weekend open thread – February 24-25, 2024

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Good Material, by Dolly Alderton. Reeling from a breakup with his girlfriend, a struggling stand-up comic tries to figure out why she left and how to move forward. Like everything she writes, it’s funny, relatable, and a good time.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

open thread – February 23-24, 2024

It’s the Friday open thread!

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on any work-related questions that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to take your questions to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

management talks to us like we’re children, napping in the wellness room, and more

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

1. Management talks to us like we’re children

I am a healthcare professional who works for a home health agency. We are all nurses, rehab therapists, or social workers — educated people with specialized skillsets. We rarely meet in-person but have daily phone calls, so I hear from the office staff very frequently.

There seems to be a culture in the office of using infantilizing language — referring to everyone as “friend,” as in “hi friend, have you finished your documentation?” and the use of “we” when the speaker actually means “you” — e.g., “did we finish the evaluation we started yesterday?” (The main offender of “we”-ing is not a clinician; this may be why this irks me so much.) I don’t know if this is intentionally condescending, but it certainly comes off that way. I have verified that I am not the only one who is bothered by this.

Is it worth it for me to mention it to my manager? I have thick skin but for some reason this REALLY rubs me the wrong way!


It sounds like you’re taking that use of “we” as akin to saying to a toddler, “Can we finish our milk?” … but it’s far more likely that it means “did we, the team, finish the evaluation?” That’s a pretty common workplace usage of “we,” and complaining about it will look excessively nitpicky. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be annoyed by it; you are. But it’s more of a pet peeve than something worth bringing up.

However, if there’s something I’m missing about the tone — like if it’s said in a patronizing way — that’s different, and that could be worth raising. But what you’d be raising is the condescension generally, not that one specific linguistic construction.

As for “hi friend” … I’m not a particular fan, but again, it’s the “pet peeve” category of annoyance, not “this is unacceptable.”

All that said, it’s interesting that you’ve found other people are bothered by it too, and that makes me wonder if there’s more infantilizing going on than just the language itself.

2. How can I make sure my coworker isn’t left in the lurch when I leave?

I work at a usually small and rural branch of a global company. It’s open seven days a week and closes on two major holidays a year. I only have one full-time coworker, with our manager being off-site and visiting once a month at most. I’m planning on moving in with my girlfriend in July, which is very exciting, but due to the distance I’ll no longer be able to keep this job. I’ve been heavily considering quitting for a while now, so this is a good chance for a clean break — but I have one major concern (outside of the painful purgatory of finding the next job, of course).

Before I was hired, about two years ago, my coworker was the only desk employee at the branch for a period of several months … meaning for those months he did not get a single day off. This was obviously awful for him! The company had such trouble finding a candidate for his position that he was the one who ultimately recruited and recommended me to management, in a large part so he could finally get a dang break.

I know ultimately this isn’t my responsibility, but I’d hate to wreck his vibe by indefinitely leaving him without weekends when I leave, and the guilt over the thought has kinda discouraged me from putting in the time to send out new job applications. I highly doubt that the standard two-weeks notice will be enough time to find a replacement, but don’t trust in my continued job security if I mention these future plans to my manager any earlier than that. (It’s also pretty awkward now when he makes jokes along the lines of wanting to keep us happy and reliably running the branch — he’s great, my disgruntlement is with the broad company and the specific work not being a great fit for me.)

In the time since my coworker’s awful unbroken string of work, we’ve had changes in our two directly higher levels of management, so it’s entirely possible the new guys will be able to actually arrange people to cover his shifts, and I’m worrying about nothing. But if not, is there anything I can do to make this transition smoother without jeopardizing my existing income? Or any leverage he can pull to make it clear working seven-day weeks is unacceptable even with the overtime pay?

First, assume that your coworker is aware that you could leave (or be hit by a bus or trapped at the bottom of a well or all sorts of other disasters) and what happened last time could happen again. He knows! He’s choosing to stay regardless. If he wants to, he can hold a firmer line about his availability this time (like by saying that he has family commitments outside of work that he can’t move). He will have a ton of leverage because it’s really unlikely they’ll want to replace him right after they replace you.

That said, if you have time between now and when you give your notice, you could think about whether there are things you can do to smooth the workload if he does end up covering both roles for a while. Are there things you can automate/clean up/simplify? If the answer is “not really,” then so be it — sometimes this is just how it goes.

3. Can I use the wellness room to nap?

My office is now requiring everyone to be physically in the office at least three days a week. Before the end of last year, I was working primarily remotely. When working remotely, I’m expected to be available from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, which I have no problem with, even though I have a lot of trouble getting to sleep at night. However, generally I took my lunch break from 11 am – 12 pm, and I would go back to bed during this hour. Only after I got up after my lunchtime nap did I dress and actually get ready for the day. Now, I have to be up and dressed and out of the house during a time period when I’m used to still being in my pajamas. As a result, on my in-office days I’m up earlier and miss the lunchtime nap.

My office offers a “wellness room” that nobody else ever seems to use. It’s an empty room with some lockers and a recliner. I assume it’s mostly intended for nursing mothers. I was told about it as an accommodation for my ADHD and autism — I can go there if I’m overwhelmed. But if I don’t get my lunch break nap, I become overwhelmed much more easily. Is it a misuse of that space to reserve it for a 30-45 minute nap on the days I have to be in the office?

It really depends on your office culture. There are some offices where this would be fine, and others would it very much would not be. If no one else is using the room at all, I’m worried your culture is more likely to be on the “not all that okay” side of things.

However, since the room was mentioned to you as a possible accommodation for your ADHD and autism, there’s probably some space to experiment. Could you wear headphones while you’re in there, so that if anyone comes in you don’t necessarily look like you’re napping but rather just zoning out/centering yourself (which is close to what was offered to you)?

4. People get my name wrong in email

People get my name wrong. Often. The last letter of my first name is the same as the first letter of my last name, so in person this error makes sense to me. (Think “Elena” getting mistaken for “Elaine” when I’m introduced — a different name, not really a nickname.) That’s easy enough to address in the moment, but email is what I find troublesome. People keep addressing me as “Elaine” in their response to my email, where I’ve clearly signed off as “Elena.” How can I politely correct this? When I email back, I usually say something like, “So you know, I go by Elena. It’s a common mistake, so I wanted to point it out.” I may be overthinking it, but tone feels hard to get right in email, and sometimes I have to make that correction in the context of an otherwise unpleasant email (it’s the nature of my job!).

Too many words! Shorten it to, “It’s Elena, not Elaine!” Or in an otherwise unpleasant email, you can warm it up a little: “By the way, I’m Elena, not Elaine!” Throw in a smiley face if you’re not an emoji-hostile field.

can I bring a friend-with-benefits back to my hotel on a work trip?

A reader writes:

Next month, I’ll be attending a professional conference with several of my coworkers. This will be my first work trip.

I have a friend-with-benefits who lives in the city that the conference is being hosted in. Would it be inappropriate for me to invite her to stay with me at my hotel? If it is, can I stay at her place instead of at the hotel? My coworkers know I have a close friend there (though obviously they don’t know the full nature of our relationship), so me spending time with her during downtime won’t come as a surprise, but what are the ethics/optics/norms of sleepovers specifically?

Don’t parade her drunkenly through the lobby while any colleagues who think you’re married are likely to be milling around, but otherwise you are fine.

You’re an adult, and it’s fine to meet up with a friend in the city you’re visiting. If that friend hangs out in your room with you, it’s no one’s business what you’re doing in there. (In case anyone is wondering why this is different from the guy earlier this month who brought sex workers back to his room, it’s because the details of your situation are different. Most notably, you’re presumably going to be reasonably discreet about your intended activities, and you’re not making your coworkers think you’re drunkenly cheating on your wife.)

If you happen to run into a colleague in the hotel, introduce her the way you would if she were a platonic friend — “This is my friend Jane — she lives in town, so we’re going to have a glass of wine and catch up.”

Two caveats: First, make sure your evening is truly free before you finalize any plans. Sometimes on business trips there’s an expectation you’ll do work socializing in the evenings. Especially at conferences, that can be where some of the most useful networking happens. (Obviously if you don’t plan to meet up until midnight or similar, this is less of an issue.)

Second, you need to be reasonably well rested the next day — and also need to avoid giving anyone else a reason to think you’re not (like a coworker staying in the room next to you who hears audible evidence that you’re up until 5 a.m.). You don’t want to give anyone the sense that you’re prioritizing something social over the reason you were sent on the trip.

Ask a Manager in the media

Here’s some coverage of Ask a Manager in the media recently:

I talked to Katie Couric Media about Ask a Manager and stressed out middle-managers.

I talked to Self about how to manage anxiety at work.

HR Dive featured AAM in a piece on therapy at work.

The Daily Dot and a bunch of other places covered the letter about men who kept asking out a scheduling bot.

I’m a night owl — how can I adjust to a new job with early hours?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I am very much a night owl (the best job I ever had for my sleep schedule was bartending). One silver lining of our company switching to remote work has been that I have been able to sleep in much later than the old days. (And to be clear, I’m not looking to hear what I should have been doing the last couple of years. Much as I’d love to be someone who wakes up naturally at 6 am to work out, that’s not my reality.)

That said, I’ve accepted a position on a new team that is mostly east-coast-based, while I am west coast, and I will soon need to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed earlier than my current routine AND I’d like to make a good impression my first few weeks and not be dragging myself through the day on endless cups of caffeine. (I am also an eight hours-plus per night lady.)

I’m wondering if any of your readers have tips to share about adjusting their sleep schedules for a new role. I used to have to be at a desk at 8:30 sharp (or risk being fired), so I know I can do it. But that was 15 years ago and I know this is going to be really hard (perimenopause fatigue is real).

Readers, do you have advice?

I was fired during my probationary period, mentioning kids in a cover letter, and more

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

1. I was fired during my probationary period

If you are fired during your probationary period, should you expect it to be without warning? This just happened to me, where I was let go of at the 60-day mark. I had a 30-day check-in, where the only feedback given was that my boss appreciated that I was at work every day, that she was “frustrated” with something I had done on my second day (when she was gone, as she worked part-time), and that I needed to do more things independently. None of this was put in writing. It’s unclear to me if my firing was budget-related, as the grant funding for my program ran out a few months prior to my hiring, and I was hired at a significantly higher wage than the position had initially been listed at.

My termination letter only says that they could let go of me at any time if I was deemed to be the wrong fit. Obviously, I’m terrified of this happening again and I’m wondering how common it is.

Yeah, it can happen. The purpose of probationary periods is to allow companies to let an employee go without doing a ton of coaching, warnings, etc. (It’s not that firing someone without doing those things first would be illegal, but many companies have their own internal policies that commit them to specific cycles of coaching and warnings after probationary periods are over.) Whether or not that’s reasonable in any given case depends on what the issues are; if something can be corrected with clear feedback or a little coaching, generally that makes more sense to do. In other cases, it’s clear there’s a fundamental mismatch with the role, or the amount of coaching required to get the person where they’d need to be isn’t practical. In others, you get a manager who just doesn’t know how to manage effectively or overreacts to minor things and ends up making the wrong call. Regardless of which category it falls in, though, ideally managers wouldn’t blindside employees with it — ideally they’d be giving feedback along the way, not just letting you know one day that it didn’t work out. But some don’t operate that way.

None of which really answers your question about how common it is. I’d say you don’t need to go into every job terrified that you’ll be fired out of the blue during your probationary period, assuming you know yourself to be reasonably capable … but it’s useful to be aware it can be a thing that happens.

2. I’m in charge of DEI because I’m a woman

My manager has suddenly decided that, because I’m one of the only women on our team of 20 or so men, it’s my responsibility to become an expert in accessibility and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). I don’t necessarily mind leading this initiative (well, a little — I’m irritated as it’s increased my workload and this feels like exactly the thing DEI efforts are supposed to mitigate), but the problem now is I’m being given very vague tasks with zero direction to “make everything we do accessible and DEI-friendly” — by people who can’t be bothered to learn about accessibility/DEI themselves. And I’m getting in trouble now because I’m not implementing it exactly to their vision. What exactly is their vision, I’m not sure, but some of the ideas they have either don’t match the reality of how it works, or require resources I don’t have, or simply don’t make sense to me.

Now my whole team is looking to me for guidance on this very vague, nebulous thing that I’ve been trying to grasp with no help. I’ve tried to explain my situation, and offered up some basic frameworks and processes to follow, as well as links to documentation, but apparently that’s not enough — they want every last thing spelled out for them. They appear blind to the irony of the whole situation. I’ve been considering leaving this job for some time, and this may be the final straw. What can I do?

DEI is an incredibly challenging job under the best of circumstances — and that’s when you have a receptive team, committed leadership, and someone leading the work with expertise in the field. Expecting you to do it without any of those things is a recipe for failure and frustration. Honestly, I’d wash your hands of it entirely — tell them it’s work that needs to be led by an expert, that expecting the women on the team to do it is itself a DEI problem, and that you’re not equipped with the expertise, resources, or team buy-in to do what they need. Hold firm on the “I’m not doing this simply because I’m one of the few women” point in particular, and consider pointing out it’s illegal to assign work based on gender.

And yes, let it be the final straw and get out.

3. How to explain a family crisis to very demanding clients

I work directly with clients in a niche of a touchy-feely-warm-fuzzies industry. I’ve been lucky to have really warm, friendly relationships with most of these clients for years — we trade book recommendations, I get to hear about babies in their families, they sent well-wishes ahead of my first triathlon last year, etc. The downside is that they tend to take things very personally. If I don’t respond to an email as quickly as usual (we’re talking within a few hours) I’m liable to get a message asking if I’m too busy for their projects, or even occasionally asking if I’m annoyed or ignoring them. I try to shut this down when it happens, but I mostly just avoid it by being very responsive and always giving them a timeline of when they can expect progress, so they never have to worry in the first place.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in and out of the office lately dealing with a family member’s unexpected and severe health issue. They’re stable and responding well to treatment so far, but I’m understandably behind on work, and I’ll likely be slower to respond and finish projects as this situation shakes out and settles down. Based on the follow-up emails currently in my inbox, my feelings-first clients are already upset. I know that if I say I’ve been out with a family emergency, they’ll want to know what happened. I wouldn’t mind telling them and, honestly, it would be a relief for me if they knew, as they’ll be less likely to send me “r u mad at me pls respond” notes if they have a better explanation on hand. But I don’t want to overshare, or start a cycle of having to talk about all this on a regular basis at work. Any wisdom for approaching these conversations with the right balance of transparency and boundaries?

How about this: “I’ve had a family health emergency — nothing you should worry about, and honestly it’s easier for me to not think about it when I’m at work, but if my responses are slightly delayed for a little while as this settles down, that’s why.” If you’re pushed for details: “It really is easier for me not to think about it too much at work, thanks for understanding!”

For what it’s worth, it’s possible to have warm relationships where you trade book recommendations and hear about new babies without people taking a few-hour delay so personally that they start asking if you’re too busy for their projects! This is weird and over-the-top! Do you know if others who do similar work all get this same treatment from clients? If they don’t, it could be interesting to compare notes and see if you can figure out what’s bringing it out in yours. (Also, what industry is this?! I’m dying to know.)

4. Mentioning (relevant) children in a cover letter

I am job hunting and looking at applying to jobs that are parent-oriented (the “Parenting” or “Family” brand/section of a media company, etc.) Is it okay to mention that I’m a mom in my cover letter? It’s definitely part of why I’m interested in the job, but it’s been pretty drilled into me not to mention my personal life in an application! If I do mention it, is it best just to keep it brief/vague (“as a mom…”) or more specific (“as a mom to a toddler and an infant…”)? Is it something I should just keep for a potential interview? Or never mention it at all?

I wouldn’t, partly because of unconscious bias (especially if you mention they’re young kids) but more because having kids is common enough that it doesn’t do a lot to make you stand out from other applicants. But what you could do is cite something more specific that could differentiate you in a relevant way — like mentioning that you’ve have a long-running interest in childhood development or experience volunteering with kids or so forth. Those are more application-appropriate and they’ll connect to the job in a more targeted way.

5. Turning down an offer

I’m in a field full of blunt crusty Massholes. I’m also a blunt crusty Masshole, so this isn’t generally a problem. But I’m currently job hunting, and I’m at a loss for interview advice because white-collar officespeak advice involves unspoken mind games and social scripts that tradespeople don’t use. (For example, I’ve found they like you better as both a candidate and employee if you’re honest to the point of being self-effacing about your skillset, rather than hyping yourself up like most people say.)

I have three serious offers right now. One is easily my first choice; it has better pay, benefits, schedule, and location, but the real deciding factor against the other two is the poor management I saw during my trial days with each, and I’m concerned about how to turn them both down. Telling the truth would be a personal insult. If I cite pay, I’m pretty sure both will offer me a competitive counteroffer. If I cite location, I think it’d be fair if they pointed out that I knew the locations when I applied. As for being vague about my reason, I was enthusiastic about all three in interviews (as you do), and since people in my field are very straightforward, I think they took that at full face value and would feel snubbed if I didn’t give a reason for rejecting them.

So, what do I say? This isn’t about abstract professionalism; the field is small and tight-knit (all three options know each other and one of my previous bosses personally), and I didn’t leave my last place on great terms, so I’m concerned about my reputation. I definitely shouldn’t be honest; what do I say instead that won’t sound flimsy or vague? I’ll probably work with these people in the future; what rationale can I give that would help me maintain connections?

My family heritage is Masshole, and you’re overthinking it! You have three offers; you’re taking one and thus necessarily have to turn down the other two. So with the two you’re turning down, just cite those multiple offers: “I had several offers and ultimately decided one of the others was the stronger fit for me.” You really don’t have to say any more than that! If they push you anyway, it’s fine to be vague — for example, “It’s a combination of a lot of factors, but I enjoyed getting to talk with you and learning more about your work.” Truly, there’s no obligation to open your heart to them (just as they don’t need to be candid with applicants they turn down either).

my boss reprimanded me for not answering an email … in four minutes

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my new job for just over a month and have very grave doubts about whether it’s going to work out. I’m finding it impossible to make my supervisor, Martha, happy. Her criticism is frequent, harsh, and, in my opinion, often very unreasonable. The incident that has me writing to you happened today, when she reprimanded me in writing for failing to answer an email in four minutes.

To set the scene: Earlier this week, Martha and my other boss (I support two teams but it’s an uneven split; unfortunately my primary boss is the awful one) had a meeting with me in which Martha told me all the things I was doing wrong and what needed to change. I’m trying to understand where she’s coming from, but I’m just not used to a work situation like this. She proudly describes herself as a micromanager (she doesn’t appear to know the word has a negative connotation) and is looking for constant, immediate responsiveness, “overcommunication” (her words), and accountability. I understand she’s the boss and it’s her call, but it’s a hard adjustment. I’m not used to being watched so closely. Every job I’ve had, the boss has been concerned with results, not with knowing exactly where I am every minute, hearing back from me instantly, etc.

All week, I’ve worked so hard to keep her happy and show her that I took the conversation to heart. Then today, I received an email, on which Martha was CCd, from a senior partner asking for contact info for one of our clients. I saw the email come in while I was working on a project for the other boss. I made the apparently grave error of not stopping instantly, but instead finished up the line in the Excel sheet I was working on, then opened the email and began gathering the requested info. Before I had finished, Martha replied to both of us, sending the partner the requested information (the wrong information, for the record, but I’ll get to that later.) I saw her email, which arrived in my inbox a whopping four minutes after the email from the partner, stopped working on my response since it was no longer necessary, and went back to the project I’d been working on. Then I get an email from Martha: “Jane, this would have been a great opportunity to build a relationship with the partner. Why didn’t you dive in and assist?”

Four minutes, Alison. Four minutes. A bathroom break can take four minutes!

I just feel like she’s determined to hate me. I tried so hard all week to do everything exactly the way she likes, and she still found something to criticize. If she wanted me to answer the email, why didn’t she give me a grace period of, you know, maybe five minutes before answering it herself? Also, as I said earlier, she gave him the wrong information. He asked for the email address and she gave the physical address — which, to me seems like she was so eager to answer the email, so that she could blame me for not answering it, that she rushed and sent the wrong info. (By the way, if I sent incorrect information to a partner, she would act like it was the end of the world. But it’s no big deal when she does it.) Also, for the record, I understand some things are very time-sensitive. I still think four minutes is kind of a stretch, for almost any situation, but I also want to make it clear — this was not an urgent request, it could have waited five, maybe even, gasp, 10 minutes!

I’m not asking whether my boss is being reasonable here. I’m very confident that she isn’t. My question to you is: do you think I should start looking for a new job? I just feel like this is such an unreasonable criticism that there’s no way I’m ever going to make this person happy. She either has no idea how to manage people or has developed an instantaneous hatred for me and will continue to find things to criticize no matter how hard I try. I’ve been so stressed out since I started this job, worrying about messing up — which, not surprisingly, is probably leading me to mess up more. Is this salvageable or should I start looking for an escape plan?

Start looking for a new job.

Some years back, I would have recommended you try to address the problem head-on with Martha: give specific examples of projects where you could have worked more effectively if you weren’t on such a short leash, ask if there’s anything you’re doing that makes her feel she can’t trust you and how you can work more autonomously, and suggest experimenting with giving you more autonomy on one specific project to see how it goes.

But I’m increasingly convinced that while that approach may result in small improvements around the edges, you’ll still be left working for a manager who fundamentally doesn’t know how to manage, who doesn’t trust you, and whose instincts are punitive where they should be supportive.

This is someone who proudly describes herself as a micromanager. I just don’t think direct conversation is going to solve it to the extent you need.

Maybe I’m wrong. You could try that conversation and see how it goes! (There’s advice here on doing it. I also did a podcast episode on micromanagers that could help.) But I’m skeptical.

There is potentially another avenue for redress here: the other boss. What’s your dynamic with her, and what’s your impression of her management style? If you sense she doesn’t agree with Martha’s assessment and she looks like someone more reasonable to work for, is it possible to talk discreetly with her about what’s going on and reshuffle the balance of your work so that you’re mostly or exclusively working for her? (In particular, I’m curious about her input during the meeting Martha held with the two of you and whether she agreed with Martha’s criticism.)

Otherwise, though, I’d rather you get out quickly before Martha has affected your confidence and your sense of yourself as a competent, autonomous person, and while this is still a relative blip on your resume.

my employee eavesdrops on me

A reader writes:

At first I thought I was being paranoid, but on three separate occasions, I’ve wrapped up a closed door conversation others in our C-suite, only to discover my employee directly outside my door.

Our office set-up is odd; we’re essentially one huge office that was cut into thirds–one side is her office with a door, a hallway/narthex, and one side is my office with a door. There is a utility cabinet in the hallway, which she could be using, but she has never been in that cabinet when she’s been caught–she’s practically leaning against my door. How do I handle this? My inclination is to have another employee catch her when I’m in a meeting, but I’m higher than all employees on the org chart, so I hesitate to get unaffected people involved and have the story spread. What should I do?

I answer this question — and two 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:

  • Employee isn’t reporting his hours correctly
  • When people ask for networking help I can’t give

is it safe to share at my company’s “courageous conversation” on menopause?

A reader writes:

My company is proposing a workshop to have “courageous conversations” with colleagues about menopause. There is no professional facilitating this; it is an open discussion. The message about it says it will be “a safe space that is inclusive and supportive” and “an informal discussion among peers.”

My company is heavily promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) right now, but it’s through low-cost initiatives, like workshops, employee training, and the like. They haven’t taken concrete steps like pay transparency or strong HR support for those with DEI needs, and I’ve seen quite a few older colleagues forced out in the last few months.

Presumably, anything one says in this forum could be shared, i.e. if I were to go and share that I fear menopause is affecting my energy levels and memory, and that happened to be overheard by a more senior manager, might it subconsciously influence that manager’s decision on whether to choose me to lead challenging projects in future? And, maybe I am being paranoid here, but could something like this get me added to the list of who to cut in the next round of layoffs?

I am a woman in my 50s, and I do think that discussing menopause and age and gender discrimination is valuable, but this is setting off alarm bells for me. What do you think?

You’re not being paranoid.

Even at a company with a better track record on equity needs, I’d be concerned about sharing in a forum like this. Unconscious bias is a thing; people can discriminate against you without even being aware that they’re doing it — even very well-intentioned people — and it’s not unreasonable to worry that if you share a concern about your energy levels or memory, that could unconsciously factor into someone’s decisions about what projects and opportunities you’re given, whether to promote you, and so forth.

That said, these sorts of discussions are important to have! Work is just a really, really complicated place to have them.

Then add in that your company doesn’t really seem all that committed to the principles it’s giving lip service to — and the fact that a bunch of older coworkers appear to have been forced out recently — and this is not a safe place to share.

Organizations can’t just announce a space is safe! They need to actually do the work to ensure it is one. It doesn’t sound like they’ve done that. (Frankly, I’d argue work isn’t well-equipped to provide safe spaces anyway. Safe spaces require a large amount of unanimity, and at some point “inclusive” and “safe” end up at odds with each other.)