is this email line insulting?

A reader writes:

I work at a university in an office setting. I share supervision of a student worker with senior-level staff member. I am in my early 30s and in a coordinator position; she is in a senior director position and about 20 years older than me. We both report to the same person.

Today, the student worker sent an email to the both of us telling us that she would have to miss part of an upcoming workday because of an obligation for class, and she ended the email with the line: “Please let me know if you have any questions.”

My coworker wrote back and copied me: “I have no questions…… As a rule of thumb, do not put that in your emails even if you see others doing it. I’ll explain when I see you. :)”

I couldn’t figure out what she meant, and I immediately re-read the first email to see if the student had written anything strange or unusual in that email. I couldn’t find anything. Later, I asked the student if the coworker had clarified her response, and the student told me that the coworker claimed that the line “Please let me know if you have any questions” was insulting. Apparently, she couldn’t quite explain why it was insulting, just that it was.

I am at a loss. I sometimes use the same line to conclude emails, and I never think of it as insulting — superfluous, sure, and unnecessary, as I am certain that people will let me know if they have questions for me regardless of whether I ask them to or not, but I didn’t think there was anything offensive about it.

Have you ever heard anything like this before? Do you have any idea where this might be coming from? Is there some kind of business etiquette I am missing here?

All I can think of is that your coworker meant that’s it’s condescending and/or slightly rude because it should go without saying that people are free to ask you questions (particularly when you are a student worker, they are your managers, and you are writing about taking a day off). But it’s such a standard thing for people to say that I can’t imagine why your coworker felt the need to correct her.

Anyone want to argue the coworker’s viewpoint here?

{ 263 comments… read them below }

  1. Arbynka*

    Honestly, I am at lost here. I have used that phrase many times before. I had no idea that some one might consider it insulting.

  2. CGraceComment*

    Maybe the student worker really meant the content to say something more like “Let me know if I can answer any additional questions” or “please let me know what questions/concerns I can answer.” Still maybe inartful.

    I think some read emails very careful and literally, which can be tough if the emailer doesn’t pay as close attention to their words and whether they truly align with their meaning.

    1. Kerry*

      “Let me know if I can answer any additional questions” or “please let me know what questions/concerns I can answer.”

      I think that’s what “Please let me know if you have any questions” does mean, though – I may be being a bit thick but I can’t see the difference between any of those three sentences!

      1. fposte*

        “Please let me know if you have any questions” doesn’t literally invite the reader to *ask* the question, just to notify the writer that they possess such a question. But I’m not on the side of the people reading it that way, I’m afraid; it’s an established phrase whose meaning is pretty well known, and treating it as if it doesn’t mean what we know it to mean is like answering “Do you know what time it is?” with “Yes.”

        1. Anonymous*

          I like ‘happy to discuss further if necessary’. I think it also depends on what you are saying in the email. Because the student worker was stating, not asking, for the day off she didn’t need to ask if there were questions.

    2. RedStateBlues*

      I have a co-worker that reads WAAAAYYY too much into emails sent by our boss. He was getting all worked up about her use of multiple exclaimation points on important points as if she were yelling at him/us. While he was going on and on about this, I just looked at him, shaking my head and said “Really?” On the the other hand, this guy is paranoid almost to the point of mental illness so I shouldn’t have been surprised…

  3. Steve*

    I can see the co-worker thinking “I am not so stupid that I can’t figure out you want a day off. Do you think I’m so dumb that I would need to ask you what you meant by this email?”

    1. Sadsack*

      Right, which would mean that the coworker takes herself way too seriously if she gets offended by what is a harmless closing sentence. Seems like she just felt like putting a junior colleague in her place, unnecessarily.

        1. Limon*

          Agree, older co-worker is taking herself way too seriously with a very young but very professional student.

          More information about the person who sent it than anything else. It is professional to ask: let me know if you have any questions. Perfect.

    2. A Bug!*

      Sure, the coworker might have thought that, but it would be unreasonable. That line doesn’t say “I think you’re incapable of basic reading comprehension”, it says “If there’s any information you need that I’ve neglected to provide, please let me know.” It’s a polite formality, hardly condescending.

      Unlike the coworker’s response. I’m comfortable saying the coworker’s response was needlessly condescending and a bit rude, given that when asked for more details, the coworker couldn’t provide any reasoning at all behind her directive.

    3. lonecontractor*

      I can easily see a response of- ‘Will you be able to finish the project you are working on?’ or ‘Will this be a recurring obligation?’ as a good use of the ‘any questions?’ question.

      Maybe the student worker didn’t really understand the problem? We are dealing with hearsay here…..

  4. f_fairford*

    I use that line in almost every email; it’s standard email language in my department–usually to be used for clients but also internally. I can’t imagine what the issue could be.

    1. Colette*

      Yeah, it seems perfectly innocuous to me. I often say “Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns”.

      It must be exhausting to be so easily insulted.

            1. Cruella Da Boss*

              Oh, that’s perfect. I’m stealing that! There are so many situations at my office to which that applies.

      1. Tmm04*

        I LOVE that line. ” It must be exhausting to be so easily insulted”. I can immediately think of several people it applies to , including myself somedays (sadly). Hope you don’t mind if I borrow from time to time.

      2. OP Confused*

        Hey! I’m the one who asked the question, and after thinking about it/ observing the coworker in question for a few days, I think it might just be this. There doesn’t seem to be a rational explanation.

  5. iseeshiny*

    I use this all the time as polite noise – usually when I’m forwarding an invoice, actually, and I suppose I don’t say it to my boss, but I don’t see why the phrase should always be avoided. Sounds like just a quirk of the OP’s coworker.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      It’s like starting an email with “I hope this finds you well.”

      Just one of the formalities of polite correspondence.

      1. Limon*

        “Polite noise” is a great phrase. So many phrases we use all the time for social etiquette just meant to be positive and respectful. I appreciate when they are said to me, and I know it definitely adds to the overall picture that people develop of you over time.

  6. anon.*

    I have seen this situation before, and it was an issue with levels–my coworker was told that a “lower level” person should ask for time off, not inform of time off…and in our situation, when she said “please let me know of any questions” it set her supervisor off–time off is not a ‘given’. In a way, I agree; purely from an etiquette standpoint, I always have mentioned the need for PTO, but overall it’s a request, and worded as such–that’s how I was trained. I think I might be a little old-fashioned here, though.

    1. Anon*

      I think you have the right of it.

      But I think the supervisor should have been more clear about this being the reason.

      Asking if someone has questions is polite – assuming that you’ll have the day off isn’t.

      1. Frieda*

        This is what baffles me too–asking if someone has questions is polite, not rude. I use this line (or similar) when I am telling people about something that cannot be changed as a way to make it more polite, if it is something they may not like. “Thing You Don’t Like is happening” alone is way more rude and presumptive than “Thing You Don’t Like is happening, please let me know if you want to talk about it.”

        I understand the distinction between “telling” that you need time off and “asking” for time off. But in this case, not getting time off was not an option for the student. Wouldn’t it have been more insulting to phrase it as a question when the supervisor can’t say no?

        It’s like if you have jury duty and go to your boss and say “Can I have Monday off for jury duty?” What are they going to say, no? Wouldn’t it be more polite to say, “I can’t be at work on Monday because I have jury duty. Let me know if you have questions.”

    2. Elizabeth*

      In general, I agree that an employee should ask for time off rather than assuming it’s a given, but I don’t think that holds for a student worker in a university setting who has a class obligation. If the student wanted time off because it was her birthday, sure, that should be a request – but a university office should understand that classwork takes priority for student workers.

      1. KB*

        Exactly, this is how it was for me as a student worker. In fact, we could risk getting in trouble for prioritizing work over class obligations.

      2. Rebecca*

        Sigh. When I was a student worker I got a harsh talking to for telling my supervisors about time off rather than asking for time off. They were mad that I didn’t ask for permission, even though they knew I needed the time off since my mom was in the hospital!

        I had no idea until later what a terrible workplace it was.

        1. Nichole*

          Maybe this is more rampant in universities? I was told the same thing-though I was not a student worker, I was new to the role. My supervisor was new too, so the comment came from my trainer, not the boss. It never occurred to me that I should phrase it differently than a flat “I need X day off” because it was bow I had always phrased time off requests-I thought it was clear that I was waiting for a yes or no, not just informing the boss I wasn’t going to be there. My boss is very reasonable about time off, and I still agonize over how to phrase the e-mailed requests sometimes.

          1. anon..*

            I had a part time (eves and weekend availability) retail job and had been there a few months when I needed a few days off. I knew the schedule was done 3 weeks in advance and so 6+weeks in advance I asked the mgr on duty what the protocol was.. he told me to call the next day and he would tell that mgr. I called and he was not there but the mgr he was going to tell was. She told me I needed to come in and ‘do it on the computer’. I came in on my day off and tried. We were unable to log me into that part of the system. She told me to leave a note and tape it to Store Managers computer. I did so. Since it was a note that all could see I made it it polite and to the point “Please do not schedule me from x to x. Thank you”(no details. It was 6+ weeks in advance and should not have been an issue at all as I had been told several times that ‘other people need hours too’ translation: you will never get x hours a week so stop asking). Anyway… I was called into the office and told I was being insubordinate. Insubordinate!

        2. RedStateBlues*

          I understand and agree with the notion of “asking” vs “telling” but c’mon, how fragile is your ego if you feel this warrants a “harsh talking to”?

        3. Chris80*

          I got this same talking-to once. It never occurred to me that time off requests needed to end with a question mark…to be honest, I still don’t get why it’s a big deal. I’m forever worrying about how I phrase my time off requests now.

      3. Raga*

        I think universities are actually required to accommodate them if they are federal work study students. I know when I was a FWS (at three different positions at three different universities), they always fit my work schedule around my classes and not the other way around.

    3. MousyNon*

      Right, but why didn’t the insulted colleague explain that it was just in this specific circumstance–i.e. “don’t assume you have the day off–request it!” From the original email, it seems that the colleague took insult with the “questions” line itself, which makes no earthly sense that I can see.

      1. fposte*

        Seriously. I’m sure my student employees have written the same thing to me, and I haven’t felt remotely insulted.

    4. John*

      Agree. “Please let me know if you have any questions” is what a supervisor might say to underlings after issuing a dictum. In this case, it sounds like he has closed debate to anything but questions from those too thick to understand the request.

      The person who flags it could have given him more specific counsel.

    5. Kou*

      That was my interpretation. Then the “ask any questions” line translates to her as “questions are all you get because I’m not changing my plans.”

      And sure, asking permission is often expected over just explaining, but the student isn’t anywhere near out of line here. Especially since one would think, this being a student campus job, that part of the provision is that the students are allowed to rearrange schedules for class work. I’m sure it doesn’t work that way everywhere, but in my experience that’s part of the package deal.

    6. CoffeeLover*

      In office settings, I thought the etiquette is to tell people you’re taking time off rather than asking for it off. This is because everyone is expected to manage their own time, and your boss shouldn’t have to hand hold. I had to really work to learn not to say “can I leave early today” vs. “I’m leaving at 3 today”. Of course, if you need time off in a really inconvenient time, I can see that you should ask for it off, but generally in salaried, non-shift work, positions it’s more of a statement.

      1. Kate*

        Same, in my experience my bosses just think it’s sort of cute and young/inexperienced (I’m in my first full-time job) when I ask for time off rather than simply notifying them of it. Both of my managers are pretty hands-off people who expect me to manage my own responsibilities and judge me by the quality of my work outcomes. (luckily!)

        1. Cruella Da Boss*

          I take it that most everyone here are salaried employees, by the answers I’m seeing.

          I think that the type of position one holds plays into requesting time off versus taking time off.

          Shift positions, where a team of employees are required to cover various shifts, would be more of a “request” situation than someone in a position where one works independently.
          In a team setting, not everyone can take time off when the mood strikes. There still needs to be xx number of warm bodies to handle the work load.

          I have to treat a request for time off as a request, subject to approval, no matter how the employee chooses to frame it.

      2. Ashley*

        I’ve always framed my requests as “I’d like to take this day off. If there are any scheduling conflicts or other issues, please let me know.” Sort of a combo telling/request.

        1. Bea W*

          I’ll sometimes do this if I’m unsure if there are conflicts. Mostly I just enter a time off request as required and send my boss an email to let her know I’ve entered time off for x dates, since I know she’ll read that before bothering with the automated message from the time keeping system.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        It depends on the job. Something that needs coverage, like the front desk, will depend on rearranging other people’s schedules, not just your own.

        I have the same issue now–my boss expects that I can handle my time, and if I ask, she is always “Do what you need to do.” I’m so used to checking with everybody and juggling to cover that it weirds me out just to say “I’m taking PTO on X day.”

    7. Vicki*

      But what is a “level”.
      Is it a student? Is it anyone contacting a manager?

      My (albeit hearsay) understanding is that student workers _always_ get the time off if it’s for classes; classes always trump the work.

      As for me, in my first “real job” after College, I was politely informed by my manager that I did not need to “ask permission” for time off. I needed to schedule it in advance and be sure that everything I was assigned to do was handled, but as a professional worker, I was not expected to need “permission”.

      1. fposte*

        I wouldn’t say that classes always trump work, necessarily. One of our positions can’t take any class that meets at a key time for the job, for instance, and there are outside-of-normal-time class events that might not work for us if they clashed with something of particular importance at the job.

        But in general we assume class obligations are to be accommodated as much as possible, and I wouldn’t have thought twice about this email unless there was some big thing the person was supposed to be working on during that time.

        1. Anna*

          I’ve worked several on campus jobs and I’ve never run in to any that would trump classes, although it seems you make it clear that Time X through Time Y is non-negotiable. In fact, when I worked at the campus bookstore we were told plainly that the reason we were there was because we were students and that will always come before our work schedule.

          1. fposte*

            Was this grad or undergrad, and how many hours per week? Our positions are 50% time (which are the most desired), grad, coming with full tuition remission. These are serious career-springboard professional jobs. We can offer flexibility in certain circumstances, but the positions are ones of significant independent responsibility and ownership, so there’s no assumption that anything not already scheduled trumps the job any more than it does for any other professional job. We’re apparently clear enough about that that we’ve never encountered a problem with it.

            I would never require a student to work instead of attend a regular class time, but a class-related activity outside of a regular class time is not a given, and I can’t imagine any of my staff treating it as such.

            1. Anna*

              Both undergrad and grad, but they were just basic positions, nothing that would lead to my actual career.

    8. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I kind of get this.

      The perfunctory use of this phrase irritates me, but only mildly so and in a “pet peeve” fashion. I absolutely don’t think it’s an appropriate close to mail to a boss. When requesting or informing about time off, an appropriate close is something to the effect of “let me know if you need me to do anything before/after this day so my absence isn’t an inconvenience to you”.

      However, making a big deal about such a common phrase is a greater sin, molehill into mountain. I’d have been mildly irritated for 10 seconds and then forgotten about it while doing actual work. There are way too many people who use this phrase as a close similar to “sincerely” for those of us who don’t like the phrase to get panties-in-a-bunch over it.

      1. KM*

        This. The phrase irritates me in general and I don’t use it personally — but on a scale of 1-10, the irritation level is probably a 2. I would feel annoyed for a second and then let it go.

        The reason it irritates me (2/10) is because, as others have mentioned, I always hear it as “This is what we’re doing; if you don’t understand something ask me” which actually seems to shut down discussion rather than opening it up. But I’ve seen people say this often enough to understand, intellectually, that that’s not what they usually mean.

    9. myswtghst*

      This is what I was thinking. With my current boss, we ask for time off, even if we need it, and just give background about why (if appropriate). PTO is always a request, not a given, so I could see where that line in the context of the email could be problematic… but not the line itself, unless we’re being pedantic.

  7. Kou*

    I’m guessing coworker took “let me know if you have any questions” as a hostile “this is final, you got a problem with that?”

    Which is weird.

    1. Anonymous*

      That’s precisely how I interpreted the whole situation. Weird, but I think that’s likely what happened here.

    2. L McD*

      Agreed. I doubt the coworker would have reacted that way if the sign-off had been something like “let me know if that works” or something along those lines. “Let me know if you have questions” definitely has a sense of finality to it, so in a context where someone is making decisions (or is perceived to be making decisions) outside their purview, I get it.

      But as has been pointed out by others, a) that wasn’t necessarily the case here, and b) it sounds like the coworker did a very poor job of communicating what the actual issue is.

    3. snuck*

      This is how I’d read it too… not ‘hostile’ (that’s too strong a word for me) but as an absolute/expectation/demand, not a request.

      Without knowing the rest of the email it’s just an assumption – did the student worker send this and state her reasons for the day of, the date, and this line about “any questions?” … because that’s not a request for a day off, that’s an expectation which could be seen as rude.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      This. I hate to say it but I can see my parents having this reaction to the statement. I think basically because in their era this had a cold/icy type of feeling to it- a mix of an air of superiority, presumptuous attitude and abruptness. That would be their take on it.

      I noticed the older person was the one who had the reaction. (Am guessing this older person is about MY age! sigh.) I suspect it was because when she was in her youth you just did not put words together like that. I bet she is not even sure why it is rude, she was just taught that it was rude.

      Reality is that people use this sentence all the time. As several posters have said this is normal now.

  8. fposte*

    I can’t make this work as insulting no matter how hard I twist it. I’m trying to align it with the “Don’t say ‘no problem’ when serving a customer, because it implies it might be a problem” thing, but the only implication I can find is that there might be a question, which I can’t find insulting.

    If you’re trying to look authoritative it could be a softer close than you want, but that’s got nothing to do with being insulting and it’s frankly not something I’d worry a lot about anyway. I think the co-worker has gotten confused with something else.

    1. A Bug!*

      Yeah, I’m with you. That coworker sounds like an utterly tedious person. I bet she lectures people on their etiquette, too.

    2. Meg*

      I’m with you on this one. I can’t possibly understand why the insulted coworker thinks this is a big deal. Especially since the student ISN’T requesting the day off. It’s class-related, not vacation-related, so it makes sense for this to take priority.

      Whatever. I think the coworker is either a) offended entirely too easily, or b) enjoying her authority over the student worker a little too much.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Good tie in, fposte. I worked in a store once that had many elderly customers. We could not say “no problem” nor could we say “have a good one.”

      The no problem thing was “well it should not be a problem to begin with so why would you point out it’s not a problem?”

      The “have a good one” apparently for some reason the customers thought it had something to do with sex.

      Yeah. Baffled me, too. And yeah, this gets exhausting. FAST.

      Language changes and the way we speak with each other changes. It’s not stagnant at all. People routinely will not speak in the exact prescribed manner we think they should. (What’s up with that?) I say look at the intent behind the words and go with that. Here the student’s intent was to keep the lines of communication open. “I am here, if you need me for some unforeseen.”

  9. Mystic*

    I use this line all the time when sending out an informational/explanitory email, especially if sending to a group.

    However, it does seem weird to sort of be saying, “Hey boss, I’m not coming in on day X because of Y. Any questions?”

    I might instead say, “Hey boss, I have commitment Y which will cause me to miss work on day X. I’ll use vacation time/make up the hours the next day/whatever. Is that ok?”

    1. Colette*

      I agree that would be a better approach – but if that was the issue, the OP’s coworker should have said something like “I realize you have school, but time off is not guaranteed, and you need to ask rather than assuming you can have the time off”.

          1. fposte*

            I wouldn’t call it “guaranteed,” at least not without more info on what these outside-of-classtime “class activities” were.

            And I could see the co-worker being annoyed if the student said “I’ll be missing Friday to work with my project group. Please let me know if you have any questions,” but the annoying part is the first sentence, not the second sentence.

            1. Anna*

              I guess it’s just my attitude, but any job I worked on or off campus was a 2nd priority while I was in school. School was my job. Anything school related was non-negotiable to the point of not asking for time off, but also not being snotty about not being able to work at a specific time if it conflicted with a study group or anything else. It was never an issue for me; the people I worked for were always super accomodating.

              1. fposte*

                I think, as I say below, it’s also dependent on the job. Our jobs will matter more to our students’ careers than an individual course is likely to, and if they turn up late because of a study group, our unit doesn’t open for its users. I think that’s not uncommon for grad student positions, and certainly our employees haven’t had a problem fulfilling the requirements of the job and the schoolwork at the same time. But they’re not jobs that you can just work around your coursework with.

          2. OP Confused*

            Yeah, we make it clear that students are not to miss class or other obligations related to school (meetings with advisors, financial aid, or orientation-type events) to come to work. The expectation is that they’re students first and our employees second. Several posters in this thread have speculated that it was an issue of telling us she was altering her schedule rather than asking us – I really don’t think that’s what it was. I genuinely get the impression from talking to my student worker that the coworker in question was trying to impart some kind of workplace rules or knowledge of ettiquette. It was weird – I’d never heard of such a thing, but the student was really insistent about it. I had to google it to see if it was a real thing.

            1. kelly*

              I work in an university library as a paraprofessional and serve as a supervisor for the student workers. The student workers primary job is to be at the desk and do customer service at the library. Due to budget cuts, we only have a student on at the desk for about 75% of the time during the semester. During breaks, it’s less than half the time. The permanent staff has to cover the desk during the time that a student isn’t there. It’s a matter of budgeting paying a work study student less than minimum wage versus having a full time hourly permanent staff member up there. I personally don’t mind doing it because I come from retail where payroll slashing is the norm. I feel that we are going to be expected to be up there more often if the trend continues and it doesn’t lead to good morale if you think you above working at the desk. Yeah, I can’t do certain parts of projects due to the different levels of access on the computers, but I get what I can done up there and finish them up in my office. It’s honesty not that bad to get a break from staring at the computer and metadata for some time. It’s not that bad to bring a book up to read while keeping an eye out for patrons. My counterpart whose purview is public services does tend to take advantage of my willingness to cover the desk. He did say that my predecessor would only cover the desk if the boss told her she had to do it.

              I can’t be the only one who was thinking this but doesn’t this remind you of the person who had the older/more senior colleague who insisted that the younger or more junior colleagues address her as Mrs. so and so?

    2. EJ*

      I agree. I use this line when I’m delivering something that someone might have questions about. It was out of context here.

      The reason it was seen as insulting was because it comes off as snotty as of time off is assumed. But there’s no reason to ban the phrase should be banned in every situation.

  10. SD*

    Yeah, that’s a strange reaction on the part of the coworker. I can certainly see that there might have been a better phrase to close with in that situation, maybe asking if there’s anything she should do on account of missing part of the workday? But the coworker saying that it’s an insulting thing to say in email seems backwards to me. I think my usage of that phrase is generally in contexts where it should be a given that I can be asked questions, but I say it to be inviting to those questions instead of assuming all of my communication is always clear as a bell.

  11. Lily in NYC*

    I think the insulted coworker is ridiculously thin-skinned. Some people really will find a way to be outraged by just about anything.

  12. Rayner*

    I think I can understand that it can be presumptive to say it, like the student worker is saying, “This is the time I will be taking off, this will be happening let me know if you need me to drop off work etc,” in the manner that a peer or a senior person might say but honestly…


    Not buying it. Not really. It’s just standard phrasing, to be honest.

    Maybe if the other supervisor wants to discuss how to be professional in emails/about time off, then they could work out a better way to say things, – “Hey, Susan, generally our boss, Mary, decides what time off is okay. This is because sometimes it can cause issues with covering duties etc, so you should ask rather than assume for future reference,” but that’s about as far as I would go.

    IDK what crawled up this lady’s nose about that line but it’s not insulting.

    1. TL*

      But in a student worker setting, I don’t think class obligations are negotiable and people working in a university should understand that. So it wouldn’t be a big deal in this setting.

      1. Rayner*

        No, it wouldn’t be a big deal in this setting.

        Perhaps I would suggest still having the talk regarding rules about time off because you know, maybe Mary IS still the one to decide everything and the student should still talk to her to make sure everybody’s covered and such. Even if it is obligatory for the student to go and she would still get the time off anyway, she should still follow the rules for going about it, such as speaking to the right person, getting it signed off.

        But no, it shouldn’t be the problem at all here, and the coworker is being a dipstick, rather than a mature individual.

        1. TL*

          Hmm… I don’t know about most universities, but the way our position worked, you didn’t have to get anything signed if you were missing/taking time off. You just changed your time sheet when you didn’t work all the hours. (Mostly we just switched shifts if we had to.)

          And it was really understood that classes came first – when I was late because of lab (multiple times) – I never got reprimanded. They knew that was part of hiring science kids.

          1. fposte*

            I think it depends on the workplace and position, though. There are some where students are more useful warm bodies, and some that are (as they’re officially classified at my university) pre-professional positions. The preprofessional positions are good and very real jobs, and they’re going to have more effect on your immediate career trajectory than your coursework; coming routinely late would be a big problem, and I’d expect the student to bring it up with me and outline how she planned to rearrange the schedule to avoid it.

            1. Rayner*

              This was how it was for students who worked in the library for example, or in the full service terrace cafe.

              Someone would need to cover for them while they were away, and someone would need to go and consult their manager if they needed time off. It was very rare that they didn’t get it but it had to be done professionally – i.e. asking in advance, putting it in the records, informing management of any problems immediately.

              It might have been a uni job, but it was still considered a job rather than ‘just student work’.

  13. Steve*

    I would ask the coworker. She copied you on the email reply, you have an open opportunity to say to her “I do this all the time. I hope I don’t come across as an idiot when I do it, can you explain it to me too?”

    1. MousyNon*

      Mm, I don’t like this approach. It gives automatic weight to the coworker’s opinion (almost like the OP is asking for forgiveness rather than information). I’d have a direct conversation with her, asking what her concern is about that language specifically.

          1. OP Confused*

            Ha ha. Yeah, once I found out what the issue was I didn’t want to give her any chance to try to explain to me why I was wrong to do it too… Because there’s nothing wrong with it. It would be a waste of time and I would probably laugh in her face and then she’d be insulted all over again. :-/

  14. Ashley*

    I am irritated by smiley emoticons in professional emails so I guess I have a bone to pick with the coworker.

    1. Anon*

      I fell down a rabbit hole one day and found a thought-provoking rant about how women should never use emoticons because they make one seem girlish and silly instead of professional.

      Interestingly, men include them in their emails to ME. Is it because I’m a woman? Do they feel the need to placate me with smilies and LOL’s? So many things to consider here…

      1. Rayner*

        I find myself wanting to use them because sometimes, when you’re telling something funny/wanting to soften a particular message or commenting on something, it’s hard to convey tone. Emoticons can help with that, especially if it’s cross cultural.

        Obviously, I don’t use them, but I can certainly see the merits on some emails. Perhaps not to clients though!

      2. Bean*

        The smile emoticon seems a lot more unprofessional than someone saying “Please let me know if you have any questions.”. It is also very unprofessional to cc someone when you are just being a jerk.

        1. A Bug!*

          You know, I didn’t even register the emoticon until this thread pointed it out. And that makes the bee in her bonnet even more mystifying. Or, perhaps, less so:

          I know some people who will use emoticons to legitimize an intentionally-catty message. After all, if they were trying to be mean, they wouldn’t use a smiley, would they? They’re just trying to help, don’t take it so personally.

          OP might be able to confirm if the coworker is that kind of person, the person who feigns concern about another’s perceived faux pas but really relishes the chance to pounce.

    2. Gjest*

      I actually emailed AAM recently asking about this! I feel conflicted. My first reaction is like yours, that they are unprofessional. But then sometimes I really want to use one, when I feel like the tone of the email will not come across well and I’m spending too much time trying to reword something perfectly. Or when I want to convey a bit of levity, but don’t know the person well enough for them to know I am joking around a bit.

      Anyway, it’s tricky. I am curious to know what others think.

      1. Elizabeth*

        When I’m worried that the tone of an email could be misinterpreted in a significant way, I don’t communicate that information by email. I pick up the phone or schedule an in-person meeting. This might be a teacher thing, though – we’re encouraged to keep sensitive stuff out of email. By “sensitive” I mean emotionally sensitive, like “Your son has been saying rude things to his classmates,” not privacy-related things like sharing medical information with people who need to know.

      2. Jen in RO*

        I hope Alison publishes your question, I’d love to read her opinion and the comments.

        I use smileys in work e-mails, but only to people I’m friendly with and when I’m writing in a casual tone. In a new setting, I usually wait and see how/if others use smileys, and follow suit.

        (The smiley in OP’s coworker’s email seems passive-aggressive to me.)

        1. Gjest*

          I agree, this smiley, and the email itself, are terrible.

          My boss uses smileys to me, so I’ve used them back to her, but I haven’t seen her use them to anyone else (although if I am cc’d on an email she sends, it is usually going to a wide group of people, and isn’t a “fun” email).

          For now I’m erring on the side of caution and not using smileys to anyone else.

    3. Anonymous*

      I found this particular emoticon to be particularly passive aggressive…”I really want to smack you, but I’m going to sugar coat it with this little set of keystrokes.”

      Here’s an emoticon:


      1. VintageLydia*

        “I really want to smack you, but I’m going to sugar coat it with this little set of keystrokes.”

        I literally lolled :D

        I use emoticons all the time for every reason under the sun so hopefully no one would read mine as catty-but-not. I like to get creative with them. This “>:[” is my favorite angry face followed by this “D::D

        1. VintageLydia*

          Apparently half my message got deleted possibly because of HTML weirdness and my last smiley now looks really really weird D:

          The second smiley is supposed to be: D:<

  15. MousyNon*

    I have used “please let me know if you have any questions!” at least a dozen times in the last 6 hours. Granted, I’d never do so when it comes to emailing a supervisor with respect to time off, but I certainly do it when it comes to clients I’m dealing with, or even other departments that I send data/information to.

    I could understand sitting the student down for a conversation about, say, ‘telling’ instead of ‘asking’ for time off (even if it’s assumed to be granted) but that’s not what appears to be this person’s issue–evidently, it’s the ‘questions’ line itself, and I can’t begin to understand what ‘insult’ her coworker read into an otherwise entirely innocuous line.

    It sounds like this is just a pet peeve of hers, and it’s stupid for her to be managing based on this sort of thing, especially since it just encourages students and new entrants into the workforce to overthink every little detail in an email for super secret ‘subtext’ that is a complete waste of time and energy.

    OP, please reassure your student that there is NOTHING wrong with that line, and that most people use it in a professional setting!

    1. HumbleOnion*

      “OP, please reassure your student that there is NOTHING wrong with that line, and that most people use it in a professional setting!”

      Yes, definitely!

      1. OP Confused*

        Oh yeah, I told her that I had no idea where that came from and professional people say things like that to each other all the time and it’s never taken as insulting except I guess in her case. She often has to come to me to clarify things that the coworker has said to her or tasks she’s been given so she took it pretty well. It was just confusing.

  16. HR Competent*

    I can’t find anything insulting within that statement.

    I also agree that in a University/Student Worker atmosphere time off for class purposes would be common and accepted so don’t see any insult coming from that angle either.

  17. Anonymous*

    I was admonished never to say ‘no problem’ to my Japanese boss stating that something needed to be done. It conveys a different meaning in Japan than it does here in the USA. Whereas in the states, it means “I will do as you say,” in Japan it means “no problem exists so why are you claiming that one does?”

      1. esra*

        Nor in Canada. I am filled with woe when a cashier says “No problem” after my mother says “Thank you” because I know I’m in for The Rant.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          Is this French-speaking Canada? And if so, linguistic curiosity moves me to ask whether your mother has a similar reaction to “de rien” versus “je vous en prie.” I’m not being snarky, I’m genuinely curious!

          And the colleague who has an issue with “Please let me know if you have any questions” is being ridiculous.

        2. anon..*

          oh my esra,.. I think I’m your mother.. I HATE ‘no problem’ Especially from cashiers/salespeople! My daughter has heard that rant from me before (along with my story of FirstJob and how good customer service was drilled into us and how customer service is dead, etc.)

        1. Anonymous*

          In the states we excel at concocting reasons to be unhappy, hence the widespread reliance on pharmaceuticals as a response.

      2. Meg*

        I don’t understand the big deal about that one either, but I know that many people disagree with me on that one, so I learned not to use it. I still think it’s being a bit thin-skinned, though.

      3. Gjest*

        Is it for the same reasons as the Japanese interpretation above? I had no idea the “no problem” would be taken as a rude reply.

        It is interesting to see all the different ways that people take things! I wonder how many people think I’m being totally rude about things that I have no idea they could be taken the wrong way. Although after moving overseas, I now think about my wording to carefully avoid misinterpretations of informal language and/or sayings that my colleagues may not know.

        1. Kelly L.*

          It’s slightly different, I think. US people who get offended at “no problem” are reading it as “It could have been a problem, but I’m magnanimous enough to deign to do my job,” and they think “well, darn right you should do your job!”

          It doesn’t bother me, because I read it as “It’s no trouble at all to help you.” Lots of the standard expressions for “you’re welcome” actually mean “it’s nothing,” as in no trouble/problem, from “de nada” to “aw shucks, twarn’t nuthin,” but “no problem” is newer, so it hasn’t become a stock phrase yet, and people still try to pick it apart rather than take it as it’s meant.

          1. KarenT*

            “It could have been a problem, but I’m magnanimous enough to deign to do my job,” and they think “well, darn right you should do your job!”

            Agreed. I’m Canadian not American but this is how I feel about it!

          2. Elizabeth West*

            “aw shucks, twarn’t nuthin,”

            LOL, I’ve actually said this when someone has been effusively thanking me, which can get embarrassing if it goes on for too long.

      4. Anna*

        I’d never heard that, but I can see why it might be an issue. Perhaps I’ll just dress it up from now on with the Spanish “no problema”. :)

  18. Cat*

    I can kind of see this if I squint. Recently I wrote “feel free to call me if you have any questions” at the bottom of a client e-mail then deleted it because I thought no, they already feel free to call me whenever they want, then was like, self, you need to stop overthinking e-mails.

    So I’m guessing the supervisor is another overthinker who hasn’t learned not to shove that onto other people. Which I can’t really defend.

    1. Ellie H.*

      I typically only include it in general informational emails (such as unsolicited announcements or official notifications) or if I’m providing some kind of document or data that I’m aware of a larger context for than described in my email. If I’m writing in response to a request for specific information or to answer a question I usually don’t include it with the assumption others will follow up if necessary.

  19. Legos*

    My thinking is that it’s rude for an employee to speak to their supervisor this way. By saying “let me know if you have any questions”, it is not the employee asking for time off, but telling the supervisor that this is what I’m going to do. I actually have an employee who tells instead of asks on the regular and sometimes I have to back to her and say no. Then she seems confused because since she didn’t ask permission in the first place, how can I say no to her? It seems like simple respect for authority.

    1. cf_programmer*

      This is a student assistant, so presumably her first “job” is finishing her coursework. I think in a University setting this would not be at all a surprise for any supervisor.

    2. Cat*

      I think it depends on the arrangements at your office regarding time off. I tell rather than ask because that’s just how we do it.

    3. Kou*

      Telling what you need is perfectly acceptable in plenty of workplaces, though, I wouldn’t classify it as inherently bad behavior. But it is an issue of knowing your workplace/supervisor and knowing which one is expected.

    4. some1*

      I have to chime in and say it depends on the workplace and culture, that “telling” instead instead of “asking” isn’t necessarily disrespectful.

      It sounds like the issue with your employee is that she doesn’t understand that granting her time off is at your discretion more than her approach.

      1. Jane Doe*

        There are also just some situations where I don’t have the option of “asking” for time off instead of informing my boss that I need to take time off on a specific day. I typically ask if it’s something that isn’t necessary (like just a personal day without anything specific planned), but I don’t usually have the choice to reschedule things like doctor’s appointments.

        1. Anonymous*

          Exactly. If I ask my boss for time off for something 100% necessary, and they say no, I’m still not going to be at work that day so telling makes sense.

    5. fposte*

      If that’s it, though, the co-worker in this case is being oversensitive, because the student does have the right to go to class instead, and she’s not explaining the actual problem correctly, because it’s not the sentence, it’s the absence of a question in the paragraph before it.

      I get email from my student employees about class schedule stuff a lot–“I can’t make Friday, so Jane has agreed to cover the desk then instead.” It’s perfectly acceptable for that to end with “Please let me know if you have any questions.”

      1. Bean*

        I used to work for the college I attended, and my boss requested we send an email letting her know if we are unable to work a shift due to coursework.

  20. josh*

    It all comes down to perspective. Some could care less, others might see it as passive aggressive approach to saying “I am going to do what I want to do and not ask permission, so stop me if you want to”.

    1. esra*

      The ‘no problem’ mentioned above is a good example of this. My mom hates it. But I explained that to some younger people, “you’re welcome” is… a little too grand. Like you went out of your way. Whereas “no problem” is more appropriate for small/common gestures. For her, it feels dismissive.

      1. Mystic*


        “Older” folks at work bristle when anyone says “no problem” no matter how cheerful it was. Younger folks seem to prefer a casual, “cool” environment…

        Someone once advised me that “I’m happy to help” is somewhat of a middle ground that hopefully people from any generation would be satisfied with.

        I still can’t shake the “no problem” habit!

        1. CF_programmer*

          I got that, I just did not like the implied age discrimination, no do I like any discrimination.

          1. esra*

            I don’t think it’s discrimination to acknowledge that accepted/common speech tends to change over time.

        2. Anonymous*

          Do they take offense because what they’re asking the younger colleagues to do appears far too easy for them? Does this ease of compliance threaten the older employees?

        3. AdminAnon*

          I use “I’m happy to help” a lot and I’ve also found “Sure thing!” to be a useful phrase. For me, “I’m happy to help” can sometimes be stretching the truth and “sure thing!” conveys the same sort of graciousness as “you’re welcome” without the gravity.

          1. A Bug!*

            There’s also “my pleasure”. If you’re a person who has difficulty with polite lies, this is a good one because you’re not telling the person what is pleasing you. They’ll infer “it was a pleasure to help you” even if in your head you mean “it’s a pleasure to see you leave”.

            1. Meg*

              Probably why Chick-Fil-A forces its employees to say specifically “my pleasure” when a customer says “thank you.”

            2. Anna*

              I couldn’t do “my pleasure” because I feel like if it weren’t a pleasure, I’d be fibbing. I do say “sure thing” a lot and I use “no problem” too. Like I said below, I may start dressing it up in Spanish. “No problema”!

        4. Anonymous*

          I am fifty-four years old, and I have no problem with ‘no problem.’ I know what it means: it’s shorthand for “It’s never a problem to do something for you.” Upon reflection, I think I like the underpinnings of ‘no problem’ better than I like the background of ‘you’re welcome.’

      2. Searching*

        I prefer “you’re welcome” over “no problem” but lately we’ve started hearing a new response after we say “thank you” to someone (such as a server in a restaurant): “of course!” Now that annoys me.

    2. Nancie*

      Etiquette changes. The OP may have wondered if that’s why she wasn’t seeing an issue where the coworker saw one.

  21. Jillyan*

    I think the OP’s coworker is nuts but the only reason this could sound rude or condescending is if there was an existing tense relationship between the two of them. (Like if coworker A tells coworker B that they are unclear in their emails and then coworker B sends every email with the let me know if you have any questions)

    Dont you just love it when people over-react?

    1. OP Confused*

      Hmm. I am pretty sure this is not the case but I will ask the student. That’s a good point.

  22. Ann Furthermore*

    It must be nice to have so little to fill your day that you have time to become so puffed up with righteous indignation over something so innocuous.

    There are plenty of reasons to put this in an email. Perhaps the OP or Touchy McOverblown will have a question about where the student is with this project or that task., or wants to know where she’s keeping a certain file, any number of other things.

    1. JMegan*

      lol, Touchy McOverblown!

      I agree with this – sounds like co-worker is looking for reasons to be offended, or looking for a Teachable Moment, or…something. I don’t know.

      Personally, I see “let me know if you have any questions” as a polite formality, along the lines of “how are you” or “have a nice day.” Everybody says it, whether they mean it or not, and nobody thinks twice about it. Or most people don’t think twice about it, anyway!

  23. CollegeAdmin*

    It seems like everyone has read this as the coworker having a problem with the student saying “Please let me know if you have any questions” at the end of the time off request/heads up. I read this as the coworker having a problem with this phrase in ALL cases, not just in cases of asking for time off.

    I still think Coworker is nuts – there’s nothing insulting about the phrase that I can see – but can anyone else think of why she doesn’t want the phrase used in any email, regardless of subject?

    1. Kerr*

      That’s what I thought, too. Sure, sometimes it’s superfluous, but if anything it’s overly polite, not insulting!

      The “I’ll explain when I see you” strikes me as being very odd. Either explain it in the e-mail or wait until you see the person – it’s not that critical. The fact that the senior staff member thought it was so urgent seems…off.

      1. OP Confused*

        Unfortunately, that’s the way she is about a lot of things. She rarely puts things in writing. She used to be a lawyer.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Now we are getting to the nuts and bolts of the matter. She needs to get out more and see how people are communicating with each other.

        2. Cat*

          I can attest that that is definitely not the result of being a lawyer unless she was a shady lawyer!

  24. Ellie H.*

    I searched my email for “Please let me know if you have any questions” (with quotation marks) and got “Your search returned a large number of results. Please narrow your search, or click here to view all results.” The large number of results are from all and sundry people including my manager and email to me from various students.

    On a more nuanced note, I can actually see how in the context of notifying rather than requesting to miss part of a workday the “Please let me know if you have any questions” could be somewhat better worded; if I were writing the email I would write “Please let me know if there are any issues with this.” Even if I had no intention of skipping the obligation in favor of work no matter what “issues” arose, it could possibly garner the response “Please make sure you finish entering X and Y data before you leave for your academic obligation” or something like that so that would be a relevant “issue.” Despite the fact that an academic obligation should likely be automatically approved for a reason to miss a work-study, the “issue” wording strikes me as slightly more appropriate. However, none of this would ever, ever rise to the level of my thinking it was necessary to say something to the student about it – totally illogical to my mind. I would not have noticed.

    1. Mystic*

      “Please let me know if there are any issues with this.”

      Ooooh I like that wording! Because sometimes you are not really asking permission (ie “I’m going home early with a migraine, hopefully I will see you tomorrow”) but you want to make sure this behavior is ok in the future and doesn’t reflect badly on you.

      1. fposte*

        Though if the problem is really that the worker is calling out when she needed to find out if she *could* call out, that’s not going to help.

  25. Decius*

    Given it’s a shared responsibility situation I think the OP is entitled to go over to the coworker and say “I got your carbon-copy of the email to Student Worker, but I don’t understand what you are asking her not to do again.” And then see what the response is.

    1. Interviewer*

      I was coming here to suggest this exactly. If the supervisor can even articulate it, the contrast might help provide some context for those of us who are completely clueless as to why this line is rude.

      I grew up with a mom who frequently used the line, “Are you asking me, or telling me?” Even now, I’m in an exempt supervising role, and I still have a hard time telling my boss I’ll be out. I always ask.

    2. Colette*

      That’s a good idea – and it would also allow her to get the coworker’s views directly, instead of them being filtered through the student.

    3. OP Confused*

      I think it’s too late for that. I also kind of don’t want her to tell me her reasoning because then I have to pretend like it makes sense or I have to deal with arguing about it.

      I was hoping this was a real thing I could find out more about, but I guess it really is just my coworker’s weird thing.

      1. Jennifer*

        Sometimes you just have to deal with a boss’s quirk. I had a boss who hated how I wrote e-mail, apparently being to the point was something he considered to be bad. Which is ridiculous…considering that every boss before and after him have been perfectly fine with me writing short e-mails for things that don’t require beating around the bush. Another boss I had disliked my phone voice no matter what I said or did.

        For the record, my current boss invites everyone to ask questions all the time. I do think it’s kind of redundant because believe me, EVERYONE will ask you questions constantly when you work at a university, without any encouragement whatsoever. But insulting? Only in this woman’s eyes–which is why you avoid using it as long as she’s around and otherwise, it’s fine.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Good for you, OP. Right. I would respond to it the way I would respond to any hangnail type problem. “Oh people say/do that all the time now.” And quickly move to a different topic as if I don’t notice her taking issue with it.
        If she circles back, “Well Student should not be saying this.” Then you just point out “It is going to be tough to persuade Student because most people are using this statement.”

        Let it be her battle not yours. I don’t know how you would say it but basically this is not the hill to die on there are other things that are way more meaningful to teach this student. The more flat/neutral your reaction is the more your cohort will realize she is going to battle this issue by herself.

  26. snarkalupagus*

    If I reallllllly strain, I can see the coworker trying to explain to the student worker that she felt condescended to somehow by the implication that the student worker had answers that the senior person did not…but the effort involved in straining that hard is painful.

    It takes a little less effort to believe that perhaps the coworker was trying to explain the “ask vs. tell” concept when it comes to time off. However, if the hearsay explanation of “She couldn’t say why the line was insulting, just that it was” is accurate, then the coworker bungled an opportunity to help a new worker understand a nuance that differs by supervisor preference and company cultural environment. And if that is what was bothering the coworker, seizing on the email line as the problem was misleading at best and poor supervision at worst.

    Either way, IME, there’s nothing insulting about the line in a professional office environment. Sometimes it’s overly formal and unnecessary, but it’s a pretty common closer in a lot of the emails I’ve received–and sent.

    (And…Touchy McOverblown…Ann Furthermore, that just about killed me.)

  27. ChristineSW*

    I can’t find anything insulting about that line either. I use that line in many of my emails, even personal business ones. I’ll agree that the student worker is better off phrasing the time off as a request, but I can see why she assumed it was okay since she has a class-related obligation. Nothing wrong with that.

    But that’s all beside the point, really. This is most likely a whole new world for her (working in an office), so now I imagine she may end up becoming hyper-vigilant in her communications over a line that I honestly think is very normal to use and, in my opinion, courteous (I see it as showing the recipient that I’m open to questions or suggestions).

    Sounds like the coworker is just being overly-sensitive.

  28. Hapax Legomenon*

    My guess is that the coworker thinks it’s insulting to say to your supervisor, regardless of the situation. If you are talking to someone lower down the chain or not directly in your hierarchical structure, it’s fine, but when someone who reports to you says that it implies that asking them questions is a privilege they can bestow(and therefore revoke) at will.
    I still think the senior director didn’t need to make an issue out of it, but I’ll be charitable and assume they just wanted to help the student worker understand how she might present herself better in a workplace situation.

  29. Claire MKE*

    I end pretty much every email with that, though I do feel a little weird/avoid including it on emails to higher-ups – like, it feels presumptuous to be giving them permission to ask questions. But I always thought that was one of my neurotic over-thinking things and never imagined someone somewhere was actually offended by it!

  30. llamathatducks*

    Somehow to me that sentence sounds like it “should” only be used by someone with more power talking to someone with less, or at least between equals – it carries a vague presumption of hierarchy in that direction, to my ear. That said, I don’t think it’s a very big deal…

  31. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    Nope, not insulting. It is pretty standard. The director is being petty. If that sentence is really a pet peeve of the director, there is a nicer way she could have approached it with the student… maybe mention it in a one-on-one and just say “oh an by the way, you don’t really have to end e-mails with that part about asking if you have questions, people will ask questions if they have them so”. Telling her that the line was insulting is a bit overboard.

  32. Kate*

    Maybe the email was so straightforward/clearly explained that if someone had questions it would show a lack of intelligence?

  33. Colette*

    “Have you found someone to cover your shift?”
    “Will you be able to get A done before you leave?”
    “Is this a regular change or just this once?”
    “How often do you expect these kinds of conflicts to happen?”
    “Why do these school conflicts only happen on Friday afternoons?”

    It’s unlikely the student’s e-mail covered every possible question that might come up.

      1. Kate*

        Collette, I think that’s fair, I just think let me know if you have any questions implies “Let me know if you have any questions about this basic email” where she talks about leaving early. If there was a question about the work that would hopefully have been included in the original email or in person. I know when I write emails of when I need to be out I tie up any immediate loose ends/tell people anything on a need to know basis so my no one has to worry about anything.

        I’m just saying if I received an e-mail saying “I am leaving early tomorrow. Let me know if you have any questions” I may think it is a bit silly/faux pas. I think “Let me know if you have any questions” is fine to say but only when it really applies. Anything more than that like the questions you referenced would hopefully have been handled face to face or already addressed in the original e-mail.

        I’m thinking from a receivers pov

  34. Meg*

    I think it’s a little bit of both authority and intelligence “rub in the wrong direction” for the director. She may feel like the student worker does not need to remind her to ask questions regarding *anything* or that she’s been around long enough to understand an email regarding scheduled time-off and doesn’t need to ask a question in regards to its meaning.

    The line used to irk a supervisor in another project for a company I worked for because it seemed to insult his intelligence, as if he was not capable of understanding an email or had the experience to know when to ask a question if he didn’t understand it.

    1. Layla*

      I use another wording ,” please let me know if you need any clarifications” or something.
      I only say it when it’s something complicated or I haven’t written everything in because not everybody may be interested.

      Because , some people just ignore emails they don’t understand !
      Or , maybe pend it for later ( never )

      We have too many emails here.

  35. Emma*

    Time for an AAM commentariot “What I Wish I Had Known Before I Sent My First E-mail” post? Because I would contribute my cringe-worthy first wobbles into the e-mail-as-business-communication sphere. Such as sending an e-mail as a student worker in my first-ever office job that opened with “Hey [supervisor], …” and rightfully corrected with “It’s rude to address a supervisor/boss/superior with ‘hey’ in an e-mail. Use ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ or ‘dear.'” I still cringe.

    We can dissect the ol’ “I hope this e-mail finds you well” opener as necessary or no (scarred still because I worked in a very praise-and-positivity-oriented organization and honestly could never send an e-mail without some sort of textual lubricant. Still trying to shake the habit), emoticons, signature types and sizes, mottos/phrases/etc as part of your sig, and on and on.

    1. fposte*

      Now I’m hoping that your next email to her began “[Supervisor], dear, can you tell me [thing]?”

      1. Anonymous*

        If I wrote “Dear Supervisor” to the guy I report to, his head would explode. It would be funny though…

        1. Meg*

          I frequently email my Scrum master or tech lead in extremely formal tones for S&G; mostly because I know they would laugh at it. Email is usually worded like:

          “Dearest Mister [surname], I hope this email finds you well. How are Betsy and Elizabeth? Please give my warmest regards to your wife and children.

          Might I ask at what time our code review for this release will be? Pray tell it is not in conflict with a prior obligation.

          My sincerest apologies for not reaching out sooner. I hope your weekend was blessed and enjoyable.

          Love, Meg.”

    2. Anonymous*

      In some workplaces “hey” is totally accepted, though, and if you start with “Dear Ms Manager” you’ll get laughed at. This is mostly for younger managers.

    3. ChristineSW*

      *blush* I’ll admit that I’ve used “I hope this email finds you well” a couple of times when writing to people I haven’t been in touch with for awhile.

      1. Layla*

        Yes , I think it’s quite good. Especially if it’s your only contact in the company
        You have no way if the person is still with the company
        “Finds you ”

        And if the person is even alive “well”.

        I missed the reading the full thread discussing why it’d be bad , a couple of days back.

  36. holly*

    i use it all the time and even have it in the last paragraph of my cover letters. i certainly hope it isn’t rude.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s nothing “wrong” with having it in your cover letters, but I’d take it out anyway. They know they can contact you with questions so they don’t need to be invited to, and it’s wasting space in what should be a tightly written letter without extraneous stuff. It’s weakening your letter rather than strengthening it!

  37. Valerie*

    Like the OP, I would be bothered by the phrase used in that way by someone who reports to me. It reminds me of another phrase that gets to me – when someone asks me, “Does that make sense?” For some reason that really gets under my skin! Most of the time when that is used it seems like it is someone explaining a simple concept and I am somewhat insulted for them to imply that I couldn’t follow what they are saying or couldn’t ask appropriate questions if I did not.

    Deep breath. I realize this is my issue, not the other person’s!

    1. kristinyc*

      YES! It screams “Either I don’t have confidence in my communication skills, or I think you’re dumb and won’t comprehend what I said.”

      Both options are terrible ways to communicate with your co-workers!

      1. Gilby*

        What do you suggest people say when communicating something?

        If ” Does this make sense” or Please let me know if you have any questions is wrong, what do you suggest?

        Not snarking at you just curious about what your alternitve is.

        1. A Bug!*

          I disagree that it’s bad form to check in at all on an audience’s understanding of a subject. But I do think that there are subtle ways to word the question to make it softer.

          Take the game of catch. You throw a ball, your partner catches it. If your partner misses, is it a bad throw or a bad catch? Arguably, you can’t have one without the other. But if you’re gracious, you apologize for your throw, even if your partner fumbled the catch royally.

          In conversation, it’s comparable. If your audience fails to understand your message, you are likewise failing to communicate it effectively. You can choose to blame the audience for the failure, or take responsibility for it yourself.

          In light of all that, my alternative to “Does this make sense?” would be a sincere and straightforward “Am I making sense?”

          …Am I making sense?

      2. Cat*

        I’m confident in both my communication skills and the intelligence of my co-workers, and yet they still sometimes have questions about things I write (and vice versa). This isn’t because anyone is dumb; it’s because none of us are mind readers who can anticipate every contingency.

      3. blu*

        I use “does this make sense” when I really want to know. Is the way I’m explaining this making sense to you. It can mean that I’m not sure I was clear OR it can mean that I’m asking for a kind of sanity check. Shorthand for “does the way I’m approaching this/thinking about this/doing this seem appropriate to you?”

        1. Windchime*

          We use “does that make sense” at work all the time when explaining complex trains of thought to each other. It doesn’t mean (to my team), “I think you are too stupid to understand”, it means, “Am I explaining this in a way that is meaningful to you? Do you understand?”. We are a team where the minority of us are native-English speakers, so maybe that’s the difference.

          It’s hard to explain, but it basically means, “Are you following my explanation?” There are lots of reasons that it might not make sense, and only one of them is that the listener is too stupid to understand. Maybe the subject matter is very complex, maybe the listener has no background in the subject, maybe the explainer is doing a poor job of illustrating his/her point. But I can’t say I’ve ever been offended at, “Does this make sense?”.

        2. Jen in RO*

          I use “does it make sense” pretty often, and it usually means “I’m not sure I’m explaining this complicated concept in a way that’s easy to understand”. It might scream “I don’t have confidence in my communication skills”, but I think it’s still better than utterly failing to communicate something.

  38. Charles*

    I think the coworker is being pedantic, very touchy and easy to upset. I had to re-read, at first I thought that when she said in the email “I’ll explain when I see you”, maybe the supervisor was trying to warn the student that someone has been in trouble before for putting that line, so then that was good, but then when I read that the other supervisor didn’t explain why it was insulting, then I just came to the conclusion that they are touchy. I had supervisors like this before, I don’t see how their pedantic attitude has any benefit in the 21st century.

  39. Vanessa W*

    Hmmm… I regularly send out detailed emails to instructors with specific instructions for training they are conducting away from our office. I also send out emails to our corporate students with instructions on how to log into our system and access their digital courseware. I nearly always sign my emails “Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions”. I don’t think it’s demeaning, I think it says “I know there was a lot of info there, I totally understand if something doesn’t make sense, feel free to contact me if you need clarification or further instruction on anything”. These are adults in the corporate world attending our IT training, I often get follow up calls from them saying “I feel so silly asking this..” or “I feel like I should know how to do this…”. I always add that line as a kind of Open Door Policy that it’s okay if they don’t know how to do something, our systems are probably a little different than what they deal with every day and I’m happy to help.

    1. egg*

      “Please don’t hesitate…” is perfect in the situation you mentioned (where people may actually hesitate).

      I find it presumptuous when appended to an email between colleagues (or when coming from someone junior to me, not that there are many of those). You work three desks down and we had a beer together last Friday, I’m not going to “hesitate” if I have a question.

      The problem is easily solved by not using a one-size-fits-all email signature, though.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I can read “Please don’t hesitate” in two different ways: hyper-polite (and therefore formal), or literally (if I think it might be confusing or if I feel like people definitely might have questions). When I’ve used it I think I more often meant it in the former sense. I agree it could maybe sound a little presumptuous if it is someone you are in regular communication with (because it may imply that you’re a super-expert) or your direct boss but in general it seems polite to me.

  40. Poster formerly known as Jane Doe*

    This is silly. I use the line all the time, I think it comes across as friendly and eager to help.

    1. Gilby*

      Agreed. In my opinion the whole issue is silly. We are making a big deal out of nothing. Is nit picking at this type of phrase really the only thing people in offices have time for?

      I will bet that all or of most of posting right now have never looked at that line for anything more than what it is, until now.

      We are now taking a pretty standard ending of an email and making into a big deal that in all reality most of us will either not change or will now go into panic mode thinking we are insulting someone.

      I will continue to use that phrase. I have used it for every email has been around it has been used in emails that I have gotten and I have never had a problem with it.

      1. notshocked*

        AMEN. Thank you. I suggest people who have time to get worked up over this stuff…get back to work.

  41. Bea W*

    Alrighty then!

    What sticks out at me is that the co-worker couldn’t explain why the phrase is insulting. I’m going to chalk it up to personal preference probably based on some personal experience that has nothing to do with the student. I think she’s reading somethinf into it that just isn’t normally there.

  42. Gilby*

    If had employees /co-workers worrying about stuff like this I would be more worried about what the are NOT getting done that is acutally their job.

    Potato, pahtoto, tomato tamato….. OK, but did you finish the financial report for months end? Is the bug fixed in the new computer program? Did you get back to the customer who’s order we royally messed up ( maybe because we were too concerned with talking to a co-worker about their e-mail).
    OK a little over done with my comment but….. just saying.

    People need to pick their fights better……..lots more to worry about. And like one poster said if it is just your issue you need let it be your issue and not someone else’s.

    1. Steve G*

      Tiz true.

      But I must say, I’m not a fan of “let me know if you have any questions” and “let me know if you need anything else” within the office. I think my younger coworkers think that if they don’t include that, that people will be afraid to ask for more.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, in my experience, PEOPLE WILL ASK QUESTIONS. CONSTANTLY, with no encouragement whatsoever. If you talk to them at all, they will pester you with questions. No need to invite it….but again, that’s still not rude to everyone else.

      2. Jen in RO*

        Well – I tend to get shy around people I don’t know, and I was intimidated when it came to asking questions, especially to senior coworkers. It *did* make me feel better when they included a line like this.

  43. Sophie*

    As an English person reading that at a bottom of an email to us would seem condescending and a bit rude. It’s definitely an Americanism.

    Plus for a junior to put in an email is weird, it should be more “please let me know if this is ok” As she us emailing per manager with a request to miss half a work day, not tell them..

    1. Anonymous*

      If missing part of the work day isn’t optional then asking doesn’t make sense, because even if they say no she has to do it anyways.

      1. Sophie*

        But it’s very good form to apologise profusely and tone it more as asking if they are ok with it, rather than do you have any questions …
        A good thing to do would be tone it in the form of asking more than telling, cause for a manager to feel like their report is telling them they are taking time off and that’s that, rather than ask if they’re ok with it even though it’s pretty much mandatory is much more polite..

        1. Anonymous*

          However, the OP has already commented that in this specific situation, the student has been told that class/student affairs trumps works and therefore, she does not need to ask.

          And I agree with some others upthread, groveling and profuse apologies are atypical in a professional environment, where office workers are expected to manage their own time.

  44. Jake*

    I can’t defend the coworker, but I can understand it. In high school Spanish class a teacher asked me what a phrase meant in Spanish, and I replied with “well, it is kind of like when we say xyz in English.” He jumped down my throat because it wasn’t “kind of like” it was the same thing. By saying “kind of like” I was introducing ambiguity into a subject where there wasn’t any. He failed to realize that while my exact words do mean that, the intent of the words in American English do not imply any ambiguity.

    This is the exact same type of thing. In some circles asking if somebody has any questions can be taken as treating somebody like they are so stupid that they may not comprehend what is being stated. It doesn’t matter to those people that this is a standard phrase in American speech that doesn’t imply exactly what the words say.

    No different than the example above where a commenter wants to respond to “do you know what time it is?” with “yes.”

  45. notshocked*

    There are people who can make something out of nothing. Lesson to learn is to realize this and ignore them. They learn quick if you don’t take their bait.

  46. NM*

    So I’m a college student and I use this phrase all the time – professors, student groups, internships.

    I genuinely mean, please feel free to ask me anything. Thought that was just the polite way to put it.

    I’m sticking with this, just might make it a little “softer” sometimes. Wow, can’t believe people have this much time and energy to analyze wording in a quick email.

  47. Trixie*

    NOthing in the coworker’s response indicates her displeasure has anything to do with scheduling. It reads to me she doesn’t like this kind of wording in any emails, ever.

    My coworker wrote back and copied me: “I have no questions…… As a rule of thumb, do not put that in your emails even if you see others doing it. I’ll explain when I see you. :)”

    I read this as a generational thing as well, or specific to her pet peeves. I’m hoping she’s just trying to impart some well-intended advice.

  48. Cassie*

    It’s interesting that the coworker instructed the student to not use that line in emails – not just this type of “I’m going to be out tomorrow” kind of emails.

    Besides, given how common that phrase is – even if you do find it annoying, it’s nothing to get all hot and bothered about. I don’t like when people answer “no problem” to “thank you” (I opt for “you’re welcome, although that sounds odd these days) but I don’t start telling people to change.

  49. Data Monkey*

    So since we are now dissecting this sentence – I was thinking about how would it sound with an emphasis on different words like –

    Please let ME know if you have any questions.

    Please let me know if YOU have any questions.

    Please let me know if you have ANY questions.

    The first two sound fairly rude to me (now), but the last one just sounds overly eager. This is a bit of a stretch, but perhaps the co-worker reads this sentence with an emphasis on either “me” or “you” and is automatically turned off. Still– I agree with the above posters that said probably not the hill you want to die on in the workplace.

    And now I am curious if she dislikes other common phrases!

  50. CN*

    I read it as either the 3rd one, or as “PLEASE let me know if you have any questions.” Of course I’m from the group that interprets this as standard/extraneous, if even overly polite.

  51. Marie*

    As a lawyer whose job involves obsessing over wording, I would probably have worded it slightly differently, but I can’t imagine it would be INSULTING the way she’s worded it.

    I use wording like that to clients and to juniors (anyone who might otherwise feel embarrassed or intimidated to ask possibly silly questions), but leave it off if I was emailing UP the chain of authority (because they are my managers and I assume that they have more, not less, understanding and confidence than I do). There’s a (very small) concern that seniors might take an email from a junior which included that line as if I was snapping “Any questions?!”

  52. KireinaHito*

    To avoid problems, next time the OP has to close the e-mails with something more French-like: “I remain at your disposal for any further information. I avail myself of this opportunity to renew to you, Dear Mr X, the assurances of my highest consideration.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Okay, now I am really laughing.
      To me this sounds insincere. I am betting it’s cultural though.

  53. Gjest*

    This whole thread made me totally paranoid today. At one point I realized that within a 1 hr period I 1) asked someone “does that make sense?” 2) said “no problem” and 3) sent an email that closed with “let me know if you have questions.” Each of these were so routine for me that I did them automatically and then thought about this thread. After each one I cringed to myself and hoped no one was offended. I wonder how many people I’ve been offending each day and had no idea before!

  54. Gwen*

    I tend to use the generic “Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns” That way it doesn’t imply that they might not understand the content of a simple email. I still think that it’s a bit far to feel insulted by the tagline, but I know that jobs in academia come with their own set of bizarre foibles.

  55. adrienne*

    I have a rational explanation – coworker may have wanted the person who reports to her to ask instead of tell. Like, is this ok? As opposed to this is what I’m doing let me know if you have any questions. If my direct report were to email me and say I won’t be in tomorrow let me know if you have questions, I would find that rude.

  56. Trillian*

    But people don’t necessarily ask questions … we had a thread a while back where that came up in the context of cultural differences. People may consider it impolite, they may be too intimidated, or they may assume that they ought to know already and don’t want to look incompetent or unprepared, or they’ve been shamed in the past for asking.

    Once you’ve had the experience of people not asking questions and then the message coming back indirectly that you didn’t do your job as well as you easily could have because you didn’t answer the questions that were never asked … sticking a big friendly signpost out there as a matter of routine starts to look like an excellent idea.

  57. David B*

    Amusingly, I can never help hearing AAM’s sign-off (“Anyone want to argue the coworker’s viewpoint here?”) as challenging / threatening in my head. In my mind it’s followed up with an implicit “Huh? HUH? Because we can take this outside if you do!! *rolls up sleeves*”

    Unlike the co-worker in the OP however I am fortunate enough to be able to recognise that as a quirky and amusing side-effect of text communication rather than taking it as a personal affront.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Anyone dare to disagree? No? I didn’t think so.”

      Definitely not how I mean it :)

      I actually mean “I’d genuinely like to hear the other side of this.”

  58. marie*

    I dislike this line quite a bit, particularly when shared by managers to employees. It claims to invite questions, and in my experience it does just the opposite. It screams “If you’re too stupid to figure out what I just said, draw attention to that fact by asking me about it.” I agree it should go without saying people can ask questions. Most of the time people use this line genuinely to express that they are open to questions, but the best way to do that is to really BE open to questions, and to demonstrate that by responding positively and with appreciation when people ask them.

  59. The Other Dawn*

    I’m surprised at how much people read into a seemingly innocent sentence. I use it all the time and to me it’s just a standard thing to put in there. Never thought anyone would take it as an insult. And I’ve never taken it as an insult. Huh.

  60. PoohBear McGriddles*

    The phrase itself doesn’t seem insulting, but it is probably unnecessary. I doubt the OP or the coworker would hesitate to ask a student worker a question because they had not been explicitly invited to do so.

    Come to think of it, are signatures really necessary in an intraoffice email? If I send an email to my coworker Bob down the hall, the email will say it’s from, so it seems superfluous to add my name at the end. I can see if it was going outside the office where I might want to add other contact info.

    That would also eliminate the need to decide whether to add Regards, Kind Regards, Best Regards or Thanks to it. What if someone got insulted that they didn’t get my “best” regards?

  61. Anonymous*

    I work as a clerk for three lawyers. It is common practice to end their letters with “If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me/the undersigned”.

    However, one of the young whippersnapper associate lawyers I work for is fond of sending me condescendingly large and detailed instructive e-mails for simple jobs such as “find me so-and-so’s number”. He will usually end these missives with “Contact me with your questions”, as if it’s obvious that I will have to. What questions could I possibly have, other than why you feel the need to over-explain a simple request, doorknob?

    Compared to this guy, the OP’s e-mail sounds like a compliment on how nice my hair looks.

  62. Another EA*

    When I send an email to ask for a day off, for whatever reason, I normally close it with: Hope this is ok.
    Or: Let me know if this is ok.

    So yeah, probably the coworker was made to feel ‘not superior enough’. And yes, I think she’s overly sensitive.

  63. Worker Bee*

    A student worker is, presumably, being trained to be a good worker in his or her chosen career. Others have criticized the supervisor who made this comment but I will give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she is taking her mentoring responsibilities seriously enough to correct what would be, in another non-school office environment, a bit of a breach of good etiquette, that is to just announcing you are time off versus asking for it, making sure it is OK with one’s supervisor. Better she learn this now to avoid a problem later!

    1. Cassie*

      On the other hand, student workers (and workers in general) need to learn how to adjust to their given audience. The student-worker dynamic is not the same as a regular office dynamic – we assume that student workers may need to take time off last minute to study for midterms or finals, or to attend a make-up class or work on a project. They aren’t told (at least in my office) to make time-off requests 14 business days in advance. If they were told that, and they don’t follow it, then yeah – the supervisor would be right to correct that.

      Besides, it doesn’t look like that was the issue for the supervisor – she just didn’t like the sentence used, but couldn’t even elaborate on why.

  64. Banjo*

    Please let me know if you have any questions. When added to simple correspondence can be perceived as insulting peoples intelligence.

    It could be perceived as let me know if you don’t get it. Let me know if you are too dumb to understand.

  65. Steve*

    I actually find that phrase rude and quite annoying to be exact because for one its a given that if I have a question I will ask regardless of that phrase being there, also, it just sounds rude its almost like saying “fine” or “whatever” probably not as but along those lines, I have always found it to be unprofessional and for a long time I thought it was just me but, I attended a seminar a yr ago about relationship with coworkers and how to communicate with different people and I asked the question about this annoying phrase ;-) and to my surprise the instructor confirmed that in fact it is a bad habit not to mention poor email etiquette to end your messages in that manner because for one, you don’t need to be told to ask if you have questions and its a given that you will if you have any … I so wish more people would take email communication seminar or email etiquette … sending an email back with just “thank you” is also annoying and also considered poor email etiquette, wasting your time creating and sending and wasting the other persons time and inbox space having to receive it, open it and delete it.

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