calling my new colleagues by their first names, I don’t want to talk about my injury, and more

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

1. How can I start calling my soon-to-be-colleagues by their first names?

I am in an awkward situation with the managers at the company where I accepted a job offer. I started addressing the managers and recruiters by Mr/Mrs. Last Name in emails, while they address me as by my first name. Also they would end the emails with their first names. I should have started addressing them by their first names when I noticed this. However, about a month later, I am still addressing them as Mr./Mrs., and I feel like I lost my opportunity to start calling them by their first names. I am still in the hiring process, and we communicate each other very often.

What can I do in this situation? I don’t know if it’s a good idea to address them by their first names in the next emails after addressing them by Mr./Mrs. all this time. But I also don’t want to make them feel awkward because I am addressing them as Mr./Mrs. I really don’t know what to do.

Just make the switch — really. It’s not going to be a big deal. Especially since this has all been in email, they may not even be paying much attention to it. They’re calling you by your first name, they’re signing off with their first names — it’s fine to just switch to using their first names.

Also, a side note for the future: Please don’t use Mrs. to address people unless you already know they prefer it. Many, many women don’t use Mrs. (preferring Ms.) and bristle at having it chosen for them. Unlike Ms. (which is used for both married and single women), Mrs. refers to marital status, and (a) you might be getting it wrong, and (b) many women rightly feel that their marital status doesn’t belong in business communications anyway.

2. I don’t want to talk about the details of my injury when I return to work

I lost the tips of two fingers in a lawnmower accident recently, and will return to work after two weeks off. I don’t wish to provide the details of my absence or injury whatsoever to my peers. It doesn’t help that I work in a large school and am the department head of technology, and should know better about safety around machinery. What is a polite way to answer about my absence and/or bandaged fingertips? I’m truly dreading returning to work for this one reason.

“It’s a long story, but I’ll be fine!” — said cheerfully and followed by an immediate change of subject.

Or “Oh, it’s too gruesome too talk about.” Or “I’m in denial that it even happened. Tell me about where we are with the X project!” Or “Just an accident, and I’m working on forgetting about it.”

The key with all of these is to say them cheerfully and immediately change the subject.

Polite people will get the message that you don’t want to talk about it. Rude people may continue to push, at which point you can say, “I’m really trying not to relive it — thanks for understanding!”

Another option is “I’d rather not talk about it,” but I think that will make it more dramatic and cause some people to speculate on what happened and why it’s off-limits.

3. Using a class project in my job

I currently work in an academic research environment in a support role (meaning I do entry-level work, not research or management or anything high-level). While in this position I decided to go back to school to get a degree in computer science, in order to make an eventual career switch. My choosing this degree was completely unrelated to my job, except in that … computer science is related to everything!

So, I’m currently in a class where we need to choose a class project to complete by the end of the semester. I realized that, serendipitously, we have been talking recently at work about creating a system that fits in with the subject of my coursework, and I could easily create the prototype for this work project as my class project. I would implement it in a more generic fashion for my class, basically, but it would result in me having built something that would be super useful at work.

Is it totally weird or wrong to choose to do a class project that I can eventually recycle at work? Normally, I have pretty strong boundaries about work/life balance and getting paid for my professional work, but in this case I would actually LOVE to build this project and implement it at work, because it would make my job so much easier. (It’s not a super-efficiency measure that would eliminate my job, either; it would just make doing my job way less annoying.) I realize I’m not being paid to do this, but it’s interesting to me and obviously I would be doing it for some tangible reward (a grade). The IT/tech staff at my job is apparently way too busy to ever build this for us, so if I could just make it happen… that would be awesome. Anyhow, I’m really curious to hear what you think!

I say go for it. There’s no reason that you have to create an artificial barrier between work and school, and in fact school usually gets a lot more meaningful when you can relate to things you’re doing at work or in life. You’re excited about doing it, you’d find it useful, it will ground your class work in something real — why not?

(I realize that the “why not” might be “because it feels weird to do something for work without being paid.” But you’re excited to do it, and our jobs benefit all the time from intangibles outside the strict confines of our job, from ideas we have in the shower to professional contacts we meet socially. You don’t want to be taken advantage of, obviously, but you want to arrange your life in ways that make you happy, and this sounds like it would qualify as that.)

4. Company is implementing weird new pay scheme

I’m an engineer (and classified as exempt), and my employer is instituting a 44-hour work week. In the meeting where this was announced, with legal and HR in the meeting, they told us that we are classified as “hourly exempt.” We have a base salary, and we can work 40 hours and take a pay cut to this base salary, or maintain our (current) base salary by working 44 hours. There has been no decrease in our base salary.

We can choose to work only 40 hours one week and take the hit to our pay that week, and then work 44 hours the next week and get our base pay. Or to hopefully put it more clearly, our pay will vary based on the number of hours we work per week, and 44 is our new baseline work week.

This whole situation sounds fishy to me, because I’ve never heard of nor seen anything online that refers to hourly exempt as something that exists. Do you know what they’re referring to, or is this something you’ve run into in your experience?

Well, if you’re exempt, you need to be paid on a salary basis, which means that your salary remains the same from week to week regardless of the number of hours that you work. It sounds like they’re using the idea of “base pay” to try to get around that, but it sure doesn’t sound legal to me. You’d need a lawyer to look at it and tell you for sure, but salary basis is one of the most fundamental requirements of treating people as exempt.

And if I’m right and this is indeed illegal, that means they’d actually be treating you as non-exempt and thus would owe you overtime pay for any hours worked over 40 in a week, once this goes into effect.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Update: do I have to organize a Boss’s Day gift?

Remember the letter-writer last month who asked if she really had to organize a Boss’s Day gift in her new job, as her predecessor had instructed her to? Here’s the update.

I wrote a few weeks back asking about whether or not I needed to have my department set something up for Boss’s Day. I ended up sending out a survey to see if people wanted to contribute and what kind of recognition we would want to give, if any, and I was genuinely surprised with the response.

Everyone agreed that a brunch was a good idea (we live in the South so we love our food), so I then gave the people who responded positively to the first survey the option of contributing food, a card, or money so I could buy whatever we may be lacking after sign-ups. It’s gone surprisingly well so far and everyone seems to be looking forward to it.

Since doing something for Boss’s Day is just part of the culture here, I thought it would be nice to proceed in a way that makes the activities 100% optional. It looks like that approach went over much better than the last Admin. Assistant sending out the “I’ll be collecting money from each of you for gift cards” email, so I’m happy with the way it turned out.

{ 417 comments… read them below }

  1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #4 – sounds like a gimmicky way to either foist pay cuts – or get four extra hours a week – half a day – out of you for free.

    1. fposte*

      If they’re exempt, they can be required to work for 80 hours for no additional pay, though; no need to set up a weird structure.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        That’s the weird part. I don’t think that there is such a thing as hourly exempt. But if they cut the pay based on hours, that makes them non-exempt. At that point they owe overtime beyond 40 hours. I think it even works retroactively, because the job never changed.

        1. StarHopper*

          My husband is an engineer who has to work out in the field a lot, so he is classified as hourly and gets overtime when he goes over 40. I’m pretty sure he would say “hourly exempt” is bs.

          1. TK*

            Since he’s an engineer, he probably could be exempt, but his company has graciously decided to classify as non-exempt and pay him overtime. That’s an very gracious but probably unusual (though maybe not in engineering?) arrangement. Personally, I’d rather be exempt and get comp time, though I know that may not be an option.

            1. GlorifiedPlumber*

              Hah, engineer here for major engineering corporation, and this sounds like the setup I have. It is a weird “hourly exempt” hodge podge.

              Some examples:
              If I work 30 hours, and put 30 in a time sheet, I get paid full salary, equivalent to 40 (works like exempt status).

              If I work MORE than 40 billable hours to a client, I get paid straight time for every hour over 40. So, 50 billable hours would be 50 hours paid, with the 10 over 40 at straight time (hourly-ish).

              If I have less than 40 billable hours and instead have 20 hours of “overheard” work (still very much work) that week, and I put 40 client hours and 20 overhead hours on my timesheet, I would get paid for 40 hours (also exempt).

              Clear as mud?!

        2. Pineapple Incident*

          That’s exactly the truth- you go back to being non-exempt the instant you cut pay based on the hours employees are working. These guys need to be keeping track of exactly how much they are owed in OT pay, because the company clearly isn’t going to be doing them that service.

        3. LBK*

          You could technically have hourly exempt where you just do hours worked divided by salary to come up with a new “hourly” rate every week. But that would scale *up* with a shorter week (because you’d need to be paid more for those hours to make up the same salary), not down.

          I suppose if you agree to it, it’s theoretically legal to change your salary every week. But I’m not sure if the law cares so much about how it’s phrased as it is about the actually concrete workings of how you get paid, and fewer hours = less pay sure as hell sounds like non-exempt work to me.

        4. Stranger than fiction*

          That’s the weird part, but also what stood out to me is that they had their company Legal advisor in the meeting, as if to say “see we’re doing this legitimately and trying to intimidate you from asking”.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yeah, that’s what I think is odd. Plenty of companies require more than 40 hours a week from their exempt workers. And some are very upfront that 45, 50, or whatever is the minimum. So I don’t see any reason for this new weirdness, unless they’re hoping many employees will take the effective pay cut.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Or they’re afraid many employees will refuse to work 44 hours and they’re not wanting to have to fire them, and they figure threatening pay cuts will make them fall in line.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Yeah,or maybe they’re just having an issue with all the salaried employees working the bare minimum and this is some weird way to get them to work more hours like a lot of salaried folks do?

    2. AnotherEngineerGirl*

      I’m an engineer and this is similar to how they structure our pay. This is the second place I have worked that does this for exempt engineers. It does sound like OP employer is trying to mandate 44 hours and using a pay cut to discourage 40 hours. We frequently go to required 45 hour weeks dying busy times, but they make individual exceptions for people who can’t do 45. They also pay time and a half for 46+. On one hand it’s nice to be compensated for extra work but on the other hand I feel like it discourages efficiency. I don’t think people are made to work 50ish hours in a week and I’d rather us be staffed properly than push people to work past the point of reality. I see this as standard for some types of consulting engineers as well as the expectation of working over 40 hours. Hopefully if OP doesn’t like he can move on, I know my line of work is booming right now.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Really? All the engineers I’ve ever known or worked with, including my Dad, have worked over 40 hours a week most of the year. At crunch times right before a product launch, maybe even 60+.

        1. GlorifiedPlumber*

          Engineers who aren’t involved in any kind of manufacturing or responsible for an operating plant or for products as you indicate don’t always see 40+. It is REALLY going to come down to the specifics of the business at the time, like anything else.

          The engineering firms out there (Bechtel, CBI, Fluor, Jacobs, CH2M HILL, AECOM, Worley Parsons, etc.) endeavor to keep employees at 40 hours a week.

          However, if you get into a staffing crunch, or if you get a client who will pay the OT (for designers primarily, and anyone who is 1.5x) to push schedule, or for whatever reason an engineer ends up with more responsibility than others (say a lead or something), you will see more hours. However, in general if I clocked in 55’s routinely, they’d ask me why.

          The highest “mandatory” I’ve seen during a staffing crunch was 55’s… lots of people worked more, lots of people work more than that all the time, but it was the highest office wide mandatory I’ve seen. ONCE, in 2007.

          This all goes out the window when you’re on call, launching a product, or responsible for operating machinery/process equipment however. Not all engineers do that though!

      2. AnotherEngineerGirl*

        Around 2003 we were at 40 with some 45 weeks to push a deadline. In 2007 at a new job, 45 was the expectation and then we went to mandatory 40 (or 35) max during the recession for no layoffs. I get that most engineers for the 45+, but I really don’t know that working that much week after week is efficient. I see the guys who are full time plus and compare my profit #’s and I’m higher. I get in and crank out my work because I have to be home for the kid’s bus. I find I get unproductive when I put in too much OT. BUT, that is just my experience.

    3. J.B.*

      Depends on the type of engineering and the clients. Also whether those hours are billed or not. I was under the impression that engineers were exempt by definition (although someone had suggested that was for Professional Engineers, not the uncertified people yet.) For projects that are billed some clients have requirements that staff be paid for every hour worked, although it is often done as straight time for those who are exempt. This could be a convoluted way of addressing client requirements.

    4. WorkingMom*

      I am not an engineer, nor am I familiar with the industry in general. I personally would be irritated and annoyed that we’re seeing the “standard work week” creep up. From 40 to 44, I saw another engineer in the comments that her role requires 45 – 46 hours weekly. Is this just the norm of the engineer role? I often work past 40 hours a week – but my job only requires 40 hours a week. I hate that we keep seeing working hours creep up and up, while we talk about work-life balance as a society, but do nothing to protect the “life” hours. (Total generalization here, I realize many companies are improving in this area.) I think I am just frustrated for OP, to now be told that your standard work week is now 44 hours, to make the same pay you’re making now for 40 hours.

      1. J.B.*

        For some engineering firms it is all driven by billing. They want junior people billing 40 hours a week every week. Realistically not everything you do at work can be justified as part of someone’s project so they expect all that stuff to be done on top of the 40 billed hours. Enjoyable, no?

        1. CheeryO*

          This is exactly why I ran from consulting screaming with glee when I was offered a position in state government. I have no problem putting in an honest 40 hour week, but finding 40 hours of billable work with no help as an entry-level engineer is a special kind of hell, especially in a small, struggling company.

      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        My company states that our work week is 45 hours and that we should not expect to take a lunch.

        It makes for miserable morale.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Ew. I know it’s really common to work through lunch, but to come out and say you shouldn’t expect to take one? Gross.

        2. WorkingMom*

          Ugh, I’m so sorry. I remember reading a study (wish I could remember where it was) that stated the point of diminishing returns was a 50 hour work week. More than 50 hours of work in a week, and workers actually become less productive. I so wish we would move as a society (in the US) to an outcomes-based work environment. If I can provide quality work in 38 hours one week, I ought to be able to do so. The “no lunch” rule is obscene, IMO. I mean, come on. People need to EAT.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            Yeah, if I’m expected to work 9 hours without food, I can’t be responsible for the consequences. To paraphrase Bruce Banner: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.”

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Because as we all know, tired, angry people work quickly and efficiently and usually without mistakes. /snark.

          I think these are the first companies to cry about health care costs. It seems to be total disconnect for some folks that a miserable work place can pull down one’s health.

      3. LabTech*

        On that same vein, I’m wondering what happened to 9-5 being considered standard hours. For example, I work 8 -5 with a 1 hour unpaid lunch, which adds to 40 hours (and realistically goes over, and technically isn’t supposed to go under 40). So did the standard work week used to be 35 hours (or 37.5 hours with half-hour break), or was the lunch break commonly paid for?

            1. WorkingMom*

              Me too! I always wondered what happened… when did that change? Looking forward to this afternoon!

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Oh, goody. My guess has always been that when 9-5 was the norm, the companies used give employees a paid 30 minute break, while still on the clock, then a law switched at some point that employees don’t need to paid for their break, and began implementing an hour lunch break, but off the clock. I’m probably wrong and dreamed this up in my head, but this will be interesting!

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              I do seem to remember that there was a legal change of some sort in the 80s. But a lot of companies used to consider lunch time as a paid break (whether 30 or 60 minutes).

              Some industries still work on this premise, but they are getting fewer and farther between…

            2. Marian the Librarian*

              This is exactly what happened where I work. Full-time employees used to work 8 hour days with an hour paid lunch. Now, we work 8 hour days with a half hour unpaid lunch. This happened way before I was hired, but I can imagine that it lowered morale a lot when that happened.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Uh oh, now I’ve misled you into thinking a history lesson is coming and it’s not! Just a letter that gets into the question about changes around 9-5.

    5. JGray*

      I work for an engineering firm and “hourly exempt” is how we pay our engineers and it is sort of weird if you are used to the whole hourly/salary thing. Everyone whether hourly or salary has a 40 hour work week and everyone has to record their hours for the week. Those that are exempt get a salary for the weeks that they work 40 hours. If they work more than 40 hours they are paid for each hour that they work but they don’t get overtime pay. It took some getting used to but our accountant said that this is how most of the engineering firms actually pay their employees. This situation though does sound like a way to cut peoples pay without really saying that. When someone says base pay to me I immediately think of people that work on commission and not only get commission on sales but have a base salary.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        The difference is what happens if they work less than 40 hours. They might get a talking to, but their weekly pay would not drop. The whole key is being paid the base pay every week. Some states require multiple weeks notice if you change it.
        In the OP’s letter, there appears to be two different base pay numbers.
        I think for the sake of legal, they are now giving the OP a pay cut by stating that there is a new base pay rate. They are then paying overtime for the next 4 hours. The new base pay plus overtime equal the old base pay.
        FWIW, I’ve never seen engineers work 40 hour work weeks. It’s industry specific of course, but usually 50-60 hour weeks are normal in my area (Silicon Valley).

      2. Kyrielle*

        At my previous job we aimed for 40-hour weeks most of the time, and at my current job 40-hour weeks are the norm, going over when the engineer feels the need.

        I am so grateful, but really, this should be the norm, IMO.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          My last and current jobs are also 40 hour weeks. LastJob was as a programmer doing project work for other customers. And the overhead was supposed to be charged to the projects in most cases. Even the occasional snow days were charged to the customer. They’d worked that out with customers so that we kept safe, and had a reasonable work day. If we worked over 40 hours we got straight time, but we needed permission to do so.

      3. Jerry Vandesic*

        That might be how your employer does it, but it doesn’t sound legal. I’d talk to the state labor department rather than your company accountant to check on the legality of it all.

  2. So Very Anonymous*

    Thank you for underscoring the “Mrs.” issue. I just had a very earnest freshman turn in a paper with my name as “Mrs. Anonymous” in the header, and I marked it out and wrote “Ms.” with a smiley-face (because freshman, earnest, and, from talking with this student, is trying to overcome being raised in a very conservative area). It can be hard to know how to correct that without making people feel bad. In my case, it is incorrect, but it would grate on me if it weren’t. Best not to make that kind of assumption.

    1. simonthegrey*

      This. I don’t mind being referred to as Mrs. socially, but in teaching I prefer my students just put my last name on the paper (which is what they would do with a male teacher).

      Back in college, I wrote a paper about Emily Dickinson, and I referred to her as Ms. Dickinson throughout. I still remember my professor circling the first instance and saying that if I don’t say Mr. Thoreau, I shouldn’t use the Ms either. That stuck with me.

      1. Hellanon*

        My students, in contrast, refer to everyone by their first names, so I get research papers about Steve, Ralph, and Diane. I finally set up a rule that unless they’re coming to Thanksgiving at your house this year, you’re going to need to call them Jobs, Lauren and Von Furstenberg like the rest of the world does.

        1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

          At least they were consistent! (Still wrong, of course, but I always appreciated those consistent wrongs in a paper as opposed to those all over the place wrongs)

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            Agreed. Nothing grates on me more than reading about Browning in one paragraph and Elizabeth in the next… And these are sometimes established, published writers! It’s Barrett Browning, people! And the Victorians did not grant first-name basis to just anyone, so I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t grant it to these writers…

          2. ImprovForCats*

            Oh heavens, I’ve been trying to sell my Composition 1 class on the beauties of parallel structure. I feel like they are unconvinced by my arguments about clarity and ease of reading, probably because in my head it’s just BECAUSE IT’S NICER THAT WAY AND DOESN’T MAKE DORKS LIKE ME ALL TWITCHY.

        2. afiendishthingy*

          My sister had an undergrad refer to Alexander the Great as “Alex” in a paper. Incidentally the paper was for a Human Sexuality course and the student was talking about how she had always thought homosexuality wasn’t invented until the 18th century. But now that she knew about ol’ Alex, you know, paradigm shift.

        3. Charityb*

          That’s so weird. I’ve always noticed and called really famous people by their full names. (I’ve never heard anyone say something like, “Have you seen Tom’s new movie?” to ask someone about a Tom Cruise movie for example.) It almost seems like they’re trying to be funny/cute.

        4. kk*

          On the flip side, I once had an Art History teacher instruct us to refer to Leonardo da Vinci as just Leonardo because da Vinci isn’t his last name, but his place of birth. I mean it’s true, but it was weird to write in papers.

          1. bridget*

            My Art History teacher told us that the art world calls him Leonardo for the same reason they say Michaelangelo and Raphael, without last names. General naming convention consistency. If you just said “Buonarotti” or even “Michaelangelo Buonarotti,” people might wonder who you’re talking about. You are referring to THE Michaelangelo and THE Leonardo.

          2. Charlotte Collins*

            Once you go to Renaissance and before, the naming conventions do change. You can refer to Dante Alighieri by his given name, but you can’t do that with Dante Gabriel Rosetti.

        5. Not Karen*

          One of my college classmates wrote a paper on Theodore Roosevelt referring to him as TR throughout.

          1. Kelly L.*

            She must have had my high school American history teacher! He had such a thing about Theodore Roosevelt and called him TR all the time.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              He is occasionally referred to that way. Not as famous, but considered as acceptable as FDR and JFK. :)

            2. So Very Anonymous*

              As a student I worked for a project that was editing a particular historical president’s correspondence. Everyone was in the habit of referring to him by his initials; the footnotes did, too, to save space (no point in spelling out his name every time).

        6. Three Thousand*

          Calling people Steve, Ralph, and Diane almost certainly comes from not reading very much and not knowing basic writing conventions like this. I might have done something like that in second grade, back when I started wondering why all these people were being called by their last names.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            I’m of probably the last generation where it was common to call older/distinguished/senior people by their surname. It would never occur to me to refer to famous people by first name only unless it was either a joke or how they were referred to in public (Cher, for example).

        7. Josh S*

          The only famous people I refer to by their first names are Jim, Jack, and Johnnie.

          Misters Beam, Daniels, and Walker, respectively.


        8. simonthegrey*

          I find my students are much more likely to do this about female authors (Emily, Louisa) than they are about male ones (Thoreau, Emerson). I tell them that unless it’s Cher, you never use the first name.

        9. Heather*

          If Steve Jobs is coming to Thanksgiving at anyone’s house this year, I want to hear about it ;)

      2. Just Visiting*

        Ugh, that annoys me so much! Like we have to be constantly reminded that the subject is female. Same with “woman author” or “woman scientist.” Glad it stuck with you. :)

        1. Autumn Mists*

          +1 I recently minuted a meeting where the (male) chairperson referred throughout to “doctors” and “lady doctors”.

          1. Artemesia*

            LOL. I remember early days in my work where the men who didn’t have doctorates were routinely introduced as ‘Dr.’ (in an environment where PhDs were common) and I who did have one was introduced as Mrs. And I didn’t even use my husband’s name.

            1. Bailey Quarters*

              I know. that’s where I am. I go by my maiden name at work, and it really irritates me to be called “Mrs. Quarters.” That’s my mother’s name. “Ms. Quarters” or “Dr. Quarters” suffices just fine. The irony is that I recently married, so if they want to call me Mrs., it should be “Mrs. Fever.” :-)

          2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

            Had he just gotten out of a blue box with a funny looking wild eyed man? Because that could explain it.

            1. Autumn Mists*

              No, it was that in his world doctors must be male by default. So when the meeting was about certain medical projects he wanted to indicate that some of the doctors involved were – shock, horror – female. Hence calling them doctors and lady doctors. Calling them lady doctors sounded even more patronizing than saying ‘female’ or ‘women’ doctors. It was mainly kidney specialists and GPs but no gynaecologists.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                I figured, but I was being deliberately obtuse because part of me doesn’t want to live on a planet with people like him.

                1. Charlotte Collins*

                  This makes me think of a Miss Manners letter from years ago where someone mentioned being asked if she was a “career girl.” Her answer was that it would be polite to ask the enquirer if he was a “career boy.” I think you could adapt this advice here…

          3. Chinook*

            “I recently minuted a meeting where the (male) chairperson referred throughout to “doctors” and “lady doctors”.”

            I probably would have asked those at the table which ones were the OB/Gyns (since they usually have to run out on short notice to deliver babies).

        2. the gold digger*

          “woman author” or “woman scientist.”

          Because the default, of course, is just “author” or “scientist” and everyone knows they are men.

          Remember the cover story that Time or Newsweek had in the early 90s titled “Why women are different?” And they didn’t get why this was a problem.

          1. OfficePrincess*

            I was just learning to read in the early 90s, but something tells me it wasn’t about estrogen levels.

          2. Charlotte Collins*

            By this reasoning, I think when mentioning someone who’s won more than more Nobel Prize, we need to clarify if they’re male, because the default double winner is female.

      3. Kelly L.*

        Though I do know people who do do that! My grade school music teacher comes to mind; she always talked about Mr. Mozart and Mr. Beethoven.

      4. Z*

        Yeah, I have to occasionally re-beat this into my lawyer’s heads. They like to use courtesy titles for just women and doctors. Everyone or no one, people — consistency is key.

    2. Tau*

      I, OTOH, keep getting referred to as “Miss” and it’s irking me so much I’m considering insisting on “Dr.”. If you’re going to make my marital status your business, you can make my PhD yours too.

      1. Artemesia*

        I never use Dr. except in that circumstance. I did my career in the south where men still leeringly ask ‘is that Miss or Mrs.?’ if you use Ms. as in ‘have you succeeded in doing the only thing we value in a woman, snagging a man?’ when asked that I always said, ‘oh, Dr. would be fine.’ Wipes the smirk right off their sexist faces. Big issue 40 years ago, much less so these days.

        1. Arielle*

          We had a bit of a kerfuffle at my brother’s recent wedding reception when the DJ could not figure out how to introduce my brother and his new wife, both MDs and both keeping their last names. My suggestion of “The Doctors Smith and Jones” was rejected. :) I think he ended up just using their first names.

      2. A Minion*

        You know, I’ve always thought that if I ever invested the time, money and energy required to get my PhD, I would then insist that everyone refer to me as “Dr.” Husband and kids included.

        “Honey, I’m home!”
        “Oh hi, Dr. Sweetheart. How was your day?” (Cause I could never break him of the endearments even if I insisted on “Dr”.)

        “Mom, could you drive me to the dance tonight?”
        “I’m sorry, what was that?”
        Heavy sigh, exaggerated eye roll. “Dr. Mom, could you drive me to the dance tonight?”
        “Of course, dear.”

        Of course, I could just be satisfied with an MBA and insist everyone call me “Master”.

        1. Not Karen*

          I am a firm believer that if people with a doctorate get to be called Dr., then people with a Master’s degree should be called Master.

        2. JayemGriffin*

          My youngest brother referred to me as “Jayem, Master of the Huge Manatees” after I completed my PhD in the, um, humanities. (We were both much younger then.) I really prefer his version.

        3. periwinkle*

          My husband has promised that when I complete my Ph.D. program he will call me Dr. Sweetie. Probably not putting that on my business cards, though.

      3. Mary (in PA)*

        Damn straight.

        (My sister and her husband both completed their PhDs this year, and as a result, I enjoy referring to them collectively as “The Doctors Van Hodge.”)

    3. Lapsed Academic*

      I may or may not be that OP is not in an English speaking environment where Mrs. and Ms. come out to the same word. An often made mistake when translating German to English is people using “Mrs. XYZ”, because they learned in school that when speaking of women (as oppose dto girls) it is Mrs. In German, whether a woman is married or not it is just “Frau XYZ”.

      Likewise, the German literal translation of “Miss” is “Fräulein” which is by now considered either old fashioned or downright derogatory (depending on where and in which sort of place with what sort of people you are).

      I had a hard time convincing people at my last job, where English should have been the language of operation but since everyone was ESL things got difficult, that it was Ms. and not Mrs.. They kept insisting that must be Mrs. because that’s how it’s done.

      1. De (Germany)*

        It is (unfortunately) amazing how many people still seem to learn “Fräulein” in school when learning German. There are exactly two accepted uses of it:
        a) older women who insist on it because they were always called that
        b) official correspondence with girls (under-18 year olds) – so when I got mail from a state department or anything while I was under 18, it was often (though possibly not always?) addressed to “Fräulein Lastname”, while at 18, they switched to “Frau lastName”. And I am not even sure that is still the case, might have changed in the years since I turned 18.

        Learning English, I did learn Miss and Mrs. Ms was either not in use back then, or it just wasn’t in my books.

        1. Myrin*

          I’m surprised by b! Even official documents pretty much always addressed me as “Frau” before 18 (I’d even say “always” but I’m not 100% sure there wasn’t a stray document in there somewhere). I’m 24 now, so if you’re much older there might indeed have been a change that even I wasn’t aware of.

          And ditto to the not knowing Ms was a thing before coming on the internet. (Side note: How is that pronounced? I mean, it’s not actually short for something or is it? I’m so glad I’m not actually talking to any English speakers because I’d totally pronounce it “Miss” and then get weird looks.)

          1. De (Germany)*

            I’m 31, so not older by a lot, but at least in my memory, there was a bit of mail addressed to my like that (library fees, maybe? school correspondence?)

            And I, too, have no idea how to pronounce Ms and Miss so they don’t sound the same…

              1. Zillah*

                I think that depends on where you are – I don’t generally hear them pronounced differently.

                1. Min*

                  Either I’ve never heard them pronounced the same or I’ve been assuming that the speaker meant one when saying the other. I’m curious now if that’s the case. ;)

                  Miss is sibilant and Ms is indeed mizz.

          2. hbc*

            Myrin, Ms would be pronounced Mizz, versus the soft s sound in Miss. They’re otherwise identical, and I think in speech they can get pretty close together depending on the following words and how fast you’re speaking.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              I always thought Ms. (prounouned Miss) was for adults and Miss (pronounced miss) was for young adults or minors.

          3. Kas*

            The “s” in “miss” is pronounced like the first letter of “sit”, while the “s” in “Ms” sounds like the first letter of “zap”. So you’d say “miz”. I’m not sure if all accents/dialects make a distinction between ‘s’ sounds and ‘z’ sounds, but I hope that helps :)

            1. Myrin*

              It does indeed, thank you (and all the others who answered as well)! Now I find myself in that weird situation where I’m trained in linguistics and know exactly what you mean by the difference between s and z but I have the hardest time actually saying it (although it technically exists in German, too!). Should I ever actually talk to an English speaker, I’ll probably have to use some weird “mimumblemumble lastname”-technique.

              1. Ad Astra*

                In spoken language, people have a tendency to pronounce Mrs. and Ms. the same way as Miss, sort of the way “want to” turns into “wanna” and “going to” turns into “gonna.” It’s not correct, but it’s a common enough habit that people tend not to correct you when you call a married woman Miss Lastname in casual conversation. The distinction is far more important in writing, or in classy situations where your diction really matters.

                Just don’t call anyone Missy, unless her name is actually Missy.

                1. Z*

                  I pronounce them Miss, Mizz and Miss-us. I learned when I had an assignment in Eastern Kentucky that they pronounce all three as Miss, which is really annoying when you need to write a courtesy title (and they get really upset if you avoid the whole thing and just write a last name). I started checking for wedding rings or holding up what I was writing so they could correct me if necessary.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  Yeah, in casual use, in my experience and regional accent, everybody just ends up being sort of a vague “Mzsmith.”

                3. TK*

                  By far the most common time people actually speak (as opposed to write) these titles in the US is as children, referring to schoolteachers. I’m 27, and most people I went to school with, the whole time I was in school, pronounced all three at “miss.” I think a pretty small portion of ordinary people actually understand the difference in pronunciation or meaning.

                  E.g., I had a high school teacher who got divorced the summer before my senior year and started always presenting her name in writing as “Ms. Jones” rather than “Mrs. Jones” as she had previously. Everyone just called her “Miss Jones” regardless and very few likely even noticed the difference.

                4. Chalupa Batman*

                  I would have told you before saying it out loud (thank you, office door that closes!) that I said Mrs. like Z described- Miss-us- but I actually say it “Miss-iss.” I very rarely use honorifics besides actual titles like Dr., Judge, etc., though. I did know a professor who said he really liked having Dean for a first name because he said he always got quick responses to his voicemails: “Hi, this is Dean Jones calling about a student, please call me back…”

              2. Tau*

                I was just thinking that this is a tough one for Germans because we (in most dialects, anyway*) do final obstruent devoicing, so if those were German words they’d actually be pronounced the same. It’s the same phenomenon as the fact that for most German speakers, “Rad” and “Rat” are pronounced the same way. [/linguistic geekery]

                * I don’t know of any that don’t do this but want to cover my bases here!

              3. Kas*

                You’re welcome!

                I could have sworn there were no other responses to your comment when I posted mine :)

          4. Artemesia*

            Mrs and Miss are both short for Mistress and evolved to signify a married or unmarried woman. Ms is the generic for all women and is pronounced Miz not Miss.

          5. TheLazyB*

            I pronounce it Mzzzzzz, with as little ‘i’ sound as possible, because otherwise people still hear it as Miss.

            1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

              Unless someone extremely exaggerates that “zzz” sound like you do, I truly cannot hear the difference between “Ms” and “Miss” so I’ve never corrected someone verbally (though I demand on Ms in written communication)

            2. Kyrielle*

              I agree, where I am (Oregon) it has a z (not quite that drawn out here though) and less i.

              Miss is, well, miss. Like hiss with an m.

              Ms. is mizz, but the i is less of an i and more like a shortened, barely-present form of the vowel sound in ‘would’.

          6. ancolie*

            I’d describe it as Ms. is pronounced like “mis” and Miss is pronounced like “miß”, using German pronunciation. :)

        2. Lapsed Academic*

          b) might be state dependent. I don’t recall that being the case with me, BUT it’s been a while since I was under 18. Or it might be state dependent indeed, who knows.

          I agree with a), hence I was saying it depends heavily on where you are who you are with how it’s perceived. But imagine being in a café or the like, I know many a waitress who’d bristle at that and rightfully so. Plus, the ah, parental generation still uses it in anger.

          Connotations are a fun thing.

          I learned Ms. in school, iirc, but I may be mistaken. My English is such a bastard accumulation from three different continents, and I learned more English on the internet than I did on school anyway.

          1. De (Germany)*

            So, apparently since 1972, official correspondence always used Frau, so either I’m a time traveler or I am just misremembering. Somehow I think one of those is more likely than the other ;)

        3. Jen RO*

          As another ESL speaker, I learned from the internet that “Ms” was a thing. It was never discussed in our English classes. In Romanian, “Mrs” is the default for adult women (maybe not starting with 18, but around 25 I’d guess), and “Miss” can be taken as derogatory (“You’re calling me Miss because I’m too ugly to get a husband??”) or as a compliment (“Of course I called you Miss, you look so young!”). And since you never know how a person will take it, it’s safest to just Mrs. everyone.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Ooh, that’s a great parallel. Based on what the German- and Romanian-speaking commenters are saying, it sounds like “miss” vs. “ma’am” is a more apt comparison than “miss” vs. “mrs.” vs. “ms.”

              Since “Ms.” is a relatively new term, and since some people still see it as feminist nitpicking, I can see why it wouldn’t make it into ESL textbooks.

            2. Ruth (UK)*

              Wait what? I was never aware there was a distinction for miss and ma’am. I just thought ma’am was American for miss. I have only ever hears ma’am used by Americans.

              At least where I live it’s standard to use miss for women in the same way sir is used for men. So you’d say ‘miss’ to someone even of they were a mrs if you were saying their name.

              Ie. If I was married (and using titles related to my marital status) you could called me mrs smith or just miss, but not miss smith or just mrs… Miss used alone is for anyone and is the female of sir…

              1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

                Traditionally in the US, miss is for young women and ma’am for mature women. Addressing a young teenage girl working at the counter would be “excuse me miss” but a woman in her 30s or 40s would be “excuse me ma’am.” And so on. This leads to many minefields where women can get irritated by being addressed by the wrong one based on their perceived age–some women would be very insulted by being addressed as miss when they’re in their 50s or whatever as it could be seen as condescending.

                1. Lapsed Academic*

                  But…you wouldn’t address anyone in a letter with “Dear Ma’am”, no? I agree in spoken language, but written?

                2. Ruth (UK)*

                  Hmm on one hand it’s handy that it’s simpler here. Basically miss is always used where I live regardless or age or marital status when being used alone (as I said, like sir). On the other hand, this gives us the potential to unknowingly and inadvertently insult someone if we travelled somewhere else.. As I said, I had assumed ma’am was just an American term for miss. I guess conflicting cultural norms can pop up anywhere.

                3. Aunt Vixen*

                  When I was at school in England in the late 80’s, “miss” (without a name, that is – just plain vocative miss) was also the feminine for “sir” irrespective of the age of the teacher. Even if she was Mrs. Wossname, if you were raising your hand and desperate to be called on, it was “Miss! Miss!

                  I suppose conversely, if one should ever happen to meet a female member of the royal family, one should call her “your royal highness” the first time and “ma’am” (rhymes with ham, not with palm) after that, no matter her age or marital status.

                4. Kyrielle*

                  And where I am, ma’am is relatively rarely used – mostly either when a child is being mockingly formal (“Yes, MA’AM!”) or desperately formal (same words, different tone), and almost never between adults.

                  Then again, the preschool my youngest attends has him address the female teachers as “Miss (firstname)”, so.

                5. Ad Astra*

                  I have seen “Dear Sir or Ma’am” in writing, but that phrasing is so formal that it’s even too stilted for a cover letter these days. I think Alison recommends “Dear hiring manager” if you don’t have a specific name.

                  There aren’t a ton of situations where you know the person you’re writing to is a woman but you don’t know her name — whereas that situation comes up all the time in spoken language, like the restaurant example — but I think “ma’am” is technically correct in writing, too.

                6. Anonymous Educator*

                  Traditionally in the US, miss is for young women and ma’am for mature women. Addressing a young teenage girl working at the counter would be “excuse me miss” but a woman in her 30s or 40s would be “excuse me ma’am.”

                  This sounds more regional than national. I’ve spent my whole life on the coasts (California and New England), and what you’re describing here sounds very foreign to me. It’s not typical at all in those regions (especially near the cities) address the teenage girl at the counter with “excuse me, Miss” or an older woman with “excuse me, Ma’am.”

                  “Ma’am” is usually something I hear from a flight attendant…

                7. Sarah in Boston*

                  Huh. I’ve lived in Mass most of my life and “miss” for younger and “ma’am” for older women is super common to me. And I did notice when I crossed the line a few years ago. :)

                8. Chinook*

                  “But…you wouldn’t address anyone in a letter with “Dear Ma’am”, no? I agree in spoken language, but written?”

                  In written, only if the recipient is unknown (or atleast here in Canada). In that case, it is usually “Dear Sir/Ma’am”. If it was for an unknown subject but definitely female (i.e. a woman’s group), it would be “Dear Ma’am” but I have never seen it.

              2. Cath in Canada*

                When I worked in Ohio one summer I was told off by my manager for not calling female customers Ma’am. I tried, but I just couldn’t make it work in my (at the time) very strong northern English accent – it either came out Mam (with a short a, like ham and jam), which is what we call our mothers where I come from, or Maaaaaarrrm, which is pretty much reserved for the Queen. Americans seem to say it more like Mayam than either of those two, although that isn’t quite right either.

                1. Charlotte Collins*

                  “Madam” would also be technically correct in US English, but so ridiculously formal that people would do a double take… (Were you maitre d’ at a very, very high-end restaurant? It might work there.)

                  No one in the US would blink at it pronounced “mam,” but I could see how that would make you uncomfortable.

                2. Cath in Canada*

                  Heh, no, it was a movie theatre. And not even a fancy one – it was the one that didn’t receive new releases until the nicer cinemas were done with them, and then charged about two bucks to show them a few weeks or months late. A good business model actually – I wish they had one near me, because tickets are about $20 now!

                3. Chinook*

                  ““Madam” would also be technically correct in US English, but so ridiculously formal that people would do a double take… (Were you maitre d’ at a very, very high-end restaurant? It might work there.)”
                  This is one of those times when Canadian English is definitely different as I would not bat an eye at being called “Madame” but I would suspect that the speaker spoke French in some form or other.

              3. doreen*

                Addressing the teenager or mature women working at the counter may not be the best example , because in my experience it would be a simple “excuse me” for both of them, as well as for a man. But the difference between “miss” and “ma’am” in the US is based on age. The flight attendant ( police officer , store manager etc) who calls me “ma’am” and my husband “sir” would most likely call my 25 yo daughter “miss” .

        4. Merion (Germany)*

          Ha, I got an official letter some time ago, requesting I help in an election, in which was addressed as “Herr” although I’m female. Wouldn’t have thought anything about the missing -in on the function, I’m suppposed to hold, if not every other female had had a -in.

        5. Knitting Cat Lady*

          Oh god, the ‘Fräulein’ thing.

          Any official letters were addressed as ‘Frau’, even when I was younger than 18.

          Spam mail directly addressed me as ‘Schülerin’, i.e. student.

          When I was little it was common to address sales assistants and wait staff as ‘Fräulein’, commonly pronounced as ‘Frollein’.

          Another fun thing: It took me ages to get used to be addressed as Frau R. Always expected my mum to speak up. I’m used to it now. My mum still finds it a bit strange. Probably always will, considering I’ve been called that for about 15 years now.

        6. Kristin (Germany)*

          One of the things that I most appreciate about German is that Frau simply conveys the implication of adult woman in the same way that Herr and Mister convey the implication of adult man, with no reference to or implication of marital status. I wish that English had one title for adult women (okay, I suppose that’s actually Ms., but I feel that it’s still finding universal acceptance).

          1. Anna*

            That’s because it was politicized and only a dirty feminist would want to be called by Ms. Really stupid.

        7. Liane*

          Ms., like Mrs. & Miss, comes from the original English title of Mistress, per etiquette columnist Judith “Miss Manners” Martin*, & (like the German Frau), was used for all adult women. In her Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, she wrote that use of Ms. as an abbreviation for Mistress occurred as long ago as several centuries. I am not certain, but I think the century she gave was either 17th or 18th. I don’t think it got much use until women’s rights leaders in the 60s or 70s rediscovered it.

          *who, despite her pen name, has strongly encouraged used of Ms., especially in business, since at least the ’80s

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            She jokingly stated once that “Miss” was her first name – I think in relation to signing letters, which according to formal rules, you should always do as Firstname Lastname rather than using any title or honorific.

        8. L Veen*

          I took German classes in college between 2006 and 2009 and none of my instructors ever mentioned that the use of “Fräulein” is frowned upon! I’m glad I read this thread – I’m heading to Munich over the winter holidays and I would hate to unwittingly offend someone.

        9. Charlotte Collins*

          When I learned German in the 80s, we were taught that “fraulein” was only for a girl (kind of like the old Brit. English “Master” – which has very different connotations in the US) or if you were trying to be ridiculously flattering to an older woman (like senior citizen age). We were pretty much told to avoid it for adults.

      2. Julia*

        Ugh, this. I am German and once someone completely randomly on a German site called me Mrs. Know-It-All. Being the know-it-all I am, I insisted on Ms., which they would not believe.

        Now I live in Switzerland and just last week got the housing contract for the place I share with my boyfriend – different last names, and it’s been impossible to have different married names in Switzerland until two years ago – and yet, it said Mrs. Julia XYZ. I assume that just as in German, where everyone is a Frau nowadays, every French woman is a Madame, which is why they think Frau/Madame = Mrs.

        I much prefer the Japanese where every gender just uses LastName-san – although that can cause problems as well.

        1. Chinook*

          “Now I live in Switzerland and just last week got the housing contract for the place I share with my boyfriend – different last names, and it’s been impossible to have different married names in Switzerland until two years ago – and yet, it said Mrs. Julia XYZ”

          I have had the reverse happen. In Quebec, they don’t recognize married surnames as legal names, so we had to have the lawyer redraw the house sale contract because he assumed my middle name was my maiden/legal name. ID was a pain in the butt because anything provincial (like driver’s licence) was in one name and anything national (passport, credit card) were in another and, because I never went through a legal name change at any point after I was married, getting everything in one name when I moved elsewhere took a lot of paperwork and sweet talking to various organizations.

      3. Tau*

        I booked a plane ticket a few months back which gave me exactly two options for title and they were “Mr.” and “Mrs.” Considering this is not a small airline and they have a bunch of flights outside Germany, including to the UK, I was honestly rather shocked no one had dealt with that!

      4. Not So NewReader*

        And when a woman’s husband passes that opens a new can of worms as far as titles. I suddenly became Ms. I almost never hear Mrs. NewReader, 99% of the time it is Ms. NewReader.
        I like it, actually. But the change was sudden and across the board once he passed. People really don’t know how to address widows. In part, because it’s a matter of preference now, this used to be a very structured thing. Some widows still prefer the Mrs. version. Other woman go back to their maiden names.

    4. KT*

      This a million times. I don’t want to shame people or make them feel bad, but leaping to Mrs. needs to be caught early!

      1. Kat M2*

        To me, it’s not shaming if it’s done politely. It’s your name and your title.

        I don’t even use Mrs. socially and I have made it a point to (politely) correct my relatives and friends. Even my older ones-they’re just as able to learn as anyone else.

        In this day and age, I make it a point to ask my friends what they prefer to be called in correspondence or otherwise take my cues from them, once they wed. It makes sense.

        1. Anna*

          My aunt has never been comfortable being called Mrs. Lastname. Awhile ago she was telling me about her neighbor, who insisted her children call all adults by Mr. Mrs, etc. My aunt corrected them and the neighbor then corrected my aunt saying she’s teaching her kids how to respect adults. My aunt and I both felt the MOST respectful thing is to call the person what they prefer, not whatever convention is deemed more respectful.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            Agreed! As a child, we were taught to call adults by honorific then last name – unless they told us otherwise! I was able to understand that some people preferred a first name and some preferred being referred to by a last name and was considered a pretty polite child. (In high school, a friend whose parents were immigrants from a country known for politeness actually commented on my good manners!)

          2. ImprovForCats*

            As a teenager, I worked at a short-term day camp and my adult co-teacher insisted the children call me Miss Improv (even though most of the teenage staff–and a chunk of the adults–went by first names with no title and no chaos ensued.) I hated it, partly because it just didn’t feel like me, and partly because my given name begins with M and ends with an “ee” sound, and I still think with Miss it sounds painfully twee/like a faded southern belle/a Parisian cartoon mouse ala Miss Bianca, but more so.

    5. A Minion*

      Sometimes you shouldn’t even assume “Ms.” is okay. At OldJob we had a donor that had a very strong aversion to having “Ms.” in front of her name. She sent several very angry letters to us saying if we expected to ever receive any more money from her we’d better drop the “Ms.” To be fair, I screwed up multiple times – once when I first started and didn’t know any better, then when we implemented a new database and I didn’t remember to remove the “Ms.” so I had been told already and should have been more aware of how I was setting up individual donors.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        That’s exceptional, though.

        First of all, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard (in real life or on the Internet) of someone being outraged at being called Ms.

        But also, it sounds as if it happened multiple times, so it’s really more about having her preference recognized.

    6. afiendishthingy*

      When I started working at a public school one of the first questions one new coworker asked me was “Miss or Mrs.?” I was caught off guard by just how much it bugged me. What the hell does my marital status have to do with my work? But it was the norm there, and even though I said “Ms.”, I was always “Miss Thingy there,” until my favorite student started referring to me by just my last name and some coworkers picked it up. I really liked being referred to as Thingy. The student had autism and the script he repeated a lot was “Oh come on, (name)!” with various names inserted; I left that job a year ago but I still say “Oh come on, Thingy!” to myself when I feel like I need a little push. :)

  3. alexcansmile*

    I actually prefer if people refrain from using Mr or Mrs or Ms because it’s really easy to misgender someone that way. I get a lot of business mail, and email to Mr. Alexcansmile Last name. I am in fact female. It’s embarrassing to the people I have to correct and incredibly irritating to me.

    1. Could be anyone*

      I like to use my initials. Mrs. my initials, last name is my mother-in-law.
      Using Mrs. her first name, last name used to be how divorced women were addressed.

      1. Graciosa*

        Actually, originally divorced women were addressed Mrs. MaidenLastName MaritalLastName. Mrs. FirstName LastName is a relatively recent development.

    2. overeducated and underemployed*

      This is why I kind of prefer formal correspondence that goes to medical doctors and PhDs – there’s an obvious professional title for them. In some contexts, like a job application, I would spend time googling you to try to figure out the best title because just “Dear Alex” would be way too informal…but what if you were trans and your online presence reflected a previous identity, or you preferred non-binary pronouns? I’d get it totally wrong.

      1. Koko*

        I rarely use a salutation in email even in business contexts. If I need a bit more formality (assuming I’m just writing to ordinary businesspeople and not diplomats or heads of state) I just open with, “Name,” hard return a couple times, and then the body follows, then a couple hard returns before, “Thanks,” hard return, “Koko.” (For informal emails it’s, “Name – message begins on same line. Probably not going to sign my name at the end.”)

      2. alexcansmile*

        If I had a degree title to go with my name, I’d be extra irritated if people left it off. As it is, I’m easily found with a quick google search and my company name – my LinkedIn pops up right away, with a nice photo that clearly demonstrates a female presentation. It irritates me especially when people write in asking for donations (I run our charitable giving program). Simply calling me “Alex” or “Dear Alex Lastname” isn’t informal to me, it’s the path of least insult.

    3. Addiez*

      Also we’re all adults! There’s no need to build a hierarchy even more by deferring to people and using their last name.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Yeah, I don’t see any reason for a generic courtesy title in the first place. It only becomes necessary when I become, say, Senator Astra. Until then, Ad is fine when addressing me directly, and Astra is fine on second reference when referring to me in writing.

      1. Anna*

        I prefer my first name, too. I was running a blood drive for the Red Cross and all the materials they sent said “See Mrs Lastname for more information” and I cringed. My boss had a good laugh about it, but we were both a bit appalled that it was there go-to.

    5. Nom d' Pixel*

      I work with a lot of Ph.D.s, so that makes things easy. However, if the person doesn’t have a Ph.D. and a name isn’t obviously gender specific, I address emails as Dear Firstname Lastname.

      The company I work for is informal for people who work here, but formal with people who don’t until the ice has been broken. I am totally comfortable with that because it is pretty much how I was raised. My email signature says Nom d’Pixel, Ph.D. Sometimes I email someone outside of the company that I don’t know and they come back with Dear Nom or worse, Mrs. Pixel. It irritates me because it just seems so disrespectful. I would say that at least half of the people who I email to set up interviews do that, and I really have to wonder what they are thinking.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It could be that, but if they’re truly framing it as “base pay” at 44 hours, and they’re getting a cut to that base pay if they work fewer hours, then they’re docking pay based on hours worked, and that would be illegal for exempt employees. If they worded it the way you did here, I do think that would be legal — but their “base pay” terminology here is muddying it (as opposed to if the base pay was the lower amount and they paid bonuses on top of that).

      1. GreatLakesGal*

        IANAL, but I wonder:

        Would defining this as an across-the-board salary cut in base pay ( crappy, but legal, I think) and then offering an ” incentive/bonus” for additional work be what the employer is doing?

        I mean, it’s crappy and demoralizing, but OP is in a profession usually exempt or hourly exempt.

        It sounds legal to me. But I wouldn’t be a happy camper about it, for sure.

      2. OP 4*

        OP 4 here-

        Thanks for the answer Allison! The way this works is our base pay is divided by the number of work hours in the year, and we’re paid that hourly rate per hour we work. Here, they’re increasing the number of work hours per year we work, which brings down the hourly rate. If we don’t reach our weekly hours, we have to charge the remainder of our time to a time off without pay charge line, or use time off. I’m being reported to the IRS as exempt by my company here also.

        I hope that helps clear it up!

        1. LBK*

          Well that’s definitely illegal – they can’t make you take unpaid time off unless it’s in full week increments. They can make you use your PTO, though, so they might technically be able to do this until you exhaust it.

          1. CAA*

            If it’s the exempt employee’s choice to work less the employer’s definition of full-time, then the employer is permitted to use unpaid leave in full day increments. (The full week rule applies when the employer is telling the employee there’s not enough work so don’t come in.)

            OP — if you worked 40 hours and didn’t have any paid leave accrued, would your employer try to make you use unpaid leave for those 4 hours? Unless they’ve somehow defined their work week to be 4 10-hour days and a 4-hour day and you actually didn’t show up on the 4-hour day, I believe it would be illegal to deduct for those 4 hours that were not worked.

            1. LBK*

              True – I was assuming that if you didn’t meet the 44-hour minimum it would be as a result of working too few hours each day, not missing an entire day, and therefore you’d be safe because they can only dock in full day increments. If you are somehow not working an entire day, then they would be able to dock your pay for that day.

        2. Koko*

          Yeah, IANAL but it sounds like they’ve just decided to define the workweek as 44 hours. Which, no. People literally DIED for our right to a 40-hour workweek. Your company doesn’t just get to decide a workweek is now 44 hours because they say so.

          If they want more than 40 hours out of you, they need to pay you overtime for those hours, or they need to make you exempt and give you a consistent salary every week regardless of exact hours worked. If they don’t want to do either of those things, they are only legally entitled to 40 hours from you.

          1. LBK*

            Well, they can set the workweek as 44 hours if they want to, you just have to be exempt or get overtime pay for those last 4. There’s nothing that says they can’t tell you the minimum expectation is 44 or 60 or 90 hours per week, they just have to pay you appropriate within the confines of the law.

          2. CAA*

            Actually, under the law, they do get to decide how long a workweek is for their exempt employees. Exempt employees don’t have any protections that limit them to 40 hours per week, and it’s perfectly legal for an employer to set another schedule. (It’s also legal for the employees to decide to unionize and bargain for a schedule they prefer.)

  4. J*

    How does exempt status work when you’re not full time, or when you’re full time only during certain weeks? My last job only paid us when they had the hours to pay us. Usually I was close to full time but there were weeks that were a little short and some weeks where we went over a little (and we were paid for those extra hours, just not time and a half). Always had the sneaking suspicion that it was possibly illegal

    1. J*

      Actually to clarify my second sentence, they always paid us for hours worked, they just didn’t always have enough hours for everyone.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That doesn’t sound like you were exempt. To be treated as exempt, you must be paid on a salary basis, meaning a number that does not change from week to week. You can be exempt and part-time, but your salary must remain consistent. It sounds like you were non-exempt and thus they should have been paying you time and a half in weeks when you worked more than 40 hours.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, if they weren’t paying you overtime when you worked more than 40 hours, they were treating you as exempt. But it sounds like you should have been treated as non-exempt if your pay varied from week to week.

  5. Kara*


    I was actually able to do this myself a few years ago for one of my capstone projects. The assignment was to produce a formal business plan for a company of our choosing/invention, and I requested permission to use the company I had recently started working at, with the understanding that I wasn’t being paid for the work. The instructor thought it was a great idea, my boss loved my final product, and I was able to make what could have been a dry school assignment something more personal that really allowed me to grasp the full meaning of writing a business plan. Go for it!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I did the same thing for a school project this last college go-round. We had to do a full-on technical edit of a document, produce style sheets, etc. I got a procedural for another department (omg that thing was a mess) and made it look pretty. I hope they’re still using my edited version, because DAMN.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        This is actually pretty common for people who are working FT and taking classes. If you can use a work-related issue for a project, it helps you two ways:
        1. Since you should have a deep understanding of the issues, you will be able to really excel in your coursework on a level different from when you are trying to apply new concepts to unfamiliar scenarios.
        2. It can be a career/resume builder if you create something that ends up being something useful for your employer.

  6. Just Visiting*

    Slight aside: is it correct or incorrect to refer to a married woman who doesn’t take her spouse’s name as Mrs.? I am married, but there is no corresponding spouse of either gender with my last name, which makes Mrs. seem wrong somehow (in addition to being a little outdated). I use Ms. for every woman regardless of her marital status, which is the easiest solution of all!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, traditionally, married women used Mrs. with their husband’s first name, not their own — so it was Mrs. Bob Smith, not Mrs. Lucinda Smith. However, over time, that usage changed and it became acceptable to use Mrs. Lucinda Smith.

      But you wouldn’t refer to a married woman who kept her own last name as Mrs. because it doesn’t just mean “married,” but also “the wife of (last name).” So again, Ms.

      But perhaps more broadly, I’d argue that in this day and age it’s never really correct to choose to refer to someone as Mrs. unless they indicate they prefer it. Default to Ms. until/unless the person tells you otherwise.

      1. Artemesia*

        And in our culture Mrs. Lucinda Smith is how divorced women are styled; Emily Post would have it that the divorced woman is Mrs. (her maiden name) Smith but no one uses that — the Mrs. Firstname Smith is the common choice for women who still use Mrs. e.g. often those with kids.

        1. IvyGirl*

          Actually, what I’ve been seeing (and have done myself) is people referring to themselves as FirstName, MaidenName, MarriedName after marriage.

          For instance, I’m IvyGirl Cantaloop Jones, and I changed my Social Security card to say so – my last name is officially Cantaloop Jones. No hyphen. Helps with confusion at the workplace after my marriage and frankly, I was known with my maiden name for almost forty years, and I like it. Why get rid of it entirely?

        2. A Minion*

          What about in the situation where a woman took her husband’s name, but changed it back to her maiden name after the divorce?
          I realize “Ms.” is the default, but I was just curious what would have been the norm in that situation when we were still using “Miss” and “Mrs.”

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            I think in the days before “Ms.”, that kind of name change would be unlikely to be done. If it were, it might be because the woman was trying to cover up that the marriage ever happened (like an elopement that was then quickly annulled?), so she might go back to Miss.

        3. cbackson*

          As an etiquette aficionada, I can confirm that Emily Post no longer promotes the Mrs. MaidenName DivorcedLastname construction, and actually hasn’t for several decades.

      2. la Contessa*

        I strongly prefer Mrs. to Ms., but I almost never get a smooth opening to tell people. Opposing counsel and I usually call each other by our first names (or sometimes, “Counsel” or “Attorney LastName”), but people do Mr./Ms. in court and on actual letters, as opposed to emails. The last thing I want to do is correct a judge, and of course they don’t ask what you want to be called first.

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          Speaking of lawyers, I just started watching The Good Wife this summer, and I find it SO distracting that everyone at work, at court etc. keeps addressing her as MRS. Florrick. I mean, I get that the whole point of the show is that she chose to stay married despite her husband’s infidelity, but geez. It’s still the 21st century up in here.

      3. Anonymous Because My Marital Status Should Be Irrelevant*

        The only place I encounter Mrs. routinely is on cruise ships. The (generally foreign born) staff seem to default to Mrs. even when I am traveling alone with no sign of a spouse.

        Frankly, it starts to irritate me not on the marital status question (which is none of their business anyway) but because it seems to be a sign of perceived age – at my age, I must be married!

        – Or alternatively, well past the age of ever getting married, but afforded the courtesy of the higher ranking title in a weird combination of respect and pity, as if I were a Regency-era housekeeper.

        I don’t normally run around correcting total strangers who mean well, but I may rethink that position –

        1. Me*

          I think with the foreign-born it’s more like ‘madam’ and a sign of respect, regardless of marital status. I give ESL people leeway in that sort of thing. So few Americans can speak proper English, why should I expect it of someone born elsewhere?

        2. Jen RO*

          Trust me, they don’t mean anything like that. It’s most likely the fact that “Ms” is not taught in English classes, and they default to the most polite form they know. Hell, I am aware that Ms. exists, but I am sure it would require conscious effort on my part to use it.

          (On the other hand, one of the things I love about English is that the lack of “formal you” makes life so much easier!)

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            I rather like the idea of being addressed as Mistress Chocolate Teapot.

            Restoration Comedy flashbacks aside, my last cruise I was called Ma’am Chocolate Teapot by my cabin steward, and I was travellling alone then.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              Are you interested in reviving “Goody” (short for “Goodwife” – but I think that “wife” in this case is the older meaning of “woman”) and “Goodman”? I think they have some real potential. ;)

      4. Ad Astra*

        Oooh, I hate being called Mrs. Husbandsname Lastname. Even when they announced us at our wedding reception, it was Hisname and Myname Lastname.

        1. WT*

          OMG I hate this with the heat of a thousand suns. I finally got in in-laws to stop sending letters addressed only to me as Mrs. Husbands Name Husbands last name. They still insist upon it for items addressed to both of us. I did change my name by choice, but blast it I have a friggen first name and I feel that it should go against etiquette to continue to do something that the receiver finds rude.

          1. simonthegrey*

            I address christmas cards to the families of high school friends as Mr. and Mrs. Herfirstname Theirlastname most often, just to be contrary and because they always get stuff under Hisfirstname Hislastname. A few of the husbands don’t like it as much but the wives do. If I know it’s a preference (like my married friends who kept their maiden names) I will use those, or “The Smith and Jones” family, but again, since my friends are almost all the wives in these equations, I put my friend’s name first.

            I kept my maiden name but added my husband’s last name after it, but the fact that both names won’t fit on my name badge at work makes me very sad.

            1. Chinook*

              “I address christmas cards to the families of high school friends as Mr. and Mrs. Herfirstname Theirlastname most often, just to be contrary and because they always get stuff under Hisfirstname Hislastname.”

              This actually makes logical sense because you are essentially addressing it to your (female) friend and her husband. If your main/first relationship is with the husband, then Mr. and Mrs. Hisfirstname Theirlastname, then it would make sense.

          2. Just Visiting*

            My spouse’s grandma did that (Mrs. TheirFirstName TheirLastName) all the time, but in her case it was probably passive-aggressive. My MIL occasionally addresses cards to Mrs. MyFirstName TheirLastName but it doesn’t bother me that much when she does it. I know my own name.

            1. Chinook*

              Just Visiting – are you married to my brother? Are you coming up for Thanksgiving and ditching the kids with your in-laws?

        2. AVP*

          My bf was recently at a wedding where the couple stopped and corrected both the dj announcing them and one of the fathers during the toast. “Actually, it’s not Mr and Mrs Mansfirstname Manslastname, but Dr LastName1 and Dr Lastname2!” I think people got the hint after that.

        3. Nom d' Pixel*

          My MIL has never forgiven me for not taking my husband’s name. At one point she even told me that if I wanted to signify my independence, I could go by Mrs Myfirstname Hislastname. Oh, gee, I get to keep my first name!

        4. abby*

          Oh, so do I, and I am one of those “older ladies” that has been married for over 25 years. I also hate being called “ma’am”.

          Family members, on both sides, still occasionally send stuff to Mrs. husbandfirstname husbandlastname. I remind them there is no such person … I am myfirstname husbandlastname. And I prefer Ms. because marital status of women, like men, should not matter in an honorific.

      5. HR Madness*

        My grandmother still does this when she writes checks for my birthday or Christmas. As soon as I got married I was Mrs. Bob Smith. I got married and ceased to exist apparently. Drives me nuts, but it’s a fight I will never win (I have tried).

          1. simonthegrey*

            Meanwhile my grandmother never forgave my mom for marrying my dad and to the day she died her cards were addressed to Momfirstname Maidenname and Dadfirstname Hislastname.

      6. Aunt Vixen*

        Even that may be changing. I was at a wedding a couple of weeks ago where the couple were introduced at the reception as Mr. and Mrs. HerUnchangedName and HisUnchangedName. Felt weird to me, but she later told me that while she has no intention of changing her name or honorific (= Ms.)professionally, she feels like she might change just her honorific socially, because her name is still Firstname OriginalLastname, but now she’s married, and that’s all “Mrs.” means to her. This is an extremely highly educated person who knows full well that historically it meant “the wife of [his name],” but who sincerely feels like anymore it means “married-lady [whatever last name she’s using].”

      7. Drama Llama's Mama*

        But you wouldn’t refer to a married woman who kept her own last name as Mrs. because it doesn’t just mean “married,” but also “the wife of (last name).” So again, Ms.

        This is my understanding of custom as well, and I’ve always used Ms., since I was a teenager. I didn’t change my name when I got married (I like the name I was born with!), so Mrs. seemed wrong. The only people that commented were people I wasn’t particularly close to, so really had no business in the matter.

        Now that I have kids, I get called Mrs. Llama (I would be correctly addressed as Ms. Sheep) all the time, but I don’t bother correcting say, the receptionist at the pediatrician’s office. And my grandmother still addresses all my mail to Mrs. Henry Llama, which bugs me a little, but she’s 90 and not changing any time soon.

      8. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

        Huh, interesting! My husband took my name and I have a strong preference for Mrs. because, well… my name didn’t change, it’s a nice indicator that I got married. Not sure if I should technically be using it, though! :o)

      9. Chinook*

        “Well, traditionally, married women used Mrs. with their husband’s first name, not their own — so it was Mrs. Bob Smith, not Mrs. Lucinda Smith. However, over time, that usage changed and it became acceptable to use Mrs. Lucinda Smith.”

        That hasn’t changed fast enough in some cultures, though. My sister and I had to prepare my new SIL for one of our grandmother’s calling Mrs. Brother Chinook and she didn’t believe us. We told her nothing would break grandma of this habit, not even my mother returning cards from her MIL that were addressed to Mrs. Dad Chinook (because no one like that lived there). My grandmother got around that by just hand delivering the cards with no name on the outside. (Is there any wonder I grew up polite but stubborn?)

      10. Not So NewReader*

        Growing up, I can remember Dear Abby/Ann Landers telling people that married women were Mrs Bob Smith and widows were Mrs. Lucinda Smith. Even back then, I had to chuckle, because how many people were going to remember that fine point?

    2. Not Today Satan*

      It’s not traditional, but it’s up to you if you’d like to be addressed that way.

      1. NJ anon*

        It’s all so silly. Why do we need to address people as Mr. or Ms? Just call me by my name! Before people started using Ms., I would sometimes get people who don’t know me ask “Miss or Mrs.? I would responf, ” Jane.”

        1. Graciosa*

          That doesn’t really help in more formal situations, or where people simply prefer not to have relative strangers addressing them in the same way as close friends.

          This is routinely appropriate in business – if you work in an office where first names are used, which is the overwhelming majority, then you need to follow the office culture – but that doesn’t necessarily translate socially.

          It’s much more meaningful to say “Mr. Darcy, I would be pleased to have you address me as Jane,” if it took him some effort to develop the relationship to the point of such intimacy. :-)

          1. Graciosa*

            And yes, before anyone wonders, I did not choose Elizabeth as there does not need to be a romantic connotation in the privilege of using a first name – but I rather thank that Jane would not have chosen to be on first name terms until Mr. Darcy’s true character had been revealed (after much effort on his part).

          2. Koko*

            Maybe it’s my age or socio-economic standing, but I’ve never felt like it was a boundary violation to be called by my first name by a relative stranger. I don’t suppose I encounter very many formal situations, though, like I’m imagining cotillion or the New York Ballet Company Charitable Auction or some other sort of Upper East Side/Old Money world that I’m not a part of where maybe you would get all fancy and use titles. But my coworkers, my classmates, my doctors, maintenance workers, cleaning staff, anyone I interact with in a business/transactional context, it’s always been on a first-name basis. (With the exception of calling my doctors “Dr.” in respect for the inordinate amount of time they spent earning that title.)

            1. Just Visiting*

              Yeah, I vastly prefer being called by my first name in all scenarios (working-class background). My last name is slightly daunting, and also, it introduces a level of formality that I’d rather go away.

              As for honorifics, I kinda wish Mx. would catch on. Works for everyone regardless of gender, looks cool, no “rules” about age or marriage.

        2. Red*

          Personally, I dislike it when strangers and business contacts (strictly business contacts!) use my first name. It feels very familiar. Using one’s first name is a sign of intimacy in the culture I was raised in. We all were taught to use those polite address prefixes with strangers, acquaintances, superiors, in formal contexts, etc. Give me the Ms. or just use my last name! It’s much more comfortable to me.

          1. Ad Astra*

            I have always been jealous of people with easily shortened names that allow some difference between familiar and unfamiliar. If your name is Aurelia and you go by Lia, you’ll know immediately when a telemarketer is calling because they ask for Aurelia. When your name is Paul, you’re pretty much going to be called Paul by friends and strangers alike. (I couldn’t think of a feminine example without using my own name, but I know they’re out there!)

            The worst thing, imo, is when you’re required to wear a name tag (like at retail and service industry jobs) and customers say “Oh hi, Paul, I’ll have a large popcorn and a medium Sprite, thanks.” If I didn’t introduce myself, don’t call me by my name. That name is there in case you need to report me to the manager, not so you can address me with undue familiarity.

            1. Emily K*

              My name is a feminine one that isn’t typically shortened. Emmy is technically the short form, but it’s more regarded as the child’s version of the name than a short-form that adults use. And I guess “Em” is available but I can probably count on one hand the number of times someone has chosen to call me that in my entire life. It’s just too short or something, like you’ve barely said anything and I might miss it.

              1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                I get called Em quite often, and one online acquaintance has called me “Ems.” In fact, I know when I’ve become part of the team at work when people start calling me Em. And yes, my nieces and nephews (some of them, at least) do call me Auntie Em at times.

                I also have a childhood nickname (Wahlee) that can be shortened (to Wahl), and that’s what I get called in my family when they don’t want to say my whole name.

            2. Koko*

              See, when I worked in service I kind of appreciated when people used my name. It made me feel like they were recognizing that I was a real individual person and not just a faceless cog in the machine that brings food to them.

            3. Three Thousand*

              Yeah, calling service workers by their name without being introduced is creepy and patronizing. They’re not wearing that name tag because they want to be friends with you.

              1. Charlotte Collins*

                I was only ever OK with it when it was little kids, who were often proud of their new reading ability, and they were reading *everything* anyway. Also, my name is not common for my generation but became very popular 15-20 years later, and some kids thought it was neat to meet an adult with their name.

              2. Expendable Redshirt*

                How strange. When I worked in fast food /retail, I enjoyed being addressed by name. People saw me as an actual person and not just a means to an end. When I use the names of service people, I’m trying to be friendly and affirm their worth as humans.

            4. Ada Lovelace*

              Oh I hated that in retail. My name is a very weird name, last name has the Spanish double ll (pronounced as a y). There is no way you are going to pronounce my name correctly. Listening to you butcher my name and giving me a nickname as I ring you up doesn’t make us friends. Please call me Ms/Miss.

            5. xarcady*

              I recognize telemarketers because they default to “Mrs. Lastname.” As I’ve never been married, I just tell them “There’s no one here by that name*. Put this number on your Do Not Call List,” and hang up.

              *This has the benefit of being absolutely true, so I don’t have to lie to them.

            6. Chinook*

              “I have always been jealous of people with easily shortened names that allow some difference between familiar and unfamiliar.”

              Ditto. I hadn’t realized why I never had a nickname until I got one in Japan that used the first two syllables of my first name and would laugh when my friends would use. Because, really, who can take themselves seriously when they are called “Silly-chan”?

        3. EmmaBlake*

          I called my husband’s mother “Mrs. HusbandsLastName” until we got engaged and she told me to call her mom. I always called my friends parents “Mr. or Mrs. FriendsLastName” until they told me otherwise as well. I would have never dreamed of going up to them with a “Hey, Lucinda!” My mother would have washed my mouth out with soap.

          1. A Minion*

            That’s another sort of tradition that I strongly dislike; calling your in-laws “Mom” and “Dad” or some form of those. It would feel very uncomfortable for me to call my MIL “Mom” and I would never do it, even if she asked me to. It makes me unreasonably angry to even think of it. Apparently, I need to deal with some issues.

            1. EmmaBlake*

              I think it’s really just personal circumstance. It was really easy for me to call them mom and dad because they’d always treated me like a daughter, not just their son’s girlfriend. My husband does not call my parents mom and dad, but we only see them once a year so the circumstances are different.

            2. Nom d' Pixel*

              That is something that I have seen in a lot of old movies, but have never encountered in really life. Everyone I know just calls their inlaws by their first names. It would feel weird and kind of incestuous to call my MIL “mom”.

              1. Z*

                I’m 32. All of my maternal grandparents’ children-in-law referred to them as Mom and Dad. My sister-in-law calls my parents Mom and Dad. I think most of my cousins refer to their in-laws by their first names, except for Uncle K and Aunt D’s sons-in-law — one calls them Mom and Dad, the other calls them Mr. and Mrs. (b/c they don’t like the familiarity of just first names and he refuses to call anyone other than his parents Mom and Dad).

                1. Chocolate Teapot*

                  I was reading “Fallen Angels” by Tracey Chevalier (of Girl with a Pearl Earring fame) and one of the characters calls her mother in law “Mother Lastname”.

            3. PhyllisB*

              This is one of those issues that needs to be addressed. When I married, I asked my MIL how she wanted to be addressed (First Name, Mom. or something else) since we would both be Mrs. Last Name. She told me whatever I wanted was fine. What we settled on was I called her Mom. but if I referenced her to other people. to call her First Name.

            4. sstabeler*

              it’s mostly a holdover from when the wife was marrying into the husband’s family- you called them mom and dad as a sign you were part of their family.

          2. Tara*

            These things change over time, though. My friends’ parents would have looked at me like an alien if I’d started out by calling them Ms/Mr Whatever– not to mention with the divorce rate what it is, it’s realllyyy hard to anticipate what the ‘Whatever’ will be. (I once put my best friend’s mom down as an emergency contact, only to find out that they do not in fact share a last name.)

          3. Al Lo*

            My husband and I have called each other’s parents Mom and Dad since our wedding day. It was a very deliberate decision — we each called them by their first names before the wedding, and then switched at the wedding. My sister, on the other hand, has never addressed it with her mother-in-law, so she follows the same strategy my dad did for years — never address her in person by name, and when referring to her, call her “Hubby’s mom” or “Kid’s grandma”.

            My parents and in-laws get along really well, and we actually even refer to our respective in-laws as Mom and Dad in front of our actual parents.

    3. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

      I kept my own name and I use ‘Ms.’ That is the correct use, according to etiquette rules. When I was first married, I expected to have to constantly explain all of the time why I didn’t take my husband’s last name, or why I am a Ms. instead of a Mrs. (The only place that has happened so far has been at church, which is, incidentally, also the only place I have been repeatedly asked about having children or received comments about my weight.) But other than that, it appears keeping one’s name and using ‘Ms.’ is not generally a big deal here in the Northeast.

      1. Blue_eyes*

        I’m also in the Northeast, and also did not change my name when I got married. I’ve had a few instances of people being weird about it. One coworker used facebook to find out my husband’s last name and then got me a Christmas gift with Blue_eyes HisLast on it. Instead of you know, asking me whether I was changing my name. And I had this conversation with my boss at that same job on at least TWO separate occasions:
        Him: Are you changing your name?
        Me: Nope.
        Him: But what would it be if you changed it?
        Me: o_O

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          “I would probably go with ‘Galadriel Dragonrider the Magnificent, Guardian of the Western Realm’. I’ve always thought that had a nice ring to it.”

        2. Aunt Vixen*

          I dithered for a long time about whether to change my name when I got married. A few weeks before my wedding, a nice older lady who volunteers in the choir where I have a side gig as a section leader asked me “What will your last name be?” and I said, perfectly truthfully, “I haven’t decided yet.” She realized before I did that I had answered a different question than she’d asked; I heard are you changing your name when she had meant what is your fiance’s name. I had to see her register the difference before I figured out the difference myself.

      2. EmmaBlake*

        This is interesting to me. My husband’s boss didn’t take her husband’s name. When I was addressing our wedding invitations, Martha Stewart books told me to address it “Mr. Joe Smith and Mrs. Lucinda MaidenName” so I did.

        Then again, Martha Stewart also told me to address his grandma’s as “Mrs. Husband’s Name” since she was a widow. It seemed highly inappropriate and I did not.

        1. simonthegrey*

          For the rest of one of my grandmother’s life, she wanted to be Mrs. Grandfather’sFirstname Hislastname even though he died 20 years before she did. My other grandmother wanted to be Mrs. Herfirstname Hislastname after my other grandfather died. One of my grandmothers was older than the other so I assume it is generational.

      3. blackcat*

        Yeah, I got a bunch of Mrs Blackcat HusbandsLast in the south and cranky faces when I corrected people. Now that I’m in the northeast, in the area that seems most dense with people in academia (Boston), the default seems to be not assuming the same last name for married couples. I appreciate it.

        (I have also been asked “What title do you prefer, Ms. or Dr.?” with Mrs/Miss not an option. I appreciate the thought, but unless you transported me to the future, I don’t have the doctorate yet! I do get emails to “Dr. MyLast” when I’m teaching, but those students are always making the safer assumption–better to call a grad student Dr. than to call a professor Ms. or god forbid Mrs.)

        Oddly, the only people close to me* who have been weird about it are a few of my unmarried male friends. They’ve generally been the ones to ask “Why didn’t you change your name?” and seem a bit taken about when I say “Well, Husband wasn’t about to change his, so why should I change mine?” Strangers/people I encounter in business/academic settings never react to my husband and I having different last names now that I’m in the northeast.

        *Well, them and my grandma. But I was the first grandchild married, and she asked permission to call me Mrs. Husband’s last, just for a day. To which I said yes because a) she kept saying she was so happy a grandchild was getting married before she died and b) she’s very old.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          The default assumption when I got married seemed to be that I wouldn’t change my name; a lot of people were very surprised that I did. I replied that I considered it a simple trade-up from my 4 letter, 1 syllable birth name! My 5 letter, 2 syllable married surname just sounds better with my short first name.

      4. Just Visiting*

        I received close to zero static about not changing my name and I was living in a not-very-progressive, non-NE (but not Southern) city when I got married. It was just “oh, you’re still FirstName LastName? That’s cool.” Here on the West Coast, it feels like it’s MORE common for young women to not change their names than to change… but also, most of my friends have live-ins, I’m one of the few people in my circle who is actually married. Hey, can’t beat those benefits!

    4. Nashira*

      I would just use Ms. but I also hate the ownership and identity obliteration connotations of Mrs. My husband and I don’t have a traditional marriage tho, in many ways, so you do you really.

    5. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

      If they want to be called Mrs, then yes, though as Alison explains it’s not really the “traditional” usage. (And I agree to definitely use Ms unless informed otherwise)

  7. Artemesia*

    I have worked with graduate students who are employed and the ideal project is one they can use on the job when it fits both places. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using workplace projects as school projects and the benefit of being able to complete school projects on company time. For example, I have had students develop evaluation plans for work projects, training programs etc when it was appropriate to their work tasks and the class assignment. Students tend to learn more deeply when they are doing something real.

    What is inappropriate is taking workplace programs, projects, tasks that you didn’t actually create and submitting them as your own work. Obviously. I have had a student get bounced from a graduate program for doing this.

    There is no conflict of interest in the students creating a class appropriate project that they can use in their work or home life and the learning is likely to be superior.

    1. J*

      Good point here also — if OP can justify working on her class project while she’s at work (being transparent with everyone as to what’s going on, of course — and it sounds like the boss wouldn’t have a problem with it), so much the better!

      And even if not, still don’t think about it as doing work stuff outside of work hours — think about it as making your class time more relevant and interesting. It is SO much easier to be engaged in your education when you can make connections to other aspects of your life.

    2. Dan*

      In terms of general advice, a student would want to clear a class project with his/her employer. Many companies have strict requirements about who is allowed to view company proprietary data. While a student may be able to use company data (and perhaps some IT/software licenses) it’s not a given that the student could work on the project on company time. In my line of work, time I charge to the company is reimbursed by the federal government, or coming out of company overhead. Overhead ain’t gonna happen, and the government allows me to charge time to a project only if it is directly related to the government’s need. It doesn’t matter if it otherwise benefits the company as a whole.

      1. Overeducated and underemployed*

        Sometimes universities have strict rules about turf, too. For example, when we redesigned my department website we were not allowed to include a slide show of research sites by IT, even though we were perfectly capable of setting one up, and I have also seen systems custom designed by people connected to the school dropped in favor of spending years arguing over which expensive outside vendor to use instead.

      2. JessaB*

        Yes, definitely ask if you need to use any company info. But if it’s a “design this system thing,” you can always design it with fake data, and then migrate it to the company when you’re done.

  8. Dan*


    AAM, according to DOL’s website, salary is a “predetermined amount of pay that constitutes all or part of the employee’s compensation for the pay period. This predetermined amount is a fixed amount and may not be reduced based on the quality or quantity of the work performed.” This isn’t the conventional definition of salary that most people have come to accept — some fixed dollar amount that does not very from pay period to pay period.

    So I can salary you at $50k/yr and still pay you $50/hr (which would equate to roughly $100k/year on a 40 hour work week). If you CHOOSE to work less than twenty hours a week (and I have the work available) I can still dock your pay. This falls under a “permissible reduction in pay.” We already know that even if you’re salaried, you can still have your pay reduced through “leave without pay” schemes that are perfectly legal.

    I came across some legal guidance from a law firm in NY State specializing in FLSA claims. They so much as said that if you pass the wage test ($455/wk) and the duties test (occupation) that as a practical matter, one pretty much won’t win an FLSA claim based on the salary argument.

    As an aside, I had a previous employer who paid us by the hour and docked us PTO for working less than 40 hours in a week. The plus side is that when we worked over 40 hours a week, we were paid straight for it. There were many periods where I worked 60 hours and got paid for every minute of it. Even what that employer was doing was technically illegal, I would not have been the one to drop a time — I liked my fat paychecks. With a base pay of $70k, I made serious cash with extra hours. Considering that we worked as contractors for the federal government and were audited by the DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency) I’m fairly certain the government new exactly what was going on.

    TL;DR: While perhaps slimy my bet is that OP #4’s employer is doing something completely legal.

    1. Ask a Manager*

      In this case, though, they’re saying they’ll deduct from the base pay, which is the problem (I would think; again, I think the OP would need to talk to an employment lawyer to say for sure).

      1. Dan*

        It’s not clear that framing matters to the DOL, based on how they define salary.

        There’s certainly a minimum $ that the OP is guaranteed to earn each pay period – the lower amount for working 40 hours. That’s quite unambiguous to me, no matter how the company or the op characterize it. As long as the lower amount is greater than $455/wk, I don’t think the OP has a case.

        Legal consultations are generally free, so getting one won’t hurt. I just think it would be misleading to suggest the OP has a case.

      2. doreen*

        It’s not clear to me from the letter whether it’s the employer or the OP framing it as s deduction from base pay. It’s described as both “We can choose to work only 40 hours one week and take the hit to our pay that week” ( a deduction from base pay for weeks where fewer than 44 hours are worked) and also “we can work 40 hours and take a pay cut to this base salary” ( a permanent cut in base pay with extra pay for working more than 40 hours).

        Either way, I agree with Dan – the DOL is not likely to be interested in framing, or in the difference in pay for working 40 or 44 hours. They’re going to be far more interested in what happens if the OP works 30 or 35 hours one week – if the OP still gets the lowered base pay , s/he is clearly guaranteed that minimum amount.

        1. OP 4*

          Great question!

          If we work less than our baseline schedule, all that time needs to be charged to our time off banks or to time off without pay. My pay would go down to match my hourly rate times the number of hours I worked or charged to time off.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            And that would make you non-exempt. Again, this is complicated enough that a lawyer should be the one that tells you for sure, but that kind of lowering and raising depending on hours worked is pretty much a fundamental of non-exempt status.

            1. J.B.*

              Also, a crazy use of everyone’s time! How long are the managers spending keeping up with this.

              1. LBK*

                Probably not much, because they’re probably using a timekeeping system designed for non-exempt employees.

    2. LBK*

      You can’t dock pay in hourly increments for exempt employees, though. If any work is performed that day it has to be at the full daily rate. The employer could require you to use PTO to cover the gap in hours, but once you exhaust that they can’t force you to take that time as unpaid (they can’t require you to take unpaid leave in daily increments, only weekly).

  9. UKAnon*

    I would like to disagree with Alison a little. I always defaulted to Ms., until I was door to door canvassing and had a door slammed in my face following an irate “Ms ? Ms.?! My children have a father thank you!” Sooo… I have no idea where that leaves us. But apparently Ms. is offensive too.

    1. Kas*

      I’m sorry you had that experience! It just goes to show, if you stick around long enough, you’ll inevitably meet that one person who takes offence at something that most people regard as innocuous.

    2. misspiggy*

      Ms is a bit less usual in the UK, unfortunately. Although in theory it should be used in the way Alison explained, it’s associated with Nasty Man Hating Feminists in some circles, and many people have just never heard of it. That woman probably thought you were saying Miss. I always prepare for blankness or hostility when using it with strangers.

      1. Snowglobe*

        Even if they thought UKAnon said “Miss”, why slam the door in the face of someone who would have no reason to know if the person they are speaking with is married or not? I do not think this person is a good gauge of what is offensive.

      2. FiveWheels*

        Here in the UK I once had a colleague argue passionately that Ms was only for divorced women. The mind bogles.

        1. TheLazyB*

          I’ve heard that loads. I had to explain to my own sister that…. no, it doesn’t mean I’m divorced. I think it’s an extremely common misunderstanding in the UK.

    3. Daisy Steiner*

      Yes! I’ve known people to be upset by ‘Ms’ as well. I mean, it’s one thing if you know they prefer ‘Mrs’ and still go with ‘Ms’, but I’m utterly at a loss as to what they expect me to do when I don’t know – read their mind?

      1. Nashira*

        Yes. Ms. is a title of respect, and fine to use. You have no way of knowing if someone would prefer another title in a lot of situations, so grown ups will just politely say “actually I use Mrs/Dr/Reverend thank you” and be done with it. Not snarl.

    4. KT*

      It can be very much a cultural/age thing too. I know for my grandmother’s peers, being referred to as “miss” implied they were “spinsters” and had all kinds of baggage, whereas I bristle at being called Mrs despite being married (I like my own name, thank you very much)

    5. sunny-dee*

      I wouldn’t slam the door in anyone’s face, because this is I think the dictionary definition of a First World Problem, but I prefer Mrs as well. “Ms” doesn’t refer to married or single — it really refers to single or divorced or “other.”

      1. xarcady*

        I’d disagree with that. Ms. means the person is female. Married, single, divorced, living in a long-term relationship, common-law married–it doesn’t matter.

        The whole point of Ms. is that it takes a woman’s marital status out of the picture. Just as Mr. indicates a person is male, but doesn’t give you a clue as to whether or not he is married. When Ms. was invented, it was designed to be the female version of Mr.

        And yes, I’ve encountered women in the US who are offended by the use of Ms. I can see if they have told someone to use Miss or Mrs., but a casual encounter with a salesperson? Do they really expect a salesperson to ask first? “Hello, are you married, single or divorced? Okay, Mrs. Smith, I have a bargain for you . . . .”

        And how these women thought a random sales person or office receptionist or cashier was supposed to know that they were married is beyond me.

        Friends and family ought to address people by their preference, but Ms. is perfect for random, short, casual encounters in stores, offices, lines, etc. No fuss, no bother, no covert searching for wedding rings.

        A large department store chain must have at one time told their sales people to default to “Mrs.” for women customers. As a single person, it was very, very odd to be addressed as Mrs. Maiden Name. That was my mother’s name, and she was dead. The first time it happened, I had this weird feeling the sales person was seeing a ghost. She sure as heck wasn’t addressing me–Mrs. Maiden Name is so very much not my name.

        1. Valar M.*

          I am married, but did not change my last name. Mrs. (my last name) sounds strange to me. I prefer Ms.

          1. Bailey Quarters*

            Exactly. Ms. means any or no romantic social connection. Just a respectful term for a woman.

        2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          As I was growing up in the US in the late70s/early 80s, Ms. was seen as coming from the Era movement, at least in my area. Miss for girls and “typical” women, Mrs. for marrieds and divorcees, and Ms. for the libbers.

          I’m a married Ms.

      2. Sigrid*

        Except that, to a large number of people, it *does* refer to married women, because it refers to all women, regardless of current or former marriage status. You can prefer Mrs. for yourself, of course, but other people are going to view it differently.

      3. Zillah*

        While we’re talking about language, can we strike the term “first world problem” from, like, everything? It’s just so slimy and dehumanizing.

      4. The IT Manager*

        Ms. refers to all women both married and single the same way Mr. refers to all men. see:

        However to your point “single or divorced or ‘other'” isn’t a divorced person single? Doesn’t single encompass both never married, divorced, and all other non-married states?

        1. Myrin*

          A divorced person doesn’t have to be single, though, they can still have a significant other (they aren’t married to). Unless you’re speaking in a legal sense, then I guess “single” does indeed mean everyone who isn’t married. Or, wait, now that I’m thinking about it some more, legal/official documents usually have a box for single and one for divorced here, so I guess it’s not the same after all? Confusing!

      5. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nope, Ms. is the female equivalent of Mr. — it refers to women, period. It indicates nothing about marital status, and that’s the point of it. The idea is that there’s no reason that women should need to be referred to be an honorific that’s specific to marital status when the same is not true for men. The point of its being brought back into use was to allow women the same ability that men have always had — to refer to themselves without making their marital status a defining characteristic.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          It was that, or we all had to enlist in the armed forces, get elected to a legislative body, get doctorates, or become MDs… Unless we were lucky enough to inherit a noble or royal title…

    6. TheLazyB*

      I’m married to my son’s father and I use Ms.

      “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. John Lydgate

    7. Traveler*

      Yes I’ve met women who were offended, too. I was also taught that Ms. was used for divorced women or unmarried women of a “certain age” in high school. I was confused when I got into the work force and was regularly asked to use Ms. as though it wouldn’t offend anyone. There are still some people all over the board on the term. Hopefully someday its established as a true neutral (or we have another term that can be).

      1. xarcady*

        Oh, dear. Where was this?

        The whole point of Ms. from the beginning was to have a neutral term for women. I’m puzzled as to how Ms. got translated into meaning a divorced woman. It’s just completely illogical.

        1. SilverRadicand*

          Yeah. Though really, I’m wondering how long we will continue to use the gendered terms “Mr.” and “Ms.” at all. Seems like the next logical step would be a completely gender-neutral term.
          I propose “Mx.”

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            I’m on board with gender-neutral terminology, but how do you pronounce “Mx”?

        2. Traveler*

          It was in this century. The person that was teaching it fell into one of those categories and was proud of its use. So it wasn’t a derogatory thing – but sometimes even teachers get it wrong, or rather, generalize their feelings into facts they are teaching.

        3. TheLazyB (UK)*

          Miss=unmarried woman
          Mrs=married woman
          Ms- what can it mean….. oh it must mean divorced woman!! It’s the only category left!!

          I am joking but I think that really is some people’s reasoning :(

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But you don’t want your choices to be defined by one outlier reaction. It would be like people who encounter an interviewer who feels strongly about Crazy Thing X, and then decide to treat all interviewers as if they might feel that way too. Some people are just outliers (and I think someone who slams the door on a stranger after an unwarranted tirade would definitely be an outlier).

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t change defaulting to Ms. just because one person slammed a door in my face for using it. Defaulting to Mrs. instead is more likely to offend a lot more people.

    9. Ad Astra*

      In addition to what everyone else has said, this woman’s implication that a) all children of unmarried mothers lack fathers, and b) there is something shameful about not having a father, is all kinds of gross. Her opinion on what’s proper is not one I need to hear.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Yeah. Anything you could say could potentially be offensive to *someone* (see “Not everyone can have sandwiches!!!”). I guess you have to decide: who do I care about offending?

        Sometimes that’s a hard call to make, and it’s definitely scary when you interact with others a lot or speak very publicly. But not here. This person sounds like she probably spends a lot of time saying hurtful things to others. (I can imagine what she’d say to a single parent or same-sex couple with kids.)

  10. Colette*

    #3 – if you’re doing the project because it relates to your work and interests you, that’s great. However, if you want to use it at work, you need to get buy in from the people who own the servers it will run on. They will likely have concerns about testing and maintenance that may make it harder than you think to use it at work.

    1. dr_silverware*

      Very much agreed.

      If it’s a single-computer application, and it’s storing all your stuff on a personal hdd, as you implement I would add two VERY VITAL things:

      1. Great written documentation on:
      a. Code and testing, so that IT or another programmer can understand and maintain your work after you leave. This means both well-commented code and written documents!
      b. Usage, so your program actually helps the next person in your job and doesn’t create a larger annoyance

      2. If your program is saving data that you’ll need to use later, make sure you can export data to something like a flat text-file (or, even better, XML). Again, this is for the people who come after you, but you also don’t want to be in a position where you’re scrambling to write that utility the night before you have to transfer the data to someone else.

      Good luck!!!

  11. Merion (Germany)*

    #3 – I’d go for it. You are going to do the work anyway and there is something deeply satisfying in using something you did for class in the real world. Otherwise your project will be about the same work and be forgotten right after.

  12. Not Today Satan*

    I kept my name when I got married. Some clients, I guess seeing my wedding ring, address me as “Mrs. MyName” in correspondence. And I just think, that’s my mom’s name! I actually don’t mind Mrs. HisName in social situations (like invitations), but being called by my mom’s name is just too strange.

    1. Andrea*

      Me too. (Well, except that I never go by ‘Mrs. HisName’ in any context; I think it would just muddy the waters; anyway, after 11 years, people know, and we always use both first and last names in introductions). When I taught (college), I used it as a teaching moment, and explained to my students about ‘Ms.,’ and why it was correct and proper, and I’d use that example—this is my mom’s name—which really seemed to help.

    2. Just Visiting*

      Yeah, I sometimes get the Mrs. when people see the ring, which is why I asked the question above. It doesn’t offend me, but I’d rather see Mrs. get stamped out entirely (no offense to folks who prefer it). And first names above all, IMO.

  13. AnotherFed*

    #2 – I completely understand not wanting to admit to that story at work, but you may need to be prepared to have it come out, so practice your response to that. You mentioned that you work in a school, so it might be difficult to deflect questions, especially if you deal with high school or younger students. The students may not recognize the polite ‘don’t ask’ or think it’s rude to push, and many parents don’t recognize that teachers have a right to privacy, too.

    1. Injured*

      You’re absolutely right. Part of the problem is in my position, I have to be ‘friendly’ to department members – and not sharing personal details – with women colleagues in your department may/will appear that you are ‘rejecting’ that level of friendship (I believe). They will start to offer scenarios and be annoyed that I won’t satisfy their curiosity – requiring me to ‘shut the conversation down’ which doesn’t bode well for team interrelationships (if I wasn’t the head, I couldn’t care less).
      As for students, this also poses a concern. They are high school students, but truly good, caring kids, (one class of which is senior whom I have taught twice already and know me well, and are surely concerned).
      Here’s the thing. Fessing up leads to natural ‘chiding’ which I:
      a) do not feel like hearing, and
      b) do not feel I deserve – as in, I have had my punishment.
      Hence my dilemma.

      1. Traveler*

        It’s not a “women colleagues” thing – it’s a nosy thing. As a woman, if you used any of the above phrases that AAM suggested, I’d get the hint you didn’t want to talk about it. I’d be curious for half a second why you didn’t share (IME people like bragging about the gruesome details but obviously there are exceptions and I think you have great reasons for not wanting to) and then forget about it.

        1. Injured*

          I agree about the phrases AAM suggested, and I agree with what you said about curious for half a second, and then “who cares”.
          However, I do believe that there exists a woman “peer/colleague” shall I say “invitation to friendship” wherein one offers a personal story or insight (or even gossip, let’s say) and looks for the other to reciprocate. Responding in kind fuels the flame and shutting them down, ends it.
          I already do not feel a close kinship with the few woman (do not share the same sense of humour, morals, values goals, etc.) – though do with others in the school.
          And definitely part of the nosiness would be to scold, in a catty sort of way. Woman are like that with each other, also….. sadly.

            1. Injured*

              Comment taken.

              From urban dictionary:
              If one is being catty, they are being subtly or indirectly insulting. Different from bitchy in that bitchiness is just mean, while cattiness is often clever and witty, and isn’t ALWAYS completely mean (for example, a catty joke). Both males and females can be and are catty.

      2. Oranges*

        Is it possible to play the “I was stupid” card? Like answer the question “A zombie must have eaten my brain since I did XYZ.” This makes it harder for them to be serious and try to scold you while at the same time acknowledging the fact that it was a stupid thing to do.

        I use this too often sadly.

      3. F.*

        If I knew the questioner well enough, I would come up with the most outrageous, totally unbelievable story and tell it with a straight face. (My fire-breathing dragon bit me, I caught my fingers in the door of my Tardis, etc.) Change the story every time you have to tell it and embellish freely. When they say, “No really, what happened?”, you could then say, “What?? You don’t believe me??” with a smile and twinkle in the eye and change the subject. This of course depends on the questioner having a sense of humor.

        1. Injured*

          Wow, so creative, as well as “oranges” reply. Thank you both for that.
          I am not so good thinking on my feet but do love the “caught my fingers in the door”!

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          I do that whether I know them well or not. I make sure the story is outrageous, and tell it as if it were truth. “Bit by a bear while rescuing baby ducks.” “Oh, aliens with laser guns again, but don’t worry, I got them all.” If they continue to question, give details from the same story. If they challenge you to tell the truth, ask them why they need to know.

        3. Chinook*

          “If I knew the questioner well enough, I would come up with the most outrageous, totally unbelievable story and tell it with a straight face.”

          Honestly, I would give the same outrageously and obviously not true story to anyone who asks because, if they called me on it and wanted to know what the real story was, I would ask them if they were saying I was a liar and just leave it at that. After all, who is to say I didn’t really lose my fingers in a shark attack in land lock Alberta?

        4. HR Girl*

          This! This is what I exactly came to post. “A Zombie bit me so I had to cut them off so I didn’t get infected” “I was saving a child at the Zoo from an alligator, I’m lucky to be alive”, “The apparition spell didn’t go well and those fingers got splinched”

      4. Case of the Mondays*

        I think you should go with a somber “It was a really awful experience and I would prefer to not discuss it.” No one is going to fault you for being too traumatized to talk about it. That will also seem less like you are hiding some big crazy secret about what really happened. Just, it’s an emotional topic and not one you can discuss at work.

        I was at the Boston Marathon bombing but not physically injured and not close enough to see any gore but everyone wanted to grill me about my experience. It was traumatic and upsetting and I eventually got good at saying “I’m trying to think about it less and talking about it is not good for me right now. I’m sure you understand.”

        1. Injured*

          Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

          I had the same situation when both parents passed away within a year – in that, speaking of the details brought no solace whatsoever. I finally realized that I while satisfying the questioner’s answers, it brought nothing for me but dredging up heartache. I finally realized that “I” can control the situation by firmly saying “Yeah, I’d rather not discuss it”.

          Thank you so much for reminding me of this perspective.

      5. Elizabeth West*

        I like Oranges’ suggestion, but that’s something I would probably do myself because I like a little bit of verbal jocularity.
        And I’m sorry you got hurt. Accidents suck.

      6. Me*

        Well w/ the students, why not use it as a teaching moment? “See, even ppl who have done this work for years and years, and know all about safety, sometimes get careless, and carelessness hurts. Therefore always wear your safety goggles/unplug the sander/whatever.” There’s no shame in it.

        For colleagues, ‘ninja fight’ would work well.

    2. fposte*

      It’s a fair point that sometimes people don’t recognize deflections. However, I think the OP would be doing them a great educational kindness by teaching them that these are not appropriate things to ask, so a script to make that point might also be useful.

      1. Injured*

        Good point, I will have to start each of my classes this way and use this as a learning opportunity – as in, “I had an accident, I’d prefer not to discuss the details, and I do appreciate your care and concern. This is a good example for future situations going forward. In times of accidents, loss, grief; it is not beneficial or wanted to probe excessively for details. Better to offer your concern, and leave it for the recipient to speak further about it, if they want.”

        (I’ll add that I’m sorry I was away and that I missed them….treating students well encourages the same and builds a harmonious atmosphere)

        By the way, answers like the above take charge and require confidence which is also preferred, versus waiting for the inevitable questions…

        Thank you.

  14. SandrineSmiles (France)*

    In France, we had “Miss”, “Mrs” …

    Now it’s all a default to “Mrs” no matter what, because for some reason “Miss” was offensive. So yeah, on a birth certificate, a baby girl can be called “Mrs” .

    Call me what you like, I don’t care. Honest. :p

    1. SystemsLady*

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the French version of Ms. literally mean “my little lady”? I could see why that might have become offensive or condescending in recent years (perhaps even in referring to children in an official context).

      I suppose “Miss” has a similar connotation in English, but there’s a subtle but important difference between the use of “Miss” and “Ms.” in English.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I think “miss” might still be a little rude to say to someone that’s not a child, but “mizz” (Ms.) isn’t.

      2. De (Germany)*

        The German version, that is now not being used anymore is literally the diminutive of Frau (Ms).

    2. Rachel*

      I’ve just moved to France and have been finding this so strange, i’m 20 and I keep having to put on forms that i’m Mrs mylastname which just feels odd!

      1. Aunt Jamesina*

        But it doesn’t really mean “Mrs.”, it’s literally “my lady”. Think of it that way :)

    3. LBK*

      So everyone is madame now? Is this a fairly recent change or was I just taught incorrectly in high school?

      1. LBK*

        Certainly does nothing to dispel the stereotype of the French being haughty. “Excuse me, you will refer to that infant as madame. She is a lady. Now change her diaper.”

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          It was only a few years back that official French forms dropped “Mademoiselle” as a choice and so all women were “Madame”. If memory serves, a demoiselle is a handmaiden in the Middle Ages.

  15. F.*

    I am Ms. (First Name) (First Husband’s Last Name) despite being remarried because changing my name legally with Social Security and on all of my documents (car & house titles, investments, etc.) was going to be a first-class pain in the neck. Current husband has no problem with it at all. Besides, it ticks my former husband off that I still use “his” name. ;-)

    1. alter_ego*

      My mom did the same thing. She never changed back to her maiden name because her career was built with her using her first husband’s last name. Then she owned a business with my dad, but she was a full partner, and she was far and away the more business savvy one. So when they got married, she kept her name, because she didn’t want people to hear that they had the same last name, realize that they were married, and assume that she was just his little helper or whatever. Hired because he was the boss and she could be given some nominal position to make her happy. Then, when she married my step-dad, she DID take his last name, because at that point, the company was successful enough that she was known by the company’s name, rather than her own. So the only last name she’s never had was mine, which I guess is a little weird, since it’s not an actual ideological objection to changing her name, but it’s never really caused any issues.

    2. Renee*

      Me too, because I built my legal career on that name. Now that I’ve been in a nontraditional/in-house job for almost three years, I’m planning on changing it. It does bug my current husband, but he understands. Normally I’m all for keeping a birth name, but I hated mine and have been estranged from my father since I was a toddler, so I had incentive to change it and I’m not going back to it.

  16. C.*

    #4 My employer is doing something similar, without the odd framing. Employees that make under $50,800 per year (the new limit for salaried assuming the rules change) who are currently exempt will become hourly. The hourly rate will be determined by taking current pay and dividing by 45 hours per week, not 40.

    I fully expect the HR director to caught in a massive backlash when this is announced, with concurrent PR disaster because we are a newsworthy employer.

    1. CAA*

      That’s actually a pretty standard way of converting jobs from hourly to salaried or vice versa. If you were in an hourly position and were being reclassified to exempt, you’d be losing the right to earn overtime, so your weekly salary should be greater than 40 times your current hourly rate. When the change is going the other way, it’s the employer who gets the advantage.

      Your employer is assuming that you average 43 1/3 hours of work per week as an exempt employee, and they expect you to continue working the same hours when you’re an hourly employee. (You’ll be earning time-and-a-half for the extra 3 1/3 hours.)

      1. LBK*

        Agreed – this sounds like a fair way to do it, unless they’re also going to be requiring you to stick to 40 hours max going forward.

    2. Observer*

      Basing it on 45 hours raises an interesting issue though – If they are expecting people to actually work 45 hours they are going to have to factor in the over time.

  17. Not So Sunny*

    “Everyone agreed that a brunch was a good idea (we live in the South so we love our food)…”

    Come on up to Wisconsin on a Friday before a Packers game. Our office kitchen is _filled_ with all the food. Extra tables are rolled in to accommodate it.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Hahaha, I had a coworker at Exjob who would LOVE that. He has a Packers hat, sweatshirt, lunchbox, phone case, and often wears/carries them all at once. Plus, food. :)

  18. Jules*

    #1 Please don’t use Mrs. I am married but didn’t take my husband’s last name. I’ve lol’ed each time people address me as Mrs Maiden Name and depending on who and the occasion, I might say, “You can call me First Name” if it’s a more formal setting, “You can address me as Ms Maiden Name or Mrs Married Name”

    #4 There are hourly exempt employees (we call them exempt with OT). Typically, it’s in a supervisor role for an hourly role mostly in manufacturing environment. The reason for that is because they want to pay OT since otherwise no one would want to become supervisors.

  19. LisaLisa*

    #2 It’s up to you how you handle it of course but people’s imaginations are going to be worse if you give them nothing than if you give them the truth. If you say “I’m trying to forget about it” or “it’s too gruesome to talk about” people are probably going to think something suspicious happened whether they should or not. Better to say it was a lawnmower accident and nothing more. I would assume there was a problem with the machine and not you, especially if you work with machines all the time.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Oh, I like this framing. “It was a lawnmower accident, and I really don’t want to talk/think about it beyond that.” (“…but I am recovering well, thank you,” also assumes – or pretends to assume :) – nice motives and might help cap the conversation before moving on to another subject, if it’s true and you feel like adding it.)

    2. Zillah*

      I would assume there was a problem with the machine and not you, especially if you work with machines all the time.

      Ditto. I totally understand why the OP is concerned about that possibility, but it’s definitely not where my mind would go.

    3. Charlotte Collins*

      I’ve known of someone with a similar injury. When people asked about his fingertip, he’d look around wildly and say, “Well, I had it a minute ago!” Probably too early for OP, but it is a pretty funny way to say MYOB.

  20. Deb*

    #3 – I’m currently in a graduate program that requires a final capstone project for an external client, and there are very specific rules about whether your class project (i.e. your client) can be your employer. You have to get instructor approval, for example. While I agree with Allison that it’s good to have your work and school life reinforce each other (as in what you’re learning in school is applicable to what you’re doing at work), you need to avoid conflicts of interest. The student-client relationship is very different from the employee-employer relationship, and it can get messy if you blend the two.

    I would recommend that the questioner check in with his/her professor first to see what the rules are regarding using a work project for this class assignment. If it’s allowed, then talk through with the professor how to anticipate and avoid any conflicts. Then talk to your employer and make sure he/she understands the parameters of the class project – the more of this you can get in writing (e.g. a scope of work that you prepare for the employer), the better.

    1. Bostonian*

      I’m working with a client as a graduate student right now, and I agree with all of this. I think having a project for a class that has real-world applicability can be a fantastic way to learn (what do you mean real-world data is much messier than the sample data from the problem sets?), but it’s much better to keep it all above-board. It’s also good to be realistic about what you can accomplish in a few weeks for a single class – developing an Access database that’s for use by one or two people in your department or automating some reporting functions that usually take you a lot of time in Excel or building a basic website for a local small business would be achievable. Creating a multi-user fully-functioning piece of software or an extension to the custom and proprietary client management system your office uses would not. A 6-week project for a standard class would generally be expected to be under 60ish hours of work (and I’m at an intense school where all students are full time and not taking evening classes on top of a job, so that may be lower elsewhere.) The thread yesterday on the letter from the intern developer gives a good sense of how little time that really is.

      Managing the employer’s expectations is also important – student projects don’t usually produce professional-quality finished products designed to an employer’s specifications, and the employer shouldn’t expect to be able to add to the scope of the project after the initial discussion. And students are often overly ambitious and have to scale back their plans midway through a project. The employer can ask the OP to keep working on and improving the project after the class is over as part of their job, of course.

  21. Bostonian*

    OP#5, your letter hasn’t gotten many comments, but I wanted to say that it sounds like you found a very gracious way of handling the issue. You found a balance between the expectation of doing something and the burden put on people by making it obligatory. I think a lot of people would be happier contributing food or seeing that the money they contribute is going towards chips and soda for everyone than giving a gift card that’s essentially the same as cash to someone who makes more than they do. Plus, a brunch benefits everyone in the office and can be a nice occasion for a little bit of social time with coworkers during work hours, so it can be seen as celebrating a great department and your boss’ role in leading that department, rather than just a formulaic recognition of your boss as an individual.

    1. Blue_eyes*

      I completely agree. By asking the staff what they would be comfortable doing, and making it easy to opt out, you created an event that certainly went over much better than the “give me money now” act your predecessor was pulling. Plus, as Bostonian pointed out, the brunch ends up being a fun (and tasty!) event for everyone.

      1. OP #5*

        Thank you both! Part of the reason why I was so hesitant to organize this year’s event was that I was really unhappy with the way it was handled last year. It seemed so obligatory and I was already strapped for cash, so it made me extremely bitter toward the event. I actually don’t think I ended up contributing…but that being said, I’m so glad I’m in a position where I can make this a more positive experience for everyone. :)

      2. Blue_eyes*

        Another thought – thinking about Alison’s advice that gifts should always flow downwards in the workplace. The brunch accomplishes this nicely in that bringing food to share with your peers and boss is much more “downward” than giving money to buy something for the boss. It also lets people choose how much money they can spend.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          And it’s more of a joint-effort party, which makes it more about sharing and treating everyone than about swearing fealty to the boss with offerings.

    2. JayemGriffin*

      I’m glad someone else said this – I think it’s a wonderful solution! Everyone loves brunch :)

  22. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    “school usually gets a lot more meaningful when you can relate to things you’re doing at work or in life”

    As a current graduate student working in the field I’m getting my degree in, I just want to emphatically support that statement. Things are so much easier and clearer when they relate to each other and I’m less annoyed by school projects when I see the subjects directly relating to my job.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      My masters program required students to have jobs in the field so that we could apply our coursework to our jobs and vice versa. It wouldn’t have made much sense without it, really. My supervisors were glad to support me when I needed to use work as a case study – the projects I did weren’t necessarily things that HAD to get done for work, but they were still usually helpful.

  23. LBK*

    #1 – I think the easiest way to avoid the Mrs./Ms. issue is to just call people by their first names. Unless maybe if you’re speaking to the CEO of the company, you’ll always call them that anyway so it’s not going to come off weird to do it in a hiring email. If anything, it will come off weird if you don’t – I’d find it amusingly formal if a candidate referred to me as Mr. LBK, although I’m young so it would be particularly odd.

  24. Rat Racer*

    OP #1 – just seconding Alison’s advice that no one will notice. I’m totally schizophrenic about calling the physicians I work with Dr. Smith, Jim and Dr. Jim — we’re not in a clinical setting, and if we were I might be more inclined to use the formal Dr. Smith. I’ve heard myself call the same person Dr. Smith and Jim in the same phone call, and no one seemed to notice.

    And on the Mrs thing: the only time anyone ever tried to call me Mrs. Racer was when I was volunteering at my daughter’s school. The 2nd grade teacher insisted that I could not use my first name, so I had them call me “Ratling’s Mom.”

    1. KT*

      I really don’t want to be that person…but it IS Mental Illness Awareness Week and I’m an advocate for mental health…using “schizophrenic” to describe your work habits/quirks/salutation decisions is just not okay. Schizophrenia is an incredibly serious disease that can be completely debilitating, as well as hard on family members and caregivers. Tossing the word around casually to describe whims is really offense and denigrates what mental health advocates are trying to do to make awareness more prominent and reduce stigma. It’s not a cutesy little adjective.

      I don’t mean to attack, but I do bring it up to make you (and others) aware.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Point taken, but it’s important to me that people not nitpick other’s word choices here, especially when something is in mainstream usage, so I’m going to ask that we don’t get sidetracked on this. Thank you.

      2. Rat Racer*

        But I do apologize. I was looking for a word to describe my inability to commit to language, and that has nothing to do with the disease of schizophrenia.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Because you said this, and only because it, may I suggest ‘scattered’ or ‘inconsistent’ might be good words for this if you need one in future? (And thank you, because I followed what you said originally, and this also made me think about good words to use if I need to convey such a thing!)

        2. KT*

          Thank you for responding so gracefully. I know people use it casually and my intent was just to point out there may be better word choices. Thank you for understanding.

        3. De (Germany)*

          Using “schizophrenic” for that would also be wrong. Schizophrenia is mainly characterized by paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions.

  25. Sibley*

    In my office, we have a guy who just started this week. He was active duty Marines, and is now reserve. I wasn’t here his first day, so went up to him when I was back in the office to introduce myself. He called me “ma’am”, and it was clearly reflex from the military. It took me aback for just a second, then I just smiled and said that he could call me Sibley. That was a new one though!

  26. Kyrielle*

    Re #3 – I absolutely did this at $PreviousJob – I was taking a course on UI design and, while eventually it would apply directly to that job, I made my project UI design on a tool we wanted but didn’t have, and built the prototype and the final design out of it. I talked to my work first to make sure they were okay with it, since in this case I needed to take a little time from coworkers for input/usability studies (part of the coursework!). They were thrilled – since I was, other than the usability studies, doing everything outside of work hours and work office, they were basically getting something for free – and I would have had to put in the time on the project anyway, and if it had been another project, all those hours would have gone to something I would eventually throw away. (Plus, making it about work made it really easy to find the people I had to interview for the usability!)

    If there is any chance that the generic version of the product would involve proprietary data/info in any degree, or if there’s any chance you’ll need to obtain coworkers’ input, I’d ask at work first if they minded if you did it. And if you do it and they say “no, you can’t use it at work” after, will that upset you? If it will, again, I’d ask first – there may be reasons they wouldn’t want it in production use, and it might be better to pick a different project than to be aggravated at the end.

    But otherwise, doing something that is useful for class *and* usable for work is a win all around.

    1. Jill*

      #3 I did this all the time while working on my MBA. It was a win-win. Like Alison said, it helps you see how your coursework looks in a real life scenario and it can enable you to do your actual job better With OP’s situation of building something, I think it would also be a win-win. Maybe by building the project once for class, you’d get constructive feedback from classmates and your instructor and/or be able to identify weaknesses. This will enable you to make an even stronger Draft 2 to present to your work team. Plus it’d be a great way to show your managers that your education is making you a better employee and perhaps qualify you for a raise or promotion/transfer opportunity as a result. Go for it!

  27. Not Karen*

    In my line of work it’s easy to avoid the Mrs/Miss/Ms distinction because it’s safer to assume everyone is Dr. :P

    1. fposte*

      But then you have the old-school Dr. types who want to be called Ms. or Mr. and don’t like being called Dr. I don’t think there’s a sure bet anywhere.

  28. Shelly*

    RE#1: Maybe I’m just frightfully old fashioned, but I actuality find it quite annoying when people don’t use some sort of formal title when writing business correspondence, especially when I’m hiring.

    If we have never met and we are not friends, than please do not call me by my first name. You do not know me. That being said, I don’t sign off emails with anything less than my full name to people I don’t know. It’s a business letter. I think it should be treated as such.

    I realize I’m in the minority and that most people don’t seem to find it as irritating as I do. So, I’ve never held it against a candidate for a job.

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