the most surprising thing about Ask a Manager letters

A reader writes:

I was curious, after years of writing this column, do you still get letters that surprise you? Do the reactions from the commenters ever surprise you? Have you ever thought that the conversation about a letter would go one way and it went completely the opposite way? What surprises you the most after all these columns?

Oh yes. I absolutely still get letters that surprise me (like this one and this one and its update; if there’s one thing I’ve learned to rely on, it’s that I can never predict everything people will write in about.

I used to think I was pretty good at knowing how a letter would go over with readers, but the reaction to the letter from the person whose coworker went through her trash took me by surprise (there was an interesting divide in the comments between managers and non-managers on that one, which was pretty fascinating) and so did the intensity of some of the reactions to the prank-puller.

I think what surprises me most is how widespread and totally ingrained in our culture it is for people to have trouble speaking up and being straightforward when there’s a problem. So often the answer comes down to “just talk to the other person,” and so often that’s not people’s first instinct.

What surprises you all?

{ 469 comments… read them below }

  1. Partly Cloudy

    Regarding the other one, I had a co-worker who put curses on our manager too! Ages ago.

  2. Partly Cloudy

    As far as what surprises me–If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said “just when I think I’ve seen/heard everything…”

    The strangulation story was pretty surprising though; I think I shared it here recently. Small business, I was no longer there but heard about this from a friend, owner holds manager against the wall by her throat, manager returns to work the next day. The last part is truly jaw-dropping.

    1. java jones

      I had a manager come at me as though she was going to hit me at one point in my life… I came to work the next day, but I really needed a job — I was already looking! — and there’s a pretty big difference between a threat-lunge that’s aborted and holding someone up by their neck!

    2. Bend & Snap

      My old boss slammed his hands on my desk hard enough to rattle the windows while screaming at me. I couldn’t just quit so I absolutely went back the next day.

      He was married to the president of the company so I had nowhere to go with my story.

    3. Nervous Accountant

      I had a boss who smashed a pen-“I just don’t like these.”….errr ok so he didn’t get physical with any of us but he was verbally abusive and that was just so bizarrely aggressive. I quit not too long after.

  3. some1

    Re: the third paragraph: some dysfunctional companies do encourage you to loop supervisors in on the smallest disagreements between coworkers, so I am not surprised when some LWs are hesitant to go to coworkers with concerns

  4. LBK

    The hesitancy to be direct about issues and the preference for running things through HR or going to the boss first is definitely the most astounding trend to me, although I’ll admit I was the same way not too long ago (that changed after my HR report turned disastrous). I’ve often wondered when reading AAM why that seems to be so common and I’ve never really come up with a satisfying answer.

    1. LBK

      Of course, some of it is confirmation bias in that the people who find it natural to deal with things head on probably don’t end up needing to write in to AAM, but I’ve witnessed the same behavior enough at work to considered a real-world trend and not just a phenomenon specific to this site.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        Yes I’ve noticed this too! People in general aren’t as forthright as they used to be. It’s like there’s all this fear of political correctness and fear of retaliation…

        1. Zillah

          I don’t think it’s fear of “political correctness” – IME, most people who complain about “political correctness” are complaining about having to be sensitive to the feelings of others who have only now been able to speak and actually have people listen to them. And look at what people write in about – I have a hard time believing that “political correctness” is to blame for questions like “What do I do about my boss having whispered conversations with her boss?” or “How do I deal with this very persistent applicant?”

          1. Tinker

            My experience fits with yours — I think the connection, if any, between those things is that for some people “There will be consequences where there weren’t before for not behaving respectfully towards people that you don’t respect for demographic reasons” and “You now have to never do anything that might induce conflict with anyone” are kind of lumped together, because folks don’t necessarily recognize their biases as being a separate thing from interpersonal conflict.

            That, I notice, and there’s that famous “a room that has 40% women is disproportionally dominated by women” thing — people raising issues that pertain to them sounds really noisy and intrusive if the standard is that they are supposed to be silent or nearly so.

        2. The Strand

          I would disagree. I think there’s more fear, per se, than there was just a few decades ago (e.g. the 1990s, when getting a different job was faster, easier). More white collar workers are treated like they are disposable, or have had their pensions, etc., shredded.

          But culturally, I think that plenty of generations were not able to be “forthright” with their bosses because for most people who lived in the 20th century, the job you had, you tried to keep for life.

          1. Kelly O

            Yup. It’s kind of a double-edged sword when you think about it.

            We read all these things about the changing nature of work, and how progressively we need to think about work, and “take your professional development in your own hands” (which I usually feel is code for “we are not paying for your conference, ever”) – it seems like a great employee should have the power and wherewithal to be bold in speaking and to feel their career path isn’t determined by an individual organization.

            Which is great, but many (NOT ALL) companies view people as truly disposable. So when the budget gets tight, the first thing they do is freeze salaries, or let experienced people go in favor of a cheaper line on the budget. Or just cutting out a whole location entirely (that’s what happened to me last year.) It’s shortsighted, but so many people were (and still are) affected by long term unemployment during the most recent recession, they’ll do what they need just to keep the job. So you wind up with either people who cling to the job because it’s what they have, or people who churn up because they have issues wherever they go. And then the powers that be on the board will complain loudly about how “we can’t get anyone good in here” when it’s all of their making.

            Again, I’m not saying every company is like that, but it happens. It creates an environment of fear and scarcity, and people will want to make certain they’re securing themselves as best they can. So they’ll go to HR about Penny in Purchasing because they’re afraid if they rock the boat in the department, they’ll find themselves in line at the unemployment office. Or they’ll take nine levels of crap from Pete in Accounts because he’s friends with the CFO and they don’t want it to get back, but will sit at a desk and “take it” for years.

            Work is changing. That much is certain. I think a lot of these issues we see that make reasonable people shake their heads just comes from a place of fear and scarcity, created by people who don’t understand other people, or who only understand the bottom line.

      2. Hooptie

        Sometimes I think people write in for moral support before confronting an issue head on.

    2. Koko

      At least in America I’d say it’s because as a culture, we lack tools for dealing with conflict and we have generally poor communication skills, and it makes most of us conflict-averse. I’m polyamorous and one of the things that really leaps out at me in dealing with people in that community and outside of it, is that my polyamorous friends have much more highly-developed communications skills because they have to navigate situations that aren’t commonly explored on TV, in books, and in magazines the way monogamous situations are. My monogamous friends do a lot more of the, “What does it mean when he says…” and “How do I get him to realize that…” without it ever seeming to occur to them to just say what they mean and ask what they want to know. Most of the conflict resolution we see actually comes from TV/movies/books/etc where things are dramatic to drive a plot. We don’t have many examples around us of productive, calm, assertive conflict resolution.

      1. Tinker

        Yeah, I absolutely second this. I’m poly and on the trans spectrum, and I do find that I’ve found myself having to deal with things that a lot of people seem to take as axioms and not ever confront directly. It’s particularly odd when older relatives are trying to give me advice on something — touching on that “what does it mean” and “how do I get him to realize” indirect signaling stuff, for instance — and I’m like… “But we… talked about it, and we’re both on the same page. This is a solution for a problem that I don’t have.”

        1. Natalie

          I grew up in a nontraditional family (very blended, basically), and it’s been the same bag as far as axioms go. So many things that people take as givens – “that’s what you do” – are actually not! But it can be very hard for some folk to wrap their head around that.

      2. BRR

        Wow I think this is spot on. I’m gay and never was able to figure this out until you said this but when I do the stereotypical stuff it’s fine but with my wedding people were a little more awkward such as , “what do we call him (my husband)?”. Probably because it’s been explored less and they certainly don’t go into the boring stuff (in terms of entertainment value) in sitcoms such as rights and laws.

      3. Allison Mary

        Also poly, and I also totally agree with your take on this! I share your perception that poly people (as well as people in other non-hetero-normative relationships/arrangements) seem to develop a comfort with addressing uncomfortable situations head-on. If we didn’t develop that skill/comfort… there are many situations that would explode on us very quickly.

        Also, non-violent communication for the win! (I encourage EVERYONE to go read the book Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg)

        1. Nashira

          I think the non-heteronormativity or non-monogamy does help yeah. You can’t fall back on scripts to get you through everything, since the scripts aren’t written yet. It does make for weird moments when you pass as a monogamous, heterosexual couple, then promptly don’t act like the script says you ought.

      4. Not my usual (name)... but nice.

        Another poly reader here! Agreed on the communication skills boost you get navigating a relationship with more than two people.

    3. Myrin

      In my personal experience, the reason for not wanting to deal directly with someone is that I somehow always seem to be dealing with people who react absolutely disastrously to being talked to directly, no matter how polite. Like, blowing up, being super unprofessional, denyin,g and getting defensive. Now, I’ve always been a pretty direct person and don’t usually let this experience deter me but it’s certainly made me (at least initially) more hesitant to approach someone. I still do it, but I’m not as comfortable as I’d be if I knew everyone just reacted cordially to what can be even slightly perceived as criticism.

      1. Anonsie

        This is it for me. I’m an extremely direct person (sometimes excessively so…) but I’m also pretty good at knowing when someone is not going to respond well to it or when being too direct is showing a card I need to be keeping close. Every time I’ve asked “how do I tell gently someone X” here I’m asking “how do I make this as delicate as possible because this person will react really poorly if I do it without using kid gloves.”

        1. Raptor

          I have a friend who’s very direct. I’m not, but I’m really good a diplomacy and the soothing hard feelings stuff.

          Since this is ingrained into our personality, it’s actually really difficult to change. Instead the two of us have built up a system. When I need someone to come in and be really direct, I grab him. When he needs someone to be more diplomatic, he brings me in. Of course, it helps that he and I have a good working relationship as well, in that we talk to one another about the problem or person in question and we’re honest about it. We both win because we use our strengths to their full advantage.

          My advice is, make friends with someone who’s more diplomatic for those situations, and then trust them to do what they do best. And, when they need a stronger, direct approach, step in and help.

  5. Joey

    Is that really surprising though that people don’t like to have tough conversations?

    I think what’s more surprising is that so many people don’t have a grasp of basic employment laws and think unfair or dumb decisions must equal illegal.

    1. Mimmy

      I was about to say something very similar about employment law. Some of the things people think are illegal just boggles my mind.

    2. Drewby

      This. Just because you don’t think it’s fair or you don’t like the way things are, it HAS to be illegal. Even among everyday conversation with other people, they don’t realize that it’s only illegal if it’s directly related race, religion, gender, etc.

    3. Steve G

      I’m not surprised about the is-it-legal questions, only because I am still confused myself. Can you ask someone where they were born if they have an accent, can you ask someone where they are from if they have an interesting last name in an interview? If the subject of family comes up, can you ask about kids? I still don’t know….

      1. LJL

        It’s legal, but generally discouraged as it can been perceived as the basis of discrimination if the person doesn’t get the job. So it’s against many hiring policies, but not illegal.

      2. Lyssa

        You can almost always ask (disability is the exception), but you can’t act based on the answer. The practical takeaway from this, though, is that it’s risky to ask, because if you don’t know, no one can accuse you of having used it, but if you ask, then you don’t hire/don’t promote/fire/etc. the person then there’s evidence that you were at least aware and interested in the characteristic, so someone can at least argue that it played a role in the decision.

        1. Annie

          I think it’s important to remember that research on unconscious bias plays a role here too. Avoiding asking these questions doesn’t just help you avoid the appearance of bias, and doesn’t just help you avoid being sued. It actively helps you avoid knowledge that would likely activate real bias. In other words, it’s not just about managing the applicant’s point of view, but your own as well.

      3. Snowglobe

        You can ASK whatever you want (freedom of speech and all), you just can’t make a hiring decision based on a protected class. Of course, it’s a bad idea to ask certain questions, because it would be difficult to prove that the thing you asked about had no influence in your decision making.

        1. Zillah

          I’m not sure this falls under “freedom of speech” – AFAIK, that only applies to the government. A private employer is perfectly within their rights to take certain things off the table (and, in some cases, is smart to do so).

          I’m also pretty sure that you’re not even allowed to ask about disabilities.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Zillah is actually right that freedom of speech doesn’t enter into it though. The reason you can ask whatever interview questions about ethnicity or religion or whatever isn’t freedom of speech, but rather just that no law prohibits it; the law does prohibit interview questions about disabilities, so legislators could also make it illegal to ask interview questions about ethnicity if they decided to. It’s not an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech, because it’s (intended as) a restriction on discrimination in hiring.

          1. Int

            But we’re talking about legalities here. It being legal to say something does fall under freedom of speech.

            1. Zillah

              Well, not necessarily – see Alison’s post right above this one.

              Not everything that’s legal to say is legal to say because of the first amendment. In this case, it’s legal to ask because, other than disabilities (which it is illegal to even ask about), no one has specifically said that it’s not legal.

    4. nk

      I was just going to say this as well. A lot of people do not react well to being on the receiving end of a tough conversation, so it’s not too surprising that people don’t like to start them.

    5. AllyA

      I find what is and is not legal in the USA to be the most surprising thing! (UK reader here.)

    6. Alex

      Totally agree, and I’ll add that I’m surprised how much weight a lot of people think the term “hostile work environment” holds, when in reality, it usually just means that you’re in a sucky situation and legal recourse isn’t an option (except for legit discrimination of a protected class). Same for people experiencing perceived discrimination thinking it must be illegal, when it isn’t based on a protected class. I get it though – I’ve been reading this blog for years and I don’t think I’ve ever missed a post, and read probably 50-80% of the comments here, so I get it now. I point people here ALL the time as a resource when we get into disagreements about “what is legal”.

      1. Not So NewReader

        I think that a huge part of that problem is we have no other short way of describing a work environment that is mean, nasty to the core, unbearable, vomit on the way to work type of place. People lacking any other strong word latch on to the word “hostile” to describe the setting.
        I get concerned that people’s messages get lost as we try to tell them “hostile” has a legal definition now. I have seen sometimes where people are describing a horrible situation and unwittingly use the word hostile. The next thing that happens is 24 people tell them not to use that word. I wonder if the people ever get helped with their actual problem.

        There are many words out there that have legal definitions that are not the way the word is used in non-legal settings. I was reading definitions for words used in sex crimes. The words’ legal definition is not what we think it is.

    7. neverjaunty

      And in the other direction. It’s amazing how many people think wage theft is OK, or that their employers have power to force them not to quit.

      1. Windchime

        Yes, this one always surprises me, too. When you give your notice, you are not requesting permission to quit. You are informing your workplace that you ARE quitting, and what your last day will be. It’s always puzzling to me when people allow themselves to be pressured into staying, especially when it’s a terrible workplace.

        It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George was trying to break up with his girlfriend and she kept saying, “No. We’re not breaking up.”

      2. Zillah

        Yeah, this always really surprises me, especially since it’s not always people new to the workforce asking about it.

      3. ozy

        I don’t think this is legal uncertainty so much as a response to Alison’s frequent emphasis on talking to past managers of a potential employee. That leads to a (possibly correct!) calculation that the cost of angering one’s manager is greater than the cost of giving up a few thousand dollars of earned income or staying at a crappy job for several extra months.

    8. Sydney Bristow

      I’m fascinated by the people who think something is illegal to the point they want to sue but haven’t given any thought to what they really want from a lawsuit. Or even considered the consequences (good or bad) of filing suit.

    9. Magda

      Not to be contrarian, but I’m surprised that so many people are surprised by “is this legal?” questions. Sure, there are some cases where the answer is flamingly obvious, but employment law doesn’t really get taught in schools (in my experience) or reported heavily in the media unless the violation is truly egregious.

      From personal experience, most of my early employment law “education” took place on an as-needed basis, and it’s easy to imagine that’s how it is for a lot of people who simply haven’t had to deal with an abusive work environment, open wage theft, or what have you.

      1. Rana

        Plus the laws vary from state to state, and apply differently to different kinds of jobs and employers (i.e. government job, versus small employer with fewer than 50 employees, big international firm, and so on…).

      2. Not So NewReader

        It’s been a big beef of mine that schools do very little to prepare people for the work world.

        1. Ž

          And that the things that do prepare people for the work world, they don’t tell you at the time.

          I hated oral exams, I thought it was terribly unfair that my oral exams were worth 100% of my grade when I had so much trouble speaking and could have got better grades writing. But what’s a job interview? An oral exam! I wish someone had explained to me that this was a skill I was going to need one way or another.

          And the same with working in groups, which I hated but most of the adult working world requires you to be able to work with other people most of the time.

          I wish my teachers had explained those things to me and I wish there had been instruction on how to speak and how to work in groups instead of just sink or swim (I mostly sank).

    10. Panda Bandit

      Are you really that surprised since what’s legal and illegal varies wildly by country?

    11. Sunflower#2

      This!

      Especially those who break every rule but think they are being treated unfairly, but only the employer is acting illegally.

    12. Mike C.

      Where or how would you expect most people to learn these sorts of things that it surprises you when the questions come up?

      The only time I was ever exposed to labor law and history was in AP US History, and even then it was a minor topic.

    13. Z

      Honestly, these questions don’t surprise me at all.

      I’m an Australian and I can tell you this: your country has terrible labour laws. Like, really, REALLY bad. Workers in your country have the least legal rights protecting them from the depredations of their employers of any first-world country, I’m pretty sure.

      A solid 90% of the “is this legal” questions that are asked here WOULD be illegal in my country… and also probably the UK, Canada, Germany, any of the scandanavian countries. Some of them would even be illegal in some developing countries. At the very least if there’s not an actual law against it, there is a Fair Work commission that you can appeal to if your employer did these things.

      It shouldn’t be too surprising that people who are probably exposed to media about these other countries believe that things that are not legal in most other places are not legal in the USA.

      1. De (Germany)

        What’s actually surprising to me is how many “is it legal” questions are met with “and how could this be illegal, anyway?” Um, lots of countries have laws like that – we manage just fine with them.

    14. Kelly O

      This is totally mine.

      I can get not understanding how to deal with something, or having a difficult person in your office, or not even really being sure how to tell Tom his ginger candies smell awful.

      But “is this legal?” makes me cringe. There is a huge difference between legal and smart, or legal and common-sense, or legal and fair, or legal and just the right thing to do.

      Different does not equal illegal. Stupid does not equal illegal. Heck, even just “wrong” doesn’t equal illegal.

      And if it bugs you that much, and it’s not changing in the culture, why on earth are you still there and not taking the time to work on your resume or make a call? (And I’ll climb off the soapbox now. Apologies.)

  6. CC

    I’m surprised by some of the drama and pettiness that some report. I know it happens, but it is hard to comprehend how some employees and employers can be so ridiculous and unprofessional.

    1. jag

      I feel the same. I accept it happens, but wonder how common it is. The competitive environment so many organizations operate in makes me wonder how those organizations survive when they waste energy on stuff like that.

      I’m also surprised by the logical fallacies many commenters make. The most annoying, to me, is when someone says they’ve never seen something and therefore that thing doesn’t exist/happen. Unless they have very broad work experience or are very widely read, they can’t determine something doesn’t exist/happen from their own experience. You can speculate it is rare, but saying it simply doesn’t happen it too much.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes, this too! And also people who are convinced that things only work one particular way, usually a negative one. (Like, “you should NEVER give more than two weeks notice.” Well, no.)

        1. Rana

          Ugh, this sort of thinking is rampant on small college campuses, where you have a somewhat isolated group of people who’ve been doing their thing unchallenged for decades. The better ones take advantage of the fresh perspectives new employees bring; the worst foster a culture of believing that their particular institution’s idiosyncrasies are universal Truth (and, worse, obvious and logical to all, from those who’ve been there for years, to those who just arrived, so none of them warrant explanation or head’s up warnings). It’s beyond frustrating.

            1. Rana

              Point!

              Yeah, you can get it on the big ones too, but usually there are enough new people turning over to make it a bit harder to convince oneself that This Is The Way All Libraries/Tenure Processes/Faculty Meetings/etc. Are. The ones that I found most frustrating were ones that were (a) small, (b) relatively isolated geographically, and (c) had a sizable cohort of older faculty who all arrived at about the same time, and tended to forget that new people didn’t share their decades-plus collective experiences. Think new person at a giant family reunion who’s not in on all the the many, many in jokes, and you get the idea.

          1. Sunflower#2

            I work for a college too and it kills me how many tenured wastes of space rot in their chairs till retirement, creating havoc and turnover at every turn. And im talking staff!

        2. Mike C.

          I tend to err in the negative because I’d rather prepare for the storm that never comes than be caught out by the one that does.

      2. Another Ellie

        In a similar vein, people who assume that something is more widespread than it is. I had a co-worker who is young and has no experience outside of one, small company, declare that he would immediately discard resumes that list MS Office suite, Word, or Excel as skills. His reasoning was that it makes you look naive to list them when *everybody* knows how to use them. I was quietly amused, and look forward to the day that he discovers that this is not the case, even for young people.

        1. neverjaunty

          It’s really the same mistake, though, of assuming one’s own experience is and should be universal. It’s the same thing with people posting they they don’t understand why people do (or don’t do) X, because they personally don’t do (or do) X.

        2. Cruella DaBoss

          Agreed! We once sent a candidate to a pre-employment skills test, only to find this otherwise sterling candidate could not type at all.

        3. jag

          And even if that person was right, is discarding those resumes a good screen to narrow the candidate pool?

    2. Jeanne

      I am not surprised by any of that. I’ve experienced so much of it at all levels. As far as I’ve seen, most unprofessional behavior is never addressed and anyone who speaks up about problems is punished.

      I am jealous of anyone like you who finds this surprising. Can I work with you?

  7. BRR

    Kind of on the same topic: You’ve written a lot of answers, I know you’ve said that these surprises keep it interesting but are you bored of doing this after how much content you’ve produced?

      1. Joey

        Hmm I would think youd get tired of the same stuff over and over, especially the really basic stuff. I thought this might be a reason you refer folks to old posts.

        1. CrazyCatLady

          Referring people to old posts prevents her audience from getting bored of seeing the same old stuff, too.

          1. danr

            I’m usually surprised by the old posts. When I started reading AAM I tried to read all of the old posts. I didn’t succeed since I kept getting sidetracked by the suggestions at the bottom of the posts and I’d wander off.

      2. Allison Mary

        I’m glad you’re not bored yet! I don’t know what I’ll do when Ask A Manager is no longer producing new posts. Probably cry like a little kid. :(

        1. Sunflower#2

          Seriously. This is the only blog that holds my attention daily. I’m kinda a workplace etiquette nerd which I’m okay with.

          1. Sara M

            I’m addicted to this blog and I don’t even face most of these issues! (I’m self-employed.)

            It’s Alison’s personality. She feels like a kindred spirit to me. I’m 99% on board with all her advice.

  8. BRR

    And I’m surprised at what people think is illegal. Some questions make complete sense, some confuse the company’s rules vs. law (been there), but some are so specific that I have to wonder how people think legislatures work.

    1. WolfmansBrother

      This!
      I used to work in a law library providing reference assistance, and sometimes people would come in and want to find what law would justify basically their feeling of being slighted.

      Although, separate from that the best question was when someone sincerely wanted me to point her to the book in the library where she could find Murphy’s Law.

      1. Cordelia Naismith

        Although, separate from that the best question was when someone sincerely wanted me to point her to the book in the library where she could find Murphy’s Law.

        I literally LOL’ed at this.

    2. Nerdling

      Poorly, BRR. Many people think they work poorly. My state constitution still forbids candidates for public office who have engaged in duels; I have no problems imagining that they’re capable of creating any number of seemingly asinine laws. ;)

      1. Not So NewReader

        Here we still have to take our guns to church on Sunday. ughhhhh. These old laws never got purged off the records.

        1. vpc

          If you’re in the state I’m thinking of, it’s “blunderbusses” specifically, not all guns. So if you don’t have a blunderbus, you’re covered ;)

    3. De (Germany)

      Many countries have really specific labor laws. Like, how much square meters of office space you get, how much natural light at their work place an employee is entitled to, whether you may contact someone who is sick, etc.

  9. HR Recruiter

    Oh please tell me there is an update to the employee putting curses on coworkers! That would make my rainy Friday so much better.

  10. Steve G

    Not surprise per se, but it is astounding that some of the people OPs write in about are managers at all. I think that if management was paid at a similar level as line-staff, that a lot of these bad managers wouldn’t be managing. I know from past co, that incompetent boss was promoted to that role after years of asking for “growth.” It would have been much easier on the group if the “growth” (i.e. a big raise) took place in a way that didn’t put them in a position where their lack of communication skills and lack of willingness to deal with difficult situations impacted everyone. It was also demoralizing for all to see a coworker get a huge pay increase to do a job that they were worse at that their original position.

    Another thing that surprises me is that so many companies seem uselessly rigid about schedules, PTO, and being late. It all seems so petty from the outside when you see people leaving jobs or not taking jobs for what should be very insignificant scheduling issues…., 15 minutes here or there, or needing a day off every once in a while………

    1. Christy

      Yes!! A manager in my office is literally only in it for the money. He would be so much better as a super-doer than as a manager, but he wanted the pay bump, and he wasn’t gonna get it as a doer.

    2. The RO-Cat

      so many companies seem uselessly rigid about schedules, PTO, and being late

      I tend to think that at least some of the poor management behaviors have their roots back home, in the early days of childhood and teenage. It’s the time when beliefs cement and if, for example, the manager-to-be sees as a kid his father, the model, being rigid with family rules, odds are they will become rigid adult that value rule-keeping more than efficiency or relationships, because they learned that at home. Or if the father / mother snickered at “lowly workers” blue-collar types, the kid has good chances of becoming arrogant and aggressive – because that was the lesson they learned at home.

      A second cause, in my experience, is simply not knowing how to “do”management. That is easier to fix – there are courses, books and information is floating around freely. The former cause is way more complicated, because some people will go to great lengths to change environment, other people included, but will not budge when challenged to change themselves.

      1. Not So NewReader

        I tend to agree. I think sometimes people are letting go of information about their family life and their upbringing. They are totally unaware, of course.

    3. Traveler

      +1 on the growth comment. I know a number of managers that would rather not be managers and have said as much. They wanted the prestige and the money though, so they took it. We really need to find other ways of offering those things without making everyone miserable in the process.

    4. Puddin

      I think there is leadership and there is management. Too many times people with the manager title are not great leaders – or even OK ones. Not necessarily their fault, it could be training, lack of resources, whatever…but when you cannot lead, I think you fall back onto managing and micro managing these kinds of things (PTO, tardiness, lunch breaks, etc). Enforcing rules is pretty straightforward. An otherwise overwhelmed or apathetic manager now has a measuring stick to show that they are in control of their team and therefore doing a ‘good job’.

      If the executive and C Suite levels operate this way, this behavior trickles down and easily becomes company culture – especially if it is incentivized.

    5. neverjaunty

      Well, though one person’s “uselessly rigid” may be another’s “fair and consistent” or “following the law”. For example there are a lot of employers who think it’s no big deal to make employees come in early or stay late unpaid for ‘just a few minutes here or there’….

  11. Mad Non Hatter

    I have to admit that I find a lot of things which get posted very surprising. But then I’m originally from a different environment (the U.K.) and things which would be illegal over there are legal here in the U.S. I find it very surprising that some of the things which I take as written aren’t true at all.

    But then a lot of the reasons I read this blog are to better understand the U.S. working environment that I am now a part of.

    1. Hummingbird

      Could you and Alison collaborate on a post to say what is legal/illegal over there vs here? I think that would be most interesting.

      1. Mad Non Hatter

        I’d certainly be willing to collaborate on such a topic.

        I think the concept which baffled me the most was the whole “Exempt / Non-Exempt” employee thing. I had to do a lot of back and forth with research to understand what that entailed, especially since I’m an exempt employee and hadn’t realised what that legally entailed on my part.

        1. Liz

          I’m in the same boat as you – I started reading AAM to find out what was normal in US corporate culture (and the varying flavors thereof) because so many things in the UK are different! Like this whole “at will” thing.

          1. Dynamic Beige

            We don’t have that in Canada, either. It blows my mind that such a thing can happen.

    2. MP

      Totally agree on the laws being very different here in the US. I started out in Australia and the idea of an “at will” contract was so foreign to me. It took me a long time to feel confident that I could take on financial obligations because I was paranoid that I could lose my job at any moment.

      1. danr

        “At will” is not a general “we’ll get rid of everyone” way of doing business. People can be employed “at will” and retire from a company after 30+ years.

    3. Sarah

      I find it weird that some people in the USA think that the contracts that are standard in Europe mean people can’t ever leave, and that fire-at-will is a good idea… Such a culture clash! But then, when “we love the NHS” was a thing a few years back, seeing USA folk being horrified at our health system was really shocking too…

      1. Rocky

        I have truly tried to get my head around the US health-care thing. It’s so weird to me that a country that is all about individual freedom (I know it’s a sterotype) can uncomplainingly allow employers access to their health information (weight! medications!) and even let the employer/insurer decide what health interventions are allowed.*shrug*.

        1. TootsNYC

          well, the employer doesn’t decide what is allowed, nor does the insurance company.

          They only decide what will be covered, i.e., paid for.

  12. Kat

    What surprises me is how many people have “phone aversions” and think scheduled work start times should be fluid and not fixed.

    How do some of these people even function in real life?

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        I mean, it’s an internet message board. My super gregarious husband doesn’t hang out on blogs because he loves to talk things out in person or on the phone. I’m guessing phone haters show up here in greater proportion than in the wider public.

        1. Nichole

          As one of those “phone averse” people, I was also surprised by it-I thought it was such a strange hangup (no pun intended) that it makes me feel silly to bring it up. I’d make a guess that you’re onto something, though. My partner is very extroverted, and he rarely reads blogs, but frequently listens to podcasts (I don’t generally care for them) and is comfortable with more types of realtime communication than I am.

    1. Bekx

      I feel the same way. I don’t LIKE talking on the phone, because I much prefer it in email and I feel like I may be bothering someone but to be so adverse to the phone that you leave your desk when it rings or refuse to answer is just…odd.

      I’m a millennial, and a lot of my friends seem to have this terrifying fear of calling people. My one friend’s air conditioning broke in her apartment and she had her mom call maintenance to fix it because “it’s too awkward”. Blows my mind.

      1. Koko

        For some people this might just be lack of practice. I hated making phone calls and avoided them until my first job after grad school where I immediately had to start making a lot of calls to constituents. I confided to a friend after my second or third day how nervous I was about beginning the calls the next day, and he said, “Well, there’s only one thing to do:” and I perked up, waiting for some protip that was going to help me get over my nerves, and he continued, “Just smile and dial.”

        Surprisingly the advice helped. It helped me see that I was making a big mental obstacle out of something that was really very straightforward and that the only thing to do was plow through. Within a month or so of being at that job I’d lost my phone aversion entirely – it was entirely a function of my lack of experience making phone calls to anyone but close friends or family for my entire life up to that point. Once I got some experience doing it, it became run-of-the-mill.

        1. Wren

          In my case it is too much practice. For a long time, I worked in call centers. For the most part, I don’t talk on the phone unless you are paying me to.

          1. voluptuousfire

            +1 million. Been there, done that, have the tshirt, magnet and shot glass to prove it. I only answer my phone if I recognize the number. Thank God for Google Voice otherwise.

            Don’t get me started on playing phone tag with recruiters. Just fricking email me! My email address is on my voicemail!

          2. OfficePrincess

            Same. Two years after leaving the (inbound) call center, I’m ok with calling other people when I know who I’m calling and why, but my stomach still drops when a number I don’t recognize pops up on the caller id. I’ll take a deep breath and answer it, but I’m glad it’s pretty rare!

    2. Hummingbird

      For me 2 reasons:

      I can’t see facial expression.

      People don’t speak clearly enough half the time and I hate that awkwardness of saying “Can you repeat that?”

      1. AnonyMiss

        I’m completely with you. I also have somewhat of an accent (English is my second language), and while people find it almost unnoticeable (or slight, but endearing?) in person, over the phone, it becomes magnified, and people have to ask me to repeat myself all the time. Doesn’t help that it’s not a common accent either (e.g. not Asian, Hispanic, or Russian/Slavic).

        1. OhNo

          Yeah, I think that a lot of people unconciously lip read in person to help them understand (I know I do, since I work with a lot of people for whom English is a second language). Once that crutch is gone, things can get a lot more frustrating for people who aren’t inclined to be patient and understanding.

      2. Shortie

        My two reasons are similar, Hummingbird. I hear just fine in person, but for some reason cannot understand much of anything over the phone. And facial expression is huge for understanding people properly. Talking in person is my preference, but if I can’t do that, I’d rather email since you can at least see the words.

      3. Rana

        For me it’s that it’s hard for me to remember spoken conversations. I can take notes, yes, but an email is much clearer. It’s also hard for me to word something correctly and precisely off the cuff; written “speech” allows me to check over what I’m saying before sharing it.

        I can handle basic things like asking for a business’s hours because it follows a predictable script on both ends, and I can handle casual conversation with friends because precision and recall aren’t essential. But for important professional stuff? I’d rather work with text. It’s much less ephemeral, and far easier to control.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          Yes! That’s just how I feel! (Likewise, like Tau below, I have some auditory processing difficulty.)

          1. Rana

            Oh, ugh, there’s that aspect of it too. What I have is minor compared to what Tau is describing, but it’s still a factor. I can’t, for example, listen properly if I’m holding the phone to my right ear. My hearing’s perfectly fine in that ear, but it’s like the words require 3x the effort to understand needed by the left ear. (Bizarre, eh?) And I almost always have to close my eyes or stare at something blank if I’m not to be overwhelmed by visual input to the point of, again, not hearing properly.

            I’ve also been known to tell people in person to not talk to me if I’m not wearing my glasses (like if I’m switching between sunglasses and indoor glasses) – again, I can’t “hear” them properly if I can’t see them.

            Visually dominant, yes indeedy.

      4. Tau

        Aiyee, your second point. I have some auditory processing issues – I need subtitles on video, too – and they tend to be very bad when it comes to the phone. A phone conversation can be completely incomprehensible to me if there’s background noise/the connection is bad/the person on the other side isn’t speaking clearly, or has an accent I’m not familiar with, or is just someone I haven’t spoken to before so that I’m not used to their cadence… face-to-face is light-years easier.

        Also, I have a speech disorder. Believe me, it’s even less fun than usual when you’re forced to interact solely through speech.

        1. MsChanandlerBong

          I’m in a similar position. I usually do okay speaking to people in person because I can read lips and use nonverbal cues to help me along. However, talking on the phone is a whole different animal. I tend to mis-hear words that sound similar (so “lake” becomes “cake,” for example). It’s not so great to deal with professionally, but it leads to hilarity at home.

          Robot Chicken: Blah blah blah “Tube Top Jones.”
          Me: “Who is Tube Top Jones”?
          Husband: TWO TOUGH JOES. TWO TOUGH JOES. They’re talking about G.I. Joe.

      5. Kelly O

        My thing is that sometimes there are just accents that are difficult to understand. I can figure out what you want in an email. I may not catch it quite as quickly over the phone.

        I realize that’s my own hang-up, but it’s one reason I sometimes dread picking up the phone when I see a number I recognize, and know the call will take three times as long because I’ll have to figure out what they want (and that I probably sound as strange to them as they do to me, so we’re both frustrated.)

      1. Kat

        I think that’s a blue collar/white collar difference. I have worked in management in many blue collar jobs and there is no flexible start time. A shift is scheduled for a reason and strolling in 15-20 minutes late affects someone else going home on time. Those employees dont last long.

        1. The Strand

          Yes – but the flip side is that shifts have clear cut beginnings and endings. I’ve been a blue collar worker, and now I’m a white collar worker. My better half and I miss one thing about our old blue collar jobs: when you were done, you were done. Finito. That was it. Go out and see a movie, or go to the lake, or whatever – you can quit worrying until 7 or 8 on Monday morning.

          There’s sometimes an assumption that white collar work is cushy and that people don’t work as hard. Tech work, for example, has many, many people working from home or on flexible start times, but the “mushroom people” (IT folks) at many companies also get paged at home in the middle of the night, work overtime day after day, and fight a lot of fires. At my last position, I saw how the IT department folks were treated like punching bags; they were envied for getting to work Friday from home, but the average employee was able to work 7 to 4 or 8 to 5, and never pulled overtime, and never got asked to work on the weekend.

          Allison has also posted that a research study that found those with later circadian rhythms, who come in later and work late, are mistakenly assumed to be less productive than those who are early birds and who come in early and leave early. I’ve seen that impact the career of one of my friends in particular, who works really, really hard, even when she’s supposed to be on vacation, working 60-70 hours a week, but gets sideeyed for “strolling in”.

          1. Not So NewReader

            Is that what that is a perception of not working so hard because of it being a night shift. I don’t know. I have done a lot of night shifts and I have never worked so hard in my life. Recently a day shift friend of mine changed to night shift. She was absolutely floored by the differences between the shifts. She thought she was getting a sweet deal??

        2. OfficePrincess

          +1! I need a butt in a seat or our whole operation is affected. If you’re not here on time/call off last minute, the person before you has to stay, I have to scramble to find someone to come in, or I have to rearrange my schedule to come in. Trust me, you don’t want to see me after I’ve come in at 10pm on a Saturday to cover for you. Just show up.

    3. Alter_ego

      For me, the phone aversion is more that I have a difficult time hearing if I can’t see the person’s mouth. So if it’s an option, I’d rather email or walk over to their cubicle.

      For flexible start times, in my office, there is no business reason to be in at a certain time. We have one, whole office meeting a week at 10 AM that everyone needs to be in for. Other than that, people are in and out all of the time on site visits and surveys, and meeting with contractors. If my boss started saying “you 100% must be in at 8 every morning” then yeah, that would piss me off. Because there’s no reason for it than to make them feel better. And if I’m going to work until 12 or 1 AM for you the night before, then you’d better give me the leeway to not come in until 9:30 the next day. If having me in at 8AM is the hill you want to die on, then enjoy watching me walk out the door at exactly 5 every day, deadlines be damned.

      1. Tax Nerd

        What Alter_ego said about flexible start times. If I’m working super late, I don’t feel the need to come in early the next day, unless I have a client meeting scheduled.

        I did have a boss who thought we should be there at 8:00am sharp every day, though he would have preferred 7:00am or earlier. He thought all problems could be solved by coming in early. I finally had to have a come to Jesus meeting because I was only getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night and it was affecting my work. He relented a bit, since we didn’t work directly together anyway, but he acted like I blackmailed him into a 30% pay raise. So glad I’m not there anymore.

        I don’t get phone aversion, At All. If a client has questions, I’d much rather talk on the phone than try to email a decision tree. If A then B, if X then Y, if R or S then T. And I can adjust my level of detail by their level of understanding. If they can get it, I can go higher level, and move on. If they want to dig into details, I can go down that path with them. Trying to do it via email is just time consuming. (Which they have to pay for.)

        A few years ago, a friend told me that she’d rather do interview phone screens via Instant Messenger of some sort because of phone aversion. I quickly decided that I did not want to get to that point, so I made an effort to use the phone even more, even for difficult conversations.

    4. Fabulously Anonymous

      I don’t have a phone aversion, but I won’t answer my phone unless it’s a scheduled call. It’s just the nature of my job. If someone needs to speak to me, we set up a time and then I can give the caller my undivided attention.

      1. Koko

        Yeah, that’s also true for me. I don’t mind the phone, but I resent the hell out of unscheduled phone calls that interrupt my workflow. I understand that the person calling thinks it will be so much faster to interrupt me and get an immediate answer than to email and wait for my response, but there’s no reason why they NEED a faster answer. They just WANT it, so they impose on me and disrupt my attention for their own convenience.

    5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Well, that’s a little rude.

      I see what you’re getting at with the phone aversions (although plenty of people have an aversion and manage it in order to function as they need to), but I don’t really understand your point about scheduled work times. Aside from the four months I spent working retail in high school, every job I’ve had has had fluid work times. It’s really normal, in some industries. Why wouldn’t people think that’s how it should work, if it actually does work that way for them or others?

      1. Muriel Heslop

        There is no fluid work time in education. It’s a set time – we even have bells to remind us to hurry lest we leave our children unattended. It can be a hard mindset to undo (and it’s reinforced for us in 12+ years of education that things have set times to begin and end.)

        1. Zillah

          Right – but that’s in education. The same thing is true of a lot of shift work. I think that pretty much everyone recognizes that fluid work hours aren’t reasonable in all lines of work, so I’m not really clear on why the reverse is often seen as reasonable.

    6. Meg Murry

      I had a “phone aversion” and have since gotten over it, especially after a long stint in customer service. I’ve also learned to write out a mini script/bullet points so I know what I’m going to say before I pick up the phone when I’m the one making the call.

      As a teen I used to pretty much panic at the idea of picking up the phone and calling someone who wasn’t my best friend. I think part of it now is that you have far fewer calls where when you call you don’t know exactly who is going to pick up, and the other person doesn’t know its you. As a kid of the 80s/90s, I had to call my friends and make small talk with their parents, say who it was and who I wanted to speak to – and answer the phone when it rang and it was for my parents.

      Now with cell phones you generally know exactly who you are calling and exactly who is calling you. My 7 year old has never answered the phone unless it was one of his grandparents, and he can see its them from caller ID – whereas I’m pretty sure I was answering the phone not long after I could talk.

      But I still don’t answer calls from “unknown” “caller ID unavailable” or numbers I don’t recognize unless I’m expecting a call from a job or similar – that’s what voicemail is for. Or as they said once on HIMYM: “What, answer the phone when I don’t know who it is? What is this, 1994?”

    7. jag

      I’m in an office with 35 people. With the exception of two or three jobs, fluid start times are not a problem. It depends on the nature of the work. We’re dealing with long-term projects that relate to global teams, so we’re used to people working at different times and we don’t have the need that everyone be in at X time.

      And in particular, due to the global nature of our work we sometimes have to be in phone/Skype meetings way outside normal work hours. It simply would not fly to require staff to be that flexible in terms of working odd hours and not allow them to also be flexible about not working at normal business hours.

      My wife works in a global organization of tens of thousands of people (my org is only 50 people) and she can do the same.

      That is our real life.

    8. Kathlynn

      For myself it’s part of my anxiety disorder (general and social anxiety). And it’s very complex (multiple anxiety triggers in the one action). I’m receiving treatment for my anxiety. But it’s not that easy to over come. (my anxiety is beyond just being a bit nervous that most people I’ve talked to express). I do make phone calls, but it takes a lot of effort. (I have no problems answering the phone though)

      It has to do with the social part, possibly disturbing/interrupting someone. Worry over what/how to say something, their reaction, and things like this.

    9. Kelly L.

      I dislike the phone. I was a lousy telemarketer, but at every other job I’ve done ok. It’s not that I can’t talk on the phone if needed. It’s just not my preference. I think I’d boil it down to (1) everybody has a lousy connection and it’s hard to make out what people are saying, and (2) I’m often in a situation where I don’t have authority, but where, if I don’t word things absolutely perfectly, someone will pop up a month from now and say “That lady (meaning me) said XYZ (where XYZ is a warped interpretation of what I said). I like the paper trail, and I like having the time to think out my words before they are transmitted and make sure there’s no way they can be misinterpreted into someone’s pipe dream of what they wanted me to say.

      1. Shortie

        Oh, yes. # 2 is an important one in my job as well. It’s easy to send an e-mail to co-workers summarizing what you said during a phone call (to create a paper trail), but it’s not always easy with customers. Sometimes you don’t have their e-mail and sometimes they just plain won’t give it to you. I swear I think some of them use the phone for the express purpose of twisting your words later. Wow, that was cynical, but it does cross my mind…

      2. Jennifer

        Hear, hear. “So and so saaaaaid….”

        I don’t think I do so well in non-thought-out conversations, either.

      3. College Career Counselor

        Everybody has a lousy connection now because everyone has a cell phone. Cell phones do a lot of great things, but crystal-clear quality ain’t often one of them.

      4. Not So NewReader

        Telephone connections did not used to be this crappy. It’s not just cells or cell to landline, it’s also landline to landline is also really crappy now. I noticed a deterioration in quality when they started putting more and more wires underground.

    10. Traveler

      Really? We have no real reason for the phone today – nothing that messages, texts, or in person meetings couldn’t solve. There are the occasional times when if both people are efficient phone users its the better form of communication, but I think there are plenty of ways to be perfectly functional without a phone.

      The only person I still talk to on the phone with any regularity is my mother and that’s because she’s not entirely tech savvy. Anyone else I text/message and talk to in person. The phone is irritating and I hate when people are overly dependent on it and have to call for everything when a quick one line email or message would do the trick.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I use the phone a lot in my work and I can’t think of another way to get most of that stuff done (well, without traveling to people’s offices to coach them in person or having them come to me to be interviewed, and I don’t want to do that). So I can’t quite agree there’s no use for it at all.. but I’d agree there’s almost no use for the unscheduled call (although I do still enjoy having those with my sister, nieces, and mom).

        1. Traveler

          Oh yes. I should clarify – there are definitely positions and times when phones are necessary. I worked for years in a job where I was 100% phone dependent, and that was pretty much all I did all day. I was more responding to the question:

          “How do some of these people even function in real life?”

          And was thinking that if you do have a phone aversion (and aren’t in one of those phone specific jobs – I assume you wouldn’t if that was the case) its absolutely possible to function without using the phone.

          1. BRR

            It might be possible to function but I would say there’s a small number of things that would be better by phone (basically emergencies).

            For those who hate being interrupted is it that big of a deal? I’m only asking because it doesn’t bother me. My thought is with my ADD that I’m never that immersed that much so it’s not an inconvenience to pull me out of a task.

            1. Traveler

              I have a very detail oriented job. When someone calls in the middle and we have to get into a completely unrelated discussion that is not time sensitive, it’s very derailing. It takes a bit to get back into sync with what I was doing. If this happens multiple times, it’s lost productivity. I’d rather just get emails and answer them all in one go during a break in work. It’s not the end of the world, but it is frustrating at times.

              1. BRR

                It’s good to know. Part of my issue with my ADD is I’m not sure what my end goal should be.

      2. Uh?

        I can’t imagine trying to set up meetings for my boss through email – I’ve tried it, it takes DAYS, whereas just picking up the phone it can be done in minutes

    11. Tinker

      See, this kind of surprises me and I’m kind of at a loss to explain it — the way I live, which is entirely “real life”, happens to be structured in a way where neither of those things are necessary.

      Phone wise, although I’m not incapable of using a phone, I’m not very wild about it and it’s not an especially effective mode of communication to me. But I also don’t use it much. My friends are all text-or-in-person folks, and we communicate through instant messengers and private chatrooms that are semi-asynchronous. At work, similarly, you send an email or instant message or you walk over to your desk — most of us don’t even have company phones. About the only people in my life who call me that I need to talk to are my parents, my martial arts instructor, and my dentist — and I know all their numbers. So declining calls that I don’t recognize basically means that I don’t talk to telemarketers, and I don’t see talking to telemarketers as a crucial life activity that I need to adapt to.

      On the “fluid start time” side — I don’t get assigned to do things for a particular period of time or in a certain place, generally. Pretty much everything for me is tasks like “write this test plan”, “run that test plan”, “create this automation system”, et cetera. So whether I start doing this at 8:30 or 8:40 in the morning is generally immaterial — I don’t actually know offhand when it was that I got in today, actually. Also, pretty much all of our stuff is out on the Internet — if I take my work laptop with me, I can have access to pretty much everything I would have access to at work, and my personal laptop has everything that I need except local files that I might be working on. So if, say, something comes up and I end up running test plans all weekend, I might do this from my coffee table in between loads of laundry. Conversely, if I have a dentist appointment then I just go — and take messages on the corporate instant messenger when I’m not being scraped at.

      So basically, to me it’s kind of hard to see where the problem would be, as there’s no reason for me to have a fixed start time or to be much enthused at talking on the phone, and yet everything gets done perfectly fine anyway.

    12. C Average

      Honestly, the phone just seems weird and archaic to me, and I’m surprised people use it when there are alternatives available.

      If we’re in the same office and you need to converse with me in real time, let’s meet. If you have to briefly impart information or ask a question, why wouldn’t you do it in a way that creates a permanent, searchable record of what you’ve said, rather than relying on the probably faulty memory of another human? Just text or email.

      I talk to my mother and a few close but geographically distant friends for pleasure, and I sometimes talk to people in Legal about sensitive topics that specifically need to NOT be memorialized. Otherwise, there’s almost always another method of communication that works better.

      I wouldn’t say I’m phone AVERSE, but it does annoy me when people or businesses will only let me connect by phone, and it makes me inclined to seek out alternatives that let me connect by email instead.

      Start times are VERY fluid in my office. It’s the first such workplace I’ve ever been in–everywhere else I’ve worked, you got there at 7:55 so you could clock in by 8. It’s definitely a different mindset, but it’s pretty prevalent.

      1. Not So NewReader

        The problem we have here is that there are too many places that do not have internet. And some of the places never will have internet- the companies say there is no money in it for them.
        We had a bit of an issue here when they tried removing the phones from along the highway. People forgot the landlines must stay in place because cells don’t work. Again, probably never will work. No money in it.

        HA! I have several stories of the cable company saying “It will cost you 10k to run a line to your house.” People agree to pay the 10k and the cable company STILL refuses to do it.

    13. Stephanie

      I don’t mind the phone. I am aware this makes me an anomaly for a millennial. Having gotten caught up in seemingly endless back-and-forth text sessions usually resulting from something being unclear or misinterpreted, I can see the benefit to a call. I think, too, a phone call can add a dimension missing from a text or email (I answered a bunch of interview questions over email once and it was really weird). When I worked in law, our clients also didn’t want to communicate anything via email due to the possibility of things coming up in discovery.

      That being said, I think the key is just know when is appropriate to use which communication form.

      Start time, depends on your environment. If coverage is involved, I get where you’re coming from.

    14. Vancouver Reader

      I work in a school and I wish we would switch over to email rather than voicemail when having parents call in about their kids. I have such a hard time catching names sometimes, some because of accents and not every last name is a Smith or Jones. It’d be so much easier if I got it in writing instead. That said, we haven’t gone that way, so I have to deal a lot by phone.

    15. Former Diet Coke Addict

      Some industries are not well set up to do everything via email. This blog tends to skew towards urban people and people in more Internet-friendly businesses, but there are absolutely industries where clients aren’t comfortable with email or things go much faster and more smoothly just talking on the phone. For every person who hates talking on the phone because it’s easier/faster to resolve with a one-line email, there’s someone else who hates dealing with the back-and-forth emailing when you could talk for five minutes on the phone, answer everyone’s questions, and go forward.

      Really, the work world has a million different variations. People function just fine in different environments because they work for them.

      1. Stephanie

        I had someone who worked in sales for one of the food distributors (like a U.S. Foods/Sysco) talk up the benefits of having a flip phone for work, saying that her customers (a lot of small restaurant owners) were mostly phone people.

    16. anonymous phone dislike

      When everyone had landlines and I was a teenager, I had a close friend who was not great for me. She was very clingy. My parents had a small business.

      My friend would call me to talk. I wouldn’t pick up because I wasn’t home, I was busy, etc. She would keep calling for hours, holding my parents’ landline hostage so that their customers couldn’t talk to them until I had a satisfactory conversation with her.

      Absolutely hated phones after this. When I heard a phone ring, I could feel my blood pressure rise.

      Of course I’m over it now because it really is inconvenient to hate phones that much. But yeah, along with speech or hearing issues, something like this can be a reason for “phone aversion.”

    17. Jennifer

      I literally don’t remember things very well if you tell them to me over a phone with no visuals. I find it very draining to try to focus that hard on your intermittent voice going in and out of volume/reception while everyone behind me at work is making a damn racket.

    18. Lore

      I have no personal issue with the phone. But I work in an open plan office where we do work that requires concentration, and I’m acutely aware of being disruptive to my coworkers when I’m on the phone.

    19. Lily in NYC

      That’s not very nice. I am a stellar employee and have major phone anxiety and I’ve been like this for my entire nice. Way to make light of something that really bothers me!

  13. Sandy

    Two things genuinely surprise me, but they are mostly from the comments rather than the comments themselves.

    The first is the emphasis on psychological issues/mental illness. Whether it’s “I’m afraid I’m too lazy to work” –> seek counselling, or don’t pull pranks, it might trigger someone’s phobia, it comes up WAY more than I would have otherwise expected it to.

    The second is the fear of violence in or around the workplace. The letter that sticks out most in my mind about this is the one where the woman was unhappy about the parking situations at her office, and it was suggested that it was because she might get attacked between her office and her car. Or people being concerned that their coworkers would become violent if they tried to address something. Another one was the letter from the woman concerned about the homeless people in front of her building (actually, some of the comments on the latter revived my faith in humanity!)

    Maybe it’s because I’m not from the USA, but I find those two trends really unusual.

    1. miki

      Two weeks ago I went to a full day training (off site) and topic was Three minutes to live : active shooter training.
      I also come from a country that’s been through the war and I never had this type of training while there.
      US: I think the policy is be prepared, which I think is fine; but honestly, most of my coworkers will just freeze if it comes to it at my workplace (being told that we work in an excellent building … … to die in (!) doesn’t help either)

      1. BananaPants

        We did active shooter training maybe 2 years ago. Our corporate campus security director and the town’s police chief gave it. It gave me nightmares, mainly because I was pregnant with our second child at the time. What stuck in my head is that if all else failed and we came face to face with the shooter, we were instructed to throw books, lamps, computer equipment because it would literally be a fight for our lives – one that the presenters honestly said we were likely to lose. Also, the statement was made that if you got shot you’d probably die, because the police would not stop to render aid because they’d have to neutralize the shooter and then they’d need to secure the building before EMS would be allowed in. So yeah, not very cheerful thoughts – especially not for a pregnant lady.

        We actually had the training because a contractor who was a self-proclaimed gun nut started saying threatening things to employees and his contract was ended a few weeks early as a result, at which time he had threatened to come back with a (literal) hit list. They had security at each door for a while after that, even the ones that are normally badge access only.

        1. Not So NewReader

          They did an active shooter practice here. Participants ended up crying. Intense stuff.

    2. AnonyMiss

      I work for the government, so for us, disgruntled people and potential active shooters are a little more realistic a threat… especially that our mental health system in my area is really, pretty much non-existent. We have a “resident mentally ill homeless man” around our office, who comes by pulling 5-6 shopping carts full of stuff, and at best, sleeps at our doorstep, at worse, threatens/yells at employees, at worst, throws bags of feces at the building or at staff. He gets picked up by law enforcement, he gets a 72-hour psychiatric hold, he gets released, we start over.

      We also have the guy who leaves threats at the boss’s voice mail, the one who claims we’re on a vendetta against him and his professional reputation, the one who believes we discriminated against him (he never had any contact with any of our offices, except when he complained to the EEOC and the state equivalent of it), and the one who wrote an expose book of our exploits against his integrity, naturally, using fake but suggestive names for all players involved. Oh, and there are our vicious dog people, but they are a whole different level of crazy.

      1. HeyNonnyNonny

        Yeah, I work in the government. About a year ago we went into lockdown because there was an active shooter in the area.

        1. Anonymous Librarian

          This happened twice on the campus where I work last fall. It’s the new normal

      2. I'm a Little Teapot

        Oh God, that’s terrifying. I’m so glad my former state government job wasn’t public-facing. But the coworker in the cube next to mine was often on the phone talking about some guy who lived next to a state park, was cutting down trees on it, and was scary toward park workers who told him to stop. I felt bad for anyone who had to deal with the tree-cutter; “gubmint get off my property! black helicopters!! FEMA camps!!” paranoid conspiracy-theory types are notorious for both violence and being impervious to reason.

        1. AnonyMiss

          That sort of sounds like our vicious dog people. The story is too great not to share.
          This is a fairly rural area, and our animal control people more often deal with stray cows and horses than with anything else. So, one day, they pick up a dog after it had mauled a baby. The dog is owned either by the baby’s father or the father’s mother; this is something that had been contested all along. Needless to say, mom and dad are not in one another’s picture, and the baby was on visitation.
          As we normally would, there is an administrative hearing to determine whether the dog is vicious, and needs to be put down; whether he can be adopted out and away from these people; or whether they can keep it. The owners of the dog maintain that the ~1 year old baby intentionally provoked and harassed the animal. Animal control raises that the dog bit two of their employees as well. The hearing officer announces he’d decide later, but then sits down with the owners to discuss how empathetic he is, and how sorry he is about this turn of events. Naturally, the advisor to the officer flips out, because this is impermissible (ex parte) communication; despite a finding to put the dog down, we redo the whole thing with a new hearing officer. The results are the same.
          The next morning, the animal control facility is broken into. “Somebody” cut through the chainlink fence, a security gate, three locked doors, and a cage, and sprung the dog in question from the pound. No other dogs went missing. About three months in, the dog is yet to be seen.
          In the meantime, the owners have filed suits with everyone but the SCOTUS to invalidate the decision, and return the dog to them in the event that he is found. In each suit, they alleged that the dog was ordered put down for three reasons:
          1) The baby’s mother wants revenge on the dad (for context, she refused to testify, and did not allow 99% of the photos of her son’s injuries to be used in the hearing. He had three surgeries to restore his face and sew his upper lip back on, and will have scars for life.)
          2) Animal Control wants revenge on the grandmother, who used to work for a different animal control facility about 20 years ago.
          3) This is the government’s ploy to destroy all pets and only allow livestock.

          I remain wondering if a benchslap is coming their way.

    3. Anonsie

      Maybe it’s because I’m not from the USA, but I find those two trends really unusual.

      Yep, it’s the culture thing. I have a really hard time explaining the propensity for both violence and fear in the US to my friends overseas, since I grew up in it and I’ve only spent brief stints in other countries it’s hard for me to even know how it differs from what’s considered normal elsewhere. Some people say it’s the media hype of it, which I think is partly true but we really do have more violent crime than a lot of similarly developed countries.

      And it’s not isolated, either. I’d wager most people I know have either experienced or known someone who has experienced targeted violence for senseless reasons like an argument.

      1. OhNo

        In addition to the media hype angle, I think it is also that we live in such a non-confrontational culture that we really do have to be trained to respond sometimes, which results in a big push to “prepare” for bad situations, which just makes people paranoid.

        When you’re told every 5 seconds to be aware of potential threats, you start seeng threats every 4 seconds.

    4. Artemesia

      I worked in a University for part of my career and there are lots of seriously disturbed people in this kind of environment. It is a lot easier for a family to have their disturbed young person ‘in school’ including ‘in graduate school’ which can go on indefinitely than to have to face the fact that they cannot cope with life in society. Couple this with the fact that you can never do anything with someone who is disturbed until after they hurt or at least threaten someone, it can be scary. I have had obsessive students calling at 2 am and have watched a colleague first stalked and then subjected to a campaign to have him fired for sexual assault (luckily this woman was so disturbed that eventually her memos to everyone including the board chair and president of the university showed how screwy she was. e.g. the assault occurred when his spirit floated into her window in the middle of the night) But she had ruined the career of a former boyfriend by writing perfectly intelligent but vicious letters to every law firm in town about his abusiveness. And no in her case, none of these kinds of charges appeared to have any foundation. She would become fixated on someone and then enraged if they didn’t respond as she hoped. We have more than once had security at hand when a student was to be dismissed for seriously threatening behavior. And of course workplace shootings happen rather often and the fact that anyone can be lethally armed in this country adds to the problem.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot

        My dad, a college professor, once had a student whose (batshit insane) doctoral dissertation he’d commented on negatively call him in the middle of the night and whisper menacingly into the phone “I know where you live.” And I once worked for an academic department where, years before, a student angry about an F had come in with a gun. Fortunately the department chair at the time, an unassuming mild-mannered fellow with a spine of steel, had talked him down before he shot anyone.

        And people like Stalker Student infuriate me because they both ruin the lives of the innocent people they target and make it so much harder for real victims of rape and abuse to be believed.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot

        My dad, a college professor, had a student whose (bizarre) doctoral dissertation he’d commented on negatively call him in the middle of the night and whisper menacingly “I know where you live.” And I once worked in an academic department where, years before I got there, a student angry about an F had come in with a gun. Fortunately, the department chair at the time, a mild-mannered and unassuming man with a spine of steel, had talked him down before he shot anyone.

        1. Cordelia Naismith

          And then there are incidents like the University of Iowa shooting from the early 90s, where a doctoral student shot and killed the members of his committee because his dissertation didn’t receive a particular award.

      3. fposte

        The irony is they’ll expend energy on training you in case of an “active shooter” (I really hate that jargon and think it’s an unhelpful warning term on a campus filled with ESL people), an event that people there will most likely never face, but they’re not going to create or overhaul policies on sexual violence on campus.

    5. The Strand

      Yeah, I have two friends who work in health care with largely indigent populations. It’s an occupational hazard.

      What’s more scary to me is the people who are threatened with violence by coworkers and bosses… just the comments about the strangling, pen-abusing, jerkoffs at the top of the page shock me.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot

        Recently in Boston a patient who was convinced a cardiologist had made an error that killed his mother (a 78-year-old with a long history of smoking, respiratory trouble, and cardiac problems) walked into Brigham & Women’s Hospital and shot him. Scary stuff.

        I don’t even understand why a boss would threaten a subordinate with violence. It’s not as if they don’t have any other power. Is “you’re fired” or “do this or you’re fired” not enough?

    6. Mike C.

      There was someone wandering around my workplace several months ago with a rifle. It took police departments from four municipalities several hours to search the place and the person was never found.

      1. AnotherFed

        Was this the person wearing a trenchcoat and carrying an umbrella against his shoulder? I remember reading a couple of months ago about that causing a false alarm that took the police DAYS to figure out.

    7. Not So NewReader

      Sandy, I think you can thank the news media for that. Shocking news sells lots of toothpaste. This means keep reporting on an issue over and over, even if you have nothing new to add yet.

      1. Anonymous Librarian

        But there really are a lot of disturbing, violent trends in our society that may not exist elsewhere. I have never lived anywhere but the USA. I have spent 25 years working for state universities as a librarian. Oh, the library! Give me your poor, your tired, your homeless refuse looking for a nap… and they will come to us. To pull out box cutters on one another to fight for public computer access, to look at pron and force you to seat a visiting 20 year old woman home on spring break between 2 of them to use one of the public computers herself. To turn tricks in the bathroom, spread feces on the walls. and I was one of the ‘bitches’ who wasn’t afraid to get in these guys’ faces when they got out of hand (little support from the dean for really controlling their behavior) hell yes I was afraid to walk to my car at night.

        Fundamentalist Christianity + pron + guns + violent and pronified media constantly + worship of the bottom line + almost complete breakdown of the family + basic social insecurity + endless war instead of investing in people and infrastructure— combined with the message that we are the greatest and the best though we are the fat and sad and unfilled and eating mcdonalds in our cars on our hour commute to our ten hour jobs and our people are at the breaking point. We are a sick, sick culture.

        1. Anonymous Librarian

          Just to be sure, so people don’t think I’m heartless towards the homeless, I was quoting a poem and making a point about national policy when I used the word ‘refuse.’ Yes those guys scared the bejezus out of me. But I never failed to see them as fellow human beings who needed help, not just a night in the shelter, then kicked out to find their way to wherever was warm and dry to spend their days. They need medication, education, housing and jobs. I knew a certain percentage of them were veterans and victims of our ‘defense’ policy. But they still scared me sometimes, I have to admit.

    1. Panda Bandit

      It’s because people are looking for an easy and loophole-free way to shut down certain things. If it’s illegal you must stop. That’s all it is.

      1. Not So NewReader

        It also reflects a sense of helplessness/disempowerment. There are some really crappy things going on and people have no clue where to turn.

    2. neverjaunty

      Unlike many countries, the US doesn’t have a lot of regulations meant to keep the workplace “fair” or give a balance of power to employees. Since it’s also not legal to settle things by punching your manager, the alternative is the court system. And we do a horrible job of educating people in what is and isn’t covered by law.

  14. Jake

    Trash picker is my favorite post. The discussion was fascinating.

    One of the few times I’ve seen a lot of frequent commenters disagree with AAM.

  15. weasel007

    I think my craziest story is a time when I was a network admin in a small swiss german company. There was an older gentleman who was so angry that I had been offered the job as network admin (I was young and female and he has of a very conservative fundamentalist church that required beards and women to wear skirts) that he spent most of his day trying to sabotage my position (oh the irony!). This included spending hours trying to figure out my password to my account (he actually installed a keylogger on his pc and called me over to fix something trying to get me to log on there) and stealing equipment and blaming it on me. One day he came into the server room while my boss and I were in there and got into a physical fight (punching, hitting, headbutting) with my boss. I was behind the rack cowering for about an hour. I couldn’t get out of the room. Ironically, when the company hit a budget crisis, they laid me off and kept him (why did they let him stay after the fight???). I took all this info to the HR person and negotiated a pretty hefty severance. Since then I will never tolerate such nonesense. I see this guy around town everyonce in a while (this was 15 years ago) and he pretends he doesn’t know me. I don’t mind.

    1. Not So NewReader

      They had to keep him. He was going to beat them to a pulp if they didn’t. I hope he did not have family. People are usually on good behavior in public. If this was his good behavior, I think someone better start looking for bodies.

  16. Graciosa

    I find it surprising how many people think HR controls the management of the company (along the lines of “Tell HR about the owner’s ridiculous demand that you keep orange paper in the copy machine and they’ll put a stop to it!”).

    Uh, no, probably not. Even with illegal behavior, HR’s power is limited – probably greater in a large enough company rather than a really small one, but still limited.

    The other thing that surprises me sometimes is how consistently some commenters appear on one side of an issue, meaning it is always / never the fault of the manager / employee. I can also be surprised by the level of passion attached to those beliefs.

    This makes me think about how I am perceived (other than as someone who writes lengthy posts, of course!) and how much our personal histories and experiences color our advice.

    1. Alex

      Good point! I think a lot of people have misconceptions of the purposes for HR. I know I do!

      1. Adonday Veeah

        As an HR manager, this surprises me also. I remember a conversation with an employee who told me that since I had so much power, I needed to fix a particular situation. I tried to explain the difference between “power” and “influence.” She wasn’t buying it.

        I present HR topics as a guest speaker to college classes sometimes. In one class, the students are adults who are returning. These people are pretty savvy — some of them have actually been HR professionals in previous careers. The other class is full of first- or second-year students, who have only had beginning jobs, for the most part. The beginners are ASTOUNDED that HR doesn’t make all the decisions about hiring, firing, etc., and that we can’t MAKE managers stop being strict with them. I’m happy to do whatever small part I can to set the record straight.

        1. W

          Isn’t this your daily life though- managers making you out to be the bad guy?

          “Adonday won’t let me fire this poor performer.”

          This is something I figuratively beat into my reports brains- that HR has no real power so they’d better not make it seem like they do and they’d better own decisions. All HR can do is “sell” their advice and tell someone higher up.

          1. HR Shenanigans

            Yes. It is probably one of the reasons that HR is so despised. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bad apples in HR but I would wager there are just as many in other positions as well. HR is an easy scapegoat for weak managers.

            1. BRR

              I agree HR is a scapegoat and they have to make unpopular choices. Insurance coasts more, HR is the one who is taking it out of my check. When people are mad at “the company” HR is likely the closest to being the physical representation of the company.

          2. Adonday Veeah

            “Isn’t this your daily life though- managers making you out to be the bad guy?

            “Adonday won’t let me fire this poor performer.””

            Yea verily. I’m in a union environment, so we need to make sure all bases are covered. I’ve offered to help managers coach an employee to help them get back on track, or to help them move a bad apple on down the road. It’s time consuming and cumbersome, and requires a manager to… um… manage. But I’m the bad guy because I won’t let ’em “cut the dead wood.”

            Yeah, it’s my fault.

        2. some1

          My first professional job was Union, so it was known that you went to your Union Steward if you were having a problem to see if anything could be done. Since then I have been baffled at some of the people I have worked with who seem to think HR’s function is to play Playground Monitor for everyone.

      2. AnotherAlison

        At this stage in my career, my assessment of HR’s function is correct, but it’s not hard to see why it’s skewed for young people.

        My first job (pre-college) was in a printing company, and I know at least once my (now) husband got into an altercation with another employee and it was handled by HR, not the supervisors. Supervisors were more “leads” so it was probably for the best that HR handled things.

        Then, during college, most of your job search coordination takes place through HR, with the hiring manager behind the scenes. In my corporate jobs, HR has always been the contact that makes the offer. When you start, you spend day one hanging out with HR to go through benefits, etc. When we need training, that’s an HR dept. function. When you leave, you resign to your manager, but your final dealings are with HR.

        Now, having been with my job for a long time, I see HR having a much smaller role compared to operations management, but I can see where they loom larger for some employees, particularly people who change jobs frequently.

    2. Windchime

      I always appreciate your posts, Graciosa. I don’t find you to be too wordy at all.

      1. StarHopper

        Yes. Freedom of speech only means that the government can’t censure you for what you say. It doesn’t mean that the opinions you voice are consequence-free.q fc

    3. Sunflower#2

      HR exists to protect the company, mostly from a legal standpoint. Same thing for Labor Relations. I find it funny that employees think HR or LR is someone they can go running to with petty BS or to rat out their manager or colleagues.

    4. Not So NewReader

      “how much our personal histories and experiences color our advice”

      I think this is one thing that keeps people reading. It’s a way to get out of circular thinking or defeating trends of thought and so on.
      I have seen so many comments from folks saying that they have learned so much here.

  17. Graciosa

    I think I’ll add another one – I’m surprised how often people perceive themselves as powerless. Unfortunately, that one is self-fulfilling.

      1. Not an IT Guy

        But realistically, you are essentially powerless when the employer has the power and legal right to do anything and everything to you.

        1. Graciosa

          Well, I’m trying to think of a place where an employer has the power and legal right to do anything and everything to you. I’m not coming up with any examples in the developed world, or even the developing world.

          But this kind of thinking is exactly what I mentioned. It will absolutely be true as long as you believe it.

            1. Zillah

              Yeah, it’s horrific. I’m a soccer nut, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to watch the Qatar WC.

          1. Anonymous Army Officer

            I’m in the Army. My boss can theoretically have me put in jail for being late or for rolling my eyes at him. It’s unlikely, sure, but not legally impermissible. And I can’t quit except at specified points in time and I can’t quit at all if being court-martialed.

            1. The Strand

              Yes, and theoretically your boss can also overrule your plans to marry a certain person (you’re supposed to get permission from your CO).

          2. Mike C.

            I’ve seen some really bad things first hand with H1-B visa holders being forced to work insane hours and living in apartments owned by the employer. Not Qatar bad, but certainly abusive.

          3. Not So NewReader

            I would look at the retail world.
            And I would look at human service jobs and prison work.

            Some branches of human services have been almost totally abandoned. The police and courts do not want to deal. Hospitals push people out at the first moment of opportunity. The human service organization is left to its own devices to solve problems. What happens next is jaw-dropping.

        2. Hermione

          They do not have the legal right to do neither anything nor everything to you. What’s more, they don’t technically have the power to do anything to you – employment is a two-way contract, and people who feel empowered can and do leave positions when employers are abusing that contract. Those who feel powerless ultimately are, as Graciosa said, because they submit to that imbalanced power dynamic.

          I’m worried when people say things like this in public forums, because while you may well understand that you can leave a job, Not an IT Guy, someone young and/or impressionable reading this may well not, and I don’t want to leave them feeling like they would need to put up with abusive behavior because the employer holds all the power.

          1. Magda

            I agree with you mostly, but I would also stress that terminating the two-way employment contract is not always an easy option for someone who is truly dependent on that paycheck. I definitely have the “OMG, just LEAVE!” reaction to letters here frequently, but I also know it’s not always that simple.

            I am certainly not suggesting that people should just give up and accept anything and everything their employer throws at them, just that there’s more to it than how empowered you “feel.”

            1. Graciosa

              I truly do understand that it’s not always easy to leave immediately – but people who feel empowered start making plans to do so and then actually implement those plans.

              People who feel powerless somehow translate “Can’t leave until I find a replacement job paying at least $X so I can keep eating; I better get on that right away” to “Can never leave or object to any mistreatment.”

              1. Magda

                Absolutely. Your attitude matters, and only you are responsible for what coping skills you use. It’s just not ALL that matters (and I don’t think Hermione was saying that, to be clear).

              2. Not So NewReader

                I have seen bosses tell subordinates that no one will ever hire them. I have seen bosses tell subordinates all kinds of crazy stuff that would only leave the subordinate feeling broken and defeated.

                I have seen teachers get blackballed into staying in their position. It can be done. Names go around. Some of this powerlessness is not just in people’s heads.

            2. Hermione

              Oh absolutely, I should have hit on that in my reply. I feel like empowerment still plays into the situation you describe of people who know that they cannot leave the position due to financial/other dependence upon the position’s paycheck or benefits.

              Empowered people in those positions recognize that the abusive power dynamic isn’t right, legal, fair, normal, etc., and that they will need to remove themselves from the position as soon as feasible, and will often recognize warning signs/problematic dynamics in future positions as well.

              Unempowered persons in the same financial positions may not recognize that the abuses that the employer heaps upon the employee are not what’s normal, appropriate or legal, and while I worry for the those people above who do see it, but have to put up with it anyway, I worry more for the people who don’t know that it’s out of the ordinary, because then they may not look to get themselves out of that position when the opportunity does arise, or because they may end up in the same type of abusive employer relationship in the future.

              Sorry, long-winded. Does that make sense? I’m worried for all people in horrible jobs, and wish I could free you all. If I can’t, I want to make you as aware as possible that bad situations like that are not normal, please remove yourselves if you can, and if you can’t, please take care of yourselves as best as you can and come here to vent as much as you need to.

            3. MP

              Yes, this is rarely an equal relationship. Most people need their job more than the company needs the employee.

              1. I'm a Little Teapot

                Neatly and concisely put. THIS is why employees often feel powerless. The employer-employee relationship is almost always inherently unequal, and I think pretending that it’s equal is the very opposite of empowering: it perpetuates the notion that, if you’re in an abusive situation, it’s your fault, and it discourages efforts to protect workers from abuse.

            4. Colette

              That’s true, but things like cutting expenses or picking up a second job so that you can save money or taking a class to develop marketable skills or even job hunting are in your control – and once you have a new job or a healthy emergency fund, your view of what you have to put up with changes.

              But it’s easier to believe you’re stuck.

              1. Mike C.

                Too bad “just in time scheduling” is making this much more difficult for many people.

              2. Not So NewReader

                Many retail jobs demand 24/7 availability. Going to school or taking a second job could cost the employee their main job, because they were not available.

        3. Koko

          Anything and everything that would otherwise be legal if you weren’t in a boss-employee relationship. Basically, the laws for what you can and can’t do to strangers are the laws for what you boss can and can’t do to you – plus the added protections for protected class.

  18. Snowglobe

    I am constantly surprised by how many absolute jerk bosses are out there. I’ve had about 20 different bosses over the years, and while they haven’t all been skilled/effective leaders, they have all been decent, reasonable people who genuinely empathize with their employees. I realize that letters to a work advice columnist are naturally going to feature bad managers, but at least once a week I see a letter about some manager that is so nasty and horrible, I just can’t fathom it.

    1. AW

      Yes, THIS!

      The most horrifying thing about the super awful boss stories is how many of them there are!

    2. Another Ellie

      I’ve had a string of bosses ranging from ok to terrible. My husband (who is something of a rockstar purple squirrel) has had a string of awesome managers in awesomely managed companies. It’s weird how it shakes out.

    3. Sunflower#2

      I never had a good boss until now. I’m on my fourth professional job post graduation.

      Boss#1: twenty years older than me and treated me like her teenage daughter. I couldn’t have friends from other departments and was given the silent treatment when I didn’t listen.
      Boss#2: slimy owner of small recruiting firm. Strategically cut all staffs hours in half whenever he had a bad week financially to avoid paying full unemployment costs. Demanded jobs filled by racial preference of hiring managers and an obvious bigot.
      Boss#3: miserable miser. Passive aggressive and nonconfrontational. Avoided all decision making and manipulated others to get what he wanted so he wouldn’t have to take blame for aftermath. Treated me like an endentured servant and took pride and advantage of his use of me as his assistant.

    4. Meg

      I have been at my current job for 5 1/2 years and have had 4 different supervisors during that time (I’ve made a couple of moves internally, and one of my bosses retired). 3/4 of those were decent people. They each had their quirks and different management styles but that’s expected. My current boss (number 4), on the other hand, is stubborn, arrogant and a bully. I find reading about all these other terrible managers surprising but also oddly comforting. I like knowing that I’m not alone, and that I have different options regarding how to address things.

  19. Joey

    Another one. That many people think the intent of what you do/how you act matters much more than the perception of it.

    I’m looking at you introverts.

      1. Koko

        I’m actually calling to mind the commenter last week who felt that being asked to write emails that consisted of more than just brusque commands was a sign that our society “cares more about looking nice than actually being nice,” because taking the time to say “please” and “thanks” struck him as being something you do to “look nice” not something you do to “be nice.” But I don’t think his perspective is a common one.

        1. TeapotCounsel

          Yikes! I think you’re talking about me!
          And you’re right, my perspective is not a common one.

      2. Myrin

        I don’t get it either. Being introverted means you are drained by social interaction and need alone time to recharge your energy, nothing more, nothing less (I see it misinterpreted so often to the point where people go “being quiet = being introverted” which, no, please don’t) – I don’t really get how that relates to intent and perception.

        That being said, I agree with Joey’s first sentence!

        1. Stranger than fiction

          I just read it means you’re shy and inwardly focused on dictionary.com but the part about being drained , totally can relate!

        2. Adonday Veeah

          “Being introverted means you are drained by social interaction and need alone time to recharge your energy, nothing more, nothing less…”

          Thank you for defining this so succinctly. It’s very hard to convince people that I’m an introvert, because I’m often friendly and outgoing. People who don’t share this trait have difficulty understanding that, as fun as it is to be with others, it costs us.

          1. Myrin

            It’s the same for me! I’m very good at social interaction and generally perceived as super friendly and fun. But I absolutely need my quiet time because social stuff actually exhausts and often even annoys me, even though no one would ever guess.

    1. Kathryn T.

      Hey, I’m a very-extrovert married to a very-introvert, and I can tell you this for sure: that is not at all unique to introverts. I’ve frequently had to hiss at extroverts to quit harassing their friends and colleagues who are just trying to get twenty quiet minutes during lunch, only to hear “But I’m just trying to be friendly!!!”

    2. CrazyCatLady

      I think this is just human nature, not specific to introverts. Many people think the intention is what counts, not the perception of it.

      1. The Strand

        Yes, extroverts are definitely as likely to misunderstand the way their actions are seen.

    3. I'm a Little Teapot

      But people are only responsible for their own actions; they cannot be responsible for every possible way someone might (mis)construe them.

      A coworker at an old job apparently waved at me when I was looking at something else, and I didn’t see her. She took this to mean that I was deliberately ignoring her because I was stuck up, and after that every time she saw me she’d make snotty remarks about how I was too good for her, even after I apologized repeatedly for missing her wave. Am I responsible for her skewed perception? No.

    4. Not So NewReader

      Joey, can you give an example? Does not have to be real life example. I read this a couple of time and I am not sure I get it.

      1. Joey

        Tons.

        As it relates to being an introvert- doing things that lead people to percieve you as antisocial, a grump, or stuck up. It can be tiny things like not acknowledging folks in passing all the way to actively avoiding social interactions at work.

        1. AW

          But that’s still not specific to introverts. Extroverts do things that lead people to perceive them as nosy (asking personal questions of someone they barely know) and clingy (wanting to hang out ALL the time).

        2. Cordelia Naismith

          Being an introvert =/= automatically having poor social skills. I mean, yes, these two things can go hand-in-hand, but people can also be extroverts with poor social skills or introverts with good social skills.

          That said, I agree that social skills are very important in the workplace; if if your job isn’t people-facing and doesn’t involve managing client relationships, you still have to work with other people. It really helps if all the people working in an office are competent at basic human interaction.

  20. Hermione

    Regarding the first surprising post, and given that I would never wish real harm on people and that despite my username I do not have actual magic powers, I wonder what sort of innocuous “curses” everyone might wish upon their smug bosses, unruly coworkers and unbelievably unprofessional (and hook-nosed!) professors?

    I for one would love to cause a former coworker’s Post It notes to always be indecipherable. (Cue masterpieces like: “WHAT did I mean to write here? Snoop the Blue Sneezes?! Poop the Shoe Wheezes? That doesn’t make any sense at all!”)

    Or make that snotty, unhelpful former HR manager constantly forget that her glasses are atop her head, and so waste those precious minutes she would have spent buying those loud clickety-clackety heels online instead searching for the glasses resting in her hair…

    Or to cause the sociology faculty member who has been driving me crazy for months complaining about EVERYTHING but doing nothing to help things improve (often hindering issues even further, in fact) to always try to put her left shoe on her right foot by mistake. Always.

    It’s the little things, you know?

    1. Neen

      My boss–a callous, power-hungry, irrational, unbelievable incompetent leader–takes a bunch of “Isn’t my life grand?” photos on Instagram. I sooo want to create a fake account, click on one of her photos, and post a big fat LAME on it. I’m too worried about negative karma, though. Sigh…the pitfalls of having a conscience.

    2. Panda Bandit

      I have two micro-managing managers who disagree with each other on how things should be run quite a lot of the time. I’d make it so they have to work under a whole group of micro-managing managers.

    3. Stranger than fiction

      I would like make all the people with clickers clackety shoes fall off their feet

    1. Hermione

      And how there’s often no reprieve for those suffering under this sort of people, save finding a new position elsewhere…

  21. AnotherAlison

    I’m often surprised by OP behavior. I think it’s weird when someone never joins in the discussion, because it’s just human nature to like talking about yourself. It also seem strange to me when the OP jumps in as soon as the question is posted because that seems to curtail the discussion among the commenters. The most surprising was the UoP OP earlier this week who had such a hostile attitude towards almost everyone.

    1. AW

      What’s weird about OPs showing up and being hostile is that this seems to be a common thing for web sites offering advice.

      The related weird thing is when the OP is surprised/upset when the person giving advice tells the OP that they’re wrong. That only seems to happen when the OP is way, WAY out of line in the original letter. It baffles me that, even if they think they’re right, they couldn’t tell based on the advisor’s responses to other letters that the advisor would think the OP is wrong.

      Like that guy that asked Captain Awkward if he could fire all of his young, female employees in case someone thought something inappropriate was going on. Like, clearly he thinks this is OK but nothing about Captain Awkward’s advice should have made him think she’d agree.

      It’s like going on Judge Judy and being surprised when she yells at you after you admit you owe the plaintiff the money and haven’t paid just because you’re mad at them. What did they think was going to happen?

      1. Vancouver Reader

        I think some people write into advice columns expecting their rationale to be validated by others and are surprised when they don’t. What I think would be wise for them to do in a situation like that, is to step back and consider what the commenters say before responding. If the majority of commenters come back with a similar response to one another, there has to be a reason for it, and the OP needs to consider what made them react in that manner.

      2. The Strand

        The UoP commentary was really disappointing. But sometimes people do pile on. That’s the nature of the beast (blogs, discussion boards, etc), being hyper anonymous. I see more contentiousness under handles than I ever see under people’s real names on LinkedIn and Twitter.

        What I love about AaM is how hard Alison works to make sure that pile-on doesn’t happen often here, and that we speak to each other with a lot of respect.

        In another community, I was as an OP, very surprised when a number of people attacked me personally when I asked for advice and a “read” about a family issue. I was surprised how some of the things I said were misinterpreted (though I absolutely did get some good advice and a new context for viewing my concerns), but the sheer, childish nastiness of some posters was shocking. These people weren’t sharing their perspectives, they were projecting their own experiences with their families onto me. It wasn’t that I was wrong, it was that I was wrong and a horrible human being like hated Aunt Mildred or brother Arthur (“and he’s the reason I haven’t seen my family in five years”). Several people defended me in comments, and I got private messages apologizing for the behavior, but wow, holy outsized reaction, Batman. Not even in heated arguments would I ever use the kind of language that was directed at me. I think the closest we’ve come to that, here, is the recent “coworker in my garbage” question, and still, it was nothing like what I experienced. I think, though, that UoP poster may have been used to that kind of nasty commentary and said it herself before we could say it to her. That’s what it seemed like to me.

        In hindsight, I can appreciate more how the average OP needs to carefully craft a neutral-sounding question with lots of details, because otherwise – people will fill in whatever they fill in. This is also by the way, the reason that many people are so afraid of just speaking up; they’re terrified of getting flamed. That said, people do sometimes ask questions to get validation, like VR said.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          I think a lot of people – including sometimes myself, I’ll admit – use sites like this as a way to vent and to express opinions they wouldn’t elsewhere. Although I recently lectured a coworker for saying something sexist which hit one of my berserk buttons (about how men should keep pursuing a woman who turns them down over and over until she says yes) in language not much less blunt than I’d use toward a guy who said that on AAM.

        2. Not So NewReader

          I think that the OPs that interact with the comments section fare better most of the time. Left unchecked, people speculate and speculate. But if OP comes on and says “No, I did A not B. And my boss said X not Y.” It helps to clear things up. I think the interactive OPs receive more empathy. Yes, it makes the comments shorter because we don’t have 50 speculations on the variables in the story. The OP clears up the question and comments are tailored accordingly.

      1. esra

        University of Phoenix.

        I think a lot of the defensiveness in the posts, not just from OP, came from the hopelessness of the situation. Finding out that your degree really isn’t respected and that all your hard work and debt may have been for nothing is just too much to deal. So now you’re stuck paying off thousands of dollars, having wasted months of your life, and you have nothing to show for it. It’s easier in some ways to dig in your heels and say people must just be wrong about the whole thing.

  22. anon spinster

    As a single woman, I’m surprised by how many married or coupled up people think their relationship should dictate anything about how their or their partner’s employer runs things.

    “My company doesn’t do +1’s for the holiday party, but I want to bring my husband, is this legal??”

    “My husband works with his ex-girlfriend so I emailed her a threat because I don’t want them to ever talk.”

    1. W

      It’s not just married couples. I’ve seen more than a few friends with crazy and possessive SO’s

    2. Laurel Gray

      Confession: the letters that involve dating, sex, marriage, relationships, fraternization and similar around the issue are my favorite. Maybe it is the juiciness of it all, or the anecdotes from posters who have gone through or witnessed similar. It is interesting to see personal life intersect with professional life and the expectations people have, assumptions they make and outcomes they desire.

    3. Forrest

      Oh yea. The letter where the husband resigned for his wife is right up there on the craziest for me.

          1. WolfmansBrother

            wow, that was pretty out there. I don’t suppose you ever got a follow up from her?

          2. neverjaunty

            *jawdrop*

            I prefer to think that she ditched the husband and is happily living on a tropical island somewhere.

            1. Hlyssande

              Seriously. I hope for her sake that she ditched him and has found something better.

              The whole post had my shoulders up around my ears.

  23. Stephanie

    1. Call centers. I know they’re usually not great workplaces, but the level of crazy I read about from the letters and comments always surprises me.

    2. This seems to be an exception more than a rule, but the LWs that really dig their feet in the sand.

    1. Jennifer

      Call centers have hellish, draconian rules, and telemarketers and IT help and the like are dealing with angry clientele. Anyone calling people to sell shit, or answering a general help line, is just there to be abused.

  24. Andy

    I’m surprised that there aren’t more letters from servers and cooks. Before I was an old in an office I was a young in an apron and the amount and quality of BS I saw was…awesome.
    Also law offices.

    1. Hermione

      As someone who has worked in both a restaurant (waitress, 2 years) and a law firm (admin assistant, 4 years), for the most part I expected the crazy stories I have from both places. The restaurant ones didn’t really stick, save one or two, but have melded into a mush of feeling hassled and under-appreciated. The law firm stories I’m ethically (and probably legally) not supposed to talk about. We had some crazy ones – I worked in the family law department of a high-end mid-sized law firm, so dealt with divorcing multi-millionaires and contentious custody cases and the occasional paternity cases that felt like an episode of Maury for the upper-class. They were insane, and awesome, and I can’t really talk about them. :(

    2. Sunflower

      Same! Restaurants are some of the most dysfunctional work atmospheres you’ll ever be in. However, ‘office norms’ also go out the window there.

    3. Kelly L.

      Oh, I had so many WTF stories when I was in the land of aprons myself. But for whatever reason, this site skews white-collar while food-service folks tend to congregate in other forums. In my day it was Customers Suck. I’m kind of an old now and don’t know where the hot spots for food service talk are anymore.

      1. Stephanie

        The white-collar overrepresentation is probably because that’s who has the ability to read a blog midday.

        1. Andy

          I think this is probably right, as well. It seems that most of us are at desks reading this, not trying to grab some iced tea and a club sandwich for table 12.

    4. Vanishing Girl

      I get my dose of weird restaurant stories at Behind Closed Ovens on Kitchenette!

          1. Kelly L.

            I’ve been sporadically reading Jezebel for ages, and one day a BCO post got linked there. Addiction ensued.

      1. Tris Prior

        I recently discovered Behind Closed Ovens and have been slowly reading my way through it. It’s hilariously entertaining, even though I haven’t worked in food since college.

    5. some1

      Based on what I have heard from my friends in restaurants, it’s not that restaurant employees don’t deal with a lot of craziness; it’s more that the field has a lot more expected turnover so if you don’t like the situation you’re in, it’s way more acceptable to quit and work somewhere else.

      1. Andy

        you are probably spot on with that. The wacky is EXPECTED, so people are willing to let it go or something.

    6. Jeanne

      I restaurants and other retail places, a lot of your awful experiences are from dealing with customers. Not all of course but a lot. I’m not sure Alison can help with a lot of those.

  25. C Average

    The “just speak up” bit is such a great observation. I really love this site for the scripts–sometimes coming into a tough situation knowing WHAT to say gives me the confidence to just say it.

    I sincerely believe that almost all good advice can be boiled down to “just freaking say something,” “stay in your own lane,” and “relax, dude.”

    1. BRR

      In addition to giving me scripts (thank you phrase “medical issue”) I feel like it’s taught me how to develop scripts for other situations.

    2. Jeanne

      The phrasing can be really helpful. My brain wants to say something like “You’re an idiot.” (Not you; the people I’m upset with.)

  26. Welfare state resident

    Background: I live in a European welfare state (Denmark) with universal healthcare and very generous unemployment benefits; in fact the benefits are so generous that the political debate here currently concerns whether we have made them so generous that unemployed people have lost their motivation to seek work. There is very little financial difference between working as a cashier 37 hours a week and being unemployed. And for many of the people who are employed in the (big) public sector, the working conditions are really plush – good luck getting ahold of a government employee on a Friday afternoon, for instance.

    So what surprised me the most when I started reading this blog is how resourceful and hard-working people are elsewhere in the world and how desperate they can get when they have their backs against the wall. People working two or three jobs to feed themselves and their family or to cover medical bills, or people working long hours at minimum wage, and the difficulties surrounding lack of health insurance – all of these things feel literally foreign. And I suspect if the AAM readers could follow the Danish political debate, you would be surprised at how spoiled we Danes sound, kind of like a bunch of bratty rich kids whining about parental cuts in their allowances or how unfair it is that they are required to do one chore a day.

    1. jag

      You’re not spoiled if your society can afford it, and it helps keep society as a whole productive. We waste so much energy in the US just trying to get some security – it’s not good.

      1. Welfare state resident

        I agree with that; I just think we ought to be more aware of how privileged we are instead of taking it for granted.

        Also, and not to get political, but the security does come at a price – for instance, the quality of our healthcare system is lagging behind that of the US. It’s better to be poor in Denmark, but if you’ve got good insurance in the US, you’ll get better and faster treatment than you would in a public hospital here. And it’s not good for society that people can get benefits for years without ever doing an honest day’s work. It makes them self-pitying, and it models a bad work ethic for their children.

        1. Anonsie

          This is intriguing to me because Denmark is an international hub of medical research and has a lot of prominent research hospitals. I would have figured your health care would be pretty good? I also wonder if people over-value the quality of American health care, I say both as someone who works in the industry and someone with a lifelong illness that has a lot of experience on both sides of the patient-provider coin.

          1. Anonsie

            Submitted too soon!

            I was going to say, from an industry standpoint, American healthcare does not rank particularly high among similarly developed countries, and a lot of measures are actually getting worse. Maternal mortality rate, for instance, was never great and has been rising for years now.

          2. Welfare state resident

            I only have anecdotal evidence (but I have a lot of it) to the effect that expats and students and the like who have been treated in both Danish public hospitals and US hospitals strongly prefer the latter. One problem with our system is that it’s practically impossible to fire a bad doctor, or even a bad hospital administrative staff person, and I guess AAM readers all know what kind of accountability problems that leads to.

            But again, this is comparing the universal Danish treatment that everyone can get to the treatment that the privileged Americans with proper insurance can get, so in my opinion it’s not a clear-cut case that it’s better in one country or the other.

            1. Blurgle

              Those privileged Americans make up perhaps 10% of the population. The other 90% deal with varying degrees of exclusion, up to and including dying of treatable conditions because they live too far from a hospital, can’t drive, and there isn’t public transit.

              The one that shocked me was the commenter who proclaimed she’d never had lice even though she took public transit for five years. WAT.

              1. Welfare state resident

                10% – really? Wow. I wouldn’t have guessed the percentage of properly insured Americans was THAT low. :/

                1. Hlyssande

                  It’s less ‘properly insured’ and more that even with insurance, medical bills can be astronomical.

                  I have a pretty great insurance plan through work and I still can’t go to physical therapy for my sprained ankle or wonky back because I can’t afford the copays for the twice-weekly PT that would actually do me some good. Same for plain old therapy – works best at once a week but I don’t have the extra $140 a month laying around to cover those. Forget about the ER anymore – the new version of the plan for this year doubled the ER copay (and we got off easy).

                  That, and the insurance industry has been doing things that are practically criminal (or should be) for years. I’m so, so very happy that the ACA stops them from dropping people for getting sick or denying insurance based on pre-existing conditions.

                  Medical bills are one of the top reasons for bankruptcy in the US.

                  So yeah, people may not be able to afford to go to the doctor or ER even with good insurance.

              2. Not So NewReader

                People in the states are also dying because it takes that long to get a diagnosis. Sometimes they get the diagnosis and then die, treatment is never started.

              3. Nervous Accountant

                Hold on what?? Am I missing some context that not getting lice comes as a shock to you?
                Signed-slmeone who’s been using public transport for 12 years.

                1. A Kate

                  I think Blurgle is shocked that the other commenter thought not having gotten lice on public transit was remarkable.

            2. Anonsie

              The privileged population you’re dealing with is a big, big, big thing. And trust me, it is also nigh impossible to remove problematic staff in our system as well. We have our own liability issues that spur that, for one thing. Our system is also extremely hierarchical, which makes the very concept of accountability a very different animal inside a hospital than you’d imagine anywhere else.

              On a contrasting perspective, my father has been uninsured and underinsured his entire life. His family are factory workers and he was a manual laborer for most of his working years, he’s now “retired” on disability and receives the health coverage our states give destitute and disabled people. A friend took him to the Netherlands a few years ago and he had a flare of a problem he has periodically that requires emergency medical attention. So he went to the ER as usual, only he was bowled over by the way he was treated there. He said he’d never experienced anything like it, he was cared for quickly and attentively and the way each procedure was done was so much faster/easier/less painful than he’d ever had then he could hardly believe it. Poorer, sicker people do not only get worse care in the US, they aren’t even treated respectfully most of the time. We actually have an ongoing issue here with obviously disabled people waiting disproportionately longer in the emergency room because staff don’t want to deal with them, and that’s before you get into the quality of care they’re given.

              The biggest thing I see when this comes up is that the folks I know in your neck of the woods seem to think the US is much more of a meritocracy than it actually is, I guess because that’s the rhetoric you tend to hear from Americans.

        2. Not So NewReader

          Better, faster treatment in the US?? Really? I am surprised. I went to the ER once for a motorcycle accident. I laid on a board for 9 hours before I saw a doctor. That was my worst one, other wait times have been 4-6 hours.

    2. Cath in Canada

      On the flip side, having lived in two countries (UK and Canada) that are somewhere between Scandinavia and the US in terms of healthcare and other aspects of the welfare state: I’m surprised at exactly how limiting it can be to some US workers to have their healthcare tied to their employment. It seems that there are lots of people who can’t leave a job they hate, or can’t go part time / freelance / start a business, because they need to keep their health insurance. If they tried to introduce that system to the UK or Canada, we’d probably be out protesting in the streets…

      1. Windchime

        It needs to be changed here in the US, that’s true. But I’ve heard a few horrifying stories about people having to wait months for surgeries in Canada. When my daughter-in-law went to the hospital with severe abdominal pain, she had an emergency gall bladder removal the same day. This is how things usually work here. An email friend in British Columbia had the same condition, and she had to literally wait for months before she could have surgery. She kept going to the hospital and they knew her diagnosis, but they kept sending her home. So…..there are some bad things about US healthcare, but also some very good things.

        1. Stephanie

          From my understanding, specialist care is really good in the US. Anecdotally, I could see this. I went to college around the corner from MD Anderson and remember hearing about Saudi royalty (or similar) flying into Houston solely to get treated there. Friends in medicine also say the system incentivizes going into specialty practices (in terms of salary and malpractice insurance).

          1. Anonsie

            The pull into specialized medicine is such a huge issue in American healthcare that the bottom is posed to fall out at some point here. It’s a disastrous system– the cost of a medical education makes family medicine and lower-paying specialties like rheumatology heavily disincentivized.

            1. The Strand

              That’s where you’re going to see a lot more “midlevel providers” (e.g. physician assistants and nurse practitioners) providing primary care.

              A lot of docs who pick lucrative specialties like radiology are going to be in deep doo-doo if offshoring and automation make it easier and cheaper for robots and foreign workers to read films.

              1. Stephanie

                Yeah, my PCP’s office is the PCP (who’s an MD), another MD, and a handful of PAs or NPs. The MDs deal with the more complicated patients (like those who are recovering cancer patients or have some other chronic condition that might complicate primary care) and the generally healthy folks get referred to the PAs (I’ve never had an appointment with an MD at the practice).

                Lol, I’d imagine the radiologists would kick and scream (or send out armies of lobbyists) if that ever happened.

            2. Blurgle

              And that is an issue: in Camada you simply never see a specialist, at all, unless you absolutely need to.

              You see your family doctor for everything: Pap smears, minor surgeries, ulcers, all of it.

              1. Cath in Canada

                Depends on where you live, I think. If you’re out in rural or Northern areas, yeah, referrals are going to be hard to come by. In a big city, not so much. I live in Vancouver and have had two different doctors in my time here; they’ve both been happy to refer me to various specialists for non-urgent care. I still go to my family doctor for paps, but e.g. mole checks and removals are done by a specialist dermatologist.

              2. Amy

                It’s largely the same in the UK- I’ve never seen anyone other than my GP. So much medical advice on the internet is largely useless to Britain because it all involves “Ask your dematologist…” or “Ask your gynaecologist…” and unless you have private healthcare that just isn’t a thing here for the majority of people.

        2. fposte

          You have to wait for quite a few things in some parts of the US as well, and you still have to pay for them.

          1. Stephanie

            I remember trying to find a PCP in DC and all of them telling me it’d be three months for a physical. This was a shock to me after living in Houston (as I mentioned upthread) where there were specialists everyone and in Phoenix where there are doctors everywhere.

          2. Jeanne

            I have a chronic disease and it can be an uphill battle to get an appt, even with specialists, even when another doctor refers you. Twice in the last year I had to resort to going to the ER so I would be admitted and get seen by a specialty. The one time, the gastroenterology gatekeepers told me it was the only way I’d be seen in less than 4 months and I was desperate. And I was already an existing patient of the practice!

            1. Pineapple Incident

              “Gastroenterology Gatekeepers”

              This x1000. 4 years ago, I was 19, and right after Christmas I started having symptoms of what is now a well-managed-but-can-be-quite-awful-if-not-treated chronic GI condition. When I started calling around to GIs to be seen, I was told that I could be seen in MAY. I went to the ER, my family paid the bill for that and for me to be admitted for 3 days. After that fun and expensive trip, I had a GI, who I still see for this condition. It’s not always a shorter wait in the U.S., even with one of the better insurance plans.

        3. Cath in Canada

          It’s true that publicly-funded systems with limited resources tend to prioritize urgent care (or, as I’ve heard people describe both the UK and the Canadian systems, “it works better the sicker you are”). So while care for chronic or non-urgent conditions might be better/faster in the US (if you have good insurance), my mother-in-law had excellent care when she had an aneurysm and needed emergency brain surgery followed by months of in-patient rehab; the NHS saved my sister’s life when she got whooping cough at 6 weeks old and was in an incubator in ICU for weeks; and they saved my arm when I had a really bad break that needed multiple surgeries to repair the blood vessels and nerves. Also, BC has some of the best cancer outcomes in the world.

          While my MIL was having her brain surgery, my SIL looked at the assembled family in the waiting room and said “well, at least we don’t have to sit here deciding who’s going to remortgage their house to pay for this…”

      2. Not So NewReader

        I think people get worried about big government. And people get worried about being forced to take pills or treatments they do not want. Plus some stories circulate about how long it takes to get care in other countries.

        1. Anonymous Librarian

          The 20% in this country who have ‘good’ health insurance get great treatment. The rest, not so good. We also skew towards spending tons of money on keeping peope alive on machines for the last two weeks of their lives because we can’t find a way to say ‘pull the plug’ yet our preventive care for kids, etc. sucks. Anecdotes aren’t data, but: older relatives and friends are scheduling knee and hip replacements, cornea and cataract surgery, quadruple bypasses, etc., quickly and easily and having good outcomes. they are spending weeks dying in the hospital five years later. At what cost? they get this because they have medicare supplements or insurance from a former good employer or can afford what we call here ’boutique medicine’ which is pay out of your own pocket to get better treatment. I am not saying this is bad, but it doesn’t balance against the bad treatment many of our elderly and younger people get. one 18 year old I know is on public insurance. She has a hole in her heart that could easily be fixed, but it’s not covered. another just got insurance through the ACA, has no premium because of his income at age 26, but is waiting 3 months to see the doctor for the first time for a checkup. He hasn’t had one since middle school. We are even disgracefully considering further cutting our Tricare benefits for military personnel, which was supposed to be one of their guarantees for their careers of service. And if you don’t live in the USA, look up Medicare doughnut hole and see if it makes any sense to you at all,

    3. Anonsie

      This is funny to me, as an American who really really wants to work in Denmark. I find it really interesting how each of our work cultures look from the outside.

      Whenever I talk to my friends in nordic countries about how I want to move overseas, they paint this picture of it not being so great and how I don’t understand how horrible it really can be. They’ll say stuff like, yeah well, sure you can get a reasonably priced education and get a house for your family and one new car and take a long holiday once or twice a year and have a pension for your retirement and all, but that’s all you get. You won’t get a vacation home or a large luxurious house or three luxury cars or anything like that no matter how hard you work, they say, and that’s the dark side to them that I just can’t understand.

      And for me, as an American coming from a working-class background, this is baffling because the idea that someone could expect to be able to own a home and own a new vehicle and take a vacation ever is like the holy grail you work your entire life for and many people never receive.

      1. BRR

        That’s so interesting. I’m with you in the holy grail definition and it seems unattainable. It seems impossible because I couldn’t get free education and my medical expenses are semi high.

      2. Welfare state resident

        Anonsie, I think that’s a good example of Danes not necessarily realizing how lucky they/we are compared to the rest of the world. But I would argue that there are legitimate problems with our society, because we’ve set up incentives so that hard work doesn’t pay off (except intrinsically), whether it’s going the extra mile at work, or finding a job when you’re unemployed, or starting your own business. Working less and being less entrepreneurial means slower growth, which is in turn reflected in the basket of goods that the average consumer can afford. For instance, Danish friends of mine who’ve been to the US rave about Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and those type of stores. The Danish equivalents have fewer and worse options AND they are much more expensive.

        1. Blurgle

          Here’s the thing: in the US hard work doesn’t usually pay off either. The dream doesn’t come true for most people, except on TV.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I’d correct that a bit: It often doesn’t come true for people who start out in an already disadvantaged place. It often does come true for people who had a leg up at the start.

          2. Welfare state resident

            I wonder if our idea of “work paying off” means the same thing? It sounds like you’re talking about “work pays off” as in “you strike it rich.” But I meant it more literally: Over here you hardly get any more money out of more hours worked, because of the way the tax system is set up.

            For instance, highly-skilled professionals such as doctors can’t afford to hire help, so they end up doing things like renovating their own houses when it would make a lot more sense for them to work more hours and instead hire people to do those things. (I’m not talking about people who relax by doing DIY projects; I’m talking about people who NEED to have something done in their house and decide it makes more sense financially to spend 100 hours trying to do it themselves than to hire someone with the relevant skills who could do it in 20 hours, even though they themselves don’t enjoy doing it.) And people don’t start many companies here, because the incentives are dead against it. All of it is bad for innovation and growth.

            1. Anonsie

              No, striking it rich is not work paying off to us. Being able to live without being in constant crisis is work paying off. This is what I mean– most people are not privileged. We have a wide class divide. For people where I’m from, being able to get to a level where you are not deeply in debt and/or consistently having to deprive your family to make ends meet is the dream. The dream, as in, the thing you hope happens one day if you work hard enough but doesn’t really happen all that often. We work many many many hours a week for no advancement and barely more money because our pay is peanuts and benefits non-existent or nearly so. Upward mobility here is extremely stifled.

              Given that, you have to understand how it sounds to some of us when we say “wow, you guys can expect x level of life security over there even if you don’t come from privilege?” and you guys say “no no, it’s really not so great over here, entrepreneurship isn’t really rewarding here and our shopping selection is poor for high prices.” Because yeah, those things are problems, but to someone whose problems include a constant fear of homelessness or having to forgo medical care or not being able to buy new clothes for their children, it sounds rather quaint.

  27. jag

    I’m surprised by the number of people here who claim crippling anxiety in situations that are not that rare.

    Sometimes I think they are exaggerating and/or not trying hard enough to overcome the problems. Sometimes I believe them and think this site attracts a lot of people with serious mental health issues. And sometimes I just feel fortunate to have had an easy life and not face those kinds of difficulties.

    1. AnonCantBeANameNow?

      OMG THIS.
      There is so much political correctness and special snowflake syndrome here it is insane.

      I agree that it seems like a majority of commentors dont try hard enough to overcome their “anxiety”. I roll my eyes a lot.

      1. Kelly L.

        I suppose one surprising thing, to me, is how many people are using this thread to take potshots at other AAM members. WTF?

        1. AW

          Yeah, the ableism here is gross.

          Also giving a serious side-eye at anyone who complains about “political correctness”, also known as “treating people with empathy”.

      2. mutt

        You must not suffer from it; otherwise you have no idea how incredibly insulting your smug, condescending comment was (or maybe you do, and you’re just really that shitty of a person). I wouldn’t wish crippling anxiety on anyone, but in your case, I think maybe you should experience it before you judge.

      3. Arbynka

        “I roll my eyes a lot.”

        You know what they say… Keep rolling your eyes, maybe you’ll find a brain back there.

      4. a

        It’s really disturbing to me that people talking about their own lives and mental problems are considered to be “special snowflakes.” Attitudes like this actually exacerbate anxiety issues and are part of the reason people don’t speak up about it more in real life. Most of the time they aren’t seeking attention; they’re avoiding it.

    2. Katie the Fed

      We must be reading different comments, because I haven’t seen very many people who have claimed crippling anxiety in situations that are not that rare (I have no idea what that last part even means, actually).

      And yes, you should consider yourself fortunate if you’ve never dealt with depression or anxiety or any mental health struggles. A lot of people do and they’re a lot harder than just getting over it.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          But these are less than 1% of the people we hear from. Less than 0.1%. It seems like an odd thing to latch on to as somehow representative of the site.

          1. jag

            I didn’t say it’s representative of the site.

            And I read about it here many times more often as a portion of my experience here than as a portion of my experience anywhere else (perhaps several orders of magnitude more often) so it’s certainly noteworthy.

      1. Andy

        yeah, I think that my friends with anxiety/depression are more likely to express themselves online and not in person so I kind of expect more open dialogue re those on anonymous forums and the like…but I don’t actually see a larger subset of this pop. being expressive here.

      2. Myrin

        Also, it’s not like there’s a correlation between the rareness of a situation and people who have anxiety regarding such a situation. Just because being around many people is generally encountered very often in most people’s day-to-day life doesn’t mean agoraphobia isn’t a thing, for example.

    3. C Average

      It doesn’t surprise me. If you have any kind of anxiety that’s outside the normal range, work is an absolute mine field. You’re trying to coexist in an atmosphere that’s really not very tolerant of any kind of quirk, you’re trying to manage your own quirks, and you’re trying to navigate the quirks of those around you . . . all while being productive. And your livelihood depends on your ability to do so competently.

      It’s pretty rare to find a work advice resource that isn’t just for the go-getters and the new graduates. If you have any kind of mental health issues and are looking for coping strategies for the workplace, a lot of different Google searches will wind up here.

    4. Tinker

      I think a large contribution to that is that, given that this is an advice column, you’re seeing past the mask that people are usually expected to have and usually do have when they’re in the workplace. There’s an expectation that you don’t admit weakness and often that you keep your cards very close to your chest regarding any personal messiness that doesn’t align with an ideal-worker image. I’ve noticed a lot here — I suppose that would be my surprise — that people are taken aback at open discussion of workplace issues here, and it seems to be down to that expectation that you just don’t DO that unless you’re completely unaware of politics or unable to control yourself.

      However, when the point of the interaction is sharing a problem so that advice can be received, sharing of problems is going to happen — hearing about the things that folks are thinking, that usually get manifest in the everyday work world by something like finding another job and not ever really saying why.

      There probably are a number of folks at your work, if you work with many people, who have significant mental health issues that you don’t know about because they’re not discussing them with you. Here you hear about it.

      1. The Strand

        Well said. All of it.

        Some people work in fields (such as the military, or Wall Street), where admitting weakness or challenges can destroy their careers.

        Comments like the OP’s and the one immediately below that only emphasize how far we have to go in accepting that we’re all just human, after all.

    5. Traveler

      People that don’t have problems aren’t going to write in… So I don’t know that it’s so much “a lot of people with serious mental health issues”, but rather people having normal issues that don’t rise to the level of needing psychiatric treatment but could do with a dose of outside opinion.

    6. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’ve never had the impression that the site attracts a disproportionate number of people with serious mental issues. If anything, I think the site seems to attract people interested in saner and more rational approach than I see elsewhere online, so that take on it really surprises me.

      1. BRR

        As someone who can’t kick the habit of reading comments on any site, AAM has surprised me. There are so many smart people in the comment section. Even with flare ups sometimes it’s still really decent. Sometimes a US News article will show up on yahoo and those comments on the same article compared to here…just wow.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          Yahoo News comments are truly a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Pretty much everyone is vicious, racist, and marginally literate. Scrolling through them always made me hate humanity, so I never read them any more.

          1. BRR

            I can’t stop and it’s awful. Luckily yahoo is outsourcing so many of its articles that I barely read it anymore.

    7. Sharm

      I wouldn’t say that I think people here have severe issues, per se, but the constant leap to, “You need therapy,” strikes me as very odd. I personally agree that I think folks need to try harder before resorting to that, but I know that’s a very unpopular opinion around here.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        How come though? It’s not like therapy is extreme or shameful in some way, and we wouldn’t tell people to try harder to fix their allergies before consulting an allergist, presumably.

      2. The Strand

        Look, some people feel that therapy should only be a last resort, but that doesn’t mean it actually is. This is a safer space to talk over certain issues, and therapy is an even safer, quieter space for a person to discuss one on one, personal answers.

      3. thisisit

        why is therapy something you “resort” to? it’s like suggesting you should fix your own car instead of consulting a mechanic.

      4. fposte

        Yeah, I’m one of the big advocates, and I don’t get why people should wait to see a professional about a problem that they’re clearly struggling with.

      5. Jeanne

        Actually, therapy is like being able to talk to Alison for an hour a week. I spent hours and hours of therapy discussing a bad work situation. My therapist gave me advice on how to phrase things and helped me think through which issues needed follow-up and which weren’t worth it. Trying harder would have done nothing to change the fact that my boss was an a** who was totally incompetent.

        Yes, I know, find another job. At the time, I tried. I had interviews with no offers. I lived alone with no one to support me. I had a bad health condition so I needed a job with good health benefits and little physical activity. It was tough. I am thankfully not there any more.

        I see nothing wrong with jumping right into therapy. We have therapists and they need jobs too.

      6. Jeanne

        Most people recommending therapy have tried it and liked it or know someone else who tried it and liked it.

      7. Sarahnova

        I am a big advocate of therapy, and I’ve benefited from the support of more than one therapist. I don’t see anyone here suggesting therapy unless an OP or commenter is dealing with an issue in which their own thoughts and emotions are a major issue and need to be untangled.

        Let’s suppose someone who COULD bootstrap their emotional issue instead consulted a therapist. So what? If they have the money and are willing to spend it, what’s it to you?

        I experienced the same phenomenon on parenting message boards where I got the short-term support of a night nanny. I asked specifically for recommendations and got a lot of “just do (x barely coping strategy)”. That wasn’t what I asked, and if I’m willing and able to spend money for some respite, what does it have to do with anyone else?

      8. Not So NewReader

        Not clear on why that suggestion would be bad. It’s a suggestion. People can take it or not.
        There are some questions that come up that are way beyond the scope of a workplace advice column. It would not be fair to leave the person lacking for resources of where else to turn for help.

        If people chose not to go to therapy maybe they will decide to push themselves harder as you suggest. I think I push myself along pretty well and I have sought grief counseling twice in my life.
        We kind of have to hold things in the best possible light in order to try to help an OP. Sometimes this means assuming that they have already pushed themselves along and that did not work for them.
        Lastly, this is a place people go to for advice. They expect advice, not admonishments or scolding. By their simply asking the question, it is safe to assume they want to do/have something better. People that don’t care, never ask.

    8. Case of the Mondays

      I will admit to surprise at the number of very successful people on here admit to anxiety and depression and other mental health issues. I have some anxiety issues and find it comforting to see how many other people have personal private struggles. I think as a society we are coming a long way towards finally recognizing that mental health is health!

      1. Katie the Fed

        I actually discussed my experiences with depression and anxiety openly for this very reason – I think we need to recognize that these are normal, treatable diseases just like anything else.

      2. Not So NewReader

        I have to thank Alison for a safe place to openly have these much needed discussions. We will never know how many people are reading and benefiting, yet they never comment.

    9. Cordelia Naismith

      I don’t want to pile on, so I’ll just say I think this is actually a very common attitude — but mental health problems are much more common than people think, but most people don’t discuss them because of the stigma.

      If you’re one of the lucky ones who has never experienced chronic depression, for instance, then you think it’s the same as periods of unhappiness or feeling blue that everyone goes through at one time or another. It’s not, but that’s what it looks like from the outside to many people who can’t understand why the sufferer doesn’t just snap out of it.

      Have you seen the blog post by Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half? It does the best job I’ve ever seen of explaining what chronic depression is like to people who have never personally experienced it. (Link in my next comment so this one doesn’t get caught in moderation.)

  28. Kathlynn

    On the issue of talking with the coworker first. Most people I work with do not listen or get hostile when told they are doing something wrong. So, when I think of “what would you do if an coworker was doing something wrong” questions. I’m working on changing my answer to that question. Because the answer really depends on the situation/coworker.

    1. Windchime

      Yeah, I asked a couple of giggling, whispering co-workers to please hold it down one time and got incredulous looks from both of them, followed by weeks of stink-eye and more whispering. Once I asked a supervisor who was having a loud, shout speakerphone conversation in his office if I could close the door, and he retorted, “You guys are loud sometimes, too!”

      So yeah, talking to my co-workers isn’t always my first action anymore.

    2. Katie the Fed

      Confrontation goes better when you make people part of the solution instead of just telling them they’re screwing up. So instead of “you’re too loud” try “I really need to concentrate, would you mind keeping the noise to a dull roar? Thanks!”

      It even works in performance discussions. I find “I really want you performing at a more senior level, how can we get you there” gets a much better outcome than “your work is terrible.”

      1. Kathlynn

        I’m not management level. But when I say things like you suggest, it doesn’t work with these people. For example I once told a new coworker that she needed to fill something differently, because she wasn’t filling it properly and it made it harder to count “Well nobody else has complained” (and in total, the item was/is counted at least 3 times a day). I’ve mention that it’s not safe to leave a water puddle on the floor for six hours because it’s not safe, and been told the person doesn’t have time to clean it up. I’ve had people lie, and say it was the way they were taught (when I was the one who showed them how to do it, and how to do it properly).
        With many people it might work, but the people I usually deal with don’t give a flying fig if I correct them. Especially since our manager doesn’t correct them on anything. Even when she agrees with me that it’s done wrong, and claims she’ll deal with it.
        So my view has become (when it’s something to be dealt with between coworkers):
        If I feel like a coworker will just ignore me, or it will create a hostile work environment, I will either just ignore it or take it to management. Otherwise, I will deal with it, if it’s not just one of my quirks (like having things arranged in patterns).

        1. Not So NewReader

          I think the reason you are having problems is because of having a weak boss. Everyone knows there is no point, the boss won’t do anything.

  29. Case of the Mondays

    I’m surprised by the number of people that are truly damaged by toxic bosses. It makes me so thankful that I was born w/ the personality/mental fortitude I have (I say this in a grateful way, not a smug way) that even when I worked for toxic people, I realized the problem was them and not be and I didn’t let them ruin my self esteem. I was surprised to read how different we are all wired and how so many people really take to heart and are damaged by what mean awful bosses say. I suffered some pretty bad bullying in grade school and I guess the coping mechanisms I learned there served me well in the workplace.

    1. Case of the Mondays

      After reading the anxiety post just above mine, I want to be clear that reading about people hurt by toxic bosses opened my eyes to their plight and made me more understanding of my clients (and more thankful I wasn’t similarly impacted) and did not make me think “why can’t they handle it or be like me.” I realize I am the exception which is sad to think that bosses are actively going around hurting people.

      1. fposte

        I think it’s kind of like PTSD–you put a bunch of people in the same situation, and some get it and some don’t.

    2. Erm_well_about_that

      Hmm.

      I’m like you and recognized that it was the bosses and not me. But after a year of this, some items did start to make me question myself. It took another year to “heal” after bad boss. I guess I just don’t believe that anyone is not effected by a truly toxic workplace, although the level of workplace PTSD can vary.

      1. Anonsie

        Same. Even though I’ve never internalized any of my terrible jobs, it makes it difficult to deal with people “normally” later because you don’t know what’s normal for them to want from you.

      2. the gold digger

        I’m like you and recognized that it was the bosses and not me.

        But it can take a while for that realization to sink in if you have never been in that kind of environment before. I had always had decent bosses who, if not totally competent, were at least nice and well meaning. To have a truly vindictive, jerk boss was completely new to me and my first response was to question myself because the idea of a bad boss (I am talking about NotSergio) took a while to occur to me. I have very healthy work self esteem and am very confident of my intellectual and work abilities, but this experience shook me.

        Even now, six months into my new job, away from NotSergio, I still flinch when my boss calls me into his office and I wonder if he is joking when he tells me I am doing a good job or that he is giving me a raise. Am I being set up for something mean?

        I liken it to having always had really nice boyfriends and then dating a guy who turned out to be a jerk – at first, you think the reason he is being a jerk is because something you did because with the nice guys, if you got such a reaction, it would be because of something you did. It takes a while to realize that nope, this guy is different – he is a jerk and it’s not you.

        1. Not So NewReader

          I think this is typical of many people with PTSD from bad bosses. They do have a good sense of self esteem and they are confident. But some toxic people know just which buttons to push to erode the esteem/confidence. And you tell yourself, “no, I am good here”. But like sand paper on a piece of wood, the boss is slowly wearing you down.

          See what weighs in here is how devious these toxic people are. They will do stuff that leaves a person saying “I can’t believe I just heard that.” Toxic people count on the fact that the healthy individual has no experience in how to handle such remarks, or they hide behind the ambiguity of the remark. “You’re imaging things.”

  30. A rat and a cracker

    I’m surprised by the updates where the LW responds that they pretty much did not act on any of the awesome, sound advice Alison gave them, but they eventually found another job so all is well.

    1. BRR

      lol. “Thanks for the advice, I’m going to ignore it but somehow everything worked itself out.”

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Relatedly, I get surprised (and a little frustrated) by OPs who join the discussion in the comments but never acknowledge the advice I gave them in the post or respond to it in any substantive way — no “Oh, I’ll try that” or “I don’t think that will work because of X.”

      (Sometimes it feels a bit like it’s because they don’t actually want to take action but rather just be heard, which I suppose is fine, but it always surprises me when it happens.)

      1. Katie the Fed

        The longer I’m around, the more I think most people just want to be heard. Not just here, but in general. It’s a very fundamental human need.

        1. BRR

          Ditto. Specifically to here somebody had a question and I referred him to AAM and said to write in. He goes, “I’ll send her a story of the terrible interview I just had.” Like, that’s not how this works.

        2. Anonsie

          Agreed, and I think we squash it at all turns so people feel the need to come up with different ways to frame it in order for people to listen.

          What I always see is that if someone talks about something bad that’s happened to them or a difficulty they’re dealing with and just put it out there as “I’m struggling with this,” people accuse them of complaining for no reason. There’s an assumption that if you talk about a problem, you’re not solving it, and therefore you are causing the problem and don’t deserve to be heard. Asking for advice can head that off, because it automatically implies you are trying to take action and therefore your struggle is legitimate.

        3. fposte

          I think that’s true of a lot of comments as well–sometimes we just want to tell the story the post reminds us of. I think that’s one reason why the “your most unprofessional moment” or “your weirdest co-worker” posts are so popular–we all want to tell our stories!

        4. Not So NewReader

          The need to be heard combined with feelings of powerlessness can result in feelings of desperation. When desperation kicks in, things like thank you or I will try this can go right out the door.

      2. Welfare state resident

        I always notice that too, and it seems incredibly rude to me. Someone took the time to engage with your situation and you can’t even muster up a thank you?

      3. AnotherFed

        To me, that’s what the updates should be/frequently are. Most of the discussion happens the same day the article is posted, and I know if I had a big issue going on that I needed advice on, I’d want to go off and think about the advice given before planning out what I was actually going to do. Since many of the responses boil down to the OP having at least some part in the problem, it can be hard to hear that and figure out how to reframe the situation so it’s “Unfair thing happened and I reacted badly, but I can fix things” rather than “OMG, everyone is out to get me and it’s so unfair!” And then you still have to get to the approach to fixing things you think you can successfully pursue.

    3. Jennifer

      Getting another job tends to solve all the problems far better than talking to crazy people, or getting in trouble for speaking up, or whatever. A lot of this stuff is risk assessment.

  31. Absolutely_Surprising!

    I’m surprised at the number of people who have hard and fast rules and appear to be completely inflexible over some of the most mundane items.

    “I absolutely refuse to hire anyone who puts MS Office on their resume”

    “I never let my salaried staff come in after 8pm or use flex time even after working 80hrs the previous week.”

    I’m also surprised at how malicious some managers can be while patting themselves on the back for being so clever. Such as:

    “I always schedule all staff for 2 hours on the holiday, and give them the worst times, so that they have to team build.”

    The manager who held pre-team meetings only excluding one of her teammates so she could “build a case” of complaints. Etc.

    1. jag

      Yeah.

      Simplistic rules are good to help deal with information overload or help us make decisions in conditions of uncertainty. But they should be guides, not strict rules.

    2. BRR

      All of this. Do some people just not hear it when they create these rules? I believe there was a LW once who loved a candidate but didn’t want to send them an offer because they didn’t receive a thank you note.

      1. Cordelia Naismith

        Really? That just seems like shooting yourself in the foot for no good reason…

  32. Absolutely_Surprising!

    The one thing that has suprised me the most in the office environment is how pro-extravert every office I have worked in has been. (Admittedly only got 3 years experience at 2 offices so, yeah).

    Examples: it’s unprofessional to sit at your desk and check facebook or read the news (e.g. introvert relax), but it’s totally okay to stand around and chat about non-work items with your co-workers (extrovert relax).

    Or along a similar vein – It’s “lazy” to come in at 8am and leave at 5pm while taking your normal lunch even though your production is fine. But you are a “hard worker” if you come in at 7:30 chat for 2 – 3 hours with co-workers about non-work items and leave at 5:30.

  33. jag

    I’m an introvert, have to disagree with your the meaning of your examples. Building connections within an organization or team has significant value, and that’s at least part of why talking to other staff about non-work stuff is more OK than Facebook.

    In a well-run organization, reading news/etc that relate to work is OK. Reading stuff completely outside work is not the same.

      1. Absolutely_Surprising!

        Yes. Hours a day everyday. Yet I got called in for reading this site while on the job.

        I guess I also just do not buy that all office chat = networking = work related. How much are you really building connections and networking with Jane if everyday Thursday you spend 1/2 hour geeking about about whatever you happen to be watching on TV?

        In fact I have seen this sort of excessive office chat lead to poor teamwork, cliques, and excessive drama (did you hear that so and so got divorced).

        I like to network and make some small talk and I always smile in the hall and thank people. I’m just surprised that a boss would care if I took 15 minutes to read AAM but doesn’t bat an eye lash if others are standing around cranking the office rumor mill for an hour plus. Somehow that’s “work” but reading isn’t and I just find it surprising.

        1. AW

          Whoops, sorry I wasn’t clear. I believed you when you said co-workers spent hours talking.

          My response was aimed at jag. I don’t think it makes sense to argue that people are building connections when they’re talking for that long.

  34. puddin

    A surprisingly common theme (to me) that I have found here is the amount of rage people have to deal with at work from bosses and co-workers. I am still totally gobsmacked by the number of stories people have related about this. I heave heard of maybe 3-4 incidences total in all my career before coming here. It has never happened to me personally either.

    I am very very lucky that I have not been in that position. Imagining the stress and aggravation that these ragers cause others makes me sad for everyone involved.

    Now I have had customers yell at me, but for some reason that seems much more ‘normal’.

    1. Joey

      Well I doubt most people really feel the need to write for advice when they like their boss

  35. The RO-Cat

    The most surprising – and interesting – for me are always the differences in culture and legislation between the EU (me being European) and the US. So many things I take for granted at home require hard work in the US; and so many things I thought nigh-impossible to obtain here are within reach there.

    And of course, the many, many times when reading the comments made me re-think my stance or view of things that were carved in stone before AAM.

  36. HRish Dude

    I’m surprised whenever there is almost universal agreement in the comments and the OP pops into it and claims to be “attacked” and that everyone else is wrong.

    The one with the “evil OP” and the other with the husband resigning for her come to mind.

      1. HRish Dude

        It was the one where the guy wanted to write a scathing review of his interviewer because he opened with, “Tell me about yourself.”

        1. The Toxic Avenger

          Holy Toledo. That’s terrible.

          I am also thinking of the OP who wrote in about her U of P degree. That was bad, too. :(

          1. Zillah

            I actually didn’t find the UoP OP as bad as a lot of other people apparently did – she was definitely a little defensive and combative, but given the news she was getting – basically, “Yeah, that degree that put you in debt up to your eyeballs is actively hurting you,” I can see how defensiveness would be her first reaction.

            1. Steve G

              I agree. I just skimmed that and the OP was only ever-so-slightfully sarcastic (I wouldn’t say defensive) in one little part. I was surprised like he OP was that so many people were anti UOP. I never thought about the issue of UOP and kept reading for comments like “but I did UOP and I got a great job!” But nope, never found them…all comments were anti-UOP. That must have been really hard for that OP to hear!

          2. nona

            At least we could understand why she was upset, though. I probably wouldn’t have been too nice if I were in that situation.

      2. Steve G

        I just read the Evil_HR_OP one quoted below. My head is spinning and I need to stop (I just got back from my family’s and they talk a lot and the way conversations circle there reminds me of this letter!) I see him being defensive in certain parts, but my overall reaction is – why did you write in? There is little to no advice to be received. You had a bad interviewer. If you want some reassurance, that’s one thing. But you don’t want/need advice.

        I notice this OP keeps bringing up comments about attention spans and the way he thinks interviewers are supposed to be. I think he doesn’t get that most interviews are supposed to be fast-paced, and giving too much time to delve into details about things like what your past companies have done would take precious time away from more important questions. I also felt for the OP when he said that he was made to list all courses taken in school, but then I sort-of cringed when he said he mentioned Business Ethics. Not because I am unethical and don’t want ethics applied to my company…….but because (and other B-school grads may agree), this is the equivalent of saying I took Intro to American History, or Math 201. This was a chance to mention classes that were difficult or provided some hard skills, not mention prerequisites for those classes. Not a faux pas, but not exhibiting great communication skills either……..

        I think this OP was defensive, definitely! Other OPs I don’t see as defensive. I think it’s just natural when 10 or 15 people tell you to do something differently, that you don’t just say “ok,” but you write back explaining why you’ve been doing xyz “wrong” all along. I think that comes across as defensive sometimes even though some OPs don’t mean it that way

        1. Grey

          Yes, he was defensive. But commenters here did have a tendency to “pile on” certain letter writers. It got bad enough that Allison had to take steps to reign it in. I re-read that thread and saw countless comments telling him he was entitled, crazy, off his meds, lacked teaching skills, should have his license ripped up… It was ugly on both sides of the discussion.

    1. A Kate

      Aaaaand I just got in several good hours procrastinating on a paper I’m supposed to be writing re-reading the comments to both the The_evil_OP and husband resigning on behalf of the OP posts.

  37. Zillah

    I constantly surprised by how many bad employees seem to be kept around despite gross incompetence or ridiculous misbehavior, despite how many people who would be wonderful employees desperately searching for a new job.

    1. BRR

      Me too, even above and beyond how I was already surprised by this. It makes me feel like I should be able to get away with doing much less.

      1. feldergarb

        At my last job our director told us no one would ever receive an Exceeds Expectation evaluation on the annual review, since they deliberately set the bar too high. Well, if I’m going to get the same Meets Expectation as my co-worker who spent half the day on the internet, then don’t ask me why I don’t work overtime.

  38. Anonymous Librarian

    What truly surprises me, though it shouldn’t, is the number of female letter writers who are writing about insensitive, entitled, or downright sexist bosses or coworkers. Come on, people. It’s the 21st century. Guys, women are your coworkers. They usually want the same things you do: not get fired, pay the mortgage, have some fun while getting things done at work. Quit making them miserable or holding them back because your attitude or behavior still says ‘boy’s club.’ Gals, men are jerks sometimes and some of them are jerks all the time. Let’s start calling it all out, out loud, whenever we can do so without disastrous consequences. Those of us women and men with some privilege, let’s speak out more and defend ourselves and others! This has got to stop!

  39. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    Decades ago – I worked for a large company. My wife – began receiving phone calls during the day from an internal company investigator – wanting to know my personal relationship/friendship with a neighbor. When she hung up on him, he called back and said “look, be careful, your husband works for ….”.

    I reported it to my management – who immediately said – “it’s not us, sure it’s not us.” So I said “Didn’t think so – I’m going to the phone company, reporting this as a harassment call, the police will get involved…” “NO! DON’T DO THAT!

    Investigation showed – it was someone internal – overstepped his authority – I was assured “cross my heart – you will never get a call like that again” … we didn’t.

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