telling a coworker her shirt is too sheer, saying WTF at work, and more

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

1. Should I tell my coworker that her shirt is too sheer?

One of my coworkers has a white shirt that is sheer enough that her bra can clearly be seen through it. I’m not sure if I should say something to her – she’s worn the shirt often enough now that I’m not sure how she can be oblivious to this (wouldn’t she notice when looking in the mirror?). I’m not offended or anything, but it seems like an odd clothing choice to make, so I’m worried that this is somehow unintentional. I’m not sure how I would even bring it up. What do you think? (If you think it makes a difference, I am also female.)

Don’t bring it up. It’s one thing to discreetly point out to someone something that they’d obviously want to fix — an unzipped fly, a skirt tucked into their tights, etc. — but this is a shirt that she’s worn repeatedly and it’s reasonable to conclude that she must be fine with the transparency of it. It’s possible that the light in her house is different from the light in your office and so she’s never noticed that it’s see-through in certain lights, but there’s enough of a chance that she just has a different take on appropriateness than you do that I wouldn’t wade into it.

If you were her manager, that would be different — you’d have standing to tell her if it were inappropriate for work. But as a peer, I’d let it go.

2. Should I pay for a travel charge stemming from my mistake so that my boss doesn’t know about it?

In the recent months, I’ve had four business trips scheduled. The last three were cancelled at the last minute (but with enough time for cancelling reservations). I’m usually right on top of things, but I forgot to cancel the most recent trip because that cancellation came a day after the previous trip’s cancellation. I was able to transfer the Amtrak e-voucher to my next scheduled trip, and you’re not charged for the rental car if you don’t show up. But I was charged for one night at the hotel because I didn’t cancel the reservation. With tax, the charge is $196. The travel department at my company called the hotel to see if they would refund the charge (even though they had every right to charge me), but they would not waive it, and I was told to just expense it.

But… I don’t want my manager to know about my mistake and I’m considering submitting the AmEx charge as personal and paying it myself. I know this is normally not the way to go, but here’s some background: My company recently changed their travel policies in order to save money. Previously, my business travel was very infrequent, and I just needed to ask the client manager (I’m an on-site consultant) to let my manager know that travel had been requested by them. Now I need to supply more information much sooner, and it’s been difficult for me to remember to add these extra steps to all of my other getting-ready-for-business- travel tasks. Going forward, I will add this as an appointment in my calendar so it happens on time. My boss has been mildly (I think) annoyed by my getting the information to him late. Normally my work is very good, and my manager told me last week that he was recommending me for a “service excellence award.” This was right after his email to me saying that I needed to get the travel process right (this is why I thought his annoyance must have been mild). Because this is one more travel-related mistake on my part, I really don’t want him to know about it.

Yeah, I can see why you’re considering eating the expense — you’re basically concluding that it’s worth $196 to you to keep your manager from being further dismayed by your mistakes around travel.

Generally I’d say that you shouldn’t bear the cost of business expenses — even mistakes, which are to some extent a normal part of business costs — and that therefore you should simply expense this as instructed by your travel department, and come clean to your boss while stressing that you’ve taken to heart his feedback about needing to get this stuff right going forward.

That said, it was your mistake, and if your boss already seems frustrated and you’re more comfortable paying the charge yourself and not having to deal with it with him, and if you have the money to spare without it being a hardship, I totally get the temptation to just handle it yourself to make it go away (and vow to ensure it doesn’t happen again). It’s not what I’d advise, but it’s not outrageous to do that. (I feel like commenters are going to disagree, but honestly, if a friend came to me with this dilemma, this is what I’d tell them.)

3. Am I going to get laid off?

The company I work at seems to be having some cash flow issues, which the CEO assures us was due to a mistake on senior management’s part and that this happens to companies all the time. We were also assured that a solution is in the works. So far, though, I don’t see any signs of progress. What is actually happening is that the company is no longer paying overtime or paying vendors. Also, they recently assigned a new role to one person in our department whose job it is to make sure we follow all the paperwork and department rules (they used to be lax on this before). Also, I have on reflection noticed the following:

1) Although I perform several functions in my department, I was recently asked to train two other people on one of my functions.
2) On one particular week, I had no work to do and so my manager said I could take the day off (I interpret this as being asked to stay home).
3) I seem to be always assigned smaller projects to do while a lot of my other colleagues are involved in larger projects. My manager promised me this would change and that I would start being involved in larger projects, but so far I don’t see any change.

In light of what is happening in the company and in light of the points above, am I being viewed as a candidate for layoffs? Maybe I am being a bit paranoid, but from the points above, it seems as though they are telling me I am not really essential to the department. I was wondering if you see the same and if you could provide any insight into this. I have been laid off twice before and I don’t want to be caught off guard this time.

Whenever a company is struggling financially, it’s smart to consider that layoffs might be coming. I wouldn’t interpret the stuff you list as definitive proof that they’re thinking of laying you off, but they do seem to point to you potentially being more expendable than colleagues. Combined with the financial troubles, it would be shortsighted not to start looking around so that you’re prepared if it does happen. (Even without your points 1-3, though, I’d say that was that case; when your company is displaying obvious signs of financial problems, you should be looking out for yourself.)

4. Shouldn’t this recruiter be … recruiting me?

I had an odd experience today and wanted feedback on if I’m right to think it’s strange. A recruiter recently reached out to me via Linked In for a senior level position that sounds pretty interesting. There were a number of email back and forths to arrange an initial meeting, and I was given a job description and the name of the company who was hiring, but that’s about it.

When I got on the phone with the recruiter, his first question was, “Why are you interested in this position?” and continued with a few more questions along those lines. I had done a little internet homework, so I was able to answer why I was considering, but that was not what I was expecting. I was looking for him to tell me more about the position and, you know, try to recruit me. Instead, he acted like I had searched him out. Is this how it works nowadays?

Well, sometimes. Sometimes these calls are true “recruiting” calls — as in, the recruiter is pitching you the position and trying to get you interested in it. But much of the time, they’ll operate as if you already established interest when you expressed willingness to talk after seeing the job posting. Sometimes that makes sense, depending on exactly what was said in the earlier exchange. (And keep in mind that recruiters don’t necessarily do heavy recruiting in the job-pitching sense of the word — often the title means more “person who identifies candidates, screens them, and shepherds them through the hiring process” than “person who will actively recruit you to be interested in the job”.) But other times that approach feels off, as it did in your conversation.

If it happens again, it’s reasonable for you to say, “Well, to be candid, I’m not sure if I am interested. I was curious to talk with you more after you reached out to me, and I’d like to learn more about the role.”

5. Saying “WTF” at work

This might be a really silly question. It seems like swearing is out in most workplaces I’ve been in, but is it acceptable to say things like “WTF” (the abbreviation, not the words themselves)?

It depends entirely on the organization’s culture. I’ve never worked anywhere where swearing wasn’t fine (up to a point), but I imagine if you’re in an office where it’s not okay, “WTF” probably isn’t okay either, given that no one is in denial about what the “F” stands for.

(That said, I’m assuming you’re talking about writing it in an email, not actually saying the letters W-T-F out loud, right? I’d argue it’s not an “out loud” expression at all, not because of the profanity but just because it’s not.)

{ 366 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT*


    I’m voting for tell her, only because I’ve been her and it was a total accident! I learned the hard way that basement apartment lighting is not safe for checking if one can see one’s bra through one’s shirt!

    1. Artemesia*

      For me it would depend on a couple of things. Are most of her clothing choices relatively modest? If she is wearing a tube top or baring her midrift on the days she isn’t wearing the see through blouse, then forget it. But if this blouse is the only thing she wears that seems tasteless, then it may be a lighting issue.

      The second factor would be my relationship with her. Is there any competition in the workplace or friction between us. I’d be inclined to give her a heads up in the frame of ‘your lighting may be really different than these glaring lights, you may not be aware of how they make a lot of fabrics see through.’

          1. Ex-high schooler*

            Way back in my all-boy high school I had a 26-year old female teacher who wore transparent white shirts and liked to stand between the window with the sun streaming in and her testosterone filled students. Let’s just say nobody ever skipped that class.

            1. the gold digger*

              I was visiting my company’s factory in Venezuela. (This was pre-Chavez, so things actually worked.) A female employee walked in wearing a miniskirt, a sheer white blouse, and a black bra. I looked at the plant manager and raised my eyebrows.

              He just shrugged. “She teaches English classes to our employees and people come,” he said.

              1. Adam*

                It’s a good thing I set the coffee down before I read this comment. I once tried to teach a few English lessons to a group of older male tour guides in Ecuador. They could not possibly have cared less.

      1. Sarah*

        Question asker number 1 here…
        She usually dresses pretty modestly, which is why I’m always kind of surprised when I see her in this shirt! It is usually paired with an ankle-length skirt.
        We work in different departments. We’re on friendly terms, but not at all close.

        1. Puffle*

          In that case, I would lean towards saying that she hasn’t noticed. Maybe the shirt looks perfectly fine in her bathroom mirror and she doesn’t realise that under different lighting it becomes transparent. Personally I would be mortified if it were me and very glad that someone said something, but of course it’s your call.

          1. the gold digger*

            When I was in 7th grade, I didn’t notice until gym that the orange polyester elastic-waisted pants that my mother had sewn for me (I had an entire rainbow of polyester pants – my mom had found a sale of remnants for 25 cents each) were sheer enough that the flowers on my waist-high underpants were completely visible to anyone who might be looking at my chubby 7th-grade butt.

            The pants didn’t hurt my reputation any. I was already a smart, glasses-wearing weirdo who rode her bike to school with her violin balanced across the handlebars. How much lower could I go?

            1. Soupspoon McGee*

              Ah, 7th grade. I was walking back from PE with my best friend. We passed the principal’s office, and as we entered the haze of pipe smoke, the principal said, “You’re a little exposed there, sweetie.” My BF and I looked at horror at my HOT PINK BRA that not only could you see through the white blouse (because I didn’t listen to my mother) but peeked right out where the button just failed to do its job. I wore my BF’s coat the rest of the day.

          2. Rebecca*

            Ugh, I have done this before on accident! I always wear a nude-to-me bra under white shirts, but was having an outfit crisis one morning and changed my top a couple of times and ended up wearing a white bra under a white top. Didn’t really look in the mirror again before I left the house.

            Well, later that afternoon I went to the bathroom and got a glimpse in the mirror and was MORTIFIED that my bra was very visible. I think I had an emergency cardigan at my desk that I wore the rest of the day.

            But if I hadn’t had a cardigan, what could I have done? Going home to change wasn’t feasible, I would have just been self-conscious the rest of the day. So my point is, unless it’s something the wearer can fix easily (a loose thread, a tag sticking out, maybe a size sticker still on their pants), I don’t think it helps to point it out to them.

            1. Beth*

              I posted this below, too, but if they are at all similar sizes, OP can just “happen” to have an extra cardigan on the back of her chair that she can offer up if it’s clear the blouse-wearer is mortified/surprised.

            2. Karowen*

              I generally agree with that, but the OP could also point it out at the end of the day. My mom used to point out that I missed something when tweezing while we were in the car going somewhere and no one had tweezers. Incredibly not helpful; it only served to make me awkward and uncomfortable. But had she said something when we got home, I would’ve been embarrassed but dealt with it and forgotten about it by the time I saw those people again.

            3. Jessa*

              Then tell them at the end of the day, I guess? I mean it then becomes OMG you let me wear this all day, but not telling if you really, genuinely think the person would want to know? I think that’s the same as not telling they have a stain, or a button missing. On the other hand, why didn’t the LW speak up the first time? I think I’d be pretty mortified if I’d been wearing that a bunch of times and someone suddenly told me.

        2. MK*

          Just how transparent is this shirt? I know there is a rule that underwear should never be showing and for good reason, but, unless it actually comes across as provacative or unprofessional, it’s not the end of the world if one can make the general line of a bra strap; it’s a different thing if one can read the label. Given that you two aren’t close, I wouldn’t say anything unless it’s really noticeable.

          A reason she might not have noticed is the fit. Most white fabrics are at least a bit transparent if the fit is tight; a shirt that wasn’t sheer when you bought it can become so, if you put on weight or it shrinks in the wash. I have a couple of white shirts that I can no longer wear to work since I put on weight; they were fine when they weren’t form-fitting, but now they are too revealing.

          1. Lucky*

            “it’s a different thing if one can read the label”
            I always thought that was the purpose of the annoying little bow on the front. If you can see the bow, it’s too sheer.

          2. Don't Tell*

            This depends on its degree of see-through; if it’s 90% transparent, vs. if it’s 20% transparent – go check out what I mean by inserting an object in word, and adjusting its transparency in your settings. There’s a grey area for 20% things – some people think that’s kosher.
            I definitely would lean towards the not telling camp as well. To an extent – this could be written about me. I have a few shirts that border on somewhat sheer in some lighting (10-20% of an object transparency in word, maybe)… and I’ll still wear them to work if the rest of my outfit is modest. I just make sure I wear them with a flesh-toned bra, or an undershirt.
            The thing to consider is if you tell her and ASSUME she’ll be mortified, and she maybe doesn’t care – then that could make a relationship awkward for you.

        3. KT*

          How sheer is sheer? A lot of blouses are sheerish but very lovely when paired with something on the conservative side (ala an ankle length skirt)

          Is it an overall nice look or does she look downright trashy? I have one “edgey” outfit I pull out every now and again that is at my limits–while it’s different for me, it still errs on the side of nice. If she otherwise looks professional, I wouldn’t talk to her about it. Likely she knows it’s sheer and want to rock it!

        4. B*

          I would tell the person in a “you may not know this but…”. If it were me I would absolutely want to know as I dress pretty modestly. I would be embarrassed, not because you told me but because I would hate to represent myself that way, and want to fix it right away.

        5. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          If this were me, I would totally want you to tell me. I had a co-worker point out one day that I really needed a slip with the skirt I was wearing, and I was super grateful. Like other commenters suggested, this is more likely to be well received since your co-worker normally dresses modestly. In my case, it was an issue with the light in my hours vs. the light in the office.

          1. Artemesia*

            my daughter had a really cute brown dress in a kind of shirred fabric that was totally opaque, except to a flashbulb. She wore it on a date and snapshots of the couple made it entirely transparent. She was pretty embarrassed. I bet her blouse is opaque to her eye in her bathroom mirror and she is unaware how transparent it is in office light.

              1. Kelly L.*

                New Year’s Eve. Black dress, green bra because it gave me the best shape in that dress. Didn’t show in normal lighting. With flash? Giant shiny green bra glare right through the black dress.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  Black light can be bad too. The shirt was just fine until I walked into the part of the museum with the rocks under the black light. Too bad, I wanted to see them too, but I had to immediately leave.

            1. manybellsdown*

              I was wearing a top on stage once and didn’t realize that under the direct glare of a powerful spotlight it was very see-through. I was not wearing a bra. Fortunately this was not for work.

        6. Stranger than fiction*

          So, can you completely see the details of her bra, or is it just like an outline? It seems to me that a slight outline of a bra, and especially straps are okay showing these days. Another thought- is she perhaps coming to work with something over the blouse, then removing it as the day goes on because it gets hot or something?

        7. Beth*

          If you do decide to tell her, and you guys are at all similar sizes…have an “extra” cardigan or something at your desk, so when she is completely horrified you can say “hey I have an extra sweater if you want it” so she’s not running around the rest of the day embarrassed about her shirt!

          I wore a see-through shirt to work once that looked fine at home – I had NO idea how it looked at work. Luckily a friend pointed it out and I was able to find an extra tank top in my gym bag to put under it, but I would have hated to have to wear it the rest of the day knowing everyone could see my bra.

        8. Alma*

          I worked with a woman who wore a sheer blouse – and yes, her bra was visible. Her bra was also very sheer. I was not her supervisor. It was an uncomfortable situation.

    2. oops*

      When I read #1 I thought, is this letter about me? I generally dress conservatively/modestly, but I have one white blouse that’s pretty see-through in certain lights. And tbh, I don’t really care–it goes well with everything and it’s surprisingly hard to find a nice white blouse. And this summer it’s been way too hot to wear a camisole beneath it.

      1. oops x2*

        I had exactly the same thought! I dress very nicely for work, and I have one white patterned blouse that is just on the edge of sheer that I wear pretty frequently now that it’s summer. I feel like a cream camisole just calls more attention to the fabric than my beige bra, which blends in with my skin. I’d hope someone would tell me if it were very distracting though!

      2. Abby*

        I feel like any nice white blouse is going to be somewhat sheer if it’s at all comfortable. That’s what camisoles or nude-colored bras are for, though!

      3. Dovahkiin*

        Ugh. Same. My skin tone is darker than a “neutral”/beige bra and lighter than a brown one. I adore the look of a crisp white shirt under a bangin’ Olivia Pope-esque pantsuit, but yeah, you’re gonna see the silhouette of my bra if I take off my blazer.

      4. Don't Tell*

        I completely agree. I have two or three that I’m OK with because I generally dress pretty modestly. It also depends on the degree of see through-ness; if it’s 90% transparent, vs. if it’s 20% transparent (go check out what I mean by inserting an object in word, and adjusting its transparency in your settings). There’s a grey area for <20% things – and I'll wear those because as long as paired well with other items I personally think they're fine.
        The thing to consider is if you tell her and ASSUME she’ll be mortified, and she maybe doesn’t care (it's more in the range of like 20-30% see through maybe, where I personally wouldn't risk it but maybe this woman would) – then that could make a relationship awkward for you.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      Agreed. I’ve been victim of a few unintentional wardrobe malfunctions and I’d want to know.

      Now, the male coworker of mine who told me that my nipples were poking through – NO. Just no.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        When I was working at a branch (banking) I once had a customer tell one of my tellers that her “headlights were on.” She had no idea what he meant. So he pointed it out (EWW!). She just giggled and went on with the transaction, but she was obviously embarrassed. I was the supervisor and happened to be standing next to her so I called him out on it. I told him that comment was really rude and in what universe did he think it appropriate to say something like that. He just laughed it off like he hadn’t said anything wrong. Ignorant asshat.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          That’s exactly what this guy said to me. I was 23 at the time and didn’t know what he meant, so he helpfully explained it. I was too young to have a good response, but I still see him 11 years later and remember what he said and what a creep he was.

          1. Natalie*

            The worthlessness of the “tip” makes it extra creepy to me. Barring a gross of camisoles in your purse, or serious control of your autonomic nervous system, you can’t actually do anything with that information. The only reason to mention it is to make the woman uncomfortable by calling attention to the fact that you saw and noticed her nipples.

          2. Wear thicker material.*

            Well, I personally wouldn’t wear a bra that was not ‘protective’ enough that this could happen to me in. That’s why I get the kind (it doesn’t have to be padded) that has a thick enough layer of foam-ish stuff in it. (ie. at least .5cm) so that a – there’s a barrier in case I DO get cold and flip my headlights on, but also b – it kind of keeps you warmer so it keeps it from happening!
            More power to those of you who are comfortable enough with something thinner, but be aware that if you get cold your NIPPLES SHOW. And yes, it may be disgusting to point it out to you, but I personally think it’s inappropriate in the workplace to wear something that your nipples can clearly be distinguished through.
            JUST as you shouldn’t wear a horribly see-through shirt.

        2. Artemesia*

          I was on a trip this weekend with girlfriends and we encountered several really rude and dangerous drivers along the way and invented the AQ — A@#$#@ Quotient. We had fun guessing the AQ from various clues like bumperstickers and what they were towing (e.g. one guy who cut us off was towing ski dos and motorcycles, another had ‘my family’ and then a row of stickers of different kinds of guns in his back window)

          I’d say this customer had a very high AQ.

      2. De (Germany)*

        What the hell? Why would people even say that? It#s not like we have a lot of control over that…

      3. BananaPants*

        Oh my.

        I’ve been a nursing mother for much of the last 5 years and realized that while pumping at work it was essential for me to wear a lightly padded nursing bra or nursing pads to avoid the “headlights” look. I’m very thankful that in the time interval between my return to work and making that realization, none of my coworkers felt the need to comment on the situation! How incredibly embarrassing that would be – it’s not like I could control it.

        For what OP1 describes, I would find an opportunity to discreetly tell the other woman that the shirt is a bit sheer, just because the LW said that the woman is usually a pretty modest dresser – it’s probably a lighting thing and she doesn’t realize how sheer the shirt is. I’d appreciate someone cluing me in to that.

      4. ThursdaysGeek*

        I’ve actually wondered about that, because I’ve noticed it on me a couple of times. I wear tshirts, nothing shear at all. It’s embarrassing, even though I don’t know if others have noticed. What am I doing wrong in my clothing choices?

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            That’s actually encouraging. I hadn’t noticed it on others, but that’s probably because I don’t look at co-worker’s bodies.

    4. Clever Name*

      Just this morning I was thinking about this very issue as I put on my sheer shirt that I always wear with a camisole underneath it. I had a coworker that had a very sheer blouse and you could see every detail of her bra. She was a very gentle and soft-spoken person, and I’m pretty positive she would have been mortified to realize you could see her bra in its entirety. I was actually going to ask in the Friday open thread if I should have said something to her (I’m wasn’t her manager).

      For whatever reason, I think people just are skipping the types of undergarments that were taken for granted in the past. In days gone by, men always wore undershirts and women always wore slips and camisoles over their undergarments. It’s even worse that clothing like sweaters and t-shirts have gotten so thin that you really need a layer underneath them to not show your underwear.

        1. AnonaMoose*

          That may be true – keeping in mind how layering blew up in the last 5 years. All the long tanks under super thin T’s.

    5. Lanya*

      “Wow! I love your shirt! You are braver than me, though, I would probably need a camisole underneath to pull that off!” Said with a smile or laugh but no sarcasm, preferably from a female coworker.

      A lighthearted comment like that would definitely make me wonder how much bra I was exposing to everyone!

      1. Clever Name*

        Ouch. No. Please don’t say this. This comes of as very harsh and mean girl. If you must say something (and like Alison, and many other commentors, I’m torn) please pull the person aside and tell them quietly and with the assumption that they may not actually want to show the world their underwear.

        1. MK*

          This can really backfire, if the coworker knows their shirt is not completely opague, but thinks it’s appropriate enough for work. If it was me, I would be both insulted the coworker thinks I am dressing inappropriately and a bit angry that they presumed to instruct me. And it can come across as passive-agressive and condescending, even if one has sincere intentions.

          1. Clever Name*

            Given all this back and forth on opinions, I guess I’m coming down on the side of every man/woman for themselves in terms of garment opacity…..

      2. kt (lowercase)*

        I would not take this as light-hearted if someone said it to me. I would take it as mocking and passive-aggressive. Please don’t say this.

        1. Don't Tell*

          I completely agree. There’s a woman in our office (I’ve commented on other threads about her, always have a different name though… sorry!) who is my mother’s age and has a daughter my age. I can just SEE her saying something passive aggressive like this to me – she already talks about how I’m thin now, but wait until I hit 30! Wait until I have babies! My metabolism will surely slow down! Sorry lady – my mom is still very thin, as is my father, and maybe my metabolism DOES slow down but as long as I don’t take that as an excuse to turn into a professor-umbridge-like-toad-that-never-moves I think I’ll be ok…

          Sorry. That just came out of no where! Obviously I have some venting to do…

          1. Don't Tell*

            ALSO what If I don’t WANT to have babies? What if I LIKE my freedom and having spending money?
            Oh, she says – that’ll change, she says. It always does. Jeez, if I ever feel the tinsiest bit sick she’s like ARE YOU PREGNANT. And I’m like… just because I’m a married woman in my late twenties does not necessarily mean I want to POP OUT BABIES left and right.
            What frustrates me is that I wonder if the men in my office (we’re the only women) secretly have the same reaction if I feel sick or something, but she’s the only one who feels comfortable saying that (I always shut her down with a big fat NO after she *discretely whispers the question).

            *at least it’s discrete, to her credit.

    6. That Marketing Chick*

      I have been her as well…and the light in my house, along with the fact that the back was more sheer than the front, had me oblivious. One day I caught a glimpse of my back in the bathroom mirror at work and was mortified.

  2. Artemesia*

    When a recruiter calls most of us, they are not incredibly interested in
    landing us but rather trying to find a pool of plausible candidates; they think you might be part of that pool, but it is up to you to sell them on that. I have been head hunted for some fairly high level positions and it was always clear that they were interested but the phone interview process was about them deciding to put us forward to the next round. In one of these, it became clear I wasn’t a good match, in two others, I was at the point in my career when I was not interested in taking on a very demanding executive position — I was thinking of retirement in a year or two — so I dropped out.

    I know people who are such hot stuff that when recruiters contacted them , it was all about winning them over — but that isn’t what happens in most of these contacts.

    1. Dan*

      It’s actually fair to suss out from the recruiter how much effort they are expecting from you. Nothing on my linked in profile has any indication that I am looking to leave my job. I had a recruiter from Raytheon drop me a message and say “please come to our career fair. You have skills we may be interested in.” Um F no? If you’ve got a real position that I may be somewhat qualified for, I’m happy to talk. But I expect the fast track to the hiring manager (as in, no cover letter + life story through Taleo, you name *your* price first, you don’t get to ask me mine, etc. I am most certainly *not* going to find a suit that fits and burn a PTO day on something that may not even exist.

      My current company got a hold of me through the grape vine, and they were nice enough to actually arrange my interviews with the key decision makers before actually making me fill out the online application.

      1. Artemesia*

        I think asking someone at any level beyond entry to come to a jobs fair is insulting. The recruiter is just looking to up his contact numbers or something. No serious recruiter is asking people to come to that sort of event because they have an interest in hiring them.

        1. Cautionary tail*

          Job fairs may be something for Alison to write about. They may have been useful in the past like buggy whips were, but in today’s workplace all that happens at them is the recruiter tells you to go online. I speak from my experiences of wasting several days at them till I swore them off forever.

          1. Blue Anne*

            I’m not sure how they work in the USA, but in the UK I think they can be pretty useful for new or soon-to-be grads if they have an idea of who they want to apply with. A lot of the big companies have booths at these fairs and the folks staffing them are pretty recent grads themselves, and if you chat them up they’re happy to basically tell you what hurdles you need to jump that company’s application process to be in the crop new grads they hire that year. (And they might even be honest about how crap your work/life balance will be, etc.) Super helpful.

            But then, if you know where to look, you can usually find the same thing online on specialized forums, which is what I did. WikiJob you are my hero!

            1. Artemesia*

              Oh sure, a job fair MIGHT be useful for a new grad, but to contact someone who is well established and invite them to a ‘ career event’ or whatever the euphemism of the moment is is insulting. I know a very advanced software developer being recruited by several companies who was asked to travel to such an event; that ended that company’s chance of succeeding with him. He got follow up calls offering to fly him in for interviews after he refused the ‘jobs event’ request — but was done with that company.

            2. T3k*

              I think the commentor was saying that job fairs that are meant for the general population (i.e, meant to appeal to unemployed, out of school people) are useless. A lot of colleges in the US now host their own job fairs that are specifically catered to their students (and if the college is in or near a big city, many companies send reps throughout the year to recruit).

          2. Ad Astra*

            I was in journalism school in 2009 and 2010, when things were really bad for newsrooms. We started calling the j-school career fair the “unpaid internship fair.” I don’t think very many people attended that event twice; no reason to sweat in a suit when nobody has any job openings to speak of.

      2. BRR*

        I completely agree with you about being recruited when you show no signs of looking. I want to be sweet talked a little.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Yep. I had a recruiter contact me through LinkedIn. Until recently I hadn’t added recruiters or anyone I didn’t know, but I see some of my more network-adept coworkers had added some of these people, many of which to whom they had actually spoken, so I added those that didn’t seem completely out of the blue.

          So this recruiter sent me a two-paragraph LinkedIn message with a nice greeting, vaguely referenced my background (which, in retrospect, was probably a generic form letter), and asked me if I’m interested in a position. I said that I’m not really looking to move but I would consider it for the right offer, and if I wasn’t interested I’d be happy to spread the word to anyone who is looking and has the applicable experience. And, of course, I never heard back from them again.

        2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          Yep. Me too. Sell the job to me. I’m not looking, and you’d have to offer me something pretty awesome if you want me to move from where I am. It sounds like in this case that the recruiter was more interested in developing a sizeable pool of candidates that looking at a specific person, though.

        3. Xay*

          I agree. I’ve been recruited recently by large companies that I am aware of in general, but I was not familiar with how they operate within my field. So, when I talked to them, I made it clear that I would like to have the conversation but I also needed a better understanding of why they were looking for someone with my background and skills when they mainly operate in other industries that require a very different skill set. Fortunately, the recruiters were willing to answer that question and sell me on their companies – I wouldn’t have continued the conversation if they hadn’t.

    2. Steve G*

      I am very much with the OP on this one. The recruiter needs to do some recruiting, or at least talk up the company to kick start the call. I do see this sort of passive approach to interviewing happening a lot in my job search now, and I’ve had phone screens/interviews with 14 companies. I definitely think that recruiters are getting a but… this department as their candidate pools stay competitive.

      The problem with not “recruiting” as the OP means it, or at least talking up the company, is that many employers overestimate the amount and quality of information out there about their own companies, especially as it pertains to working for them, and especially if the company is a new or small company. In this job search I’ve talking to a few search engine e-commerce startups for example, and 90% of the stuff on them is generic marketing-speak “we have the best proprietary algorithm” type articles – nothing that actually gets a candidate closer to knowing the actual company or what the specific product even is about. It also doesn’t help that so many companies have so many negative glassdoor ratings that employers never address during the recruitment process….

      1. voluptuousfire*

        ^ Steve G, my experiences have been very similar. I’ve had phone screens where I’ve had to specifically ask about the role and company itself and when I’ve had to do that, the interaction has usually been a dud. A candidate shouldn’t have to pull teeth in order to learn more about the role, even if they applied directly.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        I think, unfortunately, a lot of recruiters these days, feel they have the upper hand and assume you do want A job, so they take this shortcut. What’s more annoying, in my opinion, is when they do not even have a specific job in mind but they tell you they have one or several that you’d be a perfect fit for, then you never ever hear from them again. It can be a collossal waste of time.

      3. OP4*

        I’m glad I’m not the only one! This also reinforces my personal approach to recruiting: when I am talking to candidates, I always make sure to talk about the position in detail to make sure it’s a good fit. Why waste time interviewing someone who ultimately doesn’t want to job you have?

    3. OP4*

      Thanks for your perspective. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – as an external recruiter, this person may not be an expert in the company or the position and is most focused on finding good candidates to move to the next step.

  3. Uyulala*

    #5 – Don’t say WTF. Text speech should be limited to text messages. Same rule prohibits you from saying LOL and OMG.

    1. Saurs*

      Those acronyms predate text-messaging, though. I sometimes say “loll” out loud (how I pronounce LOL in my head — OMG is “ahmguh,” ROFL is “rawffle,” and so forth), but nobody understands so nobody suspects I’m a dirty millennial. I pronounce OK as okay, as you do.

      1. Saurs*

        (I’m actually a moderately clean Gen Xer and I don’t entirely love it when people say ASAP out loud, but bless their heart / it takes all kinds.) I’m actually uncomfortable with the concept of a swearing- or cursing-free workplace, although in certain industries it would make sense. WTF is very cute-sy, but sometimes one needs to communicate a “fuck” even if one’s not allowed to say it.

          1. Jeanne*

            Go old school. What in the sam hill? (I don’t know the origin but I’ve heard it used a lot.)

            1. Saurs*

              That’s a good’un. If I remember correctly, the Word Detective describes it as an early to mid-19th century American euphemism (for “hell,” obv) and wiki is no closer to solving the mystery. I’m fond of politely stage-whispering “crikey” when people come up with bone-headedly complicated solutions to simple quandaries, but it has its limitations and “zounds” just didn’t feel right.

                1. Anna the Accounting Student*

                  I’ve lived in Brooklyn since I was a few months old, and therefore can get away with “oy,” even though I lack the religious background that usually goes with Yiddishisms.

                2. hermit crab*

                  Mine is actually “good grief.” I have no idea when I started saying it, but I can’t stop!

                3. Elizabeth West*

                  @Anna–I say “Oi!” a lot, but I say it like I just came off the wharf in the East End.

                  I have also been known to use “chutzpah” a lot, but that’s when I’m quoting Judge Judy. As in, “You’ve got some chutzpah!” :)

                4. Evey Hammond*

                  “Cripes” and “goldarnit” are my personal work-friendly expletives. (Though I do have an issue with mixing curse levels- I have been known to blurt out “gol-fuckin’-darnit” on more than one occasion.)

            2. The Other Dawn*

              I once had a coworker who would say “What the ham sandwich and macaroni and cheese?!” I currently have one that frequently says “Oh manischewitz!” She works in Collections so we hear it a lot after a particularly frustrating collection call.

                1. Windchime*

                  My friend says “Sugar Honey Iced Tea!” (because the first letters of each word spell “shit”, and she would never actually say that word). My mother is a little more daring, and actually spells out “s-h-i-t” instead of pronouncing the word. I finally said, “Mom, you can say the word instead of spelling it”, but she gets all aghast and refuses. Oh, Mom.

                2. The Other Dawn*

                  Windchime, that reminds me of my mom. Every once in awhile I’d come home with a new word, like fugly or fornicate. I would tell her the meaning (she left school at an early age) and she would then use that as her word of the day. It was hysterical. She would tell my dad to go fornicate with himself or that the dog is fugly.

                3. Chinook*

                  “(because the first letters of each word spell “shit”, and she would never actually say that word”

                  Around here is it “h – e – double hockey sticks”

                4. ThursdaysGeek*

                  My mum doesn’t swear, but I do recall her ‘Goodness gracious, sake’s alive, and little fishes!’ I need to find more opportunities to use that.

            3. Monodon monoceros*

              This all reminds me of that old Orbit commercial- link to follow. Because of this I usually say “what the french toast?” and “son of a biscuit!”

        1. Jeanne*

          If you can’t swear, don’t you just say “What the…?” and let the listener fill in the rest in her head? Saying the initials W T F seems odd.

          1. Meg Murry*

            My 8 year old has picked up the phrase “What the …?” from his uncle and father when they played video games together. On one hand, it sounds hysterical to hear him say it (he’s got the inflection just right). On the other hand, I’m concerned he’s going to get a “that’s not appropriate” lecture at school and we’re going to have to explain why not.

            Luckily, so far he doesn’t seem to have noticed that his father and uncle tend to mouth the 3rd word silently – hopefully the day he catches that they are able to fake it with “heck” or similar, because I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to break them of that phrase while playing video games.

            1. azvlr*

              Bwahahaha! When my son was about seven, he said, “What the (something unintelligible). . .” and just trailed off on the last word. I asked him he said, and he sheepishly said told me he said “What the heck.” He was so embarrassed. At eleven, it’s his favorite phrase. One day, he was mimicking his older brother, and accidentally repeated the f-word his brother dropped. Embarrassment again. I have never told either of them not to use certain words, but they both know instinctively that certain words are not appropriate in certain situations. Kids are pretty astute about this kind of stuff.

        2. Faith*

          Me too, but I was at a client where a higher level dept. mgr. would yell “sugar” at the top of his lungs. After awhile, I found it pretty offensive.

      2. Marzipan*

        Actually saying WTF is just foolishness. It takes longer than saying ‘what the duck’ would have done in the first place, apart from anything else. ‘What the heck’ is workable, though, surely (if a bit Clark Kent), when a what-the is called for?

        1. Mander*

          I guess it depends on the context. I can imagine saying “WTF” very slowly (W. T. F.) for emphasis, but then I’d probably only do this in an informal setting.

        2. Blurgle*

          I don’t know where you guys live, but it’s fairly common here – as is “Whiskey Tango Fox”. Not considered foolish at all.

          1. Cautionary tail*

            Although I have not used it, someone did email me “whiskey tango fox” and I had to look it up.

          2. A Dispatcher*

            Have definitely heard that (though foxtrot, not fox). We also use charlie foxtrot for a cluster-f***.

            1. Anna the Accounting Student*

              I’ll have to remember “Charlie-foxtrot” for future use. (That said, I was familiar with the -trot aspect, since I watch NCIS and there is an episode using the spelled-out version for its title.)

                1. Sara*

                  Wow. I had no idea! Guess this means I should probably stop referring to happenings at school as snafus…

                2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

                  Haha…yeah, I had to stop a co-worker from using SNAFU in public-speaking situations. With children in the audience. Somehow, I think it sounds like “snag” and she was thinking it was some really neutral, benign word.

                3. Chinook*

                  “Situation Normal, All F’d Up”

                  The for-public consumption definition is Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.” Dh’s experience in the military taught him how to use the abbreviation as a noun, verb, adjective and adverb. :)

            2. College Career Counselor*

              Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Charlie Foxtrot were (are?) favorites in military settings. And FUBAR (effed up beyond all recognition, as I heard it) was for many years (it may no longer be) an acronym for a residence hall/house at Duke University. I believe it was supposed to stand for something like “Fraternity, Unity, Brotherhood And Respect” (I could be getting those wrong). No word on whether the denizens of that particular house were more inclined to party.

            3. Poohbear McGriddles*

              I’m partial to “fustercluck”.

              Makes the uninitiated think you’re talking about chickens or something like that.

          3. Merry and Bright*

            I manager I had a few years ago used to put Foxtrot Oscar at the start of his emails to people if he was annoyed.

          4. BananaPants*

            It’s usually Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, from the military phonetic alphabet. I also use Charlie Foxtrot (for cluster f*) since that’s less known.

            Generally I don’t use expletives in work email because I don’t think it’s professional and email can be legally discoverable, but I certainly SAY the expletives when talking to coworkers (not so much with managers higher than the level of my direct supervisor).

        3. Merry and Bright*

          I know what you mean. I remember Jo March’s choice in Little Women was ‘Christopher Columbus’. Obviously it was a matter of times and culture, but to be practical something short does the job better.

      3. Mander*

        I actually laughed out loud the first time I heard someone say “LOL” as a word, pronounced “loll”. It had never occurred to me to pronounce it as a word — I’d say L-O-L if I said it out loud. Most text/internet acronyms just don’t seem like words to me. I’m more inclined to say the individual letters in general.

        That said, pronouncing acronyms like ASAP or AWOL is a rather old practice. Certainly my Dad would pronounce these as words, but I don’t know if that is perhaps a bit of military slang?

          1. A Dispatcher*

            I think she means the opposite – that people say A-sap and A-wall, versus A-S-A-P and A-W-O-L.

    2. LBK*

      I say JK out loud at lot so I guess that makes me a heathen.

      Frankly, I don’t really see why it matters. Communication evolves; its purpose is to make each other understood, so as long as that’s achieved, being a stickler for This Is How Language Is And It Should Never Ever Change seems pedantic and obnoxious.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      OMG, I will totally defend saying W. T. F. out loud, ironically.

      Either that or I work with a bunch of people as uncool as I am. :)

      Our favorite:


      both in writing and out loud.

      My direct reports and I will sometimes meet eyes and say it unison, as appropriate.

      * see how my OMG up there was used ironically, also with “totally!”, that’s how we have fun all day long. “Hashtag, bunchofgeeks”.

      1. A Dispatcher*

        Oh the OMG thing… I am not only guilty of sometimes saying that, but I actually type “oh em gee” all of the time. Perhaps it’s because much like LOL has lost pretty much all meaning*, so has OMG in my opinion, so I use that to emphasize.

        *We were just having this discussion at work the other day. How many times are you truly laughing out loud when you type that. Almost never. QSTM (quietly snickering to myself), KoSaT (kind of smiling at that) and “I need to type something here so you know I’m trying to be funny/not serious so I guess lol will do” don’t really have the same effect though, lol (see what I did there!)

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          One of my friends wrote back to me one time with SPOAOOMN…small puff of air out of my nose. Now, that, I did actually LOL.

          1. A Dispatcher*

            That’s fantastic! And is in fact my general response to funny things I read (the actual puff, not the amazing acronym). This needs to become a thing, your friend is a genius.

      2. Natalie*

        I’m with you. I say WTF and FFS outloud all the time. I actually swear quite a bit in general, but I’m trying to keep a lid on it at work (particularly now that I’m in an open office and clients could wander in at any time). Those seem to help.

        1. I'm on your lawn!*

          Yeah, I think the “olds” are showing their age here. Speaking WTF/OMG out loud is incredibly commonplace among under-30s. Many of the TV shows and movies I watch routinely feature this in dialog.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            FFS, I’m 54.

            WTF with the “olds”?

            Hashtag, get your own damn lawn.

      3. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

        “FFS” still trips me up. For awhile I thought it was some new fangled way of saying “pshaw” or “pfft” so my brain sees it and reads “ffffffffffssss.” It took my months to realize it was an acronym!

      4. Dynamic Beige*

        I swear… a lot. Probably more than someone “should” but enh, whatevs. I work out of my home and no one can hear me. Sometimes I swear in French instead because I think they’re funny words.

        One of my favourites for text is SBJ

        FWIW, here in Ontario they did a recall of all the old licence plates that had WTF in them once that became a widely known thing.

      5. Delyssia*

        An internal client sometimes uses LTFF to indicate that something is ready to send out. I don’t know how common it is, since I’ve never seen anyone else use it, and I know co-workers who I generally consider far savvier than I am have been confused by it. But I knew the instant I first saw it that it meant “Let The F’er Fly.” Love it!

      6. Nashira*

        My brother, husband and I will use lawl aloud and inspeech as a withering ironic response to a terrible joke made by one of the other two. We’re not mature enough to keep ffs from becoming its longform tho.

      7. Beezus*

        Every time I see WTF in the workplace, it takes me back to an early position, where my help was lent to another group to crunch some numbers for a quarterly report they had to publish. They had a slide deck template prepared and I mostly had to do the numbers and replace the mocked up template graphs and figures with the real ones. The mockup graphs showed impossibly terrible results, and were captioned “OMG”, “LOL”, and “WTF”. It was early in my career and most of my experience was in fairly buttoned-up environments. Working with that group showed me that it was possible to be great at your job without taking yourself overly seriously – they were a hoot.

      8. JB (not in Houston)*

        I have come to love WTF, in part of the Modern Family episode where Phil thinks it means “Why the face?” Sometimes my friends and I will say “why the face” instead, which of course nobody gets and nobody (rightly) thinks it’s funny but us. And I use OMG ironically a lot, too. But I can’t stand when people say LOL out loud.

          1. SarahBot*

            My mom thought LOL was short for “Lots of Love” when she started text messaging.

      9. Cheryl*

        I say “W-T-F” and “O-M-G” all the time, even at work. But I’m a teacher in a liberal setting, so my frame of reference might be skewed. And I say “Loll” too for LOL. I’m on the cusp, but I guess my millennial is showing.

      10. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, at my workplace saying “oh em gee” or “dubya tee eff” would be totally normal. (The latter only in situations where you might also swear, but it’s the implied swearing that’s the restriction, not the pronouncing-of-an-acronym.)

        For some reason LOL is pronounced “Lawl,” though, not “ell oh ell.”

    4. Catherine in Canada*

      Just outside my city is the regional headquarters of the Wild Turkey Federation. Makes us giggle every time we pass it.

    5. JB (not in Houston)*

      That’s your opinion, and I can’t say I disagree with it, but it’s just an opinion. If other groups of people want to say LOL or OMG, why shouldn’t they? We shouldn’t expect people to talk the way we’d prefer them to, especially when they aren’t being offensive.

    6. EvilQueenRegina*

      I used to get quite irritated at Exjob with the coworker who used to say “Oh, poo pants!” because I felt that belonged in the playground rather than an office with adults.

      1. Beezus*

        I think if you’re going make a point of using an interjection that isn’t an expletive, you can take it a teeny step further and avoid fecal references entirely.

  4. Dan*


    Are you the only one struggling with the paperwork? If not, then submit the charge. The company chose to go from a process with less paperwork to one with more, and the most certainly deserve some fault when *their* processes create unnecessary headaches for their staff.

    If you’re the only person struggling with this, I certainly see why you don’t want to draw any more attention to yourself than you have to.

    1. OP#2*

      I actually have no idea how others are doing with the travel paperwork. My boss is several states away (I haven’t meet him in person – after about 3 years of working for him), and I’m pretty sure there aren’t any other people from my company at the client site where I work.

      I just had to replace the brakes in my car, so now I can’t really afford the almost $200, so I’m going to have to really think about this and read the comments here to decide what to do. I just got the email saying that my Amex bill is “available,” so I’ll need to decide soon. I don’t want a late fee on top of the other charge (I would have to pay any late fees myself).

      1. UKAnon*

        If it helps OP, when I’ve fluffed up somewhere I tend to find it easier to bite the bullet and confess if I think about the good it will do me/my reputation. What if in three months time a £1000 (no dollar signs on my keyboard, sorry) charge appears and nobody owns up – if travel approach your boss and he founds out you’ve made mistakes and not told him before, that’s going to be fairly damning evidence this time around (sort of the opposite of the boy who cried wolf)

        I completely get the impulse, but I always think that I’d rather people know me as somebody who seems to make a few mistakes now and then but always owns up, and so can be trusted when I say it wasn’t me, than the opposite.

        I might lean a little differently if you were having serious performance issues or your job was in jeopardy, but it seems like the new arrangements are the only problems you’re having and you’re finding ways to cope with them (like Outlook) so I don’t think this will be a big deal.

      2. Raine*

        You wrote that the travel department where you work intervened and couldn’t get the hotel to waive the charge — then told you to expense it. I know how uncomfortable it might seem to tell your boss, but is it possible the boss already knows or could find out later (like when you never expense it and the travel department probably already has notes and is expecting receipts to complete the record?). It just seems hiding it or covering it might ultimately cost so much more with a manager who already is concerned you don’t yet know how to properly handle this system. The travel department has said expense this — I would probably follow that direction.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I agreed with Alison that it might be worth it to pay it yourself IF it’s not a big deal to you, but since it is, I think the sudden cancellations make it the company’s fault by more than 50%, if I can borrow the concept of civil liability for this. Sure, you are partially responsible, but they made it very difficult on you, and this is a new responsibility, they shouldn’t be immediately throwing you in the deep end of the travel expense pool, if you’ll forgive my poor tortured metaphor.

        If you’re worried about your boss’s reaction, maybe type up a bullet list of steps, and tell him that you will make sure you add it to every Outlook event you create for a business trip. You can even take your last one and duplicate it, then update the details, to make sure those steps are in there. (I believe that the easiest way to do that is to copy the actual rectangle in the Outlook calendar view, paste it elsewhere, then edit it.)

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I work for the state so as far as I know I do have to eat it when I make a mistake (and did eat the difference when I booked an airline ticket for the wrong week). But I think the fact that the mistake was based on their change makes this much more on them than my kind of error. At the very least they should split the difference.

          That doesn’t get you anything, of course, if your company doesn’t feel the same way, but it’s another reason why I lean toward saying something.

          1. Venn*

            The company’s travel department has actually told the OP to expense it, so we know the company’s position.

        2. Zillah*

          I agree. These frequent, sudden cancellations are difficult to keep track of and deal with, and sooner or later, people will slip up. It’s the cost of adopting a new policy and expecting your employees to maneuver things that have generally not been part of their responsibilities. They’re not going to do it perfectly.

        3. Green*

          If your boss doesn’t see the expense, I’d bill them the $200.

          If you’re sure your boss will see the line-item expense to approve:
          I’d eat the cost if I thought my boss was already annoyed with me (particularly if they’d told me to get my sh*t together on this particular issue) unless I didn’t have $200 (for example, if it meant not paying off my personal credit card for the month).
          If I didn’t think my boss was already annoyed with me and my boss would see the expense, I’d bill them the $200.

      4. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        I highly recommend expensing it. Many companies use a separate ledger to log and balance travel charges; you don’t want the cancellation fee to get flagged later because they have a record of the charge and no record of the reimbursement. You know your boss doesn’t like late info; he won’t like being on the hook for a reconciliation exercise way after the fact.

        It’s tough, but swallow the fear, own up, and expense it. The travel dept said to do it so you are in the clear; the complication is smoothing your boss expectations (which honestly, are unrealistic. Business travel is fraught with change and expense reports may often differ from the original plan). Good luck.

        1. Venn*

          +1. And on re-reading, it really sounds like the boss was just sending out an FYI-type of email to the OP that OP really does need to catch on to the process — but it didn’t sound at all like a reprimand (especially as OP is stellar at everything else). OP had already had these reservations (and cancellations) in play when that email came. I really think OP needs to expense it — that’s what the company is saying is the process here! — and that it’s probably not going to be the huge issue the OP fears it will (but a whole reconciliation later might well be).

          1. OP#2*

            I really appreciate everyone’s comments. After reading your comments, I’m leaning towards telling my boss what happened, explaining the steps I will take in the future so that it doesn’t happen again, and then expensing the charge – and suggesting that we lengthen the cancellation deadline window.
            He will probably find out about this anyway, and I think being above-board is the best way to go.

            1. Green*

              Not that you should expense it, but I don’t think it’s *not* “above-board” to pay the expense yourself. If someone asked you about it, I’d just say “Oh, it was my fault, and I didn’t want my mistake to cost the company money.”

  5. A Dispatcher*

    I say this as someone who works in an environment where we get sworn at by callers regularly and swear/talk “inappropriately” all of the time amongst each other, but I actually think WTF has no real place in a written communication or email in the work place. When you swear out loud it tends to be very casual and of the moment. In an email you have more time to compose yourself and the word choice seems less appropriate, at least in my opinion. Plus, you never know who the email may end up forwarded to.

    I’m also in full agreement that the spoken out loud W-T-F needs to not be a thing, ever.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a good point. I do think, though, that are work contexts where it would be fine in an email. For example, if you get a weird email from your building management saying that your building will be evacuated on Wednesday from 12-4 with no explanation, I could totally see forward it to a coworker with “WTF!” (Obviously this depends entirely on your workplace culture and your relationship with the coworker.)

      But on the other end of the spectrum, it would be wildly inappropriate to use it about a substantive work thing — like “WTF happened with the Jones report?” That’s too close to swearing at someone.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Swearing at someone, good point. We’d never do that.

        We use FFS and WTF all the time, but it’s always about external circumstances/people.

        A vendor submits required paperwork wrong 5x, causing a lot of extra work for one of our people, coworker forwards to another coworker with: WTF. Can you help?

        Customer pulls a $57,000 purchase order after we’ve done a ton of work getting the order and have already done pre-production (happened last month) and that gets at least a few internal FFS!

        I’ll defend WTF and FFS for group sanity all day long, but, yep, never at somebody.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          oh and P.S., we don’t curse!

          funniest damn thing (<< I curse more than anybody else), it's not a cursing environment at all.

          But we're big on the WTF and FFS.

          1. DC Legal Marketer*

            I work at a law firm and it’s generally acceptable for attorneys to curse but not staff. I’m talking all out tyraids to one attorney who cannot get a cup of coffee with you in the morning without dropping an F bomb. I personally say WTF all the time but I’m a department of one so it’s mainly to myself lol.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        I have “WTF” post-it notes, with little check boxes for ?, !, and ?!. I got them in the office secret Santa, and I am *very* careful about only using them with trusted people in appropriate contexts!

      3. Green*

        I go with a “Gah!” as my WTF at current job.

        In very sweary previous job, we just swore all day long and I have no idea what I put in emails.

  6. I learn by going where I have to go*

    #2: Yeah, I can see eating $196 to keep my boss from grumbling. It might be worth asking someone in the travel expense accounting dept if your payment of the expense is going to make it into any kind of reports that your boss may review. I mean, you’d still be on the side of the angels (you aren’t doing anything shady with the company’s money) but your boss still might be nonplussed to find that you paid the charge.

    The thing I wonder about, though, is: why did this really happen? It sounds like you’re attempting to take steps to keep it from happening again, and good on ya for that. But I guess I wonder: is this simple procrastination on your part because you hate dealing with travel expense stuff? Or: are you busy to the point where you have problems juggling all of this stuff? Do you have a valid need for an assistant (or some amount of an assistant’s time) to keep track of this kind of stuff?

    1. Jeanne*

      I can understand the urge to cover the expense. You are right though that the boss may find out anyway. Remember the cover up is always worse than the crime. You may look worse if he finds out you covered it up. Be prepared if he confronts you, with or without your paying. Keep it simple and apologize. I’m sorry and I have changed my procedures so that it won’t happen again.

      Why were so many trips canceled in so short a time frame? If there are unusual circumstances at work, the boss may be more forgiving.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think in this case the cover-up wouldn’t seem terrible, because the OP would just say, “I felt like it was my mistake so I should cover it.” (Cover the bill, that is, not cover the mistake.) A good boss will respond that an employee should never have to pay for that kind of thing, but I’ve definitely had employees offer to cover that sort of thing so I think it’s not going to seem like a cover-up so much as just trying to take responsibility by paying for it himself.

        1. Saurs*

          I’m probably in the minority, but I was actually quite relieved to read your answer to #2, and I’m also glad to hear you wouldn’t treat covering the cost as a “cover up.” This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve done before procrastinating at work (in my slightly youthier and infinitely lazier days), and I’ve always felt it was a bit of an ethical dilemma.

        2. Mander*

          So why not confess the mistake and offer to pay for it yourself? It just seems to me that if the OP pays it without saying anything, and it somehow comes to light later on, it seems like they are hiding something. I can imagine the boss being suspicious that they are doing other things wrong even if there is no evidence for that.

          1. Monodon monoceros*

            This might be the best solution of all- tell the boss, and offer to pay for the mistake. Hopefully, boss says not to worry about it and OP doesn’t have to pay. If he agrees, then, well, you were almost ready to just pay it anyway, so there it is.

            For what it’s worth, I screwed up on an airline booking recently. Instead of my return date a week later, I made my return for 3 months later! I think the website “remembered” my return date from a previous search I did for a later trip. Anyway, I noticed it just before I left, and luckily my boss just laughed and told me to be more careful in the future (and work paid the change fee, instead of leaving me there for 3 months).

          2. Green*

            Depends on the work environment, but in my prior work situation, my boss wouldn’t want to weigh in on a “problem” I could easily solve by making a decision.

            Normally I favor being proactive about mistakes, but I view paying it as one form of being proactive about it (it’s no longer the company’s problem, not your boss’s problem, and you can be durn sure I won’t make that mistake again if I ate the cost…). So I can’t see how this would be viewed as “hiding” something unless the expense you were paying from your pocket was a substantive policy violation (i.e., a kickback to a client or something prohibited). I’m in compliance/legal, for whatever that’s worth.

        3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          It depends on company policy. In my company, for example, I cannot pay for any expenses on my card, no matter how much I may want to. All changes must be reimbursed so the charges and reimbursements are balanced. OP might get into more trouble by paying the fee directly vs. expensing it.

      2. Steve G*

        +1. I’m concerned about so many trips being made and cancelled, it seems nuts to me. The boss should just be happy their aren’t cancellation fees from the trips cancelled in time! Your boss can’t assume you’re always going to be able to cancel these things in time to incur no extra charges. I mean, what if you didn’t cancel the hotel because you literally weren’t able to, not because you forgot? Or what if the hotel just had a strict cancellation policy, and you weren’t going to get a refund anyway?

        1. OP#2*

          The trips were cancelled because there weren’t enough students for the classes I was scheduled to teach. We are doing the travel for another department, and we told them that 48 hours was the amount of time we needed if they were going to cancel, and normally it would be (generally the hotels need 24 hour notice at most), but I had started thinking that we might want to make that 72 or 96 hours just to make sure everything could be cancelled in time.

          If we’re going to have that conversation, then I think it might be OK to bring up the non-cancelled hotel at that point and tell my manager that I’ve taken steps to avoid this problem in the future.

          One other related question – do I even suggest that the client should pay this expense? I haven’t felt right about that because it wasn’t their mistake, but I’m so close to this situation, I’m not able to see it objectively.

          1. A Dispatcher*

            Nooooo! If, going forwardc your company would like to outline in their contract with the client that any late fees incurred based on cancellations will be charged to them, that’s one thing, but to spring this on them after the fact* is a no no. Particularly since it sounds like they did in fact cancel within the deadline your company required.

            *and even if that is or will be in a contract, I’d argue in this specific situation they still would not be liable as the error was entirely on you. It sounds as though had you remembered to cancel the hotel on time, there wouldn’t have been any fees.

            1. OP#2*

              Thank you, this is helpful. In the beginning, we told the client that if we couldn’t cancel any travel arrangements by the time they cancelled on us, we would have to charge them, but this one was not unavoidable, so I agree that they shouldn’t be charged.

              1. A Dispatcher*

                By the way, I do want to clarify that I don’t think this means you should have to pay out of pocket. I just think it’s on your employer to cover it versus the client.

          2. misspiggy*

            With this information, I think that the non cancelled hotel shouldn’t be seen an error on your part – it was a legitimate business expense caused by having too narrow a cancellation window. You’re right to think of presenting it to your boss as that, and suggesting the cancellation window be extended. That becomes you doing a positive thing, as you’re showing how the business can save money in the future.

            If you’d had a week to cancel that would be different, but to have to do your other work and deal with a bunch of last minute cancellation arrangements in such a short window is setting you up for errors, so the business should cover the cost.

            1. BRR*

              Yeah this is a gray area. Although I paid for my mistake because I felt like an idiot. With Amtrak printing both ways of a trip on the same piece of paper I was just partially opening a folder with the ticket in it and read the wrong time. I was actually at the train station but missed the train because I thought it was 20 min later. I paid the $56 to switch it.

              1. Cath in Canada*

                We once had someone show up to an international flight without a valid passport! He was astonished to be asked to cover the cancellation fee himself… and this is a very, very smart person.

            2. The Cosmic Avenger*

              misspiggy, thank you for explaining the “liability” part that I mentioned upthread. I think the company and the client bear most of the responsibility, and the company should have a policy in place that doesn’t make it so easy for costs to go unrecovered, like a longer required lead time for cancellations, and charging the client for cancellation if it’s less than a week or 96 hours or something like that. I can’t imagine asking someone to change their travel plans 2 days in advance, and then penalizing them for not doing it exactly right. I usually have months to plan a trip, and “short notice” for us is 1-2 weeks.

            3. Mike C.*

              I’m with you here. The current process is incredibly risky and this was bound to happen sooner or later.

          3. louise*

            I don’t think it would be right for the client to shoulder the cost.

            (When I worked for an attorney years ago, I was told to cancel travel to an out-of-town hearing for some junior attorneys. I pointed out it was less than 24 hours, so we would be billed the full hotel charges regardless. The senior paralegal seemed to think it was funny that I was concerned about that and said “it doesn’t matter, it just goes on the client’s expenses.” I argued that it was our decision not to send someone to their hearing (!!!) so the firm ought to eat that. I did not win and in fact was later fired from that. Good customer service was the one thing I could do well and it was not appreciated there…)

          4. steve g*

            I really don’t like this short notice policy! Why can’t the students decide two or three days before to attend? By the day before I’ve already got someone to come take care of my aquarium, repark my car (nyc alternate side parking) and do my buildings trash. If I had really difficult stuff to get done, this would be even more annoying!

            I was an esl teacher for three years and we had a 24hour cancellation policy but classes were going to happen anyway, so it was a postponement, not cancellation of income. But it was still discouraged to cancel, because teachers went to different sites to do blocks of classes, and a cancellation might give the teacher two hours free in the middle with nowhere to sit or walk to.

            1. steve g*

              And when this happens, do you not get paid? Do you have work to fill the last-minute free time?

            2. OP#2*

              I agree that the last minute notice makes everything more difficult for me. If I wait too long to make the reservations, only the expensive train tickets are available. But if I do it too far in advance (to save the company money), I can end up spending a lot of time cancelling tickets. And, as you were mentioning, the personal inconvenience is a pain in the neck, too (making arrangements to be out of town).

              1. I learn by going where I have to go*

                The more details I’m hearing about this, the more I am inclined to think that you should *not* pay this, but instead expense it as your company’s Travel people suggested, and tell your boss about, along how you are working to avoid a future occurrence, and also some discussion of the cancellation window. Because this sounds more like “unreasonable assumptions” than “lazy procrastination”.

      3. KT*

        The cover-up is what bothers me here. I think it’s better to come clean, and if you think it will be a big thing, proactively offer to cover it. Chances are your boss will appreciate your forthright approach and willingness to take responsibility and will cover the charge.

    2. Carpe Librarium*

      You do have the option of taking both tacks. “Boss, I failed to cancel a booking on time and incurred a $196.00 expense. I have paid this cost myself in this instance as I understand the seriousness of the error from from our earlier discussions. I have put x, y and z in place to avoid further mistakes of this nature.”

      1. Carpe Librarium*

        That said, there’s a risk of creating the expectation that you will *always* pay these fees.
        I understand that you’re considering covering this as it comes on the back of other travel expense-related errors; however you don’t want to find there’s an expectation now placed upon you if, for example, after a year or so of perfect expense management you make another, one-off, error.

    3. Windchime*

      I actually had a very similar situation last year. I was going to go to a conference across the country. Those of us who were going made hotel reservations so that we could be sure to nab a room. I later decided that I wouldn’t go to the conference, but completely forgot that I had made hotel reservations so of course I didn’t cancel them. When the day arrived and I didn’t show up, the hotel [rightly] charged me for a day since I didn’t cancel. I just ate the charge; it is certainly not my employer’s fault that I made reservations and forgot to cancel them. It didn’t even occur to me to ask my employer to cover the charge for me.

  7. Dan*


    Yup, you are. Even if it’s not an affirmative or intentional act on their part, if they start doing the layoff lists, the first thing they’re going to do is look at people’s work load. You do *not* want to be in the position that you are in.

    Even if you were fully covered, that’s also no guarantee. I got canned from a job where I was fully staffed and fully productive (ie assigned to a project full time and not just dead weight) for the next 9 months. They canned me to keep some more senior (and more expensive) people at the company and reassign them to my project.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. What the OP describes has layoff written all over it. S/he needs to be hustling hard to get a new position. And I know several people who had a full load of important projects who got laid off and their work given to more senior people. So not having enough work and having tasks re-assigned is a VERY bad sign when the company is struggling in particular AND having a very full workload and doing good work will also not protect you when the company is struggling.

    2. Creag an Tuire*

      What jumped out at me was “not paying vendors” — never mind layoffs, OP #3, you have to proceed as if this company could keel over and die any day now.

      1. Sigrid*


        Not paying overtime? (By which I hope you mean “no longer offering the option of overtime” not “requiring non-exempt people to work overtime but illegally refusing to pay them for it”.) Sucks, if that used to be a normal thing for non-exempt staff, but an understandable and legitimate cost-cutting measure. But not paying vendors? That’s one of the final signs of doom. OP3, even without any other information, you need to be on the job hunt. Your company is in trouble.

      2. Graciosa*

        Yes, the excuses offered here (just a mistake, happens all the time) are the ones offered to cover up the slide into bankruptcy.

        Solvent companies may occasionally make mistakes, but they are isolated incidents. For example, one vendor’s invoice gets paper-clipped to another and not input properly so it doesn’t make the check run this week and gets paid a few days late. That is not what the OP is seeing.

        OP, assume you will be walked out the door any minute now – and I do mean that literally. Take every minute you have left to prepare.

        Remove any and all personal items you can without making it too obvious (everything from your drawers, but if you have a forest of gnomes decorating your cubicle you have to take those a few at a time instead of all at once).

        Get copies of anything you legitimately can that is important to you off your work computer. Legitimately means you get your performance reviews, but not the trade secret formula to a major soft drink that you plan to sell in retaliation for the layoff – the latter is not yours. If you’ve been storing personal photos or emails on your computer, remove them.

        If the company files for chapter 7 bankruptcy, you may well find out by showing up to locked doors and a posted notice at your place of employment. If this happens, you may not be able to get in to recover clearly personal items for months (photos, the forest of gnomes) and should assume you will not be able to access work computers at all ever again.

        Line up your references, put in some major effort on creating the best possible resume, and start looking NOW.

        1. Natalie*

          Ayup. They stop paying vendors, then the rent, then taxes, and finally they stop paying you. Get out before it comes to that.

        2. Artemesia*

          Yes — the OP should be on the gnome a day plan — walking a gnome out the door each day. These are the signs of a company that could literally be shuttered over night.

      3. Chinook*

        “What jumped out at me was “not paying vendors””

        This one jumped out at me too because without our vendors, we would soon stop being able to function. Since our vendors are often smaller businesses with their own payrolls to meet, they would soon stop being our vendors and instead start hiring lawyers. Since I am also a contractor, the first time I hear rumblings of not paying vendors as per their contracts is the moment I print off my final invoice, submit it to A/P with a time stamp and leave the office. My time is not worth the pennies on the dollar I would get if they go bankrupt.

        If a company isn’t honoring contracts, then take that as a sign that things are going wrong elsewhere.

    3. Jennifer*

      These days, if layoff rumors are happening, you should always assume it’s going to be you, no matter what, no matter your position.

      But…yeah, you’re more likely than most. Sorry. Been there, done that too.

    4. BananaPants*

      Yup, this is perilous ground for everyone working there, but especially for OP#3. Not paying vendors is a very ominous sign for a business.

      Get any personal contacts, documents, etc. off of the computer and make sure your LinkedIn email account is a personal one that you will continue to have access to. Start to bring home your personal effects so that when the stuff hits the proverbial fan (and it will) you will be able to walk out with only a small box of your things. I would start job searching NOW.

      1. OP#3*

        I am studying for an exam right now which I hope to write in 2-3 weeks. I already applied for a few jobs but I plan to apply more seriously once the exam is done.
        One thing I did not mention though is that when we were told this, the CEO did promise they are not thinking of laying anyone off (yet there are still rumors). Also, I have been told we are expecting a huge sum of cash in a couple of weeks from the government which is supposed to help. Lastly, the CEO did also say that if that cash does not materialize, then they will hold another company wide meeting. I assume that will be the one where they announce the layoffs. I will keep you all posted.

  8. Kiwi*

    #3 You should also bear in mind that the company could simply fall over, leaving them with insufficient funds to pay outstanding salaries and wages (or worse, to settle outstanding expense claims!). Cashflow issues is an extremely good indicator of future company success i.e. not great. Start job hunting. Don’t get caught out if/when it comes to a close.

  9. I learn by going where I have to go*

    “WTF” and using ‘naughty’ words in general can be good or bad – like almost all communication, you need to know your audience.

    This is just me, but I don’t use that kind of language very often, and when I *do* use that kind of language, it is largely for some kind of intended effect, because an f-bomb (or whatever) can put a certain spin on your message. To put it another way: I never say those words unless I *mean* to say those words.

    I find this is generally a good thing, because being an undisciplined pottymouth can reflect badly upon you in a business environment.

    You can call me sexist if you like, but one rule I have is to not use that kind of language in front of a woman unless I know for a fact that they won’t find it offensive[1]. And I’ve seen people do The Big Fail in this regard: not long ago on a plane I overheard a fellow (who claimed to be an Army medic) attempt to charm a woman (who claimed to be a graduate student) and they seemed to be warming to each other – but the guy just kept dropping random f-words into his sentences, and each time he did so, it was like I could feel the temperature drop just a bit. But he kept at it, and by the time we were landing, he tried to get her phone number and she shot him down hard enough that he probably thought the plane had crashed.

    [1] I’m talking about live and in person, or in chat or email – posting to AAM or other places on the ‘net, the rules are somewhat different.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      As a female potty-mouth, I think your rule is a sound one, but should be applied across the board. Try not to use that language in front of anyone, male or female, unless you know they wouldn’t be offended. There are many reasons beyond gender that might cause people to take offense to foul language. Religion, a modest upbringing, culture, etc.

      1. UKAnon*

        As another female potty-mouth, whilst I disagree with etiquette which bans certain words in public (some words should never be said, others I’ve never quite understood why it’s so shocking for somebody to use them) it’s simply manners not to swear in certain situations. Just like it’s manners not to use convoluted business jargon outside of business. (Possibly ever) So completely you don’t swear across the board.

        (Or if you only don’t swear in front of women then you don’t get to be horrified and offended when women swear in front of you)

    2. little Cindy Lou who*

      Usage of swear words and their appropriateness in regular conversation can also be regional. I live and work in the east coast and no one bats an eye at “fuck” here because it’s so common. I moved here from a region where it’s far less acceptable to be a potty mouth and I always have to consciously remember to adjust the way I talk when speaking with family out there or visiting the area.

      Also I’ve been saying “W.T.F.” since high school over 10 years ago and have heard “asap” pronounced as a word fairly often in the business world. While I draw the line at saying lol and rofl out loud (because to me, I’d rather actually laugh or say “too funny”, etc) I’m thinking some of the “text speech” becoming live speech may just be the natural evolution of language as shaped by the increasingly most common medium of communication.

    3. Not Today Satan*

      I, unfortunately, can curse too much–but only with close friends who I know don’t mind cursing. I really can’t stand it when people curse loudly in public, or at work when surrounded by all types of colleagues, etc. Even though I curse myself it offends me when someone who hasn’t “earned” it does it in my presence.

    4. Allison*

      In general, you shouldn’t use (or at least, you should try not to use) bad language in front of someone you barely know, unless you’re at a punk rock show or something where swearing is normal. I’m a woman, and I swear, so I’m not really offended by bad language, but I wouldn’t drop a lot of f-bombs when talking to someone I just met, male or female. So yeah, if someone’s trying to flirt with another person but they keep using the “f word,” that kinda kills the mood.

      I still remember when I got to hang out with one of my favorite bands after a show, and toward the end of the night I’d had a couple of drinks and got a little tipsy, and the lead singer and I were sort of giving each other a hard time about, I dunno, something, and I dropped an f-bomb. I’ll never forget the look of shock that flashed across his face, just for a moment. Even though I went to their show and then hung out in a bar with them afterwards, the fact that I used a “bad word” was still surprising. The next time I chilled with them, I was more careful with my language.

    5. LBK*

      It was suggested to me the other day that there’s a regional component to this – a coworker from Arizona said after a decade of living here in Boston, she’s still not totally accustomed to how much we swear (particularly using the f-word). I suppose I don’t think about it being a general potty mouth and having lived here for 5 years now, but most of my coworkers and my managers swear pretty freely too.

      1. Monodon monoceros*

        I’m originally from the Boston area, and do tend to swear quite a bit, but usually not at work. I’ve since moved to Norway, and I was not prepared for how easily and often they will say shit and fuck at work. Microsoft Word not behaving? “What the fuck is happening here?”…Late for a meeting? “Shit, I have to go now”.

        I still feel weird about it, but if I’m telling a story I’ll use fuck instead of fudge or whatever. I have also taken to saying shit now instead of poop, because now I feel like a toddler if I say poop (I bring my dog to work every day, so shit/poop probably comes up more frequently than the average office).

        1. Chinook*

          “moved to Norway, and I was not prepared for how easily and often they will say shit and fuck at work”

          I wonder how much of this is the fact they are swearing in a second language and they don’t have the same visceral reaction to it. It always blows my mind when I hear someone say “bl@@dy he!!” for the use of the 2nd word, not the first (Anglo-Irish grandmother would have washed my mouth out for that term). Ditto for the casual use of “sacre bleu” and “tabernac” in certain Disney movies (Franco-Canadian grandmother would have gone after me with the soap for those ones). But, if you weren’t raised with those linguistic norms, they are just a way to express frustration.

          1. Monodon monoceros*

            Perhaps, but I’ve now learned their swear words, and they do not hold back on those either…

    6. Us, Too*

      One of the most memorable (and sexist) workplace experiences I have ever had was along these lines. I was at a conference with my (entirely male) colleagues. I needed to borrow a dongle (a type of connector cable) for a presentation that I was doing and a team member in the room loaned me one. Queue the “dongle” jokes – I’m just as guilty as anyone else on the team with this, btw. :) An executive then jumped in and told everyone to quit making dongle jokes because a lady was present.

      1. My presence as a woman shouldn’t dictate our policy about making double entendres at work. If this was wrong behavior, just tell everyone that. “This line of joking is inappropriate for work. Let’s change subjects now, please.”

      2. I’m already often seen as “the other” (being the only woman) in the room. His comments further cemented my professional isolationism.

      3. I’m also now the official reason for team humor buzzkill. Thanks, Obama. :/

      In other words, don’t be that guy. You should treat women and men the same in the workplace. :)

      1. Ad Astra*

        Yes, this is perfect. My seniority, my personal taste, my familiarity with the coworker, and the formality of the situation are all factors that might influence whether something is appropriate to say in front of me. My gender is not.

        It might be fine to make dongle jokes or it might not be — for me, it depends on how sexual the joke is — but the presence of a “lady” is irrelevant.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        I had a maths teacher in high school who did that. I was the only girl taking Further Maths for the last couple of years of school, and he’d huddle the boys together and tell them jokes that I wasn’t allowed to hear. Which was pointless because I was good friends with all the boys, and they’d just tell me the joke immediately (in front of the teacher) anyway. It was one of the reasons I ended up dropping Further Maths.

        Ugh, I hadn’t thought about this in years and now I’m all pissed off and wishing I’d done something about it at the time!

    7. Margaret*

      Well, that is sexist. I agree that swearing is generally inappropriate in a business context, but because it’s unprofessional, not because of “ladies”. Putting women on a pedestal as more refined or whatever is NOT ok just because you’re using what you consider a positive attribute as a stereotype, rather than a negative attribute. Still a stereotype, still not ok.

      I assure you that in my office the male partner who’s Mormon is going to be far more offended by swearing than 95% of the women here.

  10. Fudge or Sugar*

    I admit to being someone who generally uses a euphemism instead of actual swearing, as that way I can be sure nobody will be offended. I do say what I really mean at times though. I was brought up to associate swearing with real anger or hurt and I do still wonder what is left for these occasions if swearing is just casual.

  11. Kathlynn*

    I have a strong like of saying “lol” and “WTF” in actual speak. So I’ll say that it’s not that unusual. And, given that things like ASAP were around long before text/internet, it’s just another evolution of language.

  12. OP #5*

    I was mostly talking about saying “WTF” in instant message, which my workplace uses a lot. But I suppose you could say it verbally too.

    1. Meg Murry*

      I wouldn’t use it first, and I definitely wouldn’t use it first with my boss. But if other peers are using it, it’s not out of the question to use it in IM.

      Just don’t use it in IM if you wouldn’t use it in email – some people seem to think it is not tracked, but most companies retain IMs just like email, and your co-worker may have turned on a setting to keep all the IMs.

      If you wouldn’t want to see it printed out and presented to your boss, don’t use it. If you think your boss doesn’t care, use away. Although like others have mentioned, don’t use it to swear AT co-workers.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Someone I work with got sacked for gross misconduct for abuse of the IM software.

      2. Mabel*

        Our IM messages have a huge notice at the beginning of each conversation stating that they are being recorded for audit and monitoring purposes. Definitely not private!

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Oh, that’s actually pretty different. I think it depends on who you’re IMing, too. I have a co-worker who is also a good friend, and she and I will use a lot of those abbreviations, sometimes ironically, sometimes not. Both of our jobs require that we’re fluent netizens, but also extremely effective professional communicators in a more formal sense, so we both can code switch, and often do it in IM for fun.

      But I wouldn’t use “WTF” with my boss, just because 1) he’s older (although he’d probably get it anyway), and 2) and I wouldn’t say it to him in person, abbreviated or spelled out. And he and I have a pretty good rapport, but it’s still a manager-supervisee relationship. I guess if we were talking about our personal lives I might say that, like if I was recounting a story where I had actually said that, but I wouldn’t use it about work with him.

    3. Hannah*

      Just one person’s opinion but I freely use WTF in IMs with coworkers. I treat IMs as a much more informal form of communication than work email. I would be interested to know others’ thoughts on that.

    4. Graciosa*

      I wouldn’t use it.

      Used casually, it conveys a certain carelessness and a lack of what I’ll summarize as class. People I admire and respect would not do this.

      Used seriously, I think it conveys a lack of gravitas.

      To illustrate, I have responded (once in my career) to an email stating that I was absolutely appalled by the suggestion it contained. I did not reply all, but only to the sender, who clearly understood from this message exactly how serious I was in my opposition to the idea.

      “WTF” would not have conveyed that. It seems breezy and cavalier rather than serious.

      Ultimately, the key in determining how to present your message should be rooted in an understanding of how it may be received by its audience. This is an explanation of how I would perceive the use of WTF, but your audience may perceive it differently.

      My only caution is that I would not normally explain my perceptions of its use to someone who did not ask, so there may be members of your audience who have similar reactions in silence.

      1. LBK*

        Wow, that’s a pretty big judgment on someone to call them classless for swearing. This isn’t the 1700s anymore.

        1. I learn by going where I have to go*

          Like it or not, I have to agree: the pottymouth thing can indeed come off as low-class. The story I told up-thread about the guy attempting to ‘connect’ with the woman he was sitting with; maybe you just had to be there, but I got a distinct feeling of ‘low-class’ from this guy: “… ’cause the effing C.O., he doesn’t care if we effing do it, he just wants to kiss his boss’s effing butt”. Maybe it’s the use of two or more f-bombs in a single sentence?

          1. LBK*

            I must be the trashiest person alive if that’s the case.

            I just don’t see how profanity is a big deal in the adult world; if you’re in a formal context, sure, but it’s awfully pearl-clutchy that in a casual setting you’d judge someone for swearing, even excessively so.

            1. fposte*

              There was an article in the paper a couple of years ago about frequency of swearing. A friend and I agreed we were doing our bit to keep the average up.

      2. Us, Too*

        This is entirely cultural and depends on the workplace. I’ve worked places where I couldn’t imagine swearing. I’ve also worked places where f bombs drop left and right and nobody thinks anything of it. It has nothing to do with class or productivity.

      3. Delyssia*

        I don’t think you actually understand how people use WTF. I don’t think anyone here has suggested that WTF is a reasonable direct response to a suggestion rather than “absolutely appalled.”

        Allison spelled it out really well above that it would be inappropriate to respond to someone’s suggestion or other substantive work matter with WTF, because that’s coming far too close to swearing AT someone.

      4. Apollo Warbucks*

        To quote Stephen Fry:

        “The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest is just a fucking lunatic.”

      5. Graciosa*

        My post received quite a response, covering some diverse points of view – I’ll try to reply to the major ones.

        First, I do understand the difference between the casual use of WTF and the more serious one (although I only used an example for the latter and not the former). I still think there are better alternatives even for casual use.

        Next, I do agree with the comments that this is a cultural issue and depends upon the environment (which I thought I made clearer in my original post than was apparently the case).

        That said, I don’t want the essence of my point to be lost – which is that there are environments where this matters, and you really need to know your audience before making a decision.

        As much as some posters seem to wish otherwise, I am part of the audience at my company, and this is the reaction I have. I did not say that this single factor overshadows every other aspect of an individual’s behavior and performance – but yes, I notice, and no, the reaction is not positive. I have literally decades left in my career, so don’t assume my influence will end shortly.

        I think I’ve posted more than once about the fact that the higher you move in a company, the more important people skills become. Manners fall under the umbrella of people skills.

        I don’t run around the office offering unsolicited criticism of other people’s speech (which would be terribly rude). In this case, the OP asked whether this term is acceptable at work. I answered on the assumption that her query means she wants to know if there are people silently turned off by hearing or seeing this, and I am an example of someone who is. I am not the only manager who has this reaction.

        What the OP chooses to do with this information is entirely up to her.

        1. fposte*

          I think you may also be responding to the inherent slanginess of profanity. In a document where I’m deeply displeased by something, I’m not going to be slangy, I’m going to be highly formal.

          I could see using “WTF” in editing at the junctures where the legendary Harold Ross wrote “What the hell?” though. That’s a more high-spirited venue for communication, and the abbreviation is helpful.

      6. ancolie*

        “Used casually, it conveys a certain carelessness and a lack of what I’ll summarize as class. People I admire and respect would not do this.”

        As someone who grew up in a blue collar family with parents who busted their asses so their two kids could go to college, anyone who relates behavior they look down upon to “lacking class” instantly go on MY “classless” list.

    5. fposte*

      Only if it’s a relationship where it would also be okay for you to write out “fuck.”

      “WTF” is just not a euphemism yet. When people write “fudge” or “sugar” your audience reads “fudge” or “sugar”; they may think of stronger words or they may not. When people read “WTF,” they generally mentally expand it–it’s like you’ve sent them an uninflated “fuck.”

      1. LBK*

        I really enjoy something about the phrase “uninflated fuck”. It has my mind running wild with imagery.

    6. t*

      In our IM system we can send animated GIFs. My favorite is a woman very clearly saying “what the f***”, but with no sound or caption. That only gets sent to trusted coworkers though.

  13. Darcy*

    When I read Alison’s response to #5 I couldn’t help but think of the Modern Family episode where Phil said he was up on all the lingo, and he knew that WTF meant “why the face?” Which is the term my husband and I now use, especially in front of the kids.

      1. PhyllisB*

        We had a friend who used the terms “CRS” and “SOL” all the time. Our children (who were young at the time) asked me what that meant. I told them it meant “Can’t Remember Stuff” and “Surely out of Luck.” This was fine until they used it at school and got in trouble with the teacher. :-)

        1. Cath in Canada*

          Off topic, but there used to be a convenience store near me called Sol. They had a sun in their logo, but the name was all in capital letters, which didn’t really give the right impression of the quality of their service!

          They just recently changed their name; I guess someone finally pointed out that SOL CONVENIENCE STORE does not compute.

          1. zora*

            Virginia’s statewide standardized tests for K-12 are called the SOLs. … When theyfirst came out when I was in HS, my first thought was that that was so perfect. Second thought was, what idiot named that????

    1. Ellen*

      I had a boss once whose mother thought “LOL” meant “Lots Of Love” and had in fact sent condolence-type emails to people based on that assumption. “So sorry your husband is in the hospital. LOL. -Susanna”

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      There’s a geek humor site that for a while called it ‘Worse Than Failure’.

  14. Allison*

    #4, I agree that that’s not the question recruiters should be asking in the initial interview. I sometimes wonder if, since internal recruiters often screen applicants as well as passive candidates, they simply forgot that you were passive, which is something they should be paying attention to but from my experience, recruiters have a tendency to make little mistakes like that when they’re swamped.

    It could also be that what they’re really asking is why you agreed to talk to them. What was it about the role, as it was pitched to you initially, that seemed interesting enough to get you engaged in a dialogue? But if that’s what they’re asking, the question should sound more like “what about this role seems interesting to you?”

    Overall, I agree that a recruiter’s job is to actually recruit, as in try to sell someone on the role they’re trying to fill. If all they do in that phone call is confirm that the candidate is qualified, they should be called a phone screener.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      I think that’s true. Years ago a company found me on Monster for a position they were recruiting for and their internal recruiter called me, asking if I had a few minutes to chat. I had no idea of the company or the role itself, but I took the call anyway. She told me that they had found me via Monster, etc and then launched into a phone screen, asking me what made me apply for the role. I answered that I hadn’t applied just yet and mainly wanted to hear more about the role itself, since she had contacted me. That didn’t go over well. Turns out the internal recruiter was a little bat guano crazy and the company had horrendous (and I do mean horrendous) reviews on Glassdoor.

      Come to think of it, this was 2011, well into the recession and it seems rather strange that they had to go fishing for a role that was administrative and at an associate/mid career level. That says a lot.

    2. James M.*

      I think people tend to assume that being contacted by a recruiter is somehow a short cut through the hiring process. I (having been in the situation myself recently) had to consciously quash such feelings and tell myself that once the first interview is scheduled, I’m in the running with people who applied by their own impetus. Once you decide to approach the interview process as if you weren’t contacted by a recruiter, questions like “Why are you interested in role X?” become absolutely normal.

      Of course, voluptuousfire encountered either a loon or a drone (experiences errors when going off script).

  15. Allison*

    #1, If someone found something I wore to work inappropriate, I think I’d want to know so I know not to wear it again, or at least so I know to make modifications to how I wear it! So if someone found my skirt too short, or an article of clothing too tight, or a shirt too sheer, in theory I’d want them to tell me. But, in reality, it could be uncomfortable or come across as insulting depending on who it comes from and how they say it. My manager, of course, can and should tell me, and I think I’d take it as a helpful heads-up if it came from someone relatively my age/level and whom I was close(ish) with at work, but an older coworker I don’t speak to all that often? Might be a tad off-putting.

    Also, rather than saying “that shirt is inappropriate,” maybe something like “that shirt is nice, but with this lighting you may want to wear a tank top under it.”

    As an aside, it’s frustrating as hell to find white shirts that aren’t see-through! I mean, what is the fashion industry thinking, making so many sheer tops? When I finally found some plain, white shirts that weren’t see through (and on sale) I was overjoyed!

    1. ACA*

      what is the fashion industry thinking, making so many sheer tops?

      I was looking for a new shirt to wear with to an interview, and I literally had to go to eight different stores before I found one that wasn’t completely sheer. They all looked fine on the hanger – and then I’d try them on and whoops, no, not gonna buy that.

          1. Pennalynn Lott*

            We also don’t have small items that we’d like to keep handy, so don’t ever put functional pockets on anything.

        1. Allison*

          Agreed. Since sleeveless tops are considered inappropriate in a lot of workplaces, it seems odd that a lot of “work” tops and dresses are sleeveless. I’ve become much more aware of the fact that generally, short-sleeved attire not only looks better than sleeveless stuff on me, but it’s more suitable for my lifestyle.

          Also, and this is only somewhat related, but WHY is it to hard to find a beach cover-up that actually, y’know, covers your body? I swear, it took me forever to find something decent that actually covered my shoulders *and* went down to my legs. Most of them are either so skimpy they serve no real purpose, or look weird and frumpy.

          1. Hlyssande*

            I found a coverup at Target years ago that goes almost to my knees in solid black knit and I will wear it until the day it falls apart. With leggings and a tank top I can wear it as a casual dress as well.

          2. Kelly L.*

            I think it’s a combination of cheapness (it’s easier to fit if you don’t fit the arms–this is also why strapless wedding dresses are in), and of wanting to wring more money out of the customer (if the shirt is sleeveless, then you’ll buy the cardigan too).

            I really do not get swimsuit cover-ups. My mom drilled into me that it’s rude not to wear one when not in the water, but they don’t even all cover the same thing (big t-shirt vs. sheer dress thingy vs. sarong vs. whatever) so it’s almost like it’s a ritual garment rather than a practical one. It doesn’t really need to cover anything, just to exist.

            1. Allison*

              My mom taught me the importance of wearing a t-shirt over my suit on the way to and from the beach to protect my shoulders from unnecessary skin exposure, and we wore oversized shirts that would go down to the upper leg – so it was like a dress almost. As I got older those oversized t-shirts weren’t so “oversized” anymore, so I’d wear shorts as well, but I’ve been wanting something a little more fashionable and flattering to protect my skin and give me some sense of modesty when I’m not actually on the beach. I was never taught that I had to be covered when I was out of the water, but personally I feel weird wearing just a bathing suit when I’m not actually on the beach.

          3. doreen*

            They’re for people like me – my dress code requires that I wear a sweater or jacket (for practical reasons) and for about three-quarters of the year I can’t stand two sets of sleeves.

      1. Us, Too*

        OMG, yes. I have finally just given up and purchased a couple tight camisoles to wear under shirts that would otherwise not be appropriate for work.

        Other complaints: sleeve holes, necklines, etc that don’t cover what they should. Solution: camisole.

          1. Red Rose*

            Not in my office, it’s not. Sitting here shivering with my emergency office cardigan on today.

            1. Kyrielle*

              YES. I have a sweater in my office because that is the only place I need it at this time of year.

              But if I wear a camisole, then when I go out to the store after work or to pick up the kids, I die of the heat twice over – first the contrast between the arctic and the desert, and secondly the too-many-layers-for-the-desert part. (Disclaimer: I do not live in an area that technically qualifies as ‘desert’. It just feels like it this week.)

        1. Hlyssande*

          Basically every shirt I’ve tried on in the last ten years has been way too low cut. I want a neckline that’s not too low to wear without a cami, please! Is that too hard to do?

          1. Allison*

            Far too often in the past year or so, I’ve bought a super cute and flattering dress or shirt only to find that it’s so low cut they it doesn’t even fully cover a demi bra. A frickin’ demi bra. Seriously. I’ve started buying camis to make it work, but it’s really annoying that I have to wear them, and to be honest I don’t like the layered look.

            1. Chinook*

              ” I’ve bought a super cute and flattering dress or shirt only to find that it’s so low cut they it doesn’t even fully cover a demi bra. ”

              I hear you and someone on AAM pointed me to eshakti dot com where I could find cute dresses and tops and choose the neckline, sleeve length and skirt length (and they just started doing pants!). Add to that the fact that they can cut it to my curvy figure and 90% of the dresses have pockets (big enough to carry my smartphone!) and I have totally given up shopping in the mall. I promise I don’t get any money or discount from them but man, this was life changing, especially since they sold dresses with winter weight materials (something that seems nearly impossible to find around here anymore).

              1. A Dispatcher*

                Hopefully you’ll come back and find this, if not I’ll have to try to catch you on the next open thread – thanks for the heads up on that site! I’ve been a jeans person for so long and am just now getting into dresses and skirts, but miss my pockets so. The selection of dresses and skirts with pockets on that site is amazing!

          2. Ad Astra*

            While we’re at it, can I request more camis that actually cover my bra? I don’t understand why layering camis are always so low cut.

    2. LBK*

      I feel lucky that as a man it’s generally more socially acceptable to have your undershirt visible through your shirt than your bra (because my white shirts are definitely see-through as well).

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I’ve actually always thought this was weird (the super-clear outline of men’s undershirts). Why are we not making shirts opaque enough??

        1. LBK*

          I don’t think it looks great either, but for whatever reason (and I’m sure we could posit a few) there never seem to be any discussion about whether someone should let Bob know that his undershirt is visible or watercooler talk about “Oh my god, you can totally see Bob’s undershirt right through his shirt today!”

          I wouldn’t wear a tank top-style undershirt since I think that veers too far into unprofessional but I do it with crew necks.

      2. A Definite Beta Guy*

        Agreed, not sure if I could keep my mental sanity wondering whether my undershirt is visible. Certainly, I feel they are always visible unless I am wearing some sort of heavy sweater or black shirt.

      3. Anx*

        I never understood why men’s undershirts are white instead of a shade of nude.

        For what it’s worth, I’m waiting patiently for clothing companies to start offering women’s undershirts that:

        -Cover the armpit. Women sweat too.
        -Are form fitting. I want something that doesn’t really affect the outline of my silhouette.
        -Is nude.
        -Has a neckline that covers a bra but is otherwise low-cut.

  16. Murphinator*

    I believe in the “that outfit isn’t the most flattering on you” discussion. One time I had a very red blouse I loved, but it was very sheer and I didn’t know it. My friends (thankfully) pointed it out to me and I was able to wear a vest over it from then on. It was forever known after that as the “porn star” blouse.

    1. Us, Too*

      I can’t imagine a boss or colleague using the term “flattering” in regards to my workplace attire. That really isn’t the direction you want to go for work. Friends? fine. Colleagues? Hell no! The workplace shouldn’t be about flattering fashion. It should be about APPROPRIATE fashion.

      1. Allison*

        Ideally it should be both, but I agree, whether something is “flattering” isn’t really the point.

  17. Rita*

    I say WTF aloud all the time. There’s no rule against saying acronyms out loud, including “slang” ones. WTF existed long before text messaging.

    1. Rita*

      ETA: Though, there may be rules about using it in the workplace. I meant generally in my comment.

  18. Erin*

    #1 – Nope, don’t say anything. You’d just be asking for trouble no matter how well intentioned you are.

    #2 -Yes, if it were me I would pay for it myself.

    #3 – Yes, I do think you’re going to get laid off.

    #4 – Yeah, that’s very off putting considering he was the one who reached out to you, not the other way around. I probably wouldn’t want to work with someone like that.

    #5 – “It depends on your workplace culture” sounds like such a cop out answer, but it’s true. Something like that is 100% dependent on the specific company and subsequent employees.

  19. Duncan - Vetter*

    #2: The ideal thing to do is to come clean and tell your manager about your mistake. Maybe there is something about this new system that is simply not working, thus it needs to be revised. If you already spotted the issue, you can point it out and together find the best solution. On the other hand, if you feel that this was a simple mistake and you have the money, you can fix it. Just make sure this is the first and last time you spend your own money for something that is related to the company.

  20. spek*

    In college I had a physics instructor that woud circle a math or other error in red and write WTF? When asked he would gieve a big smile and say it sttod for “What’s This For?”

    1. Artemesia*

      I had a colleague once who used ‘awk’ next to an awkward paragraph or sentence when red marking an essay. Students were incensed because they read it as ‘AWK!!!!’ as if it were a sound rather than a shorthand version of ‘awkward.’ The guy was a tad abrasive anyway and this just got interpreted as a rude exclamation.

      1. Ad Astra*

        I’m pretty sure “awk” was an accepted proofreading term long before “OMG AWK!!!” was a thing. Kids these days.

  21. ACA*

    Re: #1, there was a trend awhile back for wearing black bras under white shirts. (I don’t know why this was a trend, but it was.) Except then one of my castmates in a play showed up the day of the show, already in her costume of a white blouse and slacks…with a black bra underneath. This was not the bra she’d worn during previous performances. “Matilda,” I said in horror. “You can’t wear that under the stage lights.” And that’s how she spent the whole show wearing a denim jacket over her costume.

    The point is: Tell her, but only if it’s super obvious. If her bra is white or skin-toned, she probably knows and is ok with it.

    1. Allison*

      Why, dear God why, would someone wear that on stage? It’s one thing to wear a sheer shirt and visible bra if you’re going to a club, but on stage? When it’s not part of the costume? What was she thinking??

      1. ACA*

        She’d been wearing a dark shirt earlier in the day and didn’t bother changing her bra before getting in costume, because the black bra/white shirt was on trend. She didn’t even think about what the stage lights would do until I pointed it out.

  22. fposte*

    Ha, I thought we were all being very swearing-avoidant today, but maybe the others who expanded it got sent to moderation too!

      1. Chinook*

        I noticed mine going to moderation too. I wonder if AAM realized how much work this topic was going to make for her. :)

  23. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    So piggybacking off of #1: Since I work on a college campus, my department has student workers and these student workers are big fans on showing off their bras. From shirts that are completely sheer in any lighting (paired with vibrant color bras) to wear regular bras with shirts that are backless, sideless, and dip down to almost the bellybutton.

    I rank above them, but I’m not the director of the department and thus not technically their manager even though I’m allowed to tell them what to do. There are days when I really do want to say “hey, this is an actual job so maybe bra-as-top is not so appropriate?” but we don’t really have an office dress code. Still I don’t want them thinking that’s appropriate attire to wear to an interview or a “real” job, though I hope they have the common sense to realize that (though sometimes I re-do the filing they’ve alphabetized and wonder). I also wonder about saying something to the male student workers who wear a god-awful amount of Axe. (I’m only about five years older than these students. I don’t know if that’s relevant.)

    1. cardiganed librarian*

      That’s what I was thinking in regards to the first question – it’s absolutely considered acceptable among many young women to show their bras, and someone recently informed me that I was body-shaming them to say that it wasn’t. So she might be quite aware that her top is a bit sheer and not have a problem with it, and I wouldn’t touch that question among co-workers with a 10-foot pole.

      1. LBK*

        Was that at work or just in public in general? Because there’s a difference between body shaming and expecting professionalism, and that applies to all genders and body shapes.

      2. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

        I will admit that there seems to be an undue amount of focus on ladies and their breasts. Like the “high-beam” comments up thread- ladies have nipples and we shouldn’t all have to buy heavily padded bras just so someone doesn’t have to deal with that basic fact of anatomy. And I’ll admit that I’ve given up on trying to control my errant bra straps, and if something is just see-through enough that you can see the outline of my bra I say “eff it” but being able to actually describe the entire pattern of a bra seems a step too far to be acceptable. I’m not really sure how “hey we can see your bra” could be counted as body shaming (commenting on the actual fit and style of the bra, yeah I can see where that could veer off)

      3. Ad Astra*

        The consensus in my circle of friends is that you should make a reasonable effort to cover your bra, but if a strap slips down or you can see the outline from a certain angle or something, that’s fine. It’s not your job to protect the world from the emotional trauma of happening upon evidence that a woman is wearing a bra and thus might have breasts.

        I would make a more concerted effort to cover my bra in the office than I would out in the rest of the world, though.

        1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

          I own some bras with fancy backs just so I can show them off when I go out on the weekends! But never in the office (though it’s so cold in here I’m usually buried under a pile of sweaters even in the summer, no one would know if I were wearing one!)

        2. cardiganed librarian*

          I cover my bra the same way I cover my underwear – I don’t worry much about visible panty lines but I also don’t get dressed with the intention that everyone will know the colour or print of it. Accidental slips are no big deal. I guess it’s a bit of a generational gap because the idea of fancy bras intended to be shown off doesn’t really compute for me!

          By far the worst offenders in terms of unprofessional revelation of one’s undergarments are the guys who wear their pants so low the entire seat of their drawers are on display (do they still do that? I’ve been away from fashion trends for a long time). But that trend rarely bled into the professional world, whereas clubwear trends for women seem to be adopted into professional wear very quickly.

        3. dawbs*

          That’s rather where I land.

          I also have college students who work for me, and when I’ve had to tackle it (I have had to. Sheesh do I hate to tackle it), the line has not been “can I see you are/aren’t wearing a bra” and has been more “can I see/not see details of what you are/aren’t wearing”

          So…the fact that you’re wearing a bra? You’re adulting. Continue to wear undergarments and clothing to work like you should.

          The fact that I know your bra has pink polka dots? eh…probably not an adulting well day. Luckily, There is a secret squirrel stash of cardigans and event t-shirts (for both genders, from size S to 5XL, all clean and folded) in the ‘resources for student workers’ corner of my office.

          Which is helpful, since, uh, I forgot and wore my pink polka dotted bra last week, under the blue shirt that’s a little to sheer (and then I dumped coffee on it, to make it SUPER sheer).
          (and it does help that I do ‘supervise’–and as I’ve gotten older and they’ve gotten younger {I swear, they’re BABIES anymore. How on earth are these kids 20? My age-sensor is broken}, I can be a bit more…forceful with best interest at heart in my role)

    2. Allison*

      Why doesn’t their manager say anything?? I get it, they shouldn’t have to tell the interns those things are inappropriate, but the reality is that they *are* making poor decisions about their work wardrobe and they may be thinking “I don’t know if this is right, but no one’s saying anything, so it must not be a big deal.” If no one tells them “hey, don’t wear that” now, they may continue to dress like that at future internships and possibly future jobs. This is where they learn about the working world, and if they’re forming bad habits, those habits need to be corrected or they’ll come away from the internship thinking those habits are fine and dandy.

      1. Mabel*

        I agree! Internships are where they learn about what’s OK and what isn’t. I had to learn about this at my first job because no one said anything at my internship (and some of the conversations were really embarrassing).

        1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

          That’s exactly why I’d like to say something! I’d hate for them to get to a real job and think it was acceptable based on our silence.

      2. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

        I wonder if they don’t think that they need to look or act professional because it’s not an internship or real networking opportunity, they’re just student workers the way that their friends making mediocre coffee on campus are student workers-though our department does expect them to perform real, professional work and we rely on it being accurate because otherwise we need to go back and redo it. I’ve never discussed their dress/cologne habits with my manager but I wonder if he’s employing a similar apathetic thought process.

        Maybe it only bothers me because I’m jealous that they have the confidence to wear that stuff!

  24. Anon21*

    The company I work at seems to be having some cash flow issues, which the CEO assures us was due to a mistake on senior management’s part

    This is an unconventional use of the word “assures.” I might use “warned” or “alerted.” I might also look for a new job, per Allison’s advice.

    1. fposte*

      That’s a really shrewd point. The CEO is treating that as if it were a great and forgivable excuse rather than the huge Klaxon signal that it is.

  25. Laurel Gray*

    Op #3 – expect and plan for the worse.

    “…due to a mistake on senior management’s part and that this happens to companies all the time.”

    While this may be true, said senior management who made these mistakes usually sits in on the meetings and decides how the reorganization will go for THEIR mistakes. They’ll eliminate an entire department before they take a pay cut until things get better or resign. A company’s cash flows is a major part of the business, consider yourself lucky you were given this heads up. It really is important to look out for #1 right now or else you will end up waist deep in #2 if you don’t plan accordingly.

    Layoffs suck. Good luck and keep us updated!!!

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Agreed. It does happen all the time and when it does happen, Something Must Be Done. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, if you don’t have enough cash to cover your expenses, you have to start spending less.

    2. Artemesia*

      Oh absolutely. I was once employed by a failing organization and the main activity of the people who created the mess was creating a way for them to not suffer at all for it. They negotiated a merger in which THEIR jobs were protected while virtually everyone else got fired or hammered in some way. The people who had warned that the moves being made by leadership were disastrous all lost their jobs; the people who blithely drove the ship onto the rocks were all provided lily pads to step off on so their feet didn’t get wet at all. Many very fine professionals in their late 50s were never able to find a job again. The incompetent boobs running the place did just fine.

  26. Kvaren*

    re: WTF and swearing in the office

    I once worked in a small office that had a swearing jar, where you had to pay <- $1 on any swearing infraction, and the proceeds were used for some sort of company benefit, like towards a party or food or whatever. I still thought the policy was totally bogus.

    My go-to replacement words were "frik" or "frak". No one complained and something about those words feels like they still help get the edge off.

  27. Rebecca*

    I have a question related to #1, let me know if a threadjack is not allowed and I’ll move it to the free-for-all.

    I have been looking everywhere for white cotton tees that are not super sheer. I’ve tried Target, Gap, Loft and Old Navy which are my usual go-to places for tees like this. They are all so sheer that I would need a camisole or tank top underneath them, even with a nude-to-me seamless bra. It is so frustrating that this seems to be a trend with white tops now!

    Something like these:

    1. Rebecca*

      Just realized I did not put my actual question into my post…

      Has anyone had any luck finding what I’m talking about? If so, please fill me in!

    2. AW*

      The company that finally sells a white shirt that isn’t sheer is going to make a ton of money.

    3. LawLady*

      I have had good luck with Everlane. YMMV, but I can wear them with just a nude-for-me bra.

    4. Anx*

      I’ve had such a similar experience!

      I had a Gap/ON/BR gift card and I went out to get some new clothes (we only have an ON near me).

      I was planning on getting a bunch of Ts at ON, but I literally couldn’t find any I liked that weren’t semi-sheer. I almost decided to just use the card on getting my BF t shirts because the men’s ones were still pretty solid.

      I went to Loft and tried on so many outfits and most of them looked so cheap. The looked nice for lounging, but not for actually going out and about.

    5. Nutella Fitzgerald*

      American Apparel’s #2102 has been that for me. The fabric feels more substantial than it does in the unisex version of that shirt.

  28. Isben Takes Tea*

    OP#1: If you do decide to say something, I wouldn’t approach it in a factual/judgmental way (“Your shirt is too sheer!”) because it may be intentional. I would approach it with “I’m not sure if you know that you can see your bra through your shirt under the office lights. I just wanted to let you know in case it was unintentional.”

    I’d try to make it as clear as possible that this is a friendly aside that you’ll forget about immediately afterward (in case she is mortified) as opposed to a more direct statement.

    If it were me, I’d be mortified but extremely glad you said something.

  29. African Sun*

    #2 I think OP here should pay for the mistake in order for the bosses to not find out. It’s worth paying just to keep the relationship especially if the job is well paid.

  30. Abby*

    I wear a lot of white shirts, and they’re all at least somewhat transparent. I wear a white or nude bra and as long as my bra fits properly I really don’t give a F that it looked is like I’m wearing underwear.

    1. fposte*

      Which is fine if it’s okay with your workplace. There are a lot of workplaces where it isn’t.

  31. Claire*

    For question #1: I have been in this situation, where a shirt I was wearing (not white though) was too sheer, but I did not see it. I think mine wasn’t as blatantly sheer as this woman, but I had also worn it a number of times. No one said anything, not my manager, not any of the coworkers I am closer too, no one. Until one day a woman who is about 10 or so years older than me (I was 30 at the time), caught me in the restroom and politely suggested wearing a camisole under my blouse. I was a little embarrassed, but not offended. I never wore the shirt to work again, camisole or not.

  32. AW*

    Re #1 – I gotta say, it’s actually really difficult to find a shirt that isn’t see through and doesn’t become see through in a few washings. I think it’s deliberate; they want to force women to send $15 – $20 bucks on a cami so everything is just a shade too thin.

    I had one mortifying incident: It was at a function the HS band had to play in and we were to wear all black. I borrowed a shirt from my mom and she looked at me in it at the house and it was fine. I get to the location for the event and people are looking at me funny. I can’t recall now who pointed out that the shirt was VERY see through but I was horrified. Not because it had been pointed out but because I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it. All I could do was tell people it wasn’t on purpose!

  33. EvilQueenRegina*

    I used to work with this woman (Persephone) who had a tendency to wear quite low cut tops. One day Wakeen (a manager, but not her direct manager) needed her to minute some big meeting offsite, but was worried about what she might wear, so he asked her manager, Bob, to have a discreet word. Bob did so, and Persephone apparently made some comment about “Okay, I’ll wear my boiler suit”. On the day, she wore a white shirt. Usually, the shirt in question wasn’t that see through. However, on that day, it poured down with rain. So by the time she got there, it was totally transparent!

  34. Bri*

    I used to carpool with my ex husband to work and he would drop me off then go to his nearby office. One day I was chatting with our receptionist when my coworker raced up behind me horrified and told me that she had noticed my skirt had split. I was of course mortified and called my ex to tell him to go buy me a new skirt ASAP. Turns out that his company had been bought by one of the biggest tech companies in the world and they had announced it at a huge lunch meeting with a open bar and therefore he was too drunk to go buy me a new skirt or bring me the car. I had to tie a sweater around my waist and tough it out until he sobered up.

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