how can I get my employees to stop socializing in front of clients?

A reader writes:

Can you suggest a few phrases I can use to redirect my team during quieter periods of time when they all get chatting about their personal lives? I work in a veterinary office, and I’d like my team of client service representatives to be a bit more professional, especially when there are clients in the waiting room.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My manager told me to take guests for dinner but not to pay for it with a corporate card
  • How can I get to know people in my new office?
  • Do I have to reply to recruiters’ emails?
  • Can I keep my current company’s name confidential on my resume?

{ 252 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. SJ

    As long as the personal-life conversation is workplace appropriate and I’m not being ignored because employees are chatting, I never minded being a client in an office where personal conversations are happening. I get why managers might feel that they are, though.

    Reply
      1. Mark Roth

        I’d feel weird sitting in a room where the staff are just typing away and not talking. I’d wonder if I did something wrong..

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        1. Grace

          Especially at a vet’s office. I think there’s a different standard for professional behavior than at a law firm or funeral home.

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          1. MashaKasha

            Right? If I’m sitting in a vet’s office, I’m probably there with an animal, who’s likely sick, definitely bored, and with a 100% certainty not on their best behavior. I’d be totally okay with the employees chatting. In fact, if there’s total silence, I’d probably worry that this is everyone being in shock about something my CatDog did, or that everyone is watching CatDog and CatDog better not mess up.

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            1. MommyMD

              Light chatting is perfectly acceptable. Deep personal conversations are not. There’s a difference. The LW is speaking of inappropriate conversation.

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              1. Wendy Darling

                Are they, though? I can see “chatting about their personal lives” really running the gamut. I don’t think a discussion of, say, your recent messy breakup or how drunk you were last night is appropriate, but I wouldn’t bat an eyelash if the front desk people at my vet were talking about something their pet did or the new restaurant they tried the other day.

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                1. Falling Diphthong

                  And people everywhere, except perhaps Hawaii, can take about the weather at endless length.

          2. Snark

            But the standard definitely has to be somewhere north of making me feel like I’m breaking in when I just want to pay my bill and go home.

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        2. Blue Anne

          Yeah. The accounting office I work in is pretty open plan (one medium sized room with eight cubicles on the sides) and it’s often dead quiet while we work. Clients who come in often comment on how quiet it is. I think it makes them a little uncomfortable.

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        3. Snark

          I think a reasonable amount of chatting is fine, but when it gets to the point where clients are getting irritated because they have to break in or otherwise are made to feel that they’re interrupting, that becomes a problem. This happened at my old dentists’ office, and theres’s a reason I’m using past tense.

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        1. tigerlily

          Sure, but I also don’t necessarily want to hear them talking about how to format billing or who’s going to cover the lunch shift. Or hear the person waiting next to me and their daughter talking about their plans for the evening. Or hear the person on the bus calling his bank. But it’s certainly not harming me. And let’s be real, I chat with my coworkers during the day. I’m sure you do, too. And feeling like someone with a customer facing job is not allowed to do that and instead must speak of nothing but their work in my presence feels incredibly elitist.

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          1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            Yeah…I have a whole soapbox I could get up on about how standards of “professionalism” in service sector jobs often seem uncomfortably related to expectations that people had of “the help” once upon a time. It doesn’t strike me as coincidental that service workers are expected to show as little human personality as possible in order to be considered professional, while servants and slaves were seen as less than human. I think the one is a holdover from the other.

            That’s not to say that the whole concept of professionalism is completely bunk or that it’s not possible for conversation to be inappropriate and unprofessional, but I often feel like the common expectation for service workers is vaguely dehumanizing.

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            1. tigerlily

              Exactly. I’m not advocating for people to be talking about getting wasted or the new positions they just tried with their boyfriend last night. But regular office chatting and socializing should be considered just as professional as it would anywhere else.

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            2. Schuyler

              I agree completely, and hadn’t actually thought about it in the context that you put it in here. I’ve been talking with friends and trying to do some research on staffing and social justice so that makes lots of sense.

              Reply
    1. Antilles

      +1. I’ve never minded either.
      To me, the only relevant factor here is whether or not their conversations are affecting clients. Your team shouldn’t be ignoring a client standing at the desk because they’re too busy talking about the ballgame. They shouldn’t tell a client to wait while they have a personal conversation. They shouldn’t talk about inappropriate topics or hot-button issues. Etc. If any of THESE are happening, then it absolutely needs to be addressed.
      But if it isn’t affecting clients, then I don’t see why it’s worth bothering over.

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      1. Jesca

        I agree.
        The only time it did actually bother me was when it was a dental hygienist talking to someone else about her very personal sexual escapades with strangers WHILE cleaning my teeth. LOL such a memorial visit.

        Reply
      2. MommyMD

        It always affects clients or patients even if they are not kept waiting. It’s unprofessional and can foster a negative attitude esp in any type of medical practice.

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        1. Anna

          I had no idea I should react that way when I’m at the doctor’s office and the staff is chatting. I’ll make sure to be more irritated about it.

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          1. emmylou

            LOL.

            Agreed — I like the fact that the staff at my dentist’s office and vet office chat with each other while I’m waiting — I didn’t know I was always supposed to be annoyed by it!

            It makes me feel like they are human beings and more likely to treat me like a human being.

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            1. B

              Agree with this. In fact, I rather like it when they are chatting as it makes the whole office feel more comfortable. If I walked into a vets office or my regular doctors office and was taken quickly, all questions answered, payment taken, etc and was just sitting there waiting I want to hear them chatting. Otherwise it would actually make me reconsider going there if the boss is that strict and uptight.

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          2. Alex

            If I walk in to a medical practice and everyone is silent, I end up wondering why they’re fighting. No chit-chat at all feels cold and I’ve certainly felt much more welcome when staff at a medical practice are cheerful and making small talk with each other while they wait.

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          3. Kathleen Adams

            Minor chatting that doesn’t interrupt their work and that is on completely office-appropriate topics wouldn’t bother me even a little bit unless they were shouting at each other or something.

            I just don’t think I could work up a good head of irritation about it.

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            1. Recruiting/Project Manager

              No one said anything about personal problems or complaining though. That’s a far cry from “chatting about their personal lives”. There’s obviously a line, like talking about your kid’s dance recital or what you did on vacation is fine IMO but talking about a date you went on, not so much.

              Personally, if the staff in dental or vet offices are chatting, I like it because it means they’re comfortable with one another and it’s probably a half-decent place to work. Sitting in a room watching coworkers be completely silent would make me feel super awkward.

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              1. Ego Chamber

                For me, the line is if I comment on the conversation and everyone shuts up, that’s horribly awkward and I suddenly wonder whether 1) their boss is going to be upset at them for fostering negativity in clients (ridiculous btw), 2) they expected the conversation to be private even though I’m sitting like 6 feet away and there’s nothing overly private about what they’re discussing, or 3) they shouldn’t have been talking about [whatever] at work because [reasons] and they just got caught.

                —Example from real life for real—

                Receptionist (to other receptionist): “Whiskers did the weirdest thing last night. I found him at 2am drinking out of the kitchen faucet!”

                me: “That’s adorable. My cat does that too.”

                Receptionists: dead silent

                me (thinking/panicking): Oh god. What did I miss? What about that is so private that I should have pretended I didn’t hear? That’s a normal thing that cats do, everyone who has a cat has seen—oh god. Wait. What if ‘Whiskers’ is the boyfriend, not the cat?

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                1. Jesmlet

                  This seems a tad hostile. You mean the letter where the OP writes exactly 2 sentences, neither of which mentions “Airing out personal problems or complaining about workload”? It literally just says “chatting about their personal lives” which could mean a wide range of things. Unless you personally know OP and know exactly what these topics are, it seems like you’re just projecting from your own experiences rather than evaluating based on what we have.

            2. tigerlily

              Neither of which were mentioned in OPs letter or anyone else’s comment. Other than this, your comments come across as advocating complete silence other than specifically work related conversations.

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        2. Zona the Great

          Based on the comments here, it seems to be a pretty subjective thing–whether to deem something as unprofessional. Would you consider offering your point of view a little less declaratively? It just seems like the commentariat can learn more from you and interact more with you if you did that. I’m curious about your opinions but I’m scared to ask as it seems like you might reject a counter opinion.

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          1. Erin

            Unprofessional is something you wouldn’t say in front of your grandma, or too personal or gossipy. Like talking about a good restaurant is fine, talking about Tina who got plastered at said restaurant and ended up flashing the bartender isn’t.

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        3. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          I prefer a more relaxed environment. I’m a nervous patient as it is, so dead silence and hushed tones would make me more stressed. Luckily patients can shop around and find an atmosphere that suits them, so the silence lovers can go to you and be background noise lovers can go to the practices I like.

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        4. Amy

          You’re right that it always affects- some positively and some negatively. I personally prefer some chit chat. Makes the atmosphere more personal and welcoming. If everyone is just sitting quietly like a bunch of workerbots it gives off a cold and sterile vibe.

          If there have been no complaints and customers aren’t left waiting, I think this is a non-issue.

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        5. Gen

          I’ve rarely been in a medical office that I’d class as ‘professional’ and it has nothing to do with chatting about social things, it’s the standoffish judgemental attitude that’s usually the problem :/ I wouldn’t mind if they ever spoke to each other in a social way, it’d make them seem more approachable

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        6. Perse's Mom

          Not unless you’re working on the assumption that your staff is so burned out that they’re constantly complaining about how much they hate their jobs.

          Now I wonder if this is part of the OP’s issue – vetmed can have pretty high rates of burnout and compassion fatigue, both of which CAN result in people being increasingly negative. This can be compounded by not the greatest pay or benefits, and it’s *very* hard to bounce back from that without the support of the workplace to take time off and recoup some of that lost mental energy.

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      3. shep

        Same. I don’t mind employees talking with each other at all as long as it’s not to the detriment of the customer. There have been a few times when I’ve gone into a store and the employees are *clearly* irritated I’ve interrupted their conversation. (And by “interrupted,” I mean stood there until they finished so I could buy the thing in my hand.)

        But I’m thinking specifically of my own dog’s vet clinic, and I like that the staff seem to know each other really well. The focus is immediately on me and my dog when I come in, but once we’re settled, they resume their conversations. They aren’t loud and are always really pleasant-sounding.

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    2. Falling Diphthong

      Yes, it’s important to find the line between professional reserve and performance art (riffle through a file drawer in a business-y manner, frown at computer screen, poke keys, open another file drawer). One summer I worked at a call center that allowed you to read between calls, and they were about to change the policy so that instead you gazed blankly into space while waiting for the phone to ring, because having a book open on your desk didn’t look as polished. Only managers would ever see these workers–the area was behind layers of security in a large plant. It seemed guaranteed to kill morale.

      If I’m being ignored because the staff are so busy talking, that’s a problem. But if I’m waiting with my dog for the vet to be free, I really don’t care if the people behind the desk are discussing innocuous chit chat subjects in the occasional slow spaces of their day.

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      1. Ellen N.

        I was in my vet’s office last week. A pet owner came in with her German Shepard and let it have all of its long leash. It came over to my dog who was lying on the floor and sniffed her. My dog snapped, thankfully at the air instead if starting a dog fight. For this reason, I believe that in vet’s offices in particular it’s a good idea for the employees to be focused on the customers.

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        1. Amy

          I could see that only making a difference in this scenario if you’re inferring that the staff should have been focused on customers and making sure the other woman didn’t let her dog have all of it’s leash. If that’s what you mean, I agree. But otherwise, not sure the staff would have made a difference there. As a pet owner, if you know (or have an inkling) that your dog might snap it’s up to you to alert the other pet owner and ask them to move their dog. And on the flip side, the other woman shouldn’t be allowing her dog to just roam freely in the lobby of the vet.

          But again, I don’t think casual chit chat would make a difference here.

          Reply
          1. Ellen N.

            Yes, I meant that the staff should have been focused on the behavior of the animals and people in the waiting room which they usually are. As a rule, if they see someone letting their dog approach another animal they remind the person that there are sick, therefore contagious, animals present and that many animals are nervous and snappish so please have the animals keep their distance from one another. For the record, they never intervene when the humans pet each others’ animals.

            I always warn people with dogs that my dog can be dog aggressive, but this happened fast. Also, I think pretty much any dog would snap if they were sniffed while at the vet’s.

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            1. tigerlily

              If it happened too fast for you to say something to the other owner, how was it not too fast for the other people in the office?

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              1. Ellen N.

                I was paying the bill so I was talking to one of the employees and facing away from the front door. My husband who is not as fast as I am in telling other dog owners to keep their dogs away from ours was holding our dog. If an employee had seen that the other dog owner was not holding the dog close; the employee would have told the owner to tighten the leash.

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                1. Anion

                  IOW, it’s everyone else’s job to keep an eye on your dog-aggressive dog, and you’re not to blame for failing to take any precautions at all.

        2. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          Interesting. All the vets I have been to leave the management of the pets in the waiting area up to the owners and don’t intervene if a kerfuffle happens. Is your experience different? One of my dogs is not fond of other dogs or human strangers approaching her without my invitation, so it is on me to either speak to the other owner if a dog approached us or to move when I see the door open. I wonder what would happen if vet staff tried to assist?

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          1. Amy

            100% this! And if there is a kerfuffle, sometimes adding more people to the mix can heighten a situation unnecessarily. I agree that it is up to the pet owners to manage their own pets in the waiting area (or anywhere for that matter)

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          2. Ellen N.

            Yes, at my vet’s office the staff intervenes if animals look like they will come close to one another. They tell the owners to keep the animals apart.

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          3. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            I think mine is more like yours. There is usually only one person up front in the waiting room at a given time, and she’s seated behind one of those desks where the part between you and her is a small high wall around her workspace. She would jump up to intervene if she heard a scuffle, I’m sure, but she is usually busy answering phones, checking patients in and out, processing billing, etc. She doesn’t just sit there and watch the animals in the waiting room.

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            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Hey Koko! I’ve been asking people not to use those symbols in their user names (a bunch of people started after the table-flipping thing) because it makes comments hard to scan when a lot of people are doing it. Thanks!

              Reply
        3. DaddySocialWorker

          I don’t agree that it’s the staff’s responsibility to be policing the interaction between various pets. That’s the owner’s responsibility.

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          1. Tuckerman

            True, but it’s probably the vet clinic’s liability if someone gets hurt while two dogs have a tiff. Also, waiting areas can be stressful. Lots of sick or overexcited animals, who may behave unexpectedly. I keep my dog on a short leash at the vet, but there have been times where I’m juggling holding leash, getting out my credit card, reviewing the charges listening to medication instructions, and it’s helpful to have a second pair of eyes monitoring the situation.

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          2. Ellen N.

            I disagree. Many people are in denial about their pet’s aggressiveness. I can’t tell you how many times veterinary professionals have gushingly thanked me for being candid about my dog sometimes being dog aggressive. Also, as I’ve seen at my vet’s office many people don’t think about dogs maladies being contagious.

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          3. Perse's Mom

            It is their job to keep an eye on the room and it would be entirely appropriate for them to ask the lady in Ellen’s example to keep her dog on a shorter leash. If something goes sideways, they will not only be the ones having to clean it up, but they will probably be blamed for NOT saying something (either by the irresponsible client or their own boss), and the clinic itself might well have their insurance dinged for the incident.

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          1. Ego Chamber

            Your statement isn’t actually applicable to all workplaces, and I wish you would be a little more aware about all the things you post that are your opinion and not 100% unquestionable fact. If you pay some of your employees just to focus on your clients, then it’s reasonable to expect them to completely focus on clients, but if they have other work to do at the same time, this can be asking too much.

            Personally, I can’t focus on clients in the office if I’m answering the phone, or doing data entry, or looking at/for files, or processing a payment. I am bad at multitasking (to be fair, there are a lot of studies showing everyone has reduced work output when multitasking, but employers are still all on about this buzzword).

            It’s an unrealistic expectation that front line employees should do all their work quickly and accurately, and also be personable and focused on clients at the same time. I’m not talking about being rude, or not acknowledging someone who’s waiting for something, but if I have to stop the work I was ostensibly hired to do to babysit the lobby every time someone walks in until they leave, it’s not realistic to expect me to give you 8 hours of admin tasks every day on top of that.

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        4. Falling Diphthong

          At my vet the office staff are seated behind a high counter, and cannot see what most of the ground-level pets in the room are up to. Vet techs move around but are usually in the back. If one dog got into another’s space I would blame the owner, not the people behind the counter who were finding my tick medicine and typing up the bill.

          Come to think of it there was a similar set-up the one time I had to go to the overnight vet–a front desk intermittently staffed, most people busy in the back, people sitting with their pets. I was with a large dog who had seizures and trouble walking, so though he was normally immensely friendly it would have been a bad idea to climb into his personal space. But had some dog done so I would have intervened with their owner, like I do on walks. Not fumed about how the staff were in the back looking after the sick dogs rather than out here watching to see if they should speak firmly to any humans.

          For that matter, I have a far, far better sense of what my dog will or won’t tolerate than would most vet staff.

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    3. kittymommy

      An office that was strictly work talk with nothing else would freak me out and I probably wouldn’t end up going back (especially my vet’s office). Office chatter is kind of normal and one that was dead silent unless they were discussing a work related issue would come off to me as tense and uncomfortable.

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      1. Assistant Professor

        I agree that zero chatter/total silence would be a little odd, but I’m very curious what “personal lives” means here. If people are discussing totally innocuous topics like the weather, a weekend trip, etc. I think it’s perfectly fine. I read “personal lives” more as lots of talk about spouses, boyfriend trouble, in laws, kids, etc. which I think can quickly get awkward for clients. I once had a dental hygienist who was a MAJOR over-sharer and I knew every detail of her current move, difficulties with in laws and her husband, etc. (I was going in frequently because of an ongoing issue). I mean, she was good at her job, but I wouldn’t really call it professional and sometimes it did make me a little uncomfortable. So if the personal discussions are getting into these types of topics, I think it is fair to ask that it be limited.

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        1. Sue

          I could write a book about what I’ve heard in my dentist’s office and the worst is always when they have hands in my mouth so I can’t even react to it. I think my eyes have probably bugged out a few times.

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          1. Compliance

            Ugh. I think there’s a difference though, when you’re in the waiting room and hearing employees talk about their lives, versus being served/treated/whatever and being subjugated to the talk.

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        2. Partly Cloudy

          I agree. I also work in a veterinary office and while we’re careful not to be laughing at someone’s funny story from last weekend while a client is sobbing over losing their pet ten feet away, I think *some* of the light banter might actually make people feel better. It can be a fine line sometimes and we have to be super careful, but I know that I, as a customer, would prefer to see small talk among the staff rather than everyone acting like robots.

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          1. K

            Thanks for being sensitive to this. My step-father died in the ICU on July 4th. The staff were loudly celebrating the holiday in the break room across from his room and we could hear everything. It added a degree of awfulness I’ll never forget. For us it was a life-altering event. For them, it was a Friday night party with cupcakes.

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            1. Partly Cloudy

              Oh, I’m so sorry for your experience. I work in a specialty & emergency hospital so almost all of our patients are sick or injured and therefore their humans are sad or upset (rather than the ho-hum of taking your dog for annual vaccines). So we tend to be extra vigilant about stuff like this. We do decorate for Christmas, but minimally, and all other holidays – especially Halloween – are celebrated strictly behind the scenes (the break room is at the opposite side of the building from the lobby and exam rooms, and it’s a big building). It would be pretty hard to look a distraught pet owner in the face in a Jason mask or a Mickey Mouse costume and I can’t imagine how much worse THEY would feel having to deal with that.

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          2. MommyMD

            Light banter timed correctly is fine. Loud laughter when people or pets are sick is not. Talking about boyfriend trouble is not. You would think adults working in a professional environment would know this but often times they don’t. I’ve been in with crying patients to hear staff talking about very personal things or bursting out into laughter and have to remind them the walls are thin.

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        3. Lily in NYC

          My dentist fired one of his hygienists because she just wouldn’t shut up about her stupid house being haunted and all of her “ghost” experiences. I know many people believe in ghosts, but I am not one of them. I wasn’t annoyed – I found it entertaining and she was very nice; just a bit inappropriate in general. I think the final straw for the dentist was that she badmouthed one of the other dentists in front of me on the same visit. I didn’t report her – it was one of the other employees.

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          1. Ego Chamber

            Huh. I would definitely prefer “my house is haunted” to “my boyfriend is cheating”/”my girlfriend found this new position I want to try”/”all my coworkers are huge glassbowls”/”I hate my life everything about it was a mistake.”

            Maybe when they hire her replacement they can screen someone who just talks about the hauntings? ;P

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        4. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          I like hearing my vet staff talk about their pets. I’m embarrassed to say that I know all of their pets names, but only 1/2 of the people’s

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            1. Wendy Darling

              I’m very curious what has given you that impression since literally nothing in the letter suggests it and yet you are ADAMANT that it is the case.

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            2. paul

              We have absolutely zero information other than they’re chatting about personal stuff-the OP gave no details, so we just can’t know.

              I know that there can be pretty lengthy stretches of time when I’m waiting for the doctor/vet where there really isn’t much for the front desk to do with or about me, and I have zero problems with *some* personal chatting between them.

              Of course if they’re chatting about their sex lives, monetary difficulties, etc that’s inappropriate, or if they’re ignoring clients that are needing to sign in, ask a question or whatever, that’s not cool. But casual chatting about the Texans-Panthers preseason game last night, or lunch plans? Eh, that’s never bothered me, even when waiting on a biopsy or x rays (i.e; potentially scary stuff).

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        1. Anna

          I think most people know that. Personal and peerrrrrrsssoooonnnnaallll are different. Talking about weekend plans to go for a hike or a concert is one thing. Talking about getting shitfaced at the concert or smoking out on the hike is another level altogether.

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          1. Decima Dewey

            I don’t mind a hearing little conversation at my doctor’s office. I do mind hearing one of the staff complaining about something the Physician Assistant did last week. The Physician Assistant I have an appointment with in a few minutes.

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          2. MommyMD

            If you have ever been in charge of a group of people, you will find that oft times people do not know that. Unfortunately they have to be reminded about what you and I would consider common sense.

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            1. Wendy Darling

              You seem to have really strong opinions about 1. this issue and 2. what the letter writer actually meant. Do you have some inside info about this letter that the rest of us don’t that leads you to believe “chitchat about their personal lives” consists exclusively of sordid relationship discussions and consumption of controlled substances, or are you projecting? Because it’s really a bit much.

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        2. Kathleen Adams

          You keep saying things like “That’s not what we’re talking about here,” MommyMD, but I have to say that I haven’t noticed anybody say “Yes, it’s absolutely fine to talk about really personal stuff. We patients and we pet owners just love that.” I haven’t read all the comments, but I’ve read lots of them, and I haven’t seen anybody say or hint that there is no topic that is inappropriate under these circumstances. Because clearly there are some that are.

          The most I’ve seen anybody (including myself) say is that we don’t mind minor, pleasant chatting. And I think most of us don’t. We don’t want to hear about somebody’s divorce or about their disastrous date or political views. But ordinary, office-appropriate chat seems to fine with most people (with some exceptions, of course) under most circumstances (with some exceptions, of course).

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          1. YuliaC

            It’s not the commenters, it’s the LW’s staff are the ones who seem to think “Yes, it’s absolutely fine to talk about really personal stuff.” Because the LW is worried that they conduct themselves less than professionally, and we are taking her at her word.

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            1. Kathleen Adams

              The OP doesn’t say anything like that. All the letter says is that the OP wants to stop them “chatting about their personal lives.” That doesn’t imply “really personal” to me. So I feel as though I *am* talking the OP at her word. That’s what I’m trying to do, in any event.

              It sounds to me as though the OP doesn’t want the staff to talk about anything but work when there are clients within earshot. If that’s not what the OP meant – if she meant details about one’s divorce or date or favorite political party – then I agree that the staff shouldn’t be discussing those things in front of clients. But plenty of perfectly innocuous topics can also be classified as “chatting about their personal lives,” and I have no problem with medical and veterinary office staff talking about ordinary things in front of me.

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        3. Antilles

          Talking about your boyfriend cheating on you or details about your divorce are things you shouldn’t be discussing at work *period*.
          That is completely different from minor chit-chat about weekend plans or last night’s ballgame or a new movie or whatever.

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    4. Ramona Flowers

      I mind. Sorry if that makes me an old curmudgeon but if I’m worried about my pet being poorly I don’t want to listen to inane chatter about someone’s weekend plans as if I’m not even there.

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      1. YuliaC

        I agree – I mind as well. I have no problem when it’s brief interchanges, a couple of phrases back and forth, but when the staff are in a long absorbing conversation I feel like that is more important to them than work, so it feels unprofessional.

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        1. Happy Lurker

          Ramona and Yulia. I have left vet practices for employees paying more attention to each other than my pet…besides the fact that they were borderline rude, had limited hours and were expensive.
          The “new” practice is actually all family, the vet and his 3 adult children and are far more professional.

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      2. Delphine

        See, I’m the opposite. When my kitten was ill, the waiting room where I could hear staff at the front desk chatting quietly about their day was much more calming than sitting alone in the room where the veterinarian eventually came to see me. I want offices and staff to be professional, but I don’t want them to be robots who never speak while they’re on the job.

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            1. tigerlily

              But isn’t is also imperative for you to understand that the people who work there are people too? That this is their place of business where they go to work everyday and they deserve the same niceties as everyone else including being able to have conversation with their coworkers?

              Reply
              1. Jessie the First (or second)

                Yes, but medical providers need to be aware, in a way that general customer facing roles don’t, of their surroundings and the state of the patients/families nearby. So in some contexts – like medical/vet – it’s important to remember where you are and keep it to chitchat (because yes, you’re human) and also keep it from being really personal or boisterous (because you are dealing with people who may be in difficult circumstances). I don’t think people are advocating silence – just a reminder to be careful about how personal you get.

                Reply
              2. MommyMD

                Tiger lily, when you work in medicine the patients come first. Always. Oaths are taken about this. The staff’s “right” to chatter does not override the patient’s well being.

                Reply
        1. Jesmlet

          My hypothesis: People are happier when they can socialize as they see fit. Happy people provide better care.

          Also, if I’m stressed out about something that may be medically wrong with me or a loved one/pet, I’d rather be distracted by inane chatter but I understand that this is a personal preference

          Reply
      3. Aiani

        I do understand pet worry for sure. My dog really picks up on the mood of a place though. A little casual chatter is actually the kind of thing that keeps her more at ease. I was once waiting to see the vet for a very long time in a really stifled feeling waiting room and by the time we saw the vet my dog was kind of a wreck.

        Reply
      4. Wintermute

        I really, strongly disagree with you. Put yourself in THEIR shoes, can you imagine a workplace that demands nothing but eyes-front, work-only all day long? There are plenty of them sure, call centers mostly, but the environment is one where the MOMENT you have the skills or experience to leave, you do, and that kind of environment isn’t conducive to the personal relationships that a vet’s office or other small reception room thrives on. You want long-term employees and that means going to work can’t be sitting in a tomb for eight hours of typing in silence unless you are interacting with a client. Even factory workers are allowed to talk and work.

        Then we can also get into attracting and keeping good employees, they don’t want to work in a stifling environment and if they have options, they won’t. Frankly I would quit a job like that as soon as I could, regardless of pay. I spend a third of my life at work and you can’t pay me enough (unless it’s enough I can NOT be there 40 hours a week!) to sit there staring blankly into space unless I’m doing data entry or talking to a client. Are you okay with worse quality of service just because you prefer obsequious silence?

        And on top of that, from the comments here it looks like it’s about 60/20/20, with 60% of people preferring chatter, about 20% tolerating it as a workplace norm, and only 20% of people objecting to all chatter (as opposed to highly personal conversations which *I* don’t mind, frankly I’d rather they treat me like I’m not there but most people here agree are not okay). So it’s a matter of meeting the social and cultural norms for your area and not seeming wierdly and oddly cold and unfriendly.

        Reply
    5. Sue

      When I’m a captive audience, I don’t want to hear private conversation, either between staff or on the phone. It feels inappropriate (I have overheard arguments, complaining and very personal details before) and definitely unprofessional. I think Alison’s advice is very good.

      Reply
    6. KR

      We used to refer to it as cross talk in grocery store lingo. It makes the customer feel excluded usually and makes it seem like the employee isn’t focusing on the customer. It can also make the customer feel like they are intruding on the employee’s personal conversation by needing service.

      Reply
      1. Airedale

        My biggest pet peeve is when customer service complains about their hours, or the fact that they’re at work, in front of customers. Just today I was being helped in a university parking office, and the employee took a call from another employee while helping me (with no, “Just a moment” – okay, whatever). She went, “You sound so depressed…I know, I feel like it’s Monday instead of Friday.”

        Or things like, “Ugh, how is it only 3:00?! I can’t wait to go HOME!”

        Other than that, as a customer, I don’t mind. But it’s really up to the OP’s preferences for her staff.

        Reply
        1. extra anon today

          Considering how very bad pay is for retail and customer service jobs in the US, and having done those low-paying thankless jobs myself, this does not bother me at all. I 100% empathize and have been there.

          Reply
          1. MommyMD

            Complaining to customers about your job is highly unprofessional and maybe a reason that people are stuck in low paying jobs from which they don’t advance.

            Reply
            1. Yeesh

              Wow. Your unpleasant and arrogant attitude really is on overdrive today. I’d prefer overly chatty employees in any situation to having you treat me!

              Reply
            2. Ego Chamber

              “maybe a reason that people are stuck in low paying jobs from which they don’t advance.”

              That’s just modern elitist Nouveau Calvinism, though: It’s low income workers’ own fault they’re stuck in low income jobs. We should have just bootstrapped harder and pulled ourselves up with no extra money, few resources, and no advanced skills, because if it’s all our own fault, then you don’t have to think about income inequality or any other uncomfortable social issues—or acknowledge how your own success wasn’t 100% proof of your own skill and worth.

              I’m really glad you don’t have to deal with any of these problems yourself but you have a really problematic outlook towards people who haven’t done as well as you. You’re pretending to be a doctor on the internet; have some compassion for god’s sake.

              Reply
            3. Perse's Mom

              I think you’re the first commenter here that’s given me reason to wish there was an Ignore feature on this site. The tone of your comments in general are just that unpleasant and the ones on this topic have been at the next level.

              Reply
            4. Airedale

              Not sure why there’s so much backlash. If you were a manager, you’d honestly promote someone who complained about their job or hours, directly to your customers, on a regular basis?
              MommyMD said that is “maybe a reason” some people in low-paying jobs don’t advance, not “the reason why everyone in low-paying jobs is stuck there.”

              I’ve worked lots of retail and restaurant jobs full-time, too :) I worked really hard to not make my customers feel like a burden or an inconvenience. Nowadays, it bugs me when I’m not shown that same respect, but I let it go.

              Reply
          2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            Ha, yes…I would be shocked to hear any grocery store employee didn’t feel that way, honestly. There is no need to put on a charade for me. Shoot, often if I notice my cashier seems tired or I see them get flustered for a moment and make a mistake I’ll say something like, “Been a long day huh? How early did you have to get here?” and “Thanks for your help, I hope you get to go home soon!” I don’t need them to pretend for my sake that their job isn’t mind-and-foot-numbing.

            Reply
          3. Perse's Mom

            The piece about Airedale’s experience that bothers me is more than it was in the middle of already helping a customer. It’s not cut and dry; staffing might mean the rep HAD to answer the phone, but the response at that point – with a customer waiting – should have been quick and concise to get back to Airedale.

            I’ve commiserated with customers about how long a particular week feels AS a rep – the small talk while looking up their information, etc. But never made them wait while I chat with a coworker.

            Reply
        2. hbc

          Yeah, I think the personal talk about professional stuff is worse than plain personal-personal talk. The anesthesiologist who was sticking the needle into my spine while chatting with the nurse about the abysmal success rate of epidurals that day really should have picked a different topic.

          Reply
          1. Ego Chamber

            Aww, that brings back some fond memories of the phlebotomist who took my blood, then came back 20 minutes later to take more blood—and volunteered the information that this wasn’t normal procedure, it was because the lab had lost my blood.

            Cool… cool. O_o

            Reply
            1. Isobel

              I don’t know… I would prefer someone to be honest, that there had been an error, rather that making up a spurious reason for repeating a test.

              Reply
          2. Perse's Mom

            As someone who occasionally horrifies people with offhand commentary about Old Job medical grossness… when you’re surrounded by it all the time, it’s easy for us to forget that not everyone is, and most of us would be fine with a reminder in that situation.

            “I’m going to be the outlier then, and this is going to go perfectly, RIGHT?”

            Reply
        3. caligirl

          Right there with you! I have started walking out of places if the people there can’t be bothered to acknowledge my presence within a reasonable amount of time. If they are talking about work stuff and say “we’ll be right with you” then that’s fine. If they are talking about their SO, lunch, it’s only 3:00 or whatever and don’t stop in several seconds and at least act like a new person is there waiting, I’m out! Recently, a food truck person who was chatting away about a sporting event, nothing food related. even shouted “hey, come back, what do you want to eat!” when I walked away. I was about 30 feet away by that time and yep, they were full on yelling! Someone else got my $9 that day.

          Reply
            1. KMB213

              What makes you think people “are not getting” that. I haven’t seen anyone say that every single topic is OK to discuss, though you keep insisting that people are saying as much.

              Reply
        4. De Minimis

          I don’t mind people talking about looking forward to being off, but I’ve stopped shopping at stores before because the clerks were always complaining about their jobs and how miserable they are.

          And yes, I’ve worked retail before but I was professional when I was doing so.

          Reply
        5. Wintermute

          Ironically that one might be the one they CAN’T ban. At least under the Obama NLRB they took a ludicrously expansive view of labor rights (example: they banned requiring employees to have a positive attitude because that could interfere with their right to complain about working conditions, which is a labor right).

          Under their rulings, if they’d stand, you have a right to complain about working conditions that’s a protected right.

          Reply
          1. Former Employee

            The following is the NLRB ruling, quoted from “Business” (online) dated 5/6/16:

            “Because labor disputes and union organizing efforts frequently involve controversy, criticism of the employer, arguments, and less-than-“positive” statements about terms and conditions of employment, employees reading the rule here would reasonably steer clear of a range of potentially controversial but protected communication in the workplace for fear of running afoul of the rule. ”

            It’s about being able to unionize. I never imagined that anyone would see that as controversial.

            Reply
      2. Lily Rowan

        I think the grocery store is different from the vet’s office, though. In the grocery store, I’m basically face-to-face with the cashier throughout the transaction, and the cashier is working on my business the whole time I’m standing there. That feels much more rude that at the vet, where I check in and then sit down for 5-10 minutes, with the staff on the other side of a counter.

        Reply
    7. Wolfram alpha

      I would feel super awkward sitting in a vet office in total ssilence and would wonder of the vet is totalitarian with my special little guy as he is with the staff.

      Reply
  2. thutacap

    Regarding the answer to “can I keep my current company’s name confidential”, I disagree, but my circumstances for doing so are probably fairly unusual. I worked for a small company with a very vindictive CEO. I had my resume on one of the well known job boards. I was contacted by a recruiter whose name was familiar. Sure enough, I realized she was an external recruiter for my current company. I was confused and scared. Did she simply not care whether or not she helped place employees that worked for a client or was it something more worse? Turns out it was something worse — a few weeks later my boss asked me point blank if I was looking.

    Anyway, after that, I changed the company name on my resume to “Confidential” on online job boards but not on any any that I sent to individual recruiters. Unusual circumstance unethical recruiter (IMHO) + vindictive company = I’m OK w/ my resume appearing odd.

    I’ve since taken my resume down from all online job boards, but at the time, it was essential to my ongoing job search.

    Reply
      1. thutacap

        I lied, but I doubt I was convincing — I’m a terrible liar particularly when caught completely off guard. Fortunately, there was no fall out & I eventually left when I found a new job. When my soon to be ex-company asked where I was going, I was once again odd when told them “Oh, I’d rather not say, but it’s a completely different industry.”. I was that afraid of my CEO’s well-known vindictiveness. I was worried he’d reach out to my soon to be new company & poison the waters.

        Reply
    1. WerkingIt

      I’ve actually thought about this when applying for jobs at what some might consider “controversial” organizations, typically political in some way. For instance Planned Parenthood, political campaigns, and I saw a job posting today for a job an organization fighting to legalization marijuana or even for things on the other end of the spectrum. I would be concerned that years from now if my resume ended up in front of a very conservative (or liberal if the position was on the other end of the spectrum) that I could be dismissed immediately based on the personal politics of the individual.

      Reply
  3. RL

    I get SO MANY recruiter emails, I ignore 99 out of 100. There are 2 situations that I might reply to:

    1. if the job actually WOULD be a good fit for me and I think the recruiter has done a good thing by contacting me (even if the timing isn’t right or something – I might reply, “Thanks for thinking of me! I’m not looking to leave my current position at this time, but this type of job is right for me and I hope you may think of me again in the future if you’re looking to place someone in a role like this.”)

    2. If it’s so wildly off base that I am irritated by the email, I might reply politely but firmly. “My professional background is open for public viewing on LinkedIn; as I’m sure you can see, I’m a software product manager with 15 years of experience in x, y, and z. I’m open to being contacted about roles in my field, but I do not want to be contacted about insurance sales opportunities. Please remove me from your list of contacts for roles in insurance/finance/healthcare/office admin/etc.” Seriously nothing makes me more irritated than spammy recruiter messages that prove that the recruiter is just emailing an entire non-targeted email list without even checking the roles against the email addresses. You’re lazy and I’d never work with you!

    Reply
    1. Anna

      I have done #2. Six years ago I worked in a particular field. If you had read anything past the bottom entry on my LinkedIn profile, you might have noticed I’ve moved way WAY on from there in the time since. I still get recruiters asking if I’m interested in working in the insurance field (which wasn’t the field I was in, anyway).

      Reply
      1. SusanIvanova

        Recruiters see that I once held a coffee-related job and send me offers to work on giant coffee servers. The job was actually hand-crafted Java cups. (The teapot analogy is barely stretching at all – it really was Java :) )

        Reply
    2. seejay

      I actually report some as spam if they’re wildly off base and look like they’re carpet bombing from somewhere. I haven’t been actively looking for 8 years but somehow I have stale resumes out there and recruiter mills get their hands on them. I get contacted for things that are wildly off base and show that the recruiter didn’t even read my qualifications or restrictions and I really don’t appreciate it, so I just set it to spam and report the email as spam. They can deal with the fallout for all I care.

      I also accept the fact that I’m a bit of a curmudgeon about it.

      Reply
  4. Specialk9

    Re how to make work friends: it’s hard, but you have to be the one to make it happen. I have a similar situation – no work team and I mostly interact with super senior people I wouldn’t ping to go get coffee. I just started setting up coffee and lunch with people around the office who seemed friendly, and then they invited people, and then somehow I (a sociable introvert with awkward social skills) am the unofficial office social coordinator.

    I had to get over the idea that nobody would want to meet with me, or they would think I was weird for reaching out – instead people seem happy that someone is being nice, and making them feel welcome. I think they felt lonely before.

    Reply
  5. spek

    I doubt the manager expected you to cover the meal at your own expense. More likely, having worked at large companies before, that the corporate policies are rigid and inflexible and don’t have a mechanism for someone in your job description to charge business meals. Your boss is just trying to get around that, maybe in a shady manner, maybe not. In any case, the big deal here is that you can’t afford to cover it. Just have a conversation and make it know that your finances are tight and you can’t afford to cover the expense and in the future in order to pay for the meal you will need to have cash in advance or borrow the boss’ credit card to pay.

    Reply
    1. TheBeetsMotel

      Honestly, it’s not even a “finances are tight” type of an issue; on no planet, ever, would I be paying to take my employer’s clients to dinner. Essentially I’d be paying for the privilege to work.

      Reply
      1. Ego Chamber

        Right, but at the majority of places I’ve worked, the protest by way of Bartleby the scrivener works far less and incites more attempts to “find a solution that works for both of us” (gag me) than an I can’t-based argument.

        Ie: If you don’t believe it’s ethical for the business to expect you to float business expenses, the employer can reply “too bad.” If you don’t have the money, the employer can still reply “too bad” but that doesn’t change the fact that you don’t have the money and they’ll figure something else out.

        Reply
    2. paul

      The manager spectacularly flubbed it regardless. I mean…if he had a work around, you tell the person how you’re going to handle it *before* the dinner. If you told me to take out 8-10 clients at a mid range ish (say 30 bucks a head) restaurant, then yeah I may not have enough in checking right then to cover it. I’ve got savings, but I need advance warning to go and actually get that money.

      And if it was “well, we expect you to foot the bill”, then the answer is just hell no.

      Reply
      1. Tuxedo Cat

        She should be informed what the reimbursement process is, including typical amounts of time between submitting the paperwork and getting her money back.

        Reply
        1. paul

          I have a real issue expecting junior employees to front hundreds of dollars, even if they are going to get reimbursed. If it was a large group at any sort of midrange restaurant you’re easily looking at 300+ bucks for the meal.

          Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            While I absolutely agree, the correct answer isn’t to hope that the group will be tractor beamed into UFOs before you get to the restaurant.

            Reply
                1. SusanIvanova

                  Tell the clients up front the company isn’t covering it! If I were one of the clients I’d expect it to be covered, and if not then I’d like to know – maybe I can expense it, maybe not.

          2. Kate

            Honestly, until I started reading this blog, I didn’t really understand how problematic that was, even when I was the lowly junior person who wouldn’t be able to afford that. (I’m agreeing, it’s bad!) But it wouldn’t surprise me if OP’s boss was just being dense and thought it would be no big deal for OP to pay on her cc and then get reimbursed. So this is a discussion they *need* to have. I’d be really worried for OP about how it would look to her boss that she made the client pay when she was supposed to be taking the client out.

            Reply
            1. Toph

              It sounded like the boss said they didn’t have the budget for it though, so it seemed like it would not be reimbursed at all, which is even worse than just temporarily fronting it.

              Reply
              1. JanetInSC

                That’s the impression I got, too, otherwise he could put it on the company credit card. This was horrible thing for his manager to do…and it backfired, since the client paid for the meal.

                Reply
              2. Kate

                I agree, that’s worse! But that’s not how I interpreted it. OP said, “our department does not have approval for things such as this.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. They don’t have approval for someone in OP’s position to use a company credit card? Or they don’t have approval for taking clients out to dinner? And even if they meant the latter, does that mean they just need to find a different way of billing it? OP should definitely *not* be expected to just eat a potentially triple digit dinner bill. But the way it was handled doesn’t seem good either (In my experience, taking a client out to dinner means the client isn’t paying). OP and her boss really need to have a talk about how to handle client dinners in the future.

                Reply
            2. SarahTheEntwife

              And even credit card reimbursements might cause problems if someone is up against their credit limit already or the timing overlaps a billing cycle awkwardly.

              Reply
    3. Antilles

      More likely, having worked at large companies before, that the corporate policies are rigid and inflexible and don’t have a mechanism for someone in your job description to charge business meals.
      However, such companies often do have a separate procedure for expense reimbursement . It’s possible the boss assumed OP could just put it on a personal card and get reimbursed. Which itself may not be a feasible solution due to the difference between when your bill is due (end of month) and how long it takes to actually get the paperwork through accounting (several weeks? more?)…but that’s the kind of thing that a lot of bosses wouldn’t necessarily think about.

      Reply
      1. seejay

        My company flubbed out reimbursing me for expenses I incurred when fixing up my immigration visa a few months ago and it took two months to get the money back and that was in the $1k range. Difference is, I *could* float it for the two months. I couldn’t imagine being on a junior paycheck and having to handle that for two months, it could easily have led to me missing rent or something else vital. So yeah, incurring an unexpected chunk of debt onto a credit card and then waiting for the company to pay it back, even if they’re good for it, isn’t in an employee’s best interest if they don’t have a good paycheck to cover that surprise expense. :(

        Reply
        1. RobW

          Another consideration: if the junior employee is charging it to a credit card and it doesn’t get reimbursed before the payment is due, will the company also reimburse for the interest charged?

          Reply
    4. Eliza

      I remember it eventually came out in the comments the first time #2 was posted that the meeting was with vendors, not clients, and the OP wasn’t yet experienced enough to realize that it was normal and expected for the vendors to pay.

      Reply
        1. emmylou

          That’s interesting, thanks for clarifying. Do you remember if the OP posted in the comments about what they expected to happen? I.e., what scenario did they have in their mind for what would happen when the bill came when they actually entered the restaurant?

          Reply
          1. Eliza

            The boss had specifically told her to get the vendors to pick up the bill but evidently hadn’t sufficiently explained why, so she was uncomfortable with the idea of doing so.

            Reply
      1. Here we go again

        That is a big relief!

        I have a related question… Which after almost a decade in the professional world, I should know the answer to, but I don’t.

        When you go out to lunch with a boss, boss’ boss or senior exec and you **know** they will pay because of the context (but it hasn’t been explicitly stated), what is the etiquette for offering? I feel weird not offering even if I know that they are going to pay.

        Reply
        1. SunshineOH

          My company actually has that written into our policy – the most senior person at a dinner/function is the one who pays. Keeps people who are attending from being the ones who sign off on the expense.

          Reply
          1. AdAgencyChick

            Same here. I never thought about the fact that it would be because an attendee might then be signing off on the expense, but that makes sense. I always thought it was just to keep junior employees from having to float the company what can be a pretty big loan (especially since it can take more than a month to get reimbursed at my company, GRRRRR).

            I like that it’s an official policy and it gets followed, so no one has to worry about it.

            Reply
          2. DeLurkee

            Ahhhh! We have the same policy, but like Here we go again, I feel weird about it – like I should at least offer to pay or contribute, even though I know the manager present will put it on their company credit card (which I do not have).

            SunshineOH you just shed light on that (no pun intended) – it never occurred to me about the person signing off on it not being an attendee. That really clears it up and also makes me feel much less “rude” for not offering. Thank you for that!

            Reply
    5. Mike C.

      I don’t even know if reimbursement was on the table, given that the LW said that such dinners weren’t approved to begin with. The whole thing feels shady as all heck.

      Reply
  6. TheBeetsMotel

    Yikes all round at the corporate card question. Aren’t company dinners exactly the kind of thing corporate cards are for? If you’re not to pay with the card, the only other option at the time would be your own money (so much nope!), – if the company meant you to use an alternate source of payment they should absolutely have told you beforehand rather than putting you on the spot. Alternative payment or the card; your own funds would never be the acceptable choice!

    However, I’d also be concerned as to the optics of “hiding in the bathroom” until the bill is paid. Whether that was your intention or not, it’s likely to come across that way, which definitely isn’t a good look to potential clients.

    Reply
    1. Nox

      Our place has a policy of putting it on personal cards and then getting reimbursed. Which is annoying as all hell when you have to wait till the end of the month to get back 400 bucks for a company bbq.

      Reply
      1. Beancounter

        Wow! You don’t get reimbursed til the end of the month? We have weekly check runs for vendors and employee expenses. That is ridiculous that you are expected to front the money for that long!

        Reply
    2. The IT Manager

      “Hiding in the bathroom” until the bill is paid is terrible. If I assumed someone else was paying because they were taking me out, I wouldn’t pay no matter how long they hid in the bathroom. It would never occur to me that a adult in real life would do this; on a sitcom maybe but not in real life.

      The LW really needed to push back and find out how he was expected to pay before taking people to lunch. And if knew he wasn’t paying he just should have said so. It actually sounds like he got his client to pay for him too!

      Reply
      1. extra anon today

        Hey maybe don’t be a jerk to the LW? Anxiety is a 100% real and awful condition. Sorry we aren’t all perfect IT robots.

        Reply
        1. Jessie the First (or second)

          IT Manager isn’t being a jerk.
          *Hiding out in the bathroom to avoid paying a bill, when your guests are not expecting to pay, is terrible. It’s stranding guests who don’t know they are being stranded and ups the awkward for every person there.
          *Anxiety is absolutely 100% real and awful but that’s not relevant here.

          Reply
        2. SL #2

          Anxiety causes you to do rude things because you’re paralyzed in the situation and not thinking rationally, sure, but it also isn’t an excuse for the LW’s rudeness in that moment. You can be rude and have anxiety be the cause, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that you owe apologies to people and behaved rudely.

          If I were the client, I wouldn’t want to work with this company again, unless I got an explanation. And even then, a company that expects junior employees to foot dinner bills that are hundreds of dollars? Still wouldn’t want to work with them.

          Reply
        3. Temperance

          Sure, anxiety is real, and terrible, but it doesn’t excuse shit behavior, either. There is serious stigma against mentally ill folks, and it’s in part because of bad behavior.

          Reply
    3. Falling Diphthong

      The letter is a perfect example of putting things off hoping that a meteor will strike the earth, and when it doesn’t landing on the worst possible solution.

      a) Before the meeting and meal ever happen, be blunt with your manager that you cannot afford to cover this so what does he want you to do?
      b) Choose a restaurant where you can afford to cover the bill; pass it off as a fun chance to experience local color.
      c) Take the visitors to an expensive restaurant they had no role in picking, hide in the restroom until it slowly dawns on them that they can’t go back to their hotel and go to sleep until they cough up the full cost of the meal.

      Reply
    4. Been There

      Yeah, this seems screwy all around. I can see if there was some sort of policy about what was charged to the card. I’ve run into the the zero alcohol policy, no airfare, or no hotels on p-cards. But the LW should have spoken up. I’ve had to a couple of times when I was starting out and it was no big deal for my manager to figure something out.

      I really think it’s odd how the LW handled it. I mean how long was she or he in the bathroom? Did the manager ever find out that the clients paid? How does that conversation go? What was the rest of the evening like or the next day with the clients?

      Manager: oh btw I haven’t seen that reimbursement request from the dinner the other night.
      LW: uhhh…I was in the bathroom when the check came our clients, who we are trying get more business from paid it.
      Manager: O.o

      Reply
    5. Tuckerman

      At my company, we’re not supposed to charge alcohol on the corporate card. So it could be that the company wanted him to put it on his own card and then submit the receipt for reimbursement.

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        We can use the card for alcohol if it’s a group event, but someone can’t just buy themselves a drink [or rather, they can, but they will have to reimburse the organization, which is no big deal.]

        On the accounting end, I do have to separate any alcohol charges in our system, but again, no big deal.

        Reply
  7. Ana Eats Everything

    I realize these questions are years old, but I’m really dying to know how the corporate card lunch issue played out. How awkward that a guest ended up paying for dinner… I feel bad for everyone involved, especially the employee caught in the middle.

    Reply
    1. That Would Be a Good Band Name

      Someone else commented that it was actually vendors (who would normally pay) and not clients. The LW just wasn’t experience enough to realize they didn’t have to pay. Although why the boss wouldn’t have just explained that is beyond me…

      Reply
      1. MJLurver

        I don’t know which is more baffling: how the difference between “client” and “vendor” wasn’t clarified before the dinner occurred, or how the OP handled the situation. I don’t want to appear insensitive, however either the boss or the OP made this 1,000,000 times more difficult than it needed to be. I felt my stomach lurch when I read the part about hiding in the bathroom (before learning it was a vendor dinner).

        Two of my biggest questions while reading letters to Alison on this site are “Why are people so adverse to asking questions?” Or “why don’t folks ask for clarification about something that is an absolute unknown to them?”

        It seems like 95% of the issues people write in about would be solved SO easily if they simply asked for clarification during whatever scenario is occurring.

        Reply
        1. teclatrans

          Learning to ask for clarification was probably one of the biggest things I learned in my first 4 or 5 years in the world. I was just telling my kids a humorous (now) story of mishearing a request in a summer job when I was a teen and being too embarrassed and confused to push back and admit my confusion. Saying, “hm, um, what I heard you say is x, and that leaves me wondering y, could you clarify?” takes some gumption…well, no, I just couldn’t help myself, had to use that word, really it takes some poise and inner fortitude, as well as a willingness to display yoir own ignorance or non-understanding.

          Reply
        2. Bwahnonymous

          It’s actually really easy for new employees new to the work world to turn small easy things into clusters, especially the eager-beavers who think saying “no” or revealing a weakness means they’re going to get s-canned or blackballed. Generally, they’re just not experienced or confident challenging superiors (because for their entire lives thus far, they’ve been trained NOT TO).

          One of the biggest pieces of advice I’d always heard from everyone in my life from family to college career counselors was “never discuss your personal financial situation with your employer.” So, why the hell would I, as a young, new, eager-beaver employee at a new company with a new boss that I really want to impress and do a good job for, feel comfortable saying, “I can’t afford to cover that dinner.” I would NEVER have said that: does not compute, wires crossing, etc.

          (Then again, my first boss out of college was the crazy witch who probably would’ve sat me down and gone over my personal finances to see why I couldn’t afford something. She’s the one who pretended to be my gynecologist after I took half a day to have a vaginal lump looked at.)

          Reply
  8. AdAgencyChick

    re: #4, I now make it a personal policy not to reply to recruiters I don’t know if I’m not interested in the job.

    Every time I have replied, they end up trying to shake me down for names of other people to refer, or “hey, what about this other totally-unsuitable-for-you job?” No thanks.

    Reply
  9. Murphy

    I feel like OP#3 is me…except now I’ve been here 2 years, and I’m worried that that ship has sailed. I’ve been trying to get better about putting in the effort, but it also feels weird since I’ve been here for so long.

    Reply
  10. Ann O'Nemity

    I’ve re-read #2 (corporate card) several times and I still can’t figure out if the OP’s manager expected the OP to:

    (A) Pay for the meal and then submit a request for reimbursement,
    (B) Pay for the meal themselves, or
    (C) Tell the clients it’s dutch and they need to pay for their own meals.

    Reply
    1. Murphy

      I’m not sure either. If I was told not to put it on a corporate card (which is bizarre), my immediate response would be, “OK. How should I pay for it?”

      Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      That’s why this is the rare situation that calls for More Gumption, and just asking the boss which of those they mean.

      Reply
      1. LazyHolidayMondays

        Exactly what I was thinking. If you don’t have a corporate card but are expected to wine and dine a little, I expect to be reimbursed by the company, via an expense report for the expense on my card.

        If there was even a remote chance that the person could not afford it on his card, he should have said so right from the start!

        That story really confuses me as there’s not enough info…

        Reply
      2. teclatrans

        Ha! Glad to see i am not the only person who felt gumption might play a role.

        Check comments above — OP revealed in the original post’s comments that it was a vendor meal, and the boss told OP to let the vendors pay, but s/he didn’t understand why that changed the rules of etiquette. So my feeling is that all the more gumption was needed to tell the boss “I don’t feel comfortable following thise instructions, won’t that be insulting?” or something like that, at which point boss cpuod explain about vendors courting through money.

        Reply
  11. MommyMD

    Personal conversation is not OK in front of patients/clients. I’ve dealt with this with nursing staff. In any medical setting people can be fearful and worried for themselves or loved ones, including pets. It’s inconsiderate to be discussing personal matters within their hearing.

    How to deal with it? Calmly but firmly relay this to them and clearly advise them personal conversation in front of clients needs to stop. Don’t beat around the bush or hope they will figure it on on their own.

    Reply
    1. some scientist

      I agree with this. I have a cat with lymphoma, and the specialist veterinary office is professional (reception staff working on records or other computer work while not directly talking to clients in person or answering the phone) while my general vet is not (loud laughing, complaining about their workload, etc.. so awkward). I’ve also been to a medical imaging center with chatty staff where I felt like I was interrupting the staff when I had a question about my forms. I’d rather they are ready to be attentive to patients, especially since distressing things can be happening in a medical or veterinary setting.

      Reply
    2. DaddySocialWorker

      I think that it depends on the context of personal. If we’re talking about chit-chat type stuff and there’s just a chance the patient/client could overhear, I don’t see a need to address that with staff. Personally, I’m not offended by hearing chit-chat nor do I have a problem interjecting with a business relate question. They’re at work and as a customer, i think it’s reasonable for me to interject into staff personal conversations for business related questions.
      On the other hand, as I perused the comments, I think that one can make an argument that for one’s business model, adopting a no personal conversation policy could work and be profitable.
      So, in sum, I dispute the need for the policy, but it may reap some rewards.

      Reply
    3. all aboard the anon train

      This is really subjective. Whenever I have medical procedures it actually calms me down a lot to have the staff talk about mindless things like what they’re doing for the holidays, their kids at college, etc., rather than have them stay silent. It would have freaked me out considerably if they were absolutely silent or only talked about work because that would have made me focus on what procedure I was getting.

      So, I don’t think this is the be all, end all attitude. It can vary by situation and the client/patient involved.

      Reply
      1. Ego Chamber

        Agree. The only time I think a silent medical staff isn’t unnerving is when it’s late night/early morning. F’rex, I went in for a root canal once at 5am. The admins in the lobby weren’t talking (beyond handing me intake forms and offering to answer any questions). That was fine with me because I was barely awake too!

        Reply
      2. Temperance

        Yes. I was in the ICU, and the nurses chatting around me about mundane things helped me feel normal. I couldn’t participate, for various reasons, but waking up to someone brushing my teeth, washing my hair, drawing blood, etc., it was nice that they were talking about their kids and whatnot.

        Reply
  12. Steve

    Is it a good idea to reply to a company-internal recruiter? Just to say that you aren’t looking now (but with the subtext that you don’t want to burn the bridge for the future). There’s this one internal recruiter at a major employer in my area, who has sent me at least four messages via three separate channels (phone, email, linkedin message). I would have expected him to have given up already, given that I have the same expectation as Alison – recruiters send tons of emails and many or most of them are just ignored by their recipients. Internal recruiters get a bit more respect, at least compared to the average “throw random candidates at the employer and see if any stick” headhunter.

    Reply
  13. lizajane

    As someone who has worked as a receptionist at a veterinary surgery for a few years, I think you do learn which clients would like quiet, which are happy for background talk on not too personal topics, and which ones would like to talk to you– if you’re in a small town, rural veterinary practice, chances are the whole waiting room are talking to each other, and that’s fine. It’s about the general atmosphere. I’d say the only hard and fast rules are: 1. nothing you’d be upset with your middle school teacher hearing, 2. it’s *crucial* that a client doesn’t feel like they’re interrupting if they want to ask something, and 3. some visits to the vet are sad ones, and it is incredibly upsetting if the staff on reception are chatting away about their holiday plans etc.

    Reply
    1. nonymous

      my vet has this really nice setup where there is one room with a separate entrance (it’s an old converted house). When we had to put our dog down, we were able to come in (and leave) via the private entrance, completely bypassing the reception area. Good thing too, because there are usually young kids and cute puppies/kittens coming in for shots. They probably don’t want to deal with me bawling as much as I wanted to avoid them.

      Reply
      1. RIF

        My vet lights a candle in the reception area when someone comes in to put their pet to sleep, and there’s a sign explaining what the candle is for and asks everyone – even customers – to please be respectful with their conversations.

        Reply
        1. Mrs. Fenris

          I’ve seen that Facebook meme and a great idea in theory, but my experience in 30 years in the veterinary field is that most people do not care one bit what else is going on in the office while they are at the vet.

          Reply
      2. Perse's Mom

        Mine doesn’t have a back door, but they do have a sort of sequestered room. They knew what I was coming for, they ushered me right in there and the receptionist went back and forth to handle paperwork rather than ask me to leave my cat to come back to the desk.

        Even the local humane society has a rather pleasant little room specifically for that service. Doors to other sections of the building are closed to minimize noise, and there are flags that go up to alert staff and volunteers passing the area so they know to keep it down.

        Reply
  14. TassieTiger

    Regarding the preferred atmosphere of a vet office, whether chatty or more quiet, I am very comfortable with some chatter as long as the receptionists can quickly turn their attention to the customers when needed To provide the best atmosphere. The main negative experience I remember is when I was picking up my pets ashes, and the receptionist were having a good chat together. They barely looked up give me the box and did not offer much condolence. Of course it is on me to manage my own emotions, but I still felt strange and unsupported as I just took the box and quietly walked away mostly unnoticed.

    Reply
    1. TheMonkey

      Oh, I am so sorry this happened to you. At that point, you’re coming back to a place where you’ve made a painful memory and being handed the remains of a beloved family member. When I receptionist-ed in a veterinary office we always made sure to handle those exchanges with sympathy and a little reverence.

      Reply
  15. Wendy Anne

    I’m curious. Most of the advice re bringing food to the office usually says not to, especially if you’re a female in a male dominated office or else you risk getting pigeon-holed as the “bringer of muffins” and not treated as a “real” professional. How is the situation in the letter different enough to warrant the same suggestion that is not recommended every other time it’s brought up?

    Reply
    1. fposte

      It’s not her first day, it’s not to her staff, it’s not a regular deal, it’s not cupcakes, and it’s deliberately using food as a short-term connecting point.

      Reply
    2. gwal

      I had the same thought! But then I remembered that the recent time when this option was poo-poo’d was when the possible cupcake-bringer in question was a manager. Since the letter writer here seems to be a peer with the people she wants to “chat up”, so to speak, maybe that’s what makes the context different?

      Reply
    3. Cristina in England

      Alison didn’t suggest that she bring cake, just that she go to an event where there is cake, should an event like that happen.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        She does suggest bagels as a possibility. I think the difference is the cumulative effect of all the distinctions I mention upthread.

        Reply
      2. nonymous

        @Christina, actually the advice was to bring bagels or something to lure people in. I think one of the keys as a female in a male-dominated role is to avoid the labor of it all. A bag of bagels or a box of bakery items is great, just don’t go to the effort of having a nice display or going homemade. No servingware (although plastic knives thrown in the bag is fine) or anything to wash up afterwards. Candy bars are legitimate, as are delivered foods (think ubereats or postmates).

        I bring a box of dunkin’ doughnuts when I train a team. I tell them ahead of time I will do it in the reminder email, and I make sure the food is there before anybody sees me carrying it in. I have no problem directing people to eat to clean up after themselves (and to take the leftovers back to their office area).

        If I were in the OP’s situation, one option might be to reach out to a supervisor of one of the groups and ask if there’s a good time I could drop in and introduce myself to the team, or get a “tour” to learn about the work they do. No food required.

        Reply
    4. Ms. Minn

      I used to put a bowl of candy on my desk as a way to get to know co-workers at a new job. The word eventually spreads that you have candy and more people stop by. If you can handle the interruptions, that’s a way to go.

      I agree with Allison about being stereotyped as the “mom” or “wife” role at the office, but I think a candy dish is a way to get around that.

      Reply
      1. nonymous

        It really helps to have a candy “type”. Try imported or ethnic candies as a conversation starter. Red vines have a cult following in the blue collar crowd.

        Reply
  16. rudster

    It’s interesting that many people think “company card” = “company pays the credit card bill”. That’s not usually how works, at least not directly. The “company” card (which in also in the employee’s name) is really just a convenience for the company, to make accounting easier and avoid having to provide you with cash advances. But you still have to pay credit card bill and complete an expense report to get reimbursement. I never bothered to get a company card – for all that work I was at least going to pump up my own points.

    Reply
    1. zora

      This really varies depending on the company. In my current case, the company does actually pay the bills of the company cards. I just have to turn in all receipts with the info about what the charges were for. So, the money doesn’t come out of my own pocket, and the card doesn’t show up on my credit report.

      And I personally don’t even have enough credit to front some of the bills I’ve had to pay for work (multiple group hotel reservations that cost thousands). So, if I was expected to pay and be reimbursed I’d basically just say no.

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        Our company card works the same way. We pay in full each month. Employees only pay us back if it is a personal charge, and that comes out during the reconciliation process.

        The other time I had a company card, I only had to pay for things I’d charged not long after I left their employment [didn’t know I was about to leave when I charged them.] In that case, I did pay and then got reimbursement.

        Reply
      2. Ego Chamber

        “and the card doesn’t show up on my credit report.”

        Fwiw, even if it’s a company card, it might still show up there, but it won’t affect your credit score. I used to work customer service for a bank and this was a huge misconception clients had—it doesn’t help that banking regulations have changed on this over time.

        Company cards that have employee names on them are usually issued to the employees as “authorized users” which mean you’re authorized to use the specified credit line, but you’re not responsible for the charges (not responsible to the bank, you’re still liable to your employer under whatever policy they have on this).

        Reply
        1. De Minimis

          Some what related to that, we had an employee file bankruptcy and the bank cancelled his company card, but we were able to get it reinstated right away.

          Reply
    2. Statler von Waldorf

      I have never seen a company card that works in that way, unless it was the personal card for the owner of a small business. For every other case I’ve handled, they were issued to the company, and the company was legally liable for the balance owing. The employee’s name was on them for tracking purposes, but they did not effect the employee’s personal credit in any way.

      I’m actually curious how that would play out. Do they require new employee’s to fill out applications for credit cards when they apply, and use their employee’s credit instead of applying for their own? I’ve been reading here long enough to know anything is possible …

      Reply
  17. Janelle

    The chit chat thing can go really wrong. I once was at an interview and the receptionist was having the most inappropriate political conversation with someone else waiting in the lobby. I was so appalled by her behavior I told the man interviewing me I would only consider working for the company if she was let go. I really didn’t want the job at that point but thought he should be aware of how inappropriate she was.

    Reply
  18. Chickaletta

    For #1 – I work in the hospital/clinical/health care industry, and my company also discourages personal chit chat in front of patients for a variety of reasons. At employee orientations, they take a similar approach as a famous magic kingdom where they talk about being “on stage”. On stage is basically when you’re on the clock, and it means that you put your work face on: your at your most professional and focused on your job. “Off stage” is when you’re on breaks away from the public, or off work and out of the public eye. That’s when you can relax and not worry about how you’re going to look to other people, and personal conversations can be had. One of the caveats is that sometimes even when you’re not at work, but in a public setting (ex a restaurant, waiting to board a plane, etc), the things you say about your employer, your job, or patients/customers have the potential to reflect negatively on you or your employer, and is therefore sometimes still “on stage”. It sounds stict, but they don’t monitor this kind of thing (how could they?), and it sets the expectation from the begining of the type of professaional norms they would like from their employees.

    Reply

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