did I cross the line with our fun office survey, handling a boss’s birthday, and more

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

1. Did my fun office survey really cross the line?

I work for a market research company and in lieu of a company newsletter, I design and send out a fun survey every Monday, and then distribute the answers on Friday. Each week is a different theme. For example this week is about superheroes, asking people who their favorite villain or superhero is. The chairman of the company likes to make it personal to people in the office by adding questions like, should so-and-so shave his head?

A regular feature of the survey is the Ask Someone Anything section. Each week we choose a person to feature and everyone in the company can submit questions anonymously that we would like them to answer. My immediate boss has had an issue with some of the questions that were submitted. A couple of guys in the office got asked if they wear boxers or briefs. Someone got asked about their age. Are these types of questions crossing the line? I feel like they are pretty tame. Could I get in trouble for allowing these to slip through?

If you continue to let them slip through, yes. Asking people at work about their underwear is inappropriate. It doesn’t matter if you feel like your particular group is fine with it and finds it funny; you still need to have work-appropriate boundaries, because eventually someone is going to come along (if they’re not already there) who finds it unwelcome. That person may be afraid to speak up because it’s clear others enjoy it, and that tends to lead to Bad Places. Same with age — you may not mind being asked your age, but someone else might. Given that age is a legally protected characteristic (if over 40), there’s just no reason to mess around with that area.

You should be able to have plenty of fun questions without violating professional norms. Plus, your boss has already told you where she stands on these questions (which sounds like the same place I stand), so that’s pretty much the final word on it anyway.

Updated to add: I read this question as “Could I get in trouble if I continue to allow these to slip through?” But on another reading, I wonder if the letter-writer is really asking whether she could get in trouble for the ones that were already printed. If that’s the question: I doubt you’d get in a huge amount of trouble; you’d probably just be told to handle the questions differently in the future and at worst chastised for not spotting the issue to begin with. Show that you get it now, and you should be fine!

2. It’s my boss’s birthday and we have differing opinions about what to do

This morning a coworker (my BFF) mentioned that our boss’s birthday is next week. The boss has been especially kind and understanding to me after my recent hospitalization, but morale is low and I know not everyone has the warm fuzzies. There is a policy about not spending money on routine life events like birthdays and anniversaries – although among friends, we totally ignore this rule. When someone in my department has a birthday, close friends/coworkers bring a card and cupcakes, but there is no formal workplace celebration. In BFF’s department, the entire team recognizes birthdays with a group luncheon and she wants to do the same for our boss. It feels awful and contrived to throw the boss a festive birthday luncheon and ask the entire office to join the mandatory fun. What to do?

This is your BFF; you should just be candid with her. (Although actually, my advice would be the same even if she weren’t.) Say this: “I know that in your department, that’s how you tend to do it, but it’s very much not our way over here. I think people would resent being asked to give money, especially for a boss, and it’s also totally against company policy anyway. Why don’t we just do a nice card, and if someone wants to bring in cupcakes, they can?”

3. How to list pseudonymous writing on a resume

Long-time reader here! I recently resigned from my 10-year communications career in corporate America and am starting to build a freelance writing business. I’m in the process of updating my resume – which, thanks to your excellent advice, I feel really great about!

One sticking point: I’m an avid commenter on the Gawker Media sites and have a decent following over there. I know that sounds…odd…but being a popular/followed/respected commenter is a big thing on Gawker. As a result of that, I was able to start contributing to an official Gawker/Jezebel sub-blog (this is all unpaid). There was a little bit of an “audition” process in which I provided writing samples and pitched ideas, but nothing too crazy.

I am really, really proud of this, and have enjoyed the opportunity to show I can do more than corporate/financial services writing. The only problem with sharing this accomplishment (and in some cases, highly relevant experience) on my resume is that all of this writing is under a pseudonym, which is common for sub-blog authors there. I’ve currently got it listed as a bullet in “other relevant experience” as: “Contributing author on Gawker Media sub-blog, [name of blog] (under pseudonym, samples available upon request)”

I don’t reference Jezebel specifically because I don’t want to immediately turn anyone off who might have negative views about the site, since it can be a little polarizing.

Is this weird? I’d really appreciate your guidance if there’s a better way to handle it. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll have similar published writing under my own name, but for now this is all I’ve got!

I think that’s totally fine. (The only caution I’d have is to make sure that you’re fine with prospective employers eventually seeing anything you’ve published there, since if they ask for samples, they’ll be able to find all the others too.)

4. Whose advice should I follow?

On Day 1, an employer called at 8:45 PM and I missed it because I wasn’t expecting anyone to call after 5. She left a voicemail asking that I call her back to schedule an interview. She also mentioned that she would be in and out of her office for the next couple of days and would check her voicemail when she could.

Because it was so late, I called her back a little after 8 AM on Day 2 and left a voicemail stating who I was, how interested I was in the position, and when it would be best to contact me. I had a commitment for the first half of the day, but I did mention that I would have my phone with me. She didn’t call back on Day 2 or Day 3. Now it’s Day 4 and my mother thinks I should call her back and leave another voicemail if she’s not in her office. My mom thinks I would be showing more interest if I called again; I think it sounds pushy and I don’t want to come off as annoying. My dad has a friend that works at this company and I’m afraid if I don’t get a call my dad will ask said friend to figure out what’s going on.

I’ve done some reading on others that have had this problem and some say I should give it up and search elsewhere and others say I should call the front desk to get her email address and contact her that way.

So whose advice should I follow, or are they all wrong? Is it appropriate to call again with the possibility of leaving another voicemail? Or should I continue to wait for a call back?

There’s no harm in calling one more time and leaving a second message if you get her voicemail. That’s not unreasonably pushy. After that, though, you should move on and let it be a pleasant surprise if you do her from her.

Email would be fine too if you had her email address, but going through the trouble of calling someone else to get it will be too much.

5. I was asked to provide a headshot for a customer service job application

I have been as asked to provide a headshot by a potential employer after sending in my resume by email. The job is in customer service and it just feels odd to me that they would want to see a picture of me before even giving me a interview. Should I ask them why they need this picture or just go ahead and send it?

I’d like you to ask because I’d like to know their answer, but there’s a pretty good chance that you’re not going to get an answer, or at least not a candid one. This practice is weird (assuming you’re in a country like the U.S. where this is Not Done), and now you know that something about this company is weird too. I’d look at it as data about them, decide how to weigh it, and proceed accordingly.

{ 211 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    OP #1, you are coming across very strongly as someone who has trouble understanding that bosses and co-workers can see things differently than you without being wrong. The fact that you find a survey question “fun” or “tame” doesn’t make it objectively fun or tame, and doesn’t mean that people who find being asked about their underwear un-fun or inappropriate are just Missing Your Point.

    If you go around your boss on this, the message you will send is “I don’t care what you think; if I like doing something, I’ll do it, behind your back if necessary.” That does not broadcast that you are a reliable employee, and it also does not broadcast that you have good judgment about what appropriate “fun” questions are.

    1. Anonymous for This*

      The difficulty with people having “fun” is that it can turn into an odd kind of group bullying. There’s pressure to go along because it has been labeled “fun” so people tend to keep any objections to themselves.

      It does NOT mean everyone is enjoying it.

      I once had to attend a “fun” holiday party that involved blow-up dolls.

      1. Myrin*

        Speaking of bullying, I also find questions like “Should so-and-so shave his head?” really inappropriate. I mean, “shave head” might be more on the tame side for all I know but I’d fear it wouldn’t stop there and the chairman (wtf even?) might someday want to include questions like “Should Betty have bigger breasts?” or “Should model-like Mark only wear muscle shirts?”. I know that might seem like a leap but who knows with someone who already doesn’t seem to have a clear understanding of professional boundaries and how something might be meaner than intended?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The head-shaving question could be perfectly fine, if you know your group and have warm relationships where you joke about things like that. I can think of people I’ve worked with who would have loved that and enjoyed playing along. I don’t think it’s really a slippery slope from that to asking about whether people should enlarge their breasts! One is really pretty different from the other.

          1. Vicki*

            On the other hand, my reaction to the “shave his head” example was an immediate knee-jerk WTH?!?.

            So… OP, be warned.

          2. Liz in a Library*

            Yeah…I have an immediate negative reaction to it, and I think it’s because it’s about his appearance. I think questions about your preference for a coworkers appearance are out of line, and so not ridiculously far removed from the hypothetical breast size question.

          3. LBK*

            I think that could be a perfectly innocent question if the coworker had been considering it and this was basically polling the group…if it was a randomly put upon thing though, that’s kind of inappropriate.

            1. Nom d' Pixel*

              I think that is about the only time that it makes it OK. If Bill is always talking about wanting to shave his head, but is nervous about it, then it is OK. OR if the question is about someone very high up the food chain who sports an obvious combover. But that person has to be high up enough that it can’t be bullying (he also needs to have a sense of humor).

          4. stellanor*

            Hair can get a little fraught. If a bunch of people told me I should straighten my hair I’d be pretty upset. I like my hair how it is and have spent my entire life being told my hair would be better/prettier/nicer/more professional/you name it if I changed it.

            1. Zillah*

              Yeah, this is the issue for me far more than a slippery slope to breast enhancement (which I also don’t really see). “Should x shave his head” isn’t so different from “Should y straighten her hair?” or “Should z grow her hair out?” … and those are getting into pretty tricky territory.

            2. Not the Droid You are Looking for*

              My hair has been the topic of team meetings, literally! I had a boss state that he prefered my hair straight at a Management meeting and ask my coworkers whether they agreed or disagreed.

              I could so see a “Should Jane where her hair curly or straight?” or “Should Sylvia stop covering her gray?” following the shaved head question.

              1. KJR*

                HA! Fellow curly-haired person here. I used to straighten mine on occasion, and I actually had a coworker say to me, “Oh my gosh, you look SO much better with your hair like that!!” Talk about a back-handed compliment. For some reason I felt the need to tell him that people paid big money for my curls like mine! Just on principle I stopped straightening it. Why do people care so much about other people’s HAIR??

      2. the gold digger*

        party that involved blow-up dolls


        My husband and I are wondering what’s wrong with us that we do not feel the need to share our bedroom activities with everyone. This is all based, of course, on his dad, who has, in the past months,

        1. bragged about his Cialis use to Primo and shown him the bottle
        2. asked Primo if he has ever seen “Deep Throat” and said that he and Primo’s mom really liked it
        3. told Primo that he watches online porn (and that must be why he does not have time to get his financial affairs in order)
        4. reminisced to Primo about certain sexual activities involving toys that he and Primo’s mom enjoyed.

        (I don’t care what anyone else does behind closed doors. But I don’t want you to tell me about it. I especially do not want you to tell me about it if you are an 81 year old mean alcoholic who is my husband’s father.)

        1. Anonymous for This*

          I tend to assume that people who feel the need to discuss their sex lives with non-participants are bragging to make themselves feel better or cover something up.

          But I admit that any sympathy I had for them evaporated long before they were done with the blow-up dolls.

        2. Vicki*

          Husband’s father may be due for a complete medical checkup… Whenever something like this comes through “Ask Prudence” (in Slate), that;s usually her first recommendation.

          1. Blurgle*

            This is wise. Inappropriate sexual sharing is right up there with wandering and failure to recognize family members as cardinal symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

            1. the gold digger*

              Well, not to get ahead of myself, as the blog is a few months behind real time, but yes, there are some serious medical issues. Although it never occurred to me that the sex oversharing could be due to a medical problem – I have always thought it was just because Sly is a jerk with no boundaries.

              1. LJL*

                If boundaries were at least marginally respected before and aren’t now, that’s cause for concern. I’d be sure to get him checked out (if you can) to potentially catch something dangerous.

    2. UKAnon*

      I think that’s slightly unfair. I was far more disturbed by the *chairman’s* questions. Co-workers I am prepared to cut some slack on because it sounds like they are just following the lead of the *chairman*. I would be way more put off by the *chairman* feeling the need to force everybody to comment on my hairstyle than one co-worker asking a slightly off base question.

      I cannot emphasise enough the chairman.

      1. neverjaunty*

        I am with you completely re: the chairman. But OP’s question was about whether she should ignore her boss’s clear instruction because she thinks these kinds of questions (including the chairmanship ‘s apparently) are “fun”. In addition to that we’re not talking about “one slightly off-base question”; OP is supposed to be screening these, and genuinely does not seem to get that there is a difference between asking about favorite superheroes vs. underwear – to the point of wanting to go ahead and ask them anyway.

        I am sure OP means well. But she is doing a disservice to her co-workers if she does not understand that her idea of funny questions is not the ISO standard for what is appropriate in the workplace, or what other people should consider funny. And a disservice to her career, if she thinks ignoring her boss’s instructions by pretending that these jokes “slipped through” is going to be seen as anything other than insubordination.

        1. UKAnon*

          I can see where OP’s question comes from though – if even the chairman is asking way off base questions, suddenly that sort of thing doesn’t seem so off base and from there it becomes terribly easy to think “boss just doesn’t want us to have fun, chairman understands though”, which is why I think OP isn’t necessarily tone deaf to other people’s fun. Rather this is seen as part of the workplace culture, like not wearing jeans say, until you ask someone outside a chairman led workplace with a really bizarre sense of typical workplace culture. Double particularly if the co-workers themselves didn’t object.

        2. Cat*

          But the chairman is presumably above her boss, which is an inherently difficult situation when you’re getting conflicting instructions.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Sure, but OP’s question wasn’t “how do I resolve this conflict when my boss says no but the chairman kind of likes inappropriate questions?”

            1. AdAgencyChick*


              I have a hard time believing that if OP pulls the questions back, the chairman is going to go, “Hey, where are my ‘fun’ [inappropriate] questions?” If he does, that would be…weird.

              1. Cat*

                Well, it’s weird to ask them in the first place so that additional bit of weirdness wouldn’t surprise me.

            2. Cat*

              Yeah but I think it’s in the subtext. The big boss is telling you this is ok, your direct boss is saying it isn’t. That creates some cognitive dissonance.

              1. neverjaunty*

                I dunno, the subtext I got was “well I think these are kinda fun, so does the chairman, but my boss says no, can I just kind of put them in anyway”. Doesn’t matter much either way though, since the answer is the same: no, you can’t, and they’re not.

                1. Observer*

                  If that’s what she thinks, she’s seriously misreading things. The chairman is crossing a line I think, but he is not asking individuals to share personal and private information. That’s a very different thing, and crosses a lot more lines. The fact that she doesn’t see it and thinks this is “tame” is a lack of judgement. Her question about ignoring her boss – whose instructions would not in the least bit affect the chairman’s questions – is really asking for trouble.

    3. Artemesia*

      This. And if these are examples of things that have ‘slipped through’ then the OP’s judgment is questionable and she may just find herself fired one fine day when the survey comes out. What exactly does the boss have to do to make herself clear about this?

  2. Nachos Bell Grande*

    OP#1, I do the same kind of ‘ask me anything’ questions in my company’s newsletter, and it’s great fun — But I provide the person with a list of questions with a wide range of personal depth and ask them to answer their favorite three. Some of them can get pretty deep (what was the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you?) and some of them are pretty impersonal (what’s your favorite movie?) and this way, the answerer can pick whatever level of sharing they’re comfortable with. And since the questions are all pre-vetted, none of them tread into problematic territory.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I like this approach. It’s like the questions asked in our local paper in the Sunday “Lifestyles” section, which profiles people in the community who are doing interesting things. Each profilee answers a few questions of their choice from a preselected list, and their answers appear beside the article. The one question that they all answer is, “One word that describes me is . . . “, and they fill in things like, “determined”, “compassionate, “driven”, etc.

  3. Mostly Sarcasm*

    OP#5 : I live in Canada, and something similar happened to me. I declined to go further in the interview process.

    They may be screening people out based on conventional attractiveness, ability, gender, and possibly race or other characteristics, to keep their team members fitting a certain image.

    Seriously, run.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Agreed this is just one of those new gimmicks and should be left to the entertainment industry. I mean customer service? Wtf you’ll presumably be on the phone all day.

      I once applied for a customer service job at a software startup that asked for absolutely no resume but a link to my LinkedIn page, which to me was a ploy to see my pic, and then you had to answer 3 gimmicky questions. I spen all day coming up with creative answers , one of which I made a literary reference which I knew was risky, and ultimately it all went over their head because they rejected me in about five minutes! This was several years ago but this company still has openings regularly and surprise! Really bad reviews

    2. EB*

      I had a job ask me the same thing. Their reason, which they provided up front, was they wanted to remember the candidates because they forget. The company wasn’t that large. I thought it was really weird. I did anyways because I had been out of work for some time. I didn’t get the job anyways. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have done it. I would advise anyone to say no and not go further.

      1. OP of the headshot question*

        I did the next day by email ask why they wanted a headshot before giving me a interview. I have not received a answer as of today. June 15, 2015. And based on the answer I got and your post I’m glad I didn’t send it.

    3. stellanor*

      I’m US-based but currently helping screen candidates for a job in a country where headshots on resumes are the norm and it’s freaking me RIGHT out.

      Also we’ve gotten a handful of headshots that look like they belong in someone’s modeling portfolio, not on their resume. Like, full nightclub makeup and come-hither facial expressions (either by luck or because of some social thing, we only get those from women). People also routinely list their nationality, age, and marital status. We’ve also had multiple young men include in their cover letters that because they are young they’re physically fit and energetic.

      I don’t want to know any of that! It’s not legal for me to care about it, stop telling me!

      1. UK Nerd*

        Is it possible to have someone pre-screen them for you? Have them make a copy of the resume with the photo removed and anything about age, marital status, etc. hidden. Some recruiters I’ve worked with even remove the candidate’s name so you can’t tell their gender or ethnic origin.

    4. matilda*

      This happened to a friend, who responded with a photo of Nicole Richie.

      He got the job.

  4. schnapps*

    About two years after arriving here (Canada) our nanny asked for help with her resume. The first thing I did was put a big X over top of the photo she had on it.

    She was totally shocked to discover that she didn’t need to put her picture on her resume (she’s from the Philippines).

    We’re in Canada, and in no circumstances should you be required to provide a headshot (unless you’re applying for modeling, advertisements, etc). There are a couple of Certain Restaurant Chains that care about appearance here (see Sammy J Peppar’s, Cactus Club and Hooters) ; it’s a well known de facto idea that if you’re not pleasant, conventionally/extraordinarily pretty, and have legs up to your armpits you won’t be hired.

    1. super anon*

      I graduated a few weeks ago, and while we were waiting outside to go into the convocation an attractive guy and girl approach the girl standing in front of me (tall, blonde, very thin, and very pretty) and offered her a job as a manager at Abercrombie and Fitch on the spot, saying that they could tell she would be “perfect for the job”. After they left her they picked out another girl to talk to, who looked very similar to the first. I would be salty they didn’t approach me, as I’m super cute and super blonde, but I can’t imagine a company that thinks someone’s outward appearance is what would make them perfect as a manager is anywhere I would want to work.

      tl;dr: OP 5, run.

      1. bridget*

        I have a friend who worked for A&F in college. She says she got recruited while she was shopping at the mall with an A&F, and once she started working there, it was explicitly part of the job to keep an eye out for and approach shoppers who physically fit the type they are looking for (i.e. young, pretty, tan, already look like they own and wear a lot of A&F type clothes). Even though I’m an adult and probably wouldn’t have wanted to work there any way, I was a little insulted that nobody ever once said a peep to me inside any of those kinds of stores. (although this makes no sense, because I would have been pale and normal-looking and not been wearing A&F type clothes).

        1. Lillie Lane*

          Weird that they are so particular about the physical characteristics of their staff, as those stores keep the lighting so low you can’t really see anyone/anything clearly anyway.

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            Oh, is that normal? I have only been in the branch in Paris and thought they were having a power cut.

            1. Windchime*

              Yeah, super low light and pounding dance-club music. I’ve only been inside one once and it was weird. There were very few customers and we just wandered through eerily empty and dimly-lit rooms, looking at expensive, ragged clothes. Very strange.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I don’t even go in there. They don’t sell anything I’d want to wear, and I am pretty casual most of the time. I doubt I’d bother even if I were thirty years younger and a stick.

      2. Traveler*

        This is A&F’s well-known MO though. It’s why the only people that really shop there are high school kids that still buy into the HS popularity scheme.

        1. Traveler*

          Though I will say, this a thing for malls in general not just AF. I used to work in a mall, and I was offered job multiple times without any sort of interview. If they think your outward appearance and attitude will get them more customers in the door, that’s typically all they care about. Until money goes missing from the register anyway.

    2. Nom d' Pixel*

      If I see any resumes with pictures, I don’t read them. That is big red flag to me.

  5. help me see your infinity and my finiteness*

    #1: on one hand, the “boxers vs briefs” question has been used in a television ad campaign. There was a time when I would have said, given how television has become the one common shared culture of our post-literate society, that if it was in a television commercial, it’s Safe For Work.

    But not anymore. You’ll see ads for Erectile Dysfunction medicines on the evening news, and with the advent of cable, it’s the wild, wild west all over again. Perhaps you should run these questions past your boss as you get them, and give them veto power? Yeah, it’s a buzzkill. But – that’s The Wonderful World of Work for ya.

    1. Saurs*

      Putting the pv kibosh on questions that draw colleague’s eyes, ears, and thoughts to the genitalia of their cohort is not really a buzzkill. It’s impolite to make people uncomfortable under the guise of “fun.”

      Watching television and writing on the interwebs does not a “post-literate society” make, thankfully.

    2. Brightwanderer*

      A well known toilet paper company was recently running an ad campaign centered around whether people fold or crumple their toilet paper before using it to, well, you know…

      Just. Just no. Please. This is not a question anyone has ever needed answered.

      1. Myrin*

        As with most moves you do kind of automatically and without thinking, I couldn’t even answer that on the spot – please tell me they didn’t ask random people on the street? They should at least provide a nearby toilet to check first. /notseriousjustfortherecord

        Also, was there any reason for this or was it just an “We’re interested in this” kind of thing. In any case, I think toilet paper design works just fine and people will tell them if they got any problems with it.

        1. KJR*

          I also thought it was funny/ironic that they use a posh British woman to “interview” people, almost as if they’re trying to add some class to the ad!

      2. Liane*

        There’s a Minions* meme that I’ve seen several times the past few weeks on Facebook. One of the Minions is asking “Why are there commercials for Toilet Paper? Who doesn’t buy it?”
        Now I, alas, understand why this one was created & is so popular. :(

        *oddly cute oval characters from the 2 charming Despicable Me movies, who will soon have their own movie, for those who don’t see movies marketed for kids.(These are fun for adults too)

        1. Anony-moose*

          I have no kids and am a 28 year old woman and Despicable Me might be my favorite movie in recent history. :)

      3. AJS*

        Back when I was a market researcher, we once had a long phone questionnaire about you let paper; the interviewers actually gad to ask whether people swiped just once or refolded and swiped again.

      4. Windchime*

        I’ve seen a toilet paper commercial with cute little cartoon bears who exclaim, “You might as well enjoy ‘the go’ !” ummm. I do. Thank you for your concern.

    3. ExceptionToTheRule*

      The Boxers or Briefs question was awkward in 1994 when it got tossed at Bill Clinton during a town hall meeting on MTV and it’s awkward today. There is a LOT of crap on TV that is not Safe for Work

      1. nonegiven*

        The joke was they asked the other candidate boxers or briefs and the supposed answer was depends.

    4. neverjaunty*

      I am fascinated in a horrified way at the idea that if something appears in a TV commercial that it’s appropriate for work.

        1. neverjaunty*

          I kind of think that would be an excellent thing for a higher-up (not OP) to suggest to the idiot chairman, just to watch his eyes cross.

      1. help me see your infinity and my finiteness*

        To be clear, I was suggesting that there may have been a time – back in the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s – when television and television commercials might have been useful as a bright-line test to decide SFW versus NSFW.

        Because that’s really the big bugaboo with humor at the office: There’s a lot of it that is obviously inappropriate. And there’s a lot of it that is obviously appropriate. It’s the stuff in the middle (which is where I’d put this “boxers or briefs” question) that is difficult to determine; different people have different opinions on it. Saurs (above) seems to think “boxers or briefs” makes people think about genitals. It doesn’t have that effect on me.

        But – as I believe I stated above – I no longer think television commercials would server as a good test for this. When they started saying stuff like “see your doctor if your erection last for more than 4 hours” during the news, I knew the times had changed.

        As for determining SFW vs NSFW – the easiest solution is to try to go for “Least Offensive”. Which, if taken to extremes, could be the end of OP’s weekly newsletter, because if the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that for any given thing A, you can find person B who will find it offensive.

        1. Traveler*

          Not even in the 60s-80s. Go back and watch some of them, even with the historic context that might allow you to overlook the sexism and racism, there’s still some sketchy stuff.

        2. Have courage and be kind in Austin, TX*

          I’ve always wondered about this question (boxers or briefs) even outside work environments. I mean, who even cares what the answer is? To me it’s a totally inane question. And yes, inappropriate for work because at least some people could become uncomfortable but hesitate to say something (because they are too new, or don’t want to rock the boat, etc.).

        3. neverjaunty*

          Another thing the Internet has taught us is that any suggestion that something could be inappropriate is met with this kind of slippery-slope silliness.

          Someone upthread made an excellent suggestion: offer choice of three questions. Not only does that allow people to pass on certain questions, but it avoids awkwardness if a question is not applicable or the answer is simply bad, like “I don’t like superhero movies so I don’t have a favorite.”

        4. Saurs*

          Saurs (above) seems to think “boxers or briefs” makes people think about genitals. It doesn’t have that effect on me.”

          It’s nice for you that the “boxers or briefs” question is an innocuous one. But that view is at odds with reality: the question is explicitly about how your interlocutor likes their genitalia to be supported. The former is loose, the latter provides some of the support associated with a jock strap (hence the longer name “jockey brief”). That’s not my opinion; that’s the purpose of the question. Now that you know, hopefully you can understand the mild dismay asking it would elicit in others.

          1. jamlady*

            My husband and I have actually had this conversation once. My “it’s just underwear” viewpoint was squashed when he pointed out that, for men, it’s a lot more than that. And as a very, very private person, he would be all too displeased to receive this question from anyone, let alone a coworker, and would probably take it so far as an insult to our partnership (since, like you, he sees the question as one directed toward his genitalia). So for me, I can see how this question was probably thrown out lightly without the understanding that it’s actually very, very unsafe for work.

          2. Help me see your infinity and my finiteness*

            Earlier I wrote:
            “… different people have different opinions on it. Saurs (above) seems to think “boxers or briefs” makes people think about genitals. It doesn’t have that effect on me.

            Stairs wrote:
            “It’s nice for you that the “boxers or briefs” question is an innocuous one. But that view is at odds with reality: the question is explicitly about how your interlocutor likes their genitalia to be supported. The former is loose, the latter provides some of the support associated with a jock strap … That’s not my opinion; that’s the purpose of the question.”

            Well, you’re right that I’ve never considered that line of thinking! When I look back, I think I can honestly say that in 55 years I have never pondered or cared how any man wants their genitals supported, not even once! It’s simply something I don’t care about.

            But I’m quite willing to accept that there are other people in the world who look at it differently. However, your statement about the purpose of the question is a matter of your opinion.

          1. KJR*

            You’re killing me… :D
            Unfortunately those commercials seem to come on when I am watching TV with my 16 year old son. He always lets out a little awkward snicker.

    5. Anonymous (Letter writer)*

      When my boss first brought it to my attention I did ask her to please review the questions before I send them out, but she said i should just use my own judgement. However it seem that my judgement is not in line with hers. I figured the the line for SFW vs. Non-SFW was any sexual content, and I do not believe the boxer vs. brief question is sexual. I am still confused as where this line should be drawn.

      1. neverjaunty*

        LW, I think the problem might be that you are drawing the line as “is this question SFW”, i.e., sexually explicit. But that’s not the only consideration. You’re putting people on the spot to disclose information to themselves to the entire company. Surely you can see that there are areas other than sexually explicit topics where that would be inappropriate? Things that are deeply personal, or embarrassing, or touch on areas that might raise issues of discrimination should be off-limits. You wouldn’t ask a group of strangers at a nice dinner party ‘boxers or briefs?’ to break the ice (I hope!), and in the workplace, you have a whole layer of added pressure.

        Asking someone who their favorite superhero is and why, or what they would do if they won a year’s supply of Corn Flakes, or their favorite movie that most people wouldn’t expect to be their favorite movie – questions that are maybe a little silly, get more than a yes or no, let people tell a little about themselves, but don’t push into personal areas and don’t set you, the company, up for problems.

        Keep in mind that you do not want your boss to think that you have bad judgement.

        1. Windchime*

          Yeah, it’s kind of like asking a woman if she wears a bra with or without an underwire. Everyone has a preference, but I’m sure not going to answer that in a company newsletter.

          1. Dana*

            I was going to say it’s like asking a woman if she wears thongs or boyshorts (or “granny panties” even!). Flip it and it’s totally inappropriate!

      2. Zillah*

        I think that the boxers vs. briefs question in sexual in the same way that asking women whether they wear thongs or what kind of bras they like best is sexual. It may not immediately elicit that reaction in everyone, but there is a sexual component to the question that will make enough people feel uncomfortable that you should steer clear of it in certain settings.

        Rather than just look at “does this have explicit sexual content?” I think maybe you should look at “could this potentially touch on sexual content?”

      3. jamlady*

        I understand the gray areas, but I think the line can easily be drawn at information about undergarments. Anything even remotely considered private as a general rule should likely be avoided.

      4. Green*

        As a lawyer, I’d steer clear of questions related to appearance, questions that are specific to one’s gender, related at all to sexuality (including sexual history, whether they’re dating anyone, who they find attractive, etc.), questions related to one’s religion, questions about health or medical history, questions related to one’s ethnicity or nationality, questions related to prior drug use/criminal background, questions related to one’s family (marriage, kids, etc.), questions related to other coworkers (favorite coworkers, favorite boss, whatever), and questions related to age.

        For example, something that two coworkers may enjoy discussing (Game of Thrones, Grey’s Anatomy) may become a contributor to a hostile workplace when overheard by others — talking about McDreamy and McSteamy and various hook-ups on the show at work is inappropriate if you are not 100% sure that everyone is OK with the conversation, which you can’t know because people often feel like they need to “go along” with work culture even if they’re not comfortable. (This example is in a corporate sexual harassment video that’s pretty popular with companies in California.) Which is why when somebody asks me about something related to pop culture that I enjoy but know is sexually charged or a little raunchy, I typically go with “Yes, Peter Dinklage is a fantastic actor! I hate George R.R. Martin though because every time I see him doing another interview I am thinking YOU SHOULD BE WRITING!” instead of talking about plot or character relationships. It doesn’t matter if Joan reads 50 Shades of Gray every single night on her personal time; if she think it’s inappropriate for work and it makes her uncomfortable in that setting, then it shouldn’t be discussed. Period.

        There are plenty of things to talk about in this world without needing to go anywhere near “the line” of what may be inappropriate at work.

    1. Sara*

      It could be, I guess, but it’s still very weird and highly unconventional. If I were the OP, I’d be wary, too.

  6. Bend & Snap*

    #1 I’m one of the killjoys who wouldn’t find that fun. Fun is subjective.

    Your boss is wise and you should listen to her.

      1. jamlady*

        I was actually surprised when the OP went in a different direction. I fully expected it to be a complaint about the presence of weekly surveys – not the content.

  7. Myrin*

    Ugh, I’m having the opposite problem of #5 right now. I’m in Germany where it’s normal to send a picture of yourself along with your other material. I read about a job opening for a parttime job that sounds kind of perfect for me and my current situation but the writing was very concise – in fact, it only said “Please send your complete application materials to xy” without actually specifying what “complete” means in this case/what exactly they want. I mean, there’s some stuff they’re always going to need, like a CV, but, for example, they specifically want a uni student (which I am) but it’s not made clear how I should go about “proving” that – a copy of my student card? The paper I can get online that lists how long I’ve been at uni? My bachelor’s diploma (I’m a master’s student)? etc. and the same goes for a headshot. For most jobs, it’s pretty clear you should provide a photo but companies will spell it out regardless so I’m a bit at a loss in a way that mirrors the OP’s.

    1. a*

      Since you say that sending a photo is standard there, I think you should do it. (Unless I’m misunderstanding and it’s normal for the employer to ask, but it isn’t as universal as a resume or CV, in which case I wouldn’t.)

      With regard to the other documentation, maybe just stating that you’re a student on your CV will be enough to begin with? I don’t have firsthand experience with European hiring practices, but I would think they’d assume your CV is accurate and only ask for proof after you’ve moved forward in the process. Kind of like checking references.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Myrin, I have crappy eyesight and I can’t figure out what that is in your avatar. It looks like a rabbit sitting with its feet up at a desk? I need to know!

    3. German HR Person*

      Complete in this case refers to any certificates (Zeugnisse) you might be able to provide, including:
      – bachelor’s degree and transcript of records
      – certificates for any internships you may already have completed
      – certificates/letters of reference for any other jobs you may have had (if you didn’t get any, ask for them now!)
      – high school diploma / Abiturzeugnis
      – certificates for any volunteer work
      – certificates for any relevant classes you might have taken outside of university.

      The headshot is optional. Really – no one will bat an eye of you don’t send one.

      Also, do not put anything about your parents or siblings on your CV – that is really old-fashioned and usually comes across as pretty weird. :)

      1. German HR Person*

        Ah, yes, and a print out of the current transcript of grades from your master’s should suffice as proof that you’re enrolled. This is another standard document, you should always include it anyway.

    4. De (Germany)*

      I don’t think I have seen a job ad specifying that a picture should be included – it’s usually just implied by saying you should send a resume.

      Other than that, complete means cover letter, resume, and appropriate transcripts and work references.

  8. Lily in NYC*

    #3, I’m dying to know who you are! I’ve been a prolific Gawker commenter for years (under a different name and I’m just a regular commenter; I don’t do anything cool like contribute to a sub-blog). But don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to tell; I would want to stay anonymous too.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      I have an idea of who it might be, but I’m not going to say the name here. I will say that, if it’s who I think it is, I enjoy the person’s writing VERY much.

        1. Lucky*

          Just give me a hint, please. General subject matter?

          I don’t comment as often on Jezebel as I used to, but my name there is similar-ish.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No, no, please don’t ask that! OP #3 may not care, but I don’t want letter-writers (this one or others in the future) to have to worry about people trying to guess who they might be. (I don’t like it when people say “oh, I think I might know where you work” for the same reason.)

    2. #OP 3*

      LOL – I was actually a little nervous about submitting this because if you read enough of my comments…you can probably figure it out! It’s QUITE embarrassing to admit that you’re a little proud about your “commenter following” (gag, gag). But then I figured I was being paranoid about…my internet commenting persona and figured what the hell! I don’t know anyone in my personal life who could give me advice about this!

  9. AnonAcademic*

    “but being a popular/followed/respected commenter is a big thing on Gawker. As a result of that, I was able to start contributing to an official Gawker/Jezebel sub-blog (this is all unpaid). ”

    Is this something typical relevant to list on a freelance writing resume (being a “top” commenter on a site)? I do occasionally guest posts/blogging on a few sites, some for pay. I am also a popular commenter on one site and they even interviewed me once as commenter of the week. But to me that is more of a hobby/recreational activity than professional feather in my cap (it’s not a site relevant to my field/work in general the way AAM is).

    1. Daisy*

      Contributing to a sub-blog on Gawker/Jez is like doing a guest blog/post. It is just unpaid but might have a viewership of 100k+ depending where it is posted.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, it’s not about listing the commenting (I agree that would be weird). It’s that she’s writing her own pieces that appear on a subsection of the site.

    2. MsChanandlerBong*

      I’ve been a freelance writer for almost 10 years. I wouldn’t write “top commenter” on a resume, but the OP said s/he was invited to contribute to the site, which means Jezebel is publishing features under his/her pen name. The feature work totally belongs on a resume.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Right, as “guest contributor” or “contributor” or something similar. “Commenter” doesn’t sound so good.

    3. Liane*

      I am copy editor and writer (paid) for a small gaming company’s website/blog and I use that on my resume’ and applications. I do so because I am looking at jobs in those areas (writing and/or game industry) and it’s structured like a regular job in some key ways. I report to the Managing Editor, who tells me what my duties are, gives guidelines for carrying them out and often has deadlines for projects. Like the other writers, I may be assigned specific topics and M E has approval over ones I suggest and may tell me to make changes to suit the site’s needs.
      (This has another advantage now that I am job-hunting–I still have a Current Job, even if it is very part time. A blessing since so many employers still view being out of work as a Red Flag.)

    4. #OP 3*

      Yeah, I just mentioned the commenter thing for context (here’s how I ended up doing this blog…). Although I WISH it was something I could actually mention, to be honest! It’s just not a thing a lot of people would really get, though, and at the end of the day – it’s just internet commenting.

    5. Lucky*

      There are a few writers on Jezebel who started as commenters and ended up paid as paid writers/editors, i.e., Erin Gloria Ryan f/k/a Morning Gloria.

      1. #OP 3*

        I know! Dare to dream, right!? Although in reality I’m not sure I have the constitution to handle the blowback they get (the emails the writers sometime share and twitter comments and such that they get are horrifying – not to mention the outright harassment from gamergaters and MRAs and the like). I’d suddenly compromise all of my journalistic dreams and ask just to cover funny animal videos. Everyone loves cute raccoons!

      2. Kerry(like the county in Ireland)*

        And how Mallory Ortberg was a comment or at The Hairpin, wound up submitting to them, did a stint at Jezebel and then started her own company.

  10. Daisy*

    #3 I agree with Alison. Now that you cannot hide your comments/discussions/draft posts I would be hesitant to list it, but if you feel comfortable with what you have previously written I think mentioning it the way you mentioned on your resume is fine. I am easy to doxx based on my comments on GT but I doubt an employer could connect me to anything.

    And I know Jezebel can be polarizing but if you aren’t writing some of those articles I would think you would be fine.

    Now I’m wondering who you are ;)

    1. Jenna Maroney*

      Tbh it’s strange to me that OP3 considers Jezebel more polarizing than Gawker. I can understand that it attracts more intense controversy more often than Gawker, but although they’ll do more substantive stuff from time to time (and I don’t know how their subblogs work) Gawker is at heart a gossip site and I think a lot of people consider it pretty fundamentally disreputable.

      1. #OP 3*

        From my experience, some people have serious issues with anything associated, however tangentially, with feminism. I know people (fortunately not anyone close to me) who literally will not read Jezebel because they think it’s a site for man-haters — and that’s not because they’ve spent a lot of time on it, it’s just something they believe because…I guess they find it scary, I guess? I’m clearly a Gawker fangirl, but I know it can be polarizing as well, just not in the same “grab the pitchforks!” kind of way Jez seems to get.

        1. Sophia in the DMV*

          Lol I’m the opposite. Jezebel’s posts have a long history of not being feminist (Schwartz anyone?)

          1. #OP 3*

            Ugh, the Schwartz years. Yeah, there’s definitely a debate to be had about how feminist the site is or isn’t, but regardless, there are definitely people who aren’t interested in the nuance! :)

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, that’s my issue with the site — I wanted to love it, but their take on feminist issues so often lacks critical thinking that I just find them a huge disappointment and often frustrating. (I’m sure not your stuff, OP #3!)

            1. OP #3*

              Yep, I totally agree. I’m a stanch feminist, and I really love the site for the community and a lot of the writers (especially the funny ones!). Some of the reporting and writing they do re: feminist issues is awesome, and some of it’s definitely disappointing – but my main issue is that there isn’t a whole lot of room for debate or disagreement when it comes to those kinds of issues. It can feel like either the Jez way or the highway.

              I do have to say the investigative reporting they did a while back on Lisa Frank was one of the best, most fascinating exposes (about a sticker company, of all things) that I’ve read. It’s been a few years now and it still sticks with me!

              ETA: Pun totally unintended, but how I wish I could claim I’d intended it.

    2. #OP 3*

      The good thing is that when I started doing the sub blog (which I really tried not to make it sound fancier than it actually is!) I chose a different kinja name than the one I normally use to comment – that was mainly so that my family and friends, who I share most of my blog posts with, wouldn’t be able to access *ALL* of my commenting history, because…gulp. But now it’s turning out to have additional benefits, because if I was to share a link to a blog post, whoever sees it is basically only going to be able to find my blog posts and a handful of pretty tame comments.

  11. Nina*

    For what it’s worth Allison, Holland America Cruise lines makes you submit a headshot (or at least they did when they were looking for a librarian).

  12. #OP 3*

    Just wanted to say how much I appreciate the advice, Alison! Here’s hoping my teensy little blog accomplishment may help lead to some *paid* work under my *own* name! :)

  13. Victoria, Please*

    Just trying to imagine how the boxers/briefs question works for women. Thongs or grannies, maybe? Why don’t you ask dogs or cats, it’s actually more interesting, or spiders or snakes.

  14. Brett*

    #5 reminded of a story from when I used to recruit on campus (we had non HR alumni do recruiting at our home campuses at that job, which was fun). We did a table at career fairs, info sessions on our company, and also one-on-one resume critiquing, which was a great way to connect with students and find top candidates while also helping people who needed to improve their resume. And when it comes to students, there are a lot that are just terrible so it’s great to be able to guide them towards good content and format.

    Well, traditional things to include vary by country and I know that a number of countries customarily have information about membership in protected classes, so we would often explain to foreign students that you shouldn’t include your age or marital status or really have any section on personal information unless it was highlighting a skill or accomplishment. I had one guy who’s resume had a head shot on it and started “Unmarried virile young male seeking position in…” We had to start from the ground up sometimes! I mean…virile? Seriously?

  15. BRR*

    #5, if you are in the US and don’t need the job, I would ask why and please report back perhaps in a Friday open thread or update email to Alison.

  16. Chris*

    #1. I love to laugh and have fun, but the idea of a weekly “fun survey” makes me cringe regardless of the content. I really hope this is optional.

      1. Artemesia*

        I can see this sort of thing really sucking up the time and it would make me wonder if the person managing it was an unnecessary staff cost.

      1. Lenticular Focus*

        How many people actually bother to fill it out? How long does it take to do so? How much time is the company paying for for people to do this?

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I dunno, while the advice to be mindful of boundaries is sound, this seems like the kind of thing that’s unnecessarily harsh. It would take me maybe half an hour to come up with such a survey and maybe another half an hour to go through the results and pick out fun ones–and as an employee, probably no more than ten minutes to answer “what kind of superhero are you?” If I so chose, since it is optional.

          Sure, it wouldn’t fit into every company culture, but it doesn’t seem to me inherently ridiculous or spendthrift for companies who have a culture that considers this kind of thing enjoyable bonding or etc. and doesn’t mind “losing” fifteen minutes of time per interested employee once a week. I think it’s probably reasonable to give the OP the benefit of the doubt that they know their company well enough to know that a fun newsletter in general is appropriate.

          (My company doesn’t do surveys, but we have snacks and chit chatting at the start of a particular weekly planning meeting–often, though unstructured, just as frivolous as “what superhero are you?”–and it would seem weird and out of step to hear that that was a waste of precious company time.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I agree — the time spent on it is probably less than many culture-building, bonding, or team-building things that other companies do.

  17. Grey*

    What’s with hiring managers who do what #4 talks about? I just experienced the same thing. I was left voicemail on a Saturday morning while I was away for the weekend. I got the message Sunday night and left her a message first thing Monday morning. On Tuesday, I followed up with an email as well. She ignored both. It’s been a month.

    It’s as if we’re not good enough for the job if we can’t answer the phone when they call.

  18. AAA*

    re #5, When I first moved to Southern California to attend grad school, I was *shocked* that I was asked for headshots at all of the waiting tables gigs I applied to as side jobs. Turns out it was totally normal, as many/most of the servers were out of work actors. It really turned me off though, since I’m not at all interested in being an actor and didn’t have a professional headshot at the time. I wonder if it is something like that?

    1. jamlady*

      Yeah I grew up in LA – I’ve seen this topic pop up before and the shock of commenters, but I grew up with it being normal. I don’t like it, but I’m not surprised by it. It’s common in entry-level positions where the work is kind of just what you’re doing while you’re working to get where you actually want to be.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        This must be a new thing. I also grew up in LA and was never asked for a headshot for any entry level positions.

  19. I'm a Little Teapot*

    OP#3 – I was actually considering asking Alison a very similar question. I’ve published some shortish fiction with small presses under a pseudonym – I write in several genres, but my current publications are romance/fantasy crossovers. I’m not sure if noting that I have paid fiction publication credits would be helpful or hurtful on my resume. I’m concerned that employers would be put off by the content or genre of my stories – too weird, too ridiculous, and a couple of them have brief but somewhat explicit sex scenes. (Sex is only a small part of what they’re about – I mentioned that I write romance and someone said “Oh, like Fifty Shades of Grey!” No, really not.)

    For a lot of jobs I just leave it off without a second thought, but some of the jobs I’m applying to involve writing and one is at a publishing company. Noting that I’ve published fiction might be a way to demonstrate that I have decent writing skills, a modicum of self-discipline and initiative, and some knowledge of the publishing industry. I’ve considered just noting that I’m a freelance writer, but if prospective employers Googled my real name they’d come up blank and I’d look like a liar.

    So – I’m not sure how to handle it.

  20. ECH*

    OP #1 – Is it required that the employee answer all of the questions submitted? I like the idea of them selecting a few to answer. that might be the best of both worlds.

    1. Anonymous (Letter writer)*

      No. When I email the person of the week the questions that were asked, I let them know they if they do not feel comfortable answering a question they can just ignore it.

      1. Green*

        That doesn’t matter though for purposes of determining whether something is potentially contributing to a hostile work environment. It depends also on the READERS’ comfort level or the responder’s discomfort with the mere fact that the question was asked. (And, yes, questions about undergarments would definitely weigh in favor of hostile work environment except perhaps in the very narrow circumstances where you work in an undergarment related industry.)

  21. Anonymous (Letter writer)*

    I should mention that the first person we featured in the ask anything section was the chairman of the company, he was asked if he wore boxers or briefs and he happily answered. The next person we featured was the president and someone asked him what drugs he did in the 80s and he said he pleads the fifth. So I assumed that if anyone got a question they didn’t like, they would just choose not to answer. The person asking the question can’t get in trouble because its anonymous. So I feel like I’m just the messenger in this situation, and I would be the one shot for inappropriate questions.

    1. neverjaunty*

      You’re not the messenger, you’re the gatekeeper, correct?

      It’s not your fault that somebody asked an idiot question about drug use, but it is your fault if you pass that question on instead of quietly round-filing it. This is particularly true if you get people who think these questions are a great way to find out things that are none of their business (like somebody’s PAST DRUG USE, are you even serious?) without repercussions because of the anonymity.

        1. Green*

          And if people are submitting questions like that then you need to stop taking questions from the audience or de-anonymize the question-asking or use pre-set Q&As.

    2. Observer*

      As neverjaunty says, you are NOT “just the messenger”. You are a gatekeeper.

      The boss pleaded the fifth and means that anyone else is going to be able to just not answer? Really? The boss doesn’t have to be worried that someone is going to tell him “You’re not a team player” or “What’s the matter with you? Why are you so uptight?” Or even “You don’t HAVE to answer, but these are really tame questions.”

      Maybe they are tame, but they are HIGHLY personal and private and / or touch on sensitive issues that smart employers stay away from. If you are in a position to screen them, and don’t then that it YOUR issue. You may not be able to stop idiots from submitting them, but you don’t have to play along.

    3. Lenticular Focus*

      No, you are the one who is expected to screen the questions for appropriateness, therefore it falls on you that these questions are not appropriate. That’s perfectly reasonable. You need to understand why these are inappropriate, and develop a sense of judgement about these things.

      You’ve made some dubious assumptions about how this should work, and those are not serving you well. You can do better.

    4. Green*

      I am assuming you are small enough that you don’t have anyone in legal, compliance or HR at your company. Because they would absolutely be freaking out. You are exposing yourself to huge legal risk when the “chairman” is answering questions about their underwear for their employees to read. Talk about setting a tone for a sexually charged office.

      Again, it does NOT matter whether the person answers the question. It is whether (1) they feel uncomfortable that the question was asked at all ,(2) whether any employee reading it feels uncomfortable that the subject is on the table, and (3) that people are submitting work-inappropriate questions is also potentially a contributor to a hostile work environment.

      This seriously needs to stop. You need to go back to questions about favorite breakfast cereal. If you keep getting inappropriate questions from employees, then you need to stop the employee submissions and pick your own questions. This isn’t bar trivia. This is a workplace.

    5. Student*

      Are you thinking at all about the fact that you are making a permanent electronic record that is going to be around forever? Something that is easy to forward outside the company and have end up on a public web site (if it isn’t already deliberately posted on the public internet)?

      Please don’t encourage people to do things for entertainment that aren’t really in their best interests (or in the best interests of the company). How would you think shareholders or potential investors and clients would react to seeing the company president talk about illegal drug use? Do you know whether the statute of limitations has expired – could he be hauled off to jail for such a statement? Perhaps lose custody of a kid? How about if you answered the questions about boxers vs briefs in your newsletter, and then that newsletter ended up in the hands of a prospective future employer when you decide you want to change jobs? Would you want to explain that in a job interview? Do you want a local news crew to ask the company chairman about his boxers vs briefs?

    6. HR No Pearls*

      Holy FAK!
      What a bunch of pearl clutching ninnies responding to “fun survey”.
      Listen people, it’s not you or your freakin’ office that’s participating in this. Go ahead, stand on the mountain and sanctimoniously declare you’d never work for such a company, careful of that slippery slope your seeing. Guess what? They wouldn’t want you either.
      Honestly, this isn’t something my company does nor I would encourage but a I don’t see a penis pointing neon arrow when I hear a question about “boxes or briefs”
      Alison’s advice was spot on as always, this does cross over to unprofessional however it’s a long way from harassment or hostile.

        1. HR No Pearls*

          New? Not at all, been following a few years and occasionally post. Sometimes the ignorance and judgmental intolerance chaps my hide.

      1. Observer*

        Your response is exactly why it is NOT ” along way from harassment or hostile”.

        Being called names because you don’t feel comfortable with being asked extremely personal and sensitive information or because you don’t feel comfortable with barroom humor in an official company publication is certainly verging on “hostile”.

        The simple fact that this is showing up in official company publications tells people that the people in charge are ok with staff being subject to intrusive and utterly work inappropriate questions. Call even one person who complains about it a “pearl clutching ninny” and you have just established that the company will do nothing to keep people from being subject to inappropriate behavior, at minimum. In fact, it’s fairly obvious that you are going to put the onus and blame on the victim of what is at minimum intrusive an inappropriate questioning.

  22. So Very Anonymous*

    Whoa, “what drugs he did in the 1980s”? No. That’s almost a “have you stopped beating your wife?” kind of question. Completely inappropriate for work and should be screened out.

    1. Green*

      Shouldn’t even be asked at all. The person submitting the question should also get a discussion about work appropriateness, as well as the “gatekeeper.”

      1. Green*

        And I’d say odds are pretty good that at least one person is saving these company newsletters for a lawsuit if they’re fired. More employees than you’d suspect have a running log of incidents that touch on sex/race/etc. and contribute to an inappropriate environment.

        1. HR No Pearls*

          Green, you should make it clear that you are only stating an opinion and have no actually training or knowledge in employment law.

            1. HR No Pearls*

              I do think it’s necessary since it’s a too common misconception that someone can walk into a law office with a simple log of perceived offenses and put a company out of business.

              1. Green*

                And, of course, assuming makes an ass out of–well, just you. Since I’m actually one of the few regular legal posters. Obviously it’s not my “legal advice”, but the point of having legal embedded in your company is to minimize risk. And if you’re in HR, that’s typically part of your role too. And this is a completely obvious way to minimize risk, especially since it’s a stupid risk that doesn’t advance the company’s bottom line.

              2. neverjaunty*

                Good thing nobody said any such thing, then. What people are pointing out that documentation of a culture that not only tolerates, but officially encourages inappropriate behavior is going to be a huge boon to any employee claiming sexual harassment due to a hostile work environment.

              3. Observer*

                No, they can’t. But, a log of stupid / inappropriate / potentially illegal things a company has been doing makes things MUCH more difficult for a company. Why give anyone fodder?

          1. Green*

            And I actually have training and knowledge in employment law. Since I’m a lawyer. For a company. A big one.

            1. HR No Pearls*

              And that’s why so may hate resent because the limit everything through fear of potential risk no matter how minimal the exposure.

              1. Green*

                I can only vaguely understand this sentence but I think you went from saying I didn’t know what I’m talking about to “hate resent” me because it turns out that you actually had no idea what you were talking about. Food for thought.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  I understand you work on the corporate side, but as a professional courtesy, I’m asking you not to educate this dude. My brothers and sisters who handle employment cases get a lot of mileage in harassment lawsuits out of HR people and corporate execs who blow off employee complaints as oversensitive, overblown, ruining the ‘fun’ atmosphere of the company, etc.

                2. Green*

                  Hah! Fair. And with this HR person, defendant plaintiff would be able to toss in “HR No Pearls” guy (making very clear he doesn’t wear pearls!) calling her a “pearl clutching ninny” to add another judgmental gendered comment to the list.

                3. HR No Pearls*

                  Apologies, an editing error in that sentence.

                  I do know what I’m talking about. What your doing is typical lawyer limiting and raising every possible consequence that could happen even though the issues haven’t been raised.

                4. Heather*

                  raising every possible consequence that could happen even though the issues haven’t been raised

                  I think you may have a slight misunderstanding of just what a lawyer is hired to do…

                5. Green*

                  +1 for Heather. There are a specific type of law school (and bar) exam questions called “issue spotters.” Plaintiffs’ lawyers can play that game too, which is why businesses should play it first and nix things that are high risk but have no actual economic or efficiency benefit.

                6. neverjaunty*

                  “You don’t know law and don’t know what you’re talking about!!!!”


                  “Okay, but lawyers suck and they’re boring and no fun!”

                  ….uh what?

                7. Observer*


                  What your doing is typical lawyer limiting and raising every possible consequence that could happen even though the issues haven’t been raised.

                  Not exactly. As noted, common sense says that you think about potential issues before they come to bite you. And, some reasonable level of sense and knowledge should make it clear that this particular potential issue is not minor nor is it unlikely. Lastly, based on what the OP wrote, it’s clear that the issue HAS been brought up, whether in these specific words or not.

              2. Observer*

                You really think this is minimal exposure? Officially encouraging people to dig into all sorts of inappropriate areas is a HUGE exposure. And anyone who has any sort of complaint is going to be in a MUCH stronger position to hit the company because they can very reasonably say “Of course there was no recourse for me. Look at the kinds of questions people were being asked IN THE COMPANY NEWSLETTER. The absolutely knew there were problems – they ENCOURAGED the problems.”

              1. Green*

                I’m an in-house attorney for a giant corporation; typically results in a broad practice. And before that I was a litigation (defense) attorney for giant corporations. And, yes, I’ve handled plenty of employment matters. It depends on what federal jurisdiction you’re in (where the courts may trend more or less plaintiff friendly) and what state law claims are available (and in California, you’ve got to be careful).

                First and foremost, this is workplace inappropriate, particularly for religious people but also (as we’ve seen on this thread) for most people. Second, the legal risks: there are two risks, and you want to limit both of them.
                (1) You want to limit the risk that someone brings a valid claim. Keeping your culture work-appropriate helps a lot with this.
                (2) You want to limit the risk that someone brings any claim, because settlement is often the most efficient way out of this and fighting a lawsuit, even one that the plaintiff doesn’t win, consumes resources (both in-house resources and, if you have to pull in outside counsel, outside resources at $400-500/hr+). There’s no way you can stop all claims, but you can reduce their frequency and seriousness that they may be valid by keeping your culture work-appropriate.

                The test for appropriateness is typically various formations of “the reasonable person.” The reasonable person isn’t “you”; “reasonable” is the where the balance falls, whether you think they’re “pearl clutchers” (don’t use that phrase at work, FYI) or not.

                Now look at the business reasons served by having a “gray area” newsletter. Can you articulate any? Let’s contrast those with the risks, both cultural and legal. Is it worth it? No.
                I don’t automatically pooh-pooh anything that has risks attached to it. There are lots of marketing plans, products, business deals, etc. that have legal risk. But at least there’s usually some cognizable and articulable benefit for you to weigh in the trade-off. You don’t know what I typically do as an attorney; in fact, you spent a number of posts up-thread pointing out that my opinion is invalid because I wasn’t attorney. And now that you’re wrong, you’re just trying to find another way to dig in. #Sad

    2. HR No Pearls*

      “Whoa, “what drugs he did in the 1980s”? No. That’s almost a “have you stopped beating your wife?” kind of question. Completely inappropriate for work and should be screened out.”

      Inappropriate for work? Yes.

      The “beating your wife”, not even in the same freakin’ galaxy!

      1. Green*

        The point of the “have you stopped beating your wife?” comment was that if you answer no, then you still beat your wife, and if you answer yes, then you used to beat your wife and you stopped. Any answer results in a work-inappropriate admission or implication (including pleading the 5th) unless you state “I did not do drugs in the 1980s.”

        You’ve got your anti-pearls clutched.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          Thank you! That’s exactly what I meant. I was also thinking that in some situations “I did not do drugs in the 1980s” might be seen as a stick-in-the-mud you’re-no-fun response, too.

          We do seem to be acting out the whole issue here, don’t we? People expressing concern about these kinds of questions getting called names, being told they’re no fun, etc.

          1. Green*

            Well, if you did do drugs in the 1980s, there’s no reason you should need to admit to it, give an ambiguous response, or lie in a company newsletter for fun!

            And, wow, good call on the acting it out here. Just imagine we’re not anonymous, are all stuck working with each other, and want to be well-liked in our offices. #NoPressure

          2. HR No Pearls*

            Here’s an example of my frustration.
            If you didn’t do drugs in the 80’s- Say it- or not!
            If you did, either share that, or not, as well.
            If you don’t want to say either way, than simply say that.

            Listen, people can judge, most simply don;t care. If they want to judge Freakin’ own it and tell them to bring it on. Caution is good, living in fear of whatever could, may, or wont happen is pathetic.

          1. Green*

            You just didn’t understand the analogy so now you’re making up a different rationale. Ability to admit you’re wrong is a virtue. Especially at work.

  23. AcademiaNut*

    For LW1 it sounds like there is a definitely problem in determining what is a ‘fun’ question, and what is inappropriate, and possibly understanding the difference between questions like this among friends at the pub, and in a professional setting. This is actually very important – for things like this, I find that quite often the line between fun (or innocuous) and a write-to-AAM level disaster is primarily the social calibration of the people running it.

    As a general rule, I’d say that anything that falls under a protected category, employment wise, should be out, not simply for legal reasons, but as a useful general guide for taste and appropriateness. So nothing to do with gender, age, race or religion and nothing to do with personal medical information, diseases, disabilities or mental illness. I’d add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list, even if they’re not officially protected.

    Nothing to do with sex and sexual activity, or questions involving body parts that must legally be covered in public. No questions about participation in or records of illegal activities, past or present. No question about people’s personal relationships, including whether they want to have children, or how they are raising the ones they have. Nothing involving bodily functions.

    How you phrase questions can make a big difference – phrasing something so that someone can answer it the way they feel comfortable, rather than pushing them into a corner for information they don’t want to give. “What’s piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in the field” could interesting. “What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done at work” is something you don’t necessarily want to tell your current employer.

      1. Green*

        This is basically the same thing I wrote upthread, but because someone else wrote it, it’s a great reply?

  24. #5*

    I’ve noticed a lot of jobs in the restaurant industry ask for photos to be submitted with resumes. I take it they want a certain look and age range.

  25. Me*

    If I worked at #1 I would have created an Outlook rule that would automatically flag any email w/ the word ‘survey’ in it and dump it in deleted items, unread. Waste of time, and IDGAS about my coworkers’ undies.

    I’ve done that w/ multiple ‘fun’ email types sent out by HR/cheerleaders over the years.

  26. Observer*

    #1 I’ve been thinking about this and a few things stick out for me. Some of what I am saying is overlap with what I and others have said already, but it will be easier for me to be coherent with some repetition.

    1. If your boss is telling you to do something different, you should do it the way she tells you unless you have a really, really good reason not to. Like maybe there is a legal problem, it will make it really hard for people to do their jobs, etc. None of that applies here. So, don’t argue. And don’t “accidentally” allow things you know your boss won’t like slip through.

    2. Take responsibility for your piece of the mess. Yes, you can’t help what others submit, but you can help what gets through. Complaining that your being unfairly penalized for being the messenger comes off as immature, at best. Your boss actually gave you the answer – SCREEN the questions.

    3. Complaining that your boss won’t do the screening for you is not going to do you any good. This is your job. Your boss is telling you quite clearly that part of your job is having sufficient judgement to understand with is work appropriate and what is not. And, she did start you off by telling you some of the items there are issues with.

    4. I don’t know whether your sense of “tame” is really off, or whether you are not playing quite straight. But, the idea that asking someone what drugs they did at any point in their lives is so far from “tame” that I can’t think why you would even use that term.

    You’ve gotten some good guidance on what constitutes work appropriate. Start with that. A few things to ask yourself before letting a question through might be:

    Would this be appropriate to ask in an interview? Would it be legal to take the answers into consideration in hiring?

    Is there a particular answer that could cause people problems in your organization? (That means that you need to leave out most highly contentious political questions.)

    Could there be potential legal ramifications to the answer?

    Would you be willing to see any probable or somewhat possible answer on the front page of your local or national daily news source, or that of your customers?

    Would you expect to see any of the content flagged NSFW?

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