inappropriate birthday card, loud mechanical keyboards, and more

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

1. Was this birthday card inappropriate?

A coworker of mine will soon be celebrating her 28th birthday. So another coworker of ours picked out a birthday card from the shop in the lobby of our office building for everyone to sign and give to her. The card had a picture of a shirtless man on the front (he was wearing jeans and sitting on a motorcycle) and the inside of the card said something to the effect of, “I got you a six-pack for your birthday.” (Groan.)

It was my job to then go around to everyone in the company and ask them to sign this card. It occurred to me when I got to the offices of upper management that this card is probably not appropriate for the workplace. Should I have asked my coworker to go select a different card? Could it be considered sexual harassment to show people in the workplace this type of suggestive content?

That in and of itself wouldn’t normally be considered sexual harassment in the legal sense (it would need to be “severe or pervasive,” and this doesn’t sound like it rises to that level). However, there is a reasonable chance that your coworker would be a little skeeved out to get this kind of card from her coworkers, and that at least some people in your office would be skeeved out at signing it. And yeah, upper management probably isn’t going to think it’s the best choice.

To be clear, it’s not because a shirtless man is so scandalous. It’s that lots of people don’t want to sexualize their workplaces, even a little; they don’t want to think of their coworkers through the lens of sex, or be seen through that lens themselves.

It’s not that hard to find a birthday card that doesn’t do that, so yeah, I’d ask your coworker to find a different card, at least if you’re going to be the one passing it around.

2. Was I supposed to tell my manager that I listed her as a reference?

Do managers typically expect employees to get their permission to use them as a reference when looking for a new job? I have never thought so in the past, but I recently listed my supervisor as a reference on a job application, and the hiring manager called her after interviewing me. When I told my supervisor later that I got the job, she implied it would have been nice if I’d told her I was using her as a reference. What is the etiquette? We were on very good terms and she provided an excellent reference for me, so I found that sort of odd.

Yes. You should check with anyone you list as a reference before offering their name — out of courtesy but also because you want to confirm that they’ll give you a good reference. If this was  your current manager (which is what it sounds like, but I’m not positive),  it’s especially important, because you don’t want her to find out that you’re preparing to quit from a reference-checker; you want her to hear that from you.

3. My coworker’s mechanical keyboard is driving me crazy

I work in a cubicle with two other people in cubes near me. My company provides computers, keyboards, mouses, etc., but “Ed” in the cubicle next door has decided that he prefers a mechanical keyboard (which uses an actual physical switch to tell the computer that a key has been pressed, rather than a membrane common in most keyboards now). He purchased it on his own and brought it to the office to use on a daily basis.

The problem is that this mechanical keyboard is driving me CRAZY. It is much louder than a membrane keyboard and I find the clickety-clackety sound super distracting. Headphones are an option but I don’t like wearing them all day – that gets distracting for me as well.

I can deal with normal office noise – phones ringing, talking, and even (to some extent) people crunching on chips with their mouths open. But this noise is about to set me over the edge. Is there a nice way to ask Ed to stop using this keyboard and go back to the one the company provided? Or do I just have to grit my teeth and bear it because telling someone that their typing is too loud is a jerk move? (Additionally, our office will be moving in the future, not sure when, but at that point I’ll likely have an office making this whole point moot.)

You can try, but you might not be successful, since there’s a pretty good likelihood that he’s going decide that his preference for a mechanical keyboard outweighs your preference not to hear it.

But it would be totally to reasonable to try saying something like, “Ed, I’m so sorry to ask you this because I know that you prefer this mechanical keyboard. I’m finding that the noise of it stands out and is really distracting me. I’ve tried wearing headphones to block it out, but that hasn’t proved practical. Is there any chance I can convince you to revert back to the other keyboard?” If this were me and I had a decent relationship with Ed, I would also try bribing him with offers of food or something else I knew he might like.

But ultimately, you might need to accept that it’s a noise that’s not unreasonable to hear in an office, even though it does stand out.

(For what it’s worth, I actually kind of like the sound of mechanical keyboards and old typewriters and that kind of thing — it reinforces work mode for me and makes me feel like I’m in old-timey office setting, which I find enjoyable. Maybe there’s a mental switch in that direction that would work, if talking to him fails?)

4. My overtime hours are being banked for later

I’m non-exempt. If I work more than 40 hours a week, my employer moves the excess hours into what they call a “flex hour bank,” where I can take them out at any time and add them to a week when I haven’t worked very much. That way they don’t have to pay me overtime.

This process seems different than what I’ve found reading about flextime. As I understand flextime, you can’t just move originally overtime hours to another week entirely to avoid paying overtime. What do you think about this?

Nope, it’s not legal. Because you’re non-exempt, you must be paid overtime (time and a half) for all hours over 40 that you work in a given week. It cannot be put into a flextime bank — even if you agree, and even if you actively want them to, since you can’t waive your right to overtime pay.

(Weirdly, the exception to this is if you work for the government. They’ve exempted themselves from the law that prohibits private sector employers from providing comp time in lieu of pay for non-exempt workers.)

5. Update: Can I speak up about how our meetings always run way past the allotted time?

Here’s an update from the letter-writer in May who was wondering about speaking up about her office’s overly long meetings:

A quick update to my question about what to do about the interminable meetings everyone in my division was subjected to every month.

I have a very good relationship with the director and decided I would bring it up with her, framing it as you suggested. However, my plans to have that conversation were delayed by a medical emergency in her family, followed by a bunch of issues cropping up at work. For several weeks, I didn’t have much face time with her and so I decided to table this for the time being.

Happily, just last week she brought it up herself. Maybe she reads AAM! She simply asked during our annually planning session (which wasn’t as bad as you might expect) whether anyone thought we needed to make changes to the monthly meeting format. A few people – myself included – quickly chimed in with recommendations. It was resolved that we’d cut out the manager’s reports, do a division newsletter with that information instead, and shorten the meetings to focus on the company-wide updates and one longer presentation on a big-picture issue from a rotating cast of staff members.

Not surprisingly, the only manager who strongly objected to the changes was the worst prattler of them all. When someone (not even me!) suggested that the reports were a little (or a lot) mind-numbing, she said, “But not mine! I always make mine fun!!” I’m guessing she’s going to try to translate all of that “fun” into her newsletter contributions, but I’ll be able to skim right over them from the comfort of my office…

{ 321 comments… read them below }

        1. fposte*

          I think it was in the original post–I saw it when it went up and I noticed that part, as a government employee myself.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            I work for a state government, and us non-exempt employees can choose whether to have overtime hours paid out as overtime, or banked as comp time. Both are done at time and a half, though, so if I worked 41 hours in a week, I’d get 1.5 hours of comp time. Overtime is only approved in certain situations, though, so it doesn’t happen often.

            1. AnonaMoose*

              I work for a state (partially) funded university system (cough) in which the medical branch of the university doesn’t approve of OT so they bank all extra hours in a week. I’m in CA (double cough), and I still don’t see how they’ve gotten away with it for this long. Anybody else know?

                1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                  Probably because no one has complained. It might be worth a query to your state department of labor, or whatever they call it in CA, to see if it’s really legal or not.

                1. GK*

                  I work for a state-supported (barely – funding formula has become ridiculous) community college. I am exempt, but it breaks my heart that admissions clerks are working 12 hour days during registration and they get comp time only. Most of them make barely over minimum wage anyway.

              1. Cassie*

                In the past, my dept (at a state-funded California university) used to only give comp time (not overtime pay). They claimed that they were allowed to choose to only give comp time and not pay overtime. I had to point out to the HR director that the form we were required to fill out even states “Under provisions of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), agreement to accept compensatory time off in lieu of pay is entirely voluntary.”

                The dept can of course reduce your work hours on a given day so you don’t go over 40 hours a week, but they can’t force you to accrue comp time instead of pay. My guess is some HR people may be just as confused and most people just accept directives as “fact” (my coworkers certainly did) .

        2. Connie-Lynne*

          When Alison makes additions or changes because of comments, she usually notes it as such.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Usually true, although in this case Uyulala is right — I added it about three minutes after the post went live, so I hadn’t realized anyone would have seen it without!

            1. Aphrael*

              In the RSS version (at least the reader I use), it shows in red/green all the changes since the original post.

    1. jhhj*

      I think it is in some places okay to bank hours at time and a half — so if you worked 42 hours, you get 3 hours in the bank.

      1. NJ anon*

        Nope. Still not legal. Non exempt workers cannot “bank” hours. They must be paid.

        1. Another HRPro*

          Unless you take that time off in the same week. If you work 4 extra hours in the first half of the week, you can “bank that time” and take 4 hours off (flex time) later in that same week. You just can’t carry it over from week to another.

          1. Robles*

            And, interestingly, employers can pick the week. It doesn’t have to be Sunday to Saturday, they can elect that their work week runs Wednesday to Tuesday if they want (I’ve found it common in the service industry for places to run Monday to Sunday weeks). They just can’t change it all time to avoid paying overtime pay.

            1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              When I worked HR for a local movie theater chain, the work week ran Friday-Thursday, because movies generally come out on the weekends, so our hourly workers were really needed most on weekends. This allowed us to front-load their schedules, instead of having the issue where employees had worked too much during the first part of the week so they didn’t have hours left for our busiest times.

              Oddly, movie theaters are one of the few industries that don’t have to pay time-and-a-half for overtime for their workers. They still have to pay for the hours worked, but it’s straight time, not time-and-a-half. No idea why, but you can bet they took advantage of it.

                1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                  No clue, it’s just in the FLSA as one of the exempted professions. Others include railroad and airline workers, taxi drivers, certain workers at certain non-metropolitan broadcasting stations, domestic service workers who live-in, and farmworkers.

            2. mskyle*

              This used to be a huge hassle for me when I worked Sunday-Thursday but my workplace’s work week ran Monday-Sunday. My boss might be fine with me taking Sunday off and working Friday once in a while, but officially that would have me working six days that week instead of five (Monday – Friday plus the following Sunday). Whereas if I worked the previous Friday (the one that was actually during the same “work week” I ended up working six days in a row, which was *not* my favorite.

        2. mdv*

          Where I work, that is called “comp(ensatory) time” — once in the ‘bank’, it essentially functions as extra vacation time, for which you get paid when you use it.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Non-exempt people make comp time instead of overtime? In a private company? That’s not legal in most states (I think). One shady former boss here gave me comp time instead of overtime (I was pissed but had no choice because she was a huge liar and I knew complaining would backfire on me). Our internal auditors somehow figured it out and they ended up having to pay me $8000 in overtime.

            1. mdv*

              Ah, no, I work for a state university. That might have something to do with it. (Although I should also mention that most departments aren’t allowed to do comp time, we only get to do it because we’re self-funded, not receiving state monies.)

              1. Robles*

                Even working for a state university… I’d strongly suspect it’s not legal. Which isn’t too surprising; these are laws employers unknowingly violate all the time.

                1. fposte*

                  If the self-funded unit doesn’t count as state employees, there might be a loophole, but I suspect that would require them not to work for the university but for an outside and private employer. I was self-funded for years, but I was still technically a university employee and thus my employer was still a “public agency” under the FLSA.

                  If they’re officially working for the university, this may fall into the area of “would get shut down if the Feds found out, but haven’t gotten caught yet.”

                2. ZSD*

                  I recently quit working for a public university, and I, too, got comp time instead of OT pay. The agreement form for this states, “Under provisions of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, agreement to accept compensatory time off in lieu of pay is entirely voluntary,” so I would think that the FLSA allows companies to offer comp time instead of OT…unless the university is just wrong about the provisions of the FLSA?

                3. ZSD*

                  Thanks. When you referred to government employees above, I thought that meant just federal employees, since it’s a federal law.

      2. LBK*

        I’ve seen some places do that for exempt workers as a thank you for working off hours (like a holiday or a weekend, where those hours will get banked into their vacation time). But it’s not legal for non-exempt.

        1. Beancounter in Texas*

          My husband’s former & current employer flexes time like that, but he is exempt, so it is different from non-exempt workers having time banked.

    2. Nervous Driver*

      Sigh. I wish we got overtime what with 60+ hour work weeks during tax season.

  1. Adam*

    #1 I’m having images of an TV office comedy flash through my head. I’m seeing a co-worker taking a sharpie and trying to draw a shirt over the picture of the guy on the card only to realize at the last second he used a highlighter instead.

    1. AMT*

      I could see Angela Martin appointing herself office card censor at Dunder Mifflin. “This bunny sticker I’m putting over the bikini lady is fun, festive…and professional.”

        1. AMT*

          “I tried that, but Michael made a very inappropriate joke containing the word…”

          *lowers voice*


          1. Lily in NYC*

            LOL, I freaked out a little after I posted because I realized the double-entendre and got embarrassed!

    2. Beancounter in Texas*

      When a coworker in my department was turning 60, us admins fetched out the card stack, but all of the birthday cards were gone. There was a sympathy card, and I thought he’d find it amusing to receive such a card on his birthday, since he was more experienced in life than many of us. My fellow admin was skeptical, so I called the birthday guy’s girlfriend, who worked in another department. She thought he’d get a real kick out of it because he was turning 60 and wasn’t thrilled about it. So I convinced everyone to sign the sympathy card and slid it on his desk. He put his glasses on, opened the envelope and smiled.

      1. Ad Astra*

        I would find this especially harmless and funny if my coworkers shared the fact that there were no birthday cards available.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        I was distracted and accidentally wrote “happy birthday” on a get well card for a coworker last year. I still feel bad about it because the person thought I did it as a joke.

  2. Stitch*

    Regarding manager references:

    What if an application just asks you to list your previous supervisors with a checkmark yes/no to “May we contact this employer?” Should you alert them if you checked yes?

    Reference étiquette is so hard though… I don’t think I’ve ever felt not-awkward asking somebody to be a reference, especially if they worked with me a year or three ago but would still be the most relevant person (especially when places ask for 3-5 references.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh, I just realized you were asking if you should alert the manager. You can wait until you’re much later in the process, since reference-checking usually takes place late in the process. No need to alert anyone until you’re know they’re highly likely to be contacted.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          I am currently trying to obtain references, but I haven’t had any responses. The various recruiters, with whom I have been speaking, all want references to be provided when you have an initial meeting with them (and at this point there might not be a suitable role!) In these circumstances, I have been explaining that I feel it would not be right to give the contact details without permission.

  3. Gene*

    Many people, myself included, type significantly faster with mechanical keyboards. It’s the difference in the feel; with a membrane one, there’s no indication when the contact is made, with a mechanical one, you feel the click. Give me a nice buckling spring IBM keyboard and I’m about 25 to 35% faster. I was also more accurate, best keyboard ever made. With Cherry switches I’m faster, but not that much. Sadly, I now need an ergonomic keyboard and IBM M15s are rare and expensive.

    Which is more important? Productivity or silence?

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I have a membrane key board at work and a mechanical (razer black widow) at home. I type much faster on the mechanical one than on the membrane one.

      I also work in an open plan office where there are some key board hammerers. My mechanical keyboard at home is quieter sitting directly in front of it than the keyboard hammerer on the other end of the room.

    2. De (Germany)*

      “Productivity or silence?”

      I think framing it as such is… problematic. It’s not just productivity vs silence – I could also frame it as “faster typing of one employee” versus “productivity of the other one”. Which is more important? Some speed gains or productivity?

      My husband uses a mechanical keyboard occasionally. It drives me nuts, and I couldn’t do any work requiring attention while he types in the same room.

      1. blackcat*

        My husband has been working from home on a mechanical keyboard AND I HEAR IT ALL OVER THE HOUSE. The sound goes straight through the floor, so it’s worst in the living room right below his home office.
        I think it’s a combination of his hard typing (he’s loud even on a membrane keyboard!) and the mechanical keyboard. That keyboard isn’t quiet, but I don’t think I’m as loud when I use it. And there’s a mechanical keyboard I use at work occasionally that’s MUCH more quiet.

        So I think loudness is a function of the person’s typing habits and the particular keyboard, not one or the other.

        1. the_scientist*

          My boyfriend is evidently the world’s loudest typer, something I didn’t realize until we moved in together. His mom made him put a towel under his keyboard when he lived at home, and I think I’ll have to ask him to do the same because it keeps me awake and is distracting! I can’t believe his wrists/hands don’t hurt from all the pounding! Also, I’m surprised that his keyboard hasn’t, like, smashed into pieces.

          1. Ezri*

            Hah, my husband is the same way. It sounds like he’s furious about whatever he’s typing. He has a backup keyboard though, because sometimes my migraines manifest as noise sensitivity and the clickity-clack suddenly becomes rage-inducing. :P

              1. Nea*

                *giggle*snort* I type like I’m working on a stubborn antique manual typewriter… because I used to.

                1. Chinook*

                  ” I type like I’m working on a stubborn antique manual typewriter… because I used to.”

                  What, it isn’t normal to type like it is the keyboard’s fault you have to work?

          2. LBK*

            Aggressive typers always make me think of Up in the Air – “Are you angry at your computer?” “I type with purpose.”

            1. MaryMary*

              I’m a loud typer to begin with, and I type even louder (and faster) when I’m annoyed. My coworkers used to use the noise to guage my mood. “Everything okay over there?” “Count to ten before you murder that keyboard.”

          3. Artemesia*

            I’m a hard typer who learned on a fully mechanical typewriter back in the day. As I look down at my Macair keyboard right now, I notice that the e, i, h, k,l, c, n and m are all worn off so they can’t be read. Luckily I am a touch as well as loud typist. It is hard to change your typing habits after decades of doing it one way.

            1. Chinook*

              My 2 year old work keyboard is blank on the a, s, e, c and n keys. I wonder what that says about what I do at work?

            2. Witty Nickname*

              I am the same way. Several letters are worn off on my keyboard, and if I am typing during a conference call and forget to put my phone on mute, my boss always knows it’s me. Heh. I type about 100 wpm too, so it’s really loud and really fast.

            3. Rana*

              Looking down at my MacBook, I can see that there’s a spot where I’ve worn through the “N” to the plastic, along with an almost-hole on the right side of the space bar. (I only space with my right hand, for some reason. No clue about the “N”.)

              1. ancolie*

                I only space with my right hand, for some reason.

                Me too! I also only ever use my left hand for SHIFT, ALT, and CTRL. I also type Y with my left hand, which seems weird, since it’s clearly further away from the left index compared to the right, but it’s the only way I can hit it. It also means those ergonomic split keyboards are a no-go for me. “Oh, you’d get used to it!” people’d say. Then they’d see that I’d bash my left index finger onto the hard plastic separator every.single.time. I needed to type Y.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Both of my managers have laughingly referred to me as an “angry typer”. Now I’m wondering if I should get one of those membrane keyboards. :\

          1. Chinook*

            “Now I’m wondering if I should get one of those membrane keyboards. :\”

            This would actually be a hill I would die on not because it would not only decrease my productivity but it would also decrease my productivity. I can actually feel when I have made a typo because of the rebound, something that just isn’t there on membrane and laptop keyboards.

      2. Kyrielle*

        This. I am a heavy typer and membrane keyboards save my coworkers.

        I AM faster on a mechanical keyboard…but I think half my wing of the building would hear it if I had one. And, my current job is not data entry or another job where speed of typing actually affects productivity. I’m a programmer, and while I type quite a bit, there’s a lot of thought and attention to detail and changing files involved also. It’s not just “open spigot, dump data into computer” where the speed advantage of the mechanical keyboard would help.

        (And even if it was, if I speed up but six coworkers get distracted and lose productivity, that’s not a gain.)

      3. Gene*

        Yeah, I agree.

        I am retracting that part of my statement. Last evening was … problematic and I shouldn’t have been commenting in the mood I was in.

        At least I removed the “Suck it up, Buttercup” part of the reply. :-)

      4. Marcela*

        @De and @blackcat, I just told my husband, laughing, I wasn’t the only one being nuts with the noise. That’s where he reminded me that he used o-rings in his keyboard to diminish the noise. The o-rings keep the click of the key being pressed, but remove the other noise, the click of the plastic touching the base of the keyboard. At first he wasn’t very happy, because the keyboard felt different, but he got used to it for my sake, as we were living in a studio then and I could not sleep with the click click noise. He sent me the link to Amazon, I’ll post it in another comment.

    3. CreationEdge*

      I don’t think productivity vs. silence is a good stance, either. There are various studies on noise levels in the workplace and productivity, with the result usually being that noise level affects productivity in some way.

      As a side note, I learned the Dvorak keyboard layout over 10 years ago. I use Dvorak on my personal devices, QWERTY on everything else. I gain about 20-30 WPM with Dvorak. I’ve not noticed a change in my typing speed since switching to mechanical, though.

      1. nona*

        Possibly derailing here, but was learning Dvorak difficult for you? 20-30 wpm sounds like a pretty strong recommendation to me.

        1. CreationEdge*

          It took a few weeks. Week one and I courd pound out a sentence every couple of minutes. My brain and muscle memory really fought me.

          But I kept practicing on a website that was pretty much Notepad with letter and word suggestions.

          3 to 4 weeks in I matched my QWERTY speed, and switched over to Dvorak exclusively on my computer and laptop. After that switch my WPM took a huge jump. I used a typing test website every few days to check my progress. Not only was I faster on Dvorak, but I made fewer errors.

    4. T3k*

      Productivity with a certain type of keyboard is subjective. I may be in the minority here, but I type faster and more accurately on membrane keyboards than mechanical. Partly because I’m not distracted by each keystroke click (I’m a light tapper, but clicking noises still distract me from my focus) and partly because its easier on my fingers to use a flat keyboard for some reason (mecanical makes it feel like my fingers are bunched up in a small area).

    5. Carpe Librarium*

      For those who geek out about their typing, there’s a kickstarter for a startup called Keyboardio that looks pretty cool.

      1. Liza*

        Cool! I hadn’t heard of keyboardio before this morning, and now (after reading their stuff and thinking about it all day) I’m a backer.

    6. Ben Around*

      I’m with you, Gene. I’m a lot more productive when I’m slurping the last drops of a Big Gulp and listening to rap while my hyperactive dog keeps me company, and other people can just learn to live with it. What’s more important — my productivity or theirs?

    7. Connie-Lynne*

      Good Ol’ Model M keyboards.

      I love their loud clackety-clack and their comforting finger trigger.

      I have to use a membrane these days because my RSI is so bad that the modern keyboards with their minimal trigger requirements significantly reduce my wrist pain, but every now and then I drag out the Model M at home just because.

      I have to say, even ridiculously fast typing on a Model M is quieter than, say, the sound of someone using a typewriter. I think the LW is being a little oversensitive.

      1. Windchime*

        I’m not a fan of labeling the OP as “oversensitive”. Some noises bug people and it’s not like they are choosing to be bugged about it. We’ve read here in the past where a lot of people are bothered by the sound of rustling potato chip bags. I cannot *stand* it when people repetitively click their pens. Others are intensely bothered by chewing sounds.

        Typing sounds are a normal sound of an office, though. I don’t get the preference for old, mechanical keyboards but everyone is different. Would it help if your coworker placed a towel under the keyboard, as another posted suggested?

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          You know, I thought about not adding that part, but the thing is — it’s a normal office sound, of people doing work. There was a point in time where everyone in the office had loud, clacky keyboards.

          Still, it’s true we try to refrain from judgements like “oversensitive” around here. I probably shouldn’t have phrased it as such.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            For what it’s worth, I think expressing that opinion is fine, as long as it’s done kindly. Sometimes that’s truly the answer — at least it’s certainly an answer I give here sometimes.

      2. OP #3*

        I don’t think I’m being oversensitive. In talking the the IT guy who sits in the same cube area, he said that the keyboard “Ed” brought in is preferred by gamers specifically BECAUSE it is so clicky and noisy.

        (The noise doesn’t bother him because he’s a gamer and is used to it…he did say he thought about bringing his keyboard in but decided to leave it at home because it is pretty loud.)

        I guess my problem is that this keyboard is *designed* to be loud. Seems rude on his part.

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          I don’t think there’s anything rude about using a keyboard that is designed to be loud — as many people have said, the loudness is part of the appeal and helps put them in the zone.

          However, I do apologize for calling you oversensitive. It was uncalled-for.

        2. Marcela*

          OP, let me tell you that I use to joke, to my husband, that he loves everything noisy. The noisier, the better. He makes noise with his mouth, fingers (he had a drums set for fingers in his amazon wishlist) of feet. And he loves his mechanic keyboards. But I think you are misunderstanding what the IT guy told you about gamers preferring those keyboards because they are noisy. It’s not the noise itself what they want: the noise tells them the key was pressed, so they don’t need to apply more pressure to it, making typing easier on fingers. For somebody typing most of the day, every single day, I do understand the importance of having a keyboard you feel good using. For me it’s a specific brand of keyboards (Dell) and model, for him it’s some mechanical keyboards.

          Now, what I just told you doesn’t mean I think you are oversensitive. I had to sleep in a studio with my husband clicking clicking and I hated it. I asked him to change the keyboard, which he did, but it wasn’t really good for him. He proposed to add o-rings to his keys, which removed some of the noise and I got used to the rest. Perhaps you can suggest to your coworker to install them (telling him he’ll need some time to get used to the different sensation) and see how that works. If you search “Cherry MX Rubber O-Ring Switch Dampeners Blue 40A-R – 0.4mm Reduction” you should get the page in Amazon. I posted it in a comment above this one, but it goes to moderation, so I don’t want to publish it again.

          1. OP #3*

            Thank you for the clarification – I’m not a big computer game person so I don’t know about the reasons for preferring one keyboard over another.

            I have no problem telling my husband that his noises irritate me (chief among them is brushing his teeth close to my ear) but I don’t know this coworker super well – hence the reason I wrote in to Alison. :)

            1. blueiphone*

              Good luck, OP! At my last office, I shared a cubicle with a “loud typist” on the standard-issue Dell keyboards (so most likely using membrane switches). It used to drive me nuts but: I couldn’t ask her to not type, you know? And I kind of suspected that a lot of my “OMG, the typing!!” was rooted in the 2 of us just not getting along overall. I’m not saying that you’re at “jerk-face eating crackers” mode with your coworker–just that sometimes, mindset really does play a big role in how much we’re bothered by “silly” stuff.

              That being said, mechanical keyboards with Cherry *clear* switches supposedly strike a nice balance between accuracy and not-being-loud-enough-to-wake-the-dead, according to a 2013 Ars Technica review about the CODE keyboard. If your coworker’s willing to switch keyboards, maybe that’s one to look into?

              Either way, good luck!

        3. LibrarianJ*

          Not to be picking at you, but for clarification — are you sure that the keyboard is actually *designed* to be loud versus preferred by gamers because it *happens* to be loud? I understand that the coworker deliberately brought the keyboard from home and probably has some preference for the sounds it makes, and I can definitely understand that it frustrates you. But if it’s a just a regular mechanical keyboard that happens to make noise (which as others have noted, used to be pretty standard), that seems like a different issue than if it were some kind of fancy keyboard that had been souped up for the purpose of being louder. The former situation seems to me a lot less rude/unreasonable than the latter.

        4. Gene*

          I posted above, and am replying directly to the OP here, I apologize for the “productivity vs silence” part of my comment.

          Part of the reason so many of us love the IBM Model M keyboards is the buckling spring switches. At the exact instant the resistance changes and the click happens, the contact is made. None of the rest of the mechanical switches do that. They are better than membrane keyboards, because you don’t have to push all the way to the bottom to ensure contact, but there’s still travel required beyond the break point for contact. With membrane keyboards (including the Microsoft Natural 4000 I’m using to type this) there is no tactile or auditory feedback for when the contact is made.

          Unfortunately, while the buckling spring switch gives the best feel for many of us, it is, without a doubt, the loudest switch out there.

          1. OP #3*

            Hi Gene, I’ve learned so much about keyboards in the last few hours! (and how militant people can get about them)

            I’ve reached the “suck it up, buttercup” stage myself and will just have to white knuckle my desk chair until I hear about our office moving.

            1. catsAreCool*

              Would management let you switch cubicles with someone else who doesn’t mind the noise?

    8. TheLazyB*

      Really?! That amazes me. I am way faster with what I presume is a membrane keyboard, and like another commenter get wicked bad RSI with a mechanical one. My hands ache when I hear mechanical ones.

      1. Ani*

        I was just going to say the same. I wonder if, for some people, the sound of their pounding and clacking equates to speed or productivity when it’s just noise of their progress.

    9. R*

      For mechanical keyboards with Cherry switches : you can buy o-rings that damp out the clicking.

      1. Atrocious Pink*

        Also, Cherry switches come in different types, each with its own level of feedback and sound. My work keyboard has Cherry MX Brown keys, which are definitely louder than membrane keys but aren’t all that annoying. At least I didn’t think so until reading OP #3’s letter. Now I’m wondering if I should say something to my coworker!

        1. Mechanical Keyboard User*

          I second the recommendation for Brown switches. I started with Blue switches – they have an audible click – and decided they were too loud for the office. I bought a second keyboard with the quieter Brown switches and I’ve noticed the difference. Its still louder than a membrane keyboard, but I think it is more acceptable for a quiet office. I did talk to my coworkers before I bought my keyboard and let them know that I would go back to the membrane Dell keyboards if it bothered them. However, my closest coworker doesn’t notice the extra noise.

    10. Nea*

      “Which is more important? Productivity or silence?”

      That’s not that easy an equation. First, the person with the clicky keyboard may be more productive with it but the person who is distracted by office noise is losing productivity. So saying “I’m more productive this way” comes across as “my productivity counts more than yours.”

      The OP didn’t say, but if she’s prone to headaches, then the sound of a mechanical keyboard at speed is more than a mere distraction. I used to share an office with someone who got headaches from the overhead lights. I didn’t like being in the dark with a spotlit desk and yes, that affected my productivity… but not to the point that I could privilege my productivity over her actual health.

      1. Windchime*

        Yes, this. And “Productivity versus silence” is a false dichotomy. It’s an argument that people who are not bothered by excessive noise often make. The OP never said she was insisting on complete silence; in fact, she explicitly stated that other office sounds don’t distract her at all, just the pounding of this loud, clackity keyboard right next to her cube.

    11. LBK*

      Unless you’re a professional transcriber, I can’t see how your WPM is a meaningful business metric – at least in my work, I don’t type nearly enough that a 35% increase to my typing speed is going to make any noticeable difference to my actual overall productivity. We’re talking maybe 5 minutes total I’d save per day.

      1. OfficePrincess*

        Good point. Now that I think about it, I probably spend at least a collective 5 minutes per day pausing mid-sentence to reword what I’m typing.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yup. I’m an admin. asst., I had to take a typing test to get this job and did really well on it, and yet in practice the speed of my typing pretty much never matters.

          1. Ad Astra*

            I always assumed the goal of those tests was usually to make sure you can type at all, because it would be a real problem if you had to hunt and peck incredibly slowly every time someone gave you an assignment. Now that computers, smartphones, and tablets are everywhere, most people are at least passable typists, even if they’re using a super-speed version of hunting and pecking.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I’m actually one of them! I don’t type even remotely the way I’m supposed to, but I’m really fast at it. :D

              1. Ad Astra*

                I was a big computer nerd as a kid and got really good at hunting and pecking at a young age. When I took the required typing class in 7th or 8th grade and they forced me to use home row and (gasp!) covered my hands so I couldn’t see the keyboard, I thought I was being tortured. Eventually, I did become a faster and more accurate typist doing it the “right” way, but I’m not sure it made any significant difference in my ability to get work done.

              2. MaryMary*

                I’m a pretty fast typer (60-70 wpm), and I used to have a manager who typed with three fingers and was faster than I was.

                1. Windchime*

                  One of my sons types in a really weird style. He only uses two fingers on one hand and three on the other, plus his right hand does a lot more typing than his left. But he is super fast and very accurate; I’m sure he can type a lot faster than me and I’m really fast. He learned to type while chatting with his friends online, where technique didn’t matter.

              3. Talvi*

                Me, too! Last I checked, I type in the vicinity of 60 wpm using only my left index finger and my right index and middle fingers. I may not type properly, but I know where all the keys are (and when I get into a rhythm, I don’t really need to see the keyboard, either – my hands know how far apart the keys are. Touch typing using only three fingers?)

            2. Jake*

              I will be implementing a typing test after having my last admin type at single digit wpm.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I think Ad Astra is right–they want to see if you can actually type. However, I’ve had tests where I failed the speed and didn’t get an interview because they actually wanted someone who could type above a certain speed. But those also had 10-key tests and were heavy on data entry. I never can pass the 10-key tests ever–my hands cramp up and my brain doesn’t compute typing numbers very well.

            Way back in the day, I used to hunt-peck type with one hand on an old Remington manual typewriter. Then in 1993 or so, along came Mavis Beacon at adult ed training. Now that I’ve written several books on my laptops and worked in modern offices, I cannot even imagine trying to produce any kind of document that way. I don’t even know where that typewriter is now.

            1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              I learned how to type using Mavis Beacon on an Epson 8088 computer with a monochrome screen. Ah, the car game where a typo means a bug splatter on your windshield– the memories!

            2. Nea*

              I figured I had life made when I reached a point where I didn’t have to take typing tests.

              Typing speed is also affected by what is being typed. I’m a gazelle when I’m looking at the screen putting down my own thoughts or transcribing what is being said around me. I’m a snail when I’m looking over at a piece of paper trying to literally transcribe it. Unfortunately for me, most typing tests tend toward the latter.

              Also: Portable Royal circa 1940. My parents figured if it put Dad through college, it was fine to put me through college.

    12. Allison*

      It might help *you* be more productive, but depending on how much noise it makes and how many people are in the vicinity, it can actually hinder other people’s productivity.

    13. danr*

      I’ve found that the mechanical keyboards vary in noise. Some are quieter than others.

    14. Ad Astra*

      I think productivity vs. silence is a false dichotomy.

      If a job involves a lot of typing, I suppose the mechanical keyboard (or whichever keyboard someone prefers) would improve that person’s productivity. For a lot of jobs, I’m not sure switching to a certain keyboard would bring any noticeable difference in speed or quality of work. Meanwhile, a really loud keyboard (or some other distracting behavior/device) could really interfere with a coworker’s productivity.

      In the OP’s case, it sounds like it’s not worth addressing. The OP is moving into an office soon, so this is really a temporary problem. And the fact that the coworker brought the mechanical keyboard from home suggests this is a very strong preference — and comfort matters when you’re spending 40 hours a week with a piece of equipment.

      Maybe the OP could try using headphones some of the time. She could also make it a point to get up and walk around (refill her coffee, pick something up from the printer) when the click-clacking is getting especially grating. And she should remind herself that this is temporary, and her coworker isn’t being annoying on purpose.

    15. OP #3*

      I should have done a little more research before writing to Alison. The rest of us have mechanical keyboards as well, just less loud (at least I think they’re mechanical – the keys have a much lower profile than the one he uses).

      Productivity vs silence seems unfair and I think has been adequately addressed below – who’s productivity matters more? Mine or his?

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Some people are incredibly loud typers because they hammer the keys. They are loud no matter what kind of keyboard they use.

        Your colleague could be one of them.

        1. OP #3*

          I didn’t notice the noise until he switched keyboards. He’s been sitting on the other side of the cube-wall for a few months now, so I really think it is the keyboard.

          Maybe he likes the sound of the mechanical so he’s started typing harder to get that audible feedback?

          1. Ad Astra*

            I assume this is why some people refuse to turn the keyboard sounds off on their iPhones. It drives me batty, but I’ve heard people say it helps them type.

            1. Ani*

              I keep the phone keyboard sounds on only because the keyboard is so much smaller — especially with passwords I can’t always tell if I’ve hit too many letters if the sound is off. But I wasn’t born with a cell phone and am one of the Oldies who has to use one finger to type and swipe and all that, I can’t text by pounding it with both thumbs.

      2. Alison Hendrix*

        If you have a fairly new keyboard it’s likely membrane, just not the “flat-panel” membrane (e.g. the buttons on the microwave oven). Most keyboards are “full-travel” membrane, which has a one-piece plastic plungers that press down on a rubbery membrane to contact the circuit (I know the one I’m using is, since I took mine apart to clean it). Membrane keyboards can vary in noise – I love using my personal Microsoft 2000 v1 keyboard at work because it gives me a nice haptic feel and it has some clack to it – I didn’t care about the HP one that they provided me as a standard since it’s feels a bit spongy, but I keep it for spare purposes. Laptop keyboards are typically “chiclet-style” or “dome-switch” – I do love them too.

        I do recall those old-school mechanical keyboards that look really chunky (and didn’t use USB) – each key is composed of several pieces, including an actual metal spring. I for one like those too, more for nostalgic purposes, but if your coworker IS using that type, I can understand it could get a little bit too clacky, especially if he’s that heavy-handed on the keys.

    16. Observer*

      I think you are asking the wrong question. For a lot of people the mechanical keyboard is not primarily about speed, but about comfort. And, that’s a much harder thing to push.

    17. Kiki*

      I am just here to say….damn I miss my Sperry terminal with that lovely keyboard. And my IBM Selectric.

    18. UtahEditor*

      As another mechanical keyboard user, I agree, though I did switch to a membrane keyboard for a while (before I had a private office) because noise can keep others from being productive, and it’s not like I’m not productive without a mechanical keyboard.

      That said, I’ve got my nice keyboard back, but am getting quieting pads:,slpads&pid=sl120_cs

      I haven’t tried them yet, but hope they help.

    19. Chinook*

      “Many people, myself included, type significantly faster with mechanical keyboards.”

      This was the number one reason I went with a detachable laptop over a laptop replacement tablet – I wanted a “real” keyboard for the times when I need to type lots. I may use the detached screen as a tablet 90% of the time with its touch keyboard but, when I need to do “real work,” nothing can replace the feel of mechanical keys under fingers. In fact, I now take my desktop keyboard with me when I take minutes on a laptop because my touch typing speed is better with it.

  4. CreationEdge*

    I’m sorry the sound bothers you. However, as a mechanical keyboard user myself I’d like you to know that the choice of keyboards isn’t always aesthetics. I find that the mechanical switches cause less strain on my hands, which helps to prevent agitation of my chronic arm pain condition. I’d even recommend them over membrane keyboards as a preventative, ergonomic option, although there’s no science to back that up except that it takes less pressure to actuate a quality mechanical switch than a membrane switch.

    With that in mind, I would place the health of my hands, which are my livelihood, over someone’s irritation at the noise. If necessary, I would even try to get a physician’s note “prescribing” my personal ergonomic keyboard.

    Although, if I were buying a workplace mechanical keyboard I would opt for the quitest switches, as the types (which are color-coded) vary in noise level.

    I do have some sympathy, too. At my last job there was a guy who constantly pounded keys and multi-clicked his mouse whenever the system was moving slow, which was always. It wasn’t as incessant as 80 wpm for hours a day, but I understand how interruptive “computer” noises can be.

    At my current office, the sound carries so well, even with anti-noise devices installed, that I can hear someone typing on a standard keyboard from the other side of the office. Several of us wear head phones or earbuds most of the day. Although mine only play music half the time, as just having them cover my ears helps a little.

    Another solution since head phones don’t work well for you, is something that generates white noise, like a small desk fan. Something like that is innocuous, not out of place at a desk, and generally isn’t a bother to coworkers.

    1. CreationEdge*

      I forgot to add that you can actually buy these o rings (or dampeners) meant to go under the keys of mechanical keyboards. They prevent the key from fully depressing, which has two benefits: it decreases vertical distance moved and thus reduces work on the fingers, and it makes them quieter since they don’t bottom out (and the rubber absorbs some of the shock/noise).

      They are pretty cheap and widely available.

      You could suggest them to your coworker. If necessary (I’d hope not), even offer to buy them for him. I think they price around $15-20 USD a set.

    2. KT*

      I’m the company writer and we have an open floor plan…I’m a rapid fire typer when I’m in the zone, and I’m really self-conscious about my typing volume. I work much faster on a mechanical keyboard versus a membrane one, but being aware of how loud it can be when I’m pumping out 90 words a minute, I got a dampener and that made quite a difference.

        1. Nanc*

          Is it crazy?! I type 120 wpm, but since my job is to write 8 hours a day I get lots of practice!

        2. CreationEdge*

          Holy cow!

          When doing typing test I usually max out at around 85! Any faster and I start hitting the wrong keys all the time!

          When I’m typing what’s coming from my head, rather than transcribing, I’m pretty sure I go a bit faster, but I’ve never measured that.

          I can’t imagine being over 100+ WPM! Kudos to you 2!

          1. ancolie*

            I’ve always typed 85+ wpm. But when I did level 1 tech support (internal, so I only dealt with coworkers), my typing got faster and faster because of how many people apparently don’t understand that when you’re asked to repeat an error message or whatever, SLOWING DOWN A BIT REALLY HELPS! :D And enough people would get cranky at having to repeat themselves more than once that I wanted to avoid that.

            I maxed out ~120 wpm, 99% accuracy. I was even weirded out a bit, because it felt like my hands were completely autonomous. I’d be typing up the ticket and listening/talking about something else. I’d only have problems if I actually tried to pay attention to what I was typing or what my hands were doing!

            I think I’m back to ~90 wpm. It’s still enough to feel like a zenlike trance once I get into my groove.

      1. CreationEdge*

        Most ergonomic keyboards are designed with hand and wrist position in mind, not keypress pressure or vertical distance needed to activate a key. So, ergonomically shaped keyboards are great for users with different RSI problems, but not mine.

      2. Marcela*

        I don’t think there are keyboards designed for specific type pressure. Specifically when talking about ergonomic keyboards, the emphasis seems to be in hand position, which for me is useless, because they are designed for people larger than me, therefore the expected positions of hands and elbows are not comfortable to me at all.

        In my experience, to get my dream keyboard I had to pass for several years of trial and error and painful hands. There is no easy way to know if a keyboard will be good for me, since the problem is pressure, layout and distance between keys, which will only manifest after using the keyboard for a day. One of the first things I discovered was that the latinamerican layout, used in my country, was horrific for me. Crucial keys for HTML or Latex were “hidden” under the Shift or Alt-Gr keys. Once I changed to the US layout, it was a world of difference. So you see, it’s not that easy as to spend money in an expensive keyboard :(

    3. Technical Editor*

      I actually had to do this for a company I worked for. They wouldn’t buy the $50 ergonomic keyboard I requested without a note. It was the dumbest thing ever, since I had to use sick time to go see an ergonomist.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Oh my gosh, what is with multi-clickers? How did that become such a common habit? It’s infuriating to witness.

    5. OP #3*

      I really only notice it when he’s typing rapid fire – then it sounds like he has about 40 fingers all hitting the keyboard at one time.

      I’ve been wearing earbuds to catch up on The Nerdist podcast, but a lot of my job requires editing/proofing and concentrating on messaging. Plus, the earbuds make my ears start to ache after a while.

      I’ll look into getting a small fan for my desk, maybe that will help me mentally block it a bit better. Thanks for the suggestion!

      1. Ad Astra*

        In addition to the fan, you might try listening to some “vanilla” music (like classical, or songs you know so well that the lyrics don’t even register anymore) when you’re editing and proofing. You may have better results with that compared to podcasts, which I’ve always found require more focus. I hear you (no pun intended) on the ear soreness, though.

        1. Today's Satan*

          Noisli. It’s a website that is a white noise / background noise generator. Even classical music can pull me out of my concentration, but a mix of the sound of a train rumbling on the tracks with a windy day is the perfect background sound for me.

      2. LBK*

        I actually find the newer version of Apple’s earbuds to be pretty good in that regard – they’re shaped to direct the sound into your ear so it’s not leaking out and bothering your coworkers, but they don’t have the plastic part that actually inserts into your ear canal. I don’t find them uncomfortable to wear all day like I do with normal earbuds.

        1. Windchime*

          I have a pair of the newer Apple earbuds and I have to put them in the wrong ears in order to get them to stay in my ears at all; otherwise they just fall out.

          I prefer the big, padded headphones that go over my ears. That means that I can’t wear them for more than a couple of hours at a time because they press the earpieces of my glasses after that long. But they really do help. I don’t usually listen to music because that’s too distracting, so I listen to white noise.

      3. bridget*

        For the times you’re focusing on messaging, I’d recommend actual ear plugs, the soft foam comfortable ones. I wore them to take the California bar exam (three consecutive full days of testing, with thousands of people typing fast and furious in a giant echo-y expo center room). Totally comfortable to wear for extended periods.

        On the other hand, if your back is to the entrance of your cube, that’s just asking to jump out of your seat every time someone comes behind you and taps you on your shoulder.

      4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Is there any opportunity to work from home or in a conference room? I am in shared office space where people love to take phone calls in hallways, so my boss has begun allowing us to work from other places when projects call for quite time.

  5. Engineer Girl*

    #1 I get upset when I get these types of cards from so-called friends. Somehow they seem juvenile and low-class to me. I know some people like them – I hate them.
    That makes the card you have even more of a problem. The person shouldn’t be embarrassed to receive it. There are plenty of silly “from all of us” cards out there.

    1. Jen RO*

      I’m assuming that the birthday person’s coworkers knew their preferences. I agree it’s inappropriate if upper management has to sign it, but I wouldn’t bat an eyelash if I got it from my small department. (Just like I would argue against it for other people in said department, because they wouldn’t find it funny.)

      1. UKAnon*

        I’m kind of meh about this one. On the one hand, it is inappropriate and there is a very easy way to avoid this, which means you should have avoided it. On the other hand, this is really quite a small thing, and tbh if I received the card I wouldn’t feel sexualised – if anything it’s sexualising men in the office, but even that I think is a little bit of a stretch. Ideally? Yes, this would never appear in any workplace. But I’m with you Jen RO; if you know your co-worker (and OP doesn’t suggest that the coworker would dislike it, just that it might be inappropriate) and if it wasn’t from the whole office, just a few close coworkers, I don’t think this would be a problem.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Context is so important! When I was younger I was many times the only woman in a group of 50 men in an industry dominated by men. If I had received a card like this in that context it would have been horrific.
          I think one of the reasons these types of cards are dangerous is because it is work. You many times don’t have an intimate knowledge of your coworkers so can’t know if this would cause offense.

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      Our first year married, my Mother-in-Law sent my husband a Valentines’ Day(!) card featuring a Cupid/Cherub with a slot in its’ butt where you could tuck money in. She’d enclosed $20.

      SO inappropriate.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        What is this I can’t even?!!!

        I could see this as a joke card between friends that know each other really well, but other than that?

      2. Cassy*

        Maybe it’s just me, but I find this wildly hilarious and would buy it for my future grown-up kids…

        1. Sassy Intern*

          Right? I’d buy it for my mom just because it’s so weird/raunchy. But, we have a pretty low-key/friendship-ish relationship.

        2. the gold digger*

          I just like the part where she sent cash instead of a cast-iron cat, a framed photo of herself, or a poster of a manatee that she had adopted in her son’s name.

          1. MegEB*

            These wouldn’t happen to be things that Sly and Doris have done, have they? Not that I read your blog every day or anything.

          2. Jean*

            At least the manatee wouldn’t be living in the home of the giftee?? I mean, yay, a clutter-free gift!

          3. Connie-Lynne*

            Unfortunately, cash is her passive-aggressive gift. Despite both of us having fancy tech-sector jobs, she would frequently start conversations with “I know you don’t have a lot of money, so …”

            It was how she controlled his brother’s life and she kept trying (and failing) to use it to control ours.

            She’s still not as bad as Sly and Doris, though.

        3. Ten*

          My sisters and I have bought similar raunchy cards for our mother. I think it just depends on the relationship.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I can’t stand getting Valentine’s Day cards from my mum–I have asked her repeatedly not to waste her money on them but she will not relent because she is addicted to Hallmark (my parents used to run a Hallmark shop). Valentine’s Day is for couples not your MUM to send you a card. I really also do not want to constantly be reminded that I will probably never have anyone ever. Thanks a lot, Mum.

        I would, however, give such a card to my husband or bf. Because that’s hilarious.

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          Yes, it was definitely because it was his MOM. Also, she had never sent him a Valentines’ Day card before. And he is very much not the kind of person who finds cherubs with money in their butts funny.

          The whole thing was just “whaaaaat the heck?!?!”

    3. .....*

      Saying something is low-class because you think it’s beneath you, makes you uncomfortable, or not in line with common standards can be seen as classist. Please don’t refer to things as “low class”.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I put this further down but I want it up here to in order to short-circuit any more responses on this:

        As I’ve asked before, please do not nitpick each other’s word choices here (per the commenting guidelines). It becomes totally derailing and is not the point of the site. Thank you.

      2. LBK*

        I don’t really see how this is classist…she’s not associating the cards with any particular group or level of people. They are pretty universally viewed as tacky – that’s part of the enjoyment of receiving one, for people that do find them funny.

      3. the gold digger*

        I disagree. Someone can behave in a tacky way and it’s fair to refer to that person as “low class.” Talking about how you like to watch porn to your adult son? Low class. Rummaging through the bread basket at a restaurant, touching each piece of bread before selecting one? Low class.

        I have no problem calling out low-class behavior as low-class behavior. People choose how they act.

        1. Kyrielle*

          People do choose how they act, and that’s bad behavior.

          Calling it “low-class” behavior implies that those of lower classes are in fact more prone to that sort of behavior than others, or more accurately, that it’s a normal trait for them.

          That’s where it becomes classist – not that you’re calling the behavior out, but that you’re treating it as something “those poor folk” or “those lesser folk” would do, instead of just bad behavior.

          I think “That’s tacky” or “That’s disgusting” is a better call-out than “That’s low-class”.

          1. UKAnon*

            +1 This. I’ve never come across “low-class” before and it really bugged me. I didn’t like to say anything in case this was an Americanism which doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means to (certainly my) UK ears, but it definitely read as “only those dirty *working class* people do something like that”

            (But then a sensitivity to the class system is pretty much in English genes)

            1. Ad Astra*

              I would venture to say that it does mean essentially what it sounds like it means, but it may sound a bit harsher to someone in the UK because they’re a little more class-conscious there. The origin is certainly classist, but the speaker wouldn’t necessarily intend it to be classist. I’m sure it ties into the American obsession with upward mobility, where we tend to see class as something we can change if we have enough gumption. Hence the defenses like “People can’t choose their income, but they can choose their behavior.” That being poor isn’t inherently shameful but “acting” poor is.

              1. UKAnon*

                The differences in the class systems are fascinating. I think it’s generally thought in the UK that you can’t change your class (unless you become nouveau riche, in which case everybody despises you for a few generations) but we do like to split hairs over the deserving and undeserving poor – which isn’t so much acting poor as acting respectably poor or not (ugh, horrible grammar, scuse me)

            2. Artemesia*

              Americans who have one of the most class stratified systems in the world are in total denial about class as a concept. So ‘low class’ is quite divorced from actually being lower class. Here it is about behavior that is trashy not about class structure.

          2. Allison*

            Where does the term “low brow” fit into that? Is that classist as well or is that possibly more appropriate to use in this situation?

            1. anonanonanon*

              It still falls in line with classism. It’s insinuating that someone or something is lacking education or intellectual taste.

                1. anonanonanon*

                  I’d just call that being a despicable human being. Poor, middle class, or rich people can be bigoted or have bad behavior, but it’s not money that inherently gives them those attributes.

                2. LBK*

                  Are “having class” and “being high class” necessarily equivalent? I think of high class/low class as associating more with your wealth, appearance and environment, whereas having class is more a matter of personality.

            2. UKAnon*

              I think the difference I would draw is that ‘lowbrow’ relates to something you can change – i.e. you can choose to read either low brow or high brow literature (also that high brow is equally used as an insult, so it’s not like one is automatically superior)

              Lowbrow doesn’t sound judgmental to me in the same way, although maybe because it’s just more common? Interesting question!

              1. Kelly L.*

                In origin, though, it may not be any better! I think it harks back to the old idea that you could tell people’s intelligence and character from their facial shape.

                1. UKAnon*

                  Well, you learn something new every day! Seems it originated in phrenology but has since been hi-jacked by the culture sector, which is where I know it from (I associate it with describing arts, literature, films etc, where it’s fairly neutral – at least, it’s either positive or negative depending on who you talk to, just like high brow)

          3. Student*

            The insult is intended. We don’t have formal classes in the US, we have income levels. When we refer to something as low-class, we do in fact mean it as an insult toward people with low education and little money. And we generally think less of them than we do of people with more money.

            I guess what I’m trying to say is, the combination of wealth and education is a cultural value in the US. I honestly do thing less of people with little education. I aspire to be well-educated. I also think less of the poor, and aspire to be rich.

            I’m well aware that the poor are often poor in part due to many factors outside their control. I grew up quite poor, and my parents, along with many of my family members and friends, remain poor. I also believe that the US gives many of the poor a way to get out of poverty – not a perfect way – the system could use many improvements – but there is a sufficient path offered. That path is paved with education.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Just because you don’t want to be poor doesn’t mean you have to think less of those who are. I would never, ever want to live in Wisconsin; it is just too darn cold and my life would be much happier if I never saw snow again. That doesn’t mean I think less of people who live in Wisconsin.

            2. anonanonanon*


              Many lower income people don’t have access to better education opportunities. Poorer school districts often don’t have the funds or resources to help students find loans or grants for college. Middle class students can apply for loans to pay for college. Many poor people can’t.

              Being well-educated doesn’t make you a better person. It may make life easier in terms of improving your financial situation, but looking down on someone for not having the same educational or financial opportunities is bigoted and ignorant. People who think less of poor people are part of a larger class problem in this country.

            3. Elizabeth West*

              I honestly do thing less of people with little education. I aspire to be well-educated. I also think less of the poor, and aspire to be rich.


              I think maybe what you are trying to say is that you think less of YOUR life when YOU were poor and uneducated. Right? Because I don’t know if you realize how incredibly snobbish that sounded.

              I have a relative who tries to hide the fact that we came from a small town. Yes, I absolutely think she is an incredible snob. Maybe it’s because in America, we can change our station in life relatively easy, and we can assimilate into the next station with a minimum of fuss through learning and preparation, such as how to dress white-collar vs. blue-collar at work, for example. But that doesn’t make us any better than the people where we came from, based solely on income or even education. Which, by the way, isn’t always a guarantee of socioeconomic improvement, especially these days when it costs more than it gives back.

              In other countries, what you are when you are born is what you always are. Even if you marry a prince, you’ll always be a commoner. Frankly, I think if you come from humble origins and step on those with whom you shared your slop, you have not risen above anything and indeed may have set yourself below that.

              Again, look at Donald Trump. That man has boatloads of money but he is the most crass, rude, tasteless asshole who ever walked the earth. Being rich does not make him better than anyone and it makes him worse than many. If that’s your attitude, you are in real danger of becoming just like Trump if you get rich.

              Sorry for the rant, but that really REALLY rubbed me the wrong way. If you want to be wealthy and remain human, J.K. Rowling is a better role model.

      4. MegEB*

        I don’t agree with this either. There’s a difference between calling someone low-class and a particular action low-class. People choose how they act, and there’s nothing wrong with calling out that behavior.

        1. anonanonanon*

          No, calling an action low-class implies that you think only people of a lower socioeconomic status do that. Bad behavior isn’t limited to someone’s financial status, it’s due to their personality. The term “low class” directly calls their behavior into question based on their social class. If you want to call someone out on bad behavior, there are other ways to phrase it that don’t bring class into it.

      5. ...?*

        I think Engineer Girl knows that “low class” could possibly be interpreted as “low class.”

        1. Engineer Girl*

          How dare you presume to know what I think.
          I meant “crude” and by the way, “low class” is an Americsn slang saying. Check it out if you don’t believe me.
          This board has become so hyper-PC that one can’t express an opinion without the word police stomping down on you. It hijacks discussion of the subject.

          1. LBK*

            I…think that was sarcasm. I read it as saying that if you used words, it was because you meant those words. Which presumably you do?

      6. Ad Astra*

        I haven’t really thought about this before, but I think you’re right. “White trash” and “low class” are two terms I need to cut out of my vernacular.

      7. Ask a Manager* Post author

        As I’ve asked before, please do not nitpick each other’s word choices here (per the commenting guidelines). It becomes totally derailing and is not the point of the site. Thank you.

    4. Jem*

      I thought it was understood that cheesecake/beefcake cards are always a joke. I guess I was wrong.

  6. Grad*

    In my current office, anyone who wants one can get a mechanical keyboard (tech company) and I’m pretty sure they’re highly preferred in my office. I know this sounds weird, but I really do type much faster and am much more productive using a mechanical keyboard. I have one at work and at home (Blackwidow Chroma) and don’t think I could ever go back even if the noise was bothering a coworker. I’m pretty broke and would gladly spend the $100+ to have one in a work place that didn’t provide one – it helps me that much.

    Sorry it’s bothering you :/ I understand annoying, loud coworkers – one time a horrible laugher moved into the cubicle next to me and I thought I would kill her. Obviously I couldn’t ask her to stop laughing. It took me about 3 months to get used to her laughing but I did eventually get used to it. Hold out hope you can get used to it?

    1. Zahra*

      The thing is, Razer makes a “stealth” edition for each of the Black Widow models, so you can have a mechanical keyboard that won’t annoy coworkers. If the sound helps you, then it’s just as if working with loud music helps you: you don’t do it at work because it bothers other people.

      1. Izzy*

        The comparison with loud music got me thinking – I work better with loud music so I listen to it on headphones. Could a keyboard be designed with an electronic click noise that could be heard through headphones? Win -win, if it could be done.

        And now I am conscious of how much noise my mechanical keyboard is making. At least it doesn’t ding at the end of the row like an old fashioned typewriter.

    2. Beancounter in Texas*

      Also, since the situation of hearing the keyboard is potentially temporary anyway, perhaps the typist could temporarily revert to a membrane keyboard until the move to the new offices?

    3. OP #3*

      Just posted this above, but the keyboard he brought in is specifically *designed* to be loud. (I just learned this from our IT guy who is also a gamer.)

      I don’t think it’s a productivity thing – I think it’s a preference for the clicky noise.

  7. Former Cable Rep*

    The sound from the mechanical keyboard might be dampened by some sort of soft cloth or gel mat beneath the keyboard, likely the hard surface of his work station is amplifying the sound. I think that’s probably a less-good option than an O-Ring switch dampening kit, though.
    I’d love to get a mechanical keyboard to improve my typing accuracy, but I agree that the amount of noise is extremely distracting.

    1. fposte*

      I’m another vote for a gel pad. Not because it’s better than O-Rings but because it’s likelier a company would pay for it and because it means the typer is doing something to help minimize the effect as well.

      I’m in an actual office with a door, and I had a next-door office neighbor once who typed on an old, very long wooden table. I don’t even think it was a mechanical keyboard, but the sound carried like crazy. A little acoustic dampening is likely to help–and it’s quite possible people other than the OP would appreciate it as well but just haven’t written in to AAM.

  8. QA grump 42*

    I’m another reader who pretty much has to use a mechanical keyboard at work. Without it I have problems with repetitive stress injury, and I can’t afford to let it get bad enough to prevent me from typing. Have you considered asking to relocate to a desk farther from him? Noise-blocking ear protectors like those used at shooting ranges might also be worth considering.

  9. Jeanne*

    #5 – Hallelujah! Maybe there is hope for others with interminable meetings. And if the long-winded manager writes three pages for the newsletter, who cares? Just file it where it belongs. :)

    1. Jean*

      >Just file it where it belongs. :)

      In the butt crack of the cupid? (See comments above.)
      Sorry, folks. It’s been a terrible week. I need some cheap & tacky humor.

      1. UKAnon*

        Well, my first thought was “Can you get *that* close to a coworker?” if that helps at all.

    1. Marcela*

      My husband got one, the most impressive, without letters in the keys. It was somehow quieter, but typing passwords was a nightmare, so he changed it :D

      1. Talvi*

        I sometimes wonder if I should get one of those blank-key keyboards, if only because then I won’t be misled by the letter stickers on my keyboard when I’ve switched the keyboard input to foreign languages. This can be particularly problematic when typing in Cyrillic (the only key where both the Latin alphabet and Cyrillic alphabet look the same is “C” — the English “T” is the Ukrainian “Е”; the Ukrainian “T” is on the English “N”; etc….)

  10. Bend & Snap*

    I have a mechanical keyboard because that’s what my employer gave me. I’ve never thought about it. It’s just not that loud. This is a “get off my lawn” kind of letter.

    1. CubeFarmer*

      I work in a cube farm and we ALL have mechanical keyboards. I never thought about the *noise* generated from their use. It’s just office background noise to me and is much preferred to having to listen to my cube neighbor’s radio broadcast of Rush Limbaugh every afternoon. E-V-E-R-Y afternoon! :( I would sing hallelujah at the top of my lungs if I only had to hear clickty-clackity keyboards. I guess we all have our cross to bear.

      1. Ugh*

        Ugh, I feel for you. I was once trained by someone who did this exact thing. So. Incredibly. Uncomfortable. Is there any way noise pollution can get some headphones?

      2. Natalie*

        Ew. I must say, Limbaugh seems like it would pretty much automatically create a hostile work environment. (Not because he’s conservative, because he’s a bigot.)

      3. LBK*

        I really don’t understand people who listen to anything openly in their cube. Get headphones, people. I don’t care if they’re uncomfortable to you or whatever, it’s wildly inconsiderate.

        1. mdv*

          Agreed! I have a co-worker who *constantly* and despite reminders to the contrary, listens to music (in a style I *can’t stand*) or videos without earbuds/headphones, and turns it up loud enough that I can hear it *over* the music I am listening to in my own earbuds!!! Needless to say, this drives me INSANE.* I tell the office manager, and sometimes it goes away, sometimes not.

          *This coworker is rude and openly antagonistic towards me because she is offended about something I said to her 12 *years* ago, and wears her clothes in a way that exposes 6-9 INCHES of back fat and butt crack that I can’t avoid seeing when I have to walk to the printer or copier. Every time I complain about this, the response is “well, and you have a lot of cleavage showing, so you don’t have room to complain” type of messages….. in response to me wearing normal v-neck t’shirts and button down shirts over my 40DDD’s (sorry if that is TMI!).

    2. Traveler*

      I don’t think this is a get off my lawn letter. We all have our sound triggers. A mechanical keyboard wouldn’t bother me, but I have other sounds that are my “nails on a chalkboard”. If I had to listen to those while I was working, I would be distracted, too.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        The keyboard sounds are background noise to me (except today — now that I’ve read this letter, I’m hyper-aware of all my co-workers’ keyboards clackety-clacking), but I can’t stand the sound of nail-biting or finger-drumming. My husband does both, and it drives me out of my mind; I have to ask him to stop. I don’t pester him about anything else that he does, and he knows that I can’t stand those two particular sounds, so when he does is unconsciously and I ask him to stop, he gladly does so.

      2. OP #3*

        Thank you. I tune out the majority of sounds no problem (a skill I attribute to reading on the El in Chicago for so many years…) but this one is requiring a new level of zen. And while I get that keyboards make noise, I don’t understand the “need” for someone to have a super loud keyboard in a relatively open space.

        1. Dana*

          I think your letter is fine since he deviated from the company-provided keyboard. It’s not like you’re writing in saying that everyone’s keyboard noise is irritating and want the company to replace them all.

      3. Ama*

        It’s also the switch after having gotten used to the sound level of a membrane keyboard — my SO recently switched to a mechanical in the home office and it *is* significantly louder. It took me a few weeks to retrain myself to hear it as background noise, and I still have to remind him he needs to close the office door if he’s typing after I go to bed because the sound carries so much further than the old keyboard.

  11. Fleur*

    OP3: Most people get pretty attached to their mechanical keyboards, and even specific switch types, so asking for change there is pretty unlikely to work. However, you might try politely asking if he’d consider installing o-rings to dampen the sound of his typing.

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        I think that’s fair at home or somewhere it’s not disturbing others, but if it is bothering someone at work I think it’s a fair compromise.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        There was a story on NPR about some newsrooms piping in the sound of an old-fashioned newsroom with typewriters to simulate the sound of a newsroom on deadline. They said it caused everyone to speed up production because they felt like they were part of the larger typing frenzy.

  12. Cam*

    #4 – It’s not legal, but my employer does this too, but offers me overtime instead if I’d prefer. Honestly, I really like it. One hour of overtime is worth an hour and a half of regular time, and it’s great not to have to take PTO to go to a doctor’s appointment, especially since I’m at one of those places with a collective PTO = vacation + sick days + personal days kind of place.
    I’m not going to complain about it because I’m happy with the situation, but if you aren’t, you really should tell them that this is illegal. Especially if they’re only allowing one hour off for every one hour worked overtime, that’s just a cheat.

    1. Rebecca*

      I never thought about the part about getting 1 hour off for each hour worked extra (but it really should be 1 1/2 hours). That’s how our office does it so we can leave at noon for a few Fridays each summer. And I can tell you what will happen if management gets wind of this – no more leaving early. They let us bank time over the 2 week pay period so we don’t have to be in the office so long on the other days, especially those of us with long commute times.

      1. Natalie*

        If they’re offering the comp time within the same week (work late on Monday, leave early on Friday) it’s perfectly legal.

        1. Cam*

          You’re right most of the time, but I think some states (California, at least) do have specific laws that require overtime pay for all hours worked over 8 in a day.

  13. Not Today Satan*

    I actually hate that the OT law is based on a 40 hour week rather than 8 hour day. At a previous (nonexempt) job, the majority of the time that it would be helpful for me to stay late would be if there had been a holiday that week or something. But stay late (at the job I hate) for my regular measly rate? No thank you.

    1. CAA*

      This varies by state. California requires OT after 8 hours per day or after 40 hours per week or 6 days per week.

      1. SystemsLady*

        If you work for a company that bills out your hours, they will often have a rule that over 8 hours on a weekday or any hours on a weekend is overtime regardless.

        However, you’re usually exempt in those kinds of positions, so that’s just for billing purposes.

        For the company I work for, it’s only used occasionally to calculate a biyearly “good will” overtime bonus, if you’ve worked a significant amount of billable hours over 8*5. (For example, call ins on one or two weekend days or a week of 10s isn’t usually enough to trigger the bonus)

        Luckily, they are normally pretty good about keeping us close to 8*5 and will usually give us the bonus ahead of time on long projects that have higher requirements (10 or 12*6 is pretty normal), so I don’t mind this system too much.

  14. Rebecca*

    #4 – well, I just learned what our office does is illegal. It’s one of our remaining perks – work an extra 1/2 hour for 8 days of the 10 day pay period, and leave at noon on Friday during the summer.

    1. Alter_ego*

      But that’s within the same week. Most places ot laws don’t kick in until you’ve worked more than 40 hours in a week

      1. NurseB*

        An extra 1/2 hour a day for 8 days isn’t in the same week. It could presumably be 2 hours one week and 2 the next week or 2.5 hours one week and 1.5 hours the next week. In that case the first week would be the one losing out on the OT and it sounds like that OT isn’t banked at 1.5 times either.

        1. Rebecca*

          Correct, it’s 1/2 hour 4 days in one week, then 1/2 hour 4 days the next week, and then leaving early on Friday.

        2. CAA*

          It depends how you define “workweek”. For a 9/80 schedule, the DoL allows the company to define the workweek so that it begins at noon on Friday and ends at noon on the following Friday. This gives you a 40 hour workweek with no overtime and allows employees to have every other Friday off. (I didn’t do the math, but I think making your week start on Friday at 2:00 PM covers the 1/2 hour per day case.)

          1. SystemsLady*

            Yeah, this sounds exactly like a 9/80 to me, just with half hours/days instead of full hours. It’s pretty standard.

  15. scmill*

    #3 – If I still had a Model M keyboard (lost it in a move), you’d have to wrestle me to the ground to get it away from me. It was that good and that comfortable. I could type quickly and correctly all day on it with no wrist/arm issues.

  16. CoffeeLover*

    I wanted to clarify some etiquette on this myself. At the beginning of a job hunt (I haven’t had that many), I’ll ask the people I intend to use as references if that would be ok. They usually give me the overarching “use me whenever you need” statement. Is it then necessary to alert them every time I suspect an employer may be reference checking? Can I just tell them I’m in the middle of a job hunt and they may get some reference callers?

    1. Kasia*

      It’s not a bad idea to update them when your interview gets to the process of checking references. You don’t have to email them every time you apply for a job, but sometimes job searches take months. I usually just shoot my references an email letting them know to expect a call in the next few days from X company.

      Sometimes people don’t answer their phones if they don’t recognize the number, but if they’re expecting a weird call they’ll be more likely to pick it up

      1. AmyNYC*

        I like to send a quick “Thanks again for letting em use you as a reference! I just had an interview at XYZ Teapots (include link if you want) with Percival Montblanc, so he may be calling you soon.”

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      If I were you I’d be sending my references a quick e-mail when an employee told me they would be checking them.

    3. Oryx*

      I’d been job searching for about two years and had that conversation with them at that time. I didn’t alert them every time I interviewed, which would have been often. I *did* however let them know when the job that recently hired me told me they’d be calling references, so then it was important they had a heads up to expect that call.

    4. anonanonanon*

      Most of the companies I’ve interviewed at or worked at usually ask for references if you’re a finalist. If you’re absolutely certain they’re calling for references, it’s a nice heads up to send a quick email that they may get a call. If the job listing is still on the company website, I sometimes find it helpful to include a link, though YMMV.

    5. RR*

      As others have noted, it’s a good idea to give your references a quick heads up when you know it is highly likely they are about to be contacted. As a job seeker, I’ve found it helpful to be able to suggest that my references highlight my experience in A and B, or that I did a great job with X, if, after my interviews with potential employer, I can sense these are areas that would be good to emphasize as follow up. As a reference, I’ve offered to do the same for former staff. I can’t do that if you don’t let me know.

    6. Ad Astra*

      If you’re in a situation where you’re applying and interviewing for jobs left and right, I think just alerting them to your job search is enough.

      If it’s more spaced out, like every couple of months, I think a heads up that a specific employer might call would be helpful.

  17. Shirtless Cards*

    Please don’t do this. We can only hope they knew her well enough, but what if they don’t? Some people automatically think: female bday=half-nekkid male card, and vice versa. That’s eliminating a whole range of sexual orientations that someone might not feel comfortable discussing at work. But, even for a heterosexual woman, this could be really uncomfortable because it is a work environment. That could really ick out somebody- getting a sexy card signed by all the Steves in accounting. It brings sexuality in an environment that’s not supposed to be sexual. Yuck.

    1. Future Analyst*

      Completely agreed. I’m no prude (not that it should matter), but I’d be really grossed out about getting a card like that, signed by managers I report to (male and female). Just leave it at a nice “happy birthday!”

    2. NickelandDime*

      I was looking for a good post regarding the first letter that didn’t deviate from the topic entirely. I agree completely. And it’s just not professional. Even if you’re friends with the person outside of work, give it to them on your own time. Not at work.

      At some workplaces, someone could get in trouble for passing a card like this around. It’s just better to err on the side of being conservative.

  18. Kasia*

    #2 PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let your references know you’re putting them down! As someone who calls to check references it’s so annoying when I call a manager and they don’t really remember who I’m talking about or they sound very surprised I’m calling. Especially if it’s a manager from a job you had three or four years ago. It puts you fresh in their mind and they can prepare some things to say about you!

    1. Joie de Vivre*

      Especially if you have a manager that has a large team or a team with alot of movement/turnover.
      I managed a large team that was entry level with the expectation that within 1-3 years most people would be promoted into other roles. If I know I’m being used as a reference, I will go back in my records to make sure I’m remembering the correct person and that I’m providing a valuable reference. If I don’t get a heads up in advance there’s a good chance I’m not going to be able to remember anything substantial.

    2. OfficePrincess*

      I have easily accessible electronic records I could pull up, but I can’t imagine the pause and filler while I dig them out and remind myself who you were and what you did would instill that much confidence in the reference checker.

    3. Ama*

      Heh, this reminds me of the time I got a federal background check form from a guy who was a temp employee for us for three days over a year prior to when I got the form (I’m still not sure why we were listed as the employer when he came through a temp agency). We had a lot of temp employees at that time, and it was only because we had brought him in to help with a one-time project that showed up on my calendar that I was able to piece together who he was.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Yes to all of this. Plus, asking someone to be a reference (instead of assuming they’ll be fine with it) gives you a chance to coach them a little. You can tell them a bit about the job and point out which of your skills/traits would make you a good fit, which gives them a chance to emphasize that when they get the call. When a reference is put on the spot, it can be hard to come up with helpful details or examples, and “Lucinda was really great when she worked for me 6 years ago!” is positive, but not all that useful to you.

    5. A. D. Kay*

      THIS! Recently a former coworked emailed four or five people, including me, to inform us that he had submitted all of us as references. What he didn’t know was that I had decided years before not to serve as a reference for him any more, because he had done something a bit unprofessional and I felt it reflected badly on me. I had to email him back and let him know that I wasn’t comfortable being his reference any more. Awkward!

  19. Phoenix*

    #3 – I know you said you find headphones distracting after a while, but can I recommend the website MyNoise for a good sound-blocking option? They have a pretty huge variety of good sound engines you can mix together, which can help mask lots of different office sounds. I use some of the “coffee shop” type ones to mask coworker conversations when they’re getting distracting.

    I don’t know how links work on this comment section, so it’s mynoise(dot)net.

    1. KT*

      YES! Headphones and music gets old for me after a while, so I have a small white noise generator at my desk that makes a world of a difference.

    2. hermit crab*

      I agree — OP #3 mentioned a future office move, so my advice is white noise and/or other temporary coping mechanisms + waiting it out. I’m annoyingly sensitive to noise, to the point where I almost quit an otherwise fantastic job because I just couldn’t take it anymore, but in the end I’ve successfully waited out a series of noisy officemates (one was a keyboard-hammerer, one was a slurper/burper, and one was a personal-phone-call-taker-and-desk-kicker). Now I have my own office and life is good!

      My go-to has been white noise from simplynoise dot com played at the same time as minimalist-ish music, plus trying to maintain kind feelings toward the noisy person. Friends who are being noisy are WAY less annoying than enemies who are being noisy!

      1. OP #3*

        Thanks for the advice, Phoenix and hermit crab! I’ll try out a small fan or white noise machine until my seating arrangement changes.

      2. Phoenix*

        The suggestion to try to cultivate good feelings toward the noise-makers is an excellent one! It’s easier to be less annoyed that way, and it’s easy to forget to do.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      Wow, Phoenix, thanks for that suggestion! That site rocks and my cubicle now sounds like it has a fireplace in it. (I’m alone right now so I’m not bothering anyone)

      1. Phoenix*

        You’re welcome! Try the fireplace with a lower-volume rain noise, or with the cat purr one – as long as that won’t put you to sleep!

  20. BananaPants*

    I know of at least two big defense contractors that have entire facilities on a 9/80 work schedule, so they work 80 hours in 9 out of 10 work days and then get a full day off every other week (typically Fridays). It usually works out so that Monday through Thursday employees work 9 hour days, then Fridays alternate an 8 hour work day or a day off. I would freaking LOVE a work schedule like that.

    Incidentally, this is totally legal to do without paying overtime for non-exempt workers if the employer sets their work week to start on Friday at noon. Exempt workers…well, they’d better get their work done or in many companies they’ll find themselves asked to come in on the day off.

    1. Brooke*

      I work at one of these companies (in CA). I stopped doing 9/80 because transitioning projects back and forth for the alternating Fridays was a nightmare. :(

  21. Marie*

    Regarding #2- What do you do if you don’t want your manager to know you’re looking for a new job? I’m always paranoid that I’ll interview for a job, tell my supervisor, and then not get the job; then my supervisor will know that I’m looking and possibly treat me differently.

    1. Deb*

      I was recently in that situation, and here’s what I did: instead of using my current direct supervisor as a reference, I confided in a coworker (key point: a coworker I trusted to not say anything!!) and used her as a reference from my current employment. Then, for my other references, I turned to former supervisors, since hiring managers will definitely want to talk to at least one person who has supervised you.

      This worked out well — I got the job! At first, the hiring manager was skeptical that I didn’t have my current supervisor on my references list, but once I explained that I was looking for a new job confidentially, she understood. We’ve all been there and we’ve all had that same fear, so no (reasonable) hiring manager is going to hold it against you — as long as you give them other solid references to talk to instead of your current supervisor.

      One last comment on #2 overall: another reason to give your references a heads up that they might be called is so you can share with them the job description for which you are being considered. When they see the job description, that can make them a stronger reference because they can speak directly to the duties and qualifications you would need for this job. I would say don’t tell your references about every single job you apply for — only the ones where you get to a point when references will be called (and you’ll know when that is).

    2. Ad Astra*

      Is there a coworker you trust who outranks you in some way but isn’t your direct manager? Maybe some kind of dotted-line responsibility? When I was an entry-level teapot editor and designer, I used the senior teapot editor as a reference. We had worked together pretty closely and she managed people who did the same kind of work I was doing, but she wasn’t really my boss. That means she had very good knowledge of my work and she was able to evaluate it from a management standpoint, even if she wasn’t directly responsible for my work.

    3. Kasia*

      No reasonable company is going to demand a reference from your current job. Normal people understand why you wouldn’t want your current manager to know you’re looking. If you happen to have a coworker at your current job you could put down that would be fine, but previous managers or supervisors work just fine.

  22. Bend & Snap*

    #2 absolutely notify your references and let them respond before you list them! A former coworker applied to my employer and used my name as a reference. She sent me an email saying she was giving me something like 5 hours to respond whether it was okay and if not, she’d go ahead and use me. I didn’t see it in time and she listed me.

    When I called her on it she got all pissy and said she’d given me an opportunity to decline. Okay then…since she listed me, I had to give an honest reference. It wasn’t good.

    A reference is a big favor that can put someone’s reputation on the line. You 100% need to clear it with them first.

  23. JC*

    When I was a fed employee I always thought it was crazy that the government, of all people, didn’t have to follow a labor law. I had a professional job as a federal employee that seemed like it should be exempt, but my official status as exempt/non-exempt got bounced around a few times. I liked the ability to work a compressed work schedule over two weeks (worked more hours over 9 days, got the 10th day off), which wouldn’t happen with current labor laws for a non-exempt employee.

    But they also regularly got away with not giving us comp time for traveling outside of business hours, with the rationale of “well, you don’t HAVE to travel outside of business hours.” Like, you could fly back from travel the next day rather than flying back at night after a meeting. On the books we could get comp time but it was strongly implied that we should not ask for it. Out boss also used to say that we shouldn’t complain about comp time because our work travel was for our benefit, when it was all business-necessary travel. It was ridiculous.

    1. catsAreCool*

      Since the government gets to make its own rules for itself, that’s probably why it makes rules like that. Not exactly fair…

  24. A Bug!*

    On #4, just a point of interest, I think it’s legal in BC for overtime to be banked for hourly employees, if the employer and employee agree, and as long as the time is banked at a rate equivalent to the overtime that would have been earned. That is, if I’m hourly and I normally work eight hours a day, then on a day that I work nine hours, I’d get an hour and a half banked.

  25. Jenna*

    To #3 with the Mechanical Keyboard –

    I would suggest buying your own mechanical keyboard. I have one at home and my husband HATED it because of the noise. I purchased one for him to try and he now loves using his and never complains about mine because I guess he forgot about how much noise it makes. This is my suggestion if you can afford it (I believe you can find them in the $60 dollar range). I have a Logitech G710+ and my husband uses a Razer Black Widow, which makes more noise than mine but both are around $100.

  26. Ad Astra*

    I just realized that my company’s standard issue keyboards are mechanical keyboards, and now all I can think about is the sound of my office mates’ typing.

    1. OP #3*

      Oh no! I’m so sorry. It’s one of those things that most people probably don’t notice until it is called to their attention. My bosses didn’t notice until I mentioned something at lunch one day.

      1. LBK*

        This happened to me with one of my coworkers that would slap a football whenever he was on the phone. I never noticed it until someone mentioned how annoying it was and suddenly it was all I could ever hear, even though he sat on the other end of the floor from me.

  27. Sigrid*

    #1: The card is rather tame, all things considered, but I’d still be skeeved out to receive it from coworkers, or asked to sign it for a coworker. I know that many women wouldn’t be, but because this is the kind of thing where someone can be creeped out and not bring it up because they’re afraid of the classic “it’s not a big deal, why are you making it a big deal, what is wrong with you” response, I’d say it’s best just to keep those kinds of cards away from the work place.

    1. Observer*


      It’s not a terrible card, but it’s a bad idea unless you really know the person. You are basically making a lot of assumptions. ie This young woman must looking for a guy, whose primary qualification is his abs. It’s not just the assumption that she hetero – let’s face it, 90% of the population is – although why go there if you don’t need to. But, there are so many other assumptions packed into that one line. By the time your done, the chances that you’ve tripped over something is high enough that it’s just silly to do this. On the one hand, it’s easy enough to get something that doesn’t have all of these triggers. On the other hand, you don’t HAVE to get her a birthday card – there are plenty of ways to acknowledge someone’s birthday if you really can’t get a card.

      1. Ad Astra*

        The most offensive assumption here, imo, would be the assumption that a card this dumb somehow speaks to my sense of humor.

    2. The IT Manager*

      To be clear, it’s not because a shirtless man is so scandalous. It’s that lots of people don’t want to sexualize their workplaces, even a little; they don’t want to think of their coworkers through the lens of sex, or be seen through that lens themselves.

      I just want to thank Alison for articulating the problem with this card so very well. The card is tame and not offensive, but I still wouldn’t prefer not to receive it in the workplace. The idea that you’re sexualizing the workplace and introducing a filter where you think about sex in relation to your co-workers or they’re thinking about you and what sexually attracts you is what’s icky.

  28. Retail Lifer*

    I hadn’t heard of mechanical keyboards until now. I thought we were talking about a standard keyboard vs. one of those flexible keyboards until I Googled it. I have an extremely unpleasant co-worker who complains about everything, including how “loud” I type. Now I’m strongly considering getting a mechanical keyboard just to annoy her even more.

    1. Petronella*

      You should absolutely do that. hahaha.
      I thought the question was going to be about someone who has their computer set so that it beeps at every keystroke! Up until very recently I still had co-workers who did that, or who didn’t realize that it could be turned off! That’s a noise I would have to go to HR about.

  29. Purple Jello*

    I once received a not-quite-appropriate-for-work birthday card from my department. The person who bought it and passed it around for everyone usually bought the birthday cards and said “i know it’s not really appropriate, but it was just so funny I had to get it for you”. I thought if she “had to” buy it, she should have signed it herself, then gotten a different card for the group.

    The rest of the department felt very uncomfortable signing it, but at that point there wasn’t much choice since they were about to give it to my with lunch.

  30. Eliza Jane*

    #3: I always have a sort of eye-roll reaction to questions like this, because while I’m sure it is annoying… until a few years ago, this was the norm. Everyone had to deal with it. This new silence is the change, not a norm that’s being violated, and there are a lot of people for whom that change is very hard to adjust.

    The good news is that those people are phasing out, and younger people, who aren’t trained to haptic feedback from button pressing, are replacing them in the workplace. People who are used to typing on smartphones and ipads and laptops don’t look for the tactile and auditory response from their fingers, but despite spending over 50% of my time on a membrane keyboard, I am still considerably more error-prone when I lack that feedback, in a way that can sometimes be a real time-sink.

    I don’t think it’s practical to expect silence in a work environment. This isn’t excessive noise, this is just him doing his job. How would you have handled it 10 years ago, when membrane keyboards were the exception, not the rule? Or for that matter, in an office (like mine) which still issues mechanical keyboards as the default today?

    1. OP #3*

      Hi Eliza Jane – I don’t expect silence in a work environment. I’m certainly not a church mouse, sitting in my cube making no noise.

      My problem is that this keyboard is *designed* to be this loud. (It’s a gamer thing, I guess.) My keyboard is not completely quiet and neither was his old one.

      1. Marty*

        Sounds like one of the old buckling spring IBM keyboards (now made by Unicomp). They used to be the norm. They are loud, but they also offer a really good tactile response (more so than other mechanical keyboards.) It might be worth it to see if he can stand something with (brown) cherries in it, they are much quieter.

  31. K B*

    Came to comment on the mechanical keyboard. I LOVE my mechanical keyboard. I only use it at home though. My coworkers would go insane if they had to hear me typing all day on it at work. It’s rude and inconsiderate. People are used to a certain level of noise coming from others’ cubes and it would completely distract them if they had to hear it. There can be the occasional loud noises like opening soda cans, drawers, etc, but to have a constant loud noise like this ALL the time would just be too disruptive to the workplace.

  32. Joie de Vivre*

    My coworker’s keyboard squeaks every. single. time. she hits the space bar.
    When my earbuds are out, drives me right round the bend. Doesn’t seem to bother her in the slightest.
    I’ve even offered to go pick up a new one for her, but she doesn’t think it needs to be fixed.

    1. Alison Hendrix*

      When she’s out, carefully take it apart — the spacebar probably needs some cleaning, and obviously she doesn’t want to volunteer, so it’s going to be done for your sanity’s sake. ;)

  33. AJS*

    My favorite keyboard is on my portable 1920 Royal typewriter, which was a graduation present to my grandmother that same year. It works perfectly and I can pretend to be Ernest Hemingway on the Western Front while using it.

  34. Fired First, No Feedback*

    #3- Keyboard Man

    In this case you can also ask him to switch to a quiet mechanical keyboard if he absolutely must have it. There are a few brand and switch types that would allow for this and make it so that not everyone is driving insane by the clickity-clicks. I personally use Brown switches, but in an office environment he would want to use a Red switch or a specific quiet mechanical brand. If his keyboard is that loud he’s probably using Blue switches (my boyfriend has these and they’re insanely loud, luckily my headphones cancel the clickies).

    If that doesn’t work you could also ask him to put o-rings on his keyboard, which would dampen the noise to tolerable levels, it would also change the feeling of it as well. So… yeah, I would understand why he would want one, but I personally wouldn’t use one at work unless I was in an a private space.

    1. KC*

      Just what i wanted to say- there are different types of mech keyboards. Each has a distinct feel and noise. I recently switched to one and i can see why people prefer them. I think it is certainly reasonable to talk to him about it and suggest alternatives that the commenter listed, like a different type of mechanical keyboard, or noise dampening rings. As far as different types go, the common terminology used is color. Each color has a unique “personality”, with a different feel and sound. Picking the right one is a choice that people take seriously, but in an office setting i think it is reasonable to factor in noise. A quiet mech keyboard can be as quiet or more quiet as a regular keyboard (which can be pretty noisy), it all depends on the type of switch used.

  35. Sarahnova*

    Having followed this discussion, I can safely say that I’ve learned more about keyboards than I ever knew there was to know. AAM: keepin’ it educational.

  36. LadyHope*

    Aha! Now I can explain to my husband exactly why I accrue comp time instead of being paid overtime… I work for a state university. At last count, between comp time and vacation time, I could take 5 1/2 weeks of paid vacation. Except since I don’t get paid any overtime I can’t afford to GO anywhere. So I could sit at home, paid, for 5 1/2 weeks.

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