who haven’t said anything because they don’t know how or feel awkward.

        I would be seriously freaked out to hear a coworker joking about suicide all the time. I’m not not a therapist and it’s not my job.

        Reply
      5. Carla

        I agree, it might be a coping mechanism. I would also look at this from another angle. I’ve suffered from severe depression and anxiety, and been passively suicidal, and hearing people casually talk about killing themselves (repeatedly) really triggers those feelings again. Especially when it’s in a setting like work where I don’t expect to hear gallows humor on a regular basis.

        Reply
      6. Liet-Kynes

        “But if anyone tells me they’re bothered by it, I stop.”

        They really shouldn’t have to, though. You’re crossing a lot of people’s boundaries making jokes like that, and while I realize it’s a valid coping mechanism, your coping mechanism would make me and many others extremely uncomfortable or distressed. The onus is not on the distressed to push the boundary line back to where it should be; that’s a level of emotional labor I don’t want to do for a stranger or even casual acquaintance. I’d recommend limiting these jokes to people who are already your support network and your confidants.

        Reply
        1. General Ginger

          Liet-Kynes, I don’t think anyone is saying we’re all making these coping jokes in front of strangers or casual acquaintances. But if someone appears to be OK with me saying these things and has never said to me that it’s actually not comfortable for them at all, but keeps stewing about it quietly — that’s on them.

          Reply
          1. mrs__peel

            “that’s on them”

            If it’s happening *in the workplace* (regardless of how friendly you are with the person in question), it’s definitely not on them. That’s not a boundary that a co-worker should have to actively enforce, because it should be a given of professional behavior.

            Reply
            1. General Ginger

              I am not talking about this happening in the workplace; I don’t believe work is an appropriate place for this at all.

              Reply
      7. paul

        Really dark humor just isn’t appropriate in the bulk of workplaces.

        You’re talking to a guy that’s cracked jokes that’d get me fired if I said them at work; I like gallows humor. But I recognize it is very inappropriate to joke about things that I can expect to cause people pain. Humour is my coping mechanism, not necessarily theirs.

        Reply
    3. Detective Amy Santiago

      A friend of mine lost her partner to suicide last fall. Google “Camp Widow”. She found a wonderful support network there.

      Reply
    4. Rebecca in Dallas

      I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband.

      I’m like you, I’ve lost several friends to suicide and most recently my father-in-law. Suicide jokes just do not sit well with me. I understand that for some people, it may be a coping mechanism for their own issues, but my issues deserve respect as well.

      Reply
  6. GermanGirl

    #4 maybe you can suggest this compromise: One of the people who arrives on time will take a video of the introduction and provide it to the latecomers who promise to watch it that night so they are on the same page as everyone else the next morning.

    Caveat: if it’s an outside training provider, they might not allow videotaping any of their sessions.

    Reply
    1. Jeanne

      I get the idea that what they are missing isn’t formal training but a mixer/get to know you type event. OP says they won’t miss coursework. Videotaping wouldn’t help with missing that unfortunately.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        I wondered if the event was to hit the generic questions everyone asks, and in the past they have had an issue with people skipping the intro, then derailing the courses to repeatedly ask those questions. If that’s the case, then the video would work.

        OP4, do you know the reasoning on that rule? Were they just annoyed at people showing up late (various degrees of late) and drew a hard line? Is the introduction Things We Don’t Want To Keep Answering tomorrow, or a chance to perform introductions and build social ties that they think affects the week going forward?

        Reply
        1. AndersonDarling

          This was my thought. If it has become a rule, then missing the introduction must have been making a big impact on the rest of the course. I imagine that the introduction is where all the sign in occurs, ice barkers happen, and the outline of the coursework is laid out. There may be introduction activities that set the groundwork for the rest of the week. It may not really be an introduction, that’s just a name they give because it is the first session of the course.
          I wouldn’t push back to hard, but it is OK to ask what happens at the introduction session. It sounds like this is a great perk which is why the company only offers it to employees that can fully commit to the entire course.

          Reply
          1. AndersonDarling

            Heehee…ice breakers. I’d like to be at a meeting where they have ice barkers. I hope it’s a kind of popsicle.

            Reply
            1. Jeanne

              I want to go to a conference where they hand out cups of ice with the ice that’s so great to chew. Then we all sit around chewing ice. (And I guess driving people nuts!)

              Reply
          2. LW #4

            Nope, it’s literally just a introductory speech. They’re usually good,I’m not trying to criticize it per se, but it is also just a speech, followed by a very causal dinner and time for people to hang out, drink or sleep, depending on their preferences.

            The real learning starts the following morning.

            As far as I can ascertain, they implemented the policy to a) have a policy at all b) make it more cohesive across different regions.
            If I was writing a policy and had to implement a cutoff date, that’s probably where I’d put it too.

            But I’d say maybe 50 people in all are attending the course from my country. Everyone knows about this and are upset. The company already has problems with retention. It’s just plain stupid to let a globally set policy (they don’t have to follow them like they’re the law. They frequently make exceptions because global policies don’t always mesh with local ways of working) ruin all the good work in engagement they’ve done.

            Reply
      2. LBK

        My guess is that the introduction is an event most people hate and skip out on even if they’re available for it, so this is the company’s way of coercing people to attend. I know I’ve certainly found a lot of intro/mixer/icebreaker things to be painfully awkward and corny, so I wouldn’t be surprised if people are opting out.

        Reply
        1. Allison

          Yes, it’s most likely this. I’ll bet there’s a mentality of “that’s not gonna be fun, and I won’t get anything out of it, so why bother?” especially if getting there for the opener is inconvenient.

          Reply
        2. flibbertyG

          Especially if the opening speaker is someone important in the company (CEO etc) and they hate to see an empty room. I’ve had this problem in organizing events.

          Reply
  7. SAHM

    #1, My husband has a medical condition where he chews with his mouth open. It’s disgusting, but I’ve learned to live with it-most of the time. Just be aware that it might not be something he can control easily/without surgery.

    Reply
      1. LBK

        I don’t think that will really make a difference…the noises usually come from inside the mouth. Covering it might muffle them a little but it’s not going to stop them.

        Reply
        1. Myrin

          I’m fascinated to hear you say that because I myself am the only person I’ve ever know who is apparently an occasional loud chewer (at least according to my family). I’ve literally never had anyone eat in my vicinity and thought they chewed loudly in some way – I wouldn’t even know that was a thing if it weren’t for my sister’s exasperated “Why are you chewing so loudly??” one day. The only annoying/loud/distracting noises from someone’s eating I know of are results of eating with an open mouth, in which case it would absolutely help to physically cover your mouth while eating.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Ah, I was think the “he” in MommyMD’s comment was the OP’s coworker (and therefore the issue was sound, not sight), not SAHM’s husband.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Ah, I was thinking of SAHM’s hubs–but also the fact that I personally am more bothered by sight than sound, too.

              Reply
        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          For folks without misophonia (which is presumably most of us), it’s the visual that matters — actually seeing the partially digested food in someone’s mouth. (yak)

          Reply
    1. Jeanne

      I’m not sure though why he has to spend all day at work eating chips. He can eat on break. And most people with a problem would be more polite about it. Does your husband subject others to his problem all day? I would bet not. People who know they have issues usually have a speech prepared. “I’m sorry. I know I have this jaw problem when I eat. Please forgive me.”

      Reply
      1. flibbertyG

        Hehe we have this debate at work ALL THE TIME (damned open offices pit employees against each other like rats in a cage). Is it “rude” to eat all day? Some people want to snack constantly and personally I don’t think it’s really “rude” even if someone around them may find it annoying. A coworker insists it is thoughtless and also feels that some foods are “ruder” than others to snack on … basically crunchy foods or things in crinkle bags, as someone said above. To me, these background noises are like typing sounds, coughing, or phone conversations – irritating, perhaps, but not “rude,” – just a consequence of being packed in next to each other with no private space to think.

        Reply
        1. KellyK

          Yeah, I think it’s pretty neutral. If you have a coworker who finds it particularly annoying, whether because they have misphonia or because they’re trying hard to concentrate on something tricky, then it would be appropriate to eat elsewhere if you can. (Not every office has a good space for breaks. Mine doesn’t really have a lunch room.) But I don’t think there’s anything inherently impolite about eating at your desk.

          Reply
        2. Howdy Do

          I’m a constant snacker and have never once noticed other people’s eating sounds so it was quite a surprise to me when a co-worker complain about me eating baby carrots in our shared office. At the time I thought it was so absurd that someone would be annoyed by that! But it seems there’s a whole bunch of people much more sensitive to eating sounds than I am. I am just very lucky to have my own office so my snacking doesn’t drive anyone crazy (because I do still love baby carrots!)

          Reply
          1. FlibbertyG

            It’s funny you say that, baby carrots is one of the things my coworkers have declared is “so rude” to eat and I was like, whaaa? (And I’m not even a snacker, I was just interested in this new field of etiquette I apparently know nothing about). Other things that are apparently rude: chewing whole apples (rather than cutting them up), pretzels, crackers, chips – basically anything that crunches – anything in bags, anything with a strong smell. Apparently if someone MUST snack outside of mealtimes, one can snack on raisins and nothing else lol. I thought my coworkers were a bit odd but apparently there’s a range of opinions on this.

            Reply
        3. teclatrans

          So, crunchy foods actually help stimulate the reticular activation system sensors in your jaw muscles, triggering alertness. (I chew pretzels when I have to drive when a bit sleepy.) So I could see people needing to eat lots of crunchy foods throughout the day if they need the stimulation for some reason.

          Reply
    2. Turquoise Cow

      People are super harsh about this, wow.

      Seriously, you guys don’t snack throughout the workday, while not on break? Where do you draw the line on “acceptable” or “unacceptable” background noise? People talking? Breathing? You want the guy to stop working every time he wants a snack? Or cover his mouth, which might make work harder or slower?

      I’ve occasionally had to chew with my mouth open when my sinuses were so backed up I couldn’t breathe if I wasn’t. (I have a history of fairly chronic allergies that only recently got under control.) Aside from my mother when I was a child, nobody ever called me out on it, perhaps because they’re not bothered by background noise.

      Reply
      1. flibbertyG

        There are people who literally are enraged by the sound of chewing (google “misophonia”). I’m never sure if we’re all obligated to accommodate them in what could be called an irrational aversion to certain sounds – but certainly, if a coworker asks you to please keep down a habit that is bothering them (whether wrong or right), it’s kind to try something reasonable. I had a coworker ask me to type quieter and I said I’d … try?

        Reply
        1. Cercis

          Sometimes the loud typing is your keyboard. My one “diva” moment at work was when they moved our desks and I got someone else’s keyboard. OMFG – that keyboard was so LOUD (and dirty, but that was a completely separate issue). I literally couldn’t type without everyone turning and staring – because I’m a decently fast typist. I complained to the IT folks that they didn’t keep my keyboard with my computer and then I got in early and switched the keyboard with the original owner (I knew who it was because it was so dirty – I knew who ate at their desk).

          I really only complained to IT because I wasn’t sure if the keyboards were tagged and somehow assigned to us and I 1) wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t be blamed for the keyboard breaking due to the food and 2) wouldn’t be found out if I changed it myself. But it got reported up the chain of command and my boss actually stopped by my desk to type on my keyboard to see how loud it was and then said “oh, did you change it out?” and I admitted I did and pointed him to the other keyboard and he typed on it and said “yep, that’s loud, we should replace that” and it actually did get replaced within a few weeks and coworker was counseled about cleaning her keyboard more often (and was taught how to do it).

          Reply
          1. flibbertyG

            Wow, good job! In our case I think we were just crammed in so close together that little irritations built up. It’s a necessary open office skill to learn to tune out background noises, but while my new coworker was adjusting I was willing to try and do my part to type more gently. I think they appreciated my effort and that went a long way towards helping them adjust.

            Reply
        2. Turquoise Cow

          I’ve heard of misophonia; it seems to be all the rage right now. I’m just wondering how much other people are supposed to (literally?) tiptoe around, trying to be quiet, in order to appease people.

          It’s like Miss Manners – she recommends only pointing out issues with clothing or body if it’s something the person can actually fix, so an open zipper is okay, but a stain or weight issue is not. Certainly in this case one could ask the coworker to attempt to chew more quietly, but avoiding eating *all day * except whilst on break or lunch in order to not enrage people with the sound of crinkled packaging is a bit excessive.

          Typing makes noise. Chewing makes noise. Crinkled wrappers make noise. There’s only so much one can do to keep it down when the noise itself isn’t that loud to begin with.

          Reply
          1. flibbertyG

            I tend to agree, I think the solution is probably two-sided. They resolve to try to be as quiet as reasonably possible, but you also resolve to try and not let it bug you so much. Of course I understand that may be easier said that done (on both sides).

            Reply
      2. PlainJane

        I think you do your best to minimize the noise. I’ve never had a big issue with eating noises, but I have one friend who chews with his mouth open AND smacks his lips AND licks/sucks on his fingers noisily to get food off them, and it’s effing disgusting. If all he did was chew with his mouth open, I wouldn’t care. So no, I don’t think someone has to accommodate another person’s desire for perfect silence (though for the love of all that is holy, let people wear headphones at work), but we can all try to be aware of the noises we make and be as considerate as possible of those around us.

        Reply
  8. Amy Farrah Fowler

    #1: I’m actually pretty sympathetic to the person eating loudly for a number of reasons, most especially because you haven’t made a request for him to stop.

    From personal experience, I used to have a lot of problems with eating with my mouth open. I had a pretty severe underbite that actually prevented me from chewing with my mouth closed which wasn’t corrected until I was a junior in high school. Because I had to develop new eating habits in my late teens and early 20s, I know there were probably a lot of people cringing at my eating. It took a lot of effort and quite a few reminders (usually from my mom) when I would chew with my mouth open, but I managed to fix it.

    As embarrassing as you think it would be to say something, it’s much more damaging to stay silent and let it continue to color your opinion of your coworker.

    Reply
    1. Shay

      It’s actually a very difficult thing to bring up with a coworker you are not good friends with. I struggled through many months of a coworker loudly eating/slurping all day long at the desk — really, all day — rather than ever eat in the cafeteria, for example, and finally said something. And suddenly a hellish work situation became exponentially worse. It’s a risk. And unless someone has a really unusual medical background like you do, if they are already behaving inconsiderately I now believe there is a higher chance they will react poorly/not be open to any comment.

      Reply
    2. TBoT

      Me, too. I remember my mother barking at me to chew with my mouth shut constantly throughout my childhood, but my overbite was so severe I really couldn’t. Then I had years and years of orthodontic work, and a recommendation for further surgery on my jaw that I never followed through on.

      I don’t *think* the way I chew is a problem anymore, but the presumption in some of these comments that people who chew with their mouths open willfully rude and sloppy is hurtful.

      Reply
  9. MommyMD

    Disappearing act knows exactly what he’s doing. I would advise him lunch time is for breaks and aside from any short bathroom breaks he needs to be present at his desk. If he refuses to be, find someone who will.

    Reply
    1. Case of the Mondays

      Sorry, but my employer doesn’t get to choose if my bathroom breaks are short or long and they don’t get to fire me for needing long bathroom breaks. I have Crohn’s and it is an ADA protected disability. There are many similar reasons an employee may need frequent long bathroom breaks beyond their control. If you are a doctor, I would hope you would be more sympathetic to those issues and reminding people here of what many of your patients deal with on a daily basis.

      Reply
      1. Jeanne

        I am sympathetic. I have a different issue but similar. But I maintain that they don’t have to make accomodations for hypotheticals. If new guy needs an accomodation he has to say so. Otherwise, they can say we need you at your desk most of the time.

        Reply
      2. Amadeo

        OK, but you have to tell your boss in order to get that accommodation. They aren’t mind readers and can only address the problem they see, which is you, not at your desk. As uncomfortable as it is, you have to say ‘I have this problem, I need an accommodation, let’s work something out.’

        Otherwise they’re just going to wonder where the heck you are and why you aren’t at your desk doing your work, and that will be the problem they address.

        Reply
      3. KR

        I feel like that would be an extenuating circumstances. I think MommyMD is implying the missing coworker is doing this on purpose which is just as likely as him having a medical condition at this point especially as we don’t have all the information. I’ve had employees who needed long or frequent bathroom breaks because of health conditions and employees who would disappear in the bathroom for a half an hour outside of their allotted break time because they didn’t want to be on the sales floor.

        Reply
    2. Fafaflunkie

      I bet a lot of these problems can be solved if the employer installed Faraday cages in all their restrooms. I know as a manager myself, some of the junior staff love to spend their time in the stall, phone in hand texting/Facebooking/whatever. If their signal drops to zero where we can’t follow them with cameras/supervisors, they’d be less inclined to having extended bathroom breaks.

      Yes, this may be an added expense, but there’s nothing an employee can do about it. It’s sad we just can’t demand them hand over their phones at the start of their shift and only get them back at the end of it. Lawyers say we can’t. Screw lawyers.

      Reply
      1. mrs__peel

        “Faraday cages”

        I wasn’t familiar with that term, and at first was picturing something like a giant hamster cage… That would probably get people out of the bathroom fast!

        Reply
  10. MommyMD

    “Can you please chew more quietly with your mouth closed? It’s loud and grossing me out”. Do not be apologetic, just even-toned. When you eat like a wild animal with no regard for others, you deserve to be called out. Gross.

    Reply
    1. Boo

      Tbh I think this is unnecessarily combative and unhelpful in a work context where OP has to maintain a working relationship with Loud Chewer. OP can achieve the same if not better results by just asking nicely, especially as it’s entirely possible Loud Chewer is blissfully oblivious and would be mortified to know how much it bothers OP.

      Reply
      1. Zip Silver

        I quite like the direct approach. Saying “eww” when a coworker sneezes into their hands, for example.

        Reply
        1. DivineMissL

          “Eww” may be direct, but it sounds like shaming; it might be effective but seems a little cruel?

          Reply
    2. Whats In A Name

      I kinda like this short and direct approach. No over-explaining or getting into specifics – just “this bothers me, can you stop?”

      Reply
    3. TootsNYC

      I agree with your “not apologetic, just even-toned.”

      But I think it’s smart to NOT think of the term “called out.”

      That puts people in an angry and scoldy mindset, which can end up translating to a bad tone–or make people afraid to bring it up at all because they know that tone could be a problem.

      Think of it as “conveying information” — “you probably don’t realize that you make a lot of noise when you eat, and you may not have considered that it’s really gross for me to hear.”

      Reply
      1. flibbertyG

        I would rather use Alison’s usual recommendation to admit this is a personal quirk and ask them to please keep it down as a favor, rather than acting like they’re committing a faux pas. As someone says above, they’re just eating. Even if they’re eating with poor manners (mouth open), it’s not usually appropriate for an adult to criticize another adult’s table manners. I agree that bringing it up directly in the moment is best, without acting like it’s a huge deal. (I’d say sneezing, which is a sanitation issue, is a different category than this).

        Reply
        1. Kate

          But it really isn’t a personal quirk. It is a super basic part of table manners that kids learn about the same time they start feeding themselves with utensils and get out of the high chair. And the rule about criticizing another adult’s manners only applies when it isn’t affecting you.

          Reply
          1. flibbertyG

            I guess the question is just what you want to achieve. Assuming you want the behavior to stop with as little unpleasantness in your relationship with this coworker as possible, I’d say phrasing it as a request is best. If you want to shame or punish someone for behavior that you consider bad, I guess you can go with EW GROSS GOD WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU.

            Reply
        2. beanie beans

          Any approach would be so hard for me. I can be direct with people about a lot of work issues, but when it comes to people just being gross, I have a hard time speaking up.

          I sat next to a gross guy who had all kinds of noises coming out of him all day, including contant belching, smack-chewing, exasperated sighs all day, and some crazy throat clearing. I talked to my supervisor and he ended up moving desks rather than confronting him about it because it wasn’t really a work issue. Which I have mixed feelings about, but the people who sit near him now don’t seem to mind his noises, so maybe it was more about me than him.

          Reply
  11. I Herd the Cats

    #4 — “There is an hour-long opening program” Weeellll….. where are the details, OP? You’ve put a few short words toward a several-paragraph question and haven’t really provided us with key information. What’s in the hour-long program? What’s so important about it that the company expects you to be there? I’m guessing you have at least *some* idea where they’re coming from, even if you think their reasoning is silly, but you didn’t tell us. So as the Herder of Cats, who deals all workday long with people who don’t want to Do The Things just because they don’t want to, I’m curious. You’ll do a much better job on your half of the argument if you know what their reasoning is.

    Reply
      1. I Herd the Cats

        Granted. So if she has no idea, how can she convincingly argue that it’s irrelevant? She should find out what it is before she starts protesting that company policy is wrong.

        Reply
    1. LW#4

      Woha, I think your tone is a bit harsh.

      I don’t have the exact details but they’re usually… like most opening ceremonies? I don’t know what else to tell you.
      A senior boss speaks about the firm and the importance of the programs and how proud we should be of promotion. Things like that.
      They’re fun but the essential learning doesn’t happen then. It’s one hour out of 60, so it would have to be pretty amazing to not be possible to miss.

      For what it’s worth, I’m not actually affected by the rules. I just feel for my colleagues who are.

      I understand that they put this rule in place to not have to argue with lots of people about when they can arrive and what’s considered an acceptable excuse. It makes a lot of sense from a firm perspective.
      That doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action and that we shouldn’t bring it up with our bosses.
      Which is why I wrote to Alison.

      Reply
      1. I Herd the Cats

        Thank you — that’s a lot of useful information, and if that’s what you wrote to Alison and she didn’t include it in her response, my apologies. So — it sounds like a pretty reasonable rule, created based on past experience of having to argue with lots of people about when they can arrive and what’s considered an acceptable excuse. It makes a lot of sense from a firm perspective. And given all those things, you can certainly bring it up with your bosses, but since they created the rule to try to prevent a situation that could occur if everyone’s taking their own flights scheduled to arrive whenever they get there before the opening bell, the team’s going to need a pretty persuasive counterproposal.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I didn’t remove anything from the letter, but I’d rather you not take letter writers to task for not including enough info in their letters to satisfy you. It’s really frustrating to be a letter writer and have people criticize you for not proving your point enough.

          Reply
        2. Sabine the Very Mean

          My rule of thumb here is to react to posters here like you would at work. I doubt many of us would be so harsh. I often express here what I wish I could say and then what I really would say as a way to get my irritation out but that’s about it.

          Reply
      2. Falling Diphthong

        It sounds like these employees would have a better shot one-on-one asking for exceptions, based on their stellar reliability–because management is not going to change the policy in such a way as to let everyone just show up when they want to, to the parts they think are relevant.

        Reply
          1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

            Then I think they are stuck. Nothing can be done at this point. The company is aware that people have conflicting plans and hasn’t budged individually or collectively.

            Reply
          2. Falling Diphthong

            Then… they have an answer? I don’t think the petition by junior employees has a chance in hell of doing anything other than making management rethink promoting them.

            It is possible that in six months they would listen to feedback about starting the events Monday morning to accommodate long-standing weekend commitments as a way to build a bit of good will with employees. But only coming from people who have attended this event–preferably attended several–and so are speaking from experience. And it seems like a very minor thing–to borrow from yesterday’s first thread, a juice bottle incident that summarizes a lot of small inflexibilities on management’s part, but changing it would only make sense in the context of changing that across the board, for circumstances that come up all the time rather than once every few years.

            Reply
              1. Falling Diphthong

                I agree; I just don’t think any variation on “a bunch of us junior people got together and talked and decided we don’t like this requirement of something we haven’t done yet” will usually fly.

                You can ask to rework a broad policy with which you (single or plural) are intimately familiar (so you have answered a lot of the “why don’t we do it this other way?” questions through experience) or you can ask for a narrow accommodation to a one-time request based on your one-off circumstance.

                Reply
          3. Lora

            Ugh. I may be projecting here, but I always wonder if, when these things are made “mandatory” but so many people are skipping out on them, does management realize why (because it’s not beneficial, because it’s poorly scheduled/timed, etc.)? If it’s so essential but only one hour, why can’t they make it a breakfast Monday morning ceremony, have classes run until 6 on Monday followed by cocktails and snacks or supper on site and call it good?

            I always wonder with stuff like this if the people making these decisions just have a lot more free time than I do. Cause, like, if they are bored I am sure I can find something for them to do. What if you get on the morning flight but your plane is delayed or whatever so you don’t make it anyways? What if you are stuck with a United flight and when you tell them no, I can’t give up my seat, I have an important opening ceremony to attend, they punch you in the head?

            Reply
            1. CM

              Yes, it’s like a test of your commitment rather than something that is actually necessary.
              I agree that if the coworkers affected by this have already asked for an exception, there’s nothing more to be done at the moment. If enough people keep asking for exceptions and not being able to attend, presumably the company will eventually change the policy.

              Reply
              1. Lora

                It’s really a test of the importance and value of the training, though: if the training is truly critical, the company will make whatever accommodations they need to make to ensure that employees are trained. If the employee can do their jobs just fine for a whole (months? year?) without the training, then clearly it isn’t critical.

                I’ve worked lots of places where specific training, even extremely expensive training, was mandated by regulatory agencies, and you bet your hiney they had multiple sessions, make-up sessions, online learning, people who could only do half in one session and half in another, trainers brought to different sites, extra contract trainers brought in. If it’s important, there is money for it and the company will make a real effort to get you that training by hook or by crook. If it’s a nice to have, there is no money for it and a lot of silliness because once someone was butthurt that nobody went to the social thing.

                Reply
                1. LW #4

                  Honestly? I agree.
                  If the training is vital, surely it’s better that they attend the entire session except the opening ceremony rather than that they miss it altogether.

                  Like I’ve said multiple times, I understand why there is a policy. It’s practical. They’re dealing with lots of people.

                  I also think policies that defeat the purpose (making engagement decrease!) are… stupid.
                  They’ve offered to schedule and pay for their own flights and transportation. The only effect it would have on the firm is that a couple of chair would be empty during the ceremony.

                  Had there been huge cancellation fees, lots of hassle, had they asked to fly in halfway through the week, all those things would’ve been perfectly good reasons to deny my colleagues. But there isn’t.

          4. Whats In A Name

            I think at this point there is nothing they can do, then. If they have already asked, and been denied and skip anyway or press further their promotion might be in jeopardy.

            I know you said there is no essential learning going on, and I get its inconvenient but you also said above:
            It makes sense from a firm perspective. and
            A senior boss speaks about the firm and the importance of the programs and how proud we should be of promotion.

            My guess is it’s a pep rally to get your primed for the upcoming meeting and to make sure each person has the ability to get to know each other before the real learning begins. I know it is inconvenient but I also think if they think it’s important this probably isn’t the place to plant the flag that might end trajectory in the company (for your colleagues, not you since you are not affected).

            If you want to talk to your bosses about it, I’d suggest letting it go for this one and asking them about the scheduling for the NEXT one. I base that only on the fact that you have asked and been told no.

            Reply
            1. flibbertyG

              Plus the CEO or whoever is speaking (likely someone high up and powerful though) wants to believe everybody is eager to hear their speech – and would be dismayed at mostly empty chairs. I have dealt with this in planning. It’s really on the organizers – don’t schedule important people for windows that are tempting for attendees to skip – but I since that ship has sailed, it might not be possible for the employees to really push back now.

              Reply
            2. Intrepid

              I’ve been on the backend of events not wholly dissimilar to this, and part of it can be that participants are going to spend some time not fully participating because they feel awkward, whether that’s during the course or during the opening. We value course time so push for people to come to our opening– but it’s a welcome dinner the night before, and we always let people bow out if they need to for travel reasons.

              Reply
            3. LW #4

              Hiya! This is gonna nest weirdly but I wanted to add something I wrote in a comment downstream up here as well:

              It’s a pep rally and I know for certain it’s not hugely important (though nice and a good start to the program). It’s just an arbitrary line they’ve chosen to draw because they needed A Line. I totally get that.

              But:
              The ones I’m aware of are both attending weddings for close friends and did not feel they wanted to miss them. I understand that, especially since weddings are usually planned so far in advance.

              For what it’s worth, there was no way for them to know when the course would be held far enough ahead for it to make a difference for the wedding planning. Nor had they any reason to think they would not be allowed to attend the course if they missed the first evening. Remember, this is a weeklong course with classs starting the day after the ceremony.
              It’s also during the traditional summer vacation times where the country literally slows to a standstill because everyone is off for four-six weeks.

              Basically, my colleagues planning to attend a wedding on a weekend during the holiday period is a pretty normal thing and I honestly don’t know that they could’ve done anything differently.
              The flight times were announced only a few weeks ago, and all wedding planning has finished for a long time.

              They did know about the course dates earlier, but since the program officially starts on the Monday (despite the opening ceremony on the Sunday), that was no cause of concern either. They simply scheduled vacation the week before.

              Reply
              1. Whats In A Name

                I know you keep saying it’s not important, but if the company thinks it is I have to think it is. For no other reason than they think it is. I am not saying I agree with them and I am not familiar with how holiday months work outside of the US. maybe they hold these training’s on the lighter work months with purpose so employees can focus on the event and not worry abut what they are missing back at the office?

                Could they also have chosen this “line” because there are no flights later Sunday or Monday that will allow people to arrive in time for the start of training/meeting? And if the wedding is on a Saturday, why can’t they still fly out Sunday morning in time for the meeting?

                FWIW I was in my best friend’s wedding on a Saturday, stayed out until 2 a.m., changed out of my bridesmaids dress and drove to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight on Sunday morning. Because, well, I love my friend but work pays my bills. I am also confident that no matter how far in advance I knew about work conference she would NOT have rearranged her wedding date to accommodate me, but it sounds like your friends may have had influence on their friends wedding planning. Which I think is sorta cool.

                Reply
                1. LW#4

                  It is important in the way that all openings are important, as a framing of the event. I’m not mocking you, I swear. But I can think that and still think that the rest of the program is MORE important than the opening. Does that make sense?

                  As for the whys and wherefores of the flight etc and getting into rather more detail than I intended when writing in:

                  The scheduled flight is six AM on the Sunday, that’s why they couldn’t make it to both weddings and flight. For what it’s worth, the weddings are also out of town so they would’ve to leave the wedding late afternoon and miss everything but the ceremony. I understand why they would want to be there longer than that.

                  There are later flights that the wedding guests have offered to take and pay for themselves.

                  I’m sorry if I was unclear but the guests could not just change the wedding dates. We found out about the course dates maybe six months ago and by that time, most wedding invites have gone out long ago.
                  Like I said, they also had no way to guess that the policy would’ve changed or that the flights would be so early on the Sunday (or even on the Sunday at all).

                  The local organizers are just as frustrated by the policy as the wedding guests but have said that their hands are tied but that the wedding guests are welcome to bring it higher up the food chain.

                  And that’s when I heard about it from one of them and decided to ask Alison.

          5. Case of the Mondays

            I’m surprised they are being allowed to miss the event at all. At many employers, they would be forced to cancel their other plans. I don’t think that’s fair but I’m afraid if you push too much about missing the trip they will swing too far the other way and say fine, everyone has to go, everyone has to be there for the whole thing, cancel your other obligations.

            Reply
          6. Jesmlet

            Can they live-stream/WebEx it? That way they have proof of attendance instead of just doing a video…

            Reply
          7. TootsNYC

            I wonder if they’ve thought that this policy means that they are working against their own goals of retention and engagement.

            if I had to miss out on this training completely forever, then I wouldn’t have much reason to stay that engaged. And even if I didn’t have a scheduling problem, I wouldn’t have as much engagement if I saw that my colleague had to miss out because she didn’t want to skip her sister’s wedding, or eat the cost of cancelling her plane tickets because she did.

            I wonder if there’s a way to propose some other solution to their not wanting to be nickel-and-dimed by all the “special requests”–insist that if you don’t come when they’re paying for, you have to buy your own ticket (the cost would hopefully deter people from doing this casually); require lower-level managers to deal with the individual question; something.

            Reply
            1. LW #4

              They’ve already offered to buy the tickets themself and arrange transportation.
              So far, no luck. From what I gather, the organizers think it’s equally stupid but can’t change policy themselves.
              The next step is the country manager in charge of people questions.

              (I should also add that we’re in a very non-hierarchical country. It’s totally ok for a junior employee to bring these issues to someone higher up, if they’ve tried their own managers first.

              We’re also in a heavily unionized country. They’re not very active in my company but there has been talk of brining the union reps in, and that would be totally ok to do. It’s a much… sharper action so definitely not one turns to first, but it wouldn’t be wrong or out of bounds.)

              Reply
      3. MCMonkeyBean

        If that’s the reason for the rule than I think a suggestion could be that they require advance requests from people who can’t make it that they can judge ahead of time. Then anyone not approved to miss it is expected to show up.

        Reply
      4. Sarah

        I’m curious if there’s socializing time after the hour-long “opening ceremonies.” I can see the argument that while the initial 1 hour might not be that crucial, everyone being there on that first evening to get to know each other and start to form some social bonds actually is pretty important — especially if people are coming from branches from multiple countries. And having people wander in late/the next day sort of disrupts that vibe that’s starting to form.

        I mean, ultimately I do feel like work gets to set your hours — for something like a wedding, people probably do just need to choose which is more important to them, and for things like trips, perhaps dates/times can be moved around slightly? I realize I do work in a different culture (and I know Europe in general has a lot more vacation time!) but it’s hard for me to understand how THAT many people are super unavailable on Sunday afternoon but somehow completely available starting Monday morning for that one specific weekend?

        Reply
      5. zora

        Regardless of the content of the intro hour, I think it is pretty lame for a company to require employees to travel early and miss out on an entire Sunday for a pre-planned event. It is considerate to keep a work event during work days if possible. I don’t get this tone in response to the Letter Writer when I think it’s actually more reasonable to expect the company to start the program on Monday morning. If this hour is so darn important, why can’t they fit it into their agenda starting at a reasonable time? Take the hour from something else, rather than forcing the employees to lose an entire day of their weekend for this one hour.

        Planning an event like this should be for the benefit of the employees, not getting pissy with them for wanting work to balance with their personal life.

        Reply
  12. Rebecca

    #2 – I’d be tempted to sit in his chair until he returns, and then ask him a work related question or start the next training session, with no comment on where he was for so long. Then, set up a private meeting. If he’s very new to the workforce, he may not realize that he’s away for so long, or maybe there’s a friend he’s visiting in another part of the building, or as Alison said, he may have a medical issue. No matter what the issue is, you need to get to the bottom of it. I guarantee others notice this as well.

    Reply
    1. The Other Dawn

      Yes, I recently had to tell one of my direct reports that she was gone for way too long (15 to 30 minutes each time), several times a day, outside of her one-hour lunch break. She has friends in other departments and they would take off to the cafeteria a few times a day, or chat or whatever. Not a big deal–I’m not a clock-watcher–, but it is when people start to notice or I’m looking to ask a question and can’t find the person. When I asked her about it she was mortified and I could tell she truly didn’t realize how long she was gone at a clip. She immediately corrected the behavior, which was nice.

      Reply
    2. Fictional Butt

      Yes, I think you just need to be clear about what the expectations are. I remember this was something I struggled with a lot in my first jobs. If my boss gave me a super quick task and then walked away, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go find her when I was done or wait for her to get back or magic up some other work to do or what. I ended up wandering around sometimes just because I had nothing else to do, and I didn’t think I was supposed to bother my boss by asking her for more work. Clear expectations would have helped a lot!

      Reply
  13. Audiophile

    #2 I was told by a boss that I disappeared and she was worried and didn’t know where I was. I didn’t take it well, in hindsight, because I’d also been told by her that I should get to know my fellow co-workers, which is what I thought I was doing. I realize now, this didn’t extend to all co-workers, it was a dysfunctional place, and I likely was crossing into being too chatty with certain people. If she’d been more direct and said something similar to AAM’s wording here, I think I would have handled it better. At the time, it really just came off as “I can’t see exactly what you’re doing and I don’t like it,” since we shared an office and she saw me all day long otherwise.

    Reply
  14. Roscoe

    #5 I think this really depends on how long ago and context. Look, I’m not defending the guy, but it wasn’t that long ago (like while I was in college 15 years ago) that using the f-word for gays or the r-word for mentally handicapped people was fairly acceptable, at least by today’s standards. I know I used both of those terms. I’m not proud of it, and I no longer use them, but it did happen . So as Alison said, if it was very recent I’d be a lot more concerned.

    But I always have to wonder when people go googling someone’s past, are they looking for reasons to not like them? I will be honest, I almost never google my co-workers. I may look them up on LinkedIn, but I don’t need their whole life history.

    Reply
    1. Bree

      There’s a big difference between casually using a word that is no longer acceptable out of ignorance – though I disagree with you that even 15 years ago those words were acceptable – and using them to harass another student to the point of nearly getting expelled. The LW is right to be alarmed.

      Reply
      1. Jwal

        Maybe not acceptable, but definitely in common usage. At least with the r-word (as long as I’m thinking of the same word), that was still flying around a lot when I was in high school (slightly) less than 15 years ago. The other one not so much, but I’m in the UK where it’s an alternative word for cigarette.

        I think without the dates and a verbatim quote it’s hard to say, but I think I would file it as information that is good to know and then, as Alison says, keep my eyes open for similar future behaviour.

        Reply
        1. Bree

          Sure, common usage. But people commonly do a lot of unacceptable things – it’s not an excuse? I was in high school 15 years ago too, and had been taught not to use those words. And as the victim of those kinds of insults – I have a disability and am queer – “other people were doing it” doesn’t make it OK.

          In any case, this was harassment that nearly led to expulsion, not just accidentally using an incorrect word. That’s not the same thing, at all.

          Reply
          1. Jwal

            I don’t think it’s acceptable at all. But it was in common parlance, which was the distinction I (and I think Roscoe) was trying to make. I’m not saying that those words were okay, either now nor then.

            Reply
            1. AD

              Sorry, let’s not normalize the usage of either of those words retroactively. It wasn’t in common parlance in public, and I was in high school 15 or so years ago. That’s not an excuse.

              Reply
          2. Kate

            There are people and parts of the world, where the two aren’t really connected. More than half the kids I went to high school with used “retarded” casually, as an insult like “idiot” or “jerk”. They really didn’t connect it with insulting the differently abled.

            Mostly because they had never heard it used to describe people with disabilities. In our high school it was “handicapped” or “special”, as in “Special Education Department”. So “special” or “handicapped” would have been recognized as a disability-related slur when used as an insult towards an non-disabled person, but “retarded” wouldn’t be.

            In the same vein, a lot of people don’t realize that “idiot” and “moron” used to be slurs too. They were the “retarded” of the day, before the terms for the mentally differently able were changed, and they were no longer associated with the differently able and became acceptable in everyday speech as insults.

            Reply
            1. JM60

              “Mostly because they had never heard it used to describe people with disabilities.”

              While this point could arguably be made about the slurs you mentioned relating to people who have certain handicaps, I don’t buy it when it comes to homophobic slurs. People have heard “God hates fags”, knowing what that means, and many other examples of fag meaning gay guy.

              Reply
        2. all aboard the anon train

          A slur that’s in common usage in mainstream society doesn’t justify the use of it, though. It still hurt the people it was insulting and it was still considered wrong to use. People like to say “they didn’t know any better”, which is a pretty flimsy excuse since it’s a word used to hurt someone for their sexuality.

          Reply
          1. Fact & Fiction

            This is all true. I hate such slurs and do not use them now (or then). I don’t think people are proposing that they were ever okay but saying that a lot of people did use such terminology in the past, have since grown as people, realize that it was wrong, feel remorse, and no longer use those terms. In such cases, i don’t think people deserve to be permanently punished later in life.

            That said, someone who outright bullied people go such an extent falls into another category for me…but it still is possible for some bullies to truly repent later in life. I think personally I would reserve judgment but hold it as a valuable data point in my head.

            Reply
    2. INeedANap

      I don’t think the LW was necessarily looking for reasons not to like them, but LW had “clues” about this guy’s interpersonal dealings within the workplace that something might not fit with the workplace culture – that is what alerted her to the possibility that he might not be a good fit. It’s not like he was 100% fitting in and everyone was getting along well and then the LW went looking for reasons to not like him.

      This guy is in a leadership position – those types of positions lend themselves to being more heavily scrutinized because leaders are the ones who are “driving” a company. The higher in a company you go, the more important it is to have values that are aligned with the company goals. I don’t think it is unreasonable to do a little digging into the background of someone in a leadership role, but I do think it would be unreasonable to do that kind of digging into the background of someone who is in a role that doesn’t affect the company as a whole (a receptionist or something like that).

      Reply
      1. Anion

        It’s possible that the experience made him so nervous and eager to not offend that he now behaves strangely, isn’t it?

        Reply
    3. Jaguar

      Yeah, I agree with you, Roscoe. The guy was right to act cagey around people, since apparently people are defined by the worst thing they ever did.

      Reply
      1. JM60

        When it’s legal in most states to fire someone for being gay, having a person in a managerial position who had a known case of homophobia is a very valid reason for concern.

        Reply
        1. Jaguar

          Not known at all. The opposite of known, in fact. Accused is the word used in the letter.

          But let’s assume it is true and he was known to use homophobic slurs as recently as yesterday. This isn’t some hypothetical person on the Internet. It’s someone you know at work with. It’s a human being. One of many to have crappy opinions and ideas. It’s a problem that people have to grapple with, and rooting them out and costing them their jobs or their reputations is not grappling with it. It’s just shifting the problem on to someone else. If someone you know in your communities, be that work or family or whatever, is saying something awful (but taking no action in that regard), why would you not engage them? Would you not want someone to engage you if you had some lousy ideas? Do you have no hope that people can change? Racism and bigotry and homophobia and all other hateful ideas are a societal problem and the only way to move forward with them is to address it. I’ve known people who have moved past homophobic and bigoted ideas and they did it by exposure and by communication. That’s how you address these problems. By all means, a workplace can go straight to firing someone for being a known bigot, but nobody involved in that firing can take moral comfort in that. It’s negligent of your social obligation that you won’t even give people a chance. You solved nothing and made no effort. All you did was make sure it wasn’t around you any more. Bigotry is awful and the idea that someone is defined by the worst thing they ever did forever is some of the worst kind of bigotry I can imagine.

          Reply
          1. mrs__peel

            “the idea that someone is defined by the worst thing they ever did forever is some of the worst kind of bigotry I can imagine”

            Really? Like in the same league as actually being murdered because of your ethnicity, or having your kids threatened, or your house burned down…? That seems a little ridiculous.

            I have no idea what this particular guy’s beliefs are. AAM’s advice (to wait and see what he does in the office) seems very reasonable.

            But I have to take issue with the rest of your comment. There are *plenty* of people out there with whom engagement is a total waste of time, and unsafe to boot. It shouldn’t be my burden to “engage” with (for example) an anti-Semite who thinks that Jews secretly control the world and that my family should’ve been exterminated. There is no productive discussion to be had there. And these folks are not rare outliers– they’ve been emboldened all over the country in recent months.

            Reply
            1. Jaguar

              I don’t agree that people who are racist are often that way permanently. It’s been my experience that it’s not true. And I don’t see engaging with people and helping them sort through their problems as a burden. I enjoy doing it. I’ve helped many people – friends, colleagues, family members, and acquaintances broaden their narrow ideas. That you see it as a burden to even engage with people if they think things you don’t like might be the problem, and the more people who can’t even bring themselves to talk to people with crappy opinions, the further we get from a solution. Of course you have no obligation, but don’t expect people to look favorably on your unwillingness to even try. And if you don’t try and you take steps to threaten someone’s employment or reputation, you should consider that you’re engaging in unethical behaviour that rivals or exceeds that which you cannot stand.

              Reply
          2. JM60

            I should’ve included the word “alleged” in my previous comment, but I otherwise stand by it.

            “This isn’t some hypothetical person on the Internet. It’s someone you know at work with. It’s a human being.”

            This tells me that you’re way too sympathetic to the accused here, as the exact same thing can be said about criminals, kkk members, and various other people who have red flags. They’re all people too. Some of them might even be good hires, but it still can be a very good reason for concern.


            Do you have no hope that people can change? Racism and bigotry and homophobia and all other hateful ideas are a societal problem and the only way to move forward with them is to address it. I’ve known people who have moved past homophobic and bigoted ideas and they did it by exposure and by communication. By all means, a workplace can go straight to firing someone for being a known bigot, but nobody involved in that firing can take moral comfort in that. It’s negligent of your social obligation that you won’t even give people a chance. You solved nothing and made no effort. ”

            As a man, I fight homophobic ideas all the time. However, I have no social obligation to make any such effort. It’s not my responsibility to stop people from being homophobic against me, it’s their responsibility to not be homophobic against me. I resent the idea that it’s my job to cure someone else’s homophobia, especially at work.

            Reply
            1. mrs__peel

              Well said!

              I think a lot of people stressing the need for “engagement” don’t realize what an emotional toll it takes to do that, when the other person inherently doesn’t respect you as a human being and doesn’t believe you deserve basic human rights. (Especially for those people who are already dealing with various forms of discrimination on a daily basis).

              It’s ridiculous to place that kind of burden on people– to give and give one-sidedly, without regard to the toll on their own well-being.

              Reply
            2. Jaguar

              Basically, what I am trying to communicate is this:

              If you are not willing to give someone a chance, you shouldn’t be willing to ostracize them.

              Reply
          3. Fleeb

            They can take comfort in the fact that they’ve protected their employees, actually. A bigot in a managerial position shouldn’t have hiring and firing decisions over the people he hates. He can dialogue on his own time. I’m not saying the person referred to in the letter is still a bigot; I’m just addressing your hypothetical.

            Reply
    4. AMPG

      I would be very careful with “back in the day” defenses. You say that the f-word was acceptable in your college community 15 years ago, but I was in college over 20 years ago and it was absolutely NOT acceptable on my campus, and its use would definitely have been cause for disciplinary action. So my takeaway is that you ran with a bigoted crowd back then. If that’s the best case scenario for Fernando, he still doesn’t come off looking great.

      Reply
    5. N

      Bleh, I have such mixed feelings about this one.

      One thing that I think some people have ignored is that Fernando seems to have been raked over the coals at his university for using these slurs, so it definitely sounds like he learned that the average person does NOT support homophobia in a pretty public way. It’s very possible that he was open and honest about his past behavior and has learned from his mistakes, especially if this was a long time ago. Agree with Alison’s advice–make note of it but move on.

      Reply
    6. Judy

      It’s also worth noting that he was only accused of harassment. It is completely possible that he didn’t do anything wrong.

      Reply
    7. Fleeb

      Yes, but were you almost kicked out of school for shouting them at someone?
      I was also in college 15 years ago, and I disagree that the F word was acceptable in most circles. Maybe in your crowd, but not any of my circles.

      Reply
  15. BeAnAllyOrDon't

    #5 – It’s perfectly legal in most of the U.S. to be fired for being gay. Your LGBT co-workers cannot trust people like the person you hired. You need to act on this information if you want to consider yourself an ally.

    Homophobic language only ever comes out of people who are either closeted, or are so uncomfortable with their own physical feelings or emotions that it overwhelms them and they react violently. Do not trust this person until you know where they stand.

    “Interactions seem forced” reads to me as if this person doesn’t match your company’s social norms. This means that he may have done nothing to change. When given the opportunity to be a bigot, either subtly or overtly, he will choose to be a bigot, to protect those precious feelings of his. For a person in power, this is a dangerous thing. For LGBT staff, this is a Quit Your Workplace level issue.

    I would make it WIDELY, though quietly, known throughout the corporation what he did. I would give him the opportunity to address it publicly, and indeed, I would force the issue, because bigots gonna bigot — unless change is forced, by people who risk less by speaking up. You don’t have to be the leader of the charge here, but you need to get that information into the hands of someone who will be an advocate for dealing with it.

    Your LGBT co-workers deserve to know, out in the open, what kind of monster they have to deal with. Do us all a favor and shine some daylight on this one. Who knows? Maybe he’ll warm to it, express sorrow and regret, and everyone can breathe easier knowing they’ve helped someone through a soul-searching journey.

    Or, yknow, stand by and do nothing and wait for the bigot to exercise that bigotry. They never seem to fail to.

    Reply
    1. (Different) Rebecca

      “You need to act on this information if you want to consider yourself an ally.” Wow. That’s really extreme and could be reputation and/or job killing, and “make it WIDELY, though quietly, known throughout the corporation what he did” could be both redundant (if they’re aware of it) and premature (if he has at all changed his ways), so no, I think the OP should take Alison’s milder approach. S/he is being a fine ally by finding out a potential problem and asking who and how to alert the management.

      Reply
      1. JM60

        This might be a little bit extreme, but so can being a gay employee under a very homophobic boss. If I were a gay employee working under him, I would want light shined on this. It could be dangerous for the person who shines a light on it, but I would greatly appreciate them taking that risk.

        Reply
        1. (Different) Rebecca

          And if the LW jumped the gun, or was wrong that it was the same person? And if it is the same person, and all they’ve done is been a bit standoffish around the office?? Committing career suicide and trashing someone else’s rep in the bargain doesn’t make you a good ally. As a bisexual, and as someone who has been damaged by rumors in the past, I’m urging caution and restraint, because this has the potential to backfire immensely, right in their face.

          Reply
          1. JM60

            If the were a star athlete as the LW said, it would probably be very obvious whether or not they’re the same person. The employee in question would likely have an athletic body, and pictures of them would be readily available online, and probably in the news article.

            “And if it is the same person, and all they’ve done is been a bit standoffish around the office??”

            An alleged incident of homophobia is something valid to be concerned with, especially if you’re gay. It’s somewhat like if a person almost got kicked out of college for an alleged theft. The workers might have a very valid reason for appreciating the information, even if they conclude that they trust the person.

            Reply
            1. (Different) Rebecca

              Yeah, well, I’m really not a fan of punishing someone for something that’s a) as yet unverified, and b) in the far past. This isn’t Minority Report, and the idea of starting a smear campaign skips several rungs of potential actions with less severe consequences for everyone involved. Why use the nuclear option first? Escalation is always an option later, but you start off this big and right or wrong there’s no going back from it.

              Reply
              1. JM60

                “I’m really not a fan of punishing someone for something that’s a) as yet unverified, and b) in the far past.”

                This isn’t really punishment so much as it is trying to keep the workplace friendly to LGBT people, which is a valid concern in the present. It might end up having the same effect as punishment, but they’re very different with different reasons.

                “Why use the nuclear option first?”

                I think shining a light on the alleged incident is not necessarily “the nuclear option,” much like shining the light on a current issue isn’t “the nuclear option.” It could be that he could explain it away and/or denounce what he was accused of doing.

                Reply
                1. (Different) Rebecca

                  What the OP of this thread, BeAnAllyOrDon’t, is suggesting is a smear campaign. That *is* a nuclear option, that skips the chain of command and doesn’t allow for any explanation or denunciation.

    2. Danger: Gumption Ahead

      I’m glad I an not the only one who felt this way. Being a bigot in the past does not necessarily mean that you are currently a bigot, but it is so strongly correlated that not addressing it is like ignoring a ticking bomb. Maybe he learned the errors of his ways since college or maybe he just learned to hide it better?

      LW 5: I would take this to your manager, especially because anyone out there, coworkers, clients, customers, whomever, are only one Google search with quotes away from learning the same information. Perhaps it is already known and has been addressed in hiring? If yes, there is not much you can do. If it isn’t known, then hopefully your company lives by it’s ethics and addresses it with him now. Either way, you need to call the bomb squad and let them defuse the situation

      Reply
      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

        I need to clarify my agreement: I agree that the LW should show their manager this information.

        The rest of your comment is messed up in ways that I can’t describe without violating posting rules.

        Reply
    3. Anononon

      Can you not push the “most homophobic people are actually just closeted” rhetoric? It’s very damaging to actual LGBT people as it implicitly states that LGBT people are at fault for their own oppression.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        Thanks for saying this, I agreed with most of the original comment but this stood out to me. Straight people are very capable of being bigots, we don’t need to blame our own community.

        Reply
      2. Sylvia

        Thank you.

        This is homophobia and transphobia: Many of us have been physically attacked or seen it happen to others. Many of us know other LGBT people whose parents threw them out. In the US, many of us grew up knowing it was illegal for us to get married.

        Please, please don’t blame us for that.

        Reply
    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Homophobic language only ever comes out of people who are either closeted, or are so uncomfortable with their own physical feelings or emotions that it overwhelms them and they react violently.

      Whoa, whoa. This is blatantly not true; there are people who are homophobic without being violent, out of control, or closeted. The one does not imply the other!

      Also, you’re being pretty presumptuous about the LGBT coworkers’ priorities. Some of us in the working world have dealt with homophobia in the workplace without quitting.

      Reply
      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        Also, Fernando is not someone the LW hired. He’s above her in the hierarchy. So, y’know, there’s that too.

        Reply
        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          The big question here is whether the heirarchy knows that this is one of the first results when you Google his name with quotes. If he is high enough up, I would assume yes, but you never know. My concern would be what happens when someone outside the company Googles him. For this reason, I think it would be wise for the OP to let her manager know. This time it was a subordinate. Next time it might be a reporter who started it writing a fluff piece about a corporate donation to a local LGBTQ group and finding a new clickable story.

          Reply
    5. Falling Diphthong

      Homophobic language only ever comes out of people who are either closeted, or are so uncomfortable with their own physical feelings or emotions that it overwhelms them and they react violently.

      No. Using a slur is problematic, but not because it means the person is going to lash out with physical violence any minute. It can be unexamined prejudice, even to the degree of “I am not prejudiced against my friends in group X, people know “Group X sucks” is an insult that has nothing to do with anyone in Group X.”

      If he’s higher than OP at the organization, then he is likely not fresh out of college, and so this incident is some years in the past. Maybe in the intervening 5 or 10 years he has learned to behave better, but this hasn’t translated to being smooth. And that’s what he’s doing now, at work–not being relaxed and smooth.

      I don’t normally abide by the idea that college doesn’t count, but I do think you are allowed some stupid things in college–opinions expressed, papers written–that do not need to be front and center defining you at every future role you take on, forever. OP should judge him by his actions now, and now those actions seem to be a bit of social awkwardness. That’s not a firing offense, especially given that OP is lower ranking.

      Reply
    6. all aboard the anon train

      Homophobic language only ever comes out of people who are either closeted, or are so uncomfortable with their own physical feelings or emotions that it overwhelms them and they react violently.

      No. This type of rhetoric is commonly used to justify bigotry by saying that because it comes from someone who is closeted or uncomfortable with their own physical feelings, it’s only a problem within the queer community and not society at large. It blatantly minimizes oppression LGBTQA+ people face from people who are outright bigoted and ignores the fact that straight, non-questioning people can be homophobic.

      Your comment is hurtful to the LGBTQA+ community in the same way a slur is hurtful. It perpetuates negative stereotypes and states that LGBTQA+ people are the only ones to blame for their oppression and persecution. To be honest, as a queer woman I’m more wary of people who push this type of harmful rhetoric than people who use slurs. The latter is someone I already know is bigoted, the former is someone who thinks they’re an ally but still pushes harmful rhetoric.

      Reply
      1. BenAdminGeek

        Thanks for this comment. I agree. I also think if people paint it this strongly, it discourages folks from learning and improving as people. If the options presented are either 1) you’re secretly gay or 2) you’re going to become violent, people will not learn. I certainly made comments years ago that I feel ashamed about now, but I try and grow and improve as a human being and make things better by my actions today.

        Reply
        1. Heather

          This, exactly. Obviously there are people who will refuse to learn from their mistakes or even double down, but they are a different category from those who make mistakes because they haven’t yet been exposed to certain ideas. OP doesn’t know yet which category Fernando is in, and I think it’s important to find that out before acting.

          Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        funny…I have sometimes thought, “Wow, that person is so very vehement in being anti-gay that I wonder if they’re actually gay themselves!” As have people I know.

        But none of us have thought it meant that we didn’t need to worry about discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. It just points out to us how wrong the discrimination is, and how strong the hypocrisy is. And how important it is to fight that discrimination so people don’t feel they have to hide themselves (or hate themselves) so badly.

        For one thing, the less angry discrimination of people who are just squicked out about sexuality issues, or who are legalistic, is pretty bad, and it validates the “beat them up” attitude. So we don’t think the job is done.

        I’ve never, ever heard any of my own friends or family imply that “closeted gays attacking homosexuality” meant it was an LGBTQ+ problem only. This is an interesting perspective to me.

        Reply
        1. JB (not in Houston)

          I don’t think all aboard is saying that kind of rhetoric can never come from someone who is closeted. They were responding to the statement that *only* closeted people use this kind of language.

          Reply
        2. all aboard the anon train

          As JB says in the comment above, I wasn’t saying this rhetoric can’t come from someone who is closeted, but the idea that ONLY closeted people push this rhetoric ignores the larger issue of homophobia from heterosexuals, and it also tries to justify someone’s bigotry by asking what reason they have for being bigoted.

          Jumping to the assumption that someone who is vehemently anti-gay might be so because they’re closeted still pushes the issue back into the LGBTQA+ sphere and discredits the idea that heterosexuals can be homophobic. Sure, being closeted might be the reason someone is homophobic and it has been the case for some people, but the “closeted gays attacking homosexuality” rhetoric has been used pretty heavily in the past few decades to minimize LGBTQA+ oppression and say we’re at fault for our own persecution because “we hide our identities or hate ourselves.”

          It almost slides into the “you just need to love yourself and your identity!” rhetoric that some allies have when fighting against LGBTQA+ discrimination. It’s a nice thought in theory, but it still pushes the crux of the matter back onto the oppressed instead of the oppressors.

          Reply
    7. Shay

      Do you think it’s possible for someone who was publicly taken to task to learn about his ignorance and try to change? Or is life over for young people who make mistakes in the internet age?

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        If you read this board, then no, no one changes. Ever. People think anything people do should forever haunt them. Someone was mean in high school, its fine to hold that against them. Someone was ACCUSED of something in college (doesn’t say it was proven) then dig up the past and take it to management. I think there should be some kind of limit to how long we are willing to hold someones past over them, especially if it happened in their teen years.

        Reply
          1. Roscoe

            It doesn’t change my opinion that an accusation doesn’t equal guilt. Saying someone was nearly expelled is like saying someone was nearly charged with a crime. They could be arrested, but not charged. So he likely had an expulsion hearing, but there wasn’t enough to actually expel him.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              A student court also isn’t a criminal court, so I wouldn’t interpret it so strictly.

              I also know you generally have an extremely laissez faire attitude about your coworkers, though, so maybe we have to just agree to disagree since I don’t think we’ll get anywhere on this. I have yet to see an example of something that would actually perturb you about a coworker.

              Reply
              1. Roscoe

                In general, the only things that really bug me about co-workers are things that affect my ability to do my job. So if you fake sick and call in too often, no I don’t care unless we are working on a team project and it affects me. I also don’t really care about the past, because I think people can and do change. For the most part, I don’t care what you do outside of work as long as you don’t bring it in. There are some things that would bug me. If I found out my manager was currently or even recently doing some bigoted things on weekends, that would definitely bug me. However, it would be me issue to handle, and if I don’t want to work under him anymore, then I would leave. I’m not high enough in my company where I would feel its my duty to “protect” my company from someone googling and finding out some unflattering things.

                But, from reading this board, I also realize I’m in the minority on a lot of those opinions. Frankly I think if more people had those opinions, there would be about 1/3 of the questions, since I think a lot of answers could come down to MYOB.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  I strongly disagree that the appropriate response to bigotry is for you to leave, or that it’s your issue to deal with. That’s how it persists institutionally, because people accommodate it, compartmentalize it, downplay it and affirm it by letting the bigoted person live their life while you change yours to get away from them. You really believe that between yourself and an open racist, *you* are the person who should have to get a new job to resolve the situation? How is that person ever going to learn that what they believe is wrong if they never see an consequences for it?

                  Your hate group meetings might be on Saturdays but that doesn’t mean being a racist is something you only do on the weekends, and I don’t support the idea that someone is an otherwise good person if you just ignore all the stuff that doesn’t make them a good person.

                  I’ll leave the conversation after this because we’re getting astray from the letter and I know we’re not going to end up seeing eye to eye, I just can’t let go the idea that not wanting to work with a racist is some kind of personal issue you have to cope with yourself by getting over it and/or leaving the company.

                2. Fleeb

                  When you don’t have to deal with homophobia, sexism, or racism, it’s easy to say “Gee, I’d just do X if I were in that situation. What’s all the fuss about?” You’ll never know, because you’ll never be in that situation and have no concept of what it’s like. You’re playing the game on easy mode. You’re the guy having a picnic on the beach, never dipping a toe in the water and telling a drowning person how much better you think you could hold your head above water. Instead, try having an open mind instead of telling other people what they should do.

        1. Bree

          Harassing another student with homophobic slurs to the point of nearly getting expelled from college is a serious incident, not just an innocent youthful mistake. It could have caused lasting harm to his victim, and college-age students are indeed old enough to know better.

          I understand and agree that small mistakes shouldn’t haunt people forever – particularly if they take steps to make amends – but your comments are really minimizing this situation. Fernando is responsible for his actions, and other people are right to be concerned about them.

          Reply
          1. Roscoe

            I’m not minimizing what he may or may not have done. I’m saying I don’t know enough to judge him for it. OP read in a college paper (from who knows how long ago) he was accused of something, albeit something horrible, and nearly, but not, expelled. That’s it. For me, an accusation isn’t enough to pass judgment on someone, and definitely not enough to bring it up years later. If he was expelled and it was proven true, or even if he wasn’t expelled but it was on video, that would be a different story (although I’m still not sure if I think it should follow him forever). But you are basing everything on a 3rd hand story and basically condemning him for it. I’m just saying I don’t know what happened.

            Reply
            1. Heather

              Roscoe, I often disagree with your take on this kind of stuff, but I am with you here 100%. There’s not enough information in the letter to make a definitive judgment one way or the other.

              Reply
              1. JM60

                There’s enough in the letter to be concerned that he may be homophobic.

                To me, this is somewhat like if you found out a person was informally accused of a crime in the past. Maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they did it, but they’re a different/reformed person now. However, even with scant details like “This school accused him/her off this deed” is enough to be concerned about it, especially if you find it out because something seemed off about them.

                Reply
        2. Falling Diphthong

          You’re conflating wildly different people holding a grudge. If Fernando had written in that the person he harassed in college, Wakeen, didn’t want to work with him 10 years later–especially if opportunities to apologize had passed by unmarked but he only cared now that it affected a potential job–the fair advice would be “Yeah, there is probably nothing you can do to make Wakeen decide that he is now cool with you and want to help your career.”

          If the letter came from Wakeen, the advice might be very different.

          From a third party who never met Wakeen and just met Fernando but then discovered that Fernando did something ill-thought to a stranger a decade ago, the advice would be different again.

          Reply
        3. AD

          If you read this board, then no, no one changes. Ever. People think anything people do should forever haunt them.

          This is a really simplistic and un-nuanced view of the wide variety of comments found on this site. It would be nice if people who disagree with an opinion stated don’t start painting the diverse thoughts on AAM with a broad brush just because they’re annoyed or they feel like it.

          That doesn’t do justice to the wide range of mostly interesting and thoughtful things shared here, and it’s petty.

          Reply
      2. Chinook

        Especially, if according to BeAnAllyOrDon’t’s theory that being closeted or uncomfortable with yourself is the root cause of such bigotry (which I wholly disagree with). But, if you do believe that is the case, then someone who said bigoted things in the past could now be more comfortable with themselves or even have come out as gay.

        Basically, this attitude is full of flaws because it allows for no room for growth or learning self-awareness.

        Reply
      3. JM60

        The goal in this case isn’t to cure his homophobia, it’s to protect employees from homophobia in the workplace. Of course, doing the former would achieve the latter, but you can’t count on him not being/remaining homophobic.

        Reply
    8. Brogrammer

      This comment pisses me off because “it’s possible he was closeted and acting homophobic as a way of overcompensating, especially considering that he was an athlete” is something that would be valuable for the Letter Writer to keep in mind, but you’ve started the conversation too far in the opposite direction.

      Reply
  16. Fronzel Neekburm

    LW 5: “Accused of” and “actually did” mean different things.

    You Googled him, found this was in his past – maybe he learned from it. Maybe he’s a raging homophobe on the weekends, but doesn’t say a thing at work. You haven’t said that he did anything while at work. Maybe let him be?

    By the way: I totally agree that you should respect everyone, and homophobic anything has no place in the workplace, but this is part of a larger trend I’ve noticed on this site which is “Hey, I did some digging on this totally non-work related thing, and I found out this thing I don’t like, so what should I do about it?”

    You don’t have to be his friend. But you Googled something, found something you didn’t like about something that happened prior to his employment.

    Stop looking for reasons to hate people. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. WhirlwindMonk

      >Stop looking for reasons to hate people. Thank you.

      Seriously, I’m surprised no one else has pointed out how weird it is to think “I vaguely don’t like this person, how about I do some online stalking to try and find a firm reason to not like them”. It’s creepy, intrusive, perpetuates the current problem of all of our past mistakes following us everywhere, and can the LW even guarantee it’s the same person and not just someone who shares the name?

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        This is a good point–make an effort to talk to them over coffee. You don’t need to google their teenaged lives.

        Reply
        1. Employment Lawyer

          Why take her at her word? Her whole letter is fundamentally about assessing hidden motivations or biases based on behavior.

          Personally I don’t approve. I think those judgments are very often false and can cause a lot of damage. And I think there’s a tendency to selectively perceive “facts” which support our pre-existing biases.

          But if folks still want to play on that unpleasantly-muddy field, then the same rules apply to everyone in the game. If you choose to judge people and analyze people based on speculation, you have no moral right to complain when the same is done to you.

          So in that vein: “Digging for dirt on your boss who you don’t like, but it has nothing to do with disliking him, you just want to understand him better” is as unbelievable as “accidentally logging into boss’ computer to accidentally read his emails.” Personally I think more folks would be better off on a more restrained field of play, but….

          Perhaps if more folks understood that, they would be a bit less inclined to be publicly judgmental in the first place.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Because the site rules require taking letter writers at their word, as otherwise the comments section would be a disaster since every fact in a letter would be up for debate. Giving people the benefit of the doubt and assuming good faith are also part of those rules.

            Plenty of people google colleagues without nefarious motives.

            Reply
          2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            We take LWs (and other commenters) at their words because it’s the rule here:

            A subset of that rule: Give letter-writers and fellow commenters the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to a negative interpretation of someone’s comment or situation; instead, assume good faith on the part of others, including people whose opinions differ from your own.

            Reply
          3. JM60

            I’m generally not a big fan of looking up information about employees, but sometimes sensing something off about someone is a good reason to learn more about them.

            “And I think there’s a tendency to selectively perceive “facts” which support our pre-existing biases.”

            If you see an article saying that someone was almost expelled because they were accused of doing something homophobic, I’d reasonable to take it as a fact that they were accused of doing something homophobic, and we’re almost expelled for this. That in itself is a very real cause for concern, especially for lgbt employees.

            Reply
    2. CM

      I think “looking for reasons to hate people” is overly harsh. OP#5 was already uncomfortable with this person and learned that in the past he had done something incompatible with the organization’s values (standing up against social injustice). Now she is wondering whether it’s appropriate to do anything with this information, and asked for advice. Alison said no, not unless the incident happened recently. That’s good enough, without accusing the OP of trying to dig up dirt and look for ammo against her coworker. And I don’t think it’s at all creepy and intrusive to Google somebody, I think it’s perfectly normal to be curious about a new coworker and see what comes up when you Google them (normally it’s something like a LinkedIn page). It’s not like doing a background check.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        I think looking up someone on linkedin to find out about their past employment and skills is normal. To look up what someone did in college is going too far. Same as people who look up peoples entire twitter or facebook history.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          Eh, depends how old the guy is. If he went to college 20 years ago, maybe, but if it was in the last couple years? I don’t think you get a pass under the “I was a different person back then” guise. As a gay man, I would certainly want to know if a decision-maker in my company had a history of anti-gay behavior that was severe/prominent enough to merit being in the news. I think it’s particularly relevant in the context that the company prides itself on espousing social justice values, as the OP states.

          Reply
        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          It’s entirely possible that she just typed his name into Google and it showed up in the first few search results. There’s nothing to indicate she intentionally looked up what he did in college.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            And in fact that’s explicitly what she says:

            This article came up as a top result when I searched his full name in quotation marks, but not without.

            That doesn’t sound like a lot of digging to me.

            Reply
          2. Manders

            Yes, news sites tend to rank really well, and lately Google’s been trying out this thing where relevant news articles show up above the organic search results. Unless this guy appears in the news pretty regularly, these news stories are going to be the first thing people see when they search for him for quite a while.

            Reply
    3. Roscoe

      Yeah, this is getting a bit much. Its like the saying, if you snoop enough, you’ll find a reason to be mad. It really does seem she was looking for justification to not like him. Everyone doesn’t have to get along, that doesn’t mean you have to go try to dig up dirt to give yourself the moral high ground.

      Reply
      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

        She only Googled his name with quotes and it was on the first page of results. This isn’t exactly deep internet stalking.

        Reply
        1. LCL

          I don’t understand what the distinction is between using quotes and not. I just googled my name both ways, and got basically the same results but organized slightly different. I have a common name in the US.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I think the order of ranking is why the OP mentioned the quotes. But mostly it’s not going to matter much unless you’re trying to differentiate “ruth bader ginsburg” from your aunt “ruth ann ginsburg.”

            Reply
          2. LBK

            Maybe one of his names is also a regular noun? Like, if his name is Joe Banana, looking it up without quotes will get you any result where both “joe” and “banana” appear, but that would give you very different results than searching for the exact phrase “joe banana” since that’s an unlikely combo of words to appear together unless it’s a name.

            Reply
          3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            Using quotes means that Google (or whatever) searches for the exact phrase in the quotes (“Victoria Nonprofit” — in that order, without anything in between those words, etc.); without quotes it will return results like “Victoria, the nonprofit leader…”

            My real name, for example, is absolutely ungoogleable without quotes (and additional identifying information), because both my first and last name are associated with a large brand (like “Apple iPhone” or “Pepsi Soda”). To find me, you need to use “Firstname Lastname” and something like my college/workplace/etc.

            Reply
      2. Stop That Goat

        I agree. As a gay male, I would make a mental note but I think it was pretty ‘busybodyish’ to google a coworker in the first place. Unless he is specifically working in an organization that is for LGBT purposes, I don’t see much of a point in reporting it.

        Reply
        1. Alano

          This is perhaps the most sensible comment yet regarding #5.

          As a gay male, I’d like to say that unless OP works for an organization that’s related to LGTB, they should probably just roll with this. There’s a small (but very vocal and very powerful) minority of the LGTB community that seems to be on a constant witch hunt against real or perceived “homophobia.” I get it: You have a grand crusade against the injustices of the world that adds meaning to your life. You get to be on the side of the angels against the forces of bigotry and evil. But it’s probably not going to help you professionally to make a big deal out of this – in fact it could hurt you. It’s time to grow up and quit casting yourself as the hero. Worry about your own life. Don’t get involved unless you see this guy actually doing something harmful to yourself or others.

          Reply
            1. Alano

              I think there’s a fine line between “working against bigotry” and engaging in witch hunts against people because they may have said or done something wrong in their past. What if i Googled somebody at work who I didn’t care for and discovered that in college they were an outspoken atheist who said that religious people are ignorant and evil – and then I went on a crusade to get that person in trouble or fired due to their “bigotry” against people of faith? What if I found a feminist paper someone had written in college that made the claim that women are ethically superior to men, and then tried to use that against them in the workplace? Or – more to the point – what if I discovered that one of my coworkers wrote articles against same-sex marriage back in 2008 (back when plenty of Progressives – including Barack Obama – said they were against same-sex marriage)? Is it really fair to go after somebody based on that level of “bigotry”? If not, then who gets to decide what counts as true “bigotry”?

              I think the world is complicated, and it’s seldom wise to divide the the human race into those who support bigotry and those who do not (it’s about as helpful as dividing the world into those who support “peace” and those who are against it). I certainly don’t think it’s a useful template for navigating the workplace.

              Like I said, unless I had first hand knowledge of this guy mistreating people (mistreating them for any reason – because of their looks, their gender, their weight, what region of the country they’re from, whatever), I’d leave it alone.

              Reply
      3. AndersonDarling

        I don’t want to keep piling it on the OP, but it’s possible that the second page of Google results had info on the co-workers charity involvement, or an article he wrote on his changing views. Anything you find on Google is a snapshot in time and people are more complex then a single blurb in cyberspace.

        Reply
      4. Carla

        It really doesn’t seem like she was looking for justification. I look up all new employees so that I can get a better idea of who they are and where they come from. I don’t think the LW said, “I hate this guy, let me dig up some dirt, wow he’s a homophobe, excellent!” I think very few people ever react like that, and this “looking for something to be mad about” rhetoric is silly.

        Reply
        1. all aboard the anon train

          If this is OT, apologies and Alison, feel free to delete, but why do you find it necessary to Google new employees to find out who they are instead of asking them? This is one of the reasons why my social media is bare bones and my internet footprint is minimal. The idea that people would be googling me even to learn anything personal about me is creepy (I understand wanting to look up professional accomplishments). I’d rather it just come up in conversation, which seems like a more natural way of getting to know someone.

          Reply
          1. Roscoe

            I don’t get this either. I can honestly say I’ve never Googled a new co-worker. I’ve looked them up on LinkedIN before. Maybe even checked out their facebook. But that’s really it. I don’t get why people are so ok with just looking up someones entire history because its there.

            Reply
    4. LBK

      Maybe he’s a raging homophobe on the weekends, but doesn’t say a thing at work.

      Nope, don’t buy that for a second. He may not explicitly say or do anything homophobic at work but the idea that you can completely shut off your biases when you step into the office is a fallacy. It’s particularly true if he’s freely indulging those biases outside of work, because that means he’s not actively trying to examine the ways in which that prejudice might be subconsciously influencing his actions at work.

      Reply
      1. all aboard the anon train

        Exactly. This is just rhetoric that tries to excuse bigoted behavior. Even if someone never says anything bigoted at work, there’s still the danger of them using their biases against a coworker. They don’t have to say a slur to indulge their biases in the office.

        Reply
      2. General Ginger

        Absolutely this. No way you are the perfect colleague, boss or report to LGBT employees of your company if you are a “raging homophobe on the weekends”. If you’re not spewing homophobic slurs at them during the week, congratulations, you’ve learned how to be polite in public (I guess).

        Reply
      3. Statler von Waldorf

        I’m a gay man, and the best boss I ever had admitted to me that he had issues with gay people, especially when I started working there. Maybe he wasn’t a “raging homophobe” but he definitely leaned in that direction. He was excellent at keeping his personal shit and the business shit separate, and we never had any issues in the three years I worked under him. He’s actually far more tolerant now, and I’d like to think I had something to do with that.

        It’s sure not common, but yeah, this can happen.

        Reply
        1. JM60

          The more homophobic someone is, the more likely it is to affect how they treat gay employees. The overwhelming majority of people are at least a little homophobic, but where people are on the continuum of homophobia correlates with how they treat gay people. It’s possible for a homophobic person to treat a gay person the same as if they were straight – I’ve seen my parents try to do it before – but accusations of homophobic behavior in the past is a very valid reason for concern if you care at all about your gay employees.

          Reply
    5. Allison

      Sometimes you go digging because you have a feeling in your gut that something isn’t quite right.

      If he still has a bias against gay people, he’s great at keeping it to himself, until he isn’t. There’s no guarantee this won’t come out somehow, it’s entirely possible he’ll be a jerk to someone if he finds out they’re gay, and may look for reasons to fire that person or manage them out, or resist promoting them or giving them a raise. How will he act at company events if a gay employee brings their partner? Their kids? Who’s to say he won’t one day lose patience and then fly into a hate-filled rant about gay people? I’m not saying these things will definitely happen, but they could, and OP’s company should be aware of it.

      It’s been said here before that people with assumptions or concerns about specific groups of individuals should have no voice in decisions related to hiring, firing, promotions, or raises, even if they say they don’t necessarily intend to act on those concerns, they could impact another person’s career. How is this different?

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        How would he go about demonstrating that he isn’t a homophobe?

        Attitudes toward gay people have shifted hugely over the past couple of decades. Mathematically, this was not just by waiting for the people at the top of the age scale to die: most of the shift was people all along the age scale concluding “Okay I used to be really uncomfortable with this, but now it seems like not a big deal.” Real change, over far less than a lifetime.

        Reply
    6. all aboard the anon train

      My concern was actually whether OP5 was absolutely sure that the person she found the article about was her coworker. If there’s no picture and she doesn’t know where Fernando went to college, what happens if it’s a case of mistaken identity?

      I’ll trust the OP at her word that they’re the same people, but I’m always wary of accusing someone of something they didn’t do. Google searches aren’t entirely trustworthy. I don’t have a common name, but there’s one woman who shares my name who posts on social media and I’ve had a lot of people assuming it was me and talking about those pictures or tweets. Her accounts don’t have her picture or location, so I get why people might think it’s me. My social media is private and not under my real name, and while nothing bad is posted on the other woman’s accounts, it’s still unsettling.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        Ugh. I once spent six unpleasant months telling collection agencies that I was NOT the Falling Diphthong from Minnesota born in a different year with a different SS who owed a bunch of money on credit cards, and the fact that I had the same name and a listed phone number a thousand miles away from Minnesota didn’t mean that I was going to pay up.

        Plus side, the top google hit for my (unusual, but not unique) name is an art professor in NYC, which seems like a cool alter ego to have.

        Reply
      2. JM60

        The LW said the article they found was about a star college athlete. It’s very likely that the article had at least one picture, and that there are pictures of said athlete readily available all over the Internet. Plus, most people don’t have the body of a (former) college star athlete.

        Reply
    7. The Supreme Troll

      I didn’t get the vibe whatsoever from OP#5 that she is looking for “reasons to hate people”. In this internet age, what the OP did was completely reasonable. The OP also never said that she would treat Fernando False less than civilly or disrespect him.

      Based on what the OP wrote about her interaction with Fernando False, he seems to be trying to put behind him a certain part of his past. That could be because he has been remorseful and has atoned for his mistakes. Or it could be that he is definitely not sorry for what he did or who he is, but is just trying to sweep it under the rug. From this letter, I really do not know.

      Again, the OP I’m sure will show Fernando the same level of respect & dignity – and assume good faith on his part – that she would to any other person at her company. But it is OK to be somewhat cautious with how you interact with some people, until you get to know them better.

      Reply
    8. General Ginger

      I am sorry, I have to disagree with one of your points. You can’t be a raging homophobe on the weekends and somehow absolutely perfect to all your LGBT coworkers at the same time. One doesn’t have to spew homophobic slurs in order to be homophobic. The unsaid things that lead to specific actions (not promoting Fergus because he has a husband, sending Jane to a trade show instead of Jessica because Jane is a cis woman, and usually couching it in “I just trust Jane more/Jane is a better worker” rationalizations).

      Reply
  17. La Revancha del Tango

    #1 – I was born completely deaf in my left ear so my right ear has become VERY sensitive to noises. Any type of repetitive noise or one made with someones mouth drives me absolutely bonkers! The best way is to make them aware of it and then continue to ask them to stop when they make the noise. Most of the time they aren’t aware that they do it and can’t recognize when to stop. It is unlikely that it will get better immediately, you’re going to have to work with him on it.

    Reply
  18. Zathras

    #5, I wouldn’t do anything unless I saw signs of current behavior like this, especially if it’s been a few years or more. You mention he is a leader in the company so I’m guessing he’s not fresh out of college. It’s possible for someone do dumb impulsive things at that age and mature into the understanding that those actions were wrong.

    You should also consider that the newspaper article you found may not have told the full story. This would be true even of a major news outlet, but particularly for a college newspaper article written and edited by students who are still learning the journalism game. And while there’s no additional context that really excuses screaming homophobic slurs at someone, it does matter in your current context whether the person in question is an unrepentant trash fire of a human, or someone who regretted what he said in the heat of the moment and resolved to work on how he manages and expresses anger.

    That said, having found this might help if this person has borderline behaviors, where they say something that and you wonder “wait, was that intentionally hinting at homophobia, or an accidental poor choice of words?” If that is happening a lot, now you have some context.

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      I agree here. I would hate to be judged by everything I did/said in college, and especially if this might be decades later (if he’s a leader), and I think going by current behavior is the best approach. Even if there’s no missing context to the story itself, plenty of people do change after their college years, have new experiences, meet new people, learn things, etc. and it seems fairly harsh to judge someone over one incident. That said, of course be aware and if there are CURRENT problems/issues, of course that is something to be concerned about and let people know what is currently happening.

      Reply
    2. Annie Moose

      I also agree.

      As long as this incident happened at least a few years ago, I would file this away in the back of my mind just in case anything ever came up with this guy, but otherwise would try to forget about it and take him for what he is now.

      Reply
  19. Allison

    #2 I’d say it’s very likely he’s either dealing with digestive issues in the bathroom, going for a smoke, or sneaking off to make phone calls which may be related to some personal issue he’s currently dealing with – like a medical issue, or a family problem, housing, legal case, or something else he needs to address during the workday but doesn’t want people eavesdropping on. Definitely ask him where he’s running off to, but understand he’s probably not shirking his responsibilities just for the sake of it.

    #3 It’s almost definitely “gallows humor,” which some people feel they’re entitled to use whenever they need to cope, and insist others should laugh with them. Thing is, he’s using it because it’s happening to him, but if you use dark humor at someone else impacted who doesn’t care to use that humor to cope, that’s a problem.

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      If there are medical issues that this person needs to deal with, that definitely should be accommodated. But I do sort of feel like super frequent smoke breaks and personal phone calls ARE “shirking responsibilities.” I would be especially concerned since it’s a new employee, and those sorts of habits rarely get better with time.

      Reply
  20. Xarcady

    #2. If, in addition to disappearing all the time, the new hire isn’t getting his work done in a timely fashion, you could try giving him some information about how long each task should take, and when he should be handing the work back to you. He may not realize that some jobs are fairly simple and should be turned around quickly.

    “Cedric, I’ve finished reviewing your TPS report, and have some comments and revisions for you. This would normally take about an hour to finish, but you’re still learning, so let’s say an hour and a half to two hours to get all the info you need and make the changes. When you’re done, please bring it back to me. It’s 10 am now, so I should see you between 11:30 and noon. Any questions?”

    I had to do this with a new hire who would take all morning to fix 5 typos. Once she realized that as soon as she finished one job, there was another job waiting for her to work on, she started dilly-dallying all day. When I started giving her deadlines, she could easily make them, but she pouted. A lot. She didn’t last her probation period.

    Reply
    1. CM

      I think that’s good advice for OP#2. Since her new hire is so junior, he might just not be aware of office norms and think that it’s not a big deal or nobody will notice if he’s away from his desk. This could be the opposite of the junior hire who came from retail and assumes that they have to get permission to go to the bathroom. It’s good to set expectations both about physically being available, and about how long it should take to do tasks.

      Reply
  21. MuseumChick

    #4. I probably feel a little differently about this than most people will. To me, missing the intro is akin to skipping the first day of class, yes, all your are going to go over is a lot of the generic stuff but it’s still disrespectful when a person/organization has put so much effort into planning and execution. It’s unclear to me exactly what you all will be missing but the company has made it clear they feel it’s important for you to be there.

    I would guess they have had some kind of problem in the past and instituted the “miss the intro, you cannot attend anything else” rule. I would encourage those with unbreakable plans (family weddings) to ask for an exception but other than that it feels kind of dramatic to me for people to throw a hissy fit about this.

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      Changing the rule is the sort of thing that’s much more likely to come due to feedback from people who have attended several of these–if you haven’t been, then you really don’t know how it works.

      And probably due to feedback from people high enough to evaluate whether it causes subtle differences in how the week flows–like if everything is more choppy when many people skip the intro.

      Reply
      1. Jessesgirl72

        Or if there are some kind of instructions or stage-setting that’s done in the introductory speeches, that is a pain to have to keep repeating to people who missed it.

        I don’t expect the OP is going to get very far with the pushback.

        Reply
    2. Whats In A Name

      Yeah, the more I think about it the more I just really keep falling on this side. The company thinks its important and the folks have already asked (update in comments from OP) and been denied. I just think they need to go.

      Reply
      1. LW #4

        They’re actually intending not to go, unfortunately.
        The ones I’m aware of are both attending weddings for close friends and did not feel they wanted to miss them. I understand that, especially since weddings are usually planned so far in advance.

        For what it’s worth, there was no way for them to know when the course would be held far enough ahead for it to make a difference for the wedding planning. Nor had they any reason to think they would not be allowed to attend the course if they missed the first evening.
        It’s also during the traditional summer vacation times where the country literally slows to a standstill because everyone is off for four-six weeks.

        Basically, my colleagues planning to attend a wedding on a weekend during the holiday period is a pretty normal thing.

        Like I said above, I do understand why the firm as a global entity has instated this policy. It’s practical.
        It’s…. not best move from a employeee engagement and retention perspective.
        I think the ones who won’t be attending would’ve been more understanding if there was a huge negative thing for the firm, like a prohibitive cost or if they had asked to galavant in halfway through the week.

        But what to do?
        Nothing, it seems. I wanted to check with Alison and the commentariat to be sure because I feel for my colleagues.

        Reply
  22. Delta Delta

    #1 – i used to have a coworker who often stood in my office doorway when she ate her lunch. This was often some incredibly crunchy food – maybe a bowl of rocks, I don’t know. She was a mean bully and if you cross her you get psychologically punished for weeks. I dealt with it and ultimately when I quit that horrible dysfunctional job I now just wish nothing but bad things on her.

    Functional workplaces would work differently and you could say “please stop.”

    Reply
  23. Sara without an H

    Quote from OP#5: “One of the leaders above me (let’s call him Fernando False) is also fairly new to the company, and I’ve had a hard time feeling comfortable with him; his interactions with many team members just feel forced, when overall we’re a genuine and candid group.”

    OP#5, please, please take a good look at your own motivations here. You’d already mentally tagged this person as “Fernando False,” before you did your online research. Somehow, that doesn’t sound like a term of affection. Now you think you have grounds for running them out of the organization???!

    I agree with Alison and the earlier commenters that you could legitimately share this with your own manager, but that’s all I would do with it.

    I admit I may be oversensitive here, but I was once on the receiving end of a workplace mobbing situation, mostly because certain people decided I didn’t fit. It’s been decades, but I still cringe when I think of it.

    Reply
    1. LBK

      I think that was just a pseudonym she used in her letter, not a nickname she’s assigned to him…and being homophobic isn’t just “not fitting in”.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        But we don’t know why exactly he just didn’t fit in. Maybe he is just more reserved than other people. Maybe he is a bit more conservative and people are spouting a lot of poitical things. Just saying he didn’t fit in and then googling them really does seem like you are trying to find out WHY he doesn’t fit in.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          If the reason he doesn’t fit in is because he’s a homophobe surrounded by people who aren’t, that seems like a pretty legitimate reason to be concerned. This isn’t just a difference of opinion, no matter how much the political rhetoric these days would like you believe it is. I can’t have a civil disagreement with someone who believes I should be legally denied rights.

          Reply
          1. Roscoe

            My point though is that its not like he said something homophobic and then she want digging. He just didn’t fit in, and she found a narrative (true or not) that gives an explanation. You, nor I, have any idea why he didn’t fit in. But OP went looking for this.

            Reply
            1. The Supreme Troll

              But here I think you’re completely dismissing the OP’s instincts and vibe that she got from Fernando. Alison’s advice is correct, and this is not something that she should bring up to her manager, unless she sees current homophobic or other unacceptable behavior from him. And, as Jessesgirl72 stated further down, the people who hired Fernando surely did Google him and hired him anyway.

              That doesn’t mean the OP doesn’t have a right to be more guarded when interacting with him, until he shows himself to be more open.

              Reply
              1. Fronzel Neekburm

                The OP “Chalked it up to [them] being a private person” then proceeded to “Google them.” Other than a Feeling, am I missing red flags in the letter?

                Reply
                1. Fronzel Neekburm

                  I’m not being obnoxious, if I’m wrong or uninformed, I really want to know.

                2. Brogrammer

                  Feelings are information. Like any other information, they should be verified before taking action, but they shouldn’t be discounted out of hand because they’re “just feelings.”

          2. Sarah

            Sure, but I didn’t see anything in the letter that indicated current homophobic comments or behaviors. Obviously that would be a completely different story.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              I said something similar below, but blatantly homophobic actions aren’t the only sign that someone might hold homophobic views. Someone doing something homophobic in the past but not doing it now doesn’t always mean they’ve changed their mind, it often just means they’ve learned to hide it better.

              Reply
      2. Amadeo

        So, something he did in college should cost him his job now? I don’t agree with that. Let it be for now. I guess show your manager if you feel like you just have to, but I wouldn’t. Apparently he’s just awkward and a little forced, but doesn’t seem to be being unprofessional according to the OP.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Surely there are some things people do in college that you think should cost them jobs after graduation, though.

          Reply
          1. Amadeo

            I expect it depends. I’m sort of like Roscoe has been describing himself, mostly I mind my own business because it’s just plain easier that way. And I remember how freakin’ stupid I could be in high school and college and occasionally still am but have the life experience not to crow about it on Facebook now (I am so grateful that the internet was so new when I graduated HS and Facebook did not exist).

            Would I fire someone already employed at my company for something they did in college but showed no signs of doing at present? No. Would I hire them if it came up in a search during the hiring process? It depends. How long ago was it? What do their references say? And so on and so forth.

            Ultimately I don’t believe that being dumb once or twice in your life should follow you around like a black cloud, and ultimately I don’t really care what you (legally) do outside of work so long as you’re not wearing a company uniform or something when you do it. All I would truly worry about would be the things within the four walls of my office that I can control: are you professional? Do you treat all of your coworkers with respect/like human beings? Do you get your work done well and in a timely manner?

            Reply
            1. LBK

              I think where I fundamentally disagree is chalking up harassing someone with homophobic slurs as “being dumb once or twice in your life”. At what age does someone start having to take ownership of their views? If you’re in middle school, okay, you’re probably just mimicking whatever your parents believe. But I think college is where you really start to shape the viewpoints that will carry you through a lot of your early life, and I don’t know that I’m comfortable equating espousing hateful views with other things I would truly consider dumb college mistakes like drunk texting someone or skipping class.

              Reply
              1. Falling Diphthong

                I don’t give people a pass on college like it’s a magical bubble where nothing you do affects anyone else. Flip side, I think people can change a lot between, say, 35 and 50. That there is no age where you lock in with your permanent and unchangeable adult personality and views. I’ve read rare examples here–the person who never had to do X (show up on time, for example), it became a problem for them, and they managed to mature their way right out of that behavior and way of thinking over the course of a few weeks, since this behavior now caused them consequences that they didn’t like.

                Time from the behavior matters. If you learn that someone once did a hateful thing, and that was a decade ago, it seems really unfair to give that substantial weight and all their recent actions none. It’s one thing if Fernando leads hate marches on the weekends, but his actual action here at this company is to not seem relaxed to a new hire.

                Reply
                1. Sarah

                  I mean, if we’ve gotten to a point as a society where people are never allowed to learn, grow, become less homophobic/racist/etc. over time, then I guess we’re just screwed.

                2. Amadeo

                  Basically this. I never said nothing you do in college affects anyone else, of course it does. But if that behavior is 5, 10, 15 years down the road? And your only crime is ‘awkward’ around new people at this current point in time? I’m not even going to entertain the notion of firing them, what the heck?

                3. LBK

                  I agree that a long ways down the road people can change; I think we’re missing the timeline here that would make this easier for me to gauge this particular situation (unless the OP has commented and I haven’t seen it yet). I think I’m erring on the side of assuming this was relatively recent since the OP’s hackles are so far up about it, but I could be wrong.

                  I also think that changing views isn’t always the same as behaviors; you might learn to curb you language and eliminate the f-word from your vocabulary while still not holding good views about gay people. And I think it’s much easier and more common to do the former without doing the latter.

                4. LBK

                  @Sarah – Sorry for the double post as I didn’t see this until I’d already replied, but I think the problem is that we’ve uncovered a pattern in our society of people doing exactly what I said in my comment above: learning to hide the outward signs of holding certain bigoted views while not actually changing those views, which in many ways is even more harmful because it gives people a false sense of security and progress.

                  I’m not saying that people can’t ever actually change, of course, but the measure of change has to be greater than “doesn’t use that word anymore,” which is a shift from what people viewed as “change” even just 5 or 10 years ago.

              2. Liet-Kynes

                Totally agreed, LBK. That’s not “being dumb.” That’s not a mistake. It’s bigoted harassment, and that does say something about who someone is as a person and a moral actor.

                Reply
                1. General Ginger

                  Yeah. Being dumb is, I don’t know, going joyriding in the middle of the night, or going to a kegger the night before an exam. There is a huge difference between “dumb irresponsible college kid things” and “almost expelled for bigoted harrassment”.

              3. Epiphyta

                Age of consent to sexual activity in the US is between 16 and 18; provisional driver’s licenses can be issued at 14; for marriage, there is no set minimum age established nationally for the US; it’s possible to join the military at 17 with parental consent. All of these are choices with the potential for permanent, life-altering consequences.

                The notion that college is too early to be held accountable for one’s words could perhaps stand some further consideration, in light of the above.

                Reply
    2. Chinook

      ” his interactions with many team members just feel forced, when overall we’re a genuine and candid group.”

      This part too stood out to me. When I start somewhere new, my interactions probably look forced (they definitely feel that way) until I get a feel for the lay of the land. And even if everyone says they are genuine and candid, I don’t always trust them because I don’t know if they would accept me as I am. It takes time for me to willingly peel the layers of my onion in a workplace and I am cautiously trying to figure out where to stop the peeling. It doesn’t mean I am silently judging whether or not those are worthy of getting to know me, it is more a case of trying to figure out whether or not they will accept me.

      Reply
  24. Anon for this one

    LW3, I hope you do say something to Jane. I lost my former partner to suicide about 2 and a half years ago, and it’s still jarring and triggering to hear people make jokes about suicide. You’d be amazed how often people make casual comments about blowing their brains out, or just the gun/head emoji combo on social media. I try to ignore it when it’s not someone I know well, because I don’t want to have to tell every person why I really can’t take casual jokes about suicide. But I’ve had to NOPE out of upsetting conversations on numerous occasions. My friends know and are very good about it. But at work? That would be awful. I would find Jane’s comments extremely upsetting. SO I hope you’ll say something to her, before she says something in front of someone who this will really effect. Especially given that she does this so regularly, it’s just a matter of time before she says it in front of the wrong person.

    Reply
  25. Zen Cohen

    #1-It might just be me, but what would bother me much more than the loud chewing is the open concept office layout with no headphones allowed. If it’s a startup environment, I’m assuming that folks are pretty busy and have a lot of tasks that involve pretty heavy concentration (e.g., coding). It’s pretty presumptuous of your boss to assume that type of work environment is the best for everyone on your team without any allowances made for those needing more privacy or concentration.

    Reply
    1. AnonAlways

      I work in an open workplace with loud eaters, loud nose blowers, and loud talkers. Fortunately, I’m allowed to wear noise cancelling headphones. Often I go home with a headache from listening to white noise all day, but at least I don’t hear the trombone-like nose blows or the open mouth chip eating.

      Reply
      1. flibbertyG

        I believe that these open concept offices are setting up employees for a Hunger Games style fight to the death. There can only be ONE productive worker left standing.

        Reply
  26. Jessesgirl72

    OP5: I’m going to suggest that if you were able to find this information with a very simple Google search, the people who hired him probably know. His “caginess” might even be because he knows how wrong and public the incident was and doesn’t want to talk about it. People can change (I’m a strong believer in you change hearts, not minds) and I’m glad the internet was very young when I did stupid drunken things when I was in college.

    If you have concerns about how he acts now, take those to your manager- not an incident that happened X years ago.

    Reply
    1. MommaTRex

      I was thinking along these same lines. People can and even sometimes they do change. Not always. Maybe not often. But I would give him a chance. Perhaps my eye would be looking out a little bit to make sure, but until I saw a current behavior that was inappropriate, I would let it go for now. If he DID change, maybe he’s feeling out of sorts because he is worried that his past will be uncovered.

      Reply
  27. Grossed Out

    What if you have this same problem with a boss? Except that she’s constantly coughing without covering her mouth, hacking and snorting everyday for the last 5 months? All of my coworkers are horrified and we’ve tried to subtly bring it up by asking “Have you seen a doctor? That cough sounds really bad.” But she insists it’s allergies. It’s very jarring and distracting to hear this throughout the day, not to mention the risk of germs. We once asked our HR Manager if she could send a general memo to everyone in the office reminding them that with cold and flu season, everyone should be mindful of covering their mouths. HR said me and my coworkers would need to file a formal complaint, basically outing ourselves to the boss. What do we do?

    Reply
    1. fposte

      It sounds like the sounds are what you really object to here (“jarring and distracting to hear through the day”), and they’re not going to go away absent a cure, so I’m not sure what you’re hoping an intervention will do. If she’s standing next to you coughing without covering her mouth, you can say “Sorry, I’m a germaphobe, can you cover your mouth for a sec when you do that?” (as long as you accept that that’s not likely to mitigate any actual germs, since she’ll have them on her hand then).

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        You don’t cover your mouth with your hand if you’re doing it right, though – you cough into your elbow. For exactly that reason.

        That said, Grossed Out, it very much could be allergies and she may already know that. She should still cover her mouth, and it’s certainly reasonable to ask her to do so, but there may be limits to what she can do to stop/mitigate the noise/distraction factor.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Fair point–I was mainly thinking that most people don’t do it that way. I also think that instructing your boss how to cover her cough would be crossing a line, but with an allergy cough, I honestly would be particularly worried about contagion if it were uncovered anyway. It’s more an etiquette thing that you can get away with mentioning because of the thin veneer of health.

          Reply
          1. Kyrielle

            Agreed. This cough is only a germ risk if she has something that can spread that way, not just allergies.

            Reply
    2. LoFlo

      It’s not cool that your manager is unaware of the noises she makes. But she could be going through a period of a weakened immune system, where the normal remedies aren’t working, is waiting it out, or new medications aren’t helping. I can take months to get into a specialist, and then a few follow up visits to figure things out. You might have an indoor air quality issue at your work place that is triggering her symptoms.

      Reply
    3. AllTheFiles

      I had a coworker once who not only took tons of bathroom breaks but had a clearing his throat/cough thing that was loud. We would point out the cough but finally one coworker said “you sound like you’re dying, go see a doctor”.

      Stage 4 cancer – it had been a few years and just recently I heard he had decided to stop chemo. Sometimes people avoid things in hopes that it isn’t that bad.

      Reply
  28. Sundaisy

    I have the same issue as OP #1 except it is my boss! I can’t say anything really. If she’s not munching and crunching on chips, she is smacking gum or even yawning super loudly. Because I have issues with food in general, it is very disturbing but I’m considering it immersion therapy I guess. Good luck OP!

    Reply
  29. MindoverMoneyChick

    Oh no, Jane. I thought my colleague “Dan” was the only one who did that. Creative ways to commit suicide – he actually described them (I’ll spare you all). It honestly never occurred to us to try and stop it. Hope Allision’s suggestions work and you have my sympathies.

    Reply
    1. JulieBulie

      I once knew someone (“Fergusina”) in an email group (back when listservers were big) who used to occasionally discuss ways that she might commit suicide. We begged her to stop talking about that and please get help or else we’d have to kick her off the list.

      Eventually someone new joined our group who was not familiar with Fergusina’s history. When Fergusina gave a particularly vivid description of what she was considering/”joking about”, Newmember flipped out and called the authorities (911? Police? I don’t know) in Big Canadian City where Fergusina lived. (Fergusina had recently moved, and had given us her address.)

      Fergusina got a visit from emergency personnel, and she didn’t like it. I don’t know if that put an end to her suicide talk, or if it helped her, or what, because she was kicked off the email list at that point. But ever since then, I’ve always thought that it might be a good idea to take all suicide talk very seriously. If it’s a joke, maybe some escalated attention will prompt them to reconsider their sense of humor. If it’s not a joke, maybe it will highlight the need for treatment (or better treatment).

      Reply
      1. fposte

        You’ve reminded me that I did something similar once. I actually called the person’s pastor (the person was a pastor-in-training at the church or something like that, so it wasn’t a random choice), who didn’t seem hugely surprised. I don’t know what happened, but the person is still alive and kicking, so that’s good at least.

        Reply
        1. flibbertyG

          Unfortunately I think this should be considered more often, honestly. Even though people in the thread above talk about “gallows humor” being a coping strategy, which I do understand – I also hear so often about how there are often “cries for help” that go unnoticed / unremarked in these tragic cases. I don’t want to be someone who ends up realizing I listened to someone talk about suicide all the time and did nothing to stop them going through with it. I take such jokes seriously at this point.

          Reply
          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            This is precisely why I really don’t want to hear this from a coworker, casual aquaintaince, or stranger. It’s hard to tell gallows humor from “I am normalizing and trivializing this in my own head so it’s easier to contemplate an actual attempt,” and if it’s the second one, I as a human being feel a certain level of obligation to act on that kind of information. And I don’t WANT that obligation, because I didn’t sign up to do emotional labor for people I’m not connected to intimately.

            Reply
            1. flibbertyG

              You are so right about the normalizing thing. As a listener, I have no way of knowing which of the two options it might be – it’s Schrödinger’s suicide. That leaves me feeling like I have an obligation to take it very seriously.

              Reply
            2. Brogrammer

              This is why, as someone who uses this kind of humor as a coping mechanism, I’m extremely judicious about who I use it with. The last thing I want is for some well-meaning person to take my gallows humor seriously and be afraid that I’m actually in danger of hurting myself.

              Reply
            3. General Ginger

              Yeah, this is why, though I use this as a coping method, I would never make comments like that at work, or in front of casual acquaintances/strangers.

              Reply
          2. Fact & Fiction

            I had a very dear online friend who has dealt with several bouts of unemployment make two short calls moments on Facebook a few years ago that automatically made me fearful that he was planning to commit suicide. They were comments that others might not think twice about but I just immediately knew something was wrong, and told my husband as much. I was trying to figure out how to contact a family member or friend who actually lived near him when his pre-scheduled suicide went out over a Facebook. My heart broke and I was more frantic to find help for him but fortunately one of his local friends quickly updated us that she had fortunately discovered him and gotten help quickly enough to save him but hadn’t known about the prescheduled FB post in time to prevent it.

            All this to say that sometimes we do pick up on the warning signs but second-guess ourselves, or do so too late. I think dark humor with known audiences is fine but should be avoided in most work situations. I struggle with mental illness myself and speak openly about it to help de-stigmatize it but there are ways to avoid discussing these issues st work and I’d say jokes about suicide definitely cross that line.

            Most of us have been touched by suicide in some way or even multiple ways. And someone may legitimately cry out for help at work–but repeated suicide jokes at work aren’t an appropriate way to do that.

            Reply
  30. Althea

    #1 – Could also be cultural. Japanese men chew with their mouths open, in general, and everyone is expected to slurp noisily when eating some foods like ramen. When I studied there, my host parents would inform me that slurping allowed for eating more neatly. I never did like doing it, though, and I never noticed a difference in my ramen-eating neatness. I did my best never to look at my host dad while eating… :(

    Might not apply here, but if it’s a thing in Japan I imagine it could be elsewhere.

    Reply
  31. Is it Friday Yet?

    OP1, I sympathize. I had a boss who would do this and try to have a conversation with me while he was smacking and slurping LOUDLY. It got so bad that eventually my co-workers and I just started to avoid him whenever we heard him coming.

    Reply
  32. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I don’t know if I could work with #5. Especially in a state where it’s legal to fire people for being LGBT, I would be concerned about his leadership role.

    And don’t knock college journalism; a lot of schools do have journalism programs and even where they don’t, the writers for it are generally drawn from writing-heavy majors. And there’s a big focus on accurate writing for papers.

    (I was a college paper writer, so it peeves me to have people assume it’s not accurate).

    Reply
    1. fposte

      If there’s one you think is good, you could post it, and that’ll probably turn up quicker than an edit.

      Reply
      1. Case of the Mondays

        American Foundation for Suicide Prevention / National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

        1- 800-273-TALK (8255)

        If you google them, they also offer online chat. I can’t say that they are “good” but they are the first I found when I looked.

        Reply
  33. Liet-Kynes

    The noisy chewing and eating issue is just one of many reasons why the “round table, dialoguing throughout the day” open office concept is a load of horse pucky.

    THIS IS NOT HOW PEOPLE WORK, CORPORATE AMERICA. Nobody spontaneously brainstorms because they’re in an open office. People like having privacy, quiet, and reduced distractions when they work. When people are actually getting work done, they generally do it alone, on their computer, and when they collaborate it’s because there’s a good reason to get heads together, not because they’re all in one room listening to each other eat and fart all day. Cut it out. Give people offices, or cubicles at the very least.

    Reply
    1. flibbertyG

      +1 so, so agree. Our open office pits us all against each other in the Annoyance Olympics. What we really need is more private space so someone’s chewing habits, phone voice, or personal odor choices are not such a big impact on their neighbors. There was a thread the other day about an employees “petty” complaints about a coworkers chewing; I thought – I bet this office has an open floorplan. I don’t WANT to know or care about these things, but circumstances assure that I will.

      Reply
    2. AMPG

      At a previous job, we moved offices and switched from a space with individual or 2-person offices to a cube farm. We actually found that collaboration and information-sharing went WAY down as a result, because we were all so focused on giving each other space to do our work without distractions that we stopped having random “drive-by” chats with each other, which had always been a big part of the previous office culture. Management had to start actively encouraging us to grab small conference rooms for brainstorming sessions.

      Reply
      1. Liet-Kynes

        And in offices that have always been closed, we grab conference rooms to brainstorm naturally and as a matter of course. I realize you get used to “drive-by” chats as part of being in an open office, but I think different models of collaboration are possible and preferable. I personally find drive-bys really distracting.

        I’m not actually personally convinced that “brainstorming sessions” are really critical to workplace innovation anyway, outside a few scenarios, because I don’t think they’re actually good at distinguishing between good ideas and bad ideas that are appealing and delivered charismatically.

        Reply
        1. AMPG

          No, it was the other way around – in our closed-office setup, when you had a problem you wanted to talk out or a resource you wanted an opinion on, you’d pop in to other colleagues’ offices (assuming they weren’t swamped) to bounce ideas back and forth. This was an accepted (and useful) way to test out ideas in their early stages, and being generally available to our coworkers this way was part of the job. Once we were in a cube farm, we became more worried about adding to noise pollution or distracting other coworkers (since they mixed teams together along the cube aisles, so not everyone did the same type of work), so we stopped walking around to talk to each other, with negative results.

          Reply
    3. Beancounter Eric

      And if you are going with cubicles, high-wall, please…with good sound deadening.

      And the fostering of a culture which values quiet.

      I know – it ain’t gonna happen.

      Reply
  34. Window Kitty

    With regard to the gentleman who chews with his mouth open, I dealt with a similar situation a few years back at my old corporate job. We had an older gentleman join the team of over 80 employees. He was quite gross, to be honest. No table manners or etiquette at all. He would lick his fingers and touch the bagels for everyone or stick a spoon into his mouth and drop it into the office coffee creamer container. He was reprimanded several times about his disgusting, wasteful habits before he had to be written up by HR. An employee caught him licking leftover pizza slices in the kitchen, which he left on the table. Had the employee not run to HR to report it, some poor, unsuspecting souls could have taken the pizza leftovers home to their families for dinner. Ack! I once caught him sticking his dirty fingers into the ice bucket instead of using tongs and told him the following: “Fergus, you have been reprimanded several times about hygiene and being considerate of others. We now need to throw out all of the ice because you stuck your dirty hands into the ice bucket. Is there something you are not understanding about sanitary practices in the office?” He got upset and left the kitchen without his beverage and I reported him immediately after tossing out the ice and washing the bucket thoroughly. He eventually got fired. He was written up and warned numerous times for unsanitary offenses. He was told he had to be more mindful of washing his hands, chewing with his mouth closed to avoid spittle and food particles flying everywhere and not sticking his fingers into his mouth and then touching office food platters, dishes, etc. The best way to confront your co-worker is by being direct. If he is embarrassed, it’s really not your problem. An adult should know how to eat properly with their mouths closed.

    Reply
    1. WellRed

      I think, Window Kitty, this goes beyond unsanitary and into the realm of intentional behavior. People who lick pizza slices and put them back are not normal.

      Reply
      1. Window Kitty

        He was actually a friendly man, but he was elderly and seemed clueless that his habits were gross. With regard to the pizza thing, he said he was “tasting them” and thought they would be thrown out if he left them on the table. He was just a clueless old man. He was hired because he was an old family friend of the CEO.

        Reply
    2. Vaca

      Holy cow, your approach was super professional. I would have said something with a lot more f-bombs in it.

      Reply
  35. voyager1

    LW5 You need to ask yourself two questions:

    1. What do you want to happen to your coworker who you found made homophobic comments, after you tell management?

    2. Are you going to be okay with if management does not do want you want with the information you provided?

    It really just comes down to that.

    Reply
  36. Vaca

    On #1, isn’t it almost easier to just say it directly and sarcastically? Something like, “Hey, slackjaw, were you raised in a barn?” He’s going to take it one of three ways:

    1. Befuddlement. “Huh?” The response to which is, “You’re chewing with your mouth open, you weirdo!”
    2. Apology. “Oh, sorry!” Your response: “All good, appreciate you not doing it any more.”
    3. Anger. “Hey, f you!” In which case you’re dealing with a true a-hole. The response to which is, “Sorry, it’s just really grossing me out. I didn’t mean to offend you, it’s just grossing me out.” You play it off like your tone was just a bit off but it opens the door to fixing it. If he stops, great. If not, you proceed to “hey, sorry, but you’re chewing with your mouth open again.”

    Being a bit of a jerk from the get go – with a wink thrown in – gives you room to retreat while opening it up as more of a teasing dialog.

    Reply
    1. ybrey

      Wow that is way over the top rude. A simple, “please chew with your mouth closed” is all that is needed.

      Reply
  37. Jaybeetee

    For disappearing employee, my first thought was he might need a lot of bathroom breaks (though the comments above that he’s an ill-behaved smoker could also be probable). I have a medical condition myself that can result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the day. Thankfully it’s never gotten to a point where I’ve had to “declare” the condition, and in my present position no ones seems to particularly know or care. But I have certainly run into the occasional “You were away from your desk…” moment. I agree with Alison’s advice to just gently bring it up with him. If it’s a medical condition, he ought to disclose it if it’s disruptive to his work day. If it’s just him slacking off somehow, it’ll put him on notice that you know, and don’t find it acceptable.

    Reply
  38. AB

    #3 this is a tricky one and I can give you my experience as someone who suffered from depression. If you read help articles etc about depession you’re constantly told to ask for help. To tell someone how you’re feeling. So I felt really betrayed when I talked to my friends about it and they didn’t really want to know. More empathises should be on talking to someone professional as most people are not equipped to deal with it. I’ve been off my meds and doing well for about 3 years now. But hearing people talk about suicidal thoughts and especially self-harm can be really triggering. I would tell my co-workers that depession is really common and their comments could be upsetting some people who don’t want to share their mental health history and so are remaining quiet. And I echo Alison’s advice of giving them the number to a helpline, or recommend that they might benefit from counselling.

    Reply

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