bringing a boyfriend to an interview, preventing overtime abuse, and more

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

1. Coworker keeps singing near my desk, even after I’ve asked him to stop

I have a job that I love, and coworkers that I enjoy. However, where I sit in the office is becoming problematic. My desk is located in an open office space. There are others with actual offices around me, but my coworker and I sit out in the open floor area. This is great for being accessible to others, but there is one colleague that I am constantly having problems with. I’ll call him Mark.

Mark will often come by and talk loudly to himself or sing a song or whistle. He does even if it’s clear that my coworker and I are in the midst of focusing on work and not interested in engaging. This does not seem to bother my coworker, but it is incredibly distracting for me. I’ve asked him nicely to please stop. I’ve asked him to stop in the guise of a joke. I’ve snapped at him to stop once or twice. Nothing seems to work.

Today, he came to use the printer behind my desk and proceeded to sing a song of his own creation about the printing experience. I turned around and said jokingly, “just because you’re printing something, doesn’t mean you need to sing about it,” to which he responded, “I’m just enjoying life.” When I said, “I enjoy life too, but I do it quietly,” he replied, “You mean ‘sullenly’.”

I’m at my wits end. I don’t want to nag at him to stop. I’m not even sure he notices that he does it sometimes, and he definitely doesn’t notice how his noise impacts others’ work experience. I don’t want to look like the coworker with no sense of fun or humor, or the person who is always shutting down the good time. What can I do?

You could shush him each time it happens. Or you could do what I recommend managers do when there’s a pattern of problematic behavior from an employee: talk to the person about the pattern, rather than each individual instance. For instance: “Mark, I know we’ve talked about this in the past, but I want to raise it again because we haven’t solved it yet. It is very difficult for me to focus on work when you talk, sing, or whistle in my workspace. I know you might not think about it because my desk is in an open space, but it would be like me walking into your office and standing there singing. I really need to be able to focus on work — can you humor me and try to remember to keep it down when you’re at the printer and so forth?”

Also, Mark is a bit of an ass.

2. Was this hiring manager just being nice or is his interest sincere?

I graduated from college two months ago with a degree in communication. I worked for my student newspaper, had an PR internship with the college communication department, and then worked as a writing tutor in the library, so writing and editing are my strengths. Recently, a local PR and advertising company (one that not only has a fantastic reputation but also happens to employ one of my aunts) posted a copy editor/proofreader job. Since it was the one job there I felt I was qualified for, I applied immediately and got an interview. The interview was with someone fairly high up in the company, and even though he was very courteous and I thought the interview went well, I knew a company with such a great reputation would have a thousand more qualified people knocking down its door so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear anything back.

The interview was a month ago, but I just saw my aunt who works at that company yesterday at a family get-together. She said they hired someone else for the copy editor position, but she also said the executive I interviewed with came to her desk, told her how great I was to interview and how articulate I was, and then said if I wanted to do PR I was definitely someone they’d be interested in. I would love to go into PR and my aunt said I should follow up. Here’s the thing: I don’t think I’m qualified for any of the jobs that are still open. Why would he not hire me for the position I had experience in but suggest positions for which I don’t even meet the minimum requirements in the job postings? It seems like he was just being nice, but I don’t want to squander an opportunity because I made assumptions. What should I do?

It’s possible that he was just being nice, but it’s also possible that he fully meant what he said. You have nothing to lose by assuming he meant it, and plenty to lose by assuming he didn’t, so you at least be open to the possibility that he was sincere — and follow up. Send him an email telling him how much you appreciated his time last month and that while you understand the proofreader position has been filled, your goal is to work in PR and you’d be grateful for any advice he can give you. If he was just blowing smoke at your aunt, this won’t do you any harm. But if he meant it, you might get a useful response and potentially something more down the road.

3. Leaving a job without notice due to domestic violence

I recently left a job with no notice due to a domestic violence situation. It occurred over the weekend, I had no friends or family in the area to stay with, and I absolutely could not safely remain living where I was — it was safest for me to pack and return 500 miles to my hometown in a very short time frame. I don’t know how to address leaving due to a “personal emergency” and thus being unrehirable by my former company with future job applications/interviews. Help?

“I had a family emergency that required me to relocate without much notice, unfortunately — but before that, I had an excellent X years at that job, with glowing performance reviews and achievements like X and Y.”

Also, consider reaching out to your old company and seeing if you can negotiate what they’ll see in response to future reference-checkers. I’m not sure how you left it with them, but if you explain however much you’re comfortable with, you might find that they’ll be very understanding of the situation. How’s your rapport with your former manager there? Or someone in HR? I’d pick the person you’re most comfortable with — or the one who seems most level-headed — and give them either a brief rundown of the situation if you’re comfortable with that, or an apologetic explanation that you can’t share details but a family emergency or safety issue was involved.

4. Bringing my boyfriend to an interview

I have an interview at the Ministry of Social Development on the 4th of August. (I’m in New Zealand). When I got the email inviting me to attend an interview, they told me that I could bring a support person with me if I told them in advance.

I’m planning to bring my boyfriend as a support person, but I’m also a bit concerned that the interview panel might see this in a negative light. I guess it’s kind of unfair to offer the option of bringing a support person, then judge candidates negatively if they exercise this option. But I’m just not that clear about the process. I thought you would have some good insight into this.

Are you sure they mean “moral support” and not “if you have a disability and need assistance”? I would absolutely not bring your boyfriend or anyone for moral support. It’s possible that New Zealand has really different conventions that we do, but in general, bringing a boyfriend or friend or a friend to an interview — particularly if framed as being for moral support — would come across as unprofessional.

5. Preventing employees from abusing overtime

As president of a small company, how do I prevent employees from abusing overtime? Our policy is to have permission beforehand, but this is ignored. We are required to pay overtime whether approved or not.

You handle this the way you would handle any other rule you need people to follow: by having consequences when they don’t. In this case, because you have to pay them overtime or risk legal fines, it’s serious enough that it wouldn’t be crazy to make it a fireable offense  — and indeed many companies do exactly that. Warn people once, and be willing to fire them if it’s a pattern.

{ 262 comments… read them below }

  1. Graciosa*

    I disagree on #1 – Mark isn’t a “bit” of an ass, he’s a complete one. I’m sure there are more obnoxious behaviors than singing incessantly in the office after being asked to stop, but I can’t think of them off hand. If this is essential to his well being, he needs to change careers.

    On #5, the good thing is that once the first person is fired, people will start taking this more seriously. It’s to the employees benefit to ignore the rule because they get paid more without consequences. Changing the equation will change the behavior.

    For #4, this reminds me of parents wanting to accompany their kids. If you’re not mature enough to manage an interview without moral support (which is different from disability assistance) then my expectation is that you will not be able to handle the day to day duties of the job. This is probably not the message the OP wants to send as an applicant.

    1. Kiwi*

      On support people in NZ….As an NZer who has been in the worldforce for about 16 years, I can assure you this in no way common practice. For some reason, it became fashionable at some point in the lato 90’s for govt depts to include that wording in their hiring processes. It is completely bizarre, it is not required by law, but for whatever reason someone in govt decided it should be offered and now they all offer it.

      But I have never, ever heard of anyone doing this and I am absolutely certain most employers would fall over in shock if you did. And they would judge you for it. To be honest, they should, because you should be able to get through an interview on your own.

      Just to re-iterate, it is not a legal requirement, it is not in any way related to disabilities, it is a weird quirk of government hiring in NZ, and it would be very unusual for someone to actually do this.

      1. Kiwi*

        Ok, I’ve just googled some more and might have found the genesis of this idea. The offer of a support person is usually worded as “you are welcome to bring whanau or a support person”. Whanau means family in Maori (the indigenous population of NZ are Maori). This article identifies the benefits of having whanau at an interview – its a cultural thing:

        But still. I’d say, just don’t do it.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Fascinating. But I wouldn’t do it.
          If there were truly a need due to a disability of some type then yes, but otherwise no.

      2. AVP*

        I’ve heard that phrase used by mental health agencies in the US – I was doing interview for a PSA about mental health, with teens and young adults who were undergoing counseling, and the groups I was working with were very clear to give them the option to bring a support person with them. I wouldn’t bring someone to an interview unless absolutely needed – they’re trying to be inclusive, which is good of them and probably reflective of the fact that it’s a government job, but using the option implies that you might need support in the future – not professional unless you really do need it.

      3. Jay*

        As a former hiring manager from a New Zealand Government department, DO NOT bring someone to the interview with you. It would be viewed as extremely bizarre (even if it is mentioned in the interview offer).

  2. Michael.*

    Regarding the NZ person: I am 85% sure that what AAM said about it not being for moral support is correct. If you are currently receiving benefits, ask your case worker (or whoever you deal with) what “support person” means in the context of an interview. Otherwise, it might be worth finding a similar job at another ministry and asking the contact person their what they mean (or you could ring the hiring manager at the position you are interviewing for, I guess…).
    Depending on the situation, “support person” appears to mean something different. But if you are a white NZer, without a disability, then you probably don’t need one in an interview. Put the BF in the car and have the moral support before and after.

    1. Naomi*

      I’m probably missing something because I’m not from NZ, but why did you specify *white* NZer w/o disabilities?

  3. The Maple Teacup*

    #4. I’m echoing Alison here. Are you sure they don’t mean a disability support worker? My current job title is along the lines of “community support worker” for people with disabilities. If one of my clients had a job interview I would be there as…well…. Support. Maybe New Zealand is a completely different culture than Canada. But I would be baffled if someone brought another adult with them as moral support to an interview.

  4. Dan*


    This is a toughie, actually. I used to work shift work, sometimes in a 16 hr/day environment, other times in a 24/7 environment.

    At any of those jobs, it was nearly impossible to pre-approve *all* over time. Some we could, others we just couldn’t. At one place, they tried to really crack down on it, so we worked to rule: It didn’t matter what we were in the middle of, we dropped everything and hit the time clock.

    That didn’t last too long, because even when we were in the middle of helping VIP customers, we’d just look at them, say “sorry, shift’s over, gotta go, hate to do this to you I swear, take it up with the boss.” It didn’t take long for management to come back and say “use your heads. If you’re in the middle of helping a customer, finish the job.” Well yeah, but we all thought “no overtime no matter what” was pretty clear.


    1. Are you sure it’s possible to preapprove *all* overtime?
    2. How do you define “abuse”? (Are you talking 15 minutes or a few hours?)
    3. How far in advance do you want them to get approval?
    4. Is a management-type always there to approve overtime?
    5. Do you have hard and fast rules as to under what circumstances you’ll approve overtime?
    6. Consider having a bonus program for keeping overtime below a certain amount. Reward all of the employees, not just managers.

    Seriously, you want an environment where you are all working towards the same goal. If you foster an “us vs them” mentality, you’re never going to fix your problem. Whacking a couple of heads may or may not do much — if abusing the overtime is pretty lucrative, then they’ll continue to abuse it until they get fired, at which point they’ll just find another job.

    But if you reward the behavior that you would prefer to have, you may find yourself with employees working with you, and not against you. Perhaps some combination of a cash bonus and extra time off for meeting certain goals?

    I was a non-exempt employee for 7 years, in environments where overtime was quite common. Employees want more money, management wants to control costs. It’s hard.

    1. Apple22Over7*

      These are great points to consider.

      I once worked in a call centre where a no overtime rule was brought in, and we were also expected to be available to take calls right until the last second of our shift. Which meant that workers would get moaned at whatever they did – they either stayed available until the last minute, had to take a last minute call (there was no autonomy over answering the call or not, you were automatically connected to the customer) and spend 10 minutes over the end of the shift, getting dinged for it. Or they’d log out of the phone software 10 minutes before the end of shift, and get dinged for not being available.

    2. Monodon monoceros*

      I agree with Dan and Apple22Over7- please take a look at the reasons why they are going into overtime before just reprimanding them and then firing. I once worked at an hourly job where we routinely told management that it was impossible to finish the work without either more staff, or going into overtime. We were running like mad every second of the day to get stuff done, but the work was such that we just couldn’t leave after 8 hours- animals would have gone unfed, critical facilities maintenance gone unfinished, etc. I left that job while the team was still arguing with management over this issue. Everyone was just writing on our timecards that we were there for 8 hours, but routinely working 9-10 hours. I knew it was wrong, but I know more now how wrong it was.

      Tl;dr- make sure you understand the reasons for the staff going into overtime before taking other actions.

    3. Elysian*

      These are all great points to consider. Also think about whether you’re setting your employees up for success on this front – do you have business where employees much frequently be held over (call center where they have to take calls right up to the end of shift, restaurant where they have to keep taking tables, retail where they have to keep helping customers, etc)? If people are legitimately being held over, try scheduling them for less than 40 hours a week so that the regular time over scheduled doesn’t put you into overtime. Or if people aren’t being held over, are you giving them more work than can reasonably done in a 40 hour week?

      If you have all the right systems in place and people are just trying to get into overtime because they want the extra money, then by all means discipline them. But you’re creating a bad situation if you’re giving them too much work, and then disciplining them for trying to complete it (for example).

    4. VintageLydia USA*

      A+ to all of this. This was the worst part of my old job. We were in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. It wouldn’t be unusual for employees to hide in the stock room or something to do their non-customer service work the last hour or so of their shifts just so it would get done. Of course, that lead to customer complaints about how few people were on the floor to help them.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I think a good way deal with that is to post something that says “Windows will close at [insert time before actual closing here].” Or if it’s a restaurant, which has this happen a LOT, “Kitchen closes at X time. No more orders will be taken after that.” It’s posted, it’s policy, and if Pissy McMoanerson doesn’t like it, he’s free to go elsewhere.

        1. Pete*

          I’m not sure if “Pissy McMoanerson” refers to a customer or an employee, but I think it sums up Management’s view of both quite well.

          1. Andrew*

            Except in the cases where management insists on everything being open until the last minute because they don’t want to say no to anyone and still wants all the closing procedures to be done with only two people working the closing shift.

  5. Underemployed Scientist*

    #4 – No, they don’t mean a disability support person. This is a government job, and the support person thing is a nod to Maori (as required under the Treaty of Waitangi) and Pacific Island culture, where all aspects of life, including employment, are far more entangled with the family than in Pakeha culture. The ability to bring whanau support is very common among government and larger council based employment. That said, especially if you are Pakeha, I wouldn’t bring your boyfriend in with you. Unless you have a cultural reason for you to bring whanau support, you probably shouldn’t. For your bog standard white person it would look a little strange and perhaps smack of cultural appropriation.

    1. Aussie Teacher*

      This is fascinating. I can’t believe I have never heard of this, especially since I’m just across the ditch.

    2. Sarahnova*

      Wow, thanks for being able to explain this! Really interesting, and yes, goes to show sometimes it IS different in a different culture, even if it seems superficially similar.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      That is fascinating! I just looked it up and found this:

      “Candidates may opt to bring family members or friends to the interview. This option is made available in advance on the application form. Please advise the HRM Division, prior to the interview, of the number who will be attending so that appropriate seating arrangements can be made. Whanau members or support people will be welcomed and will have the opportunity to respond. The interview structure will be as follows:
      welcome (a mihi and/or karakia for a whanau interview as appropriate);
      whanau members or support people will be invited to speak about the applicant, outlining the person’s qualities and suitability for the position;
      the committee will interview the applicant, finishing with an opportunity for the applicant to ask questions of the committee;
      whanau members or support people will be invited to ask questions of the interview committee;
      the chairperson will indicate when the interview is finished; the whanau members or support people will be thanked for attending and will have the opportunity to respond.
      Applicants and whanau members or support people may speak in either English or Māori.”

      So yeah, OP – DEFINITELY do not bring your boyfriend.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        OK, can’t stop reading about this because I think it’s really interesting and a really wonderful way to encourage diversity in hiring. This explains how it would actually go down:

        “What are the benefits of a whānau interview?

        Whānau support addresses the challenge that can arise within interviews where, reflecting their cultural training and custom, a Māori applicant is reticent about speaking too highly and too confidently about themselves.

        Whānau members who attend an interview can provide invaluable insights into an individual’s skills and experience and add examples of their achievements. If successful in the recruitment process, the new employee will bring with them a support system that has more connection with your business. This network can also help identify potential candidates for other jobs and provide enhanced community-based support.

        What happens in a whānau interview?

        William Carter is the applicant and his whānau support group is: Wiremu Carter, his uncle and also a Māori kaumātua (elder), Mereana Kahu, his cousin, and a Pākehā work colleague, Sandy McDonald. Julia Harris is the Pākehā co-ordinator of the interview panel, which includes another Pākehā and a Māori member. Julia comes into the foyer to greet the applicant and his whānau, introducing the panel as they enter the interview room. Once everyone is seated, Julia asks if someone would like to start with a prayer.

        The kaumātua, Wiremu Carter, stands and offers a karakia (prayer) to open the occasion. Robert Waaka, the Māori member of the interview panel, presents a short mihi to greet the whānau group in Māori and then in English. Wiremu Carter responds to the greeting, in Māori and English, introducing the whānau group. Julia then takes over the co-ordination of the interview, first checking out what the protocol will be. In this case, the whānau group chooses to add their comments once the applicant has been interviewed.

        The panellists interview William in English, asking him about his experiences in relation to the job description. Once this process is complete, the whānau then comment on some of the issues raised, giving further relevant information about William as they know him in a community context, as well as in his job. Julia thanks the applicant and the whānau/support group for their contribution. The kaumātua says a karakia (prayer). A cup of tea and light refreshments are offered to the guests to fully complete the process.”

        1. CaniPost*

          Wow! That is really interesting. Thanks for posting that. I had no idea … there is so much to learn in the world. :)

        2. Jake*

          I would have a very very hard time not having bias against an interviewee like that. I’m not against other cultures, but I highly value people that are independent in their jobs, and having a 5 person team to interview would instantly throw up red flags all over the place.

          1. Jay*

            My assumption is that this would be applicable generally only to a job which was specifically Maori oriented, where it would be expected that whanau support would be a part of the process.

          2. Kiwi*

            >99% of (non-Iwi) hiring in NZ would expect candidate independence – even in govt positions.

            The inability of the candidate to engage in a job interview without family, kaumatua etc present would make an awful impression on the vast majority of NZ managers.

          3. Sarahnova*

            Then it’s probably a good thing you don’t work for the NZ government, which for various good reasons needs to represent the Maori population of NZ as well as the Pakeha one.

            Besides, this process is not about whether the applicant can function individually in a job. Maori individuals hold jobs just like anyone else. It’s about respecting and working with a different culture’s standards on self-promotion and collective responsibility. Automatically assuming your culture has the ONLY process and standards that can determine fitness is a dangerous road to go down.

          4. Meg*

            Independence may be required for your team, but for other positions – particularly those in government or helping professions – employees’ extended community networks can be an extremely valuable asset. One hospital was apparently able to tap whanau networks to save $75,000 in annual missed-appointment costs. ( I would think that a job at the Ministry of Social Development could benefit from a similar program.

        3. Corporate Attorney*

          You know, this really seems not so different to me from getting personal references for someone, just in a highly different cultural context. I’m from a very individualized culture, where this wouldn’t make sense, but I can actually see a lot of benefit to it in a context in which the interviewee’s subsequent performance would be highly influenced by a sense of obligation not to let down those members of the extended family that participated. It’s kind of like when a friend recommends you for a job at her company; you want to be worth that recommendation.

          1. OhNo*

            That’s what I was thinking. It’s like getting immediate reference feedback, with examples, that are relevant to the specific questions you are asking in the interview. How convenient!

            I wonder – are the interviewers permitted to ask questions of the whanau contingent, as they would of references? Or is it that they whanau only offer what additional commentary they feel is necessary?

        4. Not So NewReader*

          Thanks for bringing all this information in, KTF. Very interesting and most certianly provides OP with what she needs to know.

          Differences in cultures, eh? I am impressed with how these folks take care of each other.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            From what I read too, it’s a 2-way street. So you get the relatives’ take on the applicant, but the relatives are also vouching that they’ll hold the applicant/employee to the standards of the job. Like co-signing a loan.

  6. Marissa*

    Put me down as Team Mark. Coworkers who sing while they work don’t bother me. Coworkers who snap at others ruin my day. Unless it’s so loud that you can’t hear an important phone call, put your headphones in and let people be.

    1. Thomas W*

      I wouldn’t go so far as to pick a side myself, but I do feel that there isn’t enough info in the original post to really determine if Mark is an ass. It sounds like the OP has tried joking and snapping, but never having an earnest conversation (as AAM recommends). But that said, I think you can’t always have an office environment where everyone is perfectly happy with everyone’s habits, and a little compromise goes a long way, IMO. And that applies just as much to Mark — he should cut it back, and the OP should tolerate it in small doses.

    2. Joolsey woolsey*

      If it’s got to the point where coworkers are snapping at each other then you can safely assume that the person singing has also ruined the snappers day.

      I so hate people who’s mentality is that they’re enjoying what they’re doing and if you don’t enjoy it it’s because you aren’t ‘fun’.

      1. Allison*

        “I so hate people who’s mentality is that they’re enjoying what they’re doing and if you don’t enjoy it it’s because you aren’t ‘fun’.”

        Agreed. I’m all for people being happy and enjoying life, I say this as someone who grew up with a singing/humming/whistling grandmother who is beloved largely because she is always so happy and positive. It can be a good thing, in certain amounts and contexts. The office is a place to get work done, and it’s not unreasonable or “sullen” for people to want their co-workers to keep unnecessary noise to a minimum.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Yes. Or who assume that their likes and tolerances ought to be the floor for everyone.

    3. Anon*

      The OP has asked Mark several times to stop – I feel comfortable assuming she started with, as she said, asking nicely or joking. He knows what he’s doing is bothering her and has refused to stop. He’s the problem.

      1. Zillah*

        Agreed. It’s not that hard to refrain from singing to yourself for ten minutes while in someone else’s workspace.

      2. neverjaunty*

        I wonder if the fact that the singing bothers OP isn’t a big part of the reason Mark keeps doing it.

      3. krisl*

        OP said “I’ve asked him nicely to please stop.” That should be enough unless he doesn’t realize he’s doing it, and his obnoxious comeback makes me think he knows he’s doing it and he is OK with annoying her.

    4. A Dispatcher*

      There are plenty of things that don’t bother me one bit but still aren’t work appropriate. In an office setting, going around singing and whistling while others are trying to work isn’t appropriate in most settings and I would argue is never appropriate once a coworker has mentioned it is bothering them and requests that it be stopped.

      Snapping at a coworker isn’t the best idea of course, but I can see the frustration building up on OPs part and causing that to happen. There are only so many times you can nicely request something before you just want to scream “shut up already!”

    5. GrumpyBoss*

      We all have our limits of what we can tolerate. I would love it if someone singing while I was picking up something at the printer was the worst aspect of my job. Really, how much focus do you need for that task?

      But if this really bothers the OP, she probably needs to attack this like AAM has said. But I’d bring up legitimate examples of how this was distracting when she overheard it at her desk. Things that happen in passing in the hallway or in common areas are sometimes things you just have to accept are part of working in an environment with a diverse group of people.

      1. Buffet the Vampire Layer*

        The way I read that letter was that Mark was the one who was singing while he picked up his printing at a printer next to OP’s desk. So she wasn’t intruding into his space and thus coming across his singing; he was singing while coming into her space and picking up his print job.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          Maybe the issue to solve is asking that the printer be moved then?

          I understand that this is irritating to the OP, but what if Mark was going to the printer with a buddy and talking about sports or some other topic that the OP has no interest in. Is that still annoying? What if it was someone other than Mark doing it? If she’d still be irritated by this, maybe the actual location of her desk/printer is the issue here.

          And put me down for one who is sorta on team Mark. Not because I think he’s justified (he’s not) or that the singing isn’t annoying (clearly it is to the OP). I wouldn’t respond well to her hostility disguised as “jokes”. Instead of, “just because you are printing something doesn’t mean you have to sing about it” (which is a pretty passive aggressive way to indicate that he is bothering her), how hard is it to say, “Hi Mark, I’m trying to concentrate on this here. It would help me out a lot if you could keep it down.”

          1. Cara*

            “I understand that this is irritating to the OP, but what if Mark was going to the printer with a buddy and talking about sports or some other topic that the OP has no interest in. Is that still annoying?”

            If you have never seen them, I strongly suggest finding the old Rob Schneider “making copies” skits on SNL. That was the reverse scenario (person near the copy machine making comments about people picking up copies) but it will give you an idea really quickly about just how annoying this can be. And I would imagine it’s that much worse when the person is coming into your workspace, rather than you coming into theirs.

            1. De Minimis*

              I just realized how old those skits are now, to where they may no longer be common knowledge….

              I agree too, it would drive me absolutely nuts.

            2. GrumpyBoss*

              And that is exactly my point. Is the problem Mark, or is the problem the public space so close to her desk?

              Let me try to explain it this way. Instead of making the issue about how she can’t concentrate, the OP has made the issue about how Mark annoys her. I think she’d get much more traction if she was focusing on the former instead of the latter.

              1. Cara*

                If she focuses the issue on needing to be moved out of the public space and they can’t move her, then she’s pretty much out of options. The way she describes the open floor plan, she would have to be moved to an office, and that is often simply not a possibility.

                Considering her letter to Allison specifically says that the open floor plan is “great for being accessible to others” but Mark in particular is a problem, I think we have to take her at her word that Mark specifically is the problem here and not general office noise/chitchat.

              2. Non geordie beth*

                If she can concentrate all the timr except when Mark turns up, i think that’s pretty clear…

              3. Ellie H*

                It is sometimes unavoidable that in an office, someone’s desk will be near public space used by others. It’s a part of normal human consideration as well as workplace professionalism to be respectful of the fact that though your job requires you to enter and make use of this public space occasionally, it is still someone’s personal workspace and therefore you should be considerate of the fact that he or she is trying to work and would probably prefer as quiet and unobtrusive an environment as any other person is entitled to. The problem is not that there is public space near her desk (unavoidable), but that Mark isn’t employing basic reasonable person politeness.

              4. Otter box*

                I wonder if this is really the issue – that Mark just annoys the OP in general and this is the specific issue that happened to boil over. I have a coworker who sounds exactly like Mark and sings to himself all the time. But this guy is also one of the nicest, friendliest, most respected people in the office, and no one takes issue with his habit. We all just think it’s funny and tease him about how his life has a soundtrack. (For what it’s worth, we don’t have the same type of open office format though, which I could see aggravating things.) This does makes me wonder whether there’s something else going on between the OP and this is just a superficial issue that happened to boil over. Obviously I can’t know this, and it’s very possible Mark is an ass, but I thought enough Mark-hate was going on that it was worth bringing up an alternative. Especially since there’s nothing in his behavior that I couldn’t see my entirely awesome coworker doing too.

            3. Kelly L.*

              There’s actually a post on adultingblog called something like “When you go to the printer, you don’t have to talk about the printer every time.” I thought of that too.

          2. alma*

            I wouldn’t respond well to her hostility disguised as “jokes”.

            Except that OP stated: “ I’ve asked him nicely to please stop. I’ve asked him to stop in the guise of a joke. I’ve snapped at him to stop once or twice. Nothing seems to work.”

            If she has attempted to communicate the problem to Mark in a variety of different ways and he isn’t responding, I’m sorry, that’s on Mark. He can’t reasonably claim not to know that his singing is a problem and a major distraction for her. If he chooses not to respect that, I don’t think he has a leg to stand on if he wants to whine that she isn’t being nice about it anymore.

          3. Cari*

            Good idea! It couldn’t hurt the OP#1 to ask at least, but it is possible the printer is there because that is the only place it can go. I hope for their sake the office has plenty of free network and power sockets.

            Where I worked, moving PCs and printers around wasn’t a trivial task because sockets were installed and connected up to the network switches for the equipment that was to be in the room at the time of installation. It *was* in the public sector though, and they liked to save money wherever they could (like taking all the pencils out of the stationary budget to save a measly £100).

          4. Zillah*

            I might agree if the OP had started with that, but that’s not my reading of the question. I’m reading it as that comment coming after numerous requests to stop/comments about it being distracting that were presented in a much nicer way.

            1. Zillah*

              Also –

              I think we’ve talked on this blog fairly recently about music being a source of distraction for a lot of people where conversation isn’t. That’s certainly the case for me – I can tune out most conversations fairly easily, but someone singing is a lot harder for me to ignore and work through.

              That said, if two people were talking about sports next to someone’s desk and they were asked to please stop because it was distracting, I’d also consider it pretty rude for them to keep talking if it was easily avoidable… and since Mark’s desk is nowhere near the OP’s, I think that qualifies.

      2. AVP*

        I also wonder if Mark is one of the employees with his own office – people who aren’t used to working in an open plan situation may not have any idea how every single noise can multiply and turn into a big distraction. SO he’s thinking, ‘oh what’s the big seal it’s five minutes a day of distraction,’ whereas the OP is spending more time fending off chatters tun working.

        1. smilingswan*

          I’m thinking that they should move Mark to the desk near the copier, and let the OP have his old desk. That would probably solve the problem.

      3. Vicki*

        Re-read the letter. The singer is picking up the printout, not in a common area but in an open plan work space.

        The bane of the open plan workspace is the openness.

    6. Cari*

      Well good for you. Just because something doesn’t bother you in the job *you* do, doesn’t mean it is something that is okay for a co-worker to persist in doing after being asked politely, repeatedly, to stop doing because it is affecting the ability of someone else to do *their* work, in a completelt different job and place of work.

      You don’t know what work OP#1 does, their job could require them to think a lot and concentrate on the task at hand, and behaviour like the kind Mark is displaying can be incredibly distracting to the point of OP#1 making a big mistake that could land them in trouble – you just don’t know and it is besides the point anyway.

      Besides, it is clear to Mark that his behaviour is disturbing the OP as they have asked him to stop and even got frustrated with his ignorance and persistence to the point they have ended up snapping at him, yet he still continues. He’s heading into workplace bullying territory by continuing the objectionable and distracting behaviour i.e he’s doing it delibereately to wind up the OP. It is not how you should behave in the workplace, and presumably Mark is a grown-ass adult who should know better than to continue.

      Team Mark Is An Ass

      1. M. in Austin!*

        I don’t think it’s fair to call this bullying AT ALL. Could he be doing it on purpose to annoy the OP? Possibly, but I doubt it. The OP hasn’t given us indication that he’s doing it maliciously.

        Also, how “objectionable and distracting” is this behavior really? OP said it doesn’t bother the coworker sharing the same space. It’s the OP’s personal issue.

        Should Mark stop? Yes! He’s been asked to stop and he should respect that/consciously try to change the behavior. But I also think OP shouldn’t be snapping at a coworker and getting so worked up over something like this.

        1. Cari*

          It becomes bullying when he continues to do it knowing full well the OP finds his behaviour distracting from their work and they have repeatedly and clearly asked him to stop. The OP has not made an unreasonable request, and it is very clear Mark doesn’t give a crap, or have any respect for the OP.

          If someone makes a very reasonable request that you to stop doing something that is annoying and distracting to them when they are trying to concentrate on their work, and you persist in annoying them knowing full well you are doing so, it has become deliberate and intentional and yes, you are being a bully. It is no different from a child in a classrom setting, *daily* or near daily poking another child in the back and distracting them from their school work after already being asked REPEATEDLY to stop. Most reasonable people would see the first child’s persistence as picking on them, thus the first child is a bully.

          1. CoffeeLover*

            I have to disagree with you as well. Just because someone does something you dislike doesn’t mean they’re bullying you. That’s like saying the lady who eats smelly food in the office is bullying me. It’s unpleasant, but using the word “bully” detracts from real instances of bullying.

            Bullying is defined as “use of superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants” in the dictionary. I’m not sure I fully agree with this definition, but it’s a little closer to reality.

            1. Jennifer*

              In this case, he is forcing her to put up with his singing, no matter how much she objects to it. I’m not sure on his greater strength unless it’s stubborn jerkitude/possible male privilege, but either way, he’s getting what he wants and she just has to lump it. Sounds like bullying to me, even if it’s light bullying.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Bullying generally means that the person is using their greater strength/influence/power to intimidate the victim or get their way. I don’t think this is bullying, although it’s certainly obnoxious.

            1. Cari*

              Fair enough, and I’ll have to admit personal experiences are giving me a bit of a different read on the situation to you and the commenters in this thread… However if the OP #1 is female (it isn’t made explicit in the question so I didn’t want to assume, but a lot of commenters seem to think they are), Mark would have some form of power over them just by virtue of being male, whether he’s intentionally using it or not.
              I’m finding it hard to articulate my thoughts here, and I’m aware there is information missing from the OP that would provide more context to the situation that would make it more clear which way this actually lands… But if the OP *is* female, and Mark’s continued behaviour is now or is becoming deliberate, it seems to me like there’s some element of power imbalance there in the working relationship (also, OP’s methods of asking him to stop hint at that too). OP’s most recent interaction with him is passive-aggressive, and people don’t usually go there in these situations unless they’re feeling powerless and don’t have any other options…

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Just being male doesn’t give people power over women in every office across the board. The OP could be in a higher-level or more valued position than Mark, or have more influence with their management, or all sorts of other things that would shift the power dynamic toward her. Or it could be a heavily-women-led organization. Or they could be true peers. Lots of different configurations; I definitely wouldn’t leap to Mark having more power (even subtly) without lots of more information; there are so many contexts in which that would just be incorrect.

                (And we actually get a ton of letters from people who resort to passive-aggressive responses to stuff like this when there aren’t any power dynamics in play; people just find it hard to deal with this type of conflict!)

                1. krisl*

                  What AAM said! I was trying to figure out a way to say that a person’s gender isn’t a complete answer to the person’s power, but you said it much better than I could have.

            2. A Kate*

              I’m not sure I buy into this definition of bullying. We also talk about bullying among school children, who are technically at the same level in formal power structures. Informal power structures are a different story (who the popular kids are).

              Just as we don’t have any information about the formal power dynamic in Mark’s office, we don’t know anything about any informal power structures. Is Mark an outcast? Or is he a golden boy who can do no wrong in the eyes of most of his coworkers? Allison is right that we can’t make a judgment with the information we have in this case either.

              What we DO know is that Mark has some power over the OP. He has the power to determine whether she (or he?) is able to concentrate on her work, and he is choosing to exercise it a way that demonstrates that he thinks his desires are more important than her needs. I can see that veering into bullying territory, as summed up by Allison’s remark that Mark is kind of a jerk.

              Of course the possibility remains that Mark is just really dense, and doesn’t get how bothered the OP is by his singing. Maybe the frank discussion with him will help. But I’m not optimistic.

        2. alma*

          Not to be overly technical, but the person stated that it was “heading into bullying territory,” not that it was necessarily bullying full-stop. It’s the kind of thing where I wouldn’t necessarily read the initial offense as bullying, but a persistence in doing it when he knows it drives a coworker bonkers is a bit closer to the borderline.

          To me, if Mark enjoys getting a rise out of a coworker who has made it clear she isn’t having fun and just wants to work, it’s not out of bounds to call that bullying, albeit a very low-level form of it.

          1. Cari*

            Thank you :) that’s exactly where I’m trying to come from.

            On being (overly) technical, the dictionaries are out now so you’re not alone!

            1. Zillah*

              Yeah, I’d tend to agree with you. It’s certainly a fairly low level form of bullying, especially compared to many of the other things we see here, but ultimately, it doesn’t seem like Mark’s desk is anywhere near hers, so I can’t imagine why it would be so difficult for him to refrain from singing when he stops by to pick something up from the printer.

              The fact that he blew her off and called her “sullen” when reminded of her issue with it indicates to me that Mark is not just doing this without realizing it – he just doesn’t care about the OP’s wishes.

              If his desk was near hers, it might be a different story… but it isn’t. How hard is it to not sing for five minutes when you know it really bothers the person whose space you’re in? I doubt he’d act this way to a higher-up.

    7. Lily in NYC*

      I think you are assuming a lot considering none of us were there to witness it. It could be an overreaction, or it could be a huge annoyance from someone who is trying to get a rise out of someone else in the guise of “enjoying life”.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Agreed. I can see this situation both ways – maybe Mark is being an ass, or maybe the LW is overreacting or even being unreasonable in demanding quiet in the open area. I’ve certainly met my share of irritating asses who deliberately goad co-workers. But I’ve also worked in offices where the employees with desks in multi-purpose open spaces couldn’t reasonably expect quiet.

        I think the LW should avoid the passive aggression and snapping. Even if Mark is 100% in the wrong, that type of behavior makes the LW look bad.

        1. CoffeeLover*

          I’m blessed with the natural skill to block out noise when I’m concentrating on something. I suppose as a result I can’t really empathize with OP, but I liked your point about not being able to reasonably expect quiet sometimes. Yes, it’s rude of Mark to make noise, but at the same time OPs desk is next to the printer. I expect other people coming in and out of printing and chatting as they do it are just as distracting. To me I think it’s better to invest your time in finding ways to cope with the noise. Whether that’s playing music lightly or using your headphones when you really need to concentrate.

          I will add that I can’t imagine this is a regular distraction, which makes OPs annoyance a little less palpable. If this guy sat next to her and sang all day that’s different. But it sounds like he might come by a few times a day for a short period to print something off or walk past. If that is the case (which is a guess on my part), I think OP should just learn to cope especially if she’s talked to him already and he shows no signs of changing. Trying to find ways to adjust your perspective on his singing will make you happier in the long run.

          1. Felicia*

            I don’t think the OP is demanding or expecting quiet. They just seem to want/expect a work environment free of random singing, which is totally reasonable.

          2. Zillah*

            I think I said this elsewhere in this conversation, but IIRC, we’ve discussed music in the office fairly recently, and a fair number of people said that music really bothers them where they can tune out conversations, and a fair number of people who said the opposite. Personally, I can ignore conversations, but someone singing would drive me nuts.

            For people who are distracted by conversations, I think that often headphones are the solution. It’s hard to avoid conversations in an office. However, I can’t see that it’s all that hard to avoid singing in the fifteen or twenty minutes you spend near someone else’s desk over the entire workday. I’m not sure why Mark thinks that he’s a special snowflake who doesn’t need to be considerate.

      2. M. in Austin!*

        I agree. I think we don’t know enough to fairly assess the situation. It could go either way!

    8. Virginian*

      Exactly this. Out of all the things in the world to complain about, this is minor.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I really, really hate that kind of argument. Yes, things could always be worse, and this is less offensive than getting punched in the face, but it’s still annoying the OP and impacting her productivity. Just because things could be worse doesn’t invalidate her annoyance.

        Like, when the person next to me on an airplane just smoked a pack of cigarettes and reeks of smoke and BO – it’s obviously better than being shot down over the Ukraine, but it still kind of sucks.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Why doesn’t that go both ways? Isn’t it a minor inconvenience for Mark to shut his pie hold for two minutes while he’s grabbing copies?

        1. Cari*

          Apparently Mark’s right to make unnecessary noise in a public workspace trumps the OP’s right to work effectively without unnecessary distraction…

    9. Artemesia*

      Mark can hum to his heart’s content in his own office bless his heart and note that HE has an office — to inflict this on the OP in her office where she has no choice but to put up with boorish clods like himself is passive aggressive or maybe just plane bullying since he knows it distracts her.

    10. alma*

      Well, for starters, noise-canceling headphones don’t always cancel all the noise. I use a pair at work, but I can still hear it and be disrupted if people are having a loud conversation near my desk.

      Secondly, the argument that “this doesn’t bother me and therefore nobody should be bothered by it” is silly. There are plenty of things that don’t bother me that I still avoid doing because I know it is an irritation for other people. I don’t mind the smell of tuna, but I don’t bring it to work because I know fish smells are not always welcome in the workplace.

      The fact that Mark KNOWS his singing irritates his coworker, and persists at it anyway, puts him squarely in Asshole territory.

      Coworkers who snap at others ruin my day.

      OP stated that she tried asking nicely at first. She escalated to “snapping” when it became clear that Mark didn’t care about the disruption he caused his coworkers. Sometimes snapping is justified. I personally think she’s well within rights to escalate to the boss since clearly Mark does not care to hear anything from her.

      1. Zillah*

        Also, the OP specifically said that:

        There are others with actual offices around me, but my coworker and I sit out in the open floor area. This is great for being accessible to others…

        That indicates to me that even if noise-blocking headphones worked perfectly, they might be a problem because they could impact her ability to respond quickly to coworkers who legitimately need her attention.

      2. Melissa*

        Noise-canceling earphones also are irritating to some people, because they produce a whooshing noise inside the seal. I can’t use them – they hurt my ears within 2 minutes.

    11. Windchime*

      Huh. Singing coworkers bug me and snapping coworkers don’t ruin my day, so I guess we are at an impasse.

      But seriously. We used to have someone in the office who would stand in the cube next to me and have loud, stage-whispered conversations all day long. Punctuated by her high-pitched giggling. Asking nicely for them to hold it down didn’t work. Escalating to the boss didn’t work. Noise canceling headphones worked sometimes, but having headphones pressing against my glasses 8 hours a day wasn’t always fun.

      She was just “enjoying life”. And affecting the productivity of everyone around her. Now she is laid off; when the RIF came, her wandering around and “enjoying life” while distracting everyone was one of the reasons she was let go. Now I can just quietly enjoy life and be a lot more productive at work.

    12. Lamington*

      I would start singing too everytime I saw Mark and ask him to do duets in my most obnoxious opera voice.

    13. Vicki*

      Sorry, but no. Your desire to sing does not trump the other person’s need to get their work done in a quiet environment.

      Not everyone can work with headphones on. Not every job permits headphones.

      The same goes for whistling, nail clipping, finger tapping/snapping, loud chewing, crunchy snacks, the infamous stinky food, and all other non work-related activities used to annoy co-workers in the name of joie de vivre.

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        “Your desire to sing does not trump the other person’s need to get their work done in a quiet environment.”

        Right, unless one of your job duties is singing, whistling, nail-clipping, finger-tapping, and the other things that you mentioned, the ability to work takes priority over the singing.

        I say this as someone who loves singing. At home. After hours. Not on the clock.

    14. Simonthegrey*

      Some jobs do not allow you to wear headphones at all. OP said they had tried joking/more gentle ways of dealing with this, and Mark refused to compromise. Op isn’t the asshole here.

    15. Jennifer*

      Headphones do not drown out anyone talking around you. Especially if they are singing. I can say that one from experience because I have a singing coworker too, but it ain’t worth the drama to ask her to stop most of the time. (Also, she doesn’t do it nearly as much as Mark does, apparently.)

    16. smilingswan*

      I’m with the OP. However, I have a quirk in that I hate listening to other people sing, unless I have paid for a ticket. I went to high school with a girl who sang incessantly to herself in a very high soprano, and it drove me nuts. It’s kind of put me off others singing, and is the reason I never sing in public (except once, as part of a group at a drunken Karaoke night).

    17. NoPantsFridays*

      Exactly! And if you’re not allowed to wear headphones in your office, you can just plug your ears with your fingers and type with your elbows. I’m doing that right now. You can get good pretty quickly. And OP would only have to do it with the singer is around; she could type normally the rest of the time.

  7. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

    NZ hiring manager here. Do not bring the boyfriend. It’s very weird.

  8. Seal*

    #1 – At this point, I’d say it’s time to get your manager involved. The problem is no longer that he’s disturbing you, it’s his lack of respect when you’ve asked him multiple times to stop.

    As others have already pointed out, Mark is far more than just a bit of an ass.

  9. FSO*

    This website ( gives further information on what a “support person” would do during a New Zealand job interview. Fascinating stuff! And wholly unfamiliar to a North American audience, I’d expect.

    “Whanau or other Support at Interviews Candidates may opt to bring family members or friends to the interview. This option is made available in advance on the application form. Please advise the HRM Division (email, or phone XXXXX), prior to the interview, of the number who will be attending so that appropriate seating arrangements can be made. Whanau members or support people will be welcomed and will have the opportunity to respond. The interview structure will be as follows:

    •welcome (a mihi and/or karakia for a whanau interview as appropriate);
    •whanau members or support people will be invited to speak about the applicant, outlining the person’s qualities and suitability for the position;
    •the committee will interview the applicant, finishing with an opportunity for the applicant to ask questions of the committee;
    •whanau members or support people will be invited to ask questions of the interview committee;
    •the chairperson will indicate when the interview is finished; the whanau members or support people will be thanked for attending and will have the opportunity to respond.
    Applicants and whanau members or support people may speak in either English or Māori. “

    1. MK*

      This makes it clear that the option to include a support person in the interview is offered to accommodate the differences of Maori culture. If the OP is not Maori, they shouldn’t even consider bringing someone along; this accommodation has nothing to do with them. Even if they are Maori, they should consider a) if this is something that is really relevant in their case (by which I mean that they view the inclusion of this support person as an expression of their culture and they are not randomly making use of it just because it’s there) and b) whether this is actually used by Maori people in practice.

      I realize it seems unfair to offer someone an accommodation and then judge them for making use of it, but sometimes custom trumps law; if no non-Maori ever and no Maori in the last decade has brought a support person along in an interview, the interviewer will reasonably wonder at what the OP is thinking of.

    2. Sarahnova*

      I have learned something new and fascinating to add to what I picked up about Māori culture when I visited New Zealand. Awesome.

      OP#4, definitely don’t bring your boyfriend, though. If the “support person” thing was relevant to you, you would already know about it.

      1. De Minimis*

        Interesting stuff. We don’t have anything like that here, even for groups/organizations who serve tribal communities.

    3. Graciosa*

      This is really interesting information. The part that struck my eye was the section where the support people are invited to speak about the applicant, outlining their qualifications and suitability for the position.

      Is this taken seriously, in the sense that tribal members would express concerns if they had them, or in practice are the comments only positive? I’m really curious about how this actually works – although unless someone reads this who has experienced it, my curiosity may remain unsatisfied.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        From the commentary upthread, it sounds like the support members are there to speak positively about the candidate because self-promotion is culturally frowned upon.

      2. en pointe*

        Apparently the comments aren’t always strictly positive. I loved this story from one of the links somebody posted upthread:

        Wiki’s whānau interview…

        “I did my interview first, alone, and then my whānau all piled in. I remember the look on the interviewer’s face; she thought this was going to take hours.

        But my whānau had decided that only two people would talk. First went my uncle, he turned to me and said: ‘Well Wiki, when are you going to get a job that you stick at? If you get this job are you going to stick at it?’ Of course I said yes. Then it was my aunt’s turn. She stood up and said: ‘And another thing Wiki, we were really disappointed that you didn’t stick to your study. If you get this one will you stick to your study?’

        That was it – I was so embarrassed. They wanted to let my employers know that they would support me in my job, help me hang in there. They wanted to let them know that they expected me to carry on studying. It was a quick whānau interview. Man they were honest. The interviewers loved it. I got the job. I finished my study and got promoted.”

      3. Sarahnova*

        Well, to be fair, you’re expected to be pretty unambiguously positive about yourself in an interview situation as well. Everyone recognises it as functionally a self-promotion opportunity. I don’t think this is fundamentally all that different to having personal references whom you know will speak glowingly about you, except that it has been adapted to fit Maori cultural expectations, which is appropriate for government jobs in NZ.

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          Right, that’s what I was thinking– I wouldn’t list someone as a reference (whether personal or professional) without knowing what kinds of things they’d say about me, and that it would be positive!

          Now, I know nothing about this culture other than what I’ve learned from this thread (which has been very interesting!) — but I would think a Maori candidate would bring along support people who would speak positively about them/ their suitability for the position. Like if you have that one cousin who thinks you are incompetent, you would bring other family members and leave him out.

    4. Leah*

      That is fascinating and amazing. I’d love to see a study on how people do in an interview if they had just heard someone else speak (assumedly well) about them first. I’ve always been amazed at how much nicer reference letters about me are than if I’d had to write one about myself. Also, other people notice things that I take for granted.

      Growing up I was told to not be “so pushy”, “so bossy”, or brag . I was made to focus on making other people feel good about themselves, even at my own expense. Some of this wore off over time but my last job left me feeling pretty shitty about my abilities. I still feel very uncomfortable talking myself up and can feel put off by boasting that’s not necessarily that boastful.*

      I have a “win list” of all my accomplishments that I could bring with me to read over before interviews and I could probably ask a few people to write nice things about me to skim as well. I’m working on building my internal self-confidence but I’m also working on being employed.

      *This is not to endorse humblebragging. I know a number of people who went to Ivy League schools. Good for them! However, they graduated 10 years ago and still shoehorn in the name of their alma mater at any opportunity.

  10. Cari*

    #3 – I have also had to leave my place of work recently due to a domestic violence situation (although I was fortunate in some senses that the trigger for me leaving coincided with major restructuring taking place and I was able to take voluntary redundancy), and since leaving my abuser I’ve been very open and explicit about the nature of the situation.
    I haven’t had any form of negative reaction from the people I have interacted with so far, and my logic for being so open goes: if I don’t be explicit, I won’t be able to get the help or assistance I need from these people.

    If it is safe for you to do so (e.g. you telling your place of work the exactly why you had to leave will not get back to the person who has caused you to leave), consider just being straightfoward about it all. At worst, if it is safe, the person on the other end of the conversation may feel awkward and “ooh, too much information”, but those are their feelings to deal with not yours. Put yourself first and do what you need to do to recover from the situation.
    Of course, if you feel the person at your place of work you would talk about this may be unprofessional and air upsetting or triggering opinions on your circumstances, go with Alison’s “safety issue” suggestion. It says enough to hopefully get some understanding from your employer, without saying too much to give certain types of people the opportunity to air their harmful and ignorant views :)

    Good luck LW#3 and well done on getting out, it takes a lot of strength and courage to do what you have done :)

    1. Sara M*

      This is what I was going to say. Also, #3, have you talked to a domestic violence hotline or counselor? I bet they have experience with this exact situation and will have advice.

      Also, good for you for taking care of yourself and staying safe. That must have been very hard to do.

      1. Promo K*

        There is also something called “safety planning” for survivors and their family members. Not all DV organizations offer this, but many do. A hotline advocate can help you assess your situation from a safety standpoint and suggest some options so you can decide what’s best for you. There might be things you’ve never thought of — or questions you might have — that they will be very skilled at answering.

        Wishing you the very, very best LW3. Just know that you are not alone and, if you need it, there are people who can help.

  11. NW Cat Lady*

    #2 – Are there any entry level PR jobs open? If not, is it possible he was saying that if any open up, he would be interested in talking to you?

    1. Janet*

      If there aren’t any jobs posted, see about a paid internship. I know the larger agencies in my area only have paid internships and generally hire from that pool. It could be good to get some non-University experience.

      1. OP #2*

        Of the jobs they have open right now, the closest one to being entry level is one that requires two years of agency experience (as opposed to five or 10), but seeing about an internship is an awesome idea! I did apply for one with another company that declined because I’m no longer a college student, but I might have a better chance here since I’ve already interviewed.

        1. NK*

          Job requirements are often serious reach goals, to the point where candidates who actually met all the requirements would be overqualified! We just posted a job in my group, and none of the people in my group at that level have all the job requirements listed. A job that lists two years of experience is often really an entry level job. There are exceptions for sure (I think some government jobs do absolutely require candidates to meet all their requirements), but in the corporate world I wouldn’t let the requirements hold you back from applying if it’s a reasonable fit.

          1. Anx*

            Can you please expound on this.

            So many times I feel stuck because I feel that applying to job where I don’t meet the ‘minimum requirements’ (obviously different wording than just requirements) means I can’t follow directions, have an over-inflated sense of self, or would be naive in suggesting that my experience in x, y, and z is relevant because ____.

            But when I don’t apply, I go for months or years without seeing a job posted without that 1, 1-2, 2 year experience barrier.

            I read an article on how women are more likely to select themselves out from this, and if men are doing it more, that makes me think it’s something that would be rewarded more than punished. But then I’ll see something about over-entitled millenials and I shrink back again.

            A lot of times I am seeking out the MOST entry-level position that is on track (after being told that I won’t be considered for custodial positions) to what I want.

            My experience is not corporate.

            1. Lynn Whitehat*

              It’s true, best not to take “requirement” too super-literally. If it says “must be proficient in A, B, C, D, and E software”, and you’re proficient in A, B, and C and so-so in D and E, go ahead and apply. Likewise if it says “7 years experience with X” and you have 6. I would say if you’re an 80% match overall, feel free to apply.

              Someone will probably reply to this and say, “well, at MY company, we would never list something as a requirement unless it really, really was.” And I’m sure there are companies like that, but IME on both sides, they’re the exception, not the norm. I remember when I was younger being really surprised that they would list 10 “requirements” and then not even ask about #9 and #10 in the interview. Or they thought I was being overly pedantic when I shamefacedly confessed to being COMPETENT in using certain software rather than PROFICIENT, as “required”.

            2. LAI*

              I agree with Lynn. If you meet about 70-80% of the requirements, then I think you’re safe to apply without anyone thinking that you’re an entitled millenial. However, unlike NK, in my experience there are often candidates who do meet 99-100% of the qualifications so the 70-80% people may be out of luck. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth applying, but you may not get any response from it. I’ve done plenty of recruitments where I see applicants and think “this person would be great if we had a more entry-level position open right now” — I don’t interview them, but I don’t think any less of them for applying.

        2. Jenny*

          Everyone has different internship rules. I work at a university and I had a student worker apply for an internship at an agency and she was told “We only hire new grads” so she didn’t have enough experience for the paid internship. But then elsewhere, they want you to have class credit, so you never know.

    2. Felicia*

      Definitely ask about an internship! I had a similar situation where I was rejected for a job but the hiring manager said nice things both to me and to my contact at the company, so I just emailed reiterating my interest in both the field and the company and said I’d love to be considered for any internship opportunities in the future, and although they usually only hired one intern who was already hired, they decided to hire me. Could happen!

  12. IronMaiden*

    OP #1 – I have read that if you want to train a pet out of bad habits like scratching the furniture or peeing on the carpet or fighting with other animals, you fill a big water pistol and use it when the undesired behaviour surfaces. I would do this to Mark. It would probably shock him out of his asshatishness.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I’m going to try this with a coworker who keeps trying to borrow money from me. But I’m going to use a SuperSoaker.

      1. Liz*

        Clear it with your manager first :)

        I know that if I wanted to do this to a specific coworker my manager would back me to the full – and possibly invest in his own SuperSoaker!

    2. Mike*

      > you fill a big water pistol and use it when the undesired behaviour surfaces

      Cat person here. That doesn’t work. I’ve had cats look right at me while doing it and wait for the water bottle to start going before they left. And they’d keep doing it.

      1. Windchime*

        Yep. My cat would just stare at me until I picked up the water bottle, and then scamper away.

      2. Formica Dinette*

        Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. One of my cats stops whatever naughtiness he’s engaged in and darts away the moment he sees me reach for the squirt bottle. The other cat looks directly at me and squints. :D

      3. Melissa*

        Depends on the cat. I found it very effective with a cat that kept doing things he wasn’t supposed to (until he learned how to hide in a nook or cranny where the spray couldn’t reach him, of course).

    3. Lisa*

      I once brought in tiny water guns (3 squirts and you had to refill them). They were meant for a mini water fight with our boss when he got annoying. I gave them to 4 people, and said that only the boss’s wife and mary (a sweet 80 yr old woman that had been there 40 yrs) could start the water gun fight with him. Then others can join in.

      His wife laughed, and accepted the loaded weapon. She said she wouldn’t use it til Mary did first. But not 20 min later, her husband came to her desk to and poked fun at some decision she had made. The water gun came out, and he was shocked, but more shocked when 3 others of us got them out too. He wrestled it out of his wife’s hand, reloaded and put it in his desk for later use. As he walked by me, he smirked saying ‘hey, that was a good idea’.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      You could also shake a can of pennies in his face. That’s supposed to work to stop dogs from barking.

  13. Stephanie*

    #2 – I’d guess the executive is at least somewhat interested, as I’m sure he has more than enough candidates for an entry-level PR role. Can your aunt give you any guidance as to how sincere this guy usually is? It’s worth a shot!

    #3 – Whoa. Scary. Glad you were able to get out of that situation and had family you could go to (even if they weren’t local). I wonder, however, is it worth contacting HR that there might be an issue with an angry SO showing up at your former workplace?

    #5 – Do you know the reason for the overtime? Figuring that out (if you don’t already know it) might help solve the overtime crisis. If you know why, I would just make it a fireable offense and enforce the rules.

  14. Raine*

    I don’t really understand the advice to OP 1 only a week or so after it was advised it is apparently a constitutional right to eat all day long in shared workspace and not be an ass who should need to exercise restraint.

    1. I do*

      It about the impact on your coworkers. AAM did say you shouldn’t eat smelly or loud food all day long at your desk, but sitting quietly eating a sandwich every two hours can in no way disrupt your colleagues in the same way as standing behind them singing.

      Surely that is obvious?

    2. Claire*

      That advice was tempered, though, by the recognition that you should not do so if you are eating foodstuffs that would cause disturbance to coworkers e.g, by being noisy or smelly.

      People need to eat. They do not need to sing. They certainly do not need to sing while in someone else’s workspace. Assuming Mark has an office, based on the OP’s description of the workspace, Mark can close his door and sing if he so chooses. But doing it in someone else’s space is rude.

    3. Sarahnova*

      People can and often do have medical needs to eat frequently. Nobody has a medical need to sing out loud.

      Since most people spend most of their waking hours at work, it is also an inevitability that people will eat at work. I’m sorry that bothers you, but under the circumstances the onus is on you to manage your feelings, not on others to change their behaviour.

    4. Jillociraptor*

      Yikes, what an uncharitable reading.

      The underlying principle here is that in a workplace or really any place where lots of adults spend time together, there’s always a give and take of needs. Not everyone gets what they want all of the time, but in general things work best when everyone accommodates what they can, and is vocal about what they can’t, and just generally acts like adults.

      It’s not categorically unreasonable to sing while you’re in the office, nor is it categorically unreasonable to eat regular snacks throughout the day. In both pieces of advice, AAM was clear that these things become unreasonable when they impede the ability of others to do their jobs, and in those cases, those boundaries should be respected, or at the very least negotiated as good-faith requests.

  15. Rebecca*

    #5 – I just had a conversation with my manager on Friday about overtime. She had told all of us “no overtime”. So, in conjunction with my increased workload, even with finding others to help, I’m falling behind and not completing tasks. Here’s the kicker. She asked me, why haven’t you worked overtime? I literally said, because you told us not to! She seemed surprised that I would not just put in more time if necessary. Then she approved a small amount of OT this week to see if I can get caught up.

    I really wish she would say what she means, and mean what she says. I’m not a mind reader.

    1. Cheesecake*

      Oh well, usually there is no such thing as “no overtime” apart from countries where companies are not obliged to pay anything for OT. Everything is up for negotiation. I guess your company decided to announce drastic actions to see who really needs OT and thus will come over for discussion. I would be surprised if you get no extra support or decrease in workload and strict “no OT”.

    2. Laura2*

      What she means is that she’s not paying overtime, but you’re still expected to do it if that’s what it takes to complete your work (and never mind the law).

      1. Leah*

        Not everyone is entitled to overtime. I was in a job that was exempt but unionized with a CBA that allowed for paid overtime. It always had to be approved by a manager or we simply wouldn’t be paid and there wasn’t a thing we could do about it.

    3. neverjaunty*

      I would guess one of two things is going on:

      1) your manager wants you to work extra time, just off the clock so they don’t have to pay you

      2) your manager is an idiot who does not understand that employees have to follow her direction, so when upper management says “no overtime”, she just passes that on without considering how you all need to integrate that into “we cannot get the work done otherwise”.

      Workplaces that overwork you and don’t want to pay for it never improve, IME. You are probably just going to have to get a new job.

      1. LD*

        Or it could be that the manager expected the employee to come to her/him and say, “I’m not able to complete this work without using overtime. What would you prefer I do? Complete the work on overtime or leave it undone?” Some managers can be reasonable if they are informed, and it sounds like this manager was open to overtime as long as it was approved in advance. Perhaps the manager was not as clear about those expectations until the situation occurred.

    4. Newsie*

      I would point out that in some offices, there’s an expectation that “no overtime” means “no overtime on the books.” I can’t tell you how shocked some previous superiors were when they put down the no overtime edict. The people to whom it applied started leaving at their 8 hour day. My superiors fully expected my coworkers to stay and continue working, just not talk about it. (I know it’s illegal… doesn’t mean bosses don’t try.)

    5. MT*

      Sometimes denying overtime is hard, but its the right thing to do. The office workers at my site, which are hourly, have specific stuff that needs to be done every day. The problem is that they see the non-hourly, 3 of us, who are on call 24-7, who normally work 50 hours at work, then more hours at night and on the weekends, we have no issues taking a 30 minute break during the day to BS in one of the offices. They feel like if we can take an extra 30 minute break during the day, they can take an extra 30 minutes break at their desks as well. Then they expect overtime when they don’t get everything done.

    6. Ginjury*

      I wouldn’t assume malice. My guess is that people may have been overusing overtime so she gave a general “no overtime” message, but expected to deal with the need on a case by case basis. Perhaps she expected staff to consult her if they felt they really do need overtime to complete all their work. I’m surprised you didn’t go to her sooner when you realized you had more work than you could complete in the necessary time. Is she generally unhelpful with things like this?

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        She should have said “overtime must be approved in advance and will be discussed on a case-by-case basis” or something, then. Not said “no overtime” and then act surprised when her employees took her at her word.

  16. Juli G.*

    OP3, I’m making an assumption you are in the US. If so, you’ll want old employer to have a new address for your W2. I would suggest contacting someone in HR, explaining the situation and making sure they know new address should be confidential (shouldn’t be an issue but if you are escaping from a spouse who was on your benefits, they may accept their call depending on their access rules).

    1. neverjaunty*

      Excellent point – and I would NOT give HR your living address or mobile number. Give a Google Voice number that forwards to your mobile.

      Best of luck to you, OP #3.

  17. Cheesecake*

    #5 The “we are required to pay overtime approved or not”seems strange to me. Who requires that, legal regulations? I came across regulations “allowed to work 40 hours a week, with 8 hours overtime”, but that is for one of EU country. Yet, it sounds strange that you are obliged to pay because it is usually about amount of extra hours (if employees work more than x hours overtime, company will get a penalty) and not about payment to employees.

    Under normal conditions what is not approved is not overtime and will not be paid. What is not declared is obviously not overtime either. I can only assume OP has some time&attendance system that records hours and employee timesheets, thus overtime is always captured somehow. I would really research the obligation to pay any overtime and consult what it means in reality. In case you are not obliged to pay what is not declared and approved – go with what AA suggested.

    1. tesyaa*

      You have to pay non-exempt workers for hours they work, period, whether you required them to work overtime or not.

      1. Cheesecake*

        Ok, i am a bit oblivious to the US situation. Isn’t it discussed upfront? “We expect something to be finished in 20 hours not 40”

        1. Red Librarian*

          It’s not always a matter of going 20 hours over, sometimes it’s just 30 minutes or an hour. But if those 30 or 60 minutes put them over 40 hours for the week, they HAVE to be paid OT.

          Most businesses require having it approved in advance, but if, say, the supervisor has left for the day and is not there to sign anything, the employee can stay later and then walk in the next day and say “Oh, hey, so I worked an extra 3 hours last night” and the supervisor is now in a real bind. It wasn’t approved but the employee DID work the time and if it puts them over 40 they have to be paid for it.

        2. GrumpyBoss*

          Unfortunately, as in the OP’s case, there are some employees who see this as a way to add to their income. You add in an extra hour a night, and it doesn’t impact your personal life much. But calculate a whole year of 1 extra hour, and you have supplemented your income nicely – especially if you are being paid 1.5 times for overtime!

          I manage some shift work, and at times, I’ve had non-exempt employees. I’d have some stick around the office or VPN in when they got home to offer unsolicited help to the next shift. I’m hesitant to call it “padding” their hours, because they were actually working, but it was a situation where it was not approved, nor was it even necessary, but since they worked it, I have to pay it.

          The way I handled it was very similar to AAM’s advice. I wrote someone up, and that stopped. Another approach I used was I cut the offender’s hours the following week down to 35 since he was routinely sneaking in an additional 5 hours that weren’t approved. He got the message quick. I didn’t like that route, because it punished the rest of the people on his shift who were expecting there to be someone there helping for 8 hours each day, not 7.

          1. Anx*


            I don’t really understand overtime. I’ve never* worked in a job where those rules applied. Is it meant to hurt or protect workers?

            From my perspective, it makes it harder to support yourself. It seems like companies would hire more workers than necessary, then under-schedule people. If you don’t offer benefits** then it doesn’t cost much to higher more people to prevent having to pay the higher wages. If it hurts the most vulnerable workers, what is the rationale for overtime?

            **Obviously now people have to offer health insurance to full time employers, so it’s hard to get even 30 hours.

            1. doreen*

              Like any other law or regulation, overtime laws hurt some people and help others. If there’s 60 hours of work and the company hires two people at 30 hours each, then the person who would prefer to work 60 hours is hurt and the person who gets the newly created job is helped- and the same goes if the company keeps one person at 40 hours and hires a part-timer for 20. There are some situations where no employees are hurt -plenty of jobs require 35-40 hours per week and don’t lend themselves to hiring extra people/part-timers just in case there might be some overtime once in a while.All my non fast- food overtime eligible jobs were that sort.

            2. Melissa*

              The original intent was to protect workers. Whether it hurts or helps them really depends on the way the employer decides to enforce it. Some employers approve overtime reasonably and pay it as necessary. Others make the decision to hire extra people, but honestly, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from a cost perspective. In most cases, it’s probably cheaper to pay 10 people for overtime than 15 people for regular hours, and that’s especially true if there are benefits involved.

        3. Elysian*

          Different companies handle scheduling and workload management differently. But the law is that if the employee works over 40 hours a week (regardless of why they worked over 40 hours), they receive 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40. There are a lot of exemptions from that law, but since the OP says it is required to pay, we can assume that the employee doesn’t qualify for an exemption.

          Some companies will make sure that the work you have can be completed without overtime. Some companies will give you as much work as they can and tell you to finish it without overtime, whether that’s reasonable or not.

          1. Poohbear McGriddles*

            When I worked retail, we were normally scheduled for 35 hours as full time. There were always times when it took an extra half hour or so to finish up with a customer, or to close up late because someone came in 5 minutes before closing.

        4. doreen*

          It’s not really a matter of it being discussed upfront or not so much as it’s a matter of people taking it upon themselves to work more hours. For example, my employer requires 37.5 hours of work per week , it’s the sort of job that is never done and most employees are non-exempt. There’s always another investigation to be completed, another report to be written etc. Overtime requires approval by policy , but the law requires that time and a half be paid for any hours worked over 40 whether they were approved or not. So if someone takes it upon him/herself to work ten extra hours this week, they have to be paid overtime for the time over 40 hours – even though I might have said ” don’t work overtime, that can be submitted next week” or “yes, that person is only available for you to interview after 7 pm adjust your schedule to account for that” * if approval had been sought. If it’s not an outright emergency, management is supposed to have the opportunity to decide if they want the work done on overtime or if it can wait.

          * staff in job with lots of overtime have very flexible schedules- they can work nights, weekends ,etc as long as it adds up to 37.5. They have that flexibility to meet the demands of the job.

        5. Anonsie*

          Yes, but if they go over 40 they still have to be paid for it. It’s not overtime based on their scheduled hours, it’s overtime if it’s over the legal line for “full time,” which is 40 hours per seven day calendar week (though it’s lower in some places IIRC). Every bit of time past that line has to be paid at a higher rate than their regular hourly pay. Otherwise you’d get situations where people were really required to work overtime but their employers would say “oh I didn’t say they *had* to” and beg off of paying them like they should.

          Normally, if overtime is against policy and you are penalized for it if you take it without permission. It might be with a formal reprimand or by cutting your hours or something like that.

        6. Not So NewReader*

          Retail jobs are some of the worst about this point. For example: one retailer I worked for let it be known that no overtime was allowed. So, if your time clock punches showed overtime that was consider stealing. You were taking more pay than you were authorized to take. Therefore, you could be fired.

          Here’s the kicker: they meant by one minute. If you ran one minute over that was a fireable offense.

          I accidently ran three minutes over. This is after running at 90 mph to complete my work for my shift. THREE lower level management people spent 20 minutes lecturing me on wasting time. Yes, 3 people at 20 minutes per person lectured me on wasting 3 minutes. One whole hour spent because of my three minutes.

          I had a very difficult time not letting my face show my internal reaction to this.

          I think I did not get fired because I had a management title myself.

          The only thing I could conclude from the whole episode is that this is a company that will go under in a few years.

          My suggestion to the OP is to use thoughtful guidelines- such as “Any OT over 15 minutes must be approved.” Or, “Any OT must be explained the following day. Failure to explain or preapprove OT will lead to a written warning.”

          I do understand that taking unauthorized OT, on a regular basis, actually could be thought of as stealing. But the hard line my former employer took was nothing more than another nail in their coffin. And the situation was made worse by unbearable workloads and a cutting, mean supervisor who repeatedly lied to management about her employees. OP, make sure you understand everything before you proceed.

  18. ClaireS*

    Uh-oh. I may be Mark (minus the snippy, I’m just happy and you’re just sullen bit). I sing a lot and not particularly well. I would absolutely make up a song about a printer while printing. But, I try to be conscious of others work spaces and respect their right to privacy.

    But if someone told me to stop cold turkey, I would really struggle. It’s almost reflexive to sing and 1/2 the time I don’t realize I’m doing it. Maybe it runs in the family because my dad and brother are the same way (they can’t sing well either).

    1. A nony cat*

      (minus the snippy, I’m just happy and you’re just sullen bit)… But, I try to be conscious of others work spaces and respect their right to privacy.

      Actually, the snippy part is what gets me, much more so than the actually singing. I honestly hate it when people sign outside of normal-singing-appropriate-contexts, no matter how great their voice. (although, admittedly, I sing to my cat regularly when no one else is around………) If I had asked someone to stop, and they kept doing it, but shushed immediately when I said something again or gave them the stank eye, I’d be pretty understanding that it’s a hard habbit to break. But the Mark’s snide remarks are unacceptable, more so than the actual singing.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        To be fair, if the events went down the way the OP posted them, she started out by being pretty snippy herself.

        Mark’s reaction, while completely immature, isn’t abnormal when someone snipes at them in the work environment.

        1. HM in Atlanta*

          To be fair, the OP tried to get him to stop by joking around with him first – which he ignored.

          1. GrumpyBoss*

            Don’t get me wrong, he sounds really immature. But, if you open a conversation with, “Just because you are picking up something at the printer doesn’t mean you have to sing”, you can’t really get upset when someone snipes back at you in return. She didn’t exactly take the high road there.

            This keeps coming down to a communication issue. I don’t think she has communicating clearly to him that she needs him to stop. She says she asked nicely, but keeps referring to jokes and snapping.

        2. neverjaunty*

          I don’t understand where you got that. OP started by asking him nicely to please stop, as she says right in her letter.

        3. alma*

          It sounds like the sniping came later, after OP had already tried to get across to Mark that his singing was a distraction.

          While I agree that snapping isn’t the best way to handle it, “you weren’t nicey-nice enough when you asked me to stop” isn’t an excuse to continue jerk behavior.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I had a coworker at Exjob who was the same way. He would whistle, sing, make up words, etc. It didn’t bother me because he was funny and not particularly loud, though there were times when others would say, “Hey, Bob, shut the hell up!”

      What bothered me was when people would stand next to my desk and chatter while I was trying to deal with a phone call. I actually had to cover the phone and ask them to step away more than once so I could hear.

  19. Allison*

    #1 I totally sympathize with the OP, for two reasons:

    1. Working in an open space can have its benefits, but can also bring about lots of noise-related issues. They require a good deal of consideration to ensure that people of all tolerance levels can get their work done. Admittedly, some noises are necessary, like people needing to discuss a work issue or someone showing a client around the office; others, like singing, are not necessary and should be avoided out of courtesy.

    2. OP asked him to stop. First nicely, then not-so-nicely, but most normal people can only be nice about an issue for so long before they snap. Either way, if someone asks you to stop doing a thing, and you’re indeed able to stop, you should stop. Insisting that you should be able to do whatever you want and other people should just deal with it, and anyone who doesn’t like it is “bad” somehow, is obnoxious.

    Dangit people, is consideration for others really too much to ask these days?

  20. Mike C.*

    OP1: Does Mark also use the phrase “I’m just high on life” unironically as well?

  21. Brett*

    #1 Mark should probably have his hearing checked. Another office here has an employee who is nearly identical to Mark, to the point that people were asking for mediation in their office to deal with him.

    Turns out their “Mark” is near deaf. He knew he was losing his hearing, but it was far worse than he thought. Now he wears hearing aids; and you can actually tell when he forgets to turn his hearing aids up because his old behaviors of singing and whistling loudly will come back.

  22. Betsy*

    #1, maybe it’s just me, but I would find it annoying even if he were doing it in his own space, rather than coming into yours, as long as other people could hear it.

    There’s this lesson that I’m trying to drill into my 9-year-old that whenever you’re considering doing something, you should ask whether it would be okay if everyone else in the world was doing that thing, because otherwise, you’re taking advantage of the fact that other people are more polite and restrained than you.

    Raising your hand to answer a question? Fine.
    Shouting out the answer when you know it? Not fine.
    Listening to music on headphones in the office? Fine.
    Eating something at your desk? Fine.
    Taking all calls on speakerphone when others can hear you? Not fine, as demonstrated by what happens when three people are all doing this near me.
    Singing out loud in the office? Not fine.

    Basically, the attitude of “I’m just singing because I love it!” only works if there’s not someone already singing in your space. If everyone sang all the time, there would be chaos. I’d love to sing in the office, but I don’t, because I don’t get to be the special one who sings while everyone else is my fancy audience.

    1. JMegan*

      That’s a great way of putting it!

      You can apply this test to last week’s “eating at my desk” example as well. Even if everybody is eating at their desks, it shouldn’t impact any one person’s ability to get their job done (as long as it’s not noisy or smelly, of course.)

      But there’s a huge difference between one person singing and ten people singing – and there’s no argument that ten people singing in the office is going to be pretty disruptive.

    2. Windchime*

      Yes, great way of framing it!

      Also….Mark sounds like he needs to be the center of attention. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he’s not the most productive person in the office.

    3. CC*

      whenever you’re considering doing something, you should ask whether it would be okay if everyone else in the world was doing that thing

      I once said that to a co-worker (about things companies do, not about things people do) and he replied that it was an excessively high standard.

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      Now I’m imagining the whole world being like the Buffy episode ‘Once More with Feeling’.

      1. Betsy*

        Man, I totally did not know that was a thing! Reinventing Kant for the grade school set.

  23. B*

    #1 – oh no my co workers have made me into a man and started complaining about me!!
    This is totally something I would do, and like a previous commenter, a) I don’t always notice and b) find it really hard to stop. But! You know what, if one of the people who works in my office was bothered by it, I would do my damndest to stop. I bet OP1 would be a lot less annoyed by the situation if mark acknowledged that he is being annoying and appeared to be making an effort.

    Any chance you can get the printer moved? Or move yourself?!

    1. Jenny*

      It is interesting to see this one because it shows how much some of this stuff is dependant on office culture. I worked at one job where the guy across the cubicle wall sang every once in a while (mainly songs by They Might Be Giants) – the other guy would always talk about TV shows. The next group over would play really loud music – and I only complained when they decided that Ricky Martin Livin La Vida Loca had to be in constant repeat. They stopped playing that one as often.

      A few jobs later I went to an office that was like working in a church. No one talked. No one played music. No one sang at their desk or whistled or talked about what happened last night on Game of Thrones. It was a tomb and I’m sure some people loved it but it drove me crazy. I had an overwhelming urge to run through the halls screaming “THIS IS TOO QUIET! I CAN’T WORK LIKE THIS!” and the whole office depressed me. I only worked there a short while.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        I worked in the “you can hear a pin drop” work environment before. It drove me batty. I’m pretty quiet at work, but I have grown to appreciate commotion around me.

        It reminds me of when I used to live by the an elevated train that didn’t run on Sundays. You lived with the noise on M-Sa, and only noticed it when it wasn’t there on Sunday!

      2. neverjaunty*

        Eh, there’s a lot of room in there between Mandatory Silence and the Grand Central Station style of office.

        I also prefer a little more lively work atmosphere, but I would still be pretty PO’d if a co-worker kept making annoying noises every time they went by my desk and refused to stop even after I politely asked them to.

        1. Windchime*

          Now that the Noisy Chatters are all gone (due to recent layoffs), sometimes my office is quiet as a tomb. And you know what? Most of us in there are programmers and we love it. We can finally concentrate on our actual work…..the things we are getting paid to do are getting done, now that our own “Marks” are gone.

          1. Cari*

            That was the kind of work environment I dreamed of as a programmer! I frustrated me no end our managers had no apprciation for our need for a quieter work environment due to the nature of our work. Then I read Peopleware and was half tempted to send them a copy after I left, if only for the bits about making workers in “thinking jobs” answer the phone all the time while also expecting them to develop software (as an example)…

      3. Jennifer*

        I miss working in a quiet office. If you can’t stand silence you can (hopefully) put on headphones…and actually be able to hear what’s on them instead of hearing music + people complaining the way I do all day now.

  24. JMegan*

    #3, you’ve done a huge courageous thing. I’m glad you have family support, and I hope this is the beginning of a new life full of warmth, safety, and love for you.

  25. T*

    #1 I agree with Allison’s advice to talk to him directly about the pattern. I would even suggest going to his desk to bring up the discussion so that you don’t react in the heat of the moment. However, I would leave out the part likening it to your showing up at his desk to sing because he might find that acceptable. Keep your tone level and try not to act irritated when you talk to him. I feel, from what you’ve provided in the original letter, is that by coming across as joking (trying to be polite) and irritated, you have missed being direct. Mark honestly may not know that his behavior bothers you in general and think that it does only sometimes when you’re irritable or because you’re in a bad mood.

    I also agree with you that he may not always be aware that he does this. As I read your letter, several people I have known immediately came to mind. I also remembered that at one of my old jobs, one particular song always came to my mind when I walked to the mailbox area. I know it’s not your job to cure him of this habit, but if it is something he does without thinking and has a hard time changing, how about suggesting that he comes up with a quiet song? As in a song he makes up with the word quiet in it to sing when he comes in your area. That way, when he gets to the word quiet, it will remind him to sing the song only in his head. That way he can have the fun of singing yet keep it to himself. Just an idea.

    1. Non geordie beth*

      Oooh i like the ‘quiet’ suggestion and may steal it myself!

      About 50% of the time when i go into my kitchen to make a cup of tea i start singing ‘in the bleak midwinter’. I have no idea why. I hate that carol, and i drive myself crackers. But the more i fixate on trying to stop, the worse it gets :(

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Haha, I do that same thing–I associate certain things with a certain activity. A radio show I enjoyed listening to while cleaning–now I think of it every time I clean the house. Even if I don’t want to!

  26. OP #2*

    I knew I would get fantastic advice here and I definitely wasn’t disappointed! I’m always worried my follow-ups will look like a thinly-veiled “PLZ HIRE ME KTHNXBAI,” but asking for advice seems like the perfect way to feel out the situation without being demanding. Also, I (obviously) need all the help I can get, so I would genuinely appreciate his advice.

  27. Janey*

    #5. I agree that there should be consequences, but to CYA there are a couple of steps you really need to take before/when applying them. I’m sure an HR person or lawyer could give you more details, but at minimum you’re going to need to set out the consequences an official and clear written policy, make sure everyone who is affected by the policy knows about it and understands it, enforce the policy consistently from person to person and incident to incident, and document everything.

    1. MT*

      I am 100% behind this type of policy. I would imagine there is already something in the handbook or work agreement that states the employee will work their scheduled hours. So any unapproved overtime is working outside their scheduled hours.

  28. another claire!*

    When I read “support person”, I took it to mean an assistant or admin – someone who could help run the candidate’s presentation, or set up the portfolio, etc. of the person interviewing. I certainly wouldn’t take it to mean a boyfriend or friend for moral support, and I agree that it is probably just “not done”, but they offer the choice due to some arcane HR policy from the 90s.

    1. another claire!*

      and I just read upthread and realized it’s a cultural thing. the things you learn on AAM!

  29. neverjaunty*

    OP #1, as others have suggested, you have to talk to Mark about this first (before your manager) and you have to do it at a time when you’re not actually having the conflict. Since you’re in an open plan office you will probably also have to be careful not to just talk at his desk if it means everyone else is going to overhear you.

    In your shoes, I would start off pretending that Mark is oblivious rather than deliberately being a jerk and say something like “Mark, we have a problem and I’d like to try and work it out with you. I get that you like to sing and that it’s helpful to you to think things through by talking out loud. The problem for me is that when you do it by my desk, it’s very distracting and makes it hard for me to do my work. I don’t want to tell you to knock it off, and I’m sure it’s unpleasant for you to be singing and have somebody tell you to stop. How can we resolve this?”

    If Mark is in fact just kind of oblivious, then you have opened the door to talk about different solutions. Maybe he can take a different route that doesn’t go past your desk when he goes a-wandering. Maybe the printer could be moved, or you could move to a different area of the office. Maybe he could make an effort to be quiet when he passes your desk, and you agree to say something to remind him that is short and polite if he slips up.

    If Mark is unwilling to consider that other people have needs, or if he’s reached the point where he is deliberately baiting you with his noise, then you can go to your manager. Because at that point you will be able to explain to her that you’ve attempted to resolve the problem yourself in a professional manner, and it’s not working – rather than simply asking your manager to referee.

    Out of curiosity, do you work in IT? My IT friends tell me stories about what is considered normal workplace behavior that makes me want to fire EVERYBODY.

    1. Scott M*

      One thing I constantly remind myself is “When someone pisses me off, they probably aren’t doing it on purpose”.

  30. Nathalie*

    OP 3, I would also do some research regarding DV and workplace protections in your state. For example, in Illinois we have VESSA which helps DV survivors who need to escape abusive relationships not be reprimanded or retaliated against by employers. Your state may have something similar that dictates how they handle your future references or whether you can be re-hired, etc.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      Absolutely. This took courage and there’s resources out there that can help in job related situations/reference checks, etc. OP3 can check also with domestic violence agencies and they may also be able to help with this. Our local agency is great at advising and helping DV survivors to get back on their feet including assisting with job training/skills seminars. Maybe OP3 has similar resources that could assist with reference checks/matters with her prior employer?

  31. Anon Accountant*

    If the OP1 has an HR department, would it be helpful to talk to them about this? From the letter it seems to me that it’s happening rather frequently and is disrupting the OP and she’s asked him to stop.

    A conversation along the lines of “I’ve asked Mark to stop singing as he’s at the printer as I’m finding it difficult to focus when he’s behind me singing. I’ve asked him multiple times to stop but he said he’s just ‘enjoying life’. Can you suggest how I should handle this?”

  32. Leah*

    #1 Ugh. My sympathies. I had a coworker who was a super-perky free spirit. Since we were in different (shared) offices, it basically never impacted my life. However, sometimes she’d needle me and other colleagues to “lighten up”, “be happy”, “embrace gratitude”, etc. as she walk-danced down the hall. It got worse when my boss told a few of us that Miss Sunshine had complained that we weren’t working the same hours as her. Not only did this not impact her work in any way but it did not occur to her that we didn’t spend our days saying affirmations, singing to the printer, or stopping to “cheer up” coworkers who were simply going about their business. She was so immersed in her own happy that it didn’t occur to her that other people function differently until our boss explained it.

    I think bringing in a manager who might give Mark a little perspective can be helpful.

      1. Jess*

        I guess it’s easy to be so happy-go-lucky when the only person you ever have to give a thought to is yourself.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am chuckling. There are those people out there when asked how they are they always say they are awesome and having an awesome day. Honestly, I think it’s hard to have a conversation with these folks. They are too focused on the awesome day to talk about much else.

      Sometimes their goal is to get other people thinking about their frame of mind. They want other people to decide every day is a great day.

      This does not work with many types of people. Matter of fact, it can really tick people off, as Ms/Mr Awesome seems disconnected from the world around her/him. Eventually it can detract from their credibility.

      If this singer’s goal is to elevate everyone’s spirits then he is going about it the wrong way. Additionally, I have never seen anyone’s job description include “Must elevate the spirits of everyone around you.”

      OP, I am curious though, why does he feel it’s okay to have the non-stop noise- singing, talking to himself, etc.

  33. Anon for #3*

    #3 – Domestic Violence
    I read through your rsituation, and I wanted you to know how very brave you are. Leaving domestic violence is no easy task, and I wish you well in your healing process. I recently left a similar situation, and I found that the months after were the hardest b/c that’s when the gravity of it all hits and you are safe to actually process it all. Know that you are not alone. It happens to us all . . . even those like me with the most professional jobs and the highest education. I wish you well, and hope that you commend yourself for being so strong and brave. I second Allison’s advice to you.

  34. Leah*

    OP #3 should check local and state discrimination laws of where her former office is located. I live in NYC and “victim of domestic violence” is a protected class. While I think HR ought to take the whole situation into consideration in barring OP from reapplying in the future, having law to back OP up can only help.

  35. Poohbear McGriddles*

    If you can’t get Mark to stop singing, even after notifying HR, take his advice and join him.
    But not in a complementary way. Sing in a way that would make hound dogs wail. Take all of the pleasure out of the song. And certainly be sure to screw up the lyrics.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, brilliant. I used to do something similar to my brother–sing along a half a beat behind and a half-tone flat.

    2. Jennifer*

      I hate to say it, but Mark would probably enjoy that. Ditto if you stand around his desk singing.

  36. cncx*

    OP #3, i had a a similar situation and had a lot of luck with the company I left by calling HR and my old boss. I even got a good reference and was marked eligible for rehire. Some people are human and will understand. In my case , the bosses had seen me with black eyes and stuff already so that did help (silver lining to poop cloud).

    OP #5 is tough, i have had jobs where overtime was not allowed, but then we were given impossible deadlines and then my boss would stick his head up his butt when i went to him and told him that if i had to leave at 5pm sharp then i could either do task A, task B or task C but not all and not even two. I can see how this situation would be frustruating and in my case I felt my employer was trying to stiff on overtime rather than get work done. they would not hire a third person for our tasks and expected us to get everything done in exactly eight hours. Some people would skip lunch and it still would not be enough.

  37. holly*

    Mark should definitely save the singing and whistling for his own office space and for his boss’s.

  38. JJ*

    #1- i can relate completely. I too sit in an open office plan with 2 other people- and our receptionist often plays opera or church music (i absolutely dread the celine dion christmas CD) and hums, sings/whines, and whistles along with it- ALL DAY LONG. sometimes she just hums and whistles to nothing!! it makes me completely insane and I’ve mentioned it nicely, but was met with a ridiculous amount of drama and attitude from her and one of her friends (who has an office and isn’t subject to her torture). our boss is in another office, and it seems entirely too petty to bring up, especially since it doesn’t bother the other person in our space (because she’s on her cell phone all day yelling at her kids). I have found either listening to headphones or turning up my own radio helps to drown out the noise.

  39. Vicki*

    I realize the “support person” is a (small part of) NZ culture thg but I wish we had the concept of a “support person” or interviews in the US.

    I would love to be able to bring someone along to just listen,debrief with me after the interview, and give me a friendly face in the room.

    I’m seriously considering asking my spouse to sit in on my next phone screen (muted) just so I have someone else listening to the conversation to bounce things off of afterward. Notes only go so far…

  40. Anon-a-nonny-nonny-hey*

    #1 reminded me of a couple of co-workers many moons ago. One of them would wear headphones and whistle tunelessly along with the music, which drove the man in the next-door office nuts. So, he went to Whistler’s door holding a hammer (don’t ask me why he had one; it was a startup) and said, “Could you please stop the whistling?”
    Whistler: “Sorry, I’m just doing it unconsciously.”
    Neighbor: (slapping hammer into palm of hand): “That can be arranged.”

  41. Cari*

    OP #1 – does Mark take requests? ;)

    In my last job I sang and talked to myself and the machines too. The difference between me and your colleague is, I worked nights and was working in an empty office or rooms. Never did such sounds come out of my mouth when my colleagues were present, and especially when they were working.

    In the job before that, I was working in one big office, and my co-workers (the non-programmers) were always making noise and talking (I’m not even going to get started on the common subject matters, but I complained to my boss once about it and they escalated to get a rise out of me – was very hostile work environment), so the rest of us would usually sit there with headphones listening to music all day to drown it out.

    One day I forgot myself and started singing along very quietly, and one of my co-workers began imitating me. I realised what I was doing and never did it again because I felt so self conscious. If my co-worker had asked me to stop singing, or even just pointed out I was doing it, I would have stopped of course.
    I’m not suggesting you employ the same technique to deal with your Mark problem, as it is unkind and immature, but it does make me wonder if there are legitimate and non-skeevy social interaction techniques you could employ when he is in your workspace that would achieve the same result? Once you have exhausted all the proper courses of action, obviously.

  42. Jay*

    Hello! I’m the OP from question #4, and I’ve decided that my boyfriend won’t be coming along to the interview, since it isn’t necessary or really relevant to my situation. I had a general understanding that the concept of having someone accompany for moral support was from Maori culture, but I wasn’t sure about the norms of how the idea would adapt on a broader scale. I’ve since decided that having a support person isn’t needed for me.

    Thanks everyone for your input!

  43. Julie S.*

    Re: #3 Leaving a job without notice due to domestic violence

    There are certain protections that employers are required to provide to victims of domestic violence in the workplace. It may be to the OP’s advantage to report it to the former employer so that the she/her isn’t penalized by an “unhireable” status:

  44. Greg*

    I agree that bringing your boyfriend is generally a bad idea, but keep in mind it could also end up putting the two of you in the White House :-) :

    “In 1991, Jarrett, then Mayor Rich Daley’s deputy chief of staff, offered Michelle Robinson a job in City Hall. Before Michelle accepted, she insisted that Jarrett meet with Michelle’s fiancé Barack Obama. Jarrett promptly took both under her wing and, over the years, introduced Barack to the inner Daley circle, to wealthy business people, and to the people who mattered in her enclave, Hyde Park—all of which helped Obama as he moved up from community organizer to Springfield to Washington.”

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