my boss doesn’t want student workers eating lunch with other employees, because they might hear “adult subjects”

A reader writes:

I work in higher education and my office employs college students. The two students I currently oversee (both over 21) have been eating lunch in the break room at the noon hour along with the rest of the staff members. My supervisor told me she feels uncomfortable with the students doing this because staff may discuss confidential work info during lunch and because some staff swear and talk about adult subjects. My supervisor asked that I either change the students’ lunch hours or ask them to not sit in the break room.

I refused, arguing that the request is misguided and discriminatory. Are there any laws or other reasoning I can use to advocate for the student employees?

There’s no law that would really come into play here; age discrimination laws don’t kick in until 40, but even if they did apply earlier, there’s no law that prohibits treating one class of employee (student workers) different from others.

But the law of Don’t Be Ridiculous certainly applies.

You might try pointing out to your boss the following:

1. The student workers are just as likely (if not more) to be exposed to confidential work info in the course of their work than at lunch.

2. They’re adults, not children.

3. College students probably get more daily exposure to swearing and “adult” topics than the rest of us.

4. They’re adults, not children.

5. It’s going to be awkward and demoralizing to prohibit them from eating lunch with the rest of their coworkers.

6. They’re adults, not children.

7. It’s actually helpful (to their work and to them professionally) to be able to get to know their coworkers better, as well as to be exposed to more experienced perspectives on work.

8. They’re adults, not children.

{ 235 comments… read them below }

  1. Who are you??*

    I’m unclear….are they adults or children? ;)

    Well said! Honestly I think the college students could probably teach the employees a thing or two about “adult topics”. A friend’s 18 y.o daughter recently had a conversation with me a party that had me blushing!! :)

    1. Rye-Ann*

      Y’know, you’re right, which got me thinking. Maybe it’s not that the supervisor thinks they’ll hear anything they’re too young for, but rather a fear that the students are going to be immature about it so their participation in such a conversation could make it go out of control? Or maybe I’m just reaching. :P

    2. Adam*

      That’s what I figured. Both student workers are over 21. What exactly do they think any of the more senior employees could say that would be too much for them?

      Unless the go on and on about stock windfalls during lunch. That’s way too adult for my ears.

      1. Dan*

        I was having lunch with some of our college-aged interns, and I mentioned the adult topic of “401k”. The kid (er, young adult) had no clue what I was talking about.

        1. jmkenrick*

          That’s sort of a compelling argument to have the students sit with the employees!

        2. Anx*

          All I know about 401Ks is that whenever I’ve had an interview where someone is discussing this as part of the package (which is before the actual interview) my heart starts breaking because I never would have even considered the possibility of earning a job with actual benefits, and then I have them pitched to me when I’m just traying to make a good impression and I feel so awkward because I’m trying to look like I know what I’m talking about, but I also feel so self-conscious because by taking it seriously I feel like I’m giving off vibes of entitlement or something. On the one hand, it’s nice to get the technicalities out of the way. On the other, sometimes it’s really sad because every job I’ve interviewed for I’d be happy to do for minimum wage with no benefits. And that part just makes me want the job even more, which makes the rejection that much harder.

          1. Maggie*

            I think you’re overthinking 401k. O.o

            Seriously though, just nod there and smile. And you should probably Google 401k and matching. And tax strategies of IRAs, although early in your career you’re usually not making enough to need to worry about tax strategies. Carry on…

            And good luck interviewing!

        3. UrbanGardener*

          I had an intern last summer that I had to explain credit scores to (and how to look hers up) because she was applying for apartments.

          My intern this summer is NINETEEN!!! So damn young. And very unsophisticated, with no clue about a lot of things. It can only help her to spend social time with colleagues, I think.

          1. LeeGee44*

            Our role as administrators in Higher Education is to serve as role models and produce productive self supporting individuals.

            Refusing to share a designated break room with student employees is a poor example of management and strong sense of “elitism”

            I put that in the same category as s professor some 18 years ago telling me that staff shouldn’t be allowed to park on campus; that all parking spaces should be available to faculty only.

            1. LeeGee44*

              Produce … wrong verb for this … responsible for giving them the tools to use in future employment is a better description.

              We can give them a screw driver, tell them how to use it; even show them how to use it … but it’s up to them to retain the directions and follow through.

    3. LittleT*

      My first thought was, “Maybe this is a religious workplace” and they’re afraid the young’uns may hear something about S-E-X or foul language.

      Heavens to Betsy, we can’t have any of that in front of them, they’re just children!

      Holy cow this is hilarious. Those college-aged kids probably talk about more “adult” things than those present in the lunchroom!!

  2. Kobayashi*

    Some states do have laws that require providing an appropriate area for employees to take lunch (i.e., a break room), I believe. And, yes, they’re adults, not children. I’m sure they hear MUCH worse hanging out with other college students. Though, imho, swearing at work really isn’t appropriate for anyone, at any age, even when one is at lunch if in the presence of coworkers.

    1. Anonylicious*

      I think that’s dependent on workplace culture. I always joke that the reason I stay in the defense industry is because I would have to relearn how to speak without swearing if I took a corporate job.

      1. Ethyl*

        Hahaha yeahhhh it really, really depends. Work with machine operators or drillers sometime….

        1. Laufey*

          I used to work in a hockey arena with a boss who used to serve on submarines….

          I learned a lot of very interesting things during that job.

        2. Esra*

          I feel like designers and programmers could give them a run for their money.

          Ain’t no swears like slow, crashing computer swears.

      2. Anon Accountant*

        I work with construction contractor clients and would blush at first when hearing some of them swear. They’re great intelligent business minded people but swear a lot.

        1. Chinook*

          The field guys I work can use some colourful adjectives but always pause when tehy realize that I am aroudn (I don’t know if it is because I am head office staff or female). I just laugh and say I married an infantryman and can hold my own just fine.

    2. LeeGee44*

      Do you think part of the problem is the manager feels that they will have filter their own conversations?

      My goodness … they will have to discuss something besides work during break … and forget talking about what my husband did to me under the covers this morning before work. Some people over share in the lunch room … maybe there are a few co-workers that fit that bill.

      The manager needs to get over it … and if the manager feels that strongly about it; they can tell the students themselves. Easy to be a horses rump with you are using another individual as the messenger; gives them room to say ” I didn’t tell them to do that.” Some managers know what they are asking or saying is “so wrong.” But they want it so bad … they will make someone else be the face associated with the foul message they want delivered.

  3. Sascha*

    If she’s worried about other staffers talking about confidential subjects, then maybe…tell those staffers not to talk about confidential subjects around those who don’t need to know?

    1. HigherEd Admin*

      Exactly. Why are confidential subjects being discussed in a semi-public area anyway? We also have student staff in our office, and they do come across a lot of confidential information in the course of their work (student records, etc.). We ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement during orientation/training.

      1. Chloe Silverado*

        This. I don’t work in higher education, but we asked our intern to sign a confidentiality agreement when she started. This way, she is free to move about the office and interact with the staff (you know, so she can effectively do her job!) and doesn’t have to be sequestered in the broom closet so she doesn’t hear anything confidential or “adult”.

      2. Chinook*

        “Why are confidential subjects being discussed in a semi-public area anyway?” This is a really godo point. Learning to monitor your environment when talking about confidential items should be second nature. DH talked about how conversations would stop mid-sentence when he walked into a room while he was waiting for his security clearance to go through in the military.

    2. Jen*

      Offices can be kind of crazy about “confidential topics” and 90% of the time, everyone knows about this “confidential information” anyway. I’ve sat in on a few whispered meetings with higher ups where they think some big plan is completely quiet but they forget that most deans have huge mouths and they tell their entire staff and that staff tells their friends in other departments. So the new buildings or threats of layoffs are already all over campus anyway.

    3. LeeGee44*

      Confidential subjects shouldn’t be discussed in the lunch room.

      These people need a break at lunch … not work related conversations. The kids may give them something to think about … that gives them a break.

  4. Diet Coke Addict*

    I’m very curious to know what these “adult subjects” are that over-21-year-old college students won’t be familiar with. Mortgage payments, maybe? Lumbar back pain?

      1. Dan*

        See my comment elsewhere about 401k’s — one of the interns I’m working with seriously had no clue what it is.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Judging from recent study data, I think a lot of working adults don’t know what a 401k is. (Even if they know what it is, they apparently are not using it effectively. Have you seen the retirement savings data? Terrible situation.)

          And that’s not a judgemental statement. 401ks have been around ~30 yrs. My parents didn’t grow up with them. I did, and I had parents taught me about money, but all my husband’s parents taught him about money is that there never was any! Not everyone’s parents had 401ks. They don’t teach about retirement savings in high school, and I never learned about it in college. So many people are not going to research this on their own. Employers enroll you in the program, and mine offers free education sessions from our plan provider, but how many take advantage of this?

          1. GigglyPuff*

            On the opposite end, my parents never talked about money, cause we had it (upper-middle class, I guess), and when I would ask, shut down as, “that’s none of your business”. Which is completely unfortunate now, because, well due to life, my siblings’ unforeseeable mental illness, and their divorce, both are struggling, especially my mom who hasn’t had a job in almost thirty years.

            And of course I’m supposed to have all this magical knowledge now about money and how to manage mine, and the only thing I was ever really taught: pay off your credit card on time (valuable, and makes me really cautious and on top of it now, but also made me a little paranoid to the fact that I didn’t get my first credit card until this year).

            So basically everything I learned about saving money (not that I’m doing great right now) came from common sense, t.v. (Friends episode where Monica’s dad says “10% of the paycheck goes in the savings account”), and my economics degree, which thankfully came with two accounting classes.

            One of the only things I regret about my job was, I don’t qualify for the optional second retirement account, but don’t really make enough money to go out and get it myself.

            1. OhNo*

              My parents had that same “none of your business” idea. Every time I wanted some money or complained about money as a kid, I got the same rssponse of “you don’t know what it costs to run this house!” Well, yeah, but maybe if you shared that info with us kids, I might.

              Thank god I got some financial smarts despite all that. Lord knows my brother didn’t – I think he might still be unaware that food costs money, and doesn’t just magically show up in the cupboard because of the snack fairy.

              1. Laufey*

                Geez, the next thing you’re going to tell me is that the carpet fairy doesn’t do the vacuuming, either.

              2. Dan*

                My parents fell in the “not much money” camp. My dad tried to make us save from our summer jobs (and I did, just blew it all on college.)

                But I gotta be honest, as an adult, the first time I was making more money than I was spending every month, I was like WTF? What do I *do* with this? I was so used to living paycheck to paycheck that I had no friggin clue what to do. I mean, there’s like extra dude.

                I was working 50-60 hours a week on the midnight shift with Mondays and Tuesdays off, so it was actually really hard to spend money socially without thinking about it. Thank god.

            2. Maggie*

              Second retirement account? Do you mean a Roth? Otherwise, I don’t know what you’re talking bout and feeling left out.

              1. GigglyPuff*

                I work at a large university, so I’m automatically enrolled in the state teacher’s retirement system, but if you qualify (I think by being exempt), you can enroll in a 403 or 457 plan

            3. Sarahnova*

              I also remember Monica’s dad declaring, “10% of your paycheque, WHERE does it go?” and have always taken that as a useful rule of thumb. Sitcoms = underappreciated vehicles for teaching financial skills, evidently. :)

            4. KrisL*

              I bought one of those books for “Dummies” on financial stuff. It helped some. I don’t do enough with the info, but at least I’ve put money in my 401K for a while.

          2. Anonsie*

            Oh man, this is so close to home. If you don’t grow up around this stuff, how would you *ever* get up to speed?I’m from a no-money-talk-since-there-was-no-money background and now as an adult I *want* to plan really well for retirement and invest my savings and all, but I don’t know how. I try to do my own research, but it really feels like everything written about it is assuming a much higher level of background knowledge than I have. I have a financial advisor and all these materials from the group that has my 401K and I just… Don’t… Get it.

            When I talk to the advisors we get, they don’t even know how to start with me. They’ll explain something and I’ll tell them, look, I have no idea what that all means, you’re gonna need to bring it down a few levels. They always seem puzzled and can’t ever really break it down for me. I could easily see someone feeling too embarrassed to do any of that and just letting it all slide.

            Add to that the fact that most people I know around my age only save to buy nice things, and the ones a generation ahead of me will actually make fun of me for trying to get my money together… Then I’m putting away most of my extra income and everyone else I know is taking trips and doing things that I can’t afford and it feels like maybe I’m not doing the right thing? I almost can’t see a way for people who grew up struggling can actually learn how to do this.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              That makes me mad! I hate it when people are supposed to help you can’t do their job.

              The only advice I can give to learn this on your own is to become a Dave Ramsey disciple. I don’t follow his programs (Financial Peace University, Total Money Makeover), but I started listening to his radio show years ago for fun. I don’t agree with all his philosophies, but I think he does a good job of reaching people with zero financial background. He starts people out with the basics of getting on a budget and moves on from there to paying off debt and investing. Listening to his show, at first I was surprised at how many people don’t even know how much money they bring home each month and how much their bills total. He keeps it simple enough that even that group can understand it. As you become more savvy with money, sure, branch out from his teachings and get more sophisticated with investing, but while you’re learning, his stuff will keep you out of trouble (no single stocks or highly leveraged real estate!).

              I will caution that he’s a little down-homey and religious, but I’ll take that over someone the slimy life insurance salesman types who don’t want me to know how much commission they earn of my investments.

              1. Anonsie*

                That sounds like my kind of level, actually. My parents kept meticulous budgets so I’m great with that. I stick to a pretty tight budget and I save quite a bit. Then it’s just… Ok, what do I do with these savings? They’re losing money in a savings account, after all.

                But there’s always a massive jump from the “watch your budget by not buying a $5 latte every day” advice (don’t get me started on stupid budgeting tips) to the actual investing advice. Seems like there isn’t a middle ground between tracking your monthly income/expenses and being an investment banker. For extra fun, they always seem to assume you have a lot of money to invest– I mean A LOT, plus a staff to run it. “Ask your CPA to do x and y.” Yeah sure, I’ll do that. I totally have a guy for that. Right.

                1. De Minimis*

                  It’s tricky…people should save for retirement, but I think they cause problems for themselves if they become TOO involved in their investments. What can work for some is to find one fund that is well-diversified and has a low cost, set up some kind of automatic payment to it, and then more or less ignore it most of the time–maybe look at a statement once or twice a year…

                  My retirement fund at work [not a 401k but similar] is all put into a target date fund and I rarely pay any attention to it.

                2. Daughter of a Financial Planner*

                  My mom is a financial planner, so I did grow up around money talk and know some things about personal finance. I am in no way trying to preach here, but if it helps anyone, the basic rules I learned growing up are:

                  A) SPEND LESS THAN YOU EARN

                  1. If you need to keep track of every cent you spend for a month or two to know what you’re spending, do it.

                  2. This is where skipping the $5 latte, trimming down the monthly cable bill, or working a couple hours overtime helps.

                  B) DO SOMETHING USEFUL WITH THE “EXTRA”. In order of priority:

                  1. Pay your bills. Defaulting wreaks havoc on your credit score, which will hurt your pocketbook in other ways down the road.

                  2. Save up an emergency fund. Enough to cover 6-9 months of expenses is great, but anything is better than nothing. This should be a cash savings account or something else that is easily accessed. It feels like this money is wasting away, not earning much interest, but it will pay off when the car breaks down, you have a medical emergency or you get laid off.

                  3. Contribute enough to your company 401k to get the full company match. That’s free money the company is giving you, so take it. If you don’t know what to invest in:
                  – Pick a small variety of mutual funds that are tied to the S&P index and sound kindof boring.
                  – Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, particularly not the company basket. Don’t have more than 10% in the company stock.
                  – If you have awhile until retirement, choose things in the slightly higher risk categories (the 401k info should categorize funds by risk level), if you are closer to retirement then choose moderate risk categories. Target date funds will adjust the risk level for you based on your planned retirement date.
                  – You don’t have to pick individual stocks, do anything fancy, or panic over short term gains and losses.
                  – NEVER touch your 401k until you retire if at all possible. Don’t be lured in by 401k loans unless you know what you’re doing since they carry tax penalties. If you move jobs, either keep the old 401k or roll it over into your new one. Don’t just cash it out and go on vacation.
                  – Basically, just stick your money in something slightly boring, then just leave it alone. It will grow over time on its own, but not if you’re constantly moving it and messing with it.

                  4. Pay off any debts. Credit cards and car loans in particular. Then student loans. Mortgages are ok to keep since they are usually lower rates and have tax advantages.

                  5. Put aside a little each month into a “fun” account. Dinners out, saving for a vacation, saving for a new tv, etc. That gives you a way to enjoy yourself a bit and not go insane, but without blowing the bank. When you empty your fun account, too bad, no more fun until you save up again.

                  6. Start a Roth IRA and max it out ($5500/yr) if you can. Roth accounts are taxed differently than 401ks, so if you have both then you will have more options to manage taxes when you retire.

                  7. If you have extra beyond that – good for you! That’s when you have some broader choices about how to invest it. You can max out your 401k, start a separate IRA account, save for a house, pay off mortgages early (the “return” you get on that is eliminating future interest) or some combination of the above. Use common sense, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, and be content to watch your money grow slowly over time. As long as it sits there for awhile without you touching it, then it will grow.

                  So those are my mom’s basic rules. You can do all of that with plain budgeting and planning – no worries if you don’t have an investment banker in your back pocket. Hopefully that helps for those of you that want it.

                3. Daughter of a Financial Planner*

                  Oh, and I second De Minimus’s advise to set up automatic payments to yourself (savings account, 401k, investment account, wherever) and then just leave it alone.

                4. Judy*

                  I’m a big fan of Scott Burns. He has the “Couch Potato Investing” using index funds, that you rebalance every year. He has “recipes” for several of the major mutual fund companies.


                5. Anx*

                  Ah! The latte advice!

                  When I worked I would treat myself once in a while. I would have blown through whatever I had saved by not eating out, but I think I’m still coasting on some of the social interaction a little bit of local commerce provides.

                  I’m glad I’m not the only one who bristles at ‘the latte factor.’

            2. MM*

              I really like “Making the Most of Your Money Now” by Jane Bryant Quinn for the basics – it’s a huge book, but actually really easy to read – she keeps it pretty light and simple. I also listen to the Market Place Money podcasts (although I think the ones from a few years ago offer better advice than the current ones).

            3. Chinook*

              Anonsie,I am another David Chilton fan only I knew his as “The Wealthy Barber” guy. There is a whole generation of Canadians who were given this book as high school graduation gifts and the advice is great. He also practices what he preaches and is known as one of the “dragons” on Dragon’s Den (Canadian version of “Shark Tank” but we had it first).

            4. Dan*

              It’s honestly amazing how quick the stuff grows. I worked in the service industry after college, and in a four-year stretch, I managed to accumulate $20k in my 401k and Roth IRA. I was like Holy @$#@! They weren’t kidding.

              I was at my last job for 5 years. They paid us by the hour, and I was routinely working 50+ work weeks. When I left, the balance in that account was $50k.

              My account at my current job will increase by $20k annually in contributions alone. I’ve only been here a few months, so it hasn’t had time to accumulate.

              What you should know at this point is “Just do it. Start somewhere.” Target date funds are pretty decent if you have no other idea where to start.

              I’m not an expert.

              1. fposte*

                Target funds are generally a very good bet! And look at expense ratios and service/management fees; don’t get sucked into past performance numbers. There’s a reason these places are legally required to tell you they don’t matter (and wouldn’t tell you that if the law didn’t require them to).

            5. Maggie*

              Are you referring to one of the advisors that came with your 401k? Like Fidelity? If so, pay the extra money and get a different advisor — outside of your 401k company. They’ll help you and they’ll work harder to build your nest so that they can make more money off of it one day. Keep looking until you find someone that CAN break it down for you. There is no educational prerequisite for being a client, so keep looking until you get what you need. (consider it doctor shopping, but for your money)

              –past Financial Services staff person

              1. fposte*

                But on an hourly fee basis, please; don’t hand your money over to somebody to manage when you can put it in cheap mutual funds as well as they can.

              2. Anonsie*

                Aren’t those people very expensive? That sounds like spending an awful lot of money to manage my very, very meager savings.

            6. Dan*

              They have a vested interest in keeping you confused. The more you know for yourself, the less likely you are to want to pay for their services.

              The other thing you should know is that even the professionals can’t get it right. Pension funds did ok for a generation — until the baby boomers retired and started pulling from them. Now companies are getting rid of them in BK and shifting the obligation over to the PBGC.

              “Professional” fund managers aren’t doing any better than the market average — studies show that they can’t consistently beat the market enough to justify their fees. If the experts can’t get it right, there’s no way in @#$#@ you are.

              1. fposte*

                To clarify, I think you mean on active management, right? Because I totally agree with that; it just sounded a little like you were saying “You’re just doomed whatever you do!” and I don’t believe that (or think that’s what you meant).

                But yeah, listening to the noise in investing will kill you.

                1. class factotum*

                  One of the few pieces of valuable information I still remember from grad school, from my finance class: The only way to beat the stock market is to cheat.

                2. fposte*

                  Ironically, the way to beat most everybody else is not to try to beat the stock market but just stay even with it.

            7. vdubs*

              I’ve learned a lot listening to Dave Ramsey. I also took his Financial Peace class, where one session was on retirement savings, etc. It’s helpful to hear how he addresses questions on his radio show- that’s how I’ve learned almost everything I know re: retirement savings.

            8. Editor*

              My daughter listens to the Suze Orman show. Orman is an aquired taste, but her fundamentals are good. The advice from daughter of a financial planner is good, too.

              If you are totally baffled by investments, put your 401(k) money in a target retirement fund or index fund. Open a Roth in addition, if you can. If the market goes into a dive, grit your teeth and wait it out. Do not give in to panic and don’t sell in a declining market because, in my experience, you will come out at the other side in ok shape, and maybe even better. My late husband and I have had money in company-sponsored investment accounts, IRAs and 401(k) accounts since the mid-1970s, and we’ve survived some scary market dives. But we owned funds, not individual stocks in most cases. We did have some losses but the gains offset them, while friends who sold (in the wake of 2008) lost a lot of their capital because when they sold, they lost any chance to increase the value of their holdings because the money was now in cash, not in funds or securities that might go up again. With an individual stock, the stock might decline in value while the market stays strong. Then you might have to sell, and if you’re going to do that, you need to figure out at what price the stock is a good buy and at what (declining or overvalued) price you need to sell at. I am not interested enough in the market to do all that homework.

              You might also want to read up on dollar-cost averaging. Basically, this says that when you put a steady amount into an investment account (that doesn’t have excessively high fees), the money buys small amounts of stock when the market is high and large amounts of stock when the market is low, so the continuous investing smooths out the vagaries of the market. In addition, a regular buy-in to a fund or set of funds keeps up with inflation better than investing in a house does (sorry, I can’t remember the citation, but a study recently showed investing money in the market instead of in housing had several percentage points more return).

              Read financial advice columns regularly and read things from different viewpoints. Felix Salmon has some criticism of Dave Ramsey that is worth considering, Matt Yglesias and Jordan Weissman write about the economy and personal finance, as do Reihan Salam and Megan McArdle. The Washington Post has a good personal finance columnist, too — Michelle Singletary.

              Good luck. The secret to having a decent retirement is putting money away early — as early as possible — because the money will grow and compound. The secret to having that money at retirement is to put the money away and pretend it isn’t there — it is not an emergency fund, unemployment backup, loan source or dream vacation fund, unless you’re taking the vacation when you’re 72. While Social Security can provide a basic retirement income, retirees need a second source of income to just pay things like supplemental health insurance and prescription costs, home repairs, and other normal expenses.

              1. Loose Seal*

                I recommend Clark Howard as well. Not only is the website helpful (he has a range of financial planning how-to’s ranging from a 2 minute basics course up to how to act like an investment banker) but they have a call in team where you can get specific advice.

                Plus, I like the fact that Clark takes his entire team on an out-of-the-country trip each year as a perk. He seems like a pretty good boss.

            9. KrisL*

              Good job putting away your extra income! I’m not an expert, but I’ve read about it. I’d say: put some money in a place you can get it out easily (savings account), some where it’s a little tougher to get it out (CD), some in money market, and if you can handle it, try some in mutual funds (especially index funds). A lot of times, if you invest fairly conservatively, you can just let it sit there and not have to think about it too much. This may be the “lazy” way to invest, but it’s way better than not investing.

              Also, fund your 401K or Roth IRA. Especially if your company matches part of it.

        2. LBK*

          I work in a department whose entire purpose is essentially to educate people about their 401(k)s work. Trust me, a lot of adults don’t have any clue what they are either.

        3. Dan*

          I told him, here’s what you need to know: I put in a bit, and the company puts in a bit. Each year, that’s a total of $20k. Think about that when you get into the real world. (My company has a generous match, and the number I quoted is very real.)

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        I’m only 26, but I actually had a rotary phone growing up! I got it when my grandmother died, and it had been in her house for fifty-odd years, and I loved it dearly. Loudest ring I’ve ever had on a phone, and the heaviest phone I’ve ever had, but damn if the sound quality wasn’t amazing. I used it a LOT as a teenager for my nonstop phone yapping with my friends, and I’m pretty sure I was the only 17-year-old I knew using a rotary phone to gossip!

        1. L McD*

          Yeah, same (except I’m 27). It’s actually kind of funny how people in previous generations sometimes assume that we’re unaware of things that went out of fashion before we grew up – like we live in some vacuum that didn’t include any relics of the past. I had a rotary phone, typewriters, record players, etc. all knocking around the house when I grew up in the 90s.

          (And I’m not saying OriginalYup is doing this – it’s just a funny phenomenon when people like the boss in the OP act like younger people are a different species, and this kinda plays into it.)

          Recently I was informed by an older woman that I’m “too young to remember” that Paul Newman used to be very handsome. I mean, that’s technically true, I guess, but it’s not like I’m unaware. I’ve even seen some of his movies that came out BEFORE I WAS BORN! Shocking, I know :P

          1. CanadianWriter*

            I’m younger than you and I was obsessed with my typewriter when I was a kid. Using it made me feel like a famous writer (I was a really dorky kid…)

            1. AdminAnon*

              Ditto! I’m 25 and I actually still have my typewriter. I used it so much as a kid. I haven’t touched it in ages, though.

            2. Snargulfuss*

              + 100,000
              I’m a totally dorky adult, and I love the image of a kid sitting at a typewriter pretending to be a famous writer.

          2. Mints*

            True, and even if I’ve never used an 8-track, if you mention it in conservation, I’ll know “music player” and won’t be flopping around in confusion. Like, I know what things are enough that you don’t need to translate into young-speak

            My grandma also had a rotary phone which I used when I visited, and a children’s record player. Oh and an actual solid iron that you heated up on the stove. Haha those were cool

            1. Happy Lurker*

              Lived with my grandma for a couple years…she had a party line. I was busted daily for “still” being on the phone “blasted kids”.

          3. KerryOwl*

            I once went as ’70s-era Steve Martin for Halloween one year (three-piece white suit, arrow through head, banjo, etc.) — I was born in 1978. There was one older dude a the party and it BLEW HIS MIND that I even knew what Steve Martin was doing in the ’70s. He seemed completely bemused that recordings of the past had actually survived, or something. I don’t even know.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              Yeah, come on, they had TV Land reruns when we were kids, for Pete’s sake. I don’t get that “you wouldn’t know about ___” attitude. I was born in the 70s, and my sons in 1997 and 2004. Even the one born in 2004 knows what a record player is. They know what typewriters are. They’ve seen movies and TV shows from before they were born (or the ones from now that were set in another decade). Now, I will say my oldest son has pissed me off a few times with some music trivia answers. Answering the Eagles for a Rage Against the Machine song is just plain idiotic, but he really has a hard time grasping the music decades. Is it because my husband had that Eagles DVD when my son was little so he thinks they’re from the 2000s? I have no idea. ; )

        2. Stephanie*

          I thought my grandmother’s rotary phone was the coolest thing ever. (I’m 28.) I would so take that over the talking digital phone we have at the moment.

          1. KerryOwl*

            When I was a kid, we had push-button phones, but you had to pay an extra dollar a month or something to have “touch tone” service. So even though we had buttons, you’d press 9, and instead of a tone, it would click nine times. It confused the heck out of my friends if they were ever over and needed to use the phone, and it took FOREVER (or it seemed that way to an impatient kid whose parents refused to get with the freaking program) to listen to those stupid clicks. Trust me, you do not want a rotary phone.

            1. De Minimis*

              I still knew a few people with rotary phones up until 2000 or so. My parents still had a rural party line until the mid 90s!

            2. Chinook*

              I remember having to go out and buy a touch tone phone so I could register by telephone for my university classes (because my university was breaking new technologicaly ground in 1993). I had moved in with my grandmother in the city and she still had the contemporarily styled avoocado green, thin profile rotary phone which I can still feel the wieight of if I think hard enough.

              1. De Minimis*

                I had the same problem! I can’t remember how I managed to register that semester…I think my campus had set up a phone bank for students and I ended up using that.

                Same timeframe…I guess that was cutting edge technology back then…I know a year or so before I was still using paper forms to register.

                1. Vancouver Reader*

                  I used the phone at my summer job to telereg for my courses because we didn’t switch to a touch tone phone at home until many years later.

              2. GH*

                “contemporarily styled… thin profile rotary phone”

                Do you mean the “Princess Phone?”

                (I’m 48.) :-P

        3. Maggie*

          Nope, I had one too! They’re amazing and I still love them. All the little clicky noises…soothing for some reason.

          1. Editor*

            I used rotary phones growing up, but I guess my fingers are fairly big, and what I remember about rotary phones is that ours sometimes shredded my cuticles and were hard to use if I had managed to get my nails to grow. Finally I just used a pen or pencil to dial. Pushbutton phones were a great improvement, in my opinion.

            Now I have trouble dialing on cell phones because my fingertips are too large.

      2. Anx*

        I’m a millenial and I know of a millenial with a pension plan!

        Only one, but still. I know one!

        1. Stephanie*

          I have a laughably tiny one (I think they told me it was about $900 when I left) from my two years at a federal government, but something tells me that’s not what you’re referring to.

        2. Annie*

          I have a small pension + 401k. I’m 26, it’s just the way my company’s retirement system is set up.

    1. BadPlanning*

      The unpleasant knowledge that you’ll forever have dreams where you are back in school and forgot to go to class and now have to take the final? And may or may have remembered to wear pants?

      1. Steve*

        Or can’t remember the combination to the lock on your locker. Why I still have that one at my age I’ll never know.

      2. A Dispatcher*

        I’m constantly dreaming I forgot to do some such assignment or am having some sort of school related problem. I am so glad it’s not just me! Just last night I had the most frustrating dream about taking a test and not being able to type correct numbers into a calculator for something simple like 71+3, I just couldn’t do it. I’m sure this means something (anxiety maybe?), I’m just not sure what.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          When I was in grad school I had recurring dreams of being back in my 8th-grade math classroom and being shamed for not having done my homework. All of us were in our early 30s (which was how old I was at the time) and apparently everyone else but me had just continued to do 8th-grade math homework, past graduation, through college, and on and on…

      3. Betsy*

        Oh, man. Mine is always that I missed a credit or something and have to go back to finish either my middle school or high school career. And it’s the first day of school and I don’t know my schedule, so I just wander the halls as this creepy 35-year-old.

        1. Phoenix*

          I get this one, too!! What is it about not knowing your schedule and about not having gone to class and now having to take the final that makes so many people have those dreams?

          1. AB Normal*

            Phoenix, I’m not an American, and I also have recurring dreams about not knowing my schedule and not having gone to class and now having to take the final. It’s a worldwide phenomenon!

      4. Chinook*

        You mean I am not the only one who has nightmares of being told I have to redo grade 12 despite the fact that I was teaching high school at the same time? One night I was actually trying to work out how to schedule doing it. Eeekk!

      5. Anonylicious*

        I still have dreams where I have to go back to high school or college for a semester, then at exam time it turns out there was a class I forgot about and never went to.

      6. Esra*

        What is with that dream! How did I make it all the way to the bus without pants anyway!

    2. AnotherAlison*

      There was an incident at my alma mater where a prof who was loved by students was not granted tenure. Many claimed the tenure decision wasn’t performance based but rather due to discrimination of ________ group (I rather leave the details out here). It was a hugely polarizing issue between student groups and the administration, so I can completely see how something like that would drive the request about the student workers.

      1. NavyLT*

        That’s not giving either the student workers or the regular employees very much credit. People might disagree? Separate them; they’ll act unprofessionally about it, otherwise.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Well, in this case it went a little beyond “people might disagree.” Actually, people disagreed so much that there was a huge campaign to overturn the chancellor’s decision denying tenure. There were pickets, posters on campus – including the dept. building, and even a flash mob. The professor took the case to court and lost twice. Some tenured professors from the department came out with public statements in support of the professor, even while the department chair and dean were not. So, in that particular case, the discussion was wide open & happening everywhere, but as an outsider, I saw how disruptive it was to the students & I can see where you might want to keep the political discussions between students & faculty tabled. OTOH, what better place than college to have those discussions? (But not during my lunch, if I’m a prof trying to take a small break during the day.)

          1. AnotherAlison*

            (For clarification, I do exit interviews for seniors as an advisory board member, so I was told how disruptive it was first-hand.)

          2. NavyLT*

            OK, I can see that. I’d still argue that it’s important for students to learn how to handle themselves in the workplace when there’s a controversy, but I can understand the desire not to have to deal with it.

      1. Adam V*

        You *sleep* through Downton Abbey???

        (I’m kidding, of course. I gave up on it at the end of season 3.)

        1. Mallory*

          I got that from a comedian who was commenting on Miley Cyrus’ performances post-Disney Channel. I can’t remember who it was, but they said, “If she REALLY wants to prove she’s a grown-up, she should fall asleep on the couch while watching Downton Abbey — THAT’s what REAL grown-ups do!”

    3. MaryMary*

      Wouldn’t it be better for kids to learn what a colonoscopy is long before they need to have one?

        1. MaryMary*

          Apologies, I probably shouldn’t think of college students as kids. Someone did note above that these are adults, not children.

        2. A Dispatcher*

          Off-topic but this does make me think of what a kick I get out of hearing different people describe age groups to me while at work. If I’m talking to a 20 year old and they say someone is “old” I always, ALWAYS ask for clarification because that can be anywhere over 30. My poor 45 year old coworker once asked how old the subject of an assault call was, and the caller told her elderly, followed up by a description of early 40s. She was horrified for a moment, but then chose to be amused by it.

          Conversely, a lot of older callers have referred to the college-aged people throwing loud parties as kids.

          1. Sharm*

            *I* call 20-year olds kids, and I’m 31. It’s meant mostly in jest… but sometimes not really because they just seem so young! It’s more a commentary on me than them, of course.

      1. Cat*

        I definitely learned a lot about colonoscopies from my older co-workers, so possibly this is something my workplace has taken to heart.

    4. Jeanne*

      You’re so right. People don’t talk about sex at lunch. They talk about how the kid never remembers to bring his homework home, they need to get the plumber to come fix a leak, etc. and they talk about sports teams and tv shows. Very exciting.

    5. Anna*

      At one point when I was about 32 my aunt told me should couldn’t share something with me because I was “too young”. Two years later she called me and told me she felt like it was time I knew: she had a medical marijuana card and was growing her own. o.O

      1. JayemGriffin*

        I should really know better than to drink tea and read this site. You (and/or your aunt) owe me a new keyboard :)

  5. EM*

    Dying to know what kind of “adult subjects” are being discussed in this salacious break room!

  6. BadPlanning*

    Are the college students normally isolated from the other staff for the day? Seems like they could hear the same confidential material during the work day than at lunch.

  7. Mike C.*

    What in the hell? Lets address the “confidential discussion” issue, since the “adult topic” issue is simply nuts.

    I work somewhere where confidential discussions are an issue due to export concerns. You know what we do?

    I’ll give you a minute here. This is kind of complicated.


    1. Anna*

      I feel like the confidential information excuse is just that: an excuse the boss came up with so she didn’t sound TOO nutty.

  8. CTO*

    I agree that this is ridiculous. It’s definitely beneficial for your student workers to learn how to relate to older employees as coworkers and peers. They might also be developing networks or mentors that help them down the road. If your department places any value on preparing students for post-college life, you might point out that lunch with coworkers is actually an important learning opportunity.

    I wonder, though, if your boss is making excuses because other workers have approached her with concerns about sharing the break room with students. Maybe they feel like they can’t “let loose” or discuss the topics they’re used to discussing at lunch. They might feel like they’re still on the clock if they have to monitor their behavior or make efforts to include the students. (I still think these concerns are silly, by the way.)

    If your boss really won’t bend, how about a compromise? Have a weekly “lunch and learn” where there’s a loose workplace topic to discuss. The students and other staff could take turns choosing the topic, leading the conversation, or sharing their perspective with the others. And if the conversations drift off topic into more fun things, at least you’re still under the pretense of it being an official learning opportunity. The students could eat elsewhere the other days of the week (not that I think they should have to).

    1. LBK*

      That compromise soudns awful, honestly. My lunch break is (for the most part) my time to use how I see fit, and having it turned into some kind of weird lunchtime presentation session because my boss doesn’t know how to treat adults is not going to make me happy. That seems like a really roundabout solution when the actual solution is for the boss to stop being so weird.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, I hate lunch & learns, and in this case it would negate the informal relationships the interns & employees could be building.

    2. Rayner*

      I think the compromise isn’t good though – it’s basically commandeering a break for work topics, and people like to clock off during their lunch breaks.

      The problem here isn’t about work topics and teaching people about 401ks. It’s about a manager who is treating people like children.

    3. Ethyl*

      Then it’s your coworkers who need to learn to treat adults like adults.

      And I agree with the others about this “compromise.”

  9. ixiu*

    I have student assistants as well, and it would be really silly to segregate them from other staff members.

    My guess is the “adult subject” your supervisor is referring to are office politics. Where I work, there are a lot of strong personalities between faculty members and staff members that’s very critical of the administrators, and they have no hesitation on lashing out about it (tenure being part of the reason). Your supervisor might not want your student assistants from joining in on the discussion about how things are run around there for that reason.

    1. Mallory*

      We have the same sort of thing where I work: lots of strong opinions on office politics with different in-groups of faculty and staff discussing them over lunch.

      Everyone has particular people who they will and won’t confide in (picture about 15 different Venn diagrams overlapping intricately to include/exclude people depending upon what the topic is and who is involved in which discussion at any given time). So with all the overlapping Venns, everybody knows everything eventually (either directly or indirectly). And yet, the discussions would still be inhibited by the presence of student workers (they are the un-Venned: not privy to anything from anyone).

      So maybe some gossipy person complained that their break room discussions are being inhibited, or maybe the boss is the one who feels that her freedom to gossip is being inhibited.

  10. Betsy*

    The only legitimate(ish) concern I could see here is if there was a concern that professors or other authority figures might want that space to unwind in a way that might undercut that authority if the students were to see it, or if they might be concerned about it.

    I suspect that personally, if I were working at a university, my behavior in front of students would be different from my behavior with only my colleagues around. Is it possible that the real reason she’s objecting is that she (or others) resent the loss of a refuge from students, but is making up other objections because they feel less selfish?

    1. LBK*

      But these aren’t *their* students. They’re fellow employees who also happen to be students somewhere else. At least that’s how I read it.

      1. Betsy*

        If they are staff at the college or university that the students attend, I think the problem still exists.

        To draw a parallel: I’m a software engineer. I frequently work with software engineers from companies that are clients of ours. Sometimes, those individual engineers have even been assigned by their supervisors to work as part of my team, so they are more-or-less reporting to someone from my company. They’re functioning as just another employee.

        But I would never be as relaxed around them as around employees of my company, because they are still a client, and therefore their relationship with the company is different. I would dress a step nicer when they were in the office, and keep my desk a bit neater, and watch my language a bit more.

        1. CTO*

          This is a good analogy. While the student workers may be peers within this office, within the larger university they are also students/customers. I think there’s still plenty of lunchtime conversation that wouldn’t cause a problem, though.

          It also occurs to me that in many other workplace settings, it would not be at all unusual for a 21-year-old to be working, eating, and socializing with a coworker twice their age. That’s very common in a lot of industries. For instance, I had a retail job where high-school students worked alongside people old enough to be their parents or grandparents, and it worked just fine. We were all very friendly and even socialized outside of work, and no one gave any thought to the age gap. Workplaces all over handle big age gaps without a single issue.

          1. Betsy*

            Yeah, my comment is 0% about the age gap, which is meaningless, and 100% about the different relationships to the workplace that the student workers and non-student staff have.

    2. Liz T*

      I had the same reaction–they might just want a break from the students. I’m actually surprised to hear that students would ever use a faculty/staff break room! Then again it seems these students are working shifts long enough to include a lunch break, not like the 2-or-so-hour shifts I worked in college.

    3. Betsy*

      Actually, I was just re-reading the letter and saw that while Alison refers to “Student Workers”, the LW actually only said the office employs college students. My comment is officially null and void if this is a job anyone could do, but which a college student applied for and received as opposed to part of an actual “student work” program. If the job could be done by Joebob Nonstudent on the street, but a college student happens to hold it, they’re a full employee, and people should put their non-work relationships aside and suck it up.

    4. Sadsack*

      I don’t see how this justifies the profs’ commandeering of the breakroom or forcing other staff, in this case student employees, to modify their work day around the profs’ break time. Don’t the professors have the ability to go elsewhere for lunch if they really want to be more relaxed?

  11. Anonylicious*

    This can easily be solved by not discussing confidential subject in the break room (seriously, that’s basic stuff), and not worrying about the “adult” topics because, and I don’t know if it’s been mentioned, they’re adults, not children.

    Seriously, though, I feel for the OP. Their boss is being unreasonable on this.

  12. Katie the Fed*

    Uh, most college students I know would be wiser on many “adult” subject than their older peers.

    What a moron.

    1. Natalie*

      Maybe that’s the real issue – the manager wants to protect her delicate older employees from those wild college kids.

  13. Case of the Mondays*

    And age discrimination laws differ by state. My state prohibits age discrimination at any age. You can’t discriminate against young workers or old on the basis of age.

    1. Adam V*

      Which state is that? I want to move there!

      Or at least, import your state legislature and pass that law here.

    2. fposte*

      I’m curious too–the usual outlier suspects of Massachusetts and California don’t cover anybody under 40 either. Which one does?

      1. fposte*

        Wow, it’s more common than I realized. Funny that it’s northeast but *not* Massachusetts.

  14. Celeste*

    The boss is just uncomfortable around them, for whatever reason. She wants to have a space where she doesn’t have to be with them. But she already does! It’s called Not Work. It starts out in her Car, moves on to her Home, and extends to any other Place she goes to that is Not Work.

  15. Emmabean*

    Just wanted to quickly point out that in some states (NY comes to mind), age discrimination laws are applied universally and the 40+ rule does not apply. This doesn’t change Alison’s response, as I’m not sure I’d call that discrimination anyways, but I did want to mention for the sake of clarity!

  16. LQ*

    It is important that you (OP – and us in general) aren’t referring to them as kids, EVER. It is really common for people to say “kids” when referring to people younger, especially if they are still in school. If you find yourself doing this, curb it.

    Disclosure: I’m the age of nearly all my coworker’s children and when I started they liked to point this out. I shut it down every time and they quit doing it and treat me as a peer.

    1. Student*

      The words “boy” and “girl” should also not be used to refer to co-workers. I still get referred to as a “girl” occasionally – I am 29, married, and I even have an IRA.

      I am not a “girl” and I haven’t been one for more than a decade. It comes off as dismissive, condescending, and woefully ignorant of my work.

      1. Annie O*

        Yes to the girl and boy thing. I have a co-worker who uses those terms a lot regardless of age and it bugs me. She also brings in a lot of baked goods and routinely cleans the kitchen on her own accord. The mothering force is strong with that one.

      2. Chloe Silverado*

        This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I’m in my mid-20s and work in a small marketing department. People often refer to me as “the marketing girl”. It’s so dismissive, and it happens constantly. I once attended a meeting with my boss, and the person we were meeting with said “Oh, I didn’t bring my marketing girl with me,” as though I’m a pet or an object. UGH!

        1. Artemesia*

          About 40 years ago when I was about 30 I was flying to a conference in my cute little pantsuit and briefcase and series look and the older guy sitting next to me on the plane asked me if I was a ‘career girl’. I said yes and asked him if he was a ‘career boy’. You should have seen the look on his face.

    2. PitaChips*

      (Regular commenter, anon name)

      I agree. I’m the youngest in my office by far – about 15 years or so. One of my supervisors calls me “kiddo” regularly, and my other supervisor once referred to me as a “whizkid” in a meeting with the CIO and two deans. Both regularly talk to me in a manner that makes me think to myself, “If I was ten years older, they would not be saying this in this way.”

      After debating myself about it for a while (“Is it really worth the hassle? They don’t mean anything by it.”), I brought it up at my review the other day. I told them that it made me feel like less like a colleague and more like a student, and that I worried that it was impacting my professional reputation in the office and the company. They truly hadn’t realized what they were doing, apologized, and promised to make efforts to change. They completely understood where I was coming from, just hadn’t considered it from my perspective.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        You know what else is annoying? When you *are* 10 years older than they think you are, and are “so impressed” by your maturity, etc. Yeah, I’m not that mature. . .I’m just not 25 years old like you think I am.

        1. PitaChips*

          Ugh. Comments like that have no place in the workplace. Heck, comments of, “Oh you’re so mature!” have no place after the age of 18, when you’re an adult.

          I mentioned my brother to one of my supervisors a few weeks ago (was going to be seeing him over the weekend) and she said something about my being such a “nice older sister.” I corrected her and told her that he’s older than I am. She was surprised and said, “Oh, but you’re so mature! Especially for being the youngest child, wow!” Gee, what a compliment.

          1. anotheralison*

            How about just no age-related comments for anyone, ever! Young or old. I know people think they are complimenting me when they think I am younger, but as someone who was handed kids menus at age 19, I am over it. (Friends and family get a pass.)

    3. Anx*

      I feel I’m both an adult and a kid. I’ve referred to myself as both. I have failed to launch in many ways.

      I think I need to work on this, because it’s hurting myself and my peers. When people look at 20/30 year olds as kids just because they are young, it’s easy to dismiss their obstacles as temporary and unimportant.

  17. Interviewer*

    When I was 18, I got a job working for a small CPA firm, and I sat around the conference table for lunch most days with older people who had families. No one was young or single. I learned a LOT that summer, including the fact that I didn’t like coffee, even though I tried all summer to drink it just like the grownups did.

    I heard all about the stock market, local politics, current events, favorite recipes, daycare, and all kinds of things that made me see there was a great big world out there, outside of my high school and my very limited life experiences. Sometimes they regaled me with tales of their own youthful escapades.

    It was a really good thing I wasn’t sent to the kids’ table that summer.

  18. LucyVP*

    Agree with everything but wanted to add about confidentiality –

    If you can’t trust your staff to adjust their conversation about confidential topics based on the people in the room, you have a bigger issue with confidentiality than a couple of lower level employees hearing something.

  19. Cloudy*

    You need to read between the lines. “Confidential work info” really means gossip, and “adult subjects” really means personal stuff that the staff members don’t want students to know. As to the swearing, I would guess the issue isn’t the swearing per se, but that your supervisor doesn’t want the students to know that the staff members sometimes use bad words … how bizarre.

    This is silly, of course the staff members should be grown up enough to be able to share their break area with students without bellyaching. I guess you probably can’t say this to your supervisor, but you might take the position that learning to socialize appropriately with coworkers is an important skill the students will need when they pursue their careers beyond college. Evidently it is one the supervisor and staff have not yet learned.

  20. ella*

    All I can think is that if there’s a huge age gap, it would make certain topics awkward even if everyone’s technically an adult. However, I can’t think of a topic that is awkward across an age gap that would also be suitable for work. The Venn diagram, it does not exist.

  21. Vancouver Reader*

    Is your supervisor worried that the lines between f/t employees and the students will be blurred and that would affect their work? Does she have specific examples of “adult content” conversations that have taken place in the lunchroom? When I worked as a student worker (oh so many moons ago) I was allowed to sit in the same lunchroom as the rest of the staff and there was never an issue. And quite frankly, I wish they’d had some adult conversations around me; I led such a sheltered life, I could’ve used some more knowledge on mortgages and what to invest in and how getting your bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean you’re going to end up with a dream job.

  22. Lils*

    In the average university department, there is one break room (if you’re lucky), and to ask people to eat elsewhere would endanger the work (think: chemistry lab, archives, etc.) So where else are these students supposed to eat?

    I just returned to my desk from eating lunch in the breakroom, which was occupied by several student workers and me. I didn’t permanently corrupt those tender young minds, but I do know more about kung fu movies than I did half an hour ago.

  23. LeeD*

    I’m also in higher ed, and the boss’s request doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable to me. The reasoning given, yes, but the general rule wouldn’t necessarily be absurd or offensive. I don’t agree with it – I think it is at best unkind to the students – but there are cases where it may be necessary.

    It’s easy to say that people should leave the confidential talk in private areas, but there’s a lot of information that could be sensitive but is not necessarily confidential. If faculty and staff are used to having a space where they can be free to talk about things like program changes, testing strategies, and course development, then they are not going to be on guard. And because these things aren’t confidential, a student might easily think they are free to share what they’ve learned in a way that wouldn’t be ideal for the faculty or department. In my experience, most college students just don’t have the professional development to understand what they can and can’t talk about.

    There are also cases where students workers outnumber full time staff. I worked somewhere with a relatively small staff but a veritable army of student employees. We hired students as recruiters, peer mentors, tutors, computer lab techs, etc. There could be four or five times as many students as staff on the payroll at any given time. If the students had been so inclined, they could have easily taken over the break room, leaving nowhere for the full time staff to eat or relax on their breaks.

    1. NavyLT*

      Common sense still applies, though. If you need to talk about work-related things that the students shouldn’t overhear, there are better spaces than the break room, and better times than lunch.

      And the numbers issue–that’s a lack of space, not an invasion of students. The break room was too small for the number of people who might want to use it, so someone could potentially come in and find it full (unless the students were hanging out there instead of working, but that seems like a separate problem).

    2. Mike C.*

      It’s easy to say “don’t talk about sensitive subjects” because it is easy. You don’t talk about them. If folks are used to one way of doing things and need to change, then post some signs, and alert people to those changes.

      And frankly, I find the idea that “most college students just don’t have the professional development to understand what they can and can’t talk about” to be incredibly demeaning. If managers are clear about what can and cannot be discussed, it shouldn’t be an issue. You aren’t dealing with children, you’re dealing with adults.

      1. LeeD*

        You may find it demeaning, but the fact of the matter is that the part of the brain that controls judgment, impulse control, and decision making doesn’t finish developing until a person is 25. Good judgement comes with age and experience, and we may be doing young adults a disservice by holding them up to the exact same criteria we use for people ten years their senior.

        1. EAA*

          If you don’t set up the criteria how will they learn.? The processes in the brain may not be fully formed but they need input in order to form properly.

        2. NavyLT*

          A lot of my sailors are 18-25, and we hold them to exactly the same standard as their older peers. Most of the time, it works out just fine. Sometimes they make mistakes or do really, really dumb things, but helping with their professional development is part of my job. I’m not sure why student workers should be any different. Students might not know how to act in a professional office environment, but they’re certainly capable of learning.

        3. Mike C.*

          That does not, in any way, shape or form justify treating them any less than fully adult human beings.

          They’re over 18, they can vote, they can smoke, they can die for their country and they can certainly keep their mouth’s shut when told to.

        4. Anonsie*

          That’s part of why they need the instruction and experience to learn this, though. Just kicking them out won’t do it.

          1. Mpls*

            +1 It’s not like they magically learn that stuff at age 25 and are suddenly impulse free with perfect judgment. The under-25s are perfectly capable of being professional and discreet if they are taught what that means. The reasoning you gave is a major cop-out.

        5. Anon*

          I agree with everything you say here, but I got to a different conclusion. I think young adults can’t learn without experience, instruction, and making a mistake once in a while.

          I’m 22 and I have ADHD (meaning the prefrontal cortex of my brain is behind in development). I think I’ve learned to focus and show impulse control much faster by being held to the same standards as everyone else, than I would have if my boss managed my immaturity for me.

    3. BCW*

      I was a teacher, granted not in higher ed. Just about everyday I had to eat in the same lunchroom as the kids. me and another teacher may be at the same table as students (yes it sucked). However, it was VERY easy to just not talk about stuff my students shouldn’t hear. If Jr. High teachers with a bachelors degree can figure that out, you’d think Professors could do the same thing.

      And the “taking over” of the breakroom. That sentiment is very arrogant. I get that you may want to be separated from the peons who are paying your salary, but really, you are acting like they are vermin invading your space.

  24. Annie O*

    As someone who worked for years in higher ed, I’m not that shocked at the supervisor’s request. I could *totally* see admins or professors not wanting to eat with student employees. These student workers are not just employees; they are simultaneously customers of the university. Imagine eating with YOUR customers everyday; you’d need to be a lot more careful about what you say.

    1. De Minimis*

      I agree, I think it’s just the thing about sheltering them from “adult talk” that is offputting.

      The regular staff might want a break from students during their lunchtime.

      1. Annie O*

        Yeah, I feel that the “adult talk” and swearing concerns have completely derailed this whole thing.

  25. Artemesia*

    Oh for pete’s sake. Has anyone pointed out they are adults and not children? This is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard.

    I actually thought maybe they were referring to middle school students on a work experience or something when I saw the headline.

    These are adults not children.

  26. MJ*

    Alison, I just want to say that was my favorite answer ever. I rarely LOL, but I just LdOL. Thank you!

  27. Higher Ed Manager*

    I work in higher ed and this has come up many times. You have to remember that student workers are also students and customers of the school. You can’t impose the same standards on them as staff.

    We have the same rules here. The idea is to have a place where staff and faculty can talk without worry that the school will erupt in rumors.

    1. BCW*

      So you segregate the students from other employees because the faculty and staff aren’t able to watch what they say in front of them? And the students are the immature ones here? Ok

      1. De Minimis*

        It seems to me that students would not be that interested in that type of gossip, or at least that was how I was as a student. Unless the gossip somehow involved other students.

      2. AGirlCalledFriday*

        I disagree that it’s patronizing.

        Teachers are staff. Students are staff AND clients that the teachers must manage. It’s important to keep a distinction between the teachers and students so that the teachers can better manage, just as you wouldn’t try to befriend an employee, or want an employee to be privy to sensitive topics.

        It would be one thing if teaching was the type of employment that allowed many opportunities for exchanging ideas, but in general teaching is autonomous – you have your classroom, your office hours within your dept. As far as I know, there aren’t many opportunities or places to actually get together and discuss things with other teachers in other departments. This lunch might be the only place available.

        I agree that the “college students can’t hear adult subjects” is awful, but I do think there’s a good reason for these students to not be in the staff room.

        1. Sadsack*

          Sorry, that makes no sense. It comes down to holding off talking about sensitive subject matter during the lunch hour in the middle of the work day. Please, the staff can’t handle doing that for an hour or so? That is ridiculous, and I have heard around here that there is a law against that.

          1. Aisling*

            You’re missing the point. There possibly isn’t any other time for the teachers to get together and talk, and the students, while working there, are also clients. The teachers probably also want a place to eat lunch where they don’t have to be on guard; they want to relax too.

    2. Colette*

      Why wouldn’t you impose the same standards on them as staff? Aren’t appropriate workplace standards something they should learn?

      1. Annie O*

        For one, student interests aren’t the same as staff interests. (I’m using “interests” to mean stake or benefit, NOT leisure activity or pastime.) There are issues that faculty and admin really can’t discuss in front of students – things like possible budget and program cuts, disciplinary actions, testing and plagiarism-detecting strategies, etc. Being a student worker doesn’t change the fact that these folks are still students. In fact, I’d argue that their status as students trumps their status as employees.

        The best solution may be that the employees need to modify their lunchtime conversations to accommodate the presence of the student workers. But I can’t agree that student workers should be treated as peers privy to the same information.

        1. Colette*

          I can see that there are items that students shouldn’t be privy to – but that’s a sign that it should be shared with them (at lunch or otherwise), not that they should be held to different standards of professional behavior.

          1. Annie O*

            I’m not saying there should be a different standard of professional behavior. More that it’s unrealistic to have the same expectations of students when they have a stake in the issues. Can you expect that a student worker won’t personally benefit or act on something they overhear when it directly affects them? It’s not the same thing for staff, because they don’t have the same vested interests. That’s all I was getting at.

    3. Jillociraptor*

      So, here’s a story that both supports and detracts from this claim, depending on your perspective.

      I was a student worker in a campus office and I spent lots of time with the staff, overheard a lot of stuff, was privy to a lot of info about the inner workings of the administration. Many students might not be into that, as De Minimis says below, but I definitely was. One of my managers and favorite staff members was fired in a less-than-scrupulous way (more or less because she refused to implement the policies of a really wrong-headed dean). And of course we in the office knew all about it.

      Staff and faculty rarely organize publicly against administration’s policies but students do it all the time, mostly because they can’t really fire us from paying them to be there, and because we’re young and a little dumb in a good way in this case. So, we launched a pretty intensive campaign against the dean responsible, and he was eventually fired (or strategically resigned).

      From the staff perspective, this is probably pretty scary. I get it: this is your whole career, and it’s four years of my life. But from the student perspective, I’m paying a lot of money to come here, and it’s my community while I’m here. If something violates my values, I’m definitely going to speak up.

      I think in a typical workplace, for better or worse, you have to go pretty far for your employees to go full Norma Rae. In a university setting, students are sometimes just itching for a fight. So I get the ambivalence, if the OP’s setting is anything like mine was. I don’t agree with it, but I get it.

      1. Higher Ed Manager*

        Good points. If you haven’t been in this environment it is hard to understand that student workers are employees, yet customers at the same time.

    4. Sadsack*

      The staff can only talk about such sensitive subject matter during their lunch break? Can’t the staff talk without worry by havign a meeting in a room with a door during owkring hours, not during the lunch break. How about just don’t get into the sensitive stuff when people are trying to relax and be collegial during a break?

      1. AGirlCalledFriday*

        On a campus you have several buildings, with many different educators in different classrooms. These educators are in different departments and usually these departments are within different buildings. It’s just not usually possible for meetings to be held during the workday, what with class times, prep times, and office hours varying. Also, many educators also take part in research or work at different locations. They can’t really get together to discuss things. It may very well be that in most cases, this lunch time is the only time that many of them are able to socialize and discuss things.

        1. Cassie*

          At my university, any time faculty or faculty/staff need to discuss something confidential, they use conference rooms or offices. Sure, a few may talk or drink coffee in the faculty lounge (we have a faculty lounge on one floor and a staff lounge on another), but if it’s something super secret, they’re not going to sit in a breakroom where there may be lots of foot traffic to discuss.

          I don’t think I’ve even seen any faculty members eating in the faculty lounge before – they just use their offices.

        2. University admin*

          I’m willing to bet my next paycheck that we’re not talking about faculty here. IME, we’re lucky if we see our faculty members 3-4 days a week and half of them aren’t even here by noon. Sounds like these are staff members having lunch – academic advisors, etc.

          The faculty almost definitely aren’t gathering in a break room with any regularity. If they all want some time to talk it’s typically a catered meeting.

  28. Anonsie*

    It’s interesting to me that the other higher ed folks are coming in to the tune of “this makes sense” or at least “this isn’t unusual.” I get what you all are saying on the one hand, and it’s definitely reasonable, but here’s another thought.

    I’ve worked at or been a student at several large medical centers in different cities. In all of these cases, the staff dining area is either totally within or directly next to the patient dining area. Now plenty of medical centers do have staff dining separate, but plenty also don’t. For the overwhelming majority of us, absolutely any talk about work is either extremely confidential. People need to have some very solid confidence in us, obviously, to feel safe. So we don’t talk shop, we don’t get too friendly, we keep on the professional face during all those breaks and meals.

    Sure I’ve thought, “I wish I could ask soandso about this thing but I don’t want to bring it up here.” But really, in those situations, if it’s not important I let it go and if it is then I just get some time with them when we go back to the staff areas. I’ve never thought “Oh I wish I could have a nice relaxing break to unwind but there are all these customers here!” I haven’t heard that complaint many times, either, and when I have it’s certainly not intense. It’s more an offhand “that would be cool.”

    What I’m saying is that even though having a totally private area devoid of anyone that might have some overlap with the customer role might seem appealing, it’s not generally crucial to the functioning of your average employee. It really sounds more necessary than it is in practice. It’s certainly not worth banning your student employees from the break room– if they are specifically student employees then you’re depriving them of a big part of the point of having a job like this, which is professional education. If they’re just regular employees that happen to also be students who should otherwise be regular staff members, that’s an even worse idea.

    1. Annie O*

      I think this is a great comparison. And this part specifically: “So we don’t talk shop, we don’t get too friendly, we keep on the professional face during all those breaks and meals.”

      Maybe that needs to be the solution for the LW. Though I can see some initial push back, especially if the presence of student workers in the break room is a new development.

    2. AGirlCalledFriday*

      I’ve worked in large hospitals before…I think that the difference is that higher education is serving young adults, and their success in educating is due partly to the management of these students and the boundaries within the relationship. In healthcare, there are patients of all ages being treated for a myriad of ailments. If I’m a cancer patient and I am eating lunch and someone is discussing how they set a bone, it doesn’t really affect me. That particular staff member has zero relationship with me. However, if it were a teacher explaining how she sets her final exam to another teacher and a student were to overhear, that student could pass that information on to another student or use that info for herself.

      A hospital may have hundreds and hundreds of employees, many who never even see a patient. A school has much less than that and those educators can be highly recognizable.

      Another thing to consider is this – while these young adults are at school, many live on campus, making these educators responsible in some way for their safety. If a student is too familiar with an educator, or doesn’t feel the need to respect them, that could be detrimental to student safety.

      1. Anonsie*

        Actually I’m at a pediatric medical center, so the issues that come up when you’re dealing with kids’ development and parents’ worry is closer to a school than your average hospital would be.

    3. Mints*

      I feel like lots of the ed people sympathetic to the LW management feel like there needs to be really distinct lines separating them from the students, and they’re claiming it’s because of confidentiality, but that’s a bad excuse imo. I really like your example because health care is probably more confidential than education, and staff manage it just fine. I think it’s because of the demographics, since a bunch of people are basically still saying college students are too immature to hang out with professors

      When I worked childcare, there were times when I could be talking to a staff member about something that didn’t involve the kids but wasn’t really inappropriate, like sports or shopping. And there were times when I wanted to talk about something that WASN’T kid appropriate, like they said *You have a huge bruise on your knee!” and I want to say “Oh man, I tripped in my heels when I was drunk Saturday. Vodka is on hold for a month” but if there were kids, I’d just say “Oh man, ask me after work” or “Haha I’m clumsy.”

      When there were times that I actually needed to talk about something confidential, I’d just pull my staff aside. It’s pretty easy. And like people mentioned above, common in lots of different industries. Including healthcare and defense/law

      If you need time to unwind and rant about stupid kids or bureaucracy of whatever, you can go to bar

      1. Anonsie*

        I think that’s the issue at hand, really– they want to draw a line between who’s an authority figure and who’s not because there’s hierarchy involved, not because there’s a real practical reason the students can’t be there… And I don’t really think that’s a good idea.

  29. Lindrine*

    They are 21, (or older) not 18 or 16. Does the supervisor have kids who are similar in age and is projecting? Either the conversation topics are ok for all adults present or they are not. If the topics make the supervisor uncomfortable, then she should address that directly with the people concerned, not try some passive aggressive weirdness.

  30. soitgoes*

    I’m confused about some of the logistics here. We’re talking work-study students, right? How are they working enough hours to warrant a full lunch hour (unless this is a new issue that emerged now that it’s summer vacation)? On what planet does every single person in an office take lunch at the same time?

    That said, I kind of get the basic issue – there are a lot of things about the inner workings of a school that students probably shouldn’t know about. In that case, the school needs to stop cutting corners by using work-study students to do work that “real” adults should be paid a real salary to do.

    1. Jeanne*

      That’s a very good question. Why are the students eating lunch in the breakroom? There’s something we don’t know about the workplace. If they were in an academic dept on campus (as many were assuming), they would go to the campus dining hall like all students. What does the OP mean by working in higher education?

      I still think it’s ridiculous to kick them out of the break room. If you can’t get through lunch without discussing top secret very important stuff, then kick yourself out of the break room. Break rooms are for breaks. They are not conference rooms.

      1. Cassie*

        For us, not all students live on campus so they wouldn’t all go to the campus dining halls. Also, even if they do, the dorms aren’t that close to the buildings so I don’t know many students that would trek up the hill, eat lunch when the dining halls are sure to be packed, and walk back, all within an hour.

        I totally agree about the break rooms not being conference rooms. What would you do if you are discussing a sensitive topic and someone else walks in? It’s not like a secure location or anything.

      2. soitgoes*

        My question was more along the lines of…student workers take 3 or 4-hour shifts between or after classes (unless it’s during the summer, but work study limits the total weekly hours anyway). So why are they getting breaks at all? Why are they scheduled for anywhere near lunch? If the work involves stuff that students shouldn’t be seeing, they shouldn’t be given those jobs in the first place.

        1. Anx*

          Are there rules against working more than 4 hours a day?

          We were limited to 20 hours (but that was pretty arbitrary since some of our office hours were really slow, but we worked where we lived so we were always sort of on call).

          I don’t recall ever being limited to 4 hours a day for office hours. It was discouraged, but a few people worked long days to accommodate other jobs and commitments.

          1. soitgoes*

            I believe (don’t quote me on this) that the government supplies the money that work-study students are paid with, and that’s where the 20-hour a week rule comes from. Work-study is a kind of government scholarship. My 4-hour claim just comes from logistics. You’re working around a full-time class schedule AND the regular hours of a functioning office.

            Plus, labor laws only require half-hour “lunch breaks” if you’re working a minimum of an 8-hour shift. Individual companies make allowances for 15 and 30-minute breaks according to their own inclinations toward those things, but the reality is that student workers (provided they’re over 18) who aren’t working a full 8 hours have no reason to be taking lunches at all. So my question is…are these students working full 8-hour shifts? Why? Again, it raises the issue of the school using government funds to pay students to do work that should be done by legit full-time employees, if the substance of the job is really so sensitive and confidential.

            Of course, it’s possible that the students are hired on as official employees of the school, not just as work-study, but since colleges are obligated to provide work for every student who qualifies for work study, it’s unlikely that they wouldn’t be work study kids.

            1. Cassie*

              IIRC, the federal gov’t pays half of the work-study student’s salary and the hiring dept pays the other half. During the quarter or semester, students can only work 20 hours a week maximum. I’m not sure if that limit is relaxed during inter-quarter (when school isn’t in session). Also, there is a limit on how much work-study money the gov’t is going to pay – my limit (I think) was $2000 so if my hourly pay was $8 per hour, I could only work 250 hours as part of work-study (12.5 weeks if I was working 20 hrs per week). Anything past those 250 hours, the school would pay 100% of the salary.

              I know one supervisor who tells her student workers that she won’t approve them to work once they reach their work-study dollar amount.

  31. Jeanne*

    I wonder what is really going on here. There’s probably a different reason the supervisor doesn’t want them in the break room. It’s a reason she can’t say so she came up with the confidentiality crap. Maybe the students are the ones talking about sex. Maybe she feels her “friends” like the students better. Who knows? It’s probably a cover story.

  32. Anx*

    This is pretty timely for me. I don’t have much to contribute to the specific issue, but I had just read some posts on Tumblr about young adults (all women I believe) talking about how they don’t identify as adults or women. They don’t feel like others perceive them that way. There were a few accounts of therapists not taking the issue very seriously or pinning it on general anxiety, but it seems like it’s distinct issue.

    I don’t think I’ve been called a woman more than a few times. I bristle when I hear women described as ‘females’ (there are times it is appropriate), but I think it’s in part a result of not having a female equivalent for ‘guys’ (‘gals’ isn’t widely used). When we don’t call women ‘women’ we’re calling them ‘females’ or ‘girls.’ And what 30 year old still is girl?

    I think ‘man’ is used to describe a male that is not a boy to a greater degree than ‘woman’ is used to describe a female that is not a girl.

    I think that makes the whole kids/adults issues more complicated.

    Does anyone have any insight on how young people can claim their adulthood through everyday language? I don’t really know much about this issue at all, but I was very moved by these personal accounts of people feeling lost in their identity as not being kids but not ‘real adults’ or being ‘girls’ well into their 30s.

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