10 things never to say to your coworkers

Whether you love your coworkers or hate them, you’re stuck with them for hours each day — and they’re stuck with you. If you’re not thoughtful about what you say to each other, you can make one another uncomfortable or even miserable — and can harm your professional reputation too.

Here are 10 things you should never say at work.

1. “Are you pregnant?” If someone wants you to know she’s pregnant, she’ll tell you. Until and unless that happens, assume it’s none of your business – and asking is a good way to offend most women, pregnant or not.

2. “You owe $10 for this gift for the boss.” Many workers don’t want to budget for going-away or shower gifts for coworkers and resent being asked to give up their hard-earned cash. That’s doubly true when the collection is being taken up for the boss, who presumably earns more than them. Besides, etiquette rules say that gifts in the workplace should flow downward, not upward.

3. “You’re so skinny! Why aren’t you eating?” Commenting on other people’s bodies should be off-limits in the workplace, even if you intend it as an expression of concern. Your coworkers are there to work, not to have their eating choices or their bodies scrutinized and judged.

4. “That’s not my job.” Protesting that something isn’t in your job description is a good way to plummet in your coworkers’ esteem – and your manager’s. Most people end up pitching in to help on things that don’t fall squarely within their job descriptions, and refusing to help with quickly earn you a reputation for being unhelpful and probably a little bit lazy.

5. “The new manager is a real jerk.” Snarking about the boss is rarely good for your career. Even if others join in, your comments may get back to your manager. And even if they don’t, you don’t want to become known as a wellspring of negativity.

6. “I heard Kim is dating Ryan.” If you spread office gossip, your coworkers might listen eagerly, but they’ll note that they can’t trust you to be discreet. It’s great to bond with coworkers over life outside the office, but the details of other people’s lives aren’t yours to share.

7. “You’re how old?” Whether you’re implying someone is surprisingly young or surprisingly old, keep your amazement to yourself. Show respect for your colleagues as professionals, and don’t baby the younger ones or make the older ones feel they’re one step away from retirement.

8. “Don’t ask me. They don’t tell me anything.” Complaining about how disempowered you are is a good way to undermine your own credibility and authority. If you don’t have the information you need to do your job, you should go ask for it – not complain to others that you don’t have it.

9. “Why are you so dressed up today? Got a job interview?” You might not be thinking when this pops out of your mouth, but there’s no outcome here that doesn’t put your coworker in an awkward position. If she does have an interview, you’re forcing her to either confide in you or lie. If she doesn’t, she now has to worry that you think she does.

10. “I’m so hung over.” Telling your coworkers about your long nights partying might seem like no big deal, but if you get a reputation as a lush, you’ll find your credibility diminishes – no matter how good your work.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. Hello Vino*

    6 out of those 10 things have been said to me before. All at the same company, and I was only there for a year. Yikes.

  2. -X-*

    I’m not part of my organization’s tech support team, but other staff constantly ask me for IT help, I think because I’m good with most information technology.

    So I do a variation of “That’s not my job” – “You should ask Y who’s works on IT; I’m not part of the IT team. Ideally send an email to it@domain so your request is logged. If they don’t get back to you fast and it’s urgent, let me know and I’ll try to help.”

    And I do try to help if it’s urgent and IT is not around.

    I think that’s reasonable. My time is pressed enough in terms of my actual job and they need to know who to ask.

    1. A Bug!*

      I agree that’s reasonable. I think it’s different when it’s something like IT, because that’s a specialized department that needs to know what’s being done to the equipment. If regular employees just go around messing around with their computers when something’s not going right, IT might not be made aware of a problem they need to know about, or worse, the regular employees might cause more harm than good.

      I think AAM’s advice is best in situations where your assistance isn’t going to amount to stepping on the toes of someone else, but rather just your standard lend-a-hand.

    2. BHB*


      I think saying “that’s not my job” to every little request that made of you is incredibly petty. However, when the requests become frequent and are much larger favours I do think it’s appropriate to politely direct the question asker to the most relevant person (as -x- does above). I have seen co-workers almost become martyrs to this – they refuse to say no to anything that’s asked of them and they soon become doormats for everyone to offload work onto.

      There’s definitely a balance to be had.

    3. Scott M*

      At my office, job responsibilities are kind of vague, you people sort of fall into responsibilities rather than get assigned them. You help someone with something because others can’t (or won’t) do it, you get asked again, you become the expert, and suddenly you’re stuck with it. Sometimes you just have to say “that’s not my job” in order to not get saddled with some responsibility (outside your actual area of expertise) for years. Of course, it helps to say it in a nice way, and find someone else to help. But still, you have to put your foot down sometimes.

  3. Esra*

    I would be so, so happy if I never heard the snarky “why are you dressed up today?”

    Either I just want to look nice, I’m going to a function after work, I’ve got a lunch date, or yes, I have a job interview. Just roll a four-sided die and pick one instead of asking.

        1. -X-*

          How about responding with a question back at them: “Why are you dressed like *that*?”

          OK, I haven’t actually done that, but I’ve wanted to.

          But I did once respond to my boss asking me “You’re dressed nicely – do you have an interview?” with “Not today.”

      1. Kelly L.*

        Usually that’s my reason!

        I learned to quit asking people this question when the answer was “funeral.”

    1. Ivy*

      I’ve never had this problem… mostly because I wear suits on occasion just because I like to look fabulous.

      1. fposte*

        Seriously. When did people need an excuse to dress well? (I don’t even dress all that fancily, but I’m in academics, so it’s a pretty low bar :-)).

        1. twentymilehike*

          I work in a manufacturing warehouse office …. if I wear anything besides jeans, a t-shirt and tennis shoes I get a barrage of questions and comments. If I wear eye-makeup one day I’ll also get it. Its ridiculous. Its probably more about “out of the ordinary” behavior than anything else. We are SO creatures of habit here …

          1. Esra*

            anything besides jeans, a t-shirt and tennis shoes

            Exact same problem where I am. I get the side-eye if I blow dry my hair instead of a messy pony tail.

        2. Ellie H.*

          This is especially bad if you work with kids. :) I worked with kindergarteners in an afterschool program for a while when I lived in Austin. We were allowed to wear athletic shorts and t-shirts to work (this is pretty much what everyone wears in Austin, all the time) which I happily participated in although in my “real life” in colder climates I wear a skirt or dress everyday. The one time I wore a sundress to work every single kid asked me “Why are you so dressed up?” I think wardrobe boredom might have been one of the factors inducing me to move back home!

          1. Ivy*

            I totally understand…. A determining factor in choosing my career path was my ability to wear pumps and suits :P

    2. Hari*

      I don’t think asking that is snarky at all. Usually its proceeded by a compliment, like “I love that dress, its super cute! .” or from a guy “You are looking rather sharp today” I get the “its none of your business” POV but really its just someone pointing out they like your outfit (yes guys too!) rather than them being snarky.

      I cant imagine someone following it up with “do you have a job interview today” THAT is the snarky part. Not the first question. Some people are more sensitive I guess…

      1. Esra*

        Sorry, I thought it was implied by how I phrased my comment that it is when it’s asked snarkily that bothers me.

        1. Hari*

          Oooh no I thought you meant the question itself is snarky in general no matter how it is asked. My mistake!

      2. KT*

        I actually disagree. I really dislike when people comment on my appearance at work, whether or not they mean it in a snarky tone. It happens to me way too often! There are certain people that anytime I stop by to ask them something, they have to compliment or comment in some way about my appearance first before they answer my question (or about my weekend plans, etc…. but a lot of times it’s appearance related!). It’s annoying! I think it mostly comes down to the fact that I’m super focused at work. If I have a question, I’ll walk up to you, say hello, and ask my question. It seems like there’s a different breed of people that feel like it’s only polite if you exchange pleasantries first, then discuss work. I hate small talk, and I’d rather just get down to businesss. lol. I try not to let it bother me too much because I know the worst offenders are really just trying to make conversation with me. Nonetheless, I do think my looks should not be a topic of conversation :)

        1. Amouse*

          I have to agree. At the old company I worked at I lost some weight and literally every day there were three or four women who would comment. As much as it was intended as a compliment, weight is an issue for a lot of people and I developed this mixture of feeling awkward and guilty for not being more grateful for the compliment. At my current
          place of employment I lost 28 pounds and no one said a thing. While i was surprised by this, it was really a relief to be able to just go about my personal business. It’s hard enough to be sticking to a healthy eating and exercise plan without dealing with comments from people you have to see every day. It’s different if it’s a family member or a friend; I know them personally.

          That said, I’d put “I love how you curl your hair” in a different league from “You’re losing so much weight!” But that could be my personal bias because for me hair is a superficial comment whereas weight is tied to personal issues. But then someone else could have a complex about their hair and be triggered by that so I don’t know.

        2. Hari*

          I think it all comes down to work culture and environment. I think some people would rather be friends and buddy-buddy with all of their co-workers and there are others who, although they like their co-workers would rather keep the relationship strictly business. In my industry strictly business is a rarity and I would prefer to be friendly with my co-workers but I can totally see why someone else wouldn’t.

            1. Hari*

              Invasive vs. friendly is all relative to the person and to the environment. For example, in my city people would be suspicious and think it invasive if someone said “Hi” to them on the street. However, this isn’t the case though with other cities and places where its completely normal and considered friendly if a stranger on the street spoke to them.

              1. Amouse*

                I’m was referring strictly to the workplace. Obviously you have to take the culture of your workplace into consideration. Certain topics though, in my view, should be off limits unless you have a close personal relationship outside of work with a co-worker such as weight, skin (when I had acne random co-workers would comment on my skin and suggest I see (insert doctor here). I’m sure this was all out of concern but it was absolutely none of their business. I think the topics Alison has laid out are a good guideline.

                You’re correct in that this is a relative topic but I think it’s better to err on the side of caution with certain topics and just not mention them.

                Also being pleasant (smiling, saying hi etc) is not the same thing as asking personal invasive questions .

                1. Hari*

                  Hmm I don’t know why “I” only posted…

                  “. Certain topics though, in my view, should be off limits unless you have a close personal relationship outside of work with a co-worker ”

                  That’s what I was getting at. It’s your personal view which unfortunately for everyone doesn’t automatically set a standard for how they themselves view it and initially approach you on the subject.

                  I agree its better to err on the side of caution but that “caution” too is relative depending on the person.

                  My point though originally was to simply point out that the subject is relative and someone dealing with overly friendly co-workers in general (not just a single person or an obvious case) has a problem with their workplace’s culture which sets the standard for what is intrusive and what is not.

                  Sidenote: My aunt is fron NYC and would definitely give a suspicious side-eye to any stranger who tried to greet her on the street. It is not considered “being pleasant” to everyone.

                  But again, as this is relative I’m not trying to get you to agree with me just see my point.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think the point people are making here, which resonates for me too, is that you may mean it in a friendly and non-invasive way, but many people (even in an office where people are friends with their coworkers) won’t take it that way … and it’s worth being sensitive to that.

                3. Amouse*

                  Yes. What Alison said :-)
                  You’re obviously entitled to your opinion and i do see where you’re coming from but I think it’s wroth being sensitive to how people might ake a comment meant to be friendly and non-invasive. Mistakes will be made obviously from time to time by well-intentioned people.

                4. Hari*

                  I never meant to imply people wouldn’t be offended by comments out of good intention, or not to be careful about what you say to other people. My point was if you know everyone in your office are health nuts, or are super big on family, don’t be surprised if you get the “You are eating that!?” comments or people asking you when you are having kids/are you preggo because in that work environment those things have already been established as non-intrusive norms.

  4. Lisa*

    Some people dress up because they are going to a wake after work. Even when I had interviews, I just claimed laundry day on dress up days.

    The big thing is “dentists appointments”, which are wink wink really interviews. Its a running joke that all dentists appointments are really interviews. Especially when you suddenly have like 3 of them in under a month, and are just claiming cleanings. If you have 3 real dentists appointments, I better hear some b-tching about how expensive your surgeries are going to be even with insurance. If not, you are fooling no one.

    1. Anon*

      It’s not actually unusual to have a cleaning, then have to get two cavities filled at two separate appointments . . . .

    2. AnotherAlison*

      “Dentist appointment” was always the euphemism at my office, too, but really, with two kids I will hit months where I have 3+ dentist/doctor/optometrist appointments at once. Super annoying when you have the preplanned dentist appointment, then the ear infection visit to the GP, then the follow-up ear infection visit 10 days later, then the ENT visit because the ear infection is stubborn, then the follow-up to that one. ($80 for 3 minutes to hear, “yep, all clear,” yes you will hear some bitching…but not at work. I save those bitch fests for my mom and husband.)

    3. Mike*

      I didn’t complain about the cost, I complained about the torture (was mildly teasing the coworker who’s wife is the dentist).

    4. Kou*

      Ooh I didn’t know this was a euphemism. I’ve had to have 3-4 dentist appointments in the same month a few times, because I went to a specialist for a consult and they wanted me to go to a regular dentist to do a cleaning & checkup before the appointment for whatever I was doing with them.

      In fact in the last few months I’ve been to the dentist, the oral surgeon consult, the oral surgery, the oral surgery follow up, the orthodontist consult, the orthodontist two subsequent times to pick up new aligners and have teeth filed.

    5. Anonymous*

      Which is funny, because most people on this site regularly protest hearing TMI about others health problems….

    6. KellyK*

      Oh, yeah. When my grandmother passed away, I was teaching at the time, so I had to go in and drop off lesson plans for the substitute before going to the funeral. We’d been doing themed dress-down days, and it was “think spring” that day. Another teacher said, “You didn’t ‘think spring.'” when I ran into her in the hallway, dressed primarily in black.

      The question didn’t bother me–how was she to know?–but it was kind of an awkward conversation.

    7. Ellie H.*

      My experience is that doctors’, dentists’, etc. appointments often just beget MORE appointments. I am fairly healthy in general but for some reason I have been having a lot of issues this fall, culminating in getting pneumonia, which I still have (also, I’m trying to get as much preventative stuff before I turn 26 and/or move away to grad school, because I LOVE my doctor here). I’ve been to maybe eight different medical appointments in the past month or two and have even more lined up. It’s a vicious cycle!

  5. AnotherAlison*

    Hmmm. Guilty of this one:

    “Don’t ask me. They don’t tell me anything.” Complaining about how disempowered you are is a good way to undermine your own credibility and authority. If you don’t have the information you need to do your job, you should go ask for it—not complain to others that you don’t have it.

    However, what strikes me as weird about the framing of this as “if you don’t have the information needed to do your job…”

    When I have said this in real life, it is because someone’s asking me something that I actually don’t need to do MY job. Apparently, they need it to do their job. If it’s my manager’s domain, why should I have to find out to answer Person X’s question? Shouldn’t Person X be the one finding out directly?

    I’d say I only deflect to this answer when the asker and the person they should be asking are both of a higher paygrade. Two managers above me who should be communicating with each other but aren’t, asking me about something within their own domain (but not in mine)? That’s silly. It might undermine my authority, but I don’t actually have any authority anyway. (I know, defeatist talk, but this is one area my dept. causes me a lot of grief.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It doesn’t sound like you’re saying it in the way I’m talking about in the post — complaining, negative, and actively disempowering yourself.

      1. -X-*

        Let’s distinguish between “They never tell me anything” (which is often whiny and vague) and “I don’t know” (which is specific and can sometimes express a certain confidence if stated firmly).

        You can embellish the latter with “Check with [Person or Department]” which can be helpful to the person who asked. Or if you want to express a smidgen of annoyed disempowerment, try “[Person or Department] holds that information.”

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Because of the specific questions that generate this response from me, I usually say: “I’m not provided with that information. You’ll need to check with So-and-So.”

          It’s kind of a cross between “they never tell me anything” and “I don’t know.”

        2. Ellie H.*

          Good point X. I have a coworker whom I sometimes say “I don’t know” to as a way of indicating that she should probably figure something out herself when it won’t be faster or easier for me to figure it out (of course, only when, in fact, I actually don’t know). I’ve been here since the beginning of the year and have a lot of “institutional knowledge” and she just started; a bunch of our job duties are interchangeable but there’s some stuff she’s in charge of that I know nothing about. I am more than happy to (and often do) give her a ton of information about cases where I know the situation/protocol and she doesn’t, but I’ll say “I have no idea” a fair amount too.

  6. Anonymous*

    “If you eat that, you’re going to get fat.” My boss said that to me a lot when I started here. Now I have put on a few pounds and he doesn’t say it anymore. Maybe I really am fat now?

    Another co-worker implied that I didn’t want my baby because I lacked sufficient enthusiasm when I announced my pregnancy…

    1. jill*

      “Another co-worker implied that I didn’t want my baby because I lacked sufficient enthusiasm when I announced my pregnancy…”

      Um…WHAT? Good grief!

      1. Anonymous*

        Of course, if a woman seems too enthusiastic about being pregnant, the heads start nodding that she’s going to quit work as soon as she can in favour of full time motherhood, regardless of what she says and does. Over some things – eg, food, clothing, and children – a woman just can’t win. She’ll always be on one side or the other of some line.

    2. Anonymous*

      My own mom said I didn’t want my baby because I was the least enthusiastic pregnant person she knew. That only goes to show people are just rude.

      1. Liz*

        Wow. Most of the women in my family have a horrible time while pregnant, so I totally understand that anyone could be completely miserable physically while still excited about the baby (and probably the end to being pregnant!)

    3. Anonymous*

      I had a co-worker ask me if my pregnancy was planned when I shared my good news. In her defense, she immediately realized how inappropriate her response was and went on to clarify that she was just surprised because I was very career driven and had never mentioned the desire to have kids. Um, yeah, that would be because it wasn’t any of her business, but whatever.

      1. K.*

        I might have actually said “That’s because it’s none of your business,” honestly, or something similar. That’s incredibly inappropriate.

      2. K*

        I have no idea if your co-worker was young or not, but I’ve seen this a couple of times in the office from really young women (who clearly regret it immediately afterwards). I think it’s that in their personal life they haven’t yet made the shift to – when your friend comes to you saying she’s pregnant – “Oh my God, that’s amazing, I’m so happy for you!” from “I will support you in whatever decision you want to make.”

        1. Sophie*

          Hmmm yeah I think it would be an age thing. I learnt recently when a coworker announced she is pregnant that I have/had a subconscious assumption that no one wants babies yet, even though I intellectually knew that people older than me usually want babies. For me and all the people I know, if anyone gets pregnant, it is definitely an accident and wasn’t an active intention or plan. I have spent my entire life thinking pregnancy is one of the worst things that could happen in the short term. So when I first heard the news, my initial thought was “oh no!” and then my brain kicked in and I realised she probably planned and wanted it.

    4. Anonymous_J*

      OMG! Both of those are so far out of line it’s not even funny! Wow!

      Reading this article, I really still can’t wrap my head around the things people say sometimes. Do my coworkers and I talk about food, mode of dress, etc? Yeah, sometimes, but these are coworkes with whom I’m generally friendly already.

      People are crazy!

    1. Anlyn*

      I am so, so glad I’m working from home this week. By the time I go into the office next Tuesday, it will have died down. Somewhat.

    2. Amouse*

      I’m in Canada so my co-workers and i have been talking about the election. I think that’s primarily OK because although the result does impact us we are also distanced from it. Also based on polls taken, around 90 percent of Canadians were in agreement about who they would vote for so it’s a pretty safe topic. But I agree, use your discretion and if the election is happening in your country it’s probably wiser to steer clear of that topic.

      1. Anon*

        Yeah, here in Washington, D.C. I’m not sure there are too many offices where the elections aren’t going to directly affect some aspect of business. They’re definitely going to be discussed.

    3. Katie*

      One of my former coworkers made Obama cupcakes in 2008 with that little circular logo of his. They probably weren’t work appropriate, but they sure were cute (and tasty!).

        1. Anonymous*

          Another office had an election party yesterday with candidate themed cookies. There was one left over cookie so they sent it to our office. The candidiate was not popular so someone put a napkin over it. Then it got moved to another office. LOL

          1. twentymilehike*

            The candidiate was not popular so someone put a napkin over it

            HAHAHA this comment really made my morning. I don’t know why, but the mental image is just hilarious …. like when I was younger and I’d squash a creepy bug and then just leave the shoe over it until someone else came home to clean it up.

            1. Ellie H.*

              Haha, I’m 25 and I did this with an IKEA catalog in the (shared!) bathroom of my apartment the other day. I was going to clean it up when I had calmed down a bit (I’m not very squeamish, but it was a giant house centipede, my least favorite creature on earth) and then forgot about it until the next day.

    4. AdAgencyChick*



      Please don’t assume that just because 90% of the office shares the same political beliefs, that the other 10% wants to hear you talk about how stupid the other side is.

      1. Amouse*

        It can be OK in very specific circumstances. such as a very short conversation, in another country where everyone is participating in the conversation ( an office of like three people). But most of the time you’re right.

      2. Rana*

        Agreed. Some of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve had at work were when my co-workers assumed that everyone around them shared their political beliefs.

        (Such as my otherwise lovely co-worker who prefaced many descriptions of people with some variant of “she’s a liberal, but… [is otherwise okay]” or my not-so-lovely co-workers who thought passing around a song making fun of liberals and feminists and environmentalists for the group to take turns singing out loud at the company holiday party was just such a ball of laughs. UGH.)

        Religion, politics, sex (and other bodily functions) are just not things to talk about with people who aren’t family or friends.

    5. Mike C.*

      Eh, one of the few things I miss about my last job was being a member of the “dinosaur club”.

      It was a group of old guys (though really anyone joined in) and we’d spend lunch arguing domestic and world politics. It was good natured, but many of us had completely different views. It was cool, and it worked out well.

      One thing that stuck out at me and that many of the members of this “club” were from out of the country where culturally they’re accustomed to public argument/debate and know how to not be uncomfortable about stating their own beliefs, listening to the beliefs of others and separating the idea from the person so the debate itself doesn’t become so personalized.

      In an environment like that, you come away with the idea that, “ok, they just see things differently than I do” rather than “that guy is a total ***/has no moral values/etc”. As a side note, a whole lot of political stereotype fall away when you realize that political views aren’t binary.

      It’s a tough thing to manage, but I wish we were much better at doing it.

      1. KellyK*

        Yeah, I can see that. I think there’s a difference between getting together with a specific group of people who are interested and making those comments to anyone and everyone. Or, being rude or derogatory.

        I think politics as a conversation topic is kind of like diet. If three or four people who eat lunch together all want to talk Weight Watchers points and low-carb versus low-fat, I have no problem with that, as long as they’re not critiquing what I’m eating.

  7. ChristineH*

    #2 – While I definitely agree with this one, I don’t see the harm in chipping in for a gift or gift card for a departing boss/manager as a show of appreciation from the team, as long as it is genuine and that chipping in is voluntary.

  8. JamieG*

    Related to #3:

    One of my former coworkers would, every day at lunch, make some comment about my food, generally that it was all processed and she much preferred her gluten-free, fat-free, low-sodium, vegan frozen thing (not making it up or exaggerating). I have no problem with her eating whatever she wanted, but sometimes I wanted to scream at her to mind her own business – made worse since I work in customer service and look forward to my lunch break as the only time I don’t have to interact positively with everyone I look at. I get trying to make conversation, but seriously? Just let me eat my gosh darn fruit roll up in peace!

      1. JamieG*

        I usually replied to her “Oh my gosh, isn’t that all processed and sugary?” with a firm “Yep. It’s delicious.” And a mental eye-roll.

    1. Janet*

      Yes! I worked with two women and no matter what I ate, they’d comment. It was terrible. If I was having a small salad they’d be like “That’s barely anything! What do you have an eating disorder? That’s insane!” and if I went to McDonalds for lunch they’d be like “How can you eat all of that crap? Are you going to go throw it up now? Ha ha.” and finally I told them to please stop talking about my lunch which opened up the floodgates of “That looks good – oh wait, I forgot, you are weird about people talking about your food.” Drove me crazy. It got to the point where I just wanted to lock myself in a bathroom stall to eat lunch.

      1. Andy Lester*

        “Why are you eating in the bathroom stall? Is that a new diet thing? Is the food you’re eating causing digestive distress? Isn’t that unsanitary?”

    2. EM*

      If her lunch was a pre-packaged frozen lunch (you know, from a box in the freezer aisle), I’d say, “Guess what? Your lunch from a box is processed too!”

    3. Not So NewReader*

      We had the food police at one place I worked.
      Yes, a paid employee would come around and examine what we had in our lunches each day.
      I try my best to eat a whole foods diet. So my food should not have been a problem to her. I just did not want the micro-management. I went out to my car to eat.

    4. pidgeonpenelope*

      Every day, on my old shift, my coworkers would consistently ask, “whats for lunch?” and “what did you bring me?” I HATE it when they ask that and I’ve actually nicely told them to stop it. They have but slip up once in awhile. It’s just sooooo rude!

  9. jill*

    Amen to “Your co-workers are there to work, not to have their eating choices or their bodies scrutinized and judged.” If I could eradicate one line of conversation from my work life, it would be all discussion of how many calories some item of food has. Dieting humblebrags (“Oh, I really only need five cherries to get by til dinner!”), elaborate descriptions of your Paleo diet, unsolicited evaluations of HOW GOOD YOU FEEL! on your juice fast? Just let it be. People who don’t diet don’t care, and people who do typically just turn it in to a competition or the only acceptable lunchtime conversation. It bums me out to work with smart, interesting people who only seem to be interested in talking about how little they’ve eaten today.

    1. BHB*


      I don’t care if you’re on a diet or not, it’s you body, your food whatever. Similarly, moaning at me because I have a huge, mayo-filled tasty meat sandwich and the smell is tempting you too much is not on – it’s my body, my food and I’ll choose whatever I like to eat. You don’t get to comment.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Along these lines, I have to say my company encourages this type of behavior. It’s a natural offshoot of our wellness program. I think when you start supplying free fruit, people think it’s their job to remind others that fruit is a better choice than a Snickers bar. We also have million-step programs and receive free pedometers, along with other initiatives to promote wellness. You have different insurance premiums depending on whether you participate in the wellness program or not. With so much focus on diet in the workplace, it’s hard for these conversations to NOT happen. I think the enthusiastic 50% forget that the other 50% are not so into it.

      1. jill*

        Absolutely. It’s been my experience that any corporate wellness programs (and unfortunately, even informal “workout buddy” situations in my workplace) become opportunities to puff ourselves up and judge others’ choices without sufficient context. It’s just too fraught in the current sociopolitical climate.

    3. Mints*

      When I worked camp, the big bosses didn’t want us drinking energy drinks. I thought it was annoying. We had to eat packed lunches, and assuming the kids were allowed to eat while we were, I didn’t see the issue. I was annoyed by the fine line of allowing sodas or bottled coffees, but a little extra caffeine suddenly became inappropriate.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        A lot of “kid” places are doing this energy drink ban, now. Apparently, there has been an increase in kidney damage in young people. Staff has to role model good behavior….
        I am with you though, why target just one item and not the others?

        1. AnotherAlison*

          The whole issue of camps (or more commonly, schools) controlling kids’ food intake (and now their employees’ drinks, apparently) bugs me to no end, but only because I’m familiar with cases of schools confiscating healthy food and replacing it with school lunch crap that met the official standards.

          I like to think my child can eat or drink what *I* say he can. . .but they you have Honey BooBoo’s mother proving that parents are doofuses who cannot be trusted.

        2. youth volunteer*

          Our team banned them because teens were drinking them INSTEAD of eating, which doesn’t seem to happen so much with sodas – whereas they see “energy drink” and think they can have two of them in the morning and be fine. So we had kids running around with no food but tons of sugar, caffeine, and vitamin B in their systems, and then those kids would throw up. Not fun anytime, but REALLY not fun when your team loses because you were off vomiting.

      2. Mints*

        To clarify, I said I worked camp. The bosses didn’t want employees drinking energy drinks. We were late teens-early 20s. No other food or drinks were monitored, and we didn’t even stress healthiness in general.
        (This is different from watching what the kids ate/drank)
        I thought it was a weird thing to police in the context

  10. Anonymous*

    I had someone tell me how unhealthy and bad for my body it was for me that I only ate a yogurt with granola and a piece of fruit at lunchtime… not that they have any idea what I eat throughout the day… and most people would consider that very healthy of me. I was like, what the hell? Comments like this made me start eating my lunch at my desk.

    1. twentymilehike*

      I had someone tell me how unhealthy and bad for my body it was for me that I only ate a yogurt with granola and a piece of fruit at lunchtime

      I think that sounds perfectly healthy! I mean as long as you’re eating enough to feed your appetite. Not eveyone requires the same amouts of calories and nutrients in every meal. Personally, I eat small meals and snack at my desk a couple of times a day. I’m small, so I can’t eat a lot in one sitting without going into food coma! I’d be super annoyed by this, too …. There are way to many times that I just drive to the park around the block and eat lunch at a picnic table or in my car just to avoid my annoying coworkers.

  11. Andy Lester*

    I admit, long ago I’d make comments like “Hey, why you dressed up, job interview?” until one day I asked and my co-worker said “No, funeral.”

  12. Anonymous*

    I work in local government and every office I’ve ever been in, the running joke is that you’re either dressed up for an interview or a funeral. Generally fellow co-workers don’t usually care, it’s management that gets huffy about it.

  13. Elizabeth*

    I’m a teacher, and yesterday one of my coworkers (a single woman) started off her announcement about an upcoming assembly with, “Class, I have some very exciting news!”

    One of the little girls gasped with glee, “Oh! You’re pregnant!”

    …it was a “teachable moment” about things that you shouldn’t say to people.

    1. Cheryl*

      As a fellow instructor, I will +1 this and also add that students make a lot of comments and have a lot of questions about personal life/looks/political beliefs… I think it’s helped me develop my delayed response mechanism.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        “I think it’s helped me develop my delayed response mechanism.”

        Very funny, and so true. Love it.

  14. Tekoa*

    I’ve been told (by a worried coworker) that I look too pale and skinny. And also by clients who enourage me to eat more. Or an envious coworker who asks how I got to be so skinny (she said, I want to be like you).

    No you don’t. Why am I so skinny? I have an anxiety dissorder. It kills my appetite, and if I don’t feel like eating…I don’t eat/don’t eat much. If I force myself to eat I throw up.

    Since I don’t want to starve to death, I’m eating as much as my stomach will let me. So if you ask someone why they’re so skinny… be prepared for an awkward answer.

  15. EM*

    :( I hope part of the lesson is that women can be excited about news that doesn’t involve pregnancy.

    1. Elizabeth*

      I don’t really blame the kid for thinking that a baby is about the most exciting news possible. To a seven-year-old girl, the most exciting things in the world are:

      1. baby animals
      2. baby humans
      3. popsicles
      4. extra recess
      5. anything else

  16. Anonymous*

    Oh god…. the “you’re so skinny!” comment. At my last job, the owner of the company said that to me practically every time she saw me: “You’re SO skinny, how do you stay so thin? Don’t you ever eat?”

    I always was tempted to respond (truthfully): “All this constant work stress is killing my appetite.”

  17. Chocolate Teapot*

    In answer to the “Why are you dressed like that?” remark, I like to deliver a short lecture on the advantages of having a good tailor. Once the eyes glaze over, I find it isn’t a problem.

    During a period when I was going for interviews and trying to be on the phone, I went to work dressed very smartly all the time, so it didn’t look odd to be suddenly more business-looking.

  18. Wilton Businessman*

    One thing to never say: Is that a cable tester in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me.

        1. Amouse*

          It is yet in the moment when soemone says to you “What are you using on your skin? What make-up ar eyou wearing? You need to go to an allergist. You probably have alleriges” completely unsolicited or similar types of comments like that it’s ahrd to shut off your feelings and intellectualize it enough to say “This is obviously them being well-intentioned but misguided and possibly pretty oblivious. Thi8s is actually sad and funny.” I try to be that thick-skinned and it’s a good thing to work on but it doesn’t come easily to me. i admire those to whom it does :-)

              1. Amouse*

                I’ll keep working on it. I still don’t think all behaviour should be tolerated because of people’s issues though. It isn’t always an excuse nor should it always be tolerated. But i agree with controlling what we can control :-)

  19. Bridgette*

    Hate hate hate body comments! I don’t mind compliments on my clothes, but leave it that. Too many people assume commenting on skinniness is a compliment, well it’s not. I don’t like anyone drawing attention to my body or commenting on it, whether it’s intended as a compliment or not. I’ll stop my ranting now. Thanks for putting that one in there, Alison.

  20. Mike C.*

    Uh, there’s one really good reason I can think of to say, “that’s not my job”.

    If you work in a regulated environment with firewalls between departments. QC/QA versus Production/Manufacturing or various situations where conflict of interest comes into play. The minute I start criss-crossing that line, I violate all sorts of certifications, client contracts and government regulations. It’s so tempting for a production manager under the gun to yell at the quality side of the house to jump in and help and I’ve seen it happen dozens of times – oftentimes ending in shouting matches.

    On a similar note, when you’re being asked to do something that you aren’t legally or safely qualified to do is also a good time. No way am I going to sign off on engineering plans or sign the space marked “CPA”. And I’m not going to start working a high voltage power system.

    I know the focus here is on small businesses where everyone is expected to “pitch in” on every last little thing, but there are too many good reasons to say “this isn’t my job” to label the phrase taboo.

    1. Cassie*

      I think the “this isn’t my job” phrase is taboo when used in situations where it’s like “making coffee? it’s not my job.” If it’s a legitimate issue where someone else is responsible for said task, you simply could say “Abigail handles legal contracts – she can help you with that” or “I’ll forward this to Abigail – she handles the legal stuff.” I used to take care of simple 2-second tasks when asked, even if someone else was responsible for those tasks. But I’ve learned that the best way to “train” people to go to the appropriate responsible party is to essentially make/force them to go through the proper channels. If you always do favors for people, they’re just going to keep coming back for more.

      But I still wouldn’t use the phrase “that’s not my job” because it simply sounds like you are being lazy or difficult.

    2. Editor*

      There is a difference, though, between saying “that’s not my job” and “I’m not authorized to do that.” The first is ambiguous — the worker may be avoiding a task or not able to do the task — the second is clear. In the case of signing off on documents, the response might even be, “I’m not legally authorized to do that.”

      I worked in an office with people in sales for years. Customers would come in and ask for quotes and other information I couldn’t provide. I got so I did more explaining. “I wish I could help you with that, but the rates change every couple of months, and because I’m in a different department I don’t have the current numbers.” On the other hand, I did call the cell phones of salespeople a few times so they could get right back to a customer.

  21. Cassie*

    I hate comments about food or anything related to body/weight. The comments I’ve gotten are: you eat so little! you eat too much! You look skinnier – have you lost weight? You look like you gained weight – your face is fatter. Do you exercise? You should exercise. Etc etc etc…

  22. jesicka309*

    I had a coworker commenting that I looked ‘plump’ in the staff Christmas party photos. He was looking at the photos on my deskmate’s computer screen, while I was sitting there trying to not cry!
    When my deskmate said (outraged) “you can’t say that about a woman!” the coworker replied “well, she does!”
    All while I was sitting there.
    A week later he said you like like that girl in the movie on TV – the fat bully in the teen movie.
    After the plump comments I cried in the toilets for ten minutes – how was he supposed to know that I had been working my butt off for three months to try to lose weight, running every day, watching my diet. I’m not even overweight – I just wanted to tone up. And some dickhead was making comments about me at work!
    I forwarded it onto HR just so they were aware, as this dude was seriously creepy and I was afraid he’d said similar things to other people and I wanted the incident documented.
    He must have toned it down because he still works here, but ugggggghhhhh. He needs a lesson about what not to say to coworkers.

  23. Jen M.*

    I get comments on my food all the time. I guess I’m one of very few vegans where I work. People always comment on how good my food smells and ask me about it. It doesn’t feel invasive at all. Most people seem fascinated (like veganism is something totally new. LOL!)

    Where it gets tricky is when people ask me WHY I’m a vegan! (Ethical reasons.) I have to be careful to just state why and not go on a tirade. LOL!

  24. pidgeonpenelope*

    I agree with the skinny one but I have a coworker who has worked really hard on losing weight and she looks fantastic!! I know it’s not appropriate and so I haven’t said anything but I’m just so impressed and I wish I could.

  25. GenericGen*

    #10 really cracked me up. I had a coworker who proudly (and loudly) told me at lunch, in the company lunch room, that she had called in “drunk” on Monday. And this happened more than once. Sheesh. We were both temp workers at this place and she complained – loudly – that her coworkers in her department hated her but her boss loved her. At the top of her lungs, she ranted on about how awful were her coworkers; that they complained to the boss that she talked too loud. Um, really? I hadn’t noticed.

    She was so sure she was going to be hired permanently. Finally, after many major screw-ups, she was let go. She called me on my cell, asking me for $20 to tide her over (um, no?) and made the comment that “I guess they weren’t as understanding of my situation as I thought they would be.” Really? I think they understood you all too well.

  26. Miss Displaced*

    I work for a diet/wellness type company so bodies, weight and eating are ALWAYS being discussed. I’m made to feel guilty every time I crack a can of Diet Coke.

    1. Sophie*

      My entire office knows of my Diet Coke addiction. I regularly get told about how it is bad for you, especially by the asssistant who sits near me and is into herbal / new age type of healthiness.

      Now whenever it is brought up I interrupt them and declare that I know, Diet Coke is going to give me brain cancer, and a heart attack, and MS, but I am really looking forward to those things and have decided to die young.

      It usually shuts them up.

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