offensive comments heard secondhand, performance evaluations that ban comments, and more

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

1. HR is banning comments on our performance evaluations

Why would HR suddenly decide that no comments will be allowed on performance evaluations? For the past 20+ years with my employer, performance evaluations have consisted of meeting with one’s supervisor to review and evaluate the past year’s performance, and assigning a numerical rating supported by a brief narrative for each area of job responsibility. It usually also included a brief summary of goals or plans for the coming year.

When scheduling my evaluation this year, my supervisor advised that from now on, our new policy is to allow only number ratings and no comments on the evaluation form that is submitted to HR. Furthermore, she said she was forced by HR to delete all comments from last year’s performance evaluation last year without telling me first! The new policy is as follows: only if a rating is a 1 (does not meet) or a 5 (exceeds) are we allowed to include comments. For the middle-of-the-road ratings (2,3,4) however, it has been decided that “comments only confuse the rating, so they have been eliminated.” (Direct quote from HR.)

I believe comments are necessary to document why, for example, a rating was a 4 vs a 3 or vice versa. Otherwise, what’s to prevent a rating from being entirely capricious? In past years, I’ve had disagreements with my supervisor over ratings where we’ve compromised on middle ground and each documented our reasoning — under this new policy, that would not be allowed unless I completely blew it or rocked it out of the ballpark. I am particularly frustrated because aside from my annual review, my supervisor and I interact very little. My annual review is pretty much the only mechanism I have for educating her about my work. And now we are forbidden from maintaining any official documentation of that conversation.Do you have suggestions for pushing back on this decision?

This makes no sense. Employers should be looking for ways to get managers to give more feedback, not less, and it’s particularly useful to compel people to justify performance evaluation ratings (in both directions) because otherwise you too often get managers giving ratings that aren’t well thought-out. So your HR department is being ridiculous, and your company and its managers suck for not pushing back on them.

However, nothing prevents you from still having a detailed conversation with your manager about your performance (ideally before she does your evaluation), as well as the reasoning behind each of the ratings she gives you. The fact that it isn’t going to be documented doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t have that conversation — in fact, it’s arguably more important to have it now, since you don’t even have her written assessment to fill you in on how she thinks you’re doing.

But yeah, this is dumb.

2. Should I report offensive comments that I heard about secondhand?

I work for a large company with a number of different departments. On Fridays, a few employees from different departments gather at the end of the day to have a drink in one of the building’s common areas before leaving for the weekend. (It’s a very informal workplace.) During one of these gatherings, two friends of mine who are new employees heard some very inappropriate comments from another man who is much higher up in the hierarchy, but in another department. This man voiced his opinion that a competitive company was failing because they “hired too many women” and that women shouldn’t be directors because “they have a mothering instinct, so they baby their teams so that they don’t get good work out of them.” We are all in an industry that is heavily male and is still struggling to advance women in its ranks. My friends didn’t respond, but I feel they should bring this up with HR and told them so.

It has now been five weeks and my friends have not made a report. I really feel as though the company should know about this man’s opinions, especially since he is in a senior position and has the authority to hire people. Do I have any standing to report this myself, seeing as I didn’t hear it directly, or should I continue to pressure my friends to do the right thing, or just let it drop? For the record, my friends are male and I am female. They say they are worried about it “coming back on them” (especially as new employees) but my experience is that our company would never punish someone who brought this sort of matter to their attention. I bristle when I see the man who made these remarks around the workplace. (I am a director myself, and I would love to let him know how wrong he is – but again, he only said these comments to my male friends, and not to me!)

Oooof, I’m torn. On one hand, you heard about these comments secondhand — not the strongest position from which to know exactly what was said, let alone to report it. On the other hand, if it’s true, it’s highly offensive and might have practical ramifications, given that this guy is presumably in a position where he hires and manages people, and if your friends’ accounts are accurate, the company should absolutely know that he’s saying stuff like this to people. And if you do choose to raise it, you could be (indeed would have to be) transparent about the fact that you heard this secondhand, and could then let HR figure out how and whether to respond.

3. What kind of help should I ask my outgoing manager for in her last two weeks?

I started my current job in January and have really enjoyed working with my current supervisor. We have a great balance of independence and support, and she has been great about my professional development. She announced she’s leaving for a new opportunity earlier this week, and is finishing out her two weeks’ notice. She asked me what she can do to set me up for success – and I don’t really know what to ask for! Since she’s offering, I feel like I should have things to ask for but nothing immediately comes to mind. Are there things that I should be thinking about that would help prepare me for this transition period while we hire her replacement?

I’d ask for her for (a) her most candid feedback on what you do well and what you should focus on improving in, (b) any advice on projects, priorities, and any potential obstacles she sees coming your way in the next few months or year, and (c) any insight she could share with you about thriving at your company and/or with the incoming manager, since her role may give her a different vantage point than you have. You should also ask if you can use her as a reference in the future; although it certainly sounds like she’ll be glad to that, it doesn’t hurt to nail it down.

4. What topic should I pick for a presentation in an interview?

I have a second round interview for a nonprofit development position. For the second round, finalists need to make a 5-minute presentation. The executive director said it could be about anything–hobbies, interests, a recipe…or something work- and development-related. I love the concept and in a development role with public speaking, it makes sense to narrow finalists down this way. Is it best to go with a work-related topic or something that interests me? On one hand, development-related can showcase my experience and expertise. On the other, interests show a bit more about my personality.

It sounds like they’re assessing presentation skills, not subject matter knowledge — so I’d pick whatever you feel you can give the most engaging, interesting presentation on. If you can do that on something work-related, all the better. But let your ability to speak compellingly on the topic you pick trump all else.

5. Chastised for a normal request

An administrative employee asked the current project director to deliver a document to another manager he had a meeting with. The meeting was miles from the office and the admin would have had to drive there as well. He flatly refused and threatened to write her up for even asking. Is this a normal professional response or was he just flexing his management muscles?

No, that’s not normal. It doesn’t sound like there was any reason for him to refuse — but even if there was, he could have just explained that; threatening her with disciplinary measures for asking is absurd (and I’d like to know exactly what he’d say in this write-up — “she asked me to bring a document to a meeting to save the company time and money”?). He sounds like a jerk.

{ 245 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann Furthermore*

    #5: What a colossal jerk. Why is it that when some people advance to higher levels in the hierarchy they become gigantic asses without enough sense to come in out of the rain?

    One of my friends at work was telling me about some big meeting in Europe with a ton of directors and VP’s for my company. One of the assistants negotiated a group rate at a nice hotel, and everyone was booked there. Except for one VP — his assistant knew he would complain about that hotel, so she made a reservation for him somewhere else — for 800 EUROS A NIGHT. Meanwhile, there’s a headcount freeze and people are drowning in work.

    1. EE*

      Travel is the worst. I remember having to justify spending 4 euros (yes – that really is just 4 euros) extra to catch a flight rather than a train.

      I mentioned to my supervisor that I’d ended up booking a flight not a train. She sneaked on me to our mutual boss who called me in to justify myself.

      My justification was that half the track was out of service because of heavy snow and as such the usual 3hr train journey was being replaced by a a 2hr train journey followed by a 3hr bus journey.

      And he didn’t see this as reasonable! I was warned not to do it again and that this one time I wouldn’t get in trouble.

      1. Puffle*

        EE, out of curiosity, what’s your company’s policies on other expenses? Quibbling over 4 euros makes it sound like the kind of place where they charge employees for toilet roll…

        1. EE*

          I was a Big 4 audit trainee so low-paid worker bees were constantly travelling and sending in very tiny expense claims. Everything was billed to the client but it was crucial that it wasn’t too high because then they might go to a different firm.

          Travel overtime was another thing they were measly about. The rule was that you couldn’t charge more than 3 hours travel on the Sunday night/Monday morning of an audit week. Most of my trips were flights to the UK from Ireland and home-destination did work out as 3 hours. But once I got a phone call saying “Why did you charge 3 hours? I know the team went in a car and it doesn’t take 3 hours to get to Cavan.”

          I said that I had lost significantly more than 3 hours of my Sunday to the job. That argument didn’t fly.

    2. Stephanie*

      800 Euros a night?! Was this the penthouse in the fanciest hotel in the city? As someone who did family road trips where we stayed in Motel 6s, that is mind-boggling.

      1. Dan*

        Paris has some luxury hotels where the “standard room” goes for that kind of scratch. Park Hyatt comes to mind. London gets pricey too.

        If you were shocked by that price, you don’t want know what ritzy suites can command.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          Yes, I can believe 800 Euros. One place I stayed in charges upwards of 2000 Euros for a night in a suite.

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            I didn’t think there was anything rude about that comment either.

            I have no doubt that the swankier hotels can charge thousands of Euros per night. And if someone wants to spend their own money in that manner, more power to them. It will never not be ridiculous to do so (IMO), but hey, if that’s what they want to do with their own money, then have at it.

            But for business travel, a little common sense should prevail. No, you shouldn’t spend 800 Euros per night on the company’s dime — especially when all the communications from leadership squawk about having to control costs. And no, the company should not expect you to stay in a fleabag motel that rents rooms by the hour to save a few bucks. Is it really so hard to find something in between? I never have trouble finding decent accommodations for a reasonable amount. My requirements are: safe, clean, fresh towels, and hot water. Maybe my standards are too low!

          2. Stephanie*

            For what it’s worth, I didn’t think Dan’s response was rude. Admittedly, I haven’t traveled internationally a ton. When I did, we stayed in pretty bare bones accommodations. Also, absurdly expensive hotel rooms aren’t something I value on trips, but that’s just a personal preference. (And Dan, I did some Googling after reading your comment. Wowza.)

            But that is ridiculous for a business trip.

      2. Lizzie*

        Oh sure, a room at the Park Hyatt can easily run 800 euros a night in Paris or Zurich for the right dates. A suite will run you even more. I imagine it’s the same at the Mandarin Oriental, Ritz Carlton, or Shangri-La

      3. Traveler*

        Europe is really strange. In some cities you can get gorgeous modern top of the line rooms for 100 Euros a night, and in others 400 Euros a night is your bottom basic hotel room. Especially depending on the season and what festivals/conferences are going on.

          1. Traveler*

            Different from the US. The hotel you’d get for 125 dollars a night in the States would be pretty run of the mill – because in big cities a nice hotel would cost a lot more, and in smaller cities nicer hotels don’t exist. When I was in Germany for example 100 Euros got you a really gorgeous suite in most cities.

            1. Cheesecake*

              Ehm… There are a lot of cities in Germany. I got an amazing new room in a place near Freiburg while in an average place in Hamburg it was 2x the price. There is nothing strange in Europe in terms of value for money. Apart from Switzerland :)

              1. Traveler*

                I’m aware there are a lot of cities in Germany? I’m not sure what your point is with that comment. I’m not saying every single time – I’m saying on average. The market in Europe is different than the market in the US when it comes to travel. It’s strange in a good way – in that you can get some really amazing value. There is an entire travel market built up around this – with people like Rick Steves using that as the crux of their brand. So we’ll have to agree to disagree

                1. Cheesecake*

                  Maybe i am missing something truly valuable here in terms of my upcoming US travelling so i am trying to understand your comment. A 125 bucks room will be the same average room everywhere in the US?

                2. Traveler*

                  This is going way off topic from the original discussion which is why I just wanted to agree to disagree here. I’m not trying to be rude – just I want to respect Alison’s wish to keep that to a minimum. My comment was: You can get a really phenom. hotel in Europe for 100 Euros. In the US 135 dollars (The current conversion) will in most places only get you a 3 star chain hotel with very standard finishes, and probably no real view – on average (in bigger cities it probably won’t even get you that). You can use things like Priceline and AirBnB to circumvent that, of course but on average. I think its because in Europe due to train travel and cheap flights, more boutique and mom pop hotels and the on average longer vacations/holiday periods, travel is more common, competition is higher and drives that market to be more flexible than it is in the US. Therefore to someone from the US – once you stomach the cost of a transatlantic flight and the $3 coke bottle, Europe has some great value in comparison.

                3. Stephanie*

                  Cheesecake – Where are you traveling to? Like Traveler said, you’ll get a run of the mill chain room for 125 USD/night depending on the city. If you’re not trying to stay in luxury, it’ll be fine. That might be more difficult if you’re going to some of the pricier cities like NYC or San Francisco.

                4. Davey1983*

                  Other than the big metro areas in the US (like New York, San Fransico, etc), $135 a night would be one of the better hotels. I have stayed in many 3 star hotels in various US cities (mostly in the midwest) for about half that much. Obviously, place and time of year come into play with those prices (and, admitingly, many of the midwest towns do not have 5 star hotels, and possibly only one 1 or 2 4 star hotels).

                  In New York or San Fransico, $135 would typically get you a lower end room (2 star).

            2. Traveler*

              When I say 3 star hotels I mean hilton garden inn, marriott courtyard, fairfield inn, holiday inn, etc. Is that what you mean when you say 3 star Davey? Just a quick search and the average for that in the midwest is 109/night. I am also wondering if part of this debate isn’t because we have different ideas of nice/luxury/etc.

              1. Davey1983*

                We are talking about the same thing. Your average figure doesn’t really alter my point.

                I picked a town randomly (Tulsa, OK) and searched on Travelocity for all 3 star hotels in October (I used October 14, as my calendar happens to be open to that day).

                Average 3-star cost is $119. However, some places are listed as low as $80 (Ramada), while the highest is listed at $159 (Marriot).

                I have stayed at 3-star hotels (Ramada, Hilton, etc) as recently as last month for $70 a night (which is about half of the $135 figure you mentioned).

              2. LD*

                And don’t forget the room tax! That can add another 25 or so dollars depending upon the location.

                1. Stephanie*

                  Yup. And the room tax rate isn’t necessarily tied to how popular or touristy the location is. I booked a hotel room in Indianapolis that had a 17% tax rate.

    3. Bea W*

      Sounds like something that would happen where I work. Head count freeze and someone thought hiring a regularly scheduled corporate jet to take people 300 miles for $350 a pop one way was a brilliant idea.

    4. the gold digger*

      My sister and I went to Sicily to visit a friend of hers who was stationed at the American naval base there. We went out to dinner with the friend and her friend, who was the protocol officer for the base.

      The protocol officer told us that when US senators and congressmen came to Sicily – which was considered quite a nice boondoggle, as who doesn’t want to travel to someplace cool and then shop at the very nice base exchange for almost at cost Wedgewood and Waterford? – they would never stay at the base quarters, which would have cost the taxpayers next to nothing, but instead stayed at the 600 euro a night grand hotel in Taormina.

      My tax money. Being spent on fancy hotels for politicians.

  2. Puffle*

    #1 that’s just bizarre. The only reason I can find of implementing this policy (and it’s a stupid reason) is that HR doesn’t want people to be able to push back and challenge their ratings. Maybe someone doesn’t like the idea of employees ‘rocking the boat’ and ‘stirring up trouble’.

    I just don’t see any point in recording performance evaluations if you’re only allowed to write numbers. How is a number useful without context? Especially because each manager will have a different idea of what merits a ‘4’ etc and will give ratings accordingly.

    1. SherryD*

      Totally! I have to wonder if someone complained that their low rating didn’t seem to match their positive comment. And rather than dealing with the issue, the company tried to erase it entirely.

      Good grief. I’d rather have an all-comment review than one with just numbers.

      1. KarenT*

        I’d wondered if someone in HR was just too lazy to do all that reading, especially since they’ll take comments for 1s or 5s.

        1. Tina*

          In the places I’ve worked HR , doesn’t even have to read them, the managers do your review, the dept/division head checks everything, they put in the recommendations and paperwork. Hr just processes.

      2. LAI*

        Yes! I have had this happen to me. I received a performance review with scores mostly in the middle satisfactory range. But the written comments right next to it used adjectives like “outstanding” and “superior” and “exemplary”, and there was literally 1 item out of 30 that had suggestions for improvement. I was very confused. And I’m glad I don’t work there anymore.

        1. Newbie*

          I can relate. At a previous job, I had a performance assessment where I was given the ranking of ‘Meets expectations’ for my rate accuracy – which was 100%. I was baffled why that didn’t qualify as ‘Exceeds expectations’ or ‘Distinguished’ and when I asked my boss – I didn’t get an answer. This is part of why I no longer work there.

    2. GrumpyBoss*

      This. In my experience, the most ridiculous HR policies come as a result of litigation (or threat thereof). Someone puts out a baseless wrongful termination claim, and suddenly we are dealing with crazy knee jerk reactions.

      1. Juli G.*

        I’m sure that’s it. I would never want my company to ban comments (and they’re too reasonable to do so) but we have a big issue with comments not matching ratings. It can make it hard to take action on poor performers because you don’t know what’s really going on. And babysitting several hundred performance reviews is difficult.

      2. majigail*

        That’s what I was thinking… something along the lines where an employee got 3’s for organization but with a comment that “She seems to know where things are.” Then a year later gets fired for losing things and sues saying she has proof she knew were things were and this action is only because of her race, sex, age, etc.

        1. en pointe*

          Yeah, this is where my mind went as well. It reminds me of how we sometimes hear about companies with blanket policies against giving references beyond dates of employment because they’re so terrified of having it possibly come back to bite them in the future or something.

          But if fear of accusations or litigation is the reason they’re doing this, it seems kind of counterproductive anyway (assuming they have nothing to hide), because now they have no written comments to explain and justify different ratings for different people. Some accusations that ratings are arbitrary or discriminatory might now have MORE weight because the process is less transparent.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Sadly, sometimes these policies come about as a result of litigation that isn’t baseless, and then the company tries to route around and/or cover up the damage rather than fixing the problem. (Fixing problems is hard!)

        1. Anon55*

          Fixing problems is hard AND it’s a lot easier to eliminate proof of the problem along with those who know about the problem.

      4. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I had a job where our evaluation comments consisted of form paragraphs written in the third person (e.g. “The teapot analyst shows mastery of the area…”). I’m thinking, too, this was to deal with wrongful termination claims (there were a few while I was there).

    3. CrabbyCuss*

      Exactly. My former manager told me in my review that 2,3, and 4 to her were the same rating, so she gave me 2’s on everything I didn’t get a 1 in, even time and attendance, a quantifiable rating. My coworker was told 2, 3, and 4 was the same, and she got 4s. No comments were made to justify either review.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Ugggghhhh! That was egregious! If they=were the same, then they wouldn’t be three different numbers.

        1. CrabbyCuss*

          Yes. I wished I had taped it. It was the worst moment in my working career, but its quite comical now.

    4. Darcy Pennell*

      This year my manager wrote a comment for every single number, and asked all her staff to do the same on our 360 evaluations. I think it’s a great idea. I heard that the numbers on the 360 evals varied wildly from person to person, especially for people from different departments. Managers are supposed to use the 360 evals to help them assess the employee, but if a 2 from one person means the same as a 4 from another, how can that be helpful information? It seems to me it would be better to ignore the numbers and just read the comments.

      1. Graciosa*

        I think comments can definitely help flesh out a rating, and I’m strongly in favor of them. That said, even comments can have variable meanings – “solid” work can be anything from high praise to not-so-veiled criticism.

        I think the best illustration of this was an episode of ER when Carter was applying for a surgical position, read the recommendation from Dr. Benson to the committee and didn’t think it was very good (I think he was described as having “adequate” skills). Carter worries about it the whole episode, tries and fails to get time to discuss it with Benson, and finally goes to the interview where a member of the committee quotes the upsetting-to-Carter line. She then remarks that she has never heard Peter Benson give anyone such extraordinary praise, and notes that it takes remarkable talent to impress him.

        Making good use of comments requires really knowing the source (and the audience, if you’re writing them).

        1. Paulina*

          I was thinking of Carter and Benton’s evaluation as well! Awwww…. ER, the glory days.

    5. Brett*

      I was more thinking the policy was to discourage 1 and 5 ratings. 2-4 means you don’t write any comments, then giving all 2-4s means a lot less work than putting down any 1s or 5s.

    6. Puddin*

      I suspect this is to minimize exposure to lawsuits. If there is a form that all employees fill out – standardized, not subjective, and as ‘flat’ as possible the chances of an employee suing over preferential treatment, bias, unfair advantage, etc. are minimized.

      This is based on my work experience at a company where we went to a completely narrative review to a strictly ‘by the numbers’ review. The reason given was the one I explained above.

      If you are international, it may also have to do with meeting standards in other countries.

      All that being said, the comments are sooooo important. Tell me why, not just what!

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Yes, that was my thought too. And what’s really unfortunate is that the review process will just become a routine, check-the-box exercise. It’s the comments and following discussion that is the most valuable, for both the employee and the manager.

        1. OP#1*

          In discussing w/ co-workers, most of them have chosen to shrug and take the “check the box” approach.

          Those of who’ve worked here a long time are having a harder time with the change, although I’m apparently the only one actively questioning this with management at this time.

          1. Anon55*

            Make sure when you question management you phrase it as wanting to know how you can improve and the lack of comments will hurt this. If they’re covering up for something/someone and feel you’re digging (regardless of if you know what they’re covering) you may find work becoming very uncomfortable.

  3. kas*

    5. Definitely a jerk. I worked at a place where I knew I was being asked to do certain tasks because I was the most junior person at the company. It’s a horrible feeling because you know the person wouldn’t act that way towards anyone else. I was constantly running up and down the stairs to give random documents to people and scan things when the person sat right beside the scanner … the scanner was literally on his desk. I left when it started to get worse.

    1. Raine*

      But see, take that scenario and now have that junior person turn around and ask the senior executive to drop off an administrative document with an off site client he is traveling to for a business visit. Of course that is never ever going to fly, and as gross ad the behavior is, I’m actually shocked people are surprised. What’s surprising is that the OP wasn’t written up on the spot for insubordination for starters.

      1. Rebecca Too*

        I guess it depends on the organisation, because where I work it would be fine, and even kind of normal to ask someone going to a meeting with another manager in a different location to take document with them.

        I mean, you probably wouldn’t ask the CEO, and you’d have to already have some type of working relationship with the higher up, but there is no way it would be insubordination just to ask. If they are already going to meet the person, what’s the big deal?

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          I think it also depends on the context in how it was asked, which is missing from the OP’s letter.

          I recently came down harshly on a lower level employee who tried to task me with his work, but it was because 1. He has a history of boundary issues and making inappropriate requests of management; and 2. His tone when “asking” (he was really demanding, actually) was not respectful. My message to him was essentially he needed to do his own work and approach management in a different style. I know for a fact he feels wronged because he has been pouting about it since it occurred.

          I wondered if that is what was happening here.

          1. Artemesia*

            I once hired an adjunct who proceeded to dole out his lessons to faculty i.e. ‘invite them to be guest speakers’ with a list of topics — I discovered this when I got the guest speaker request with 3 lecture topics none of which was an area of particular expertise for me. I shut that down and told him we expected him to teach his classes and that this would stop. He whined all semester about not being allowed to bring in guest experts and how other faculty did that and we were discriminating against him. I solved the problem by never hiring him as an adjunct again.

            I give gave guest lectures all the time because I was a well known expert on X; and other faculty brought in guest lecturers including occasionally local business or organization people. That is not the same as dividing up your syllabus among all the warm bodies you can find and asking them to teach that class that day.

        2. Bea W*

          This depends on the company culture and the relationship you have with someone. I can’t imagine any of the higher ups i work with to respond the way this guy did.

          1. Kerranne*

            I can’t either. My manager and our diector are happy to deliver documents for us. I take things for my employees all the time. No only does it save money and time, we know the person received it.

        3. Felicia*

          I have been the junior person asking a more senior person to bring a document somewhere they were already going, and it was fine, and the senior person said “no problem” and did that. Normally i would take it (well, sending a courier to deliver it is actually our standard, I’m supposed to avoid being out of the office), but since he was going there anyways, which would save money, I asked. I wouldn’t want to work in a workplace that got anything other than the reaction I got at my workplace. Why can’t he just bring it with him if he’s going anyways?

          Though for anywhere I ever worked, I can’t imagine any higher up responding the way this guy did – even if they said no (though I wouldn’t understand why they were refusing), they would be polite about it because they were nice, this guy was just rude.

        4. Windchime*

          Yes, this. If I knew that my CIO was going to Distant Location to meet with Person and I needed to get something to Person as soon as possible, I wouldn’t think twice about asking her to take it if it’s someplace that the inter-office courier doesn’t go. And he wouldn’t think a thing about it. People are so touchy.

          I wouldn’t ask her if it meant that she would have to go out of her way because she is a busy person on a tight schedule.

        5. LizNYC*

          I think in the situation explained by the OP, you could absolutely ask the CEO of a company — really, you could ask anyone going to this distant location. Unless there was a good reason (and the person would likely voice it in a normal tone, like, “sorry, I’m immediately meeting clients and won’t be able to drop this off. Let’s send it / reimburse you for your travel to get it there / take an extra long lunch to get it there, etc.”), most *normal* business people would see this request as totally normal and treat it as such. (But there’s the rub: this guy in the story doesn’t sound “normal” or “rational.”)

        6. Phyllis*

          That’s the thing; he was meeting with the person in question, so what’s the big deal with politely asking him to hand him over a document? I could understand refusing if it would take extra effort, if he was having to run somebody down, (but not the attitude.) You meet, shake hands, and say “By the way, here’s this info you needed.”

      2. Sarahnova*

        …why wouldn’t it fly? It’s a positively tiny effort on his part and is the solution that makes most sense for the company.
        If in your environment it’s “normal” for a senior person to refuse to do a small, simple thing she/he is best placed to do just because she/he is sooooo important, that is messed up, IMO.

        Work is about doing what the company needs, not bolstering the egos of those in power.

        1. Traveler*

          Playing devil’s advocate here – but a lot of business advice today is very outspoken about assigning out tasks that others can do so as not to distract or interrupt the productivity of those in higher positions, on the assumption that they need to be much more focused on critical tasks and spending their time wisely. This is not a because s/he is more important but a “if you’re Steve Jobs, your time is better spent inventing new products than running papers across the office, and inventing new products is the most critical aspect of the company” (crappy example but…)
          While I still think this situation was out of hand since this was a project director and not the CEO or something, that could be where that’s coming from rather than an overinflated sense of ego (though I agree that’s possible too).

          1. Sarahnova*

            That still would not give cause to “write someone up for insubordination” for asking.

            And while senior people will probably not schedule their own travel or make routine phone calls, which makes sense, I think even a Steve Jobs could probably manage the 2 seconds of dropping a document off at reception when he visited a site, and I would think less of him, not necessarily for saying no, but for being elaborately offended by being asked.

            1. Felicia*

              +1. Dropping off a document at reception somewhere where you’re going anyways is not going to distract them from critical tasks, and since it’d take 5 seconds tops it’s really not much a waste of their valuable time.

              I see asking someone to let’s say stuff envelopes is different than asking someone to drop something off somewhere where they’re already going.

              1. Artemesia*

                Exactly and if it IS a problem, the response is ‘I won’t be able to do that so you will need to arrange for a courier or fedex it’ (or whatever the alternative would be) NOT “I am going to write you up for asking me to do that.’

            2. Traveler*

              Which is why I said this situation is out of hand. And to further clarify – I don’t think that sort of nasty reaction is appropriate for anyone. I’m only trying to comment on the reasoning that could possibly be behind it.

              I would think less of him if he was a jerk and responded like that. I wouldn’t think less of Steve Jobs for not running papers around though. Every time you do something like that, you’re losing valuable time. If its truly once in a blue moon, no big deal, but if you’re dropping precious minutes like that all the time just so you don’t look like a bad guy with an ego, that can cost you and the company.

        2. StevenO*

          It depends — was the person the other manager was meeting someone from the same company? Or a client? Was the document something that was for this project and what the other manager would need? Or was it a document that had nothing to do with the project or the manager but just totally unrelated to the project and administrative? (Which is even worse if the other manager the project manager was going to see was a client and not someone in-company.) In a large organization it would not be unusual for a company’s project managers or top executives to have regular meetings offsite with clients and for the company also to have couriers or administrative assistants also on the same day dealing with the company on completely different issues. And it’s true that especially in larger companies it would be pretty frickin appalling to ask top executive on a project to drop off billing while going to visit a client. Smaller places, maybe. But even that should not be assumed.

          1. Traveler*

            Yeah this is another possibility. Depending on what it was, the context and the culture, it could be viewed as unprofessional. Though, I still agree this project director needs major work on his people skills even if this was the case.

      3. UK HR Bod*

        I am genuinely surprised by your suprise! I previously worked in a multi-site role, and it was entirely accepted that admin / reception would send items with you to save postage – and yes, I was in a senior role, and no, I didn’t necessarily have any working relationship with them. Frankly, there was no problem in asking the CEO to take post as well – and had a senior person threatened a junior for something like that, they’d have a) been laughed at and b) told to get back in their own little box.

        1. StevenO*

          Seriously? Wow. Wow wow wow. Couriers. Even mid-sized firms have them in large cities and I just cannot even imagine that someone wouldn’t be fired on the spot by asking a CEO to do drop off billing with a client.

          1. The Real Ash*

            Clearly in the environment at that person’s office, it was OK to ask the CEO. If it wasn’t, no one would ask.

          2. en pointe*

            Seriously? I have no idea about the etiquette generally because my current job is my first one in an office setting, but I’ve sent stuff along with higher ups, including my boss, who’s the owner of the company, occasionally. I’ve always asked very politely, and I’d be fine if they said no, but I’ve never really thought twice about it. It’s just dropping an envelope off at reception, at organisations where I know they have to pass through reception when they get there anyway. It would seem odd to me not to ask.

            The culture obviously allows it in my current office, but I’d love to know for future jobs, is it actually bad form to ask the CEO to drop something off? I mean, sure, I’m obviously not going to ask Tiger Mike, but one who seems like a reasonable person, I would have zero qualms about asking. I don’t want to find myself ”fired on the spot” one day, and I do find it hard to believe that would happen, but is it best to err on the side of caution?

            1. MaggietheCat*

              I think it really depends on your company culture and then the manager that you are asking. Where I work we frequently send inter office things with staff to save money but anything going to a Client we will always send via FedEx. However, there is one VP that does not like being a “mule” (his words) inter office deliveries so I do not ever ask him to take anything and will just send it the least expensive way possible. Good Luck!

            2. Sarah*

              I’d think it depends on the size of your company and how much contact you have with the CEO. At a lot of large corporations, most employees never even meet the CEO except at large company events where the CEO will speak and maybe shake a few hands like a politician. If that’s the case, you definitely can’t just send them an email asking them to deliver a document for you! If it’s a smaller company where you have at least some personal contact with the CEO, it’s more likely to be appropriate assuming that no one else could do it.

          3. Mpls*

            You’ve obviously never worked for someone that would rather have any employee (even the higher ups) running interoffice mail between company locations or billing to a client that pay a courier.

          4. Sarahnova*

            And I can’t imagine that someone would be *fired* for politely asking someone to do something minimally demanding that makes business sense. Then again, I work somewhere that has employment laws that actually protect workers.

            The exec can always say “I can’t, courier it instead”.

      4. kas*

        I see it differently – it makes the most sense in this situation for the senior exec. to drop it off. He’s already travelling to the office so it’s just common sense to ask. I think the gross behaviour displayed was by the senior exec., not the admin.

      5. cv*

        This is making me really grateful for the culture in the places I’ve worked. At my last nonprofit it was really common to ask someone heading to a meeting to take documents, get something signed, follow up on something unrelated to the meeting, etc. We were only about 6 employees, but for people like board or committee members we sometimes just gave our CEO a written list and a folder if several of us had things to convey. But that was probably because the culture of the organization was that staff as a whole wanted to respect the time of our members and volunteers, especially those who served on multiple committees or worked on multiple projects for us.

      6. Ann Furthermore*

        This must really be a culture thing. I work for a large company with locations in many countries, and we are always asked to take things back and forth when we’re travelling, and it’s no big deal. And no, you wouldn’t ask the CEO directly, but you could definitely ask his assistant if he’d have time to drop something off for you, and chances are he would.

        Everyone does this all the time, both with business items and personal stuff. Every time I go to Sweden, someone gives me a couple plastic containers of genuine Swedish Fish to give to someone here in the US. Every time I go to Germany, someone gives me a bag of Germany gummy bears to deliver. I was in Long Beach earlier in the week, and one of the people there gave me a bag of candies from the UK that someone here had asked her to pick up. It’s a small thing, really, and if it doesn’t take up too much space in your bag, then who cares?

        I could see a higher-level person not wanting to drop something off at a client site that they happen to be visiting, because some customers like to feel important, like they’re getting the red carpet treatment. Sending something along with a director or VP to drop off could interfere with that. Personally I wouldn’t care one way or the other, but others might.

        1. Wren*

          If you would bring me Haribo bears from Germany, I would probably find a way to promote you. Just sayin’.

        2. Kayza*

          That’s the thing – there might be a good reason to say no. But to throw a fit? Really?

      7. ChiTown Lurker*

        Obviously, we work in really different environments. It was common practice for senior managers and even the CIO to offer to drop things off at other sites. It took zero extra time as they always sign in with reception at the other locations. He/she would hand the mail to the receptionist who would distribute it to the appropriate parties. However, if you were going to a meeting with the recipient, you would just hand him/her the packet.

        We also had one manager who hated to do this type of thing. He might say no but he would never consider it insubordination. Usually, he would point you in the direction of someone else heading to the same site.

      8. Kayza*

        You must have spent all of your working time in seriously dysfunctional work environments. I’ve known a number of higher ups who would be too high and mighty to actually take the thing, and might even look down their noses while refusing. But, most would take it, and with ONE exception, NONE would have been rude about it. And, it turns out that that one exception was only able to get away with it (at least in part) because he knew where all the “skeletons” were.

      9. Nancie*

        I can’t think of any senior exec where I work who would bristle at “since you’re going to X to meet with Y, could you give her this document”? I’d advise someone to tread more carefully if they were asking the exec to go out of their way, but not if the delivery is to the person they’re already meeting with.

        (I can think of some junior execs who might make a fuss, but that says more about them than it does the request.)

      10. OP*

        What’s wrong with asking somebody you know is going somewhere to take something with them? To me it’s only practical, even if it’s the junior person asking the senior person. As long as they have a meeting in the building I don’t it’s asking too much drop it at the front desk and say, “So & so asked me to drop this off for X because I was coming this way. Would you please let them know it’s here? Thanks”

        I wouldn’t ask people I didn’t know or work with to do it, but see know problem with it otherwise.

        1. TAD*

          Sorry. Replied as OP from a question I asked a while back & I’m not the OP. Time to go home for the weekend!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I once spent an entire day revising a spreadsheet for a CEO who, every time I sent it to him, would email it back with, “Do do this…and I want this.” I wanted to go downstairs and shove it up his nose.

  4. Stephanie*

    I interviewed for a SAT tutoring gig at a commercial test prep company. Part of the interview involved doing a 5-minute lesson. I decided to demonstrate how to julienne carrots, which involved carrying knives and carrots across town. I set up and whip out my chef’s knife, which surprised the interviewees and interviewers as they were not expecting me to whip out a yellow-handled chef’s knife.

      1. Henrietta Gondorf*

        I did a similar interview where I did etiquette and table manner demonstrations. It also let me tell funny stories about waiting tables. I got the job.

    1. Rachel*

      I worked for the company you’re talking about for two and a half years! My interview demo was “how to make guacamole,” a recipe that I can do in my sleep.

      Although, if anyone reading this wants to know the trick behind this interview? They ask you to teach a lesson so that they can see how you handle using a white board, how you bring people in to your lesson, and how you answer questions. If you don’t touch the white board? You probably won’t get invited to training.

      1. Stephanie*

        Interesting. I actually ended up getting an offer, despite mo whiteboard usage. I guess my carrots looked that pretty. :)

    2. Amanda*

      My fiance had to do an interview presentation for his current job. He explained the rules of cricket, and came fully dressed in kit, carrying bat, balls, and wicket. They loved it. It was something he loves, that he’s explained many times before, and that he was comfortable answering questions about. He is a nervous public speaker, though getting much better now that his job requires so much of it.

    3. Herbert*

      Yeah, I interviewed with (and was hired by) the company I assume you’re talking about, and did “How to cut down a tree”. Discussed with whiteboard and without tools, unfortunately.

    4. Episkey*

      I interviewed for a similar company, but the demo was done over Skype. I used my dog and did the lesson on “how to dremel a dog’s nails.” It went over well. I give credit to my dog, who is quite endearing!

      1. Kelly L.*

        Awww! My old dog would have instead responded with a counter-presentation, “How to Hide Under the Couch but Fail Because Of Being a 90 Pound Rottweiler.”

        1. Artemesia*

          I am really surprised at all these examples and their success. We always had people do demonstrations and those who chose something not work relevant would not be considered further. Heck back when I taught classes where students developed 30 minutes corporate training exercises, they were not allowed to do anything that was not contextualized in a real job.

          I thought demonstrating cricket rules or cutting carrots (if not for a chef related job) would have stopped being appropriate in about middle school speech class.

          My daughter has more recently interviewed where demonstrations were involved and hers were always job related as well.

          Obviously I am totally wrong here since this seems to have worked for so many people; I am truly surprised.

          1. Stephanie*

            This was a for a part-time SAT prep teacher at a Kaplan/Princeton Review/Testmasters, in my instance, so I think that is part of it. Most of the interviewees were recent college grads (like myself) or students. And from what I recall, the interviewers did tell us to be creative and fun. I’m guessing in addition to using the whiteboard, the interviewers wanted to see if you could be engaging (as the subject material’s pretty dry).

            I definitely wouldn’t do that for a full-time corporate job interview, however.

          2. Episkey*

            Right, what Stephanie said — they specifically instruct you to prepare a short presentation on how to instruct someone to do something — those were about the only parameters. I also think I recall them saying to be creative and engaging, something like that.

    5. OP #4*

      Thanks for the tips and suggestions! I do have a background in the culinary arts and on the “interests” side my immediate thought was to cover something gastronomically related. I doubt I’ll do an in-person demonstration or a how-to, but this has definitely given me…food for thought. bah dum tsss.

  5. neverjaunty*

    OP #1’s HR department, or its bosses, think they have found a clever way to avoid discrimination lawsuits. With no comments, it’s easier to hide problems because there is less of a paper trail – say, of a manager praising Bob for being a go-getter while downgrading Sue for being ‘overly assertive’. I would bet money that the company has a problem right now (either they’re being used, or they know they have lawsuits brewing from the behavior of people like the guy at OP #2’s company) and that’s why they deleted last year’s comments; they were trying to get rid of damaging comments.

      1. Anon55*

        Are the deleted comments from the previous year still on the copies of the reviews that were handed out to the employees and signed? And the deletions only occured on the electronic form? This reeks of something a former employer of mine would do to cover their tracks. I had a former boss who would specifically not invite me to group meetings, then yell at me for not going to the meetings. I kept asking him for a copy of the Outlook invite or a screenshot of who he sent it to, under the guise of having IT investigate. (I knew exactly what my boss was doing)

        He would never have IT look into it, and claimed it wasn’t a big deal. But it kept on happening, he kept on yelling and he kept on telling IT not to look into it even when I contacted IT about it. Then my boss tried to write me up for missing a huge meeting I wasn’t invited to. Great!

        When we sat down in his office to go over this disciplinary action I asked to see the Outlook invite and calendar block which would list everyone who was invited and their responses. He didn’t have it. I told him I was fine sitting and waiting while he pulled it up, as this meeting was a week or so ago. He told me he didn’t have time to do that and I needed to sign the write-up. I asked him to show me the email response I’d sent for this meeting. He told me he didn’t have it. I asked how he knew I had been invited. He said he had checked it and my name was on there. I asked why he hadn’t taken a screenshot or printed it when he pulled it up to verify I was invited. He again went back to claiming he didn’t have time.

        I pointed out that all the time he was spending on this write-up and all the previous incidents where he would yell at me have added up to a much larger amount of time than it would have taken to find the meeting invite and print it. He then submitted the write-up to HR without my signature and without any documentation that I had been invited to any of the meetings I kept missing. The only proof he gave HR was that he claimed he had checked it and my name was on the invite.

        As you can imagine I started getting terrible reviews with no comments to support the rating. Unfortunately the HR department was incompetent and let everything fly by claiming it was the opinion of my boss so it should stand.

        TL:DR Something sketchy is going on and they’re eliminating comments to remove accountability due to a current or potential future legal problem. Although I would imagine any lawyer or EEOC investigator worth their salt would have a field day with annual reviews being changed in the middle of a legal investigation for “no reason”, especially reviews that had already been given.

    1. Bea W*

      The deleting of previous is bizarre and sketchy. Someone probably lodged a complaint somewhere, and i also wonder if it was legit, if a manager actually wrote things that were clearly discriminatory, bigotted, or otherwise offensive. Why go back and delete comments from the previous year (not other years?) if there was nothing incriminating in them? 20 years of comments and only last year was deleted?

      1. OP#1*

        I’m the OP for #1.
        Yes, 20+ years of comments, only last year’s deleted.
        My supervisor says she was not aware of the policy at the time of our meet last year, so she was forced to delete comments after the fact.
        Checking w/ co-workers, they were made individually aware of the new policy during last year’s round of reviews, so this explanation is acceptable, though I’m irritated that this was not brought to my attention at the time the comments were deleted, and that I never signed off on a “numbers only” hard copy.

        1. OP#1*

          The way this was implemented makes the decision even more baffling.
          There is no written documentation and no general communication (ex. email) to staff with this decision (I asked). Everything’s been verbal, which in itself is weird. We are a small (50-person) grant-funded non-profit and we are usually required to document the heck out of absolutely everything.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Your company is trying to hide something. When a long-held procedure of written records and paper trails suddenly turns into ‘everything is verbal’, that means they don’t want a record of it. When a company suddenly destroys records without allowing affected people to make copies (like last year’s performance review), that’s because there is something in those records they want to bury.

            If your company were making a legitimate, above-board shift to numbers-only ratings, there would be no need to destroy last year’s records, and they would document the policy the same way they document the heck out of absolutely everything.

            Depending on how secure you feel with your company, you might want to create your own paper trail to CYA – ask HR in writing for a hard copy of your previous eval, ask if there is documentation of the policy so everyone is aware of it clearly going forward. If you don’t feel like you can say those things without getting into trouble, that’s a bad sign right there.

          2. Kayza*

            Something is very wrong. I would be wondering about a major change like this being done without documentation in any organization. It a grant funded non-profit? That’s my work world, too, and this is just so bizarre in that kind of environment.

          3. Kayza*

            I’d also give a long, hard lo0k at the politics of the place. Has something major changed? A new person high up, a falling out? Because while the theory that someone is trying to hide something is plausible, it could also be that someone is trying to throw someone else under the bus.

  6. Sara M*

    For #4, I’d argue that a strong candidate shows confidence by speaking about something interesting and non-work related, while a more anxious candidate might feel like they have to continue making a sales pitch about themselves, and so would choose something work-related. I think the best choice is something you can speak compellingly about which ties into your presentation about who you are. For example, if you’re presenting yourself as a candidate who stays cool under pressure, you could give a great talk about your experience in competitive barbeque grilling or something.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      Agree. I’m an above average public speaker, but it isn’t a huge part of my job. In a recent job search, I was in an all day interview where I was asked to give a proposal to a hypothetical board of directors and was given a scenario and was put in a room by myself with 15 minutes to prepare. It was obvious that this was a canned process for this company and something they gave every candidate interviewing at this level because the topic was around the company’s core business, not anything I’d ever speak to a board about! Trying to put together a presentation on short notice on a topic that I didn’t really understand, let alone felt comfortable with, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in an interview.

      FWIW, I didn’t get the job. I bombed the presentation big time.

    2. LBK*

      Agreed. Obviously I can’t speak for this employer, but if I were interviewing candidates and gave them this task, I’d be looking for someone to give a dazzling but informative presentation on a totally weird topic I knew nothing about. That would be proof to me that as long as I gave them the tools to be equally excited and knowledgeable about our product, they’d be able to engage a customer who didn’t know anything about it and make a lasting impression.

    3. Bwmn*

      I also think that you put yourself in a situation to best display your presentation skills if you talk about a non-development topic because then they won’t be hung up nit picking whether or not your views on development or the nonprofit’s mission matches exactly with yours. I know that when reviewing sample proposals for development positions, even though the task is just to determine writing skills and understanding of a proposal’s structure – someone who proposes a project activity perceived as “wrong” or “bad” will somewhat color how they’re looked at.

      That being said, whatever your philosophy on development is that you want to emphasize (building trust, connections, sharing passion, etc.) – I think you can highlight those skills in a presentation. If the subject matter of the organization is dry, take a dry topic and make it interesting. If it’s about conveying human stories – present a recipe but tie it to a family story, etc. Do you want to make the panel excited or concerned or more engaged? I think that would be more important than the specific subject.

      I think that way lets them really see your presentation skills and not also end up judging you for your views on cause related marketing that they may slightly disagree with (or something like that).

      1. OP #4*

        That’s a great point I hadn’t considered–that if it’s work related they may be too focused and nit picking rather than listening to the presentation with an open mind. This is definitely something to consider and makes me lean more toward the idea of going with a topic I find interesting. Thanks!

        1. Bwmn*

          No problem!

          When my last organization was replacing me (I’m also in development) – I felt that some applicants had some of their shine slip when they wrote about things that weren’t wrong, but weren’t “our” way.

          I don’t think that any candidate considerably dropped in their consideration – but there is still that initial moment of “we would never do that here”.

    4. Trixie*

      THis would be perfect for me because I would probably give the brief introduction from last job, explaining how are program works. The other option I’d try is introducing my favorite workout class, benefits, intensity options, etc. I could see where Toastmasters would be great training ground for this.

      1. OP #4*

        I have thought about doing something related to my current organization but was hesitant in that it may come off as lazy…I already do quite a bit of speaking on behalf of my current agency (United Way campaign speeches, events, booths, tours) so I didn’t want it to seem as though I had recycled one of those speeches.

        I did talk about the mission of my current agency as well as touching on outcome based stories in my first round interview to demonstrate my passion and commitment to the agency. It seemed to work well with the interviewer so perhaps this is something I should touch on again in the interview before the presentation.

        Toastmasters is a fantastic idea. It looks like on their international site they have even more tips and suggestions to consider. Thanks!

  7. Purple Dragon*

    # 2 – Offensive comments
    Maybe you could have a casual FYI chat with someone (HR ?) saying that you’d heard about these comments but because it wasn’t first hand you don’t feel it’s appropriate for a formal complaint, but you wanted to give someone a heads-up about it.

    Coffee walks are popular at my company for this kind of chat so maybe something like that may give you the best of both worlds.

  8. Sarahnova*


    I hate so much that we still live in this world. I know you didn’t hear the questions, but I would tell HR if I were you; they need to know, since this could have a real, tangible impact on the company and its female staff, and apparently one of its senior leaders is actively undermining a key HR strategy.

    I’d also lose a degree of respect for my male colleagues who had this said to them and didn’t do a thing.

    1. Beyonce Pad Thai*

      “GAAAAAAAAAH” was my exact same reaction.

      This really gets me heated. And makes me wonder how many more of these people are at management level, holding these awful opinions but not blabbing about them at happy hour.

      1. Meg Murry*

        I agree with mentioning it to HR. However, if this guy is willing to make comments like this at happy hour with people he doesn’t actually know well around, chances are his misogyny is already well known, if not explicitly documented. I sat in trainings where I was the most junior person there (both in years and in level on the org chart) and listened to a VP make sexist jokes about how a women’s place was in the kitchen, etc for several hours. I thought about reporting it to HR, but the VP was the owner’s college roommate, and it was well know that the young and inexperienced single HR person always deferred to the owners, so at best the VP might have gotten a “keep your jokes to yourself” chat. And this guy was known to be a jerk throughout the company, so I don’t think telling HR would have done anything, unfortunately- the training was next door to her office, chances are she could hear him.
        Could OP ask her friends who else was at the happy hour, and see if there is someone not-so-new willing to go to to HR with them over this? If HR will be of any use, of course. Otherwise, does she have a trusted mentor at the office she could discuss this with to get the “know your office/your HR” view?

      2. Artemesia*

        I find it heartening that the OP is thinking of reporting it and hope she does — either informally as a heads up (probably what I would do) or formally as ‘second hand info.’ 45 years ago when I was starting out, I frequently heard this kind of driven from senior male colleagues and no one batted an eye. Even saying ‘teachers should have to quit when they marry so men can have those jobs.’ Yes this level of sexual discrimination was considered perfectly safe to say in the presence of young female professionals.

    2. S*

      “I’d also lose a degree of respect for my male colleagues who had this said to them and didn’t do a thing.”

      Yeah no kidding. I was honestly kind of wondering why OP is friends with those guys…

      1. Colette*

        I can understand why they don’t want to say anything. They’re new employees at a lower level than the person who made the comments. They may not have been there long enough to judge how the company would handle a complaint, and they may not be in a position to lose their jobs.

        1. Puddin*

          Colette – I agree. BUT I have also been known to let being new be my saving grace for sticking my nose in it. This example might be one of those times. And quite frankly, losing my new job over speaking up about such horrible public and management opinions might not he be worst thing. Could be dodging a bullet if that were the outcome.

          Or as you said, one might not be in a position to lose the job. In that case, this instance would certainly go into the ‘should I stay or should I go’ file. And I would never, ever, under any circumstances trust that senior manager – espescially since I am female.

          1. Colette*

            It’s very much an individual choice. How strongly you feel about this particular injustice, what you believe the repercussions will be, and how well you could handle the worst-case scenario are all factors.

        2. Zahra*

          However, as men, they would be taken more seriously and would face less repercussion than a woman would. On top of that, they have a more experienced colleague who is telling them that the company has been totally reasonable about such matters.

          1. Colette*

            However, as men, they would be taken more seriously and would face less repercussion than a woman would.

            This may be true on average, but it doesn’t mean it would be more true in this particular situation. Statistics are not a guarantee.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Nobody was talking about statistics. A dude who thinks women are not fully people is more apt to listen to what other dudes say.

              1. Colette*

                Is this particular dude more likely to listen to men he barely knows who are much lower in the hierarchy than he is or would he use his position to cause them problems at work?

                I don’t know, and neither do you.

                1. Zahra*

                  I wasn’t talking about telling the guy to stuff it. I was talking about reporting to HR. I’m thinking THEY would take a man’s statement more seriously than a woman’s. Of course, it can backfire in a “You’re not a woman, why do you care?” way.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  Sure, and we don’t know whether the colleagues are refusing to report because they are secretly in agreement, or whether they are rightfully afraid of being blackballed. I was making a general observation about why it is often much more effective for the Piggys of the world to hear “whoa, that was uncool” from another dude.

              2. Kayza*

                Or he could decide the they are gay, effeminate, insubordinate, “not team players”, “not leadership material”, or any number of other things that he believes do not belong in the workplace. And it’s really easy to see that he might not only ignore them, but totally put them on his enemies list.

                What really needs to happen, although I don’t see how the LW can make it happen, is for someone with credibility and some status who actually heard the comment, to take it up.

  9. GrumpyBoss*

    #2: I would advise to let it go. It sucks, and makes your blood boil. But I doubt you’ll get any traction on it. Several years ago, I was in a similar situation, but the comments were racial in nature. When the person who brought it to me was afraid to take action, I contacted HR. They essentially said that they couldn’t act on hearsay.

    Another thing to consider here is how much are you pushing your friends? It sounds like they’ve made it pretty clear that they don’t feel comfortable reporting this. In a perfect world, they would. But in a perfect world, the comments wouldn’t have been made in the first place. You are creating a situation where they won’t be comfortable telling YOU things anymore.

    1. Sarahnova*

      But HR still had SOME idea that senior people (maybe even specific senior people) were making outrageous, bigoted comments that could hurt the company, in your scenario. They are slightly better prepped if this ever comes up again. Honestly, I think it’s a net gain even if HR don’t have ammunition to take action on this equation. I would most certainly want to know in their shoes.

      AFAIK, the same can happen when reporting crime; even if the police don’t have enough information to file charges, just knowing can help to create a paper trail that strengthens their position if another incident is reported.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Actually, in my scenario, HR had no clue, unfortunately. It was a very large company, and such issues needed to be reported via a hotline. The hotline was answered by an outsourced HR group. The person I spoke with said she wasn’t even documenting the call. If you brought it to your in house HR specialist, you were just directed to the hotline.

        The conclusion of my story isn’t relevant to the OP, but was interesting to see how much HR had completely ignored my complaint. A couple of years later, this individual who had made the remarks was working for me. We had an incident where he was abusing his IT access to read his coworkers’ email. When I was working with HR to discipline him, I had the opportunity to review his file. Not even a flag or anything to indicate that there was a concern of bad behavior. It really pissed me off at the time because I was hoping that we had enough on his file to terminate, instead of just a warning.

        TL;DR: unless your HR department is small, just a mention of possible bad behavior won’t have any effect.

        1. Sarahnova*

          Fair enough, in your case it sadly didn’t help – but I’m not a fan of saying, “don’t bother, because it MIGHT not help”, especially without knowing more. It might at the very least make the OP feel better.

          I think even letting this get around informally may be better than nothing. I liken it to when someone makes a formal complaint of sexual assault/harassment – very frequently, several other people are then able to come forwards since most offenders are serial offenders.

          1. GrumpyBoss*

            Fair enough. But I think she needs to be prepared for the reality that there is only so much she’ll be able to influence here and be ready to move on. It’s obvious that the OP has been pretty upset about this for 5 weeks and I fear it is consuming her to the point that it is going to damage her relationship with her friends who overheard her remarks.

        2. neverjaunty*

          That isn’t about the size of your HR department, but about its competence and willingness to follow the law. Large HR departments are perfectly capable of having policies where they track and report ‘hearsay’, just as small HR departments are capable of shredding files because Bob the HR Guy is dating Sally the Bigoted Assistant VP.

          OP won’t know if the HR department is or isn’t responsive without giving it a try.

  10. The IT Manager*

    I really feel as though the company should know about this man’s opinions, especially since he is in a senior position and has the authority to hire people.

    Why do you assume the company doesn’t or at least his peers don’t already know about this sexist attitude? The sexist pig expressed his opinions with a group of colleagues at the office, I think they know and accept that sexist pig is just that way.

    You should not report this. I don’t think that your company will be able to do anything with a rumor – “I heard that sexist pig said…” Plus I really don’t know what you expect to happen if they did act –
    1) they can’t make sexist pig stop being a sexist pig
    2) people probably know he’s a sexist pig and they still allow him to make hiring decisions.

    Sadly the most I’d expect to happen is sexist pig to be told to not share his opinions in front of women or men who might not share his views. *People like this may assume only women would object to such comments.

    1. Lora*

      Depressingly for a Friday, I have to +1 this. But I would also like to add as a public service announcement:

      “People like this may assume only women would object to such comments.”

      Gentlemen, please, please, PLEASE, PLEEEEEAAAAASE if you have respect for your women colleagues, your daughter/mother/sister/wife/girlfriend, please SAY SOMETHING to guys like this. Because guys like this obviously do not take anything we women say seriously.

      I’m not saying, read him both volumes of Le Deuxieme Sexe from memory, but maybe just a “hey, not cool” or “don’t be that guy,” “really, dude? seriously?” For you young people, perhaps a sarcastic “cool story bro, tell it again”. That shuts guys like this down pretty quickly, when someone they consider on their side clearly disapproves of them. Peer pressure and all that.

      1. HeyNonnyNonny*


        Exactly this. If I, as a woman, object to an offensive comment or joke, I can be written off as ‘touchy.’ If another guy voices disapproval, it’s harder for a jerk to ignore.

      2. JMegan*

        Agreed, with trumpets!

        Of course, in this situation the people who heard the comments are not peers with the person who made them, so that complicates things a bit. But I do think Puddin’s approach of going to HR with “I’m new here so I don’t know how to handle this” is perfect. Even if HR can’t do anything, at least they’re being brought in the loop. And again, unfortunately, the complaint might be taken more seriously coming from a man.

      3. AVP*

        Beyond true.

        I think this is from Amy Schumer’s show… “The easiest way to get a guy off your back when he’s hitting on you is to tell him that you have a boyfriend – not because he’ll feel rejected, but because he’ll respect the other guy enough to leave you alone.”

    2. UKJo*

      Oi, there are some lovely piggies out there who’d probably resent being compared to that unpleasant man ;)
      I jest, naturally.

      1. Puddin*

        I never met a pig I did not like. Men on the other hand…

        Yes, women too but the joke stands. ;-P

    3. Clerica*

      But why assume that they do know about the sexism? I’m not sure why every time someone here has a problem with a coworker or manager they’re cautioned that management probably already knows and is dealing with it behind closed doors. This is how things go unreported for years and then when a lawsuit or scandal happens everyone wonders “Why didn’t someone, anyone, at that company notice? Are they all blind?”

      Suppose she’d overheard them bragging about fudging expense reports or some other method of embezzlement, overbilling, etc. Should she just assume everyone knows already? There is no situation where it is completely impossible that someone already knows. It doesn’t mean nothing should be reported ever again.

      Also, they can stop him being a sexist pig there–by firing him. He doesn’t get to stay there indefinitely, exposing them to lawsuits, because “Oh, well, boys will be boys.”

      1. Sarahnova*

        I agree. I don’t see the point in not at least trying to address this, especially since the company apparently has an explicit agenda to get more female senior leaders.

        I also bet a lot of people DON’T know, at least that he is so blatant about his sexism.

        A lot of times, this defeatist “nothing will be done”/”everyone already knows” just serves to perpetuate the problem, because everybody who knows sees everyone ELSE not doing anything, whereas if one person were willing to call this out explicitly, it would have the potential to alter the culture around this stuff.

      2. The IT Manager*

        But why assume that they do know about the sexism? Because from the LW’s story it sounds like sexist pig was not being discreet at all – at work, common area, loud enough to be heard/overheard by new employees.

        1. Jamie*

          Absolutely. If he said this in the way it’s being interpreted he’s got no issues being open with this stuff in front of new employees then he’s pretty open about it. It would be hard to imagine he’d be all buttoned up and keeping his comments in check with everyone else ever – except in an open space where untrusted/unknown people who could report him happen to be.

          If this was outside of work and he didn’t know other employees were there – say a resturant where they are in the next booth and overhear him and he’s shocked to see him, that’s one thing. He knew where he was and with whom he was with and shot his mouth off – if what was heard was in context there is no way they are the only people there to know his thoughts on this.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Again, why assume that people in charge know about it? If Bob were bragging in a common area about how he sneaks out once a week to go see a movie but doesn’t punch out, we wouldn’t assume that HR already knows so why bother.

      3. Lora*

        Bet you $5 and a six-pack of Belgian ale they don’t fire him, though. Only time I have seen a guy get pink-slipped for being sexist was when he was being truly obnoxious to a client. He’d been a nasty jerk to every other woman in the company for years, including his boss, and never got anything more than sensitivity training.

        People mostly don’t sue unless they have been physically accosted/abused (in my field, the one that leaps to mind is the Novartis salesperson who was raped by a client on a golf outing and the company told her it was her fault) or unless they have an open-and-shut case of pay disparities in the millions. Because you’re going to be blacklisted as soon as you file the lawsuit, so it has to be really worth wrecking your prospects for future employment.

        What I wish both the sexists and management/HR would consider in cases like these, that when there are no legal remedies to such shenanigans, vigilantes spring up, however seemingly petty. All of a sudden, the Sexist/Racist Pig Division is a silo and can’t work with/communicate with other departments they need to, because Sexist McPiggerson is incapable of playing nice with others and nobody wants to deal with him. All of a sudden, there is massive and expensive turnover in the Pig Division that appears to be incurable and costs millions, and recruiters can get only kids fresh out of college and mediocre candidates in for interviews. All of a sudden, productivity out of the Pig Division grinds to a halt. Then McKinsey/BCG walks in (again, for millions of $$) and tells the company to fire everyone and start over. A bunch of people lose their jobs and a LOT of time is wasted recovering from that sort of thing, in a for-want-of-a-nail fashion, because nobody troubled themselves to shut down Mr. Personality.

        Seen it toooooo many times. Leaps to mind because a headhunter just emailed me out of the blue, from pretty far away, and as soon as he sent the job description I knew immediately what client he was working with and what their problem was. And it’s this, a bunch of horrible personalities who spend the day being obnoxious at each other instead of working. No thank you.

        1. Anon55*

          They never notice this though! The turnover is always couched as being good for the company, the hiring problems are because they have high standards, the boondoggles in that department are because all those crappy employees that no longer work here left their projects in disarray, the reason other departments dislike this one department is either chalked up to jealousy, crappy employees in other departments or the crappy employees of this department that are no longer around to defend themselves.

          I worked for one boss who had turned over the department twice in less than a decade and none of TPTB batted an eye. Other departments knew what was going on but HR, VPs and Cs kept believing this boss when they claimed that all these horrible employees were being hired because they kept tricking this kindly boss and the employees didn’t show their true colors till after the probationary period ended. And yet none of TPTB wanted to change how people were being hired in this department, so they kept on having a constant churn rate many times higher than any other department.

          1. Lora*

            I know, right?

            How I deal with it:

            Option 1: The Martyr
            a. “I understand your group needs a lot of help getting their productivity up, Piggy. I have some bandwidth on my team to handle YOUR JOB, why don’t I start taking on some of this until your group is fully staffed again?”
            b. “Then when we analyzed the data…”
            “Wait, Lora, you mean when Piggy analyzed the data.”
            “Oh…*innocent look* I’ve been helping Piggy out with some things until he gets back on his feet, and it only made sense for me to handle this part of the project as well.”

            Option 2: The Assassin
            “Sir, I would like you to know that I am fully committed to achieving DEADLINE. However, Piggy’s group is overwhelmed, and their backup could affect our ability to meet DEADLINE. I have identified five qualified contractors/consultants who are able to accomplish this phase of the work. Prices are approximately REASONABLE NUMBER and QA has already approved them as vendors. Since we don’t know how long it will be before Pig Department catches up with their workload, perhaps we should think about a blanket PO.”

            Option 3: Oncoming Traffic
            “Wakeen, what is the status of Important Project?”
            “Yes Piggy, how are you coming with your review?”
            “Lora, what is the status of Major Project?”
            “Well…Piggy, do you have any questions? Is there a reason you haven’t approved it?”
            “Apollo, how is Critical Project going?”
            *Apollo coughs meaningfully while looking at Piggy*
            Lather, rinse, repeat at every meeting. CC meeting minutes to various interested parties.

    4. Jennifer*

      I third this. Even if your coworkers testified (and I’ll admit that I’m surprised that male coworkers are so terrified of reporting–guess the workplace is really bad if this is the case?), the company is probably A-OK with him acting like that, really. They’re not gonna fire him for one comment and you can always come up with some other way to justify not hiring a woman besides “she’s a woman.”

      1. Eliz87*

        Even if he can find a reason not to hire one specific woman, it could become more difficult for him to justify not ever hiring any. Depending on how many hiring decisions he has made, if HR was alerted they may be able to see this pattern in concrete numbers and take some sort of action.

      2. neverjaunty*

        But we don’t know that the entire corporate knowledge of this dude is “just one comment”. For all we know, HR has a file on this guy six inches thick and they’re waiting for him to make one more screwup. Or, HR has never bothered investigating this guy and as soon as they start asking around they’re going to be flooded with reports.

        I used to work at a company that didn’t really care about harassment, but due to a number of past lawsuits DID care very much about APPEARING to care about harassment. So they were happy to pretend they didn’t know about the Piggy employees because ‘nobody reported him’. As soon as somebody reported Piggy, though, they would (reluctantly) drag themselves into action.

    5. C Average*

      I sort of think this idea–that everyone knows he’s a sexist pig–is one of the reasons you SHOULD report it.

      Maybe no one else has ever reported his sexist behavior or ever will, and you’ll be the one to alert his management to a problem they should pay more attention to.

      Maybe LOTS of people have reported him before and you’re helping to document a pattern.

      Maybe someone in the future will have an even more compelling reason to report him, and your previous report will lend credibility to theirs.

      One report probably isn’t going to change things for a person like this, but if it’s part of a bigger HR file, it just might.

    6. Anna*

      Sorry this is long, but maybe it’s not about trying to teach the senior guy a lesson, and maybe it’s not about getting HR to do something. Maybe it’s just about doing the right thing: to speak up when you see/hear something that is blatantly not okay, and show your coworkers (male and female) that there are no punishments for doing so.

      In one department I worked at, a senior-level guy was well known for speaking poorly of women, and casually talking about selling women, date rape, and having to tip-toe around female emotions instead of “taking it outside.” For decades, people just ignored him because “that’s just how he is,” “he doesn’t really mean it.” He mostly spoke like this around other men (usually his reports) who wouldn’t say anything. When he spoke like this to a woman in front other men, she felt that she deserved it because no one showed disagreement.

      One woman did speak up eventually, and she did so very calmly. She took the emotional component out of it, and framed it using “company vision,” “safe and respectful work environment,” etc. Her direct manager didn’t do anything, so she went up to the next level until someone listened. One manager was relatively new in the company, but he was well-respected and he started training his reports and talking to other managers about the importance of saying “No, I’m not okay with this.”

      The senior guy is still there, but people now respond with, “Bob, that’s not cool. Please, don’t say this again.” You might be surprised how quickly he gets deflated when another man says this.

    7. neverjaunty*

      Why are we all assuming the only relevant issue here is “can they fire Piggy McPiggerson, Y/N”? The company has a problem when Piggy can expect to blat on with colleague at a public work area and not have any consequences, and that problem is bigger than just Piggy’s employment.

      A company that doesn’t have its head in the sand might very well consider that they need better direction from leadership, clearer HR policies, more diligent response to employee complaints, etc. There is a lot that can be done other than building a file on Piggy.

      1. Sarahnova*

        Let me just say that I am loving the development of the “Piggy McPiggerson” nick.

  11. Rebecca*

    #1 – I suspect HR wants to see a bell curve on the evaluations. No comments means no reason for giving someone a 2 vs a 4, etc.

    At my first job, my direct supervisor retired. I was sent in to clean up his office (this is in the late 1990’s). I came across my performance evaluation forms from HR that he never gave to me. There was a cover letter from HR to all managers, and it said that not everyone can be a 4 or 5, and that HR expected to see a bell curve on the evaluations when they were returned to them.

    1. C Average*


      My workplace does a modified stack rank approach (no one HAS to be at the bottom, but you can only put so many people at or near the top; the majority are meant to be in the middle).

      When any team has an objectively excellent year, with everyone contributing and everyone far exceeding their job descriptions (as was the case with my team this year), there’s no end of haggling over ratings. In our case, the negotiations came to an impasse, with my manager refusing to budge on her ratings decisions. The compromise they eventually reached was for some of us who were due a big promotion to get that promotion sooner than originally scheduled in lieu of the highest ranking, which our manager wanted to give us.

      In this environment, I could totally see an HR department abolishing comments. The process is already in many ways arbitrary. It’s easier for the arbitrariness to continue if you don’t have compelling arguments on the record for doing things in a less arbitrary way.

  12. AB Normal*

    #1 – “I am particularly frustrated because aside from my annual review, my supervisor and I interact very little. My annual review is pretty much the only mechanism I have for educating her about my work.”

    But your annual review is never the best mechanism to educate your supervisor about your work, even with the ability to add comments. In jobs when I interacted little with my boss, and he/she wasn’t available for frequent one-on-ones, I’d make sure to send a weekly email with bullets summarizing what I had accomplished, with quotes from other people if my work had elicited compliments (“the report was well received by Department X – Jane wrote to say ‘thank you! getting this data is the best news I received the whole week, and this was a week full of good news!’).”

    Especially for someone with 20+ years in the company, it seems too passive to just be waiting for your supervisor to create opportunities for you to share the results of your work. Even if HR hadn’t prohibited comments in the performance review, I would not be relying on an annual review to provide visibility into my efforts and accomplishments to my boss.

    1. OP#1*

      My original explanation probably should have said “My annual review is pretty much the only mechanism I have for *documenting that I was* educating her about my work.”
      We are a small organization, and the work I do is quite visible to staff and management. That being said, our culture has until now been along the lines of “if it isn’t written down and signed off, it didn’t happen”. Which is why this “no comments” decision is so strange and irritating.
      I am concerned that sending a weekly email summary could be seen by my supervisor as somewhat passive/aggressive, but you’ve given me an idea to discuss w/ her at our meet.

  13. Kerranne*

    #1 is going to backfire, especially in departments where the supervisors are accused of favoritism. There will be no written justification for giving Favored Employee a 4 while giving Personality Clash Employee a 2. And I think the bell curve reasoning is garbage, if a manager hires qualified people who do quality work, work well together, and who’s to say they all can’t be 4s and 5s? I’ve worked in places where 80% of the employees were a 2 or 1.

  14. Katie the Fed*

    #3 – Make sure you tell your boss exactly what you said here about what makes her a great boss. Appreciation and specific feedback from employees (as long as they’re not sucking up) is really wonderful, especially since managing can be a truly thankless job. You’d probably make her day telling her how much she meant to you.

    1. OP#3*

      That’s a great tip – I figured she probably just knows, but that’s a silly thought. I’ll make sure to share this!

  15. Tomato Frog*

    #1 “Comments only confuse the rating”??? Numbers have an objective meaning, therefore there can be no ambiguity in describing someone’s job performance as “3”? Joseph Heller and George Orwell would have been happy if they’d come up with this.

  16. Mike C.*

    #2: Report it.

    HR can certainly take action to ensure that the company isn’t a cesspool of misogyny without having to make the decision to take direct action against an individual based only on hearsay.

    It’s 2014, this has got to stop.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP, if you decide not to report yourself, barest minimum encourage your friends to report it. That is my baseline that I go to, sometimes I do more. Experience has shown me that I need to witness it first hand if I am going to report something- so I am a bit hesitant to go forward on my own if I have not seen it myself.

      As far as your friends, silence is often read as acceptance. Silence encourages the behavior to continue. In all likelihood, left unchecked this man’s statements will get more and more off the wall. Your friends’ choices eventually will boil down to reporting it, or skipping the social hour at work.

  17. Anon55*

    #2 Is there an anonymous hotline for the company you can report it to? You have enough details for it to be taken seriously and you could phrase it as you overheard the comments, which points the finger away from your coworkers who were part of the conversation.

    1. Traveler*

      +1 One of the places I worked had an anonymous 3rd party we could report issues, so that workers could be protected when they came forward with issues. I wish more places offered this.

  18. ClaireS*

    Re 2: I’ve been in this exact position and it still makes my blood boil. A senior VP at a very small org I worked for announced loudly in a room full of people (including many young women) that he’s give them at a ten cent raise if they held the dime between their knees because he couldn’t afford for them to get pregnant.

    I heard about it second hand and pushed my colleagues to say something. But, there was no HR and we weren’t confident that our CEO wouldn’t see it as a funny joke. I did nothing. I still feel awful about it but don’t know that there was a better option.

    All this is to say, I’m sorry, this sucks and I have no advice.

    1. Eliz87*

      Ugh. Gross. The superintendent where I used to work said in the local newspaper that the reason our health insurance costs were so high was that the staff is 80 percent women and the insurance had to cover so many pregnancies. Apparently if more men were teachers, the budget would have been totally under control.

      1. the gold digger*

        Well, as someone who used to work for a health insurance company and did a stint in underwriting, where I learned how rates are set, that is the absolute truth.

        However, the rates would only have been lower if young men had been teachers. Older men cost more than older women – in general. And younger women – because of maternity – cost more than younger men – in general.

  19. Pete*

    #2. No, no, no, no, no, no The new employees are not likely to stand with you, and they’re the ones who heard it. You would be spreading gossip and hearsay. Report it only if you’re willing to be forced out for saying something determined to be slanderous.

      1. Jamie*

        Slander: the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.

        If it’s not true it is – and if she can’t prove it up (and being told something by people who “heard” it is not great proof – unless it was said directly to them and they come forward and admit this.

        So if they don’t come forward with this and it wasn’t said directly to them with the context unambiguous even if it’s true and therefore not slander her reputation would be affected as if it was.

        1. LBK*

          Doesn’t (illegal) slander have to be public, though? Or are we just talking about the general idea of slander?

          1. Jamie*

            I assume criminal slander has to be public – although if it costs one a job or other financial damages I’d assume that could be under the umbrella – I don’t know.

            I was just referring to the general use of the word.

        2. neverjaunty*

          I don’t even understand your last paragraph. Nobody is talking about the law in OP’s jurisdiction (and defamation is generally a civil, not criminal issue), so why get into the pseudo-legal minutae of ‘slander’?

          As has been pointed out earlier, if the topic Piggy was bragging about there was falsifying expense reports, or taking home company property, nobody would be fussing about ‘slander’ or ‘hearsay’; we’d all be telling OP that somebody should report it to the proper managers and allow them to properly investigate and handle it.

          1. Jamie*

            Who said anything about the law? You bring something like this to HR and there is an investigation and those involve interviews and proof where it exists. I’ve been privy to quite a few HR investigations and if she goes in with second hand information the first thing they will do is go to the people she heard it from to see if they will corroborate it.

            If they won’t come forth with what they heard then HR will either have to find other evidence or drop it – because you can’t make it an actionable thing with HR if the people who allegedly heard it won’t talk about it. And yes, then her reputation is the one hurt – not the person who said what he did.

            I’m not saying you need a tape recording – but if you didn’t hear something yourself and the people who told you won’t back it up – I don’t know what people expect HR to do about that.

            And no, I would not be calling for people to report it if they were told secondhand something that someone else heard even if it were stealing or expense reports. The original letter is unclear – she states these people “heard” it while hanging out in this area but also that it was said to them. Those are wildly different things and if it wasn’t said directly to them in conversation there is too much room for misinterpretation for HR to take it seriously.

            I don’t know where you think I said this was a legal matter.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The law on this requires companies to protect people who make good-faith reports of harassment or discrimination, even if it’s ultimately determined that no harassment or discrimination occurred. It’s not slander, as long as you had genuine reason to believe it was true.

  20. Kayza*

    #2 You need to back off. Yes, I think your friends should report it, but you’ve made that opinion known to them, and they are refusing. I’ll take your word for it that their concerns are not valid, but you can’t force them to do it. If you continue to push, you will only lose credibility and strain your relationship. And, if you report it, then you will have to say who you heard it from, and that’s going to cause its own set of problems.

    The only possibility I see here, is if your HR department is run by people with judgement rather than a bunch of “script kiddies” who can’t ever deviate from the “One true way”, then you could go to whoever in HR and tell them that you heard this, but can’t say who told you because your source is concerned about repercussions. Your just giving them a heads up, because it’s clear to you that this could present real problems for the company, so your passing on what you can.

      1. Kayza*

        “scrip kiddies” are people who just follow a script. In the IT realm, it usually refers to idiots who think they are SOOO smart and SOO powerful because they can take some pseudo-hacker tolls and use them to bolt together some malware from scripts that others have concocted.

        That kind of chest puffing while just being little more than an automaton (which is at the heart of the term, not the malware) is not unique to IT.

  21. Anoncat*

    For #2, I need to make a distinction between overhearing a comment and “hearsay.” OP didn’t hear some sort of rumor that so-and-so said something, OP actually heard the comment, they know it was definitely said. They don’t know the context and shouldn’t go around talking about it because *that* is how rumors get started, which is what hearsay is.

    Every now and then I present a panel about women in geek culture at this or that comic/anime convention, and every now and then something I say gets misconstrued. The first time, I heard someone ranting, practically in tears, about how I’d “banned men from talking” and how I “made an insensitive rape joke” at my panel, and when I pressed for more details (she didn’t know it was me) she admitted she wasn’t there but heard about it from a friend. That was a rumor that I only hope didn’t spread too far. The other time, someone took something I said out of context and posted it on Tumblr. Of course, the reason it was out of context was that she was too busy grumbling about me to her friend to understand the point I was trying to make.

    OP should let HR know. HR isn’t going to (or at least shouldn’t) outright fire him without hearing his side of the story, but they should have a talk with him. If he does buy into gender essentialist garbage, that’s his right as a person, but he needs to know there’s a time and place for those comments, and it’s not the office.

    1. Anoncat*

      oh shoot, sorry, somehow missed that the OP DID hear it secondhand. gahh I’m dumb. don’t post >_<

  22. Red Librarian*

    Regarding #4, I’d highly suggest going with something that interests you, so if that’s work related, great! But like Alison said, they are mostly watching your public speaking skills so the more interested you are in a subject, be it hobby or recipe or work thing, the more engaged and interesting you’ll be to watch from their perspective. If you get up there and talk about something you’re not entirely comfortable with, it will show.

    With interview presentations this is the one time YOU are completely in control so use that to your advantage!

    1. OP #4*

      Thanks! I do have many work-related interests. I would love to do a presentation on 5 Ways the 21st Century is Changing the Face of Fundraising. I do have many other non-work related topics that I enjoy and can make engaging though, and from what I’ve read above it may be best to go with something non-work related.

  23. Traveler*

    #2 Could you report it as “rumors going around the office”? If this higher individual wasn’t alone with your friends when he said this, perhaps it’s a way to bring up the issue without putting anyone in particular in the hot seat? I really hate to see that go unreported completely, but understand the complexity of second hand reporting.

  24. Puddin*

    #2 what are the opinions out there of asking the manager who uttered the sexist comments? Something like, “I heard that you have some mis-givings about women as managers. What are your concerns?”

    I know it could be dicey, but it could also send a few (much needed) messages back to him.
    1. What is said at happy hour does not stay at happy hour
    2. (Potentially) You are obnoxious with a couple of drinks in you
    3. Don’t pull this crap with me around I will call you on it
    4. Do you know how ridiculous this sounds to ‘normal’ people


    1. neverjaunty*

      It might work better for OP to talk to her own manager. “I’ve heard that Piggy has been making these comments pretty openly, and as you can imagine, I am a bit concerned whether my future at the company would be limited because of my gender.”

  25. Jamie*

    Haven’t read through all the comments so maybe this has been addressed – but the OP is getting the sexist comments second hand from someone who “heard” the comments. Did he say this directly to them? Because if they overheard it, then of course it shouldn’t be reported any more than you can take what you hear in a game of telephone at face value.

    He could have been discussing a mindset he doesn’t share, he could have been discussing what someone else thinks or any of a million hypothetical. And yeah, he could be a sexist – but second hand information from someone who over heard it is so unreliable as to be meaningless and you don’t report someone for a potentially career changing offense over a game of telephone.

    1. Zahra*

      Wait a minute, if I heard something not addressed to me, it don’t think it’s hearsay. After all, I heard it clear as day and it’s not a “He said that this other person said this-and-that”.

      The OP #2’s colleagues wouldn’t be reporting hearsay and I think they would totally be in their right to report what they heard to HR.

      1. Jamie*

        Depends on the situation and context. Sometimes, yes, it’s clear. But in cases where you’re in an open area and engaged in your own conversation and overhear a snippet of someone else’s you may or may not be right about context. You could miss the part where someone was kidding, or being hyperbolic, or it was part of a retelling of something that happened to someone else.

        I’m not defending this guy – if he said it he’s gross and should be addressed.

        I’m just surprised at the universal knee jerk reaction from so many to go to HR when we don’t have enough information to know whether it was as cut and dried as sexism or if there is room for caution – in that the OP should go to HR.

        Also, even if the OP is certain of context, if she’s not sure the people who actually heard it will corroborate this then I don’t think it’s her responsibility to go to the mat for something HR won’t be able to act on if no one who heard it will be willing to speak up.

        And with that I’ll drop it – but I certainly would hope irl people use reasonable care before going to HR about something they didn’t personally hear or witness. There isn’t a one size fits all to this and it can he hard to know when to make that call.

        1. LBK*

          I agree with you – Joe could be discussing the recent comments that leaked from the IBM execs re: not hiring young women, Bob overhears 2 seconds of him quoting those execs and assumes Joe was stating his own beliefs, Bob goes to HR to complain and suddenly Joe is getting questioned about sexism just for discussing the news.

          I think it comes down to how well you know your HR department. If they’re likely to do an unbiased investigation that won’t result in someone getting an unfair reputation, a secondhand snippet of a conversation is probably fine to report. If your HR dept has a tendency to levy the strictest penalties for even the vaguest accusations, it’s probably not worth it.

          (this is all assuming that the comments were not actually made in earnest, because if they were then obviously the guy should be reprimanded)

  26. Hiring Manager*

    #1 It’s probably due to a litigation case or fear. I’m not saying that it’s the right way to do things but I see management more and more scared of a paper trail. It’s hard to get any sort of guidance in emails these days. Everyone is scared it’s going to come back on them.

    That being said, I see a lot of people really concerned about performance reviews. I know a lot of places base raises on them. At the same time, I say to move out of the high school mindset of worrying about your report card. It’s what people say to you and how they treat you that’s important. In my experience performance reviews play almost no role in promotions or hiring. I wouldn’t base my hiring on someone’s review of a candidate. Only if it was bad would I take note.

    1. ChiTown Lurker*

      It depends on your company. At many companies, you cannot bid or apply for jobs outside your department with a “2”. You cannot be promoted, take personal leave, have flexible hours, or utilize benefits such as tuition reimbursement/advanced training. Also, some companies also require managers to layoff level 2 employees before any other employees even if there is no PIP.

  27. ChiTown Lurker*

    The removal of performance review comments would creep me out quite a bit. Sometimes companies review comments in a effort to reduce litigation. However, I have seen it used too many times as the first step for reductions in force. If you remove the comments, you can assign any number without the need for support. This is particularly true in organizations that require justification for rankings. I have seen too many people who were 4s (exceeds expectations) with comments become 2s (needs improvement) without. I don’t like it and I would immediately initiate a job search.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      I went from getting all 4’s to getting a 2 one year, due to working for a manager that I did not get along with. At all. To be fair, I was pregnant at the time and so a bit more emotional and on edge than normal, but at the end of the day it was just a serious clash of personalities and work/management style.

      But I did bring the rating up to HR and the VP. I believe I asked if it really made sense for, in the course of a single year, my evaluation comments being along the lines of, “She is awesome at her job!” to “She’s late all the time, plus she hates puppies too.” No response, or action, from anyone. Gah.

      1. ChiTown Lurker*

        Yes, we also discovered a couple of patterns in the reviews as well.

        For people over 50, it would be something along the lines of “does not embrace new technologies.” In one case, this meant the one of my coworkers refused to use an iPhone. He hates Apple and has an Android phone. It was a little embarrassing for his manager to discover that one of the most popular Cydia applications was written by this guy. Another person on the team was leading a class for kids on Raspberry Pi and had a write-up in a local paper for her work in a rural community.

        Even HR questioned these incidents. Ultimately, they caved as usual and in both cases the lower rating remained until the guy told HR he was taking his case to the EEOC. He had been keeping a journal of IT layoffs for the last 5-7 years and felt he had a strong case. Miraculously, his rating was returned to a 4.

      2. MK*

        To be fair, it’s perfectly possible for someone’s performance to change drastically over the course of a “single” year; 365 days is not exactly a short period of time. Previous reviews is cricumstancial evidence at best, not ironclad proof that one of the reviews is wrong. And even if it were so, the manager in this situation could well claim that it was the previous reviews that were inaccurate, e.g. that the former supervisor was too lenient or whatever.

        1. ChiTown Lurker*

          It is possible. However, when I see someone who has multiple years of great reviews, a job that has serious metrics attached and successful high profile projects in that same year, I become suspicious. It often means that management wants to dump someone and they are choosing those with high salaries. This is especially true when management bonuses are tied to salary reductions.

          I have also seen people perform poorly after a successful year or years, however, it was visible. It wasn’t hidden behind success. Usually, there is a reason as well. An employee who is sick, having family problems, abusing drugs or alcohol are the usual candidates.

  28. Lisa*

    #4 Ideas
    – Demonstration on how to make / do something (past job task, make spaghetti sauce)
    – Evaluate the company website or a client opportunity
    – Discuss a country – history, politics, latest news
    – Talk about a major historical event, or a point of interest (empire state building)
    – Detailed presentation discussing the Houses on Game of Thrones

    1. OP #4*

      Ha, I read the Song of Ice and Fire series before it became the hit show that it is on HBO, which I now watch weekly when the seasons air. I could probably talk about all the major houses, minor houses and then some, but I will spare that poor audience.

      Thank you for the tips and suggestions! I appreciate it!

      1. LBK*

        I would immediately hire someone that delivered a presentation on the Southron Ambitions theory.

    2. JC*

      Just sayin’ for all of the people who’d love a Game of Thrones-based presentation, there is someone like me who hates sci fi/fantasy and who would roll my eyes on the inside at a presentation like that. But I am married to a dude who loves all that stuff, so it obviously can’t cloud my judgment of others too much…

  29. ChiTown Lurker*

    #2 I would not report this to HR. You don’t have context and it is secondhand. Endangering someone’s job over something that someone else, who was also drinking, heard is difficult. If you need to pursue it you can continue to ask those who heard it to report it to HR.

  30. Student*

    #5 Don’t you guys have email? Scanners? Snail mail? Even… fax?

    Why on earth would an admin think the choices were limited to asking the project manager to hand-deliver the document or hand-delivering the document herself?

    The project manager’s response was completely out of line, but the admin’s request is also a little bizarre. There may be good reasons that the project manager doesn’t want to deliver this document (or just pure rank-wanking). Regardless, the document delivery was tasked to the admin, and it’s poor form to delegate that task upwards when there are other reasonable options available.

    1. LBK*

      Maybe it’s a finalized printed version of something that’s going to be distributed/used in an official capacity, so a scanned copy isn’t useful? Or it’s a running log/record so you don’t want to send back and forth copies because it’s easier to just keep all records and edits in one journal? Unless the admin is a complete and utter idiot I’m sure she didn’t just decide hand delivery was the most convenient method and that email/fax/etc. wouldn’t suffice. And if you can have someone run it over by hand today, why wouldn’t you do that instead of paying to mail it and delaying it by a day or two?

    2. Kayza*

      Not everything can go in email or snail mail. There are all sorts of reasons for that. Sometimes you are dealing with someone on the other end who can’t / won’t deal with email, and you don’t always have a choice to walk away. And some documents don’t lend themselves to scanning / faxing. And, with snail mail, there are similarly many possible reasons not to use it. Sometimes you need a signature, sometimes it’s not reliable enough, sometimes it’s a time issue, etc.

  31. Student*

    #2 You will probably have a hard time getting HR to take you seriously, but if your colleagues won’t report it then I think you owe it to yourself to do so. Then start looking for a new job immediately, because you will end up leaving the company, voluntarily or involuntarily. Either you can work for people who think you’re incapable of leading due to possession of ovaries, or you can go work for someone who will give you a fair shot (how about that competitor who hires “too many women”?).

    Alternative is to try to lay down the guilt on these colleagues, but I think it’s too late for that, too long after the event. They’re either with you or against you on this one – and they’re clearly against you. They are throwing their lot in with the misogynist and opting to protect him at your expense. They value his opinion of them more than your opinion of them. Sometimes, pointing that out clearly can get people to do the right thing, even if it’s hard.

  32. Mephyle*

    Apropos of #2 – a story was in the news a few days ago about a Toronto woman who overheard tech executives from a well-known big company talking in a public place about not hiring women because of pregnancy. In this case, she had nothing to do with their company, but wanted to ‘out’ them so she took to Twitter. You can find the story with a search – {overheard sexist comments twitter} on Google News.

  33. JC*

    The “just ignore it” type of reactions to #2 shocked me until I remembered I had the same kind of reaction myself in a workplace interaction. Once I was chatting with a woman in my organization who said that she lost her last 2 employees in a role because one woman quit to have a baby, and one man quit because he needed a higher-paying job because his wife was quitting her job when they had a baby. She said, “I’m not hiring anyone of childbearing age again,” and went on to justify it with saying that she wasn’t being sexist because she was including men and women. My jaw hit the floor, but I didn’t say anything to her in response (or to anyone else in the organization).

    I guess I can see why people would choose to not get involved after hearing inflammatory, sexist language like that—it often is easier to just ignore it. Not that it makes it right.

    1. Sarah*

      I wonder if that manager is going to change her tune when she keeps losing employees to retirement because she won’t hire someone under 45 or so?

      In that case, though, I’m pretty sure it’s legal. Not that that makes it ethical, but it might change how an HR department reacts. Unless she’s including people in their early 40s as childbearing age – I’m not sure if it’s still considered age discrimination if the victim is over 40 as the law requires but is being discriminated against in favor of candidates who are even older?

  34. OP#2*

    Hello everyone, OP#2 here.

    Thank you all for your comments. Just to clarify some points:

    “Piggy” said these comments directly to my friends. They didn’t just “overhear” them – in fact, he jumped into their conversation to add his two cents. I asked both friends independently of one another and they both quoted him with the same phrasing, so I feel like they remembered his comments accurately.

    My company is extremely female-friendly and has been looking to actively improve their employment numbers of women and POC in a still-male-dominated industry. They take harassment and discrimination claims very seriously. If this were brought to HR I feel very confident that they would take pains to make the complainant feel secure and listened to, not threatened. If I brought this to them even as second-hand information, I do not feel as though my job or future in the company would be impacted in any way, and the same would be true for my friends.

    I did not “harass” my friends to report. I heard them tell me the initial story, and a few weeks later I was advised by my partner that this would be a situation HR would like to know about, so I told my friends they could bring it to HR’s attention. At the time they both enthusiastically agreed and said they would email HR. A week later I asked them what the follow-up was and they told me they hadn’t reported it. One said he was worried about potential fallout, the other one thought the first had already made the report. So I would probably ask them both once more and then let them decide what to do.

    I am not worried about this impacting my friendship with them. I will reiterate my belief to them that silence on these matters indicates acceptance, but I understand them not wanting to take any action that might affect their jobs. If they still won’t report, I’ll have an informal talk with HR. I don’t expect “Piggy” to lose his job or even get formal discipline, but a little chat would probably help the situation.

    And finally, I disagree with anyone who says not to report just because nothing is likely to happen. This is indeed how bad behavior manages to last for years and years. Ignoring a problem like this isn’t likely to make it go away, and we’ve managed to make our workplace safer for people who bring these issues to HR’s attention, and thus safer for everyone. Thanks all for your comments!

    1. Sarahnova*

      Thanks for coming back OP#2, and for your encouraging update. I hope the company is ultimately able to take action against McPiggerson.

  35. Anonj*

    RE: 4. What topic should I pick for a presentation in an interview?

    I had an interview at a law firm a while ago, and I had to give a presentation for the second interview. I was much more comfortable with Excel, but since law firms use Word constantly, I thought I should do the presentation on a law-friendly Word feature. It was a big mistake. They asked me questions I couldn’t answer, and I was very embarrassed. In the future, I will always choose the topic I’m most comfortable with. Then the interviewers can get a sense of my teaching style and level of experience with presenting. I can always learn new software.

Comments are closed.