employee is terrified of balloons, wife is hitchhiking to work, and more

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

1. Employee is terrified of balloons

We are in an open plan office with 5 teams of 10-14 each, and with the World Cup we have been allowed to decorate. However, one of my direct reports has a phobia of balloons, and one of the other teams has put balloons up as part of their decorations. These balloons are over 15 meters away from my report’s desk and are hidden from her view from her desk by pillars in the centre of the floor, but as soon as she walked in at 8 am last Thursday she saw them. She approached the manager of the other team and requested they be removed, he refused. When I got in at 9, she told me she would work on another floor for today until the issue was resolved. (Work from home is not possible as she is required to log into a phone system to accept calls from our clients.) Her husband (who is at manager grade in another part of this office, while she is a caseworker) has approached the regional manager (3 grades above me) and told him that if they are not removed then she will be going off sick. They have not been removed. She has today (Tuesday) gone off sick. A second team has now put up balloons at the desk of my manager, who wants to make a case for them staying up on the basis of office morale.

Several of my other reports are now talking about the situation and saying that she’s being silly and she should face up to her fears, including one who wants us to have our own balloons, and others are making jokes about popping them near her. I keep telling them they need to be more compassionate about this coworker, reminding them that a phobia is a serious thing and that everybody has their own quirks, but I still keep hearing this talk around me. I’m just lost because nobody seems to be taking this seriously. I am a manager in the UK so I’m not looking for any legal or procedural advice’ I just want some advice on how to handle this difficult situation.

Insist on removing the balloons. Seriously. Regardless of anyone’s views on how silly this phobia might seem, the fact is that it’s a phobia for her, and balloons are not so integral to your business that it should be much of a question. You have a staff member who’s getting panicky about something that will be trivial for you to remove. Tell the other manager that you’re sorry but your employee’s ability to work trumps her team’s interest in decorating with balloons, and that you need to remove them, period.

And make it clearer to your team that you’re serious about them needing to cut the jokes and that what they’re doing is mean-spirited and not something you’re okay with on your team.

2. Employer wants job candidates to submit a photo — but not of themselves

I have found a posting for a customer service position that I am very interested in. It’s a small company that supplies a niche medical device and after doing some research on them (BBB, LinkedIn, Google), I was even more interested in the position. But as I was filling out the application, I got to this: “To apply and learn more, please submit your resume, cover letter, AND a photo or graphic (NO head shots, selfies, or pictures of family members, please) that represents why you are a good fit for this role.”

I know any posting asking for a photo of the applicant with the resume is a red flag/possibly illegal, but that doesn’t seem to be what they are asking for. But If they don’t want a photo of me, what are they looking for? Seems odd. What is your opinion? Would appreciate any feedback.

Well, even asking for head shots isn’t illegal. Creepy and weird (in the U.S.), but not illegal. And if a company asking for head shots ever faces a discrimination suit for other reasons, it won’t particularly help their case that they were doing it.

Anyway, as for what this company is looking for, who knows. I would not be a good fit for this role, clearly, because that request alone would make me not apply. So I’m not particularly helpful here, but I’m publishing your letter (a) because a commenter might have interesting thoughts for you and (b) because I hate this sort of crap and welcome the opportunity to say it.

3. Is it okay to contact a recruiter who’s late for a scheduled call?

I had a phone interview scheduled yesterday morning for 8 am. I parked at the Starbucks by my office to do the phone interview in my car, so that I wouldn’t have a problem running into coworkers and because I have terrible reception at my workplace. Also, it is close enough so that I could make it to the office around the usual time I clock in.

Almost 10 minutes had passed and I still did not hear from the recruiter, so I decided to give her a call. My phone reception is usually fine in the plaza where the Starbucks is located, but I was paranoid that maybe she had been trying to call me and for some reason the calls weren’t going through. So I decided to call her because if she was trying to contact me, I didn’t want her to think I had forgotten our appointment and that’s why I wasn’t picking up.

When she answered, I explained that I don’t get the best reception in my workplace and so I wasn’t sure if she was trying to call me for our scheduled 8 am phone interview. She said no, she had just been running a little late. I feel like I have now shot myself in the foot. I’m not sure if she thought I was being too aggressive, but honestly, I just wanted to honor our appointment time and to show that I am punctual. I feel like my intentions were in the right place, and the rest of the interview actually went well. She said she would pass my resume onto the hiring manager, so I took that as a good sign, but I haven’t heard back yet. Do you think I was being overly aggressive by taking the initiative to contact her when our scheduled time had passed? And just for future reference, should I always wait for the recruiter/hiring manager to contact me no matter how late they are for the phone interview?

No, that was fine to do. You would do that with a business colleague, right? It’s fine to do with a recruiter or hiring manager too.

4. My wife is hitchhiking to work

We live in a very small town 5 miles from my wife’s work and we rely on the very poor public transport that is available to us. The first bus gets her into work 10 minutes late, and so for the past year she has been hitching into work. This is not reliable and is extremely frustrating and potentially dangerous.

She works as a passenger assistant on a council bus that takes the disabled kids to school and back. Today her manager freaked out as she was unable to get a ride into work. He said that if it happens again, he will push gross misconduct and get her fired. The route that she works on was about to start later, but he moved her onto another early start route. Does an employer have a duty to take into consideration her circumstances? We have a ten-year-old daughter and desperately need this work. She has been learning to drive and has her driving test in 5 weeks’ time. She is suffering emotionally and physically due to the pressure and stress that this manager is putting on her. She is a dedicated and competent worker, continually being praised by parents and school.

Employers don’t have a legal obligation to make allowances for personal circumstances (aside from being required to make reasonable accommodations for disabilities, religion, and the like). And it’s not crazy that her manager is requiring that she show up to work on time, particularly given her role. However, she should certainly explain that she’s in the process of remedying the problem by getting her driver’s license, but that her test isn’t for another five weeks, and ask if she can be moved to a route with a later start time until that happens.

5. Resumes for food service and retail while you’re still in school

I’m 19, and while I technically have a job at the family business, it’s not one that I ever particularly wanted or was allowed to choose. So I’m trying to find another summer job.

As I’m 19 and my work experience is basically “high school,” “some college,” and “answering phones and filing for several summers,” I’m not sure how to apply your advice to my resume. I can’t really list accomplishments, because “did the things other didn’t want to do in the office” isn’t really one I think managers want to see. I’m also not sure how to put my school experience on it. Graduated high school with honors? Still in college? Should I put my GPA in that section?

Most of my options are going to probably be in retail or food, so I was just wondering how you would go about crafting a student resumé for that sort of thing.

Well, you probably aren’t going to need a resume for retail or food service jobs; they usually have you just fill out an application and don’t ask for a resume. But if you do want to put one together, you can absolutely include accomplishments from the types of jobs you described — “pinch-hit for office manager to help keep busy office of 20 running smoothly,” “regularly garnered unsolicited praise for ___,” or whatever it is that you did well.

No need to mention high school, but do list that your’e in college. List it like this:
Teapots University – 2013 – present (expected graduation May 2017)

GPA should go on there if it’s high (I usually say 3.7 or higher), but otherwise no need for it.

{ 481 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    I think #4 might not be in the US (“council bus” seems like a UK/Commonwealth thing), so while I don’t think it fundamentally changes the answer, US law might not apply.

    1. T hawker*

      Yip we are in the uk. Thanks for answering our question. She has asked to be moved onto a rout that starts 10 min later but has no joy. We feel that he is trying to push her out as the rout a he has been doing for the past six months was about to start later, which would have been perfect, however she was moved, last week, onto another early start. It is extremely frustrating that after so long struging to get into work that it might end like this, especially considering it is likely she will pass her driving test in a month.

      1. Gene*

        How about a bicycle? Five miles is just getting warmed up and realistically shouldn’t take her more than a half hour.

        1. Jen RO*

          I couldn’t bike 5 miles if my life depended on it. I used to bike to work (2.5 – 3km, so less than 2 miles) and for the first few days I was so tired I could barely walk for the first few minutes in the office. I consider myself in reasonably good shape (I’m not overweight), but I could not do 10 miles every day.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            If I may, you’re comparing two different things. Not overweight =/= in good shape. Just like overweight does not mean in bad shape. I’m overweight and I regularly bike 40+ miles a few times a week.

            For something like this, it’s more an issue of a new exercise that your body isn’t used to. In a week or two you’d be absolutely fine doing that 2 miles, even a lot more. It’s just an adjustment period. I swim laps in the neighborhood pool every summer and the first week is always OMGWTF and then in a few weeks I’m easily doing a mile or more.

            The OP’s wife probably wouldn’t have any trouble with it after a week or two.

            1. Harper*

              Yep, I’m totally overweight and I bike a 10 mile commute both days with no problem. I also mountain and trail bike, so I have all those muscles, ha ha.

              But seriously, it’s amazing how quickly your body will adapt to something. I thought I was going to die, too, when I first started biking, but now, I often feel like it’s not enough exercise because it’s become so easy!

              1. Natalie Anne Lanoville*

                It’s also amazing how SLOWLY your body will adapt to something (not saying that’s a reason to not do it).

                I’ve had a surprisingly arduous journey back to moderate fitness from being a couch potato. I never thought it would take me a full 18 months to get used to WALKING again, but that’s how long it took! After the first few months of grinding and dragging myself through two 3.2k walks a week, I just thought it was middle age (I’m 46) and my best years were behind me.

                It was more than a year before I was up to my goal (walking to and from work almost every day, 3.2k each way) and a few more months before it was easy and free-feeling, and not a constant litany of feeling stiff, wobbly and sore.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Just as we shouldn’t assume not overweight = in good shape, let’s also not assume that everybody’s response to exercise is the same and that anyone who hops on a bike will be “absolutely fine” doing a few miles in just a short week or two regardless of age or ability. (I understand people are trying to be encouraging, but I would like to go back in time and slap my twentysomething, no-chronic-health-conditions self for making similar comments.)

              1. Katie the Fed*

                That is a good point too. But I will say that MOST people will show some improvement in their ability to do certain exercises with sustained practice.

                Of course I can run everyday for a year and still feel like death warmed over. HATE running.

              2. Koko*

                It’s also not every area that’s well-suited to biking, especially if she’s out before the sun comes up in the morning. I’ve biked around rural Irish countryside, a lot of times you’re on pebbly narrow roads with big hedgerows on the side. OP says they live in a very small town, but it’s 5 miles away — it could be that they are outside of the center of town and the route may or may not be safe for early morning biking.

            3. Artemesia*

              This was the first thing I thought of too. She needs to figure our how to get there on time until she can drive. A bike is a way to do it. Especially if her boss is driving to drive her out of the job, she needs to get creative about getting there on time.

            4. Jen RO*

              Well, no, not really. I’ve been swimming for 8 months and I’m still not much better than when I started… I mean I don’t die after 1 lap anymore, but I still can’t swim miles and miles. Same with the biking – I got slightly better after a couple of weeks of biking to work, but I still couldn’t reach 5 miles. And my commute is not supposed to be my workout session, so for me biking to work more than 2 miles is out of the question.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Don’t feel bad; I suck at it too. I did it in my hometown for ages before I got a car, and it wasn’t a big deal because the town was very small and there were no hills. One hill and I’m dead. It absolutely kills my knees.

                2. Katie the Fed*

                  nah. we all have our things we just can’t do. I seriously can’t run. Even when I’ve gotten to the point where I can do 5-7 miles, I still feel like I’m dying.

                  Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I think I’m better at biking and swimming because my extra girth increases my velocity on the bike and buoyancy in the pool :)

                3. the gold digger*

                  Katie, when I took my water safety instructor class in high school (to learn how to teach swimming), there were two really muscle-y guys in the class. Super lean. They could not float to save their lives – just sank to the bottom of the pool!

                  I, however, am a great floater. I am not a fast swimmer, but I do not have to expend energy keeping myself afloat. All my work goes to propel me forward. (Which makes my slowness even more embarrassing.)

                4. Zed*

                  You’re better than me, Jen. I don’t know how to ride a bike, and I’m actually a little frightened of bikes…

                5. Jen RO*

                  Don’t worry, Katie, I got over it fast… and maybe I’ll actually go biking a bit this weekend. And i really have to go to the pool this week, my back’s hurting again (I find swimming pretty boring, but it does make me feel better.)

                6. Jennifer*

                  I live in a bike town and never learned to ride a bike. I hated every single minute (and injury) of learning and I hate even sitting on the things.

                7. Loose Seal*

                  I never learned to ride a bike and this is the second time in recent posts that the OP was recommended to ride a bike like that’s the obvious solution. It’s not the obvious solution for many.

                8. Jamie*

                  @Loose Seal – it’s not a bad suggestion for many people, since clearly some people do this by choice. Definitely not for everyone, though.

                  I rode a bike as a kid, but never well. I fell all the time and I never did get the hang of stopping without running into something…which is why the hedge by the gate looked so pathetic my entire childhood.

                  I always laugh at the “easy as riding a bike” expression – because for me that means I’ll do something badly for a number of years while injuring myself and being mocked in the process. Yay.

            5. Jennifer*

              I have an overweight friend who doesn’t drive and she has actually gone so far as to bike to the next town in order to get to work.

          2. A grad student*

            It depends on the landscape- in very flat Florida I had no problem doing ~7 miles to work, but in the mountains of SW Virginia I have trouble doing 2.

        2. KittyLane*

          I know every-BODY is different and different areas can be better suited for biking, but if this is at all a possibility it’s worth considering. I am not the norm but I used to bike a total of 13 miles a day (in hilly San Francisco) to get to and from work. It’s do-able for some and it’s worth mentioning in case it’s an option for you.

        3. Katie the Fed*

          Yep, I was coming here to say just that. Biking 5 miles shouldn’t be too bad.

          1. badger_doc*

            I agree about the biking. I am overweight (could probably stand to lose 100 lbs if I was really honest with myself) and I can bike 10 miles at one time. Barring some other health condition, it doesn’t seem that unreasonable to suggest biking to work.

        4. neverjaunty*

          OP #1, has your wife discussed with her boss the reason that he put her on an earlier route instead of allowing her to stay on her existing route that was about to shift later?

      2. HRNewbie*


        I work in HR in the UK. Is she on a contracted/self-employed role (invoices them) or an actual member of staff (contract, staff handbook etc.)

      3. Enid*

        If it’s going to make a difference between having a job and not having a job, might it be worth hiring a taxi, or looking on the UK’s version of Craigslist (Gumtree?) for someone looking for odd jobs who could drive her every day? I’m sure it wouldn’t be practical in the long term, but just until she has her license, rather than ending up with a license but already having lost the job?

      4. Purr purr purr*

        I think your wife should start looking for another job. There’s been a serious breakdown in communication and I suspect that would only get worse. Furthermore, being late for work doesn’t warrant gross misconduct: “Gross misconduct is behaviour, on the part of an employee, which is so bad that it destroys the employer/employee relationship, and merits instant dismissal without notice or pay in lieu of notice. Most employers would identify intoxication (whether from drink or drugs), fighting or other physical abuse, indecent behaviour, theft, dishonesty, sabotage, serious breaches of health and safety rules, offensive behaviour (such as discrimination, harassment, bullying, abuse and violence) and gross insubordination as examples of gross misconduct.”

        I agree with the comments too though: she needs to find a better and more reliable way to get to work. Her boss has indicated that her being late is a problem and he doesn’t have to take her transport issues into account.

      5. UK HR Bod*

        Being late once is not GM in the UK (although it could be arguable if it causes serious disruption to the children). There are some legal difference, because although as Alison says, it’s your wife’s job to get to work, and it’s not down to her employer to make adjustments for this (unless there are other reasons) there are specific processes that managers need to go through to dismiss. If she’s been employed for under 2 years, she’s not protected, but depending on the policies they would still be expected to go through full process – this could take longer than 5 weeks, especially since she could point to the test as a mitigation. If she’s been employed for longer than 2 years, there is no way he can dismiss her for being late once – or even twice!

        It may also make a difference who employs her. If she’s employed by the council, she will probably be fine – it’s painfully difficult for them to sack even the most deserving people. She should contact their HR dept, explain what’s going on (especially the promise about the later routes), that she’s been threatened with the sack. They will explain it’s up to her to get into work, but are councils are procedure-bound and terrified of being sued, so they will tell the manager to wind his neck back in. It’s also a pretty unfair approach to threaten someone for one instance of lateness. Not to mention the fact that by the time a council actually managed to get to the point of a disciplinary hearing the 5 weeks would probably have long since gone.

        If it’s an outsourced service, they will operate differently, but they are often expected to deal with people in a similar way to the councils, so it’s worth speaking to their HR department anyway.

        It’s possibly worth talking to the manager’s manager, but in a lot of these places (council or outsourced), they may well not know much about what’s happening in the teams below. Basically, if she passes her test in 5 weeks, she should be ok – although she’s still left with a manager who comes off as something of a prick.

  2. baloonoween*

    I’m glad I read today’s column because I now know I am not the only person on the planet terrified of balloons.

    1. Sharm*

      Let’s be friends, and hide from all children’s birthday parties ever!


      I seriously hate them so much, and literally have to walk to the other side of the room when they’re around. Uuuugh.

      1. balloonoween*

        Ha! Then there are three of us! I worked at a summer camp for years and managed to completely eliminate all air filled balloons ….thanks to my amazing coworkers. Streamers are festive too! Water balloons are not so bad for some mysterious reason. Totally okay with mylar. Everyone thinks it’s a fear of them popping, but it’s the “nails on a chalkboard” sound when they are touched. If I were in that person’s shoes I would have reacted the same way.

        1. Mary*

          Several of my kids friends seem terrified of balloons so we were asked not to have any for birthday parties. We were happy to comply. Phobias are illogical but real.

          1. Amy B.*

            “Phobias are illogical but real.”

            So very true. It is often hard for us to be compassionate when it is something our logical brain cannot wrap itself around; but when we have our own irrational fears, that’s ok.

            1. Koko*

              I always try to find a relatable irrational thing I do or feel and use that as my frame of reference. Like I was talking to someone who has an anger problem, and he said there’s no reason behind it, some days he’s just angry and has to control it. I had to resist the urge not to believe him and to assume he must be angry at *something* and just not realize it or not want to tell me, because I’ve never been angry at nothing! But instead I thought for a minute and then told him, “I understand. Sometimes I get sad for no reason,” because I’ve struggled with depression off and on most of my adult life. If my brain can be sad for no reason, why can’t his brain be angry for no reason? I imagine it’s probably about the same.

          2. Peep!*

            “illogical but real” — I’ll say. A friend of a friend of mine is legitimately terrified of peas. The vegetable. That one definitely stumped me.

            1. Britni*

              I legitimately cannot deal with mushrooms. I can sort of handle looking at them, but if I find them on the lawn or in my food I *will* lose it. There’s no real rhyme or reason to it that I’ve found, but that sadly doesn’t make it any less real!

        2. Meg Murry*

          Yes, I can NOT deal with that sound if I am already on edge for any other reason. My kids got balloon animals free at a street fair the other day, and I thought I was going to cry listening to them make that screetchy noise. My older son was trying to take his apart and I had to send him to another room upon threat of me throwing out the balloons and never allowing them in the house again.
          I wouldn’t have a problem seeing them at work, by I couldn’t deal if I had to HEAR them rubbing against each other.

          1. Rat Racer*

            Ugh! Balloons are the WORST! I feel like such a grinch when I say that, but it’s true. Remember back when Trader Joe’s used to give every kid a balloon in the check out aisle? I would like to think that my heart-felt plea to them describing all the times when I nearly crashed my car because one of those things popped or drifted between me and the windshield is part of the reason that they switched to stickers.

            I now have a mosaic of Trader Joe’s stickers all over the windows of my car. But I’ll take that over a balloon every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

        3. TrainerGirl*

          I had an eardrum separate a long time ago, and ever since then my ear is especially sensitive to loud noises, like balloons popping. I’m not afraid of them, but I know that there are always going to be immature people in the office that think startling/scaring people by popping balloons near them is funny. Since the balloons are not integral to the decorations, it would be great to just remove them. We have a right to work, not a right to balloons in the office.

      2. jmkenrick*

        I’m also not fond of balloons. And, if one pops near me when I’m not expecting it, I will get started and shriek.

    2. KarenT*

      I by no means have a balloon phobia, but I get it. I struggle with anxiety and when my anxiety is at it’s highest balloons set me on edge. It’s not the balloons per se, but I’m super jumpy and constantly feel paranoid they’re going to pop and scare the crap out of me.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I really, really hated them as a kid, because every time there were balloons around, some other kid would get the grand idea to pop them ALL for kicks at some point during the party. Shudder.

      2. Andrea*

        Same here! And when you combine balloons with social anxiety – birthday parties are hell.

      1. balloonoween*

        I also love cats. She can come hang out with me next time there’s a birthday party at her house.

      2. LBK*

        My cat hates apples. HATES. I put a plate of apples slices down next to her on the table she was sitting on and she hissed and ran away. She’s not fond of bananas either, but she tolerates them while making angry faces.

          1. Jen RO*

            That was *so* funny! My kitten was not scared of the vacuum when I first got him… but the older cat taught him to run and hide.

    3. BTownGirl*

      Lucille Bluth Voice: “LUPE…WHERE ARE THOSE BALLOONS?!”

      Oh how I feel for the OP! I have a spider phobia and recently developed a phobia of high places with glass being the only thing separating me from plunging to my demise. Outside glass balconies do not freak me out, but the indoor ones at malls and fancy-shmancy office buildings make me want to cry. (Hey, it’s fun to come up with new hang-ups as you get older!) Anyway, when I was at my current job for all of three weeks, a spider crawled onto my hand while I was sitting at my desk. I screeched. I cried a little. My boss dropped his coffee all over the floor. That, children, is how you make An Impression :)

      And, no, I will never, ever live it down haha!

      1. EE*

        At the age of 29 I moved to a country with cockroaches. The world fractures into screech whenever I see one.

        1. Anx*

          In my 20s I moved to a place with cockroaches and I think the fact that it was (still is) a really stressful period in my life impacted my reaction to the situation. I haaaaate them.

      2. Amy B.*

        As I was reading your post, a spider slowly made its way up the wall of my cubicle. I, fortunately, love spiders, snakes, bugs, etc. Now bees….whole other story!

        1. Mimmy*

          OMG I am so with you about bees!!! My husband thinks I’m insane for actually being glad there’s a bee shortage. Wasps and hornets need to go next! lol.

        2. Becca*

          I have SUCH a phobia of bees. I literally do not go outside in the summer if I saw one near my house earlier. If a bee got in my house and no one was around to kill it, I’d probably call the Orkin man before going out and braving the area it was in.

          My parents don’t understand at all. We were getting ice cream yesterday and there was a little cartoon doodle of a bee on the walls and my dad goes “Look. A bee. See, you’re fine.” It’s impossible for people without phobias to understand. A cartoon bee IS NOT A REAL BEE.

          1. Chris80*

            You could do worse than the Orkin man…anybody remember the teen that called the police because of a “massive freaking spider”?

          2. KJR*

            Unfortunately me for me, I am also afraid of cartoon spiders! It’s ridiculous & embarrassing. It was so bad in high school that my best friend had to tape paper over a large drawing of a spider because I would involuntarily let out a little shriek in class when the book would open to that page (which happened often for some reason.) Took me off guard every time. I am TERRIFIED of them!!! Luckily there aren’t too many tarantulas or bird spiders trolling the streets of Ohio.

      3. YoungProfessional*

        That’s hilarious! I’m afraid of cockroaches and lived in an apartment that attracted them. I routinely watched them swim in the tub.

        1. hotelsterrifyme*

          It’s bedbugs for me! We had a scare about 5 years ago, and now I’m phobic. Every time I go to a hotel room, I strip search EVERYTHING, put everything in the dryer on high when I get home, and spend the next three weeks obsessively examining my stomach for bites. (This totally kills a romantic getaway, in case you were wondering.)

          It’s embarrassing, humiliating, and ridiculous. I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t turn off the damn panic center in my brain.

          1. Lynn*

            A friend of mine was a bed bug exterminator. Every time he goes to a hotel, he pulls back the headboard to search behind it. Hotels can hide bed bugs pretty easily by washing linens, but they accumulate on the wall back behind the board, so it’s one of the best ways to find them OR to be more confident that there aren’t any.

          2. Lulubell*

            I’m the same way. Before any trip I obsessively search the Bed Bug Registry until I find a hotel that doesn’t have any bad reviews. And then I tear apart the bed and everything anyway when I get there. The first couple nights I am never able to sleep, and always worry upon coming home. I’ve never once had an issue (knock wood) but I live in terror for when/if that day comes.

          3. LD*

            Thanks. Now I have to worry about bedbugs. We are traveling to a wedding this weekend and have to spend the night in a hotel.

        2. holly*

          i once pushed everyone out of a restaurant’s semicircular booth and onto the floor while screaming at the top of my lungs trying to get away from a roach. totally awesome. for me and for the restaurant.

      4. Scott M*

        “Hey, it’s fun to come up with new hang-ups as you get older!”

        I recently discovered that I have become slightly more claustrophobic as I have gotten older.

        I discovered this on a very full plane, sitting in a window seat, on a 4-hour flight. It was not a fun time. Since then I book aisle seats and that seems to make it better.

        Totally not the same as a full blown phobia, but I can sympathize.

        1. AVP*

          I also get nervous and feel too enclosed on planes, but sitting in the window seat seems to help – I know the aisle would be the logical choice, but somehow I do a lit better when I can see the outside and pretend I’m there. For me, weirdly, being in the aisle reinforces the idea that I’m on a metal tube in the sky.

          1. Turanga Leela*

            This is true of me too, and I always thought I was the only one. Other thing that helps: At the end of the flight, I don’t stand up until there is room for me to leave my aisle and walk off the plane. Staying seated reinforces the feeling that I’m choosing to be there rather than trapped.

      5. LMW*

        Mine is centipedes. There was a gigantic one in the shower this morning and I screamed so loudly by upstairs neighbor came running down to see what was wrong. :( Eventually, I might recover from the embarrassment.

    4. Elkay*

      My mum and husband aren’t good with balloons either, no balloons at parties in our family.

      1. Rebecca*

        I’ve read all of his books. This one was the most horrifying to me. I’ve reread The Stand several times, but this one, nope, never again.

        1. Kelly O*

          I was fine until I read IT.

          And seriously, I cannot abide clowns. Not any more. Between that and the whole Gacy connection… I mean, I dread kids’ birthday parties, and just stay as far as I can from them.

    5. B*

      Me too!! I hate hate latex balloons. The sound of them being blown-up makes me run to another room as soon as I can. If someone is touching them and they may pop, panic ensues and I must run.
      This office sounds like a bunch of asshats that need to be gotten back in line.

      1. Simonthegrey*

        To me, it’s styrofoam. It hasn’t risen to the level of phobia yet, but if I see it my skin crawls adn my brain starts making the grinding-styrofoam sound. As a kid, my parents used to give my little sister pieces to rub together to “get back at me” for being the big sister. She would follow me from room to room grinding them on each other until I was basically screaming and crying, and my parents would just laugh. It wasn’t until we got older that I could really explain that the sound causes me physical pain and the sight of styrofoam bothers me.

        My husband is wonderful. He will transfer eggs from styrofoam holders to the cardboard ones so I don’t have to touch styrofoam, he will make noise and sing if he has to open styrofoam and I am in the apartment so I can’t hear it, and he always takes any of it that we have out to the trash right away. He doesn’t get why it bothers me so much, but he gets that it does.

        1. balloonoween*

          Styrofoam. Yes. It’s the same thing as balloons for me. It’s the NOISE. It’s awful. Total panic.

          1. Matt*

            I second the styrofoam … and I hate the sound certain pencils make on paper (when I had to use them at school, I always made a hissing sound between closed teeth to oversound it) … and the sound certain heels make on concrete when the lady wearing them drags them along in a certain way.

          1. balloonoween*

            no sensory issues for me – I’m pretty flexible and not bothered by much. Just styrofoam, balloons, and certain brands of paper napkins – it’s the SOUND they make when you touch them…I promise I am not scared of being harmed by a napkin.

        2. Mel*

          The same thing happens to me with bed linens. I can’t stand to hear them being shaken out over a bed. Even writing about it now gives me the heebie-jeebies. If I need to make a bed, I carefully unfold the sheet and crawl over the bed to place it in each corner. It’s the sound of the shake that KILLS me…and I have a five-year-old bed-wetter. Fortunately, hubby makes the beds whenever he’s home, so I can leave the room.

          Typewriters (thank God I don’t have to deal with them anymore), drive me insane. The sound of the keys makes me shake. In college, my department office had one because of some old forms that they wanted to use up before computerizing. I quit my job as an RA rather than be in earshot of that thing.

          Also, the frequency the air in the car makes when a rear window is rolled down at highway speeds makes me ill.

          None of these are phobias, per se, but they definitely make people think I am insane.

      2. Nichole*

        I was going to say it more nicely, but if the shoe fits, right? The people in this office come off as jerks here. It bugs her, it’s easy to fix, so just send the balloons home with someone who likes them and put up some of those obnoxious paper bells or something if you must decorate. Risking being the “balloon lady” by admitting this phobia takes some courage, and a compassionate workplace would build my morale much faster than having one that’s festively decorated.

    6. Purr purr purr*

      No, you’re not alone! One of my former colleagues was terrified of them. My Mum has a phobia of buttons. I have a phobia of fingernails. We all have a freak flag to fly.

    7. Anonathon*

      Oh my goodness, me too. Balloons are just the worst. I am not as petrified as the OP’s co-worker, but I am horribly on edge if I think that a balloon may pop near me. We had balloons at a work event last year, which was horrid. But my co-workers know that I despise them and, kindly, were careful to pop them out of my presence.

      Many thanks to AAM for taking this phobia seriously. Ths person’s inability to work trumps other people’s desire to have balloons in the office for the World Cup. For Pete’s sake …

    8. Dawn*

      THANK YOU!!!! Everyone looks at me like I’m a freak when I tell them I don’t like balloons, and I always feel so stupid. Allison’s answer to this was AMAZING and makes me love AAM even more.

  3. Sharm*

    I wouldn’t say I have a phobia of balloons, but I really, really, REALLY hate them. I can sympathize.

    But I’ll be honest, I was surprised by Alison’s answer, as I figured this would be another, “Tell her to suck it up and deal” type of situation, especially given the balloons’ distance away from her.

    1. Kate*

      To me, the difference is that the balloons are not an integral part of the work environment. It’s not like the woman is saying that she’s scared of telephones or headsets in a call centre.

      And really, if the 2nd manager is putting up balloons to make a point about office morale, morale around that office needs more help than can reasonably be accomplished by putting up balloons for the World Cup.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Right. I was all set to hate the phobia stricken employee on this one, but it sounds like the office is just being childish. Joking about popping them to scare her? Putting up more to prove a point and calling it a morale builder? I’m sorry, it sounds like these people are a bunch of jerks.

        I’m usually the queen of suck it up, but it seems she has a legitimate fear, and tried to address it. If the coworker told her to pound sand, and the conflict is just between the two of them, I may not be as sympathetic. But with everyone ganging up on her, I’ll ise a term that I think is overused by adults these days – she is being bullied.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, this is too much like the stuff that happens at recess in grammar school.
          Everyone has something that they don’t do well with.

      2. Stephanie*

        And really, if the 2nd manager is putting up balloons to make a point about office morale, morale around that office needs more help than can reasonably be accomplished by putting up balloons for the World Cup.


        Tons of balloons remind me of Party City, which I find inexplicably bleak.

          1. Stephanie*

            Michael’s or Hobby Lobby (the general category of crafts stores, really) would be a close second. Bed, Bath, & Beyond I find anxiety-inducing.

            1. Programmer 01*

              Oh my goodness, it’s not just me? I cannot handle Bed, Bath & Beyond stores, I have to leave within seconds of entering. I think it’s the mix of cramped aisles + stuff stacked high + white industrial lighting — I can do Costco just fine, some grocery stores bother me, but BB&B makes me nauseated just thinking about it.

              1. Stephanie*

                Noooo, not just you. All the 20% off coupons in the world can’t get me in there. Yeah, you’re spot on about the layout. That’s what bugs me—it’s crowded, full of junk, and hard to navigate.

      3. Gail L*

        That manager has to learn the definition of “morale” if s/he wants to improve it by making fun of and frightening one of the employees…

    2. Stephanie*

      I guessed that that would be her answer as well. I do dislike the uncertainty of the pop (btw, my next door neighbor runs a balloon business…).

      But I could see the difference in that a) balloons aren’t really integral to a business (unless you’re my neighbor) b) this is a legit-sounding phobia.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Apparently “balloons sell cars” is a big idea in the auto sales business. There was a This American Life about a car dealership where the manager is stressed about making the monthly sales goal and tells his employees, “I want balloons in all the departments… Put the convertible tops down all over the place. I want tons of balloons in the show room. I just don’t want one balloon to a car. Balloon the whole freaking place so it looks like a circus.”

        The OP’s workplace sounds like it’s in the majority of businesses that DON’T need balloons, though.

        1. balloonoween*

          Omg….my chest got tight when I listened to that episode. Thanks for bringing up a painful memory! ;-)

        2. James M*

          Did you hear the urban legend about the car lot manager who decided to save some money by putting hydrogen in the balloons instead of helium? The plan worked well until some wise-guy decided to pop one with his cigarette butt. “Pop!” indeed.

          1. Mpls*

            Is compressed hydrogen gas really cheaper than helium? I’d find that hard to believe.

            1. KerryOwl*

              Could be. Hydrogen gas can be produced from water (right? I think?) whereas helium has to be mined/extracted from the ground. There is actually a helium shortage at present.

              1. University Allison*

                The fact that you know this makes me so happy! I have to order these gases occasionally at work — a tank of helium gas currently costs $80 and a tank of hydrogen gas costs $40.

                Sorry for the tangent, AAM!

    3. Tomato Frog*

      The employee has a psychological problem that’s easily accommodated at no real cost to anyone. I would have been really disappointed if Alison sided with the jackass coworkers & manager. “Hey, you know what’s good for morale? Singling out one employee and making her miserable!” Sheesh.

      1. EG*

        I’d like to see a weekly “find the error” post, sort of like those magazines with a little hidden picture somewhere that you have to find each month.

  4. Stephanie*

    #1: Yeah, based on the letter, this sounds like a legit phobia. The specific phobia sounds goofy, but phobias don’t operate in a rational realm. My phobia (mice) is super common and I just get absolutely nutty if there are mice around. I actually feel really bad for the woman in the letter–my phobia causes pretty bad anxiety.

    #2 (or first #3…): Actually, AlmaMater had a box in its application for you to fill as you wished (paper applications were way more common when I applied). I had no earthly idea what to put in the box and just stuck a picture of some funky shoes that I thought represented my personality. Some of my friends had very elaborate things like folding origami or M.C. Escher type drawings.

    1. stellanor*

      I am SO GLAD that my uncommon phobia is something gross. People don’t understand why I’d be afraid of it, but they don’t like it either so they sort of understand why I’d want to avoid it.

    2. Elsajeni*

      I thought of that box, too! (I think I did some kind of collage in mine?) Or the Amy’s Ice Cream application, which is to decorate a paper bag as you see fit.

  5. Wehaf*

    My reading of the balloon question is that the submitter does not have the ability to order the balloons taken down. Another team (not submitter’s) has put them up, and submitter’s manager wants to keep them up. I agree with Alison’s assessment that the balloons should come down, but I think the question was more about how submitter can get his/her direct reports to stop being jerks about the whole thing.

    1. KarenT*

      I agree. It sounds like the OP manages the employee with the phobia, not the balloon owners. I never go to HR but for this I probably would.

    2. balloonoween*

      Well, I hope it would not be necessary to go this far since a little respect could solve the problem, but a phobia is a diagnosable medical condition, and potentially a disability….that an employer would have one heck of a time claiming they could not reasonably accommodate (because it sure doesnt sound like this is a party supply store or similar). Not a lawyer, just sayin.

      1. AGirlCalledFriday*

        Despite the insistence of the OP that she wants people to take this phobia seriously…I had the impression that she wasn’t really taking it seriously herself. The employee went to several people about this situation and at any time the OP could have spoken on her behalf, but didn’t. This reads to me like the OP might be really feeling the whole situation is pretty ridiculous. Which would be another reason why her team hasn’t stopped the mean-spirited teasing, if they feel that despite what she has said, she really is siding with them.

  6. Cupcake*

    #2 reminds me of a situation we had at work recently. We were filming a promotional video and one of the employees pulled me aside and said they had a terrible phobia of being videotaped/photographed and didn’t want to participate. This person’s manager approved the video, as well as her subordinates being a part of it.

    I was kind of torn on the situation because I can totally respect that someone has a phobia (hello – put me in a room with mice I would lose it!), but this was part of this person’s job and everyone else had to participate, whether they wanted to or not.

    1. snuck*

      I don’t know what the legalities of it are, but I suspect you can’t volunteer another person to be in a film… you can ask them, but can’t force them.

      1. Elysian*

        I mean, you can’t “force” them physically, but you could tell them “if you don’t do this you will no longer be employed.”

        1. Observer*

          That may be true. But, if the person has a diagnosed phobia, you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Allowing this person to not be video-taped is not a terribly onerous accommodation, on the one hand. And on the other, it was never (and still isn’t) an integral art of the job.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I soooo sympathize with the phobic person here. I had to record a podcast* at work recently. I guess I’m not “phobic” about recording my voice, but I do hate it to the point that I avoid recording a VM greeting and don’t watch family videos where I’ve narrated. As long as I never watch this podcast, I’ll probably be okay, but I only agreed to do it to avoid being the weenie who turned down a request because “Durh, I don’t like to hear my voice recorded.”

      *When I say podcast, I don’t mean a weekly broadcast thing, I mean an “evergreen” online company training course type of “podcast”. 100s of employees present and future can hear my scratchy, high-pitched voice.

    3. AVP*

      In that case, though – one can argue that forcing someone to be in your promotional video who desperately doesn’t want to be in it will hurt you and your video in the long run. Nothing says “please buy our services and goods!” like a really uncomfortable employee hiding behind someone and trying to avoid the camera.

  7. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    It sounds like the balloons might not have been put up by people the OP’s team, but by members of another team that shares the space. Also, if I’m reading it right, the OP’s manager has taken a pro-balloon stance. So while I completely agree with Alison about the right thing to do being to take down the balloons*, it seems like the bigger issue is how to navigate this slightly absurd political situation. I’m betting that at this point the OP just going around taking all the balloons down would wind up making things even worse.

    *It baffles me that the OP’s coworkers are arguing that balloons have that big an impact on office morale. Put up some crepe paper or flags or something. Balloons are not the only way humans have to express a festive mood.

    1. Jen RO*

      I would be sad if we had balloons and they had to be taken down. Not everything done in a corporate office is hated by everyone. I wish this was one of those “suck it up” situations… but I don’t have any phobias (except heights, I guess, and it’s not that bad) so I am sitting on my hands and not commenting further.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I like balloons, too – but if I had poor morale at work, I don’t think balloons would fix it. And if I knew that the balloons bothered someone like they seem to be here, I’d be just as happy with some other kind of decoration.

        As a parallel: I love nuts in baked goods, but some kids at the school where I work have severe allergies and so we have made the school nut-free. So parents no longer leave pecan bars or apple-walnut cake in the staff room around the holidays, but I’m perfectly happy to scarf down blueberry muffins and chocolate cookies instead, and make my own pecan bars at home.

        1. Jen RO*

          After reading OP’s other comments, I agree that in this particular instance balloons are ridiculous, since no one wants then except of the floor manager. I was commenting in a more general sense – for example, in my office, which already has good morale, balloons would boost it (even if it is just for a tiny bit).

    2. OP #1*

      It’s not even the other workers who like the balloons, it’s the floor who manager likes them – she just thinks it’s great whenever the floor is dressed up, she’s always pushing for more ‘fun’. I keep suggesting bunting and streamers which gets ignored.

        1. Heather*

          I think I’d “accidentally” pop all the balloons, and then when they replaced them, “accidentally” do it again every day until they gave up.

          OK, I probably wouldn’t really do this, but it’s fun to imagine.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I think they would be released to the wild. I can see them going happily up, up, up…

            Not the most environmentally sound idea, but sometimes crap happens.

      1. Lora*

        Here, people are allowed to wear the team shirts for the World Cup. People can’t put on a Chile jersey and call it good? If they are that invested in it, put up posters, make paper chains, let employees stream the games on their computers…why balloons of all things? Can you get a small tree from a garden center and decorate it with little soccer balls and tinsel in the colors of whoever won that day? Fairy lights? Have potluck lunches of the food from the countries who are playing that day?

        What is this manager going to come up with next, firecrackers for Chinese New Year? Sheesh. March 14th is World Spider Day, October is Pit Bull Awareness Month, July 16th is World Snake Day, the first week in August is International Clown Week. I think you guys should celebrate ALL of them, with lots of pictures and plastic toys and ringtones of snarling dogs…

      2. neverjaunty*

        Move away from suggesting and into direct statements. It’s not “fun” to have an employee who has to work on another floor. It’s not “fun” when the office is full of tension because a few jerks are acting like children over their World Cup decorations.

    3. Finbar*

      Oh my God. Crepe paper! I am absolutely terrified of crepe paper. Sick to my stomach, dizzy, can’t see, horrible terror. Just keep that crepe paper away!

    4. Traveler*

      I worked in an office for awhile where people were over the top with this “morale boosting” crap. Balloons and prizes and brightly colored stuff and bring food in days, and honestly I found it so depressing. It made me feel like I was in grade school again, and it made me sad that the office/coworkers had to constantly do all this fan fair to make the work place remotely tolerable to them. It’s not that I blame them – it was a bleak place to work, but for me all that stuff made it that much worse.

      1. Rana*

        Yeah, the place I worked for that was big into this sort of stuff was also one in which there were a lot of problems. You know what boosted morale and made our once-stressful routine easier? Hiring competent people who ensured that very little had to be done at the last minute, not handing out plastic fire hats to make “putting out fires” seem “fun.”

    5. AnotherAlison*

      Just, WTF on this whole balloon thing. These are adults in a business setting and they’re fighting for their right to balloon?

  8. Anx*

    #5 I wish I had a lot of good advice for food service and retail, as I’ve been trying for months to get a job in these fields, but I do have two tips:

    Identify which retailers use personality tests/online assessments. If you’re good at them, apply to all of these. If you aren’t (and you really won’t know until a manager tells you if you walk into a place after applying online when they are trying to access your application if they are interested), then try to find a list of smaller companies and focus there.

    Always try to avoid to busy hours.

    Bring a resume and a list of references. Also bring an “Application Info Sheet.” Have a sheet with the addresses, phone numbers, past salaries (if any) supervisors, and job duties of your activities, dates, school, and jobs. Practice succinct ways to write down your skills and duties as the applications will be very tiny.

    1. Victoria (OP #5)*

      Thank you for your advice!

      That’s a very good point, and I’ll keep it in mind.

      I hadn’t thought about that, but that’s brilliant! I’ll write one up.

      1. Sarah*

        With regards to the retail testing, usually the best answer is on one of the extreme ends. You also have to pretend to be naive. No one steals in your mind. There are YouTube videos about the some common quizzes.

        1. LizNYC*

          yeah and the customer is ALWAYS right and you should be an absolute doormat when it comes to confrontation. A customer is angry about a mistake YOU supposedly made? You apologize offer to correct it immediately and do whatever you can to fix it. My brother once failed one of these tests because he answered like a normal, rational human being would (no, the customer isn’t right 110% of the time; yes, customers do make mistakes or steal; etc.).

        2. Chris80*

          Ugh, I am probably awful at these tests, then. When I’m taking personality tests, I rarely feel strongly enough about something to answer with “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree”.

          1. Victoria (OP #5)*

            I’ll keep that in mind, thanks! Thankfully, I’m pretty good a faking a good mood, so that should help.

      2. Sydney Bristow*

        Victoria, I know this is just one example, but when I worked fast food in high school my manager loved getting a resume in addition to the application. Since the vast majority of applicants didn’t do that, she thought it really set them apart. I’m pretty sure she interviewed anyone that included a resume.

        Her other favorite thing was when the person was dressed nicely when coming in to drop off the resume. That normally meant no jeans, sneakers, or flip flops.

    2. C Average*

      Good advice. Also, always carry your own blue or black pen. (Probably obvious, but definitely important.)

      True story: I got my first food services job (I think I was 14 or 15 at the time) in part because I told the hiring manager that I had an affinity for mindless menial labor and that one of my designated chores at home was to clean the chicken house every three months. He took it as evidence that I was a hard worker and not prissy, and he gave me the job of making pizzas in the deli of the local grocery store every afternoon and then closing down the store’s meat department every night. Job-searching in rural Idaho in the 1980s . . . those were the days.

      1. Jipsy's Mom*

        Hi fellow rural Idahoan! My parents also made me clean the chicken coop and muck out stalls as a kid, pretty much from the time I was big enough to hold a shovel till I moved out. I actually used that experience as an answer to an interview question about whether I thought I was overqualified for an entry level position at CurrentEmployer – I said I’d been on the business end of a shovel enough to know that a) I’m not too good to do data entry and file, and b) I appreciate any job where I’m not on the business end of a shovel. The interviewer laughed, but it must have worked. I got that job, have moved up fairly steadily here, and have been here 12 years!

        1. C Average*

          I love this and may adapt it! Sometimes I feel like I’m on the business end of a shovel at work . . . :/

      2. LAM*

        Yes, bring your own pen. And if you happen to forget a pen ask politely to borrow one. But absolutely DO NOT reach over the counter and just take one out of my pen cup without asking… or steal my pen.

        I’ve put apps in the “No” pile when people reach over my counter to take a pen without asking.

        1. Victoria (OP #5)*

          That’s a good point, I’ll make sure to check that my pens are all working!

          That sort of rudeness baffles me. If it’s not pens set out for customer use, ask.

    3. Traveler*

      Getting jobs in food service can actually be difficult. You have to walk a fine line between reliable and smart (and willing/able to do whatever is thrown at you), but not so much so that you are likely to turn over quickly.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I’d say food service is a lot harder than retail, unless it’s fast food. Being a waiter/waitress can be extremely competitive and require a lot of experience.

  9. justmary*

    Please take the balloons down. There are so many other things that can be used to decorate. Flags, streamers, trophies, soccer jerseys and on and on. With so many other options, why not just be kind and consider coworker’s feelings?

    1. Musereader*

      We have pictures and flags already. There is just this bunch of 3 balloons on the end of 2 banks of desks as well.

  10. going anon for detail*

    What’s with people? This is a silly situation.

    Recently I was on a team that wanted to hand out candy to add to a presentation – absolutely nothing essential added – just a cheap “bribe’. Then we got told not to hand out swag and after some back and forth that candy probably wasn’t swag, a team member voiced strong objections to the appearance of going against the big boss. The one person that wanted the candy just refused to give it up and thought of all kinds of alternatives to still be able to distribute candy without seeming to hand it out to people, and it bothered the other team member with the more legitimate concerns about going against the boss’s wishes no end.

    I think a balloon phobia sounds ridiculous, but it’s not like any adult should be getting any kind of great mental boost from a balloon either. A belief that balloons boost morale is even more irrational than a fear of balloons. Additionally I doubt decorations do a darn thing for morale , but you can decorate without balloons very easily. Refusing to accommodate the employee is a real jerk thing to do.

    1. BRR*

      Well a phobia is an extreme or irrational fear, it’s more than just a preference. I think it hurts moral a lot more to not do something to help an employee out that really makes no difference to the rest of the office. It sounds like the balloons aren’t there most of the time, is moral just incredibly low for months of the year when there aren’t balloons?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Probably this person’s balloon phobia just doubled because now it is associated with her office mates’ bullying responses. She now has two problems, not one.

  11. Malissa*

    #1 can you get some plastic snakes and rats to put around and see how many people jump on their desks? That might get the point across.
    But seriously, fuck the balloons, what happens if some one has a latex allergy? They’d need to come down then.

    1. Jen RO*

      I don’t get how these people function in the real world. If you have a latex allergy, you… avoid things made out of latex, you don’t ban the use of latex everywhere you might go. The phobia is different (though I can’t help thinking it’s silly) – you can’t avoid seeing the balloons, because you kinda need your eyes to do you work.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        “avoid things made out of latex, you don’t ban the use of latex everywhere you might go”

        Maybe not everywhere, but if you’re spending a good portion of your day somewhere (school, work) then you might expect to be met halfway. See: peanut-free schools.

        Of course latex is far more complicated because tons of things (carpet, calla lillies) can set off latex allergies because they’re related. A friend’s mom has it so severely she can barely leave the house.

        1. Jen RO*

          I also think peanut-free schools are ridiculous, but at least there are kids involved there, who might not have the best judgement. But an adult?

          (I also wonder from time to time why allergies seem so common in the “first world” and so uncommon in “developing countries”… I’ve never heard of someone with a serious allergy in my life. The food? The air? Something else?)

          1. C Average*

            I see and hear comments like this from time to time–“in MY day, no one seemed to have these pansy-ass food allergies and intolerances–kids these days!”–and I honestly wonder how you’d propose handling this stuff instead.

            If another parent tells me their kid will go into anaphylaxis if they come into even slight contact with peanut products and as a result they’ve asked the principal to enforce a peanut-free environment, am I really going to say, “Pack an epi-pen with your kid and tell him to suck it up and deal. Or, heck, feed him a few peanut butter sandwiches to see if the diagnosis is REALLY valid. It’s probably all in his head”? No, I’m going to take her word for it and comply. Why wouldn’t I? It’s not like we’re without alternatives to peanut butter.

            One of my stepkids is lactose intolerant. Yeah, I’d never heard of that when I was young. All I know is that before her diagnosis, she had perpetual stomach issues, and now we’ve adjusted her diet and she doesn’t. I will absolutely encourage her to decline dairy products in social settings and, if pressed, to tell people why. Because life is nicer with a kid who’s not queasy all the time, and I’m sure life is MUCH nicer for her when she’s not queasy all the time.

            I don’t see a down side to accommodating these reasonable differences to make other people comfortable, and I don’t see an up side to questioning the legitimacy of physical conditions.

            Sorry, not trying to pick on you here. You always have a lot of great comments and I enjoy much of what you have to say (and tend to agree often). I like hearing other points of view, too. This particular point of view just happens to be one I don’t understand at all.

            1. Jen RO*

              I’m genuinely curious about this and the studies seem inconclusive for now. It’s it just a matter of reporting (people actually know that X symptom is an allergy, as opposed to something else) or are we becoming more and more ‘sheltered’ and losing some sort of natural immunity? I don’t have friends with young kids, so I don’t know anything about allergies among people under 20… but I wish some more research was made.

              As for the rest, yeah, I was being snarky, but also curious – if you have a severe allergy you can make sure your home and school/workplace are safe, but how do you move around? You can’t ensure the subway is allergen-free. Carry an epi-pen at all times? Avoid large groups of people? I don’t understand the logistics and I feel very lucky that I don’t have to deal with something like that. (Thanks mom and dad for the good genes, I guess!)

              1. Jamie*

                There are theories from everything to the pesticides used to grow food, hormones in animals raised for meat, overuse of antibiotics, any number of things.

                Our environment is constantly changing and there are things now that weren’t issues before – just as they’ve made great strides in eradicating some things which were problems in the past.

              2. Geof*

                Yes, you develop coping skills to keep yourself alive. You [should] carry two doses of epi-pen (or other form of epinephrine) at all times one and a spare incase you miss your injection in your thigh and stab the chair (oops!). I always have one epipen on my person, hanging on a belt or in a pocket. I even sleep with one on the bedside stand. My Service Dog has two more pens in his vest and will bring me his vest (or press against me with his vest if he’s wearing it) if I start into Anaphylaxis. I also carry a mask that can filter airborne latex particles and I can wear that for about an hour after an exposure before the particles on my skin, in my eyes, etc. cause anaphylaxis. Epi’s have a time limit from use to emergency medical support of about 20 minutes. So you have a little time to find a doctor who can give you medication to counteract the allergy response like hospital grade liquid benadryl, steroids, etc. Other than that you just don’t go into places you already know are going to kill you.. eg- you will never find me in a Party City store or hanging out with a balloon twisting Clown. It’s a lifestyle change, after the initial shock of changing how you used to live you just get used to it and move on. A new “normal,” if you will.

                1. Jen RO*

                  Oh wow, I had no idea that you still need to get to the hospital (and fast!) after the epinephrine shot. This sounds exhausting, but I’m glad you seem to be making it work (you dog sounds great too).

              3. MFade*

                One of the many theories is the “Hygiene hypothesis”. It argues that the immune response is shaped, in part, by the presence of certain infectious agents – people who live in areas where many infections are common, develop fewer autoimmune reactions or allergic reaction, then people who live in countries with low incidence of infections.

                1. MFade*

                  Oops, it should be “develop fewer autoimmune reactions or allergic reactions than people who live in countries with low incidence of infections”.

              4. KrisL*

                My theory about allergies is that if you go back far enough, people with serious allergies rarely lived long enough to be old enough to go to school. Which must have been horrible.

                Also, peanut butter probably wasn’t as common, and I’m sure latex wasn’t, either.

                1. Anne*

                  This is the theory I subscribe to, too. Increased awareness of what is an allergy symptom versus another illness, an increase in the number of children who live past their first few years of life in general, and decreased mortality for children who experience allergic reactions.

              5. KrisL*

                My theory about allergies is that if you go back far enough, people with serious allergies rarely lived long enough to be old enough to go to school. Which must have been horrible.

                Also, peanut butter probably wasn’t as common, and I’m sure latex wasn’t, either.

              6. neverjaunty*

                Being snarky about people’s serious health problems is rarely a way to get them to calmly explain to you how they deal with them. FYI.

            2. Stephanie*

              Actually, lactose intolerance is pretty common among certain ethnic groups. I think the vast majority of blacks are lactose intolerance (most of my family and I are). I was eating dinner at a National Society of Black Engineers conference and someone broke out a pack of Lactaid. Everyone perked up like “Oh hey…can I have one? Can you pass half the blister pick over here?”

          2. Jamie*

            I’ve seen sites crash due to comments over the peanut free school thing, so I’m not touching it – but while there are certainly instances of severe life threatening allergies, chemical sensitivities, or phobias so extreme that it precludes one from working in a typical environment they are very rare.

            They come up because they are interesting and in the case of allergies the stakes are so high that even when rare they are a very big deal – but I also have never known anyone who had any of those to the degree that necessitated other people accommodating it.

            We all have medical or other quirks and aversions for whatever reason – but for most of us it’s within our power to deal with them (either avoiding or at least finding a way to get through it when we can’t.)

            The weird thing is it’s like a rule 34 for phobias – any conceivable thing someone somewhere has a phobia about. But if they take down the balloons and put up crepe paper the odds of someone having an equally debilitating crepe paper phobia are minuscule – they just aren’t that common.

            If she has a diagnosed mental disorder for the balloon phobia then they should accommodate her because it’s reasonable and it’s not like there is a business reason not to. But if she’s throwing the word around and has done it before (OP mentioned she is known for creating fusses about different issues) then I can see why people would be tired of accommodating one person and be skeptical about whether it’s a real issue for her or if she’s just trying to get her way again.

            Even if every one of the issues she’s fussing about was a legitimate issue for her in that it was causing her trauma at a certain point one needs to evaluate how much they are expecting others to accommodate them and how much a work place needs to comply with this.

          3. AVP*

            There is a LOT of research being done in allergy-stricken countries to figure out that point, but no reliable conclusions yet.

            Part of the reason that schools (in America, at least) go all-peanut-free, instead of just relying on individual judgment, is because we are pretty reliant on packaged snacks and processed food that has a lot of surprise ingredients in it. So a bad allergy to something like nuts or soy can be set off by something unexpected and seemingly safe – Little Timmy may think he’s making a safe choice by eating a chocolate-cherry granola bar, but unless he can read the font-size-3 list of ingredients on the individual packaging, he’s not going to notice that there is 1% peanut dust in it. So it makes more sense to cut out the threat entirely.

            1. Rye-Ann*

              I’m fairly certain that in extreme cases, a peanut allergy can be set off by the mere smell of peanuts, not just accidental consumption. If you’re kid’s in that situation…well, the parents’ options are pretty limited. Either the school goes peanut-free or the kid has to be homeschooled.

              1. Mints*

                Yeah I’ve had this kid at work. Literally peanut dust in the air could set off a reaction; if i could smell peanuts, she was in danger.
                At meal times, we had her sit apart from most kids, and would let only a couple kids sit with her after screening their lunches.
                She was six, and had gone into anaphylactic shock four times before. It’s not about being tough, it’s medical

                1. NoPantsFridays*

                  Yeah, I hate when people confuse anaphylactic shock with an “oversensitive” emotional reaction… like oh, just toughen up, control your immune system, and don’t die! Right, as if someone would *choose* to have such a severe allergy.

                2. Jamie*

                  I think that’s where it gets dicey about banning at it schools, because from what I’ve read it can be triggered by as little as someone having had it for breakfast and it’s on their breath – or wiping some on their pants and it’s not even visible.

                  Don’t get me wrong, I’d absolutely refrain from whatever to avoid triggering that in someone – but where it gets sketchy for me is that as a parent I’m not trusting it. I’m not trusting that some kid who doesn’t understand didn’t bring a Snicker’s bar, or that a parent made sure clothes which a messy kid had eaten peanut butter in were thoroughly washed before going back to school. Or someone didn’t just forget.

                  I am not saying that asking parents to adhere to the bans is wrong, I’m saying that as a parent I’d have so little faith in other people religiously following the plan that I’d never be able to trust hundreds of other kids and their families with the life of my child.

                  I just know too many people who are too lax at following the rules in too many areas – I don’t think the solution is unfair, I just don’t think it’s safe. Too many variables.

              2. NoPantsFridays*

                Yes, this is why my schools were peanut-free– not because an allergic kid might accidentally eat something containing peanuts, but because someone else could eat something that would trigger a reaction in the allergic kid.

                Some of the more malicious kids/parents would even try to trigger a fatal reaction INTENTIONALLY– happened a few times, because “lol you’re not allergic, you’re just oversensitive, you’re joking, etc.” and then surprise, the allergic kid has to go to the hospital. My mom used to have this attitude and I had a few friends I would not bring over to my house, because they were allergic and I knew my mom thought it was just a joke.

              3. LD*

                My mother-in-law is allergic to nuts. Just walking by outside a shop that roasts nuts can set off a reaction. I actually had to help her use her Epi-pen one day when I walked into a candy/notions store to purchase a drink while she waited outside. She knew not to come inside because the store also sold roasted nuts. By the time I got back outside she was having trouble breathing just from waiting so close by. It was scary and irritating at the same time. I expected her to know her own tolerances, but this taught me two things, 1. she might not know what would cause a significant reaction, and 2. she needs constant surveillance when we are out.

          4. TJ Rowe*

            It’s because people with severe allergies used to just die, but now they can be diagnosed and worked around. Fifty years ago, my nan almost died of coeliac disease, and it was only a doctor trying the newfangled idea of taking wheat out of her diet that saved her.

      2. Del*

        These people function in the real world with a combination of great caution, difficulty, and at least a modicum of understanding/support from other people, that’s how.

        1. Andrea*


          I have asthma and allergies (seasonal allergies, and year-round allergies to dust, smoke, mildew), as well as highly sensitive and reactive skin. These conditions play off of each other, too, despite medications. I have learned to live with some limitations and am often wheezy, red, itchy, and/or sneezy. I can’t ever be around smokers, not even outside, and often I can’t be around them when they’re finished smoking, because the lingering smell makes it hard to breathe and causes my eyes to itch. And yet, some folks say amazingly awful things to me about living in a bubble or about how I should just never leave the house if I need others to accommodate me. Kindness is free. And I think that applies here as well—phobias are illogical, but they are real indeed to the ones who struggle with them. It’s not difficult to choose to be compassionate and considerate.

          1. C Average*

            “Kindness is free.” +1000, especially on this.

            Take down the damned balloons, people. What are you, four years old? My stepkids, who love peanut butter and would happily eat it for lunch every day, get that they can’t take it to school because there are kids who are allergic to it. They don’t moan and pout about it. They just do it. If an 8- and 12-year-old can accommodate another person’s needs with dignity, why can’t alleged adults?

            1. Clinical Social Worker*

              Maybe we should rethink comparing these people to children. Obviously your kids are kind compassionate people. These people are just selfish jerks that don’t really care if their coworker is terrified and uncomfortable.

            2. Del*


              The last time I took a flight, the flight attendant made an announcement before the doors were sealed stating we had a passenger with severe peanut allergies on board, and made it very clear that no one was to open any kind of peanut-containing product while on the airplane. If someone had snacks for their children containing peanuts, the flight attendants would be happy to provide alternative snacks that would not put others’ health and safety at risk.

              I can’t even imagine how the allergic passenger must have felt, knowing that their health and safety was in the hands of ~100 strangers for the length of the flight and just hoping that everyone would be conscientious enough to follow the instructions. (I mean, yes, they most likely had some sort of emergency medication, but still.)

          2. Koko*

            I have the same reaction to cigarette smoke now, even though I actually smoked cigarettes as a teen. (My other allergies, to pollen, dander, and dust, have also debuted or worsened in my adult life.)

            I had a good friend visiting a few months ago and it was just like you said: she had a cigarette outside while I stayed inside, and then we got in my car to go somewhere together, and I had an allergy attack in the car not long after getting inside just because of the lingering smoke still on her jacket. She felt so bad she went unprompted to the nearest 7-eleven and bought a pack of disposable e-cigarettes to use for the rest of the time she was visiting me. I think she’s the only person who ever looked at my allergy attack and took it seriously…I’m usually made to feel like I’m somehow doing it on purpose because I’m a meanie who doesn’t like smokers and wants to shame them, which has led to me trying to minimize and downplay my attacks as much as possible when they happen so that I don’t seem like some kind of anti-smoking “bigot.”

          3. Jack*

            I’m asthmatic and currently dealing with a bronchitis-level flare because my coworker is a smoker who thinks that if she wears enough cheap perfume, no one will notice she’s started smoking again. After I had to go to urgent care because I couldn’t stop wheezing and coughing, I asked her to stay out of my cubicle as much as possible and not stand immediately next to me, and her reaction was to get huffy and offended. Some people just don’t care about other people.

      3. Valar M.*

        Sometimes phobias aren’t silly – but rather the result of real results the people have faced in the world. I have several phobias as a result of the allergies I have. I call them phobias because I sometimes take precautions to the extreme in ways that would seem illogical and silly, but it’s because the thought of a trip to the hospital, medicine, etc. is awful. The allergies/precautions ARE the real world to me. To me, your world with no fear is a fantasy land I would love to live in. It’s all relative.

      4. Geof*

        Hi, Type 1 Latex Allergic person here. (eg- Latex = Anaphylaxis and potential Death for me). Just a point of clarification, it’s not just avoidance of touching Latex, it’s avoidance of touching anything else that has been touched by latex. The particles of latex also stay in the air for hours afterwards. So yes balloons are bad, but it’s not just latex gloves and latex balloons – 50,000 consumer products contain Natural Rubber Latex and 38 million people in the US have a Latex Allergy. So how do I function in the real world? I ban latex from everywhere I go, and I am followed around by a Service Dog who warns me about any potential contamination.

          1. Andrea*

            Wow, me too! I’m glad you have a service dog to help you, Geof. I had no idea that latex was in so many things, either.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Yeah and it’s not JUST latex for some. My friend’s mom can’t be around calla lillies because they’re chemically similar to latex. Pretty much any place with carpet it out. It’s very hard for her to function normally.

              1. Luxe in Canada*

                I once looked after a kid with latex allergies so bad nobody could bring bananas near him — the liquid in the peel (that gives it that weird, rubbery milky smell when you open a banana) is close enough to latex that it triggers a reaction in some people with severe allergies. Didn’t know about calla lilies, though.

                1. Geof*

                  You betcha, there are a lot of proteins that mimic Latex (called “cross reactive”) and they will trigger an allergic response just as if it was from the main allergen. Most of your tropical fruits are cross reactive, some veggies (tomatoes, celery), some spices or herbs (cinnamon, aloe), or flowers (poinsettia, lilies). Just to make it more confusing, there are different proteins that make up Natural Rubber Latex, you can be allergic to one or all of them, so your cross reactive list is going to be unique. Eg- I can’t take cinnamon, but can handle kiwi, where someone else can’t handle kiwi but can chew on cinnamon sticks all day long, and we’re both Latex Allergic.

      5. neverjaunty*

        One way “these people” function in “the real world” is to let others know they have a health issue, so those others can try and work with them to avoid the problem, which can be a lot of things short of ‘banning’.

  12. kas*

    #1. How was her approach when she asked for the balloons to be removed? Unless they strongly dislike her or she asked rudely, why would they be so jerky and refuse? This was dealt with horribly and I feel bad for her. I don’t have a phobia of balloons but I’m terrified of the popping. I can barely tie them because I’m afraid they will pop. Don’t get me started on the people who think it’s funny to act like they’re popping a balloon around you, I will run.

    1. BritCred*

      I was wondering if this co-worker was disliked for some reason. If so…. deal with that.

      But yeah, get the balloons down asap.

      1. BritCred*

        And I’d ask to be moved or them to be taken down too – something on the edge of my vision moving? distraction.

        When I was discussing my possible return to work I asked to be moved to a low traffic area with no open space behind me due to my issue with distractions and a ‘fear’ of being ‘attacked’. I knew that it was unlikely to be an attack but after a few incidents of non-work matters where someone did approach me from behind it was asked for for a safety (of others) point of view. Since I did nearly throw a friend across a room due to him touching my neck without warning I didn’t want to risk anything happening at work.

        1. Jessa*

          OMG people should not be touching other people from behind. Ever, and I say this as a Deaf person. Seriously. Stamp your foot, come in front of me. Do not touch me from behind unless the building is burning. I have a bad back (injured in an accident) make me jump and you may have to send me home from pain. I do not understand why it’s ever appropriate to touch someone. And on your neck? What the?

          1. BritCred*

            I’ve had two people do it and a third lean down and squeeze my shoes to check if they were steel toe caps.

            The first guy has done it to someone else – came up to them and said “hello” by putting both hands round the neck. To me he just did my dress up when I was in an enclosed space.

            Second guy who I nearly threw came past me then up behind me thinking I’d seen him and “booped” both sides of my neck with cold fingers. Meant no harm but didn’t know that that day my vision was terrible and my body awareness out of whack. Or that I have some martial arts training.

            I started going in for a elbow to approx level of gut before I knew what I was doing as I couldn’t move away from the risk. Luckily I was turning my head at the same time and then saw the flash of color of his outfit thought “oops… that’s (frail, ill guy) and pulled the blow before it reached him. We then spent the next 10 minutes apologizing each other to death.
            My Shodoshi (trainer) said I’d reacted and stopped the blow before he’d even had time to react himself.

            But yeah, sorry any ‘odd’ movement around me or behind me and now I react – much better now I’ve trained more. But balloons bobbing in my vision would drive me mad….

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          In high school, I worked in a mall and so did my boyfriend. I was walking through the closed (near empty) mall one night and my boyfriend caught up to me from behind and hugged me (thinking I would know it was him). To me, I was grabbed from behind in a deserted near dark hallway. I elbowed back into the stomach, turned, knee to the balls and punch to the face before I realized it was him. I had no formal training at that time and was really impressed with instinct. He also never snuck up on me again.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            That’s an awesome story. My husband and oldest son think it’s funny to scare me like that. Of course I know it is them so I’ve never gave them a roundhouse kick to the face, but maybe I should try it sometime.

          2. BritCred*

            +1. believe me if it had been guy 1 who was trying it again? I’d probably not have stopped the blow.

        3. KrisL*

          Once or twice a co-worker startled me from behind. Deliberately. At least one of those times, I screeched and was not ashamed. It’s not right to do this to people.

    2. OP #1*

      She is much disliked, nobody wants to sit next to her because she talks incessantly. She is kindharted and harmless, but she basically does not shut up even if you ask, has a history of overreacting and objecting, and this is the latest in a long line of fusses she has made.

      1. BritCred*

        Yeah, that is a whole large part of the problem. And the husband interfering won’t be helping much either…..

        1. Lizzie*

          I was surprised this hasn’t come up yet. Having her husband come to threaten that she’ll take sick leave if her demands aren’t met is so inappropriate. If working on another floor is an option, she has no grounds to use sick leave. Regardless of how legitimate phobias can be, this woman sounds like a PITA.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        As her manager, you can and should address these other issues. If she’s talking to the point that it distracts colleagues, that’s not ok.

        Also, I would tell her that it’s very much not ok that her husband went up the chain of command to address this. She needs to address her own work issues, not have him do it. Totally unprofessional.

        1. OP 1*

          Thing is she’s quite often going on about her cases, it is a very collaborative environment where caseworkers are encouraged to ask each other as there are difficult decisions to make, so there is a lot of chatter from everybody, but she tends to tell us the entire story and more than we need and never listens to what we say because she wants to do it her way anyway. It’s a blurry line that she pushes to its limits.

        2. A bad person, I guess.*

          Professional or not, I imagine her husband did it because he was upset, and I know there sometimes comes a point where someone decides to act and professionalism be damned.

          When I think I see people be mistreated it really burns me, and sometimes I have to bite my tongue until it bleeds in the name of “professionalism”. And sometimes to my great shame, (and sometimes not) I have spoken up when someone else could not, and violated the so-called professional boundary.

          While I understand the case you are making Katie, there are occasions when one can be truly provoked (I did not witness this, so I cannot say) and should receive consideration for the benefit of the doubt.

          Unfortunately allowing someone to save face after such an incident, should be considered as a option.

      3. IndieGir*

        I’m not surprised to hear this, and thought the balloon issue was probably the last straw in a long line of special snow-flake snit fits. Most people are generally nice and not a$$holes, and when an entire office is acting this way, it’s usually because the person in question has gone beyond the pale on other fronts. (Not that you can’t have a cabal of jerks ganging up, but my experience is that 99% of the time, if everyone hates one person in the office, that one person is the problem.)

        I had an employee like this, and she had driven me so nuts with her crazy issues that I now think I suffer from PTCLD (post-traumatic crazy lady disorder). I have to remind myself to be tolerant when employees have quirky issues like this, and that most of them aren’t going to devolve into an emotionally draining vortex of managerial despair.

        1. LCL*

          ‘ devolve into an emotionally draining vortex of managerial despair’

          Genius line! I have one of those people in my workgroup, still.

      4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        That makes the entire situation make more sense. What I would do in this situation is ask the balloon folks to please remove the balloons and in turn promise to deal with the real issues at hand.

        And then, I’d be blunt. The balloons have been removed, there will be no more balloons, but there also need to be no more fusses made by you. Take your work seriously, limit your conversations, concentrate, and then we’ll see how you are doing a month from now.

        1. LBK*


          This is a perfect opportunity to bring up the other issues. Kind of pointing out that she’s turned into the boy who cried wolf, and when she constantly fusses about things that aren’t important it makes it unclear when something actually is important.

      5. C Average*

        A slight digression.

        It seems every workplace I’ve been in has a person like this one, who’s almost universally disliked. I’ll bet everyone on this thread read the description of this woman and thought of someone in his or her own current or past workplace.

        If you were to give a person guidelines for not being this kind of person, how would you convey that message?

        When I first came into my stepdaughter’s life, I feared that she would grow up to be the roommate/colleague/acquaintance everyone hated, because she was overly emotional, thin-skinned, fussy, and generally difficult to be around. We’ve worked with her a lot on developing mental toughness and resilience, and six years later she is doing great and has many more friends and I no longer have these kinds of fears for her. But the whole experience has made me think a lot about how hard it is to describe these characteristics and offer constructive advice for not being this way if you have tendencies in that direction.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Mmmm, well, as the mom of a son on the autism spectrum, my middle name “social coaching is my life”, I’d say that the way I’d do it personally vs in the work world is vastly different.

          I’m not of a mind to tell people in the work world how their behaviors are alienating other folks unless I can tie it specially to work product.

          Talking too much = not concentrating on your own work/letting other people concentrate. It’s not “making your co-workers nuts with your inane chatter”.

          That’s all I know how to do.

        2. Koko*

          I also think that often “every office has one” not necessarily because there are problem people everywhere, but because every group needs a whipping boy and a scapegoat. If your workplace is dysfunctional and employees can’t get real resolution to their dissatisfaction, they’ll seek another person to misdirect their annoyances at. They’re underpaid or overworked or unappreciated or whatever, but they can’t solve that, so they seethe with resentment because Marsha gets to sit by the window or Tom never closes the cabinet after he gets paper out of it or Jim laughs like a horse and he laughs too often. And then I think the Marshas and Toms and Jims pick up on the fact that they’ve become the Gary/Jerry/Larry of the office and go into permanent defensive/victim mode, thus making it a vicious cycle where it’s hard to tell which came first.

          I once worked with someone who I (and my colleagues) thought was a nightmare and incompetent at the most basic of tasks. By pure chance, after she was terminated from our workplace, she ended up working for my friend’s mom (having no idea that her new boss was related to anyone connected to anyone from her previous job). Friend reported that his mom raved about what a wonderful employee she was. Maybe she straightened herself out after getting terminated from one job, or maybe she was never *that* bad to begin with, but the rest of us made her worse by heaping all that scorn and disdain on her for so long.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            There is something to that. People talk among themselves and the problem grows expodentially. Finally, you have this problem that is actually the size of tea cup but for some reason has become the size of a football field.

            I know first hand that if I am working in a negative environment with people talking nasty about each other, I can feel it. It hangs in the air, I swear. My productivity goes down. I have seen this with other people, too. That leaves them like sitting ducks for whatever scapegoating is going on.

      6. EJ*

        The impression I got, which seems to be confirmed by the OP here, is that there’s an element if ‘crying wolf’ here that makes the colleagues not take this balloon phobia seriously. To me, it seems like there is a need to address the frequency of complaints from the employee, and that this is sort of a natural consequence to making so many complaints.

        Maybe that makes me heartless, but we can’t expect everyone to take everything so seriously all the time, especially if there’s a credible reason to think the employee is exaggerating their phobia. Sad, but true.

        1. Jennifer*

          It probably doesn’t help either that they’d much rather have the balloons and NOT have her around at all if she drives everyone that crazy, so they probably don’t really want to accommodate her yet again. Never ever shuts up even when asked? Ugh, I wouldn’t super want to make her happy either.

          But yeah, still need to remove the balloons anyway even if she’s super annoying.

      7. neverjaunty*

        Then the problem is bigger than ‘she has a phobia’/’co-workers are jerks’ over the balloons.

      8. Observer*

        That would explain why no one wants to take the balloons down. But getting them just to spite here? And joking about popping them just to scare her? Sorry, that’s just mean, unlike her behavior.

        You need to deal with that meanness.

        I do agree that you also need to deal with her behavior issues, though. Not shutting up when asked is NOT ok, for instance, and that’s one is fairly straightforward to address. It’s not your problem that she’s making her coworkers dislike her. But it IS your problem that she is keeping people from doing her work, or that she is unnecessarily slowing work down by making a fuss over inconsequential details, etc.

      9. LizNYC*

        No wonder the coworkers are in no hurry to take down the balloons. They’re probably envisioning peace and quiet. (I’m not saying it’s right to leave them up, but you could imagine this though process.)

        1. OP 1*

          A couple of the people on my team have said that they appreciate the rest from the unceasing chatter.

      10. Elizabeth*

        That doesn’t surprise me. Not to say you can’t have a workplace full of cruel people who torture perfectly nice co-workers for the pure pleasure of it, but I think it’s rare. Hearing that she’s been an ongoing, high-maintenance distraction explains some of the response.

        Not to say it’s OK–antagonizing isn’t going to solve the problem and I’m guessing that, despite what the manager says, the balloons’ absence isn’t going to adversely affect morale, but it sounds like there are other issues at hand that need to be dealt with in terms of her performance and professionalism.

      11. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah, okay. The balloons still need to come down, but you need to deal with the other issues with this employee. She does need to stop talking when asked, and probably well before she’s asked to, and she needs to tamper down the overreacting and objecting. Those are all things that as her manager you are well within your rights to require, and indeed are really obligated to address in order to be managing well.

        1. lili of the vally*

          AAM, but how do you do that? I am also in the UK and in my company there is zero chance I could fire any of my staff. Even if they are incompetent and have bad attitude, they have been with the company longer than I have and therefore are deemed to have a “right” to have the job. This woman’s husband is senior in the organization so I don’t see him allowing this to happen – there is an awful lot you can do informally if you are senior enough.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Whoa. If you literally can’t fire anyone, you can’t really manage a staff, which means you’re being asked to do work you don’t have the authority to really do. You have to be able to fire people.

            I have no idea how you’d deal with that — it’s totally foreign to any environment I’ve ever worked in. (But is that really true? You can’t fire anyone in the UK for incompetence if they have enough seniority? I feel like that can’t be right.)

            1. OP 1*

              I couldn’t fire her, she has to be fired by someone at least 2 grades above her level and only after going through the disciplinary process. She’s been here for 6 years. She has been through mediation for each of the previous matters that were resolved to the satisfaction of HR.

              1. Elinor*

                Just to chime in – I’m in the UK, and here’s a link to the UK govt’s quick-n-easy guide to dismissal. https://www.gov.uk/dismissal

                I work for a large privte corporation in the UK, and while one can be fired, the procedures that have been set up to ensure compliance with the law are extensive – e.g. I would have to first attempt to deal with a problem employee through meetings and a PIP, and if it still persisted, there would be at least four formal disciplinary procedures before a person could be fired – one verbal warning, two written warnings and then once for actual dismissal. In cases of really gross misconduct it can be much faster, but I’ve only seen that x3 in 20 years (once violence, once using company time/equipment to work for a direct competitor, and once simply disappearing without notice or contact).

                1. LBK*

                  That doesn’t actually sound too bad. I worked for a company in the US that voluntarily used a similar discipline policy – ours was 1 verbal warning, 2 written warning, a final warning and then termination, with a PIP required if it was a metrics-related problem like low sales numbers. We fired multiple people through that system. It was actually kind of nice because it took all the guesswork out of it – everyone knew from day 1 what the discipline process would look like if they didn’t meet expectations, so it was really hard for anyone to be surprised by a firing.

      12. Artemesia*

        People who are like this are rarely taken seriously and so I am sure most people here doubt that she has an actual phobia but see this as one more narcissistic attention suck. They may be right. But it is probably time to take the balloons down anyway.

        Might also be time to deal as a manager with her incessant chattering.

      13. KrisL*

        That makes more sense. It was kind of scary to find out how mean people were to this woman, but I know from experience that if I already find someone annoying, it’s much harder to be kind.

    3. Observer*

      That was my first thought also. But, the reaction of the rest of the staff is still waaaay over the top. I can’t think of any behavior on her part that would explain, much less justify, this stuff.

      Which is why, regardless of what happens with the balloons, the LW needs to deal with her (his?) department’s behavior asap.

  13. Mike C*

    Great answer for #1.

    The employee doesn’t have to justify their fear to anyone, it’s not an essential part if the business and a this point the other employees are acting like bullies.

    What ever happened to the golden rule?

  14. Eudora Wealthy*

    #1 Good for you, Alison.

    #2 What’s the difference between this request for a photo/graphic and asking a candidate what their favorite movie is when they interview? Neither one really has anything to do with the job.

    #4 Can’t the OP get a neighbor to give her a ride to work for five weeks? Pay the neighbor, if necessary. Small-town people help each other out. The manager isn’t required to fix this problem; the employee needs to make sure it gets fixed. Pay a neighbor $500 to drive you to work until you get your driver’s license. Or walk to work. Or buy a ten-speed bicycle for $50 and ride it to work. Alison’s right to suggest asking the manager to move the OP to a different route for five weeks, but don’t expect or demand anything. Given the manager’s initial reaction, I might not even ask. I just go buy a bicycle and make sure to wake up early.

    1. Eudora Wealthy*

      Meant “I’d” just go buy a bike.

      And, really, when your boss reacts like that, then you make sure to show up an hour early every day. Take a book to read while you wait for your shift. Let your boss know how much you value showing up early.

    2. Elysian*

      I will say from experience that a bike that won’t break down after a mile costs more than $50. I bought one for $100 at walmart and it was breaking down all. the. time. You don’t need a super-expensive high-end bike, but you’d be surprised at how much a reliable bike costs.

      1. AB*

        Yeah, we used to live just over a mile from my husband’s office. We only had one car at the time (and there was no public transit in that town) We figured we could pick up a cheap bike and it would be an easy way to save money. Yeah.. that was a massive waste of $100. The chain kept coming off, the brakes were shoddy, the tire went flat almost immediately. I think he only rode it for a month before he found a coworker to carpool with. (We live in the deep south, walking a mile in July/August is not an option if your office doesn’t have a shower)

      2. ella*

        Depending on your area, you can find a functional cheap bike on craigslist for $50-$100.

        You will not ever find a decent bike at Wal-Mart. The parts are cheap, and the bikes are assembled by machines, so stuff gets overtightened/stripped/undertightened/doesn’t fit/etc. They’re not even worth it to repair because the frames are so terrible. A bike from a bike shop will start out more expensive ($300-$400), but will be MILES ahead of any big box bike, and will be more easily repairable and customizable.

        Sorry, former bike shop monkey here.

        1. Seal*

          You might even be able to get a decent bike at a police auction, if they have those in your area. Crooks tend to steal higher quality bikes.

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          I bought an amazing used bike from a bike shop for $150. It is from the 80’s but has great parts, was tuned and upgraded before they resold it. The reason I got such a great deal is it is a men’s bike but in a color traditionally considered a “lady’s” color. Men wouldn’t buy it due to the color and women were hesitant to buy a men’s bike. I have long legs so I don’t care about the bar. Deal for me.

          TL/DR – check bike stores that sell used bikes.

          1. Ama*

            Ironman centurion in yellow/pink? I have a red/white one and rode it to work for years. Now I work 30-some miles from home and take public transit, but that bike was amazing.

      3. CC*

        It’s the difference between new crap and used quality, though. I’ve ridden for hours on a $40 craigslist bike and never been stranded by it — because it was a decent quality bike, just old or unused/outgrown by the former owner. A bike that’s $100 new isn’t even worth looking at.

  15. Kiwi*

    I agree with others – great answer by Alison.
    Once the immediate balloon situation is resolved, I would also be concerned about the next issue – that the growing adverse attitude toward the complainant suggests that there is an increasingly mobbing vibe in the workplace. I can almost picture the mob thrusting their balloon adorned pitchforks by bonfire-light.

    What an unpleasant place to work.

    1. OP #1*

      ha, no it’s just that this person has managed to upset everyone at one point or another with her vendettas and imagined slights.

      1. Kiwi*

        That’s a somewhat different story to the one portrayed in your original question.

        Based on your original question (and your replies since) it seems like either:
        1. This employee actually is already being mobbed and is now in the “ewww, she’s so gross and totally nutso” stage of shunning; or
        2. She really is the problem – in which case you should be trying to figure out how to manage her and the distraction she is creating in your workplace.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, it sounds like she may have reached “bitch eating crackers” stage, and so the balloon issue is irking everybody else disproportionately.

        2. OP #1*

          She has apparently reacted like this before, before i was here, one time they were taken down. This last christmas with her previous team she ran out of the resturant where the christmas team meal was. There were people on the team who put up the balloons who were well aware that she had the phobia and went ahead anyway. Now the other manager is digging in his heels and refusing to take them down, i’ve tried the argument that this is impacting our sick figures to the floor manager but she’s not hearing it.

          1. L*

            If they knew she had a phobia and put up the balloons anyway, it seems more like this was a deliberate, passive aggressive way to antagonize her. If she causes so much heartache around the office, surely there’s a much more direct, appropriate way to have this discussion with her? Has anyone ever tried to have that sort of conversation with her? I know the floor manager has control over the balloons and you don’t, but I don’t see how keeping the balloons are solving this issue at all–it’s escalating the situation. There are more adult, appropriate ways to interact with someone who is difficult than to “fight fire with fire.” I can only imagine that everyone, including FM, are so fed up with her, that this is a sort of “get bent” message to take it or leave it. Maybe at this point they are hoping that if they are hard enough on her, she’ll leave the organization. However, she isn’t likely to take from the balloons “aha, I can see now that my employees are not happy with the way I have mishandled past issues and I will now change my tune.” In my experience, people who cause a lot of issues generally see themselves as the victim and don’t see their fault unless it’s been pointed out to them so it’s more likely that the message she’s going to receive is “My coworkers are so mean to me for no reason at all!” It’s a petty way to deal with her and not productive nor professional.

            1. JMegan*

              If they knew she had a phobia and put up the balloons anyway, it seems more like this was a deliberate, passive aggressive way to antagonize her.

              Yeah, it sounds like there’s more than one person acting inappropriately here. This sounds like one heck of a mess to straighten out, and the OP only has control over some of it.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            So you are a fairly new-to-her manager? And previous managers did not gain any ground on this behavior.

            It sounds like she has changed departments. Is she being cycled through departments, instead of being dealt with directly?

      2. Cara*

        I agree with Kiwi that the follow-ups present a slightly more complex picture. If she is crying wolf all the time then it’s inevitable that people won’t take her crisis du jour seriously. The larger problem is going to require more than just having the balloons taken down.

        1. Gilby*

          Yeah…. if this was a one time occurance, the phobia with balloons then I completely agree, take them down.

          Now with the other info is she just playing control games?

          That would explain why the office was picking on her for it. The refusal to move the balloons could be in response to ” we are not accommodating you anymore” or something to that nature. The letter suggested that people are being almost cruel about it and maybe they are just tired of the drama she seems to have?

          OP can you expand a little more?

          1. Jamie*

            This is a good point. If an otherwise reasonable person has a phobia then fine, accommodate it if possible. But if someone is always up in arms over something or other it’s human nature to give everything they say the side-eye.

            I’m of two minds on this whole thing. Of course if something bothers someone and you can mitigate that it’s the nice thing to do. But of people have disproportionate reactions to common things they could encounter anywhere the onus is on them to work toward getting to a place where they can function more comfortably in society.

            If someone has a spider phobia and runs screaming from the bathroom if she saw one in there it would be addressed – you run screaming through the office every so often. You can ask someone else to kill it for you or whatever, but the response can’t be disruptive.

            I don’t think I have any phobias – since I believe you need fear for it to be a phobia – but I have a couple of weird food aversions to common foods and the aversion is extreme. I have to consciously distract myself to keep from gagging and there’s some rage involved – but I see that as 100% my problem. I’m not going to tell people what they can and can’t eat when it’s normal and reasonable for them to do so.

            And yes, if it were something to which I was exposed all day as the person with the balloons I’d be disgusted – but I’d still see it as my problem to solve because I’m the one having an irrational and disproportionate response to a common item.

            Again, it’s nice to do what you can to make people comfortable – but there has to be an awareness on the part of the person making the unusual request for others to alter typical behavior that it’s a favor and not an assumption that they are entitled to have every environment free of things that upset them.

            Phobias are real, but people have extreme reactions to things without being afraid of them and like allergy the word is often co-opted by people who want to be accommodated.

            1. cuppa*

              Good point, Jamie.
              I have an extreme aversion to curry. I can ferret out curry powder from anything and just smelling it makes me nauseous for hours. I avoid Indian restaurants, but if someone brings in curry to eat in the lunchroom, I just excuse myself and go somewhere else. It’s not a life or death thing, and I don’t treat it like that.
              I get the balloon phobia because I have a similar phobia (loud, sudden noises like gunshots or fire alarms, etc.). I really have to work to manage it, but I do. I think it’s hard to be sympathetic if this person is generally difficult to be around, but it should otherwise be accommodated.

          2. OP #1*

            She sits by the window, (and insists on it every time she moves) and refuses to let people open it. Makes logs of the conversations of people she does not like. Has complained about a coworker talking too much about football distracting her. She is only recently on my team since feb, and while she is generally friendly can get very paranoid, thinks that all the women in the office are jealous of her husband and that she is not been given an exceeds on her yearly review because the other managers hold a grudge against her.

              1. OP 1*

                I gave her a meets expectations, and talked about these in her yearly review, we’ve negotiated that she must let others open the window but can request for it to be closed after 5 minutes. We moved her away from the co worker she was last obsessed with, which is why she ended up on my team in the first place. (It is not the team she moved from that has the balloons, so it is not revenge as far as i know). I have put her with two of my most compassionate caseworkers who are able to tune her out. But she is lodging an appeal to get an exceeds with HR because she thinks she deals with the most difficult cases, but I know she is an average performer she is just more pedantic than others and makes a meal out of everything she is given, but she is competent enough to be able to complete them.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I … think you need to do more than that. You need to have a “X is not acceptable and needs to stop” conversation in regard to the constant talking, the log-keeping, the paranoia, the grudge-alledging, a and the general not getting along with others.

                  Frankly, she probably needs to be fired, and I’d start down that road.

                  But I’d also get rid of the balloons and the trash-talking from others.

                2. Jamie*

                  Yes, if for no other reason than it shows you’re trying to address her issues when valid and it’s not working.

                  Kindness is the real reason, but there is a collateral benefit, too.

                  It seems her husband is way up the food chain, if I read correctly, so it may not be an easy fire but that’s how I see it as well. Unless she can turn it around she seems bored or unhappy or both and it’s not good for you, her co-workers, or her to work in drama.

                3. Us, Too*

                  You describe someone who would absolutely NOT be meeting my expectations. I expect someone not to be creating a horrible work environment via petty paranoias, control-freak behaviors, and other ridiculousness.

                  I think you need to raise the bar of what “meets expectations” is if this is meeting them. Or, if your current job metrics for her role don’t include soft skills, it should be added at once.

                4. Jaime L.*

                  I agree with Alison. I would posit that the other employees are probably escalating the situation because she hasn’t been honestly, directly dealt with. If her husband is higher up in the company, there might be resentment that she can get away with these things.

                  Her issues need to be directly and assertively dealt with as they arise. The employees need to know it’s not okay to act out. It might in all honesty end up with her being let go, but if that happens, it should be because people tried to deal with her issues in a calm, reasonable, rational manner. It shouldn’t be because everyone involved escalated and escalated the situation in some sort of race to the bottom that no one wins.

                5. Cheesecake*

                  Another case of “meets expectations because competent but is a crappy person”. We had a case of such employee: her performance was actually above the expectations. But she was a nasty control freak that alienated everyone. There was not a single person in entire org. that tolerated her. Yet, mgmt decided to keep her, until people started to leave the team, existing employers refused to swap jobs and join the team and recruiting that many new people was not happening. So make yourself a favour, give her a warning instead of a friendly chat and prepare to start recruiting process for her position.

        1. LBK*

          That’s easier to say from the outside, but if you’ve been listening to this person complain about one silly thing after another every week for years, would you really take them seriously when they said they were afraid of balloons? Obviously as evidenced by the comments this is a real thing and clearly if she’s calling out sick, it’s real for her too, but you don’t think the context of her being a constant whiner who’s pissed off everyone in the department already is relevant?

          1. LBK*

            Also per your comment above – I agree that it’s not the employee’s job to justify their fear and for something this silly there’s no reason not to just take them down. But if this person has previously made seemingly asinine requests, I can easily see how this would come off as just another pointless request rather than a serious issue, especially since it’s not a common or rational fear.

          2. L*

            It’s relevant in that the balloons are clearly there as a passive aggressive way to address the issue at large rather than a direct approach. If you read an above comment by the OP, s/he says that there was a Christmas party with balloons and this woman left the restaurant. The folks who put up balloons for the World Cup knew this and did it anyway. That seems to me more like passive aggressiveness and not like they innocently put up balloons only to find out she’s complaining yet again about another silly issue.

  16. Relosa*

    I don’t have a balloon phobia…but I do have a phobia of dolls. It sucks.

    Some dolls, like Barbies, are okay. Not my fave…but I can deal.

    But anything that is humanoid and actually somewhat realistic-looking? Nope nope nope.

    Jeff Dunham: I can only watch Peanut and Jose. Forget any other ventriloquist.
    American Girl dolls (I work near a store): heck no.
    Chucky: NOPE
    Team America: I can watch it, but have to look away when they emote (“I don’t want the f!$#ing power!” scene makes me screech). Someone made me watch the making-of stuff and that made it even worse
    Animatronics: lolololol. I cowered in fear on Pirates of the Carribbean…after waiting almost an hour to get on. Didn’t even go near It’s a Small World
    Sound of Music/marionettes: Haven’t seen it since I was about four. Scared the crap out of me and never looked back.

    Anything that’s animal-like is totally fine. ::shrug::

    1. Rebecca*

      I’m terrified of ventriloquist dummies, like the old fashioned wooden ones. I think it’s because I watched a Twilight Zone episode when I was very young, after my Mom told me not to, of course, and to this day they make me nervous and upset. Jeff Dunham is OK for me for short periods of time.

      My biggest fear on this planet is clowns, like those colorful circus clowns. They inspire a fight or flight response in me, my heart races, my palms sweat, and I just get irrationally terrified. If someone thought it would be a good idea to bring one of these horrors to the workplace for some sort of team building exercise or entertainment, I’d fall all over myself running away.

      Fears, no matter how irrational to someone else, are very real to the person who experiences them, and should not be diminished.

      1. Lucy VP*

        I had the biggest clown fear as a kid with crying and sobbing and nightmares etc. I was mostly afraid of the white makeup, if I could see their skin it wasnt nearly as bad. Still dont like clowns but mostly I can deal.

        Oddly, in high school my plan was to be a special effects makeup artist, which I pursued for several years.

    2. Ellie H.*

      This is mine too. I also have it with puppets. I couldn’t watch Sesame Street or the parts of Mr. Rogers with the humanoid puppets (the animal puppets are fine).
      I had a panic attack in my own house when I was at my parents’ house having dinner with some family friends who had young children and one of them brought a baby doll and someone somehow brought it to the DINNER TABLE and I freaked out and had to leave the table. It was really embarrassing and I felt terrible about it being socially difficult and I’m in my late 20’s. I’d really rather not have the phobia than get attention for it or whatever. I also really dislike looking at babies, they look like fake people to me (humanoid but wrong). So baby dolls are the worst.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I was terrified of Howdy Doody when I was a kid. Which, my family thought was hilarious and they used to take out a doll and freak me out with it. My aunt thought it would be funny to give me a Howdy Doody puppet for my 16th birthday, as a joke. I am no longer terrified, but I did give it to goodwill. What is wrong with people?

    3. Laufey*

      Don’t watch “The Dark Crystal” I love the movie, and I love animatronics and muppet/puppet things, and all things like that, and even I was weirded out by the gelfling characters.

    4. Cath in Canada*

      My former roommate had a phobia of masks and puppets. Unfortunately, the apartment we were assigned by the university was just around the corner from the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre, so we had to take the long way around any time we went anywhere! It added about 10 minutes walking time per trip

  17. A*

    #1- 45 feet away and out of view? I can understand why this isn’t going over well. I’d suggest talking with the other manager directly, putting the kibosh on the talk in your team, and talking to your employee on how to better handle the situation. I’m not sure how I would feel if my staff had their spouses go two levels up to handle any situation before giving me the chance to fix it.

    1. NW Cat Lady*

      This was kind of my thought as well. I get phobias, I have my own, but the part about her husband going over her manager’s head by several levels really set my teeth on edge.

      How does she deal with the occasional flower and balloon bouquet for someone’s birthday?

      1. Koko*

        I’ve been working in an office setting for 5 years and I’ve yet to see balloons in any of the three places I’ve worked in that time. I understand balloon bouquets are a thing that exists, but they’re not so common that I would assume someone would have had to learn to deal with them as a regular occurrence. (I’ve seen flowers in the office dozens of times over 5 years, on the other hands, and frequent decorating of office parties with streamers and curled ribbon and cut-out-shape-strand-things. )

        1. Jamie*

          I’ve seen the Mylar ones a couple of times – but I don’t think I’ve ever seen normal balloons in an office.

          From a practical stand point it’s enough of a pita to get flowers home in one piece – balloons in my car for the ride home? That would be unpleasant.

          Although should my husband ever read this he should not in any way construe that the pita of bringing flowers home outweighs the joy they bring – because it does not. Flowers at work are still my favorite thing ever – and I miss them.

          My birthday, anniversary, valentines day, and st patricks day all come within a month or so and my desk used to look like I won a new pageant every week. I don’t know who told him that was okay to stop, but now I’m sad that it’s been a while.

          1. C Average*

            Awww. That IS sad.

            I like flowers, so I buy them for my husband. Everyone wins. He feels loved, and I get to have flowers around the house.

            If I waited for him to buy ME flowers . . . well, I think I’d be sad, too.

          2. Koko*

            Not sure which is worse–balloons blocking your visibility in the car, or trying to haul a bunch of balloons through a crowded subway/bus at rush hour!

            But when I get flowers, I kind of enjoy the pride of walking around carrying evidence that someone thinks I’m special :)

      2. OP 1*

        It’s actually really easy to go that far up because the regional manager sits in the same open plan office.

        We don’t generally get balloon bouquets.

    2. Elkay*

      The thing with the phobia is if you know they’re there then it’s still going to affect you. Telling me it didn’t matter that a co-worker kept a snake on their desk because I couldn’t see it still wouldn’t get me into the office. Phobia’s aren’t rational.

      I think the real problem here is her husband interfering before her own boss had a chance to speak to the other manager, he made something small into a BIG THING which people are now pushing back against.

  18. UK Anon*

    #1 – the best bet would be for the worker with the phobia to go and talk to her doctor. Removal of balloons strikes me as a pretty reasonable accommodation, particularly if her doctor recommends it. You might also want to remind everyone making fun of her of what constructive dismissal means – because bullying and harassment *definitely* comes under that (depending on the extent of the awfulness in your office)

    Hopefully, this might remind them to be adults about the situation.

  19. snuck*

    Number 2 I’d say they are looking for a spark of creativity and independent thinking. I might ask that question (well… no I wouldn’t… but if I did… ) if I was looking to see what people considered important and it would give me an opening in the interview to ask about their photo and how it applied to the role/company. But what a wanky thing to ask? (And to ask every applicant? Nope. Ask just those who have made it through a cut or two already, and ask for something more meaningful)

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      It is interesting that this is being asked for in regards to a customer service position. It’s the sort of assignment I think I’d like, because it is a creative expression and I’m in a field that doesn’t have a lot of creative outlets. It would fill a void for me. But I can see why it may be a turnoff for some.

      1. OP#2*

        I forgot to mention something that might have an impact on the replies to my question. This is a remote position that I would be working from my home. Does that make a difference?

        1. Student*

          Nope, doesn’t matter. It’s just a “be creative” thing, and it’s silly to ask of you.

          Think about why you like this company. What motivates you to join this specific company? It’s med devices – is there someone important to you that is going through a medical crisis? Do you like taking care of people? Look up their mission statement – maybe that will give you some inspiration.

          Then take a picture of something that people will associate with your motive for applying. Include a brief picture caption to explain what your picture means. For instance, if you like taking care of people, I’d take a picture of items associated with taking care of someone sick – the things people associate with taking care of a child with the flu, for example. Couch by the TV, blankets and a pillow on the couch, some chicken soup, some 7-Up, thermometer. If you have a specific person in mind who’s been sick, take a picture of a hospital, or of an empty hospital bed. Cancer motivation? Picture of a book on cancer with visible title (library trip), next to a box of tissues, at the kitchen table – with one used tissue sitting next to the book.

  20. Cheesecake*

    #2 Submitting a photo
    I live in a country where CV without picture will make HR raise a brow. At first i was thinking what does my photo have to do with my experiences and qualifications, but when you think about it, photo on a CV makes the whole doc seem more personal and memorable. Of course when it is a professional well done headshot ;)

    1. OP#2*

      But that’s not what they want. The ad specifies, NO headshots, selfies, etc… May have to just let it go. How are you supposed to send a picture of why you are perfect for a job, without yourself in the picture? I am a creative person, but my psychic hat is at the cleaners. So as Alison said, who knows what they really want.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Exactly – it’s probably some version of ‘oh, this will give us insights into the applicant’s personality’, like an even dumber version of what your favorite book/move is.

      2. hildi*

        I would suspect they are looking for abstract thinking. For instance, a picture of a wagon wheel. This represents why I’m a good fit for this position because….if the wheel represents XYZ Corporation, then the customers are the hub. They are at the center of what we do. The employees are the spokes and the organization, its structure, and management team are the rim. All of the pieces of that wheel need to be in good condition and working together to be effective. As a customer service rep, one of the spokes, I understand that I’m the connecting piece between the customer and the services that this organization offers……

        Or some such thing.

      3. ChiTown Lurker*

        I am not a creative person but this is how I would happen the request. I would ask myself what particular qualities I would be able to contribute to this role and company. For example, if I wanted to state that I would bring experience, professionalism, wisdom and a high level of customer service to the position, I might send a picture of a butler (likes Jeeves). If the position requires a lot of task switching or multiple areas of responsibility, I might send a picture of a juggler with the balls renamed to incident proficiency in handling multiple things at one time. If you the person that cleans up mistakes or handles messy situations, perhaps a broom and a dustpan. It depends on what you would like to convey.

      4. Mints*

        I know it’s a bad question, but assuming you still want to apply, I’d submit a nature picture. Some trees or a field, maybe. Bonus points if you’ve been there or took or yourself. If asked I’d say I found the picture calming. It’s customer service, right? So you probably need ways to calm down regularly

      5. Cheesecake*

        oops, i read it like “no head shots l.i.k.e selfies etc”, meaning “don’t send us photo of you in front of a pool”. Now it is clear: this is the dumbest requirement for a job application i’ve heard so far. And a requirement by medical devices company? Srsly? I am amazed by practical advise people gave you. I wouldn’t bother. Here “judge a company by its job application process” is a right thing to do.

  21. nep*

    #1 — It’s awful to hear that some co-workers make jokes about the balloon phobia and instead of looking to alleviate the problem, plan to put up more balloons. Sounds like the height of immaturity.

  22. Career Counselorette*

    #5, I always suggest to students that putting any kind of volunteer activities or clubs or contests/shows they participated in can be adapted to a resume as well. A young woman I worked with had no formal work experience, but we made her a really solid resume out of playing basketball, volunteering at a hospital, co-organizing and working at a Hurricane Sandy relief center, and DJing.

    1. Victoria (OP #5)*

      In that vein, then, do you think theatre work would look good? I’ve done work on and off stage, and I think it shows that I have a work ethic and can work in a team, but someone else’s perspective could work as well.

  23. Sarah*

    I can kind of understand the balloon thing. Phobias are interesting. Out of curiosity, if the phobia was boxes at a box factory, where avoiding would be impossible? (Sorry, I can’t think of a better example right now.) Could the person be asked to go to therapy? Could the person be fired outright?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      It’s the UK, not the US, so I’m not sure about the laws. But in the US she *might* be able to ask for reasonable accommodation if she can make the case that it’s a disability in that it impacts one ore more major life functions. But, if it prevents her from doing a fundamental aspect of her job, then they don’t need to make a reasonable accommodation.

      That being said, the situation at hand is a very different because the balloons aren’t a fundamental aspect of the job, so it’s perfectly reasonable for the company to remove them.

    2. Calla*

      Not speaking to the legality but I’ve have a hard time seeing that as reasonable accommodation. There’s a difference between something that’s not normally expected in the course of work (balloons or snakes in an office, someone asking you to scale a building when you’re an accountant with a fear of heights…) and that. It would be like me, a vegetarian, applying to Burger King and then asking them to accommodate that fact that I do not want to see or touch meat.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree. Reasonable is the key word and it’s the definition of unreasonable to expect an employer to accommodate an employees need not to be around the very thing they manufacture.

        You still need to be able to do the job with reasonable accommodations, if it’s so crippling that you can’t do that you need to find a more suitable environment for you.

  24. Esra*

    I had issues with balloons when I was younger (faded as I hit my late teens), so birthday parties were really unfun. My chest and throat would get tight just looking at them.

    There was a baby shower at my last job, and the woman in charge bought these super-cheap dollar store balloons and then over-filled them and they randomly went off like gunshot throughout the whole shower. I’m *mostly* okay with balloons now, but by the end of it I didn’t even want to be in the same building with them.

    That said, OP, it sounds like this needs to be a two-pronged approached: 1/ following Alison’s advice to deal with the other team/manager, and 2/ helping the employee with her issues around talking too much etc.

  25. Apostrophina*

    I have a phobia of an animal that lots of people find inoffensive—not huggable or anything, just really inoffensive—and I think the situation in that letter is appalling.

    Until recently, I thought I was handling my own fear well, but an incident last year made it clear that I’ve just managed to limit exposure—there was screaming, running, and the uncomfortable realization that I’d probably jump over something genuinely dangerous, like a poisonous snake, to get away from my phobia-animal. If someone brought one in to work, even in an innocuous way, I’d leave for the day and try to assure that I never saw one in the office again. And if someone did what OP’s coworkers are proposing, I’d quit and never look back (and I say this as someone who has been in this job *way* too long).

    And as far as the people casting this as a “personal preference,” I kind of envy them, since my actual personal preference would be not to make a howling, fleeing, panicky idiot of myself whenever a creature I know in my soul to be harmless shows up. That’s not what happens, though.

    From the OP’s updates, I can see why people at her job are having a hard time separating this from the fact that the coworker is generally unpleasant, but if it’s a real phobia, this isn’t even on the same level as those things.

    1. Someone Else*

      I am very curious to know what the animal is, as Frogs ellicit this same reaction in me, and people find it hilarious that I am terrified of them.

      1. Apostrophina*

        You got it! Was going to say I shared a fear with Willow Rosenberg. :)

        And yeah, your experience is why I am really circumspect about saying it “out loud.”

        1. Ree*

          I am in the frog club as well. People think it is hilarious, and I agree. Irrational fears/phobias are just that — irrational.

          I have no need to overcome this particular fear through therapy or whatever since I rarely come across frogs, but rest assured, I’m not accepting your invite to Amphibian World.

          1. Apostrophina*

            I’d actually sort of like to have therapy—I would like to hike a bit/get a telescope and stargaze and not be obsessed with what might be lurking on the ground around me. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve limited myself until The Incident last year… but at some point, it always comes down to “Should I pay a lot of money to have someone bring toads around me, even for my own good? Nah, that sounds terrible!”

            1. Becca*

              That’s exactly my thoughts on therapy for my bee phobia. I reaaalllly don’t want to have to be exposed to them so therefore running and screaming seems like an acceptable way to deal for now.

              1. Jamie*

                I have been asked if I’ve considered therapy for the food aversion thing and that’s basically my take on it. I don’t think I could physically bring myself to walk into a room where I knew I’d have to see a picture or whatever.

                I don’t scream – because mine aren’t moving – but I get very hostile if I can’t find the remote fast enough and it’s on a commercial or food network…and once in a meeting where they were in one of the dishes I was useless because the only thing I could focus on was not vomiting and not raging against the person who ordered the food – it’s irrational.

                I manage by averting my eyes, I have certain things I think about after I see them to kind of cleanse my brain – if I see someone eat them I don’t eat for a good day or so because I can’t keep food down if I can see them in my head.

                Part of me would LOVE therapy just to know WHY? Why those things which are so common and so innocuous to everyone else? What the hell happened to me as a baby that cemented this aversion in my head. I would literally eat gross and non-edible things before even being in the room where someone else is eating these things.

                I can’t keep my water in the fridge at work if someone has a frozen dinner with them in there in the freezer. If they in something in a take out container I can’t go in the kitchen at work. They aren’t allowed in my home at all – ever – and if someone accidentally buys something premade with them in there I have to throw them out or I can’t stand it – and can’t go in my own kitchen.

                So my point is I totally know first hand irrational and unreasonable responses. I don’t know if there is a name for what I have because it’s not fear. I know they won’t hurt me – and I can eat them in other forms if they are unrecognizable and that’s fine – but it’s just repulsion off the scale.

                But I’d love to know why, because I’m curious as it’s just the weirdest thing, but I could never willing enter into any therapy that would expose me to it. I would suffer physical pain or starvation before putting myself through that as just thinking about it is traumatic.

                1. Becca*

                  I unfortunately know where my fear comes from. I was never afraid of bees as a child…obviously I was afraid of stinging but not to the point where I thought a bee would actually harm me.

                  I was probably in Middle or High School on a girl scouts camping trip. We got to the camp ground (with pre-standing tents) late at night so it was dark and we all went to bed. The next morning I found out I had been sleeping under a giant bee’s nest. Probably about a foot long by a foot wide…but honestly I imagine it bigger in my head so it could be smaller than that. Ever since that day when I realized I probably had bees crawling on me, buzzing in my ear while I slept….I just can’t handle it.

                  Sometimes knowing why you have the aversion doesn’t help the aversion, unfortunately.

                2. Jamie*

                  I know it won’t help – it’s just the curiosity factor.

                  It’s not like I can sue my parents posthumously – but if one of my siblings did something horrible to make me so weird maybe I have a case against them.

                  They have money. :)

                  Seriously though I know what you mean – and I find this kind of stuff fascinating because we all have a million things, near misses, or traumas and some get cemented into phobias or aversions and some don’t – and how it intersects with timing and brain development – I just think it’s really interesting.

                  I look at my siblings and we’re all so different, but there are some significant similarities in usual ways and I’d love some kind of mental map to see where nature and nurture diverge. Because some of it’s genetic for sure – and some of it…raised by loving weirdos?

                3. Jen RO*

                  This is off topic, but all the talk of misophonia on this site brought a bit more peace and quiet in my family. I thought my boyfriend was just being a dick – I don’t chew *that* loud! Now I’ve learned when I can eat certain things and when I have to tell him to go to the other room and listen to some music. I still don’t *get* it, but I’ve learned to work around his issues.

                4. Loose Seal*

                  @Jamie, you could still have therapy without having exposure therapy, if you wanted to know why you have these food aversions. There are some schools of thought that say that knowing [i]why[/i] you feel a certain way will help you in feeling the way you prefer to feel. It may be difficult finding a therapist that doesn’t immediately want to start working on exposure therapy with you (because it’s been proven to work rather quickly and cheaply for phobias/aversions) but if you get the right therapist, you could explore the issue in the way that you feel most comfortable. You probably want a therapist that considers themselves primarily a psychoanalyst or psychodynamic therapist, rather than a behavioral or cognitive behavioral (CBT) therapist.

                  My phobia is teeth. Can’t stand to look at them, including my own. I can’t look away from the TV fast enough when they are showing mouthwash slosh through animated teeth. I’m shuddering thinking about it. Therapy got me to the point where I could have a dental surgery that I needed and kept putting off. I can’t manage to go for routine cleanings yet but I can now make myself go for emergencies, like a chipped tooth or a broken filling. (It helps that I have a dentist that is super sensitive to my phobia and is willing to work with me to ensure I have an issue-free appointment. Plus, I’m stoned to the gills during it!)

        2. Someone Else*

          People suck, Even had someone throw one on me as a joke, because they didn’t believe that I am scared of them, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets punched in the face while I am frantically trying to escape the evil disgusting nasty gross frog!!!!! He actually had the audacity to yell at me for getting hit while I was waving around trying to get the frog off me, and then immediatly going in and taking a shower to remove all evidence of the attack.

          1. Jamie*

            People do suck. I’ve had someone do that with me regarding my food aversion because they thought it was funny – when I’m unprepared and they are in front of me? Not funny when we have to clean up the vomit, is it? Because that’s what happens.

            And people have differing levels of stuff. With my food aversion I can’t even see pictures, but much worse if it’s physically present. I hate clowns – not to the point of an aversion and certainly not a phobia – I just think they are weird and creepy. My sister on the other hand hates them so much she can’t stand seeing a picture of KISS because of the make-up. So when she comes over I make sure there are none out – why upset her?

            And yes, it’s weird that I have enough KISS stuff to have to cleanse my home before visitors..:)

            1. chewbecca*

              I think you alluded to the food you’re adverse to in a different thread a while back, and I really feel for you, since it’s so common.

              And it’s mean to throw/expose someone to something they have severe reactions to, just to “test” them. You throw a snake on me and I’ll scream and run away while probably wetting myself.

              I had to have my fiance lead me through parts of the zoo last year because they decided it’d be fun to randomly have snake displays outside of their designated (and therefore avoidable) snake area.

  26. PucksMuse*

    Re #1

    I am very phobic of clowns. As in, I will freaking RUN across the street to avoid one. As in, reading those references to IT just made me a little queasy. People “respect” phobias of flying in airplanes, heights, spiders, etc., but what sucks about being afraid of something “funny” is that people think it’s hilarious to force that thing on you and when you don’t respond well, tell you that you should get over it and stop being such a baby. I have the same reaction as someone who is arachnophobic and confronted with a spider, or a plane-phobic person when they have to fly, but because YOU don’t understand my reaction, it’s wrong.

    Balloons are not essential to business operations, no matter how “fun” they are. The manager needs to focus less on function and more on functional employees.

    Now, given that balloon phobic woman is a serial complainer, I do get that people are less sympathetic towards her. But the jokes about popping balloons near her are not reflective of awesome people, either.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “…stop being such a baby…”

      Oh, right! That did it! Now I a cured! Gee, I never thought of that before!


  27. Annie*

    #2- I’m wondering what kind of business it is. I had a tech upstart require a twitter length description of why I’d be great at the job and a school system require a similar thing of longer length(I had 100 words rather than characters). This is probably a “How well do you solve out of the box problems?” or “How will they fit in our culture?” question. For a customer service position I’d probably go with a stock or flickr photo of someone commanding attention at the party (having lots of people seemingly listening to them) or a bokeh (the blurry focus ‘lights’) with a clear center picture (which I would read in this situation as someone being able to focus the excess stuff out).

  28. MaggietheCat*

    #2 I would upload a picture of my dog and explain why a golden retriever is my spirit animal.

    1. Previously Dispirited*

      You’re my hero! I thought I was about to have a seriously bad day until I read that, and now I couldn’t possibly…

    1. LBK*

      I think there have been more non-US letter writers lately, so that probably contributes to the letters seeming different. Maybe I made that up but I feel like there’s been more coming from the UK.

  29. Amanda*

    #2 – I think they do want a photo of the applicant, just not a professional head shot, a selfie or one with other people. My read would be to submit a casual photo of myself, alone, that someone else took. It’s a confusing way to phrase it though – wonder how many people send in random photos?

    1. ella*

      Just came here to say this. They want a photo of you taken by somebody else, but a casual photo, not a professional one. If the photo has people other than you in it, crop the other people out so they know which person is you. I’m not sure how a photo of you doing anything other than using the niche medical device would represent why you’re a good fit for the role, though.

    2. LouG*

      See, I would think that wording means that they do not want a picture of the applicant. Why would they allow pictures of the applicant taken by someone else, but not a selfie? I agree though that it’s confusing and I have no idea what they actually do want a picture of.

      Also, can I just say how much I HATE the word selfie?

      1. Allison*

        I hate the word and I hate the stigma around it. Haven’t people been trying to take pictures of themselves for years? Now that we have front-facing cell phone cameras it’s super easy, but I think most people have tried to take pictures of themselves with all sorts of cameras, using mirrors, the timer functions when possible, or just holding the camera at arm’s length in front of you and hoping for the best.

        And before cameras, people painted self-portraits.

        Seriously, we’re not the first generation to want to self-photograph, we’re just the first generation that can do it easily.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yeah. I hate the word too. Look, I photograph stuff I make, which tends to be things you can wear, and I live alone. “Selfie-ing” is usually the only option I have to do it. I’m ashamed, but it’s not like I have a sewing dummy around the house either.

    3. CAA*

      They said “photo or graphic”, so I don’t think it has to be a photo of the applicant. They want some image which they are then going to ask about during the interview.

      1. Ms Enthusiasm*

        I agree. I thought it has to do with symbolism. Is there an image out there that would symbolize how you would be a good fit for the role? Ohhhh what about a lock and a key!!

    4. mel*

      Note that it’s not just a photo, but a photo/graphic explaining why one would be good for that particular job.

    5. Lemons*

      I read it the same way, but with other readers pointing out the “graphic” bit, I’m now not so sure. Maybe this is a case where the OP just needs to contact the employer for clarification.

    6. Mints*

      I don’t think so. I think they’re expecting your favorite food, or a car, or animals, or whatever. The “graphic” bit makes me think it’s about showing interests

  30. Allison*

    1. Personally, I don’t hate balloons, I’m not afraid of balloons, I don’t love them but I have no negative feelings toward them. That said, if someone said “hey, can you take down those balloons? I’m afraid of them” I would take them down! There’s no reason to insist on keeping them up when you know they’re causing a real problem for someone else. It might boost your team’s morale, but at the cost of someone else’s mental health. That team’s manager is super rude and inconsiderate.

    1. Anonicorn*

      For real. Just because you’re not afraid of something doesn’t mean someone else can’t have an actual problem with it. I’m sure there are at least one or two “silly” things everyone is afraid of or dislikes.

      1. Allison*

        And almost everyone is hypersensitive to something, in one way or another. Look, I’m not saying we should all be submissive self-sacrificing pushovers, walking on eggshells and babying each other’s thin skin, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to accommodate other people to a reasonable extent. It’s like if someone asked that people not wear perfume to work due to an allergy, it’s pretty easy to just not wear perfume. No one needs to wear it, it’s not really a huge inconvenience to just not put it on in the morning, but it really makes a difference to someone who can’t tolerate it.

        Where did this aggressive, “whatever, I do what I want, F*** other people” attitude come from? Or has it always been this way?

        1. Confuzzled*

          Well, even with perfume, it’s kind of sad that one person with a sensitivity (and there are people who claim they can smell it from anywhere in the building or are irritated by scented deodorant from the guy three seats down, etc) can make it so you can’t wear a tiny splash of your favorite scent. I use a certain perfume when I really need to feel confident, like before a presentation. I don’t use much, just enough that I can catch a whiff of it and feel good. (Plus the lavender one sometimes if I’m upset). So I feel like both parties in those cases have a point (assuming the scented person isn’t marinating in it).

          There is a certain culture of “Eff you, I’ll do what I want” but sometimes the other side is just as “Eff you, what I want is more important than what you want, so let’s compromise where you give up something and I give up nothing.”

          1. Jade*

            I get headaches from perfume, scented deodorants, the soap in the bathroom you just used to wash your hands, the air freshener in the bathroom. Bad, bad, headaches – migraine, sick to my stomach. No matter how little scent you used, or how nice it smells. I don’t complain, because how can you tell everyone around you to be unscented? (And it’s not easy to find unscented products, I know.) To make me feel okay could not require a compromise, you’d have to give it up entirely, that’s *my* only option. It’s that or the headache for me. But as I said, I don’t ask.

    2. Koko*

      Yes, the big red flag to me is that when she made a perfectly reasonable, if unpopular, request, instead of being agreeable to keep the peace her coworkers dug in and decided they wanted to die on Mt. Balloon. That signals to me this is probably a toxic workplace in other ways, where people form alliances and gossip and politick instead of simply showing up to work and cheerfully doing their jobs in a collaborative fashion. When balloons or lack thereof are the make-or-break point in overall office morale, that signals to me that there are significant underlying issues with people feeling underappreciated, overworked, neutered, abused, etc.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I had a coworker that absolutely could not deal with x. (I don’t want to say too much here.) I said “Okay, I will do Y task because that will help you avoid dealing with x which is the middle of Y task.”

      I wondered if I got played. As the months went on and I was still doing Y so she didn’t have to, she looked…well… guilty.
      I wasn’t the one who ended up looking foolish. But I would do it again if a coworker expressed concern over something- just because you never know what other people are up against.

  31. Tiff*

    Yeah, so I have 3 year old twins. One loves to pop balloons, the other is terrified of popping balloons. Good times.

    That office seems like a nightmare to work in. What an inconsiderate way to handle the feelings of a co-worker. I’m glad she has some support in the office from OP and her husband.

    1. Celeste*

      Exactly right. I hope this manager doesn’t pride herself on her people skills, because you cannot say you have them and continue treating somebody this way.

      It could not have been easy for the woman to speak up about her difficulty. It would be so easy to accommodate her. I don’t understand why someone would be so invested in not being kind.

  32. Totally Normal Person*

    #2 Submitting a photo

    OP, this sounds like one of those cases where the company and the role seem very interesting, but the work culture is abysmal and/or the manager for this role is a complete moron. I would say that if your gut reaction to this lunacy is to sit down and ask for advice on the internet, you should probably pass on this “opportunity” if at all possible. Trust your gut.

    It is hilarious to me, all of these armchair psychologist hiring managers, that read aj article about some “out-of-the-box-thinker” CEO at a startup in Silicon Valley that uses a similar hiring technique and automatically thinks it is a good idea to implement a similar strategy. I could almost see doing this if it was an advertising company or something similar. But for a medical device company? Give me a break.

    Just my opinion based on my own experiences with people like this, but if the hiring manager is stupid enough to believe that this is somehow “insightful” or “out-of-the-box”, they are probably an idiot across the board. Stupid like this usually isn’t just skin-deep, it usually runs clear to the bone.

    Sorry for the cynicism, but this kind of nonsense in the hiring process really grinds my gears. Unless you just desperately need the job, I would probably just pass on the “opportunity”.

    1. OP#2*

      Thanks to everyone for the great replies. T.N.P- you nailed for me though. My gut tells me that this is a give this one a pass situation, but like you said, it sounded like a very interesting role. Guess I was hoping that it wasn’t a wanky request,just that I was not getting it.

      1. Gene*

        Since you’ve pretty much decided to take a pass, why not have some fun with it?

        Use a picture of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and say something like, “I only do this in private when the customer is an idiot.”

        Best outcome, they decide to interview you anyway, you get hired and it’s your Dream Job ™.

  33. Robin*

    OP #4, I hate to break it to you, but it sounds like your wife *is* a problem employee. Based on your description, it sounds like the kind of job the boss needs to know that she can rely on your wife to be on time, all the time. Figuring out how to do that reliably is the employee’s problem, not the employers. When she figured out her public transit problem, it was on her to either inform her boss immediately, figure out a different (safe) way to get into work, or not take the job.

    Second, it seems like the job really requires very sound judgment. If I were to discover my employee were taking an unsafe way to work as the first resort, not the last resort (see all other alternatives above — biking, carpooling, etc.), I would find myself with some pretty serious questions about her judgment, which would make me wonder if I could trust her to make safe calls at work.

    If it were her boss writing in, I think Alison would be telling her to make her expectations very clear, with consequences, up to and including firing her.

    1. LBK*

      I have to say, I kind of felt the same way while reading the letter. I get that there are life circumstances that you can’t control and that when you’re desperate for money, you’ll take any job that will pay you and figure out the details later. I’m sympathetic to that plight and I’ve made certain accommodations for good employees when bad shit has happened to them. But I would be very alarmed if I found out my employee was hitchhiking to work – least of all because of the unreliability of being able to get a ride, but mostly because I’d be worried for her safety.

    2. neverjaunty*

      You’re assuming that all those other alternatives are available to OP’s wife and haven’t been tried (where possible).

      While it’s absolutely true that the manager has a right to expect that OP’s wife show up to work on time, it’s odd that she was immediately put back on an earlier schedule rather than staying on her current, soon-to-be-later route. It may well be that Manager simply doesn’t like OP’s wife and wants to push her out. There may also be other reasons – OP’s wife is a great employee and the earlier route requires someone more skilled, someone with more seniority grabbed the later route, etc. – but the solution here is really for OP’s wife to talk to the boss about the reasons for the schedule change and whether she can stay on her current route.

    3. Celeste*

      I’m not so sure about this. You can have a perfectly wonderful person in the wrong job. While she may be great at the work, at this time in her life she doesn’t have transportation. She expects to very soon. Meanwhile, she has been so desperate to show up for work on time that she has been hitchhiking. That is risky, not just in the drivers but in the chance that somebody won’t come along in time.

      I’m wondering if there is any way she can get a ride to the location from anyone that you know, just until she can get the driver’s license. Failing that, can she just get up an hour earlier and walk the distance until she gets the license? I know it’s not ideal, but it would only be for 5 weeks and it’s not a horrible time of year weather-wise.

      1. Robin*

        Right, she could be wonderful at the job and great with the kids. But it sounds like she has not gotten herself the benefit of the doubt from her boss, and unfortunately, that’s important, too.

      2. LBK*

        I think it depends on what your definition of “problem employee” is. For a job where punctuality is critical to your job function (which it sounds like it is here), that’s going to weigh pretty much equally with how well you do the job when you’re actually there. If you get rave reviews from clients but you can’t show up on time or show up consistently, I would still not consider you a great employee overall. I might be more understanding of your punctuality issues but I wouldn’t dismiss them.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      To me this sounds like rural life.
      For me to call a taxi, the nearest car would be at least ten miles away. There’s no buses. The chances that someone is going my way are slim to none. I’m not complaining- but these are the realities of country living.

      I should imagine his wife feels like she’s living inside a pressure cooker.
      This is a very difficult situation, OP. I think that above all else your wife should figure out what she needs to do in order to pass that driving test. That sounds like a non-answer. But that is the root issue and that is where she should put her energy.

      I see a surprising number of people around me that do not drive or do not have cars. Life is very, very complex for them. The simplest things take hours or even days.
      If she had her driver’s license she would probably have more opportunities for work. This employer on the other hand sounds like they are not worried about retaining help at all. If she works through this battle now, I think there will just be more battles in the near future. (Ask her if this sounds plausible.) She should do what she has to in order to get that DL, so she can move on.

  34. John*

    #2 — if the other things you’ve read about this company make it worth it to you to jump through this hoop, how about this: find a cartoon relating to good customer service (simple Google search), You could mention in your letter, “The attached cartoon captures my approach to client service — [and restate it here], something I’ve demonstrated in past positions.” Something like that. Be creative.

    1. OP#2*

      Great idea John! Thanks, from other replies, was ready to just give it up. But I DO really think I would love this job, and at the very least would like to find out more about it.

      1. John*

        It’s also an opportunity to show your personality. And if and when you get calle in for an interview, it offers an icebreaker.

  35. Janis*

    Nope, we wouldn’t do it. We would not force the balloon people to take down their balloons because someone (and spouse) said she had a phobia. She could indeed make the decision to work on another floor or use up her leave bank for two weeks, but we would not force one person’s odd requirements on an entire group. If someone didn’t like the color red, we would not force the rest of the floor to abstain from red clothing. As for the mean-spirited chatter, yes, that would be dealt with.

    There, I’ve said it. I’m prepared for the flaming!

    1. Holly*

      My only issue is that you’re implying the employee just doesn’t like balloons, versus being terrified of them.

    2. Koko*

      No need to invite flames, but hopefully you’re willing to hear another perspective. A phobia is not simply an “odd requirement.” It’s an emotional handicap that often requires intensive therapy to overcome, and I think it’s completely reasonable that the woman doesn’t want to undergo intensive therapy at work while she’s trying to get her job done, and balloons are so unnecessary that this is a very reasonable accommodation to make for a disability.

      Check out this video to see how this man is so intensely affected by his phobia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xge49FuX5v4 This is a real thing that happens to loads of people, sometimes it’s puppies, sometimes it’s balloons, but for whatever reason, most likely this woman suffered trauma at a young age that her brain has connected with balloons (just as the man in the video suffered a trauma at a young age that his mind connected with dogs). She can’t just decide to sever that connection. It can be a difficult, emotionally intensive process of therapy. I had a rooommate who was so phobic of sharks she couldn’t even see a photo of one without shaking and crying. It took her about a year of weekly therapy sessions to overcome it, and she still won’t swim in open water because that’s too much for her. It’s not an “odd requirement” for folks who have phobias.

      1. Artemesia*

        Given that the OP’s phobic employee is a problem employee, I would not assume that she was in fact phobic but that it was one more way to fill her narcissism tank of need. At least I would be inclined to require medical documentation of the phobia.

        We have a fussbudget who is uncooperative and distracting and apparently has bullied the management into accommodating her demands (the window seat, no open window etc etc) and now it is balloons? Screw that. Let her provide medical documentation before the office acts to dance once again to her high maintenance demands.

        An employee who is a good worker, cooperative and generally low maintenance who requests accommodation of a phobia is likely to get a different response and appropriately so.

        1. Koko*

          “Given that the OP’s phobic employee is a problem employee…”

          Was the letter edited, or is the OP somewhere in the comments here that I missed? I don’t see anything in the letter about her being a problem employee.

    3. Mike B.*

      I think this would be the case with something an employee just didn’t want to see–I recall the Duck Dynasty bobblehead question some weeks back. In that case you’re pretty much choosing whether to protect the morale of the complainant or the “offender,” and since the latter hasn’t really done anything wrong, that’s an easy choice.

      Phobias are a different kettle of fish. If an employee can’t enter the workplace without having an anxiety attack, that’s a productivity issue and absolutely more important than whatever morale might be gained from having a particular decoration in the office.

      1. Janis*

        Nope, still nope. We would not manage to the exception. There are balloons for sale in the grocery store, at businesses trying to draw attention to their establishment, at fairs, festivals and malls, attached to little kid’s wrists … they’re all over the place. We can parse words about phobias and odd requirements, but we would not accommodate this person’s request.

    4. Sharm*

      Yeah, I’m with you, and I HATE balloons. Not a single one of my employers would have accommodated such a request, and they’re not jerks. I’m not really liking the implication that they are. And of course, it turns out there are more issues going on with this employee.

      I’ll get flamed for this too, but where’s the line? Everyone has an issue with something.

      1. Jen RO*

        That’s exactly my problem with these kinds of problems – where do you stop? There is a phobia for anything. (I have the same complaint about ‘trigger warnings’, because triggers are so varied and personal, but that’s a discussion we definitely don’t want to get into.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You prioritize being kind, and if something reaches a point where it’s causing hardship to your organization, you figure it out then. But most things won’t reach that point.

  36. NavyLT*

    #2 – I’d be tempted to submit a series of photos of me holding the niche medical device, Flat Stanley style, in front of various well-known landmarks.

    1. hildi*

      Are you really a Navy LT or a former one? The photo and rank is relevant to my story here, that’s why I thought of it: When I was in the Air Force assigned to an F-16 squadron, we had a Navy LtCmdr that was attached to our unit for a rotation. I was the personnel officer and rememeber having to help him assemble and submit his package to meet the boards. The Navy (at that time anyway?) had a requirement that he had to submit a full length photo of himself in his dress whites. I remembered at that time thinking what an odd and interesting requirement. And being thankful the AF didn’t require that!!

      1. NavyLT*

        Yes, I’m a current Navy LT (and not very creative with the screen names). We do have to submit a full-length photo to the promotion board, mainly to demonstrate that we’re within physical standards, and probably also to put a face with the name for the board members reviewing the package.

        1. hildi*

          I suspected it was to check physical standards. I was impressed by the photo – those dress whites (or however you call them) are sharp. I has such fun with those guys.

          Also, your joke about Flat Stanley is good. When I was deployed I ran a base flag flying program: people could drop off a flag and I’d give it to a pilot to fly on a sortie and then they’d get a certificate saying it was flown on a combat mission, etc. I did have someone give me a Flat Stanley they had with them for their kid. I even think the pilot took a pic with the flat stanley. It was fun.

  37. Interviewer*

    #1 – I agree with other commenters that people in the office are standing their ground, they’ve had enough of the complaints, and they’re not budging on the balloons. She got her husband to complain for her because she fully realizes everyone’s had enough of it from her, and the complaints went several levels above because she suspects the usual ones she goes to have had enough of it, too, but they can’t ignore the big boss.

    This may be a case of Peter crying wolf when there’s actually a wolf this time, but the town isn’t buying it.

    If I could find a way to spark a discussion about weird phobias like other commenters have shared here, perhaps that conversation would get your co-workers to see why they need to take the balloons down. But armed with that knowledge, I suspect the co-workers might instead start leaving tiny clowns, baby dolls, fake cockroaches, spiders, mice, etc. to purposely scare each other.

    So if I were this woman’s manager, I would have a short sit-down conversation with her. It’s clearly poor judgment on her part, not understanding what warrants a complaint and what doesn’t, and it’s possible that poor judgment affects her performance in other areas. But now, this is what it’s gotten her – staying at home sick because of balloons, and a bunch of co-workers who don’t give a damn.

    Good luck.

    1. Nina*

      This may be a case of Peter crying wolf when there’s actually a wolf this time, but the town isn’t buying it.

      Exactly. No matter how severe her phobia is, she’s undermined it with her constant complaining and poor behavior. It sucks that her coworkers are mocking her, but I can understand why they want her gone, and furthermore, why they don’t want to help her at all. She’s given them no reason to. Taking the balloons down is necessary, but in the end, it’s a band-aid compared to the real issues going on with this woman.

  38. Us, Too*

    OP #1 – why can’t she continue to work on another floor? Why the need to call off sick?

    1. LBK*

      It sounds like they’re in a call center environment, so the system may not be portable enough to just move to another location (hence not being able to work from home).

      1. Us, Too*

        OP said that the staff member worked from another floor for a day, so I’m unclear on what the issue would be with doing that for more than a day.

        1. NavyLT*

          I can think of two possible reasons. One, there’s not a place available on the other floor. Two, working elsewhere is a simple solution to the problem, and doesn’t get her nearly enough attention.

    2. OP 1*

      This is one of the reasons the other manager is refusing to budge, because she can work from another floor and did for 2 days but has now decided it was too stressful to be away from her own team and refuses to come in. Procedurally we cannot take any action until she comes back.

      1. Us, Too*

        You must be joking. This is truly ridiculous. She is not entitled to sit with her “friends” at work. And, even if her productivity is genuinely lowered by sitting on another floor, you as her boss get to make that call. Are you able to write her up for refusing to report to work given that you have a suitable place for her to sit? If so, I’d do that. Or, maybe, even fire her outright for refusal to report to work. (In the US the laws around this are pretty liberal – bosses can fire people for almost anything, so I’m not sure if this advice is relevant to you or not)

      2. Cara*

        This woman is a piece of work! Too stressful to be away from her own team? You mean the team whose telephone calls she is logging? The team that talks about soccer DURING THE WORLD CUP?

        You have to do something about this. Especially when her preferences really go to the heart of morale in the workplace. If I had to go to the office and couldn’t talk about my favorite sport, couldn’t open a window for fresh air, and had to be surreptitious about my phone calls all because of one bad seed at the office, and my manager wasn’t doing anything about it, AND her husband was in a senior position there so that it looked like she was being protected? I would be absolutely boiling with resentment.

        1. Us, Too*

          Exactly. This is beyond absurd and has to be addressed by OP and the mgmt team there.

      3. KrisL*

        “Too stressful to be away from her own team” Interesting since it sounds like she causes stress for them.

  39. Ann O'Nemity*

    I’ve thought a lot about #1 and I have to side with Alison. If the woman has a diagnosed phobia, it may rise to the level of a disability needing accommodations. It doesn’t matter if this woman is well-liked or not. The easy and sane thing for the company to do is to remove the balloons and instruct the staff to stop acting like jerks about the whole thing. Failing to do that just opens the door to potential liability, and for what?! Good grief, we’re talking about balloons that have no business necessity whatsoever.

  40. Andy*

    I didn’t think I hate balloons until, while early in pregnancy, a coworker popped one by jumping on it behind me. I got a talking to for shrieking and disrupting the meeting down the hall. Now when I see a balloon I clench and assume crash position on the inside.

    1. KrisL*

      I think the coworker should have gotten the talking to. Someone making a loud bang right behind you on purpose seems like the type of situation where shrieking is called for.

  41. TotesMaGoats*

    I get why Allison gave the advice she did for #1. However, I feel like the employee brought a lot of this own herself with the stated previous behaviors. I can totally see the whole office saying enough is enough. Getting her husband involved is completely inappropriate. It sounds like there were a lot of conversations with the employee that should’ve happened but didn’t. I do wonder if it’s an actual phobia. Or something she self-diagnosed.

    I’ve seen a few references to the boy who cried wolf. I’ve always wondered if the town actually felt any remorse when poor little Peter got gobbled up. I’m betting there was a collective “whew”.

      1. Loose Seal*

        There’s an entire section of the DSM 5 regarding phobias and anxiety. It’s fairly easy to get diagnosed with a phobia if you have an out of proportion reaction to the stimulus for at least a six month period. The reaction does not even have to be considered extreme or unreasonable.

        That said, I think that most people wouldn’t bother getting an official diagnosis if the stimulus was something that could be easily avoided or didn’t significantly impact most of their life. It doesn’t mean they don’t know they have the phobia; it just means they aren’t generally dealing with it often enough to bother with therapy.

  42. Seal*

    People without phobias often don’t understand how debilitating they can be in particular situations. I have a fairly extreme fear of heights, to the point I get panicky and dizzy. Recently our organization was conducting interviews for a higher-level administrator; their 2-day interview included a tour of our various libraries. My boss mentioned that the tour included visiting the roof of one of our 9 story buildings. I was appalled, but when I asked him what they would do if a candidate was afraid of heights I got a blank stare. Acrophobia is far more common than people think – imagine having to deal with a phobia while participating in an interview!

  43. SRMJ*

    I’m not sure for #2 that they absolutely don’t want a picture of the candidate. They said no head shots or selfies, not no pictures of them. So maybe if they’re looking for certain qualities in their CS candidates, a picture of the candidate doing something representative could be something they’re looking for. Like, IDK, if they want someone upbeat and gung-ho, the candidate submits a picture of him/herself looking delighted during a Tough Mudder or something.

    Sorry if someone mentioned this but I didn’t want to read through 286 comments, since a search for ‘2’ would be hitting every comment.

  44. Nancypie*

    OP 2 – recently, surveys have been going around where you are asked “if colleague was a dog, what breed would they be and why?” Or a household appliance, etc.” So a (bad) sample answer is that they are a pit bull because they are known to be aggressive, or a blender because of being chaotic. So I would consider picking a good example, and now you have a nice story to tell in your cover letter as to why you picked the graphic hat you odd, and what it represents about you.

    1. Nancypie*

      And that should say “why you picked the graphic that you picked, and what it represents about you.”

    2. NavyLT*

      …Wait, what? Colleagues as household applicances? I will say that I’m actually wasting a little time right now trying to think of the weirdest possible response I could come up with (obviously, more proof that I would probably have a hard time in the corporate world).

  45. Elyse*

    As for #1, I definitely don’t doubt that someone could have a balloon phobia. It’s totally irrational, but could stem from something pretty traumatic (my boyfriend, a war vet, can’t take balloon pops or any loud bangs). And even if it doesn’t, it’s not our place to decide if it’s silly or not.

    However, if she has a history of making a to-do about everything and causing strife in the workplace, I’d still have the balloons taken down, but have a sit-down with her regarding her overall behavior. There’s no need for the others to be acting so passive-aggressively when they’re all adults, even if the woman-in-question is insufferable.

  46. SRMJ*

    People keep referring to the employee with the balloon phobia in #1 as a problem employee. I don’t see how, considering the only part about her history there, that I could see, involved how she began acting when the subject of her phobia appeared in her workplace. What else would you expect to happen? It’s a phobia. She’s not likely to have a measured, rational response. Her behavior since they popped up isn’t a surprise.

    Also, what kind of a-holes are employed there that think it would be funny to pop a balloon behind her for kicks because *they* literally can’t comprehend how she feels?

    1. Us, Too*

      When you read the above comments you will find that this employee had a history well before the balloon complaint. This is merely the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.

  47. JMegan*

    #4 – I haven’t seen anybody mention the possibility that the OP’s wife might not pass her driver’s test on the first try. Is there a waiting period between tests if you fail, or a limit to the number of times you can take it?

    Remember that she is five weeks from her *test*, which is not the same as five weeks from being a licensed driver. So whatever accommodations need to happen in the meantime, bear in mind that they might need to continue beyond the test date. What if she doesn’t get her license until another year from now?

    Not to be a Debbie Downer, just wanted to point out that “hope for the best, plan for the worst” is not a bad idea in this situation. Good luck!

    1. Jennifer*

      Good point. I’m not sure where #4 lives–I did get a temporary printout saying I had a license, but it took months to physically get one printed after that.

    2. Jamie*

      In my state you can take it 6 times before having to get a doctor’s note to allow you to test again.

      You can test twice in the same day and there is no waiting periods between the others – meaning you can do it daily but only twice per day.

      Although if you’ve ever been to a Chicago area DMV you’re laughing right now at the thought of being able to do it twice in one day after you’ve sat there waiting 6 hours for your first test.

  48. Jaime L.*

    #1–The “boy who cried wolf” analogy is not entirely applicable here. When you read the comments above, you find that the team knew of her phobia ahead of time. They were in a restaurant for a Christmas party, and she ran out of the restaurant because of the balloons. Some of those same people who witnessed that are on the team that put up the balloons for the World Cup. According to OP’s words they were “well aware” of what happened and “went ahead anyway.”

    It’s less that this is one more problem in a long strand of problems, and more that the other employees are escalating the situation at large. The balloon issue needs to be addressed on an individual basis, sure, but then this entire issue needs to be addressed–not just with the “problem” coworker who has a phobia of balloons. Everyone in the office needs to learn to deal with problems in a constructive, direct manner, rather than a childish passive aggressive one. I realize that the OP does not have the level of influence that the Floor Manger does so it’s not up to OP to work on on changing the entire office’s culture. However, the OP can at the very least address it within his or her own team.

  49. Mints*

    #2 I said it up thread, but assuming you still want to apply, I’d use a nature photo. Green fields, etc. It’s pretty universally calming. You could talk about trying to stay calm during tough situations or liking to go for walks after hard days. Customer service really requires keeping your cool when everyone’s yellling and throwing hissy fits, so it’s applicable and innocuous

  50. Confuzzled*

    Wait a sec–the balloon employee demanded that adjustments be made for her, got her husband involved, and then called out when things didn’t go her way. Why do we remove the balloons in this case and have a talk with the coworkers but with the guy who freaked out about having his picture taken a few months ago (which could have been as “simple” as a phobia but as complicated as being in hiding) he was supposed to handle it “like an adult” and sit down and have a calm conversation or whatever? And gave up all rights to accommodation by panicking? That’s such a complete 180 that I’m wondering if something with this balloon person hits closer to home. Why wouldn’t the answer be for her to bulldoze through her fear and have a calm meeting? I’m not saying that because she has a history of this, just wondering why suddenly it’s okay to hold your breath until you turn blue over a phobia…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The guy who freaked out about having his photo taken just freaked out and never presented any reason for it. This person has clearly stated that she has a phobia that’s interfering with her ability to focus on work.

          1. Ruffingit*

            I sometimes want you to institute a policy that says you cannot have your letter answered unless you give an update. I’m not being serious here of course, but I’m just so curious sometimes what has happened to the people who write in.

            1. Linda*

              Hi Ruffingit,
              I am OP#2 in this thread. As a follow up, I did decide to give it a try. I sent a globe shaped graphic filled with words describing all the aspects of great customer service; patience, courtesy, informative, problem solving, etc.. I got a response the same day.
              “As the next step in the hiring process at **** we ask that you complete our brief survey, which can be accessed by clicking the link given below.We look forward to hearing back from you”
              The ‘survey’ was a list of yes or no questions, that really couldn’t be answered with a simple yes or no. sigh… I answered as best as possible and sent it back. That was a week ago, and I haven’t gotten any feedback. I was considering sending the hiring manager an email telling her that since customer service issues are RARELY as simple as just saying yes or no, that the survey doesn’t really let me give an accurate picture of my work style. I’m thinking there isn’t really anything to lose at this point. What do you think?

  51. CaliCali*

    #1 – I feel like in regards to the balloons, if she’s really as hard to get rid of as OP is saying, this is the passive-aggressive (in the strongest sense of this term) attempt by the office to make things so uncomfortable for her that she’ll quit of her own volition and leave them all alone.

    1. Canadamber*

      I didn’t really get the vibe that they dislike her so much they’re trying to make her leave, though.

      1. KrisL*

        The initial letter didn’t give me the impression that they want her to leave, but the follow up in the comments by the OP did.

    1. Kiwi*

      Awwww, pooters.
      Ok, it can be found if you google “current psychiatry 174310” and click on the article titled “Workplace mobbing: Are they really out to get your patient?”

  52. Marvel*

    I really appreciate your response re: the balloon issue. I have a close friend with a SERIOUS phobia of balloons, and while it sounds silly in theory: trust me, they know! But it’s a legitimate problem and they can’t help it. The fact that it “sounds silly” is no reason not to be compassionate.

  53. LAMM*

    OP #5: I don’t do hiring, but I’ve been in charge of screening apps for my store manager before. Here’s some of the things I looked for (which ended up being really long… sorry!)

    – Availability. The more open your availability, the better. I’ve been in positions before where we really only needed someone who was available on Tuesdays/Thursdays from 2-6 (for example). If you don’t know what kinds of shifts places are looking for, try to be as open as possible (without lying. That was always frustrating for everyone involved and it usually ends not good for the new employee).

    – Work your “network”. If you can get a current employee to “refer” you (as in, see if you can get your best friends – cousin’s – boyfriend’s sister to say to her boss “hey, I know someone who is looking for a job. Her name is so-and-so and she applied last week”). Basically, let people know you are looking. If someone can go to their store manager with a name to look for in the giant pile of apps they probably have, your chances of making it out of that giant pile are a lot greater.

    – If it’s slow, ask to speak to either the store manager, or the hiring manager. Most of the time, from my experience, these are the same person. They are more likely to do an initial screening (aka mini interview: why this company, what are you looking for, etc.) so be prepared. If they are not available, be polite and just say that you wanted to drop off an app. Please don’t interrogate the poor manager on duty if they are not in charge of hiring. I’ve had it happen. You end up in the “No” pile because all I can think of is, if you’re this pushy before we hire you, I’d hate to see what you do after we hire you.

    – Don’t be rude. Don’t reach over the counter to steal pens (really. a big pet peeve of mine). Dress appropriately for the store you are applying to (for clothing, this is huge. First impressions really count in retail. Imitate the look of the store the best you can. If not, wear something classic ). People talk. If you’re rude to a sales associate, I put your app in the “No” pile.

    -Put something on your app, even if you don’t have work experience. Put down your volunteer information. Put down something. I got my first job because I wrote that I had spent a majority of my free time helping my mom raise my sisters, and since they moved, I finally had time to get a job and whatnot. But it was true (which is also important – don’t lie!). If you do not have any experience what-so-ever, put down 3 people who we can call as references.

    -Find a brand that you have some sort of connection to. You’ll come across more genuine, and if hired, be a better salesperson because of it. I never recommend someone who isn’t a customer first (more or less).

    -Please don’t show up with a handful of apps and ask if we are hiring. I know we pay minimum wage. And you might only get 15 hours a week (if you are lucky). But I need to know that you want to work HERE and that you are actually going to show up for your shifts. Because I get annoyed when I have to work from 9am to 10pm with only a 30 minute lunch break at 1pm because you decided to no call no show.

    -Show up 5 minuted early for an interview. No more. Otherwise it’s awkward for me and for you. Because my store manager WILL be at least 5 minutes late for the interview due to this-or-that running late. Also, don’t be the jerk that is 10 minutes late that everyone is stuck waiting around for (in case of a group interview).

    -If you do not have semi-decent handwriting, please apply online. I’m not calling you for an interview if I can’t read your app.

    Understand that this is just my opinion… a member of store management who used to screen apps. We hired plenty of people who, based on their app, I would have rejected. So take this with a grain of salt. Plus I worked at one company for the past 5 years. So my judgement is probably skewed towards what they prefered and what I learned there.

    TL/DR: Bring a pen. Don’t be a jerk. Dress appropriately. Try to find any connection (a “friend of a friend”) to the store and have them talk to their manager.

  54. Befuddled*

    The request for a picture representing why you’d be a good fit for the job is kind of interesting … I wondered what I’d send. After thinking about it, I think I’d send in a picture of the alter screen at St Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. I’m not a member of the church, but every time I go to a concert there I’m fascinated by the piece.

    It’s made up of separate panels of glass, that come together in a graceful work of art. It serves the function of diffusing the light. I’d make some kind of claim along the lines that each piece of glass is separate, but by working together they create a harmonious whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Or in other words, when each member of a team fulfills their role, great things can be accomplished. Each piece of glass is important to the final results.

    Here’s a link to the architect: http://www.olsonkundigarchitects.com/Projects/204/St-Marks-Cathedral-Renovations

  55. Weasel007*

    #1: I 100% agree with Alison. Take down the balloons, and quickly. Primarily, unless your jobs involve balloon testing, you don’t have to have balloons at your desk. I think it is mean spirited and downright cruel for people to even suggest popping a balloon near her! I am deathly afraid of spiders. Not the little tiny kind, but the big scary kind that live in Australia. I’ve never been, and I’ve never seen one in my life but I do have that reaction when I see them in print, on tv, on the internet. Is that silly? YES. Is it real? YES. In addition, I have a heart condition. If someone put a large spider, real or not, joke or not on my desk anywhere, I’d probably drop dead. For Real. I can only imagine how my estate would be suing the you know what out of that company if anything happened to me like that. Those employees need a reminder on compassion. If I were there manager, this would be enough to make me doubt their character and I’d be looking for other flaws.

  56. OP #1*

    Just an update now before i forget, she came back on tueday after 4 days off and worked on the ground floor, balloons were removed on wednesday (because england were out) and she returned to her normal seat on thursday. She states that she had a stress induced headache from being exposed to her phobia (she describes it as quite severe) while she was off and has said she will prosecute if it happens again.

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