tickling as team-building, awkwardness about my vacation plans, and more

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

1. We were told to tickle each other aggressively at a team-building event

I’m leaving my current workplace for a lot of reasons related to culture fit and disorganization, but I wanted to tell you about this misstep in hopes you’ll get a laugh out of it!

We had a team-building event recently, which was boring but otherwise unremarkable until it came time to take the group photo. At this point, either the teambuilding leader or someone from our own leadership yelled “tickle each other AGGRESSIVELY!” instead of cheese! For a moment, everything stopped while everyone (presumably) thought, “wait, what?!” and then I got tickled. Probably by the COO, who was directly behind me. I flail wildly when tickled because I hate it, so I ended up yelling “not okay” and trying not to hit anyone by accident until it stopped.

This is a mandatory fun culture, but you bet I’m bringing this up in my exit interview!

What?! Not only tickle each other (inappropriate and boundary-violating), but tickle each other aggressively? What the actual F?

Some people seriously don’t stop to think that there are different rules of behavior for work versus social situations, and this is one of them. (And really, even in social situations, tickling should be an opt-in activity, shouldn’t it?) (Furthermore, what percentage of people actually enjoy being tickled, even by those closest to them? I’m guessing it’s under 10%.) (Okay, I am going to move on from this, lest I explode in an incredible combustion of parentheses and horror.)

2. I feel awkward letting my coworkers know about my vacation plans

I use all my vacation days (which isn’t a problem). I use these to take a large number of small trips, often to quite distant places. I can afford this, but I am conscious that many other people at my level in the organisation are not able to afford the same scale of vacation use.

My policy therefore is to avoid proactively telling people where I am going on vacation, to avoid any chance of resentment, etc. (I may be overthinking this, in which case I’d be glad to know!) Assuming you agree this is a good plan, the problem crops up when coworkers directly ask either what I’m doing or where I’m going on vacation (purely friendly requests!).

As it stands, I can’t think of a diplomatic way of dodging this question, so I answer directly. Obviously I could lie, but that doesn’t feel like a great way to live one’s life… and it also means I cannot call upon a flight/transport delay if genuinely prevented from returning to work on time. And of course, the more people sense that you may be going somewhere interesting, the greater the level of curiosity in what you are doing on vacation!

I’ve thought about saying something evasive like “I don’t have any firm plans” (which I suppose is still a lie), but that somehow seems a little unrealistic if asked one or days days before and it later transpires I had a long haul flight booked! Do you have any advice on the most diplomatic way to handle this?

I’d go with telling the truth. The risk of weirdness happening as a result of lying concerns me more than the risk of some coworkers resenting that you do a lot of travel. If anyone asks you how you’re able to take so many trips, you could say “I build my whole annual budget around it,” “yeah, I’m lucky to be able to,” “CIA work,” or anything else you’re comfortable with. Ultimately, keep in mind that you don’t need to justify it to people, and someone who has a serious issue with it (versus just mild jealousy) is the one with the problem, not you.

3. Managing an employee who won’t make eye contact

I am a manager of an employee who sits at my office’s front desk. He is the front-line for any walk-in customers or appointments. He is cordial and courteous. but he seems completely incapable of making eye contact with anyone in the office, including me. It makes me uncomfortable, as he is usually looking at my shirt or over my shoulder, and while it’s not in an ogling manner, it still makes me uncomfortable and I find myself crossing my arms or pulling my sweater across my chest. I can only imagine that it makes my customers and appointments feel the same way. It feels rude, but I know that is not his intention.

How do I address this with him? I know he he suffers from severe anxiety and he admittedly has very low confidence. I think it’s related and I don’t want to exacerbate that, but this is something that is affecting his job performance and I feel the need to address it with him in a supportive way. Any suggestions?

Be direct! Let him know about the parts of his job that he’s doing well, and tell him this is one area you’d like him to work on improving in. For example, I’d say something like this: “Fergus, you are doing amazing work straightening out our backlog of X, and I’m so impressed with how you’ve been handling Difficult Situation Y. There’s one thing I noticed that I think will make you more effective at your job, and I hoped I could give you some feedback on it. I’ve noticed that you often don’t make eye contact when talking to people. I know that can be a nervousness or confidence thing — which might mean I’m torturing you by just bringing it up, so my apologies for that! — and you might not even realize you’re doing it. but I think you’re so great at so many parts of your job that I’d hate to see this make you less effective in any way. Is it something you think you’d be up for working on?”

You’re right that there’s a risk of it just making him more self-conscious, but it’s a reasonable thing to coach someone on because it will affect how he’s perceived, and if he’s the public face of your office, it especially matters. (I’m assuming that sitting at the front desk is a core part of his job; if it’s not, you might consider just moving him and letting this go.)

Also, the kinder you can be to him in general (and the safer he feels with you), the more comfortable he’s likely to be having this conversation with you and letting you coach him on it, so keep that in mind too.

4. I have to tell my manager that I’m interviewing somewhere else

I have been looking for another position, but have not notified my manager. I have had a first-round interview with a consulting firm and was invited to a second phone interview with the hiring manager. The consulting firm informed me today in an email that they are in discussions to perform work for my current company, so in order to avoid conflicts of interest and move forward with the second interview, I have to inform my current manager who I am interviewing with and get their approval. How do I broach this subject and have this discussion?

Ugh. Well, you may not want to. You’ll need to calculate whether it’s worth the the risk that letting your manager know that you’re job hunting may impact your standing and even your job security if you don’t end up getting this job. But if you decide that your manager will take this reasonably well and you won’t suffer professional consequences for it, I’d say this: “I want to let you know that I’m talking with X firm about a position with them and since they’re worried about a conflict of interest, they asked me to let you know.” If it’s not a blatant lie, you could follow that with, “I’m not actively looking, but the position seemed like such a good fit that I felt like I had to explore it a bit with them.”

But you also have the option of declining to move forward in their process right now, thus avoiding this.

5. Employer is shutting down with no notice to employees

My partner works at a locally owned cafe. This afternoon, he heard from another employee who was drinking at a bar with the owner of the cafe that the owner would be closing down in two days, liquidating all the assets, and breaking the lease to go do something else with his time. He has not notified any of the other employees, and apparently told the employee he was talking to not to tell anybody. Do the employees have any recourse here? I’m not so much worried about my partner, as I’m employed with benefits, but some of his coworkers are single parents with children and are already struggling to get by, and finding out that they’re all going to be unemployed with less than 48 hours seems really unfair. We are in Colorado, if that makes a difference.

Yeah, that’s horrible. Businesses certainly shut down, sometimes with little warning, but the owner is doing a crappy, crappy thing by deliberating keeping it from people.

Assuming this is a small business with fewer than 100 employees, there’s probably no legal recourse. The federal WARN Act does require most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 days notice before closings or mass layoffs, but there’s no such law for smaller businesses.

{ 329 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    OP #5: ‘liquidating all the assets’ and ‘don’t tell anybody’ makes me wonder if part of those assets are going to be the employees’ unpaid wages. Your partner should talk to a lawyer ASAP about what he can do to make sure he doesn’t get stiffed. And he should absolutely talk to the other employees to give them a heads up. Of course it’s possible this is just a rumor, but better to be cautious than to show up for work to a “closed” sign and with a week or two of pay still owing.

    1. John B Public*

      Also, if the owner plans to cut and run, he has effectively relinquished any right to secrecy. Tell everyone, because this guy deserves zero consideration.

      1. Mike C.*

        Seriously, you should be calling people now and confronting the owner directly. Maybe even start looking up the names of lawyers or the state labor board if there’s even a chance that your paychecks are in question.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      YES. This happened in Brooklyn a couple of years ago — the owner of a popular wedding venue/bar abruptly shut down, and people found out when they showed up to work *on payday* to find a sign on the door. To make matters worse, the owner was holding tens of thousands of dollars in deposits from engaged couples who suddenly had to find new venues for their weddings.

      I’m not sure whether the employees were able to recover any of their lost wages, but since OP1’s partner knows ahead of time — even if it’s only by one day at this point — does she have anything to lose by confronting the owner, saying, “I’ve heard these rumors that you’re going to close; is it true?” and if the owner says yes or gets shifty-eyed, asking what his plans are for that last paycheck?

      1. Anomnomnom*

        I know exactly the place you’re talking about and was so happy that other businesses pitched in to help the couples with their weddings!

      2. AVP*

        My one spot of happiness in that story is that the authorities later tracked the guy down and sent him to jail because it turns out people who pull shit like that are also likely to commit tax fraud.

      3. michelenyc*

        It just happened again in Long Island City with a different venue. From what it sounds like that guy is also on his way to jail!

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          My god. I suddenly feel so fortunate that my wedding (six years ago) went off without a hitch.

      4. misplacedmidwesterner*

        Similar thing happened near my house years ago. Wedding dress shop closed with no warning. Crying brides outside the door without their paid for dresses. According to the news at the time, this happens at a startlingly high rate in the wedding industry. The woman had filed bankruptcy and the brides were allowed (with police escort!) to go in and retrieve dresses. My sister was in the middle of wedding planning saying a huge thank you that she hadn’t chosen that shop though we had visited it.

    3. Sparky*

      I live in Colorado, and we have an amazing workforce center, http://www.adworks.org/. Two wealthy counties, Arapahoe and Douglas combined resources to create the center. To use the center a person doesn’t have to live in either county, they don’t even have to be unemployed or receiving unemployment insurance. The center has programs for youth, seniors, veterans and other groups. The offer services like video taping a mock interview and reviewing it, someone with a job who wants a better job or promotion can use this center/service. They can be reached by light rail + shuttle. Since #5 is in Colorado I wanted to offer this to the poor employees of the cafe. I’m about to rush off, so apologies if this is abrupt.

    4. INTP*

      This is a good point. If he’s planning to do that, he might be afraid that the employees will also predict this, and choose not to work since they won’t be paid.

    5. Audiophile*

      This was also done with a popular cupcake chain – Crumbs. They just closed at the end of business and filed for bankruptcy. There had been a few warnings but not to employees.

  2. FirstTimer*

    OP#3: Not making eye contact can also be a symptom of austim/Aspergers. Pointing it out, however gently, might make the problem worse.

    1. JessaB*

      It can also be cultural, there are many cultures where it’s rude to look directly into someone’s eyes (especially if they “outrank” you or are the opposite gender.)

      1. snuck*

        Many of the Aboriginal people of Australia have a cultural thing with this (there are hundreds of different groups, so some do not, but many many do)… eye contact is seen as disrespectful, especially between younger and older people.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          It’s true in some indigenous American communities as well. Being respectful at home and appearing respectful at school/work can take major code-shifting.

      2. OriginalEmma*

        Yes, and the avoiding-eye-contact-with-opposite gender thing would be from cultures that you may not expect (as an American), e.g., from older Russian and Russian satellite-country folks!

      3. Sarahnova*

        This is very possibly true, but if you are going to have a front-desk position welcoming Americans in an American office culture, it is going to be an issue. If it is cultural- or sensory issues-related, this may help the OP shape her coaching and feedback, but it doesn’t mean that she should not raise the issue nor give the feedback or coaching. And as Alison observes, lots of neurotypical born-and-bred Americans have issues with eye contact because of nervousness or shyness. The OP also thinks that this is most likely the issue.

        I’ve coached individuals who had moved from China to take management positions in the UK on this. I may have trampled on cultural norms there in giving my feedback, but if they were going to function successfully in a UK management culture, they needed this information, and other people in that culture would give it more bluntly than I did.

        1. Lindsay J*

          This. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter why the employee can’t make eye contact.

          I would argue that for a public-facing position in the US it can probably be considered an essential function of the job.

          Yes, the OP should be sensitive in considering that there may be sensory or cultural issues at play. However, this is something the employee needs to be coached on in order to be successful in this position. If he is unable to change for these reasons (or any other reasons, really. Even if it is “just” shyness, it can be difficult to overcome) then maybe the OP can identify a position the employee can be transferred to that he would be able to be successful in.

      4. Observer*

        In the case of a cultural issue, though, the only way to really deal with it is to bring it up explicitly. Not in a confrontational or accusing manner, but explaining what is expected. It’s not a matter of “right” or “wrong” but expectations and how visitors / clients are likely to react.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Certainly possible, but lots of people have problems with eye contact simply because they’re shy or nervous. It’s a reasonable thing to coach a public-facing employee on (and if it does turn out that there are ADA issues in play, the manager can cross that bridge when she comes to it). But you can’t avoid coaching people on professional norms just because there might be a hidden disability in play.

      1. nofelix*

        Yeah, I have some social anxiety and have trouble making eye contact. Mostly I don’t notice I’m not doing it. If someone brings it up, it becomes concious so addressing the automatic habit to not make eye contact is difficult.

        One thing I have found helps is taking moments to focus on the other person’s feelings during the conversation, which you can read in their eyes and face. Otherwise it’s easy to focus solely on, say, the document we’re discussing.

        When people do bring it up, it’s frustrating because it’s a difficult issue to fix, and embarrassing too. So it is a touchy subject that needs care, but at least for me it’s not off limits.

      2. snuck*

        And if the person hasn’t told the Manager about a protected reason/disability for their behaviour (and it’s not obvious like a whole missing leg) then the manager doesn’t have to take it into account until they are advised about it.

      3. Hiring Mgr*

        I don’t know if it’s considered a disability, but the OP says the employee suffers from severe anxiety, which in itself is a medical condition…If that’s really the diagnosis I don’t know that you can just coach him on professional norms

        1. fposte*

          Sure you can. Why would you think you can’t?

          That doesn’t mean the coaching would be successful, but then there’s no guarantee of that.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            Yes of course you can try to coach them, but if it’s truly a medical/mental health issue then as you say it might not work.

            The point is “severe anxiety” is not just someone feeling a little awkward

            1. fposte*

              Sure. But it’s a key component of the job; the alternative to coaching him is likely to be considering that this isn’t working out and firing him. It makes a lot more sense to be willing to at least try.

              And coaching people to do stuff that they can’t or don’t do happens all the time in managing. It’s not a reason not to try.

              1. Hiring Mgr*

                Yep..I never said not to try–of course you would. My point is that if someone has a broken leg you’re not likely to be successful at coaching them to run a 10k…

                Also, don’t have to necessarily fire them, maybe there’s another position they’re better suited for?

                This is all speculation of course but I’m only going by what the OP said in the letter regarding severe anxiety.

                1. LBK*

                  I guess my question is what difference does it make, then? If you agree that you’d proceed the same way either way, why do you need to consider the anxiety disorder? Coaching fails with people who don’t have mental health problems, too. There are also people who are able to work around their anxiety in the office (speaking as a living example) so it’s not like it’s a waste of time to even try.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  If the job requires running, and the person isn’t running, you use AAM’s script or something like it to find out why not. Maybe the person has a broken leg, and needs a different job. Maybe they pulled a muscle and just need a brief rest. Maybe nobody taught them how to run correctly and they’re not trying.

                  What REALLY doesn’t work? Making assumptions, saying nothing and letting them fumble around without knowing what’s wrong and what’s expected of them.

                3. Mephyle*

                  My point is that if someone has a broken leg you’re not likely to be successful at coaching them to run a 10k.
                  I wish more people took this into account. The point of knowing that an undesirable behaviour or deficient performance is due to a special condition or circumstance is not to shame a person; or to fire them; or to expose their private business; or to make excuses for them, fail to manage them, and keep letting them perform poorly. Maybe people apparently think it is the point however, because that’s how it often seems to be mishandled.
                  The point of knowing that it’s due to a special condition or circumstance is to use appropriate measures and strategies that are effective for the condition or circumstance.

                4. fposte*

                  But I’m still not getting why you think the first step wouldn’t be coaching, or why the possibility that coaching might fail matters in the decision.

                5. Hiring Mgr*

                  @LBK– I think it matters because every bit of knowledge about a situation like this is helpful, don’t you agree? I don’t coach all my employees in exactly the same way based on many factors–information like this would be one of those factors.

                  @fposte– I think we are in agreement, I would try the coaching first of course.. just that in this case if I knew the person had severe anxiety, I might wonder how much of my coaching would be successful and would try to come up with other solutions as well

                6. Mephyle*

                  The idea is that the coaching would be tailored to the person’s particular circumstance – the specific reason why they are under par.
                  It doesn’t make sense to close your mind to the person’s particular condition and give them one-size-fits-all coaching if that doesn’t help because it doesn’t address the reason or the mechanism of why they are underperforming.

      4. Anonymous*

        Also, if this employee DOES have a neurological or cultural issue, your coaching is exactly the right approach: not judge, positive, with concrete reasons that there’s an issue, and being open to discussion about it.

        It does people on the autism spectrum no good to wave them off with “oh, that’s hard for them” as if they can’t learn workplace norms, and frankly it’s cruel to say nothing and let them flounder.

        1. VictoriaHR*

          Aspie here, and I did indeed learn to fake eye contact by looking at the bridges of people’s noses. We’re usually pretty adept at picking up on things like that, so if I were in the employee’s shoes and a manager said that since my position was public-facing, that I had to work on it, and the manager gave me some suggestions for ways to fix it, I’d be happy to try.

          That said, if the manager just said “you need to start making eye contact” without any suggestions on how to fix it, it would be very difficult for me. Tell me how, and I’ll do it. That’s why Aspies make great software testers – we follow rules and are very adept at doing what we’re told. We just have trouble figuring things out on our own without direction, especially at work.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Eh, that’s…. kind of an overgeneralization about people on the spectrum, but that said, a direct, concrete approach – here is the problem, here is why it’s a problem, let’s talk about ways to fix it – is way better than assuming “oh, this person probably has Asperger’s and you know those poor things can’t possibly ever learn to behave normally”, which is what the What If He Has Asperger’s crap usually translates to.

          2. eee*

            Yes, I don’t have autism, but I find it very awkward to make eye contact with people for any time longer than a half second. It just makes me feel weird! The two times I make eye contact are 1) getting someone’s attention (making sure a driver knows I’m about to cross the street, flagging down an employee in a store to help me), or 2) fleetingly and periodically during a conversation, because I know some people value that highly. I’ve never gotten comments from anyone, not even close friends who definitely let me know about any weird quirks I have, so I feel like people overemphasize the importance of eye contact in conversation. I think there are 3 times you need to make eye contact in a professional setting: when you start the conversation (so people know you’re talking to them), in a long conversation pop by the eyes for half a second or two unless you’re looking at a prop (report, notes, the thing you’re discussing), and briefly at the end.
            IMO, the problem seems to be really not the general avoidance of eye-contact, it’s that he’s looking at the wrong places. It’s really obvious when someone’s looking at your shirt, shoulder, or (yikes) chest. Not so obvious? Looking at your hair, your nose, eyebrows, mouth, or darting around the face in general. This would be an awkward conversation, but I think saying something along the lines of “hey, I’ve noticed you rarely make eye contact with people when you talk–that isn’t a big deal, but it’s a little disconcerting when you look at someone’s shirt or body. Especially when you communicate with customers, try and make very brief eye contact when you first speak to them, and then if that feels unnatural, try to look at their head area in general.”

            1. Back in the saddle*

              This. I’d even say that someone making too much of a point of constantly making eye contact tends to make people nervous, like you’re looking at a pimple or something.

      5. Elizabeth West*

        Can the employee look at their foreheads, instead? That makes it look like you’re looking at them but not right in their eyes. I used to do this in theater and music when we had a close audience, though it was right above their heads. To them, it appears you’re looking right at them, but you’re not catching their eye, which can make you more nervous. In closer quarters, such as across a desk, the forehead might work better.

    3. Robyn*

      Better than coaching them to look someone in the eyes, coach them to look at their nose or forehead if they can’t look into the eyes.

      It appears they are looking in the eyes without doing so.

      And I agree, the anxiety may be part of ASD. Which means eye contact is actually painful.

      1. Polabear*

        Yes, this exactly. I have well controlled social anxiety thanks to medication and therapy, but still have a hard time making eye contact. I focus on the space between the eyes when close up, and on foreheads when giving presentations. I still have to work on it during handshakes, but I’m very short so my eyes tend to lake on their neck and chin.

      2. Anon the Great and Powerful*

        Some people will point out that you’re looking at their nose or forehead, not their eyes. So awkward! I try to look at the area of skin just below people’s eyebrows and that seems to fool people pretty well.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        That was my first thought, that he could concentrate on another part of the face, and I actually think I vaguely remember reading something about that. But, I’m also wondering, how did he get hired without looking anyone in the eye?? If he was able to fake it through an interview, that shows he can actually do it sometimes if he needs to.

      4. Rat in the Sugar*

        I’ve always had trouble maintaining eye contact, and rather than the whole look at the nose thing, what I do is make a second of eye contact at important points in the conversation and then look away once I can’t stand it anymore (about 1-2 seconds). I have to careful to be more animated in my responses so people are clear that I’m not trying to ignore them or don’t care, though.

    4. snuck*

      As a person with some Autistic tendencies (but not over the line into Autism diagnosis), I would suggest actually that not pointing out would be worse than avoiding pointing it out. A person with Autism often knows there’s a problem, knows they are different from others, and just needs someone to spell the bleeding obvious to everyone else out.

      I also am getting tired of the whole “a person has odd social skills so it must be Autism”… no. There’s a raft of social communication skill gaps needed before you can get an Autism diagnosis, and they are so far from normal that there’s no mistaking the gap. The OP hasn’t mentioned other things (like obsessions, sensory issues, deep focus to the exclusion of others, processing and auditory confusion issues, inflexible thinking, controlling own environment etc) that would suggest Autism might be at play. And Aspergers is in with Autism now, but even if it weren’t, the line is still a long way off where a neuro typical person would be (says the person who has just gone through the excrutiating detail of diagnosis with her son, who would have been Aspergers under DSM4, and is Autistic under DSM5 because the difference between the two was little more than IQ difference and age verbal language acquired).

      Explaining issues can be done in a direct, calm and quiet manner, and offered as a problem that needs solution rather than a problem point blank, or with the assumption that it cannot be resolved. You might have to explain WHY a person needs to act a particular way, that eye contact is a sign of mutual trust, a way to convey attention etc. But this isn’t specific to Autism, if a person has reached adult years and still has awkward social skills then they are going to need a hand. And time to change their habits.

      1. anonanonanon*

        I’ve been tired of armchair diagnosing for years. It’s often well-intentioned, but I really wish people would stop assuming someone has a disability or a serious issue going on because sometimes those assumptions aren’t true and can make things so much worse.

        1. fposte*

          And in general they’re coming in as “You shouldn’t say anything; he might be autistic.” And even if the armchair diagnosis is right, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything, regardless of the situation.

          1. anonanonanon*

            Oh, I agree, the manager should still address the eye contact situation, but I’m always a bit put-off that people only think to address these things gently or sympathetically when they think there’s something else going on.

            But I’ve witnessed one too many cases of someone assuming there was a disability/financial/health/etc issue going on, trying to dance around it, and everyone being mortified by it when it was revealed the person in question did not have that issue. It’s not to say that people shouldn’t consider reasons why someone is acting a certain way or doing a certain thing, but jumping to immediate assumptions isn’t always great.

            1. Lindsay J*

              Yeah, your point about people only addressing things gently and sympathetically when there is something else going on (and especially only if there is some type of diagnosis – real, or assumed – is a good one.

              Even if this OP doesn’t have autism or anxiety and it’s “just” shyness, it’s still probably something that is going to be difficult for them to overcome, and still needs to be treated with sensitivity.

              That doesn’t mean that the manager can just let it go if it is a job requirement. They can try coaching and see if this is something the employee can overcome – whether the employee is neurotypical or not – and if not they can help the employee transfer to a non-customer- facing position if one is available that the employee is qualified for .

      2. Tau*

        +1 to all of this from an autistic person. (Bar possibly the “no mistaking the gap”, from someone who’s become reasonably good at passing for neurotypical.)

        *If* the employee in question is autistic, and the lack of eye contact is due to that, the kindest thing to do is to tell him that it’s a problem and let him figure out how to deal with it from there. Whether that’s him figuring out how to make eye contact, figuring out how to avoid eye contact in a less obvious fashion (looking at noses or lips is a suggestion I’ve heard a lot), or telling OP “sorry, I’m autistic and this isn’t possible for me, how can we minimise the impact on my job?”. Avoiding the subject does him absolutely no favours.

        1. VictoriaHR*

          Agreed about the passing for neurotypical. I wasn’t diagnosed until age 39, so I knew I was “different” but didn’t know why for 39 years; I became very, very good at taking feedback from managers and adapting my behavior so that I could pass for a neurotypical person, unless something was going on like I was sick, depressed, exhausted, etc. so that my control slipped.

        2. snuck*

          Apologies on the ‘no mistaking the gap’ – I should clarify – Adults with Autism can clearly see where the line is and there position near/over it. Apparently the biggest indicator of Autism in adults is actually that they self identify with it… that’s the biggest diagnostic clue. My apologies, I didn’t clarify that very well.

      3. Anonymous*

        THIS. Infantilizing people because “poor thing, it could be a disability” does nobody any good.

      4. Anonymous for this one*

        Thank you for pointing this out. I have a combination of ADHD and anxiety that can look like something else from the outside.

        You know, mild sensory issues, executive function issues, latching onto subjects (perseveration comes with both ADHD and anxiety disorders like OCD), seeming to dislike touch (I just startle easily)… I wouldn’t want someone to misread me that way and keep it from me.

        Even if I did have autism, I would probably still want a chance to either work on eye contact or explain why I can’t. I hope I’m not speaking for/over autistic people here, but I think that finding out that I had a problem nobody told me about might feel a little bit like being set up to fail.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Yes, people with ADHD and people with autism have a lot of things in common, despite having completely unrelated disorders. For instance, many people with ADHD can’t stand to wear socks because they find it difficult to ignore the feeling of having something on their feet; neurotypical people would eventually stop noticing the feeling of socks on their feet, but someone with ADHD is unable to tune out that stimulus. And people with Autism and ADHD might have similar difficulties in social situations — but for different reasons.

          Either way, I so, so identify with the idea of feeling set up to fail when people avoid telling me about something I’m doing wrong.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Heh, I have ADHD and I never connected my dislike of socks to my ADHD before. But I really can’t stand them and don’t wear them 99.99% of the time.

      5. BRR*

        Thank you! So many letters are now either from a different culture or they might be autistic or have a super rare medical condition. People can have quirks. It’s like how people can be sad and not have depression. Sensitivity is good but there’s the entire “not everybody can have sandwiches thing.”

    5. fposte*

      You can’t never manage your people on the slim chance it might exacerbate a problem, though. That would be a lot worse for the overall good than an employee made uncomfortable.

      If there’s a disability involved, it’s up to the employee to disclose. But otherwise basic cultural conventions are reasonable to expect.

    6. Jenny Islander*

      I have discovered in my personal case that injecting warmth and responsiveness into my voice is a lot easier than making eye contact, which is actually painful. (No, I don’t know why that is. Yes, being on the spectrum is why, but why exactly that makes eye contact painful–Some people experience the taste of cilantro as the taste of soap, some people can hear the Northern Lights, and some people feel sore in the brain when we attempt eye contact. Human variation is what it is.) If I demonstrate that I am actively listening, respond appropriately, and above all carefully calibrate my tone of voice to neurotypical-average, people usually excuse my inability to look higher than their cheekbones for more than a half-second at a time. If we’re talking about something and the thing is there, that helps: I can look at it, gesture toward it. Then we’re both looking at it and talking to each other at the same time: success!

      TL;DR: Framing the issue as “Please demonstrate responsiveness and attention more actively, such as [list of things that includes eye contact]” may produce better results that just saying “you need to do more eye contact” iiiiiiif we’re talking about somebody who doesn’t do eye contact because they can’t.

  3. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #1: Anyone tickling me would be in danger of loosing limbs. I HATE being touched!

    #3: It could be a disability issue. I’m uncomfortable making eye contact with strangers, so I fake it by looking over their shoulder or above their head.

    1. Josh S*

      I know several people, myself included, who react VIOLENTLY when tickled. Like, I punch. Hard. If you sneak up and tickle me unexpectedly from behind, you are likely to catch a fist in your face. It is not voluntary…just a gut reaction I have to physical space being violated.

      This is SO not ok.

      1. anonanonanon*

        Same. For me, it’s a flight or fight response and I fight. I would be so angry if this happened to me at work and I can’t see that fight response ending well at work – especially a place that “mandates” office fun. Ugh.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        I’m the same way! I actually dumped a boyfriend who wouldn’t stop tickling me after I told him how much I hated it. I was serious (which is rare for me) – I sat him down and told him that it’s something I really don’t like and to never do it again. He did it again a few days later and I was out the door. And of course he acted all shocked and tried to make me feel like an oversensitive weirdo. To me, it’s not “cute” or “fun” – it’s a form of control.

        1. Book Person*

          What an ass! How is it “oversensitive” to expect that the boundaries you have clearly and seriously stated need to be respected? Glad you’re rid of him.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Thanks – he also mocked me because I had regular peanut butter instead of natural, which I thought was so funny. It drove him batty that I usually just laughed at him when he was trying to make me feel bad about myself.

        2. Jane*

          I read (I think in a pamphlet about domestic violence) that unwanted tickling is considered to be a form of relationship aggression. It’s a way of violating someone’s physical boundaries while also getting to blame them for felling upset because it’s “just in fun.” (It’s harder to blame someone if they don’t enjoy it when you hit them.) Anyway, I’m really glad that you’re out of that relationship.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Thanks, he was really more immature than anything else and he’s actually a decent guy these days (this was ages ago when we were just out of college).

        3. Becky B*

          Good for you for getting out of that situation. Someone who doesn’t respect a very simple boundary –how hard is it NOT to tickle somebody?– probably has other red flagginess issues too. Arrgh on your behalf.

          I despise that “oversensitive” defense. It’s always cute or fun until something YOU don’t like happens to you. (I use this at people who like to post “cute” animal videos where the animal is clearly terrified of whatever the idiot human is doing). /rant

        4. Ife*

          I had one of those boyfriends too. It transformed my involuntary reaction to being tickled from “HAHAHAH STOOOOP,” to screaming and flailing. So if you tickle me today, and I can’t wriggle away from you, you have about 2 seconds before I can’t control the reaction and I react like I’m being stabbed. My skin is crawling thinking about being tickled by a coworker, let alone a boss…

        5. JM in England*

          Lily, I had the same experience as you with an ex-girlfriend and it was the major factor leading up to the break-up. Fundementally, the tickling represented a lack of respect for me.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Hi JM, that’s exactly what bothered me – I asked him to stop and he didn’t take me seriously.

      3. Afiendishthingy*

        Yep. I am not a violent person at all but I will hit you if you tickle me, just as a reflex.

        1. Op 1*

          This is me! People have tickled me enough that I learned to control my reaction just long enough to tell them to stop, but I have also accidentally hit people who tickled me. I’m lucky that I don’t have triggers or other sensitivity to touch/tickling but this would have been so awful for someone who did!

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I don’t hit unless you’re trying to hold or pin me–then watch out. Because of an assault in college, I can’t stand being restrained.

          If I were in this class, I probably would have loudly said “TOUCH ME AND YOU DIE!” the second he finished telling people to tickle. I wouldn’t care if I got in trouble!

          1. Op 1*

            I wish I’d thought of that. I got stuck in the moment of “this isn’t happening” and then it was too late.

      4. INTP*

        Yep, me too. And honestly, if you wound up with a black eye or broken nose, I would be glad I had managed to get a good strike in. You don’t do something that takes away someone’s bodily control without their consent.

        1. Lena*

          I once (accidentally!) fractured somebody’s ankle when he tickled me. I was wearing steel toecapped boots and instinctively lashed out.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I will do anything to stop someone tickling me, and I don’t give one single sh*t what they think about it. My husband was tickling my knee one time because he thought he was just being a harmlessly ornery tease, and I bit him as hard as I could (after I told him to stop and he didn’t). He complained that I didn’t have to bite (and scratch) him so hard, and I told him that he didn’t ever have to tickle me again as long as he lives, either. He got the message.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Right? It’s not even about how unpleasant tickling is or isn’t; it’s about somebody deciding they’re going to touch you and control your body’s reactions regardless of your opinions on the subject. Being bitten hard is getting off lucky, IMO.

      5. DuckDuckMøøse*

        Ugh, I hate this! I, too, can react to any touching. It can set off pain in me, and sometimes that can lead to fight/flight reactions. I haven’t laid anyone out yet, but I’ve come close, several times. I’m tired of having to explain **why** to people, -adults-, who should know better than to touch people without their permission. It doesn’t matter **why** – stop touching me! And no, jiggling my chair to get my attention is pretty much the same as touching me. Don’t do that, either. One of us is going to get hurt, and my preference is that is be YOU. ;) My idiot boss has taken umbrage at my repeated warnings to not touch/jiggle me, and has said maybe I need to look for other opportunities elsewhere. Yeah, sure. **I’m** the problem. #seethe#

        1. HM in Atlanta*

          The chair jiggling thing has resulted in me shoving back hard into someone to get out of the chair (I was hugely startled). Apparently, that wasn’t a fun experience for the jiggler and he didn’t do it again.

      6. Devil's Avocado*

        That was my immediate thought too. I have a major “fight” response that comes out when I am tickled. Fists (and elbows and knees) start flying.

    2. Chocolate lover*

      I would freak out if anyone other than my husband unexpectedly tickled me. I might be arrested for assault, thigh technically it should be considered self defense.

      When did adults forget the kindergarten lesson of keeping your hands to yourself?

          1. fposte*

            Well, not really; it’s not likely to happen, nor is it a reasonable response to the situation. But it can be fun to think about.

            1. Isben Takes Tea*

              Maybe not SHOULD, but the tickler COULD be arrested for assault and battery. As explained to me by a superior court judge in CA, battery is any unwanted touching, and assault is threat of the same.

              1. fposte*

                Probably more accurate to say that tickling could be classified as assault or battery, depending on the state, but it’s really unlikely that you’re going to get a cop to do that.

    3. Alli525*

      Once I was unexpectedly tickled by a boyfriend when I thought it was make-out time… I went into fight-or-flight mode and accidentally headbutted him. Last time he ever tried that one! What on earth were the people at this company thinking?

      1. BeeBee*

        I wonder if OP had hit the person really hard would they have been blamed for violence? Some people just can’t control their reaction to being tickled.

        1. neverjaunty*

          It’d be pretty messed up for them to decide tickling somebody without their consent and over their objections is OK, but it’s not OK for that person to take measures to make it stop.

  4. DatSci*

    Alison, with regard to #5, does the WARN act define what percentage of employees would constitute a mass layoff?
    I ask because a company I used to work for laid off 30% of the staff (of 500 people) a few years back (mostly general office, salaried positions).
    There was no warning and the remaining staff seemed continually traumatized it was going to happen again at any moment even years later.
    Is there actually federal protection from this? What recourse do laid off employees have if they were not warned in accordinance with this law?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Employers covered by the WARN Act have to give notice if: (a) an employment site will be shut down, resulting in job less for 50 or more employees during any 30-day period, or (b) no shut-down, but layoffs during any 30-day period for 500 or more employees, or for 50-499 employees if they make up at least 33% of the employer’s active workforce.

      There’s a bunch more info, including enforcement and penalties, here:

      This might be useful too:

  5. T3k*

    #3, on top of what others are saying, it could possibly be a culture thing as well. I’m part Japanese and to this day I’m very uncomfortable making eye contact. To get around this, I read how some say instead of the eyes, look at the spot between them, their forehead, nose, etc. Basically, look at something on their face just to give the appearance you’re looking at their eyes.

    1. LadyCop*


      Also, while I firmly believe this employee’s confidence and anxiety play a role, also be open to the idea that one or two people can just be super sensitive to it, and most people may not even notice.

    2. BeeBee*

      I had trouble making eye contact too and tried looking somewhere on their face. Little did I realize I was staring a bit to intensely. Key is to blink….

  6. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    #1 Yep, I would have been getting aggressive there – and not by tickling. If somebody tickles me, there WILL be flailing limbs.

    #2 Don’t worry – relax, have fun, and as long as you don’t turn into the office bore who inevitably takes up everyone’s morning showing 500 pictures of the flowers outside their hotel room people aren’t going to mind in the slightest.

    #5 I think it’s perfectly ok in this situation to discreetly let everybody else know what’s coming (if the person who told him hasn’t already) and, if he feels he can, help them through the first shock. It would be a good idea too to look at what benefits/assistance he/others will qualify once it closes. Of course they can also keep in touch to help network and share other job opportunities once it’s happened.

  7. Lunchy*

    #3: “… but this is something that is affecting his job performance and I feel the need to address it with him…”

    How is it affecting his job performance? LW has only stated it makes them uncomfortable, not that customers have complained, or anything else. I see little reason to address this, to be honest. Some people are just that way. There will be coworkers that will make you a little uneasy because of how they’re wired, but as long as they do their job and do it well, I can’t see why LW can’t put up with a little awkwardness.

    Bringing it up will most likely hurt the situation more than help. Then he’ll probably just think you’re getting ready to fire him or something.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d like to ask that we trust the OP’s assessment, as the person who’s on-site and witnessing it and is better positioned than us to know how it’s coming across. I assume that the issue is that he’s not providing the kind of warm “face of the organization” that you want your front desk person to have (because lack of eye contact can read as uninterested, uncomfortable, or unfriendly).

      1. Vicki*

        But the OP doesn’t say that. Also, she says “He is cordial and courteous. but he seems completely incapable of making eye contact with anyone in the office, including me.”

        How is he with visitors?

    2. Nashira*

      I have trouble making sustained eye contact for Reasons. Please believe me that it’s more than a little awkwardness, especially when one works with people who are Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing who need to lipread. It goes beyond being a little awkward and on into being something that can really impact one’s social relationships in, say, a US office.

      Which is why I stare between people’s eyes or pretend I’m focusing on the front of their brain. Close enough to not make me anxious normally, while keeping my face and gaze where it is expected.

    3. BethRA*

      Customers don’t always complain about employee behavior thought, unless it’s really egregious. That won’t stop them from going elsewhere, anyway.

      And honestly, this is the kind of think that can hold a person back and make it hard to get hired, so LW isn’t doing Fergus any favors by avoiding awkwardness.

      1. Lindsay J*

        This. They may not even actively notice “hey that employee isn’t making eye contact with me,” but they might notice that they didn’t feel welcome or that the guy at the front desk seemed off-putting or whatever.

    4. Jennifer*

      In my experience with customer service, people become downright VICIOUS at the slightest thing that makes them “uncomfortable.”

      I agree with you, but literally nobody else on the planet does or will. I have pretty much every aspect of who I am as a person nitpicked while doing customer service.

      1. Mrs Erdleigh*

        Yes. I have a lazy eye and just about every officious balloon out there seems to feel compelled to tell me, ” do you know one of your eyes is squinty?”
        Well, duh, I didn’t know that, wow, thanks for telling me!
        For this reason, I find it hard to do the eye contact thing, so I’d then get hauled up for that, try to make an effort, 5 minutes later, “do you know… ”
        You can’t win in customer service. It’s why I milk cows now. They truly don’t give a dam.

        1. Rainbows and Bunnies*

          I have the same thing going on. I can look at ya with one eye, but the other one is doing its own thing. It’s not a self-esteem booster, that’s for sure. Sometimes I truly feel grateful to have a good job – I do excellent work, but…the eye. I realize that the people I’m talking to feel uncomfortable, but imagine how I feel. Eye contact is the expected cultural norm, but sometimes you just can’t have it. If I could give it to you I would.

  8. Katie the Fed*

    #2 – no need to hide anything. If people want to resent you, that’s their business. You do your thing. If they want to know how you afford it, you can say travel is a priority so you budget for it. But also don’t assume people are jealous – most of them probably don’t even care.

    1. MK*

      Frankly, the suggestion that the plebeian masses are going to be eaten with jealousy for the OP’s vacations is itself somewhat condescending. OP, I realise you don’t mean it that way, but most people realise that having the same job doesn’t mean you are in the exact same financial position and don’t resent their more affluent colleagues; those that do are not worth worrying about. As long as you are not obnoxious about it, people will not waste time thinking about your relative wealth.

      The only time I had feelings about a coworker’s vacation plans was about a slacker who fell so far behind in his work he eventually got fired over it. In the last period of his employeement, he used to talk about taking family trips, when at the same time a lot of his backlog was being reassigned to the rest of us. Seeing him go was a pleasure.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I really don’t think the OP thinks people are going to be eaten alive with jealousy. But if you’re in a not especially well-paying position and you’re jetting off to Paris every weekend, I think it’s natural to wonder if it’s going to stand out in a weird way, just like carrying a $2,000 handbag or driving a new Mercedes might.

        1. Mike C.*

          It’s funny you mention a Mercedes, there was a viral story a while back about a woman collecting WIC who drove a Mercedes and everyone lost their shit.

          Turns out her husband had been out of work for a while, the car itself was over ten years old (with a KBB value of just a few grand) and she had just given birth to twins and needed the help. But folks saw that badge and assumed she was trying to cheat the system. So many insisted that she sell a perfect reliable car and buy something “cheaper” without regard for the risk inherent in buying a used car for a few grand.

          It was a rather ugly incident.

          1. mander*

            You know, I live in Europe, and they either are not as expensive or else just don’t have the same cachet over here. My father-in-law used to drive one, and tried to give it to me when he retired and no longer needed two cars. I wasn’t able to accept at the time because of the cost of insurance, but when he sold it, it was only worth about £500. It wasn’t that old, either.

            I really hate the argument that because someone is poor, they must have nothing that isn’t shabby and cheap. People get nice things from many different sources, including wise use of what money they do have, and it is rarely because they are cheating the system.

            I’m reminded of an article I read a while ago about Syrian refugees who have smart phones. Apparently there are many people out there who assume that because they have fled their homes and are looking for help they should have nothing. They don’t seem to understand that a smart phone is not all that expensive these days for a start, and that they are not actually worth very much if you try to sell a used one. And, of course, heaven forbid that you keep a device that helps you stay in touch with what’s happening back home when you flee for your life.

            1. Ad Astra*

              I’m pretty sure Mercedes are less expensive in Europe. In the U.S., Mercedes just introduced a new bottom-of-the-line model that starts at like $32,000. A Ford Focus starts at around $17,000.

              And, yeah, the refugees-with-smartphones thing was ridiculous. I don’t know what they cost in Syria, but in the U.S. you can get a smartphone (obviously not an especially nice one, but still technically smart) for as little as $80. I’m sure some refugees had nice phones back before they were refugees, but it wouldn’t be insane to invest what little money you have in a smartphone before taking a dangerous journey to another country.

            2. VG*

              When I was in my last year of college, and for the first few years after I graduated, I had a Mercedes sedan that I had bought from my boyfriend’s father. It was almost 20 years old and I had only paid about $2,000 for it, but I got endless comments about how I must be rich because I drove a Mercedes. Eventually I was able to buy a new car (a Toyota), and no one ever said a word about that, even though it cost at least 10 times as much as the Mercedes had. People are weird!

          2. AW*

            There’s also a photo floating around of a bunch of cheap cell phones being charged (allegedly) by refugees and the caption is all, “OMG, how can REFUGEES afford mobile phones?!?!?!!11ELEVENTY!”

            I could go on a rant about how some people seem to think that poor people ought to be homeless, devoid of all possessions, naked, and starving to death before we extend any kind of help, but I won’t.

            Instead I will simply say that it is in fact a thing that people will get upset if you seem to have anything that they think you shouldn’t be able to afford.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Yeah, and it’s like they totally forget that in order to find jobs and be available for interviews, you have to do it ON THE INTERNET. Which you can get on a cheap, prepaid smartphone.

              1. I'm a Little Teapot*

                If I got rid of all my possessions every time I was unemployed to appease those asshats, I’d own very little (for little financial benefit, because you can’t sell most used stuff for much, especially if it’s old or was cheap to begin with).

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I saw that story! That was actually in my head when I wrote “new” Mercedes :)

            Anyway, my point isn’t that people should judge, but that it’s normal for the OP to wonder about whether people will, and that doesn’t make her a haughty richie who’s worried about the plebian masses.

            1. MK*

              No, and I didn’t mean to say that she was. But since she worries about how she will come across to her less affluent coworkers, I think it is relevant to point out that being overly sensitive around people with less advantages than you, when they have given you no reason to think it bothers them, can read as condencending.

        2. Ad Astra*

          I get jealous when I see people taking trips I don’t have the money or PTO for, but I also realize that’s my problem, not theirs. There’s no reason not to give an honest answer when someone asks where you’re headed.

        3. INTP*

          I agree, plus you can’t deny that people who WILL be resentful about things like this are out there, so it’s reasonable to wonder if some might be your coworkers. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone complaining about acquaintances “bragging” on Facebook when the only offense was posting a lot of vacation photos. And if OP and their coworkers are very young, the lifestyle divides between people of the same income are usually due to background (trust funds, lack of debt because parents paid for college and car, etc), and sometimes that leads to resentment. Not for everyone, but it can, because I’ve heard people admit it.

        4. neverjaunty*

          I think that sort of thing stands out when it’s a manager or boss who talks about how they can’t afford to pay a decent wage, or when it’s someone who complains incessantly about how broke they are. Or if it’s such an elevated lifestyle that people wonder if maybe there’s embezzlement going on. Otherwise, WTF, people, express best wishes for a great trip and move on.

        5. Lindsay J*

          Yeah I don’t think it’s a completely unwarranted fear at all.

          I travel a lot because my job enables me to – I work for an airline so my flights are free, and I work a 4 day week (of about 50 hours) – and I’ve had people on my Facebook question how I can afford to travel so much. In my case the answer is easy so I tell them the truth, but I can see it being more awkward if you don’t want to discuss your financial situation.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Yeah, I’ve never encountered much jealousy and I travel far and wide. People who know me know it’s my passion and that we have loads of frequent flier miles. The most I’ve gotten is a “must be nice” and I just respond that I’m indeed quite fortunate

        1. Ani*

          Yes, or, for example, my mom in her 40s took a job at an airline just so she and my dad could travel like crazy.

        2. Jubilance*

          Ditto. This year I took 2 international trips and I got a lot of “wow, must be nice” comments. I smiled and said “yes it is” and kept it moving.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        Don’t forget that it only takes 1 or 2 people to get snide about it. Most people don’t care, or are happy for you. But the 1 or 2 Snarky Sally’s can be a pain. I had one when I worked dysfunctional program. She purposely would make sure I was phoned about work on each and every trip I was on – even when I left multiple instructions, emails, etc. She was a very fearful person that never traveled more than a few hundred miles.
        The only solution is what Katie the Fed suggested – do your own thing and ignore them. They eventually stop.

      4. ginger ale for all*

        There nigh be feelings of envy but that doesn’t always translate to a hate. My friend’s parents bought her and her husband a house years ago. I’m envious but I am also very happy for them both. Yes, I wish my parents would do that for me but that isn’t going to happen.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Yeah, my co-worker has what we jokingly refer to as the “sugar parents”. They paid for half of her and her husband’s house, and they take them on cruises and exotic vacations every year. I wistfully fantasize about my husband and I having at least one set of ‘sugar parents’, but that doesn’t translate into any weird or negative feelings about or interactions with my co-worker. She’s just lucky that way, and I’m not.

      5. My 2 Cents*

        Then you haven’t lived much. I once worked in a place where most people were EXTREMELY low paid, but my husband has an incredibly good job and tons of frequent flier miles and hotel points, so we were able to go to Paris for a week. My coworkers HATED me for it because they could never dream of doing this on their salaries and this was not a problem for us. It definitely happens, but it’s their problem, not mine.

      6. MashaKasha*

        I will really only resent someone’s vacation plans if they drop hints that I’m somehow a more inferior, more material, basic, etc person by not having the same kind of plans. I damn near flew off the handle when a casual friend (who works for himself) accompanied a spouse (who was there for work) on a two-month European trip, and posted something on FB to the effect of “I prefer to consume experiences than to experience consumption.” Oh well thanks, you’re right on, that’s exactly why I’m not in Europe for the next two months – because I’d rather buy cars and houses and stuff – that and limited PTO/$$. Or if they expect me to tag along on all of their trips and resent me for not being able to do so (but that would be a partner, not a coworker.) Otherwise, I’m happy for ya, have a great trip, send pictures!

          1. MashaKasha*

            It was probably a new convert type of thing. It’s a new-ish relationship and I get a feeling that he didn’t get to travel as much in his previous ones (where his partners did prefer to spend money on houses and cars.) Still pissed me off, though.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Ugh, I hate when people say stuff like that. Good for you! Travel is cool! I prefer to spend my meager entertainment budget on fancy beers and Sephora makeup. Could I afford a trip to Europe if I stopped wearing Smashbox and drinking New Belgium? I mean, maybe, but I’d miss the simple pleasures I’d be giving up.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Yeah, that’s what the block function is for. And I’m sure this dude was not staying in hostels and eating ramen three meals a day when he was in Europe, either, so the ‘experience consumption’ thing is BS.

        3. I'm a Little Teapot*

          I’d be very tempted to post back about how limited most Americans’ PTO is (if we have any at all), and conclude with something like “but enjoy flaunting your privilege if you feel the need to, whatever.”

        4. Lisa*

          So if the spouse wasn’t there for work would he be paying for those 2 months in Europe? IE consumption?Those experiences cost money, and that friend is clearly milking their spouses’ employer by piggy backing on those hotels and likely splitting the per day $ amount he / she gets for consuming food. I seriously doubt that friend would be experiencing anything if it wasn’t for the company picking up a large chunk of the bill.

      7. Batshua*

        I was recently an entry level-newbie in an office, and I think it depends entirely on how people are talking about their vacations. I overheard most of my coworkers talking about their vacations, mostly cruises and whatnot. Obviously, I have no idea about their finances — they could be taking on debt or not saving for retirement for these seemingly lavish vacations, but the fact that they spoke so openly about them while I was struggling to even save money was … irritating, even though I have no interest in going on a cruise. Jealousy wasn’t really what I was feeling so much as … the sense that they were being inconsiderate by blatantly underscoring the disparity in our lifestyles.

        If OP is not regaling people with unsolicited tales of their globetrotting, I think it’s probably just fine.

        1. Ad Astra*

          FWIW, cruises are not particularly lavish for people who live near a port. It’s the go-to cheap vacation for middle-class folks in Houston, Florida, and such. Growing up in the Midwest, I always thought cruises were incredibly expensive because only my richest friends took them, but it turns out the bulk of the expense for them was flying to the port. The cruise itself can be as cheap as $300 a person.

          None of that is meant to refute any of your points; it’s just something I only discovered as an adult, and it surprised me because I always saw cruises as the epitome of a lavish vacation.

        2. Kraw*

          Yes! It’s rude to talk about your fancy vacations around people making significantly less money than you, who are barely able to make ends meet (think, I make $20/hour and they make $10/hour). It’s just not considerate of the person who has more means. Don’t lie, but I would also avoid the topic if possible.

      8. Stranger than fiction*

        Maybe not eaten alive with jealousy but it’s a real thing. I get raised eyebrows at my take out lunch sometimes from my brown-bagging coworkers. Yeah I totally waste a lot of money on eating lunch out but hey I’m too tired and lazy to pack a lunch.

    2. Treena*

      Yep, plenty of people who are loads wealthier than you travel less, it’s all about priorities in what you do with your discretionary spending money! I also travel way above my paycheck, and I usually just stick to a simple “Oh, I’m headed to Cairo, I can’t wait!” If they seem really interested, I’ll tell them about a couple of things I’m going to do. If anyone makes comments/asks about the costs, I toss out whatever deal I found that made me book it (I rarely book a trip unless there’s some discount/miles I can cash in/etc.). If they make a vague comment about how lucky I am, I usually agree enthusiastically and tell them that I also travel hack to make it happen.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Exactly! You can be pretty savvy and travel doesn’t have to cost that much. Honestly, I sometimes pay more to board my dog per night than my own lodging

      2. Artemesia*

        We traveled for 3 weeks every spring to Europe for 25 years — we didn’t buy fancy window treatments (the norm for our social circle and I never could get into it), or change out furniture, or buy more than the basic necessity of clothes. And we drove 10 year old cars. We simply prioritized after our kids’ needs, travel and retirement saving. Now that we are retired we travel for a couple months at a time. Our income was lower than many of my peers but I was mindful of the fact that support staff could not dream of what I was doing and so didn’t share pictures at work or talk a lot about it at work but also didn’t hide it.

        Another we did with friends is not talk a lot about our travel except with other travelers. We used to do dinner parties where we would invite other traveling friends and everyone would bring photos to put on the computer and we would run them on the TV screen at the party. It was a ‘don’t bore y0ur friends with your vacation picture, come bore us’ party and once we started doing it, other traveling friends picked up the idea and would also host these events. It was great fun and we did thereby avoid yammering on and on about fancy travel with friends who couldn’t or didn’t do it.

        1. non-profit manager*

          Yes, we travel quite a bit. But we live in a very modest house, don’t change out furniture and accessories very often, and spend little on clothes, as well. Most people I know who live in larger homes and get new furniture frequently never travel. It’s often about how you choose to spend your money and time.

      3. OriginalEmma*

        Can you recommend any tricks and hacks? I know there are plenty of articles on the subject but I’d like to hear it from a real person instead of a Buzzfeed or LifeHacker writer.

        1. Barbara in Swampeast*

          Emma, what do you want tips for, travel or budgeting?

          I like to travel also and save the money for it by living in a small house, driving our one car into the ground after 20 years, not having smartphones or cable, and a lot of other small ways we don’t spend money the way other people do.

        2. MashaKasha*

          Ehhh, I mentioned it on another thread once that I had an ex who LOVED to travel and traveled a LOT. He kept talking about how inexpensively he travels, all the tricks and tips he knows etc. After we split up, we stayed in contact for a while and I was planning a college visit to NYC with my son around that same time, so I got the ex to share a lot of his tips and tricks. They turned out to be a combination of him having a significantly higher disposable income than I did (we made about the same, but I had a kid in college, another in HS, a dog, a house… the house is a small older house, utility bills are super low, we all drive our cars into the ground and otherwise cut our expenses wherever we can, but it’s still not cheap) and a lot of his trips being tacked onto the end of his work conferences, with work (I assume) paying for at least some of the travel. Also, when he and I traveled together, I paid my airfare and probably at least 30% of the other expenses. When my 18yo son and I traveled, I paid everything for two people. So I found out very quickly, that even with all the tips and tricks, travel is still pretty much out of my reach. My son and I went on three trips in the last two years, which is a drop in the bucket compared to how much I traveled with the ex. tl;dr: I know some tips and tricks if you’re interested, but it’s still going to add up. WAY up. And I’ve never even traveled overseas; just inside the country.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Yep… in my experience, the friends and acquaintances I have who go on and on about traveling cheap are always people who have some unusual advantage like a huge number of frequent flier miles from work travel. Which, I mean, good for them — I would totally parlay that situation into more awesome trips too — but their tips are rarely helpful to the average person.

        3. Katie the Fed*

          Big one isn’t really a hack, but I travel to more undeveloped places – Asia, South America, Africa. I just like getting a little outside the beaten path. I avoid package tours and we go on our own. I use air bnb or vacation rentals whenever possible – also a great way to meet locals and experience their culture. Like, we’ve stayed with families in Nepal and Egypt – just lovely. We use local transportation and hire guides only when we really need them. And we have a ton of frequent flyer miles so that helps a lot – my husband has to travel internationally for work a lot so we use those miles.

          1. MashaKasha*

            That’s what the ex (and I on my 3 trips) did too – vrbo, airbnb, we also did hotwire and found a great deal on a hotel that way… public transportation. It does help bring the expenses down A LOT. No miles here, but I’ve been told to check kayak daily, because their prices fluctuate over the week. After you’ve watched them for a few weeks, once you see them drop way down their usual pattern, that’s the time to buy. It does help to plan most of the trip ahead of time too. Read up on the place, make note of what you want to see, look for deals on that if there’s pay involved… I’ve only ever been on the beaten path though.

            Now I want to go to South America…

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Staying in rentals or with family (as I did in London), is great because it’s so much more like you live there. I took the same bus as everyone in the neighborhood, went to the same pub, went to the same grocery, etc. Now that I’ve discovered, B&Bs (when I went to Cardiff), I can have a similar experience without the big hotel bucks. And free breakfast! :D

            I’m still nervous about hostels; I don’t think I could sleep in a dorm. Some have private rooms and they’re not too expensive, so I may check that out at some point. It may be the only way I get to go to Europe at all.

            1. Christina*

              Eh, peace of mind is worth not staying in a hostel to me. Having traveled a ton this year, and staying at hotels, hostels, and AirBnBs, I wouldn’t do the hostels again. I stayed at the best-rated one in London and there were signs in my bathroom (shared with only the other 3 women in my room) that the water was unsafe to drink and the lock was almost ripped out of the bathroom door. Management said technically the water was safe, they just put the signs up because the pipes are old, but I just didn’t feel like my mind could rest comfortably there, and that made it harder to not feel exhausted when I was actually out doing stuff.

              I’d go with AirBnB over a hostel any day, especially if I know well in advance where and when I’m traveling.

        4. katamia*

          http://www.wikitravel.org is a good place to look when planning a trip–it won’t have every little bit of info, but the info it does have is more informative than what you find in guidebooks IMO.

          Also, if you’re comfortable using credit cards, there are some pretty decent credit cards that are geared toward travel (especially international travel) that you might want to look into. I got one when I moved overseas from the US, and it’s been really useful because it doesn’t charge me any fees for non-US currency, plus the rewards are relatively decent. Some cards also give you airline miles, although mine doesn’t.

          This may not be possible depending on where you want to go (I’m assuming international travel but I just realized you didn’t really specify), but it’s really helpful to know someone from the area you’re going to beforehand so you can ask them questions. My mom has a coworker from the country I moved to, so you better believe I asked her questions before I got here. Also, even if you are terrible with languages, try to learn to read at least a little bit of the language if you don’t already know it. I moved to a Chinese-speaking country able to speak very little Chinese and able to read even less, and I wish I’d focused more on the reading than the speaking before I got here because menus, subway stops, etc. involve reading, not speaking.

        5. bad at online naming*

          I travel a bit and cheaper than most people assume – when I took off to major European cities for about 3 weeks a year ago, it prompted some discussion of costs. People who make more than me were saying things about how they couldn’t afford it, but they were usually thinking of $100+/night hotel stays, $2000 flights, and $50+ sightseeing/tourist visitation trips.

          Instead, I stayed almost exclusively in hostels (and family), watched flights like a hawk for weeks, and limited myself to spending a certain amount of money per day. Hostels frequently have cheap walking tours; grocery stores are way cheaper than restaurants. Nothing revolutionary. The biggest costs were halved or more by monitoring supply and demand and deliberately going on the cheapest trips (overnight trains, 6am flight on a wednesday, etc., not staying in a city with a huge festival going on); the little ones were lessened a bit through time and, frankly, having the luxury of not high standards (the hostel in Amsterdam had mold growing in the room; I can survive on milk and bread).

          And it was still expensive enough to be out of the reach of many. I no longer remember, but I think the travel costs were about $2000 for my portion.

        6. Lindsay J*

          There are a few message boards that go into this subject a lot. FlyerTalk and InsideFlyer are a couple of them.

          A lot of it comes down to leveraging airline miles in the best possible way to get status with the airlines (different amounts of travel gives you different perks like free bags, upgrades to first class, etc) and cashing in for free trips.

          Some people do it by doing credit card deals and stuff – there are a lot of cards out there that will give you a lot of bonus miles for signing up and will give you miles for every dollar you spend after that. And then there is what is called manufactured spend where you do things like buy gift cards etc with the credit cards in order to get more miles. Keyword to look for for advice about this is “churning”.

          Another thing people do is book trips where the value of the miles they’ll earn for the trip is greater than the amount of money they spend. A lot of these trips won’t be to thrilling destinations (and may just be a big circle or something) but you then use the miles earned to go where you really want to go. Keyword to search for is “Mileage runs”.

          There are also websites that will point out “mistake fares”, which is when an airline makes a mistake in calculating the cost of the ticket or mistypes something on the website and sells tickets for way cheaper than the tickets really would generally be. Sometimes these ticket prices are honored, and sometimes they’re cancelled by the airline.

          There are also some ways of getting cheap/free travel that some consider less than ethical. I’ll leave it to you to research those on your own. One of the keywords you might want to look for is “bump running”. Note, you can get banned from airlines for doing this (and the other marginal things).

        7. Ms. Anne Thrope*

          Well, I just got back from a couple weeks in Italy, and my main save is using homeaway/vrbo/airbnb. *So* much cheaper than a hotel. Rome was the most expensive, at ~E100/night. Orvieto was about 85, but that included breakfast, and Perugia was like 75, in a place 50 yards from the central attractions, w/ a phenomenal frescoed ceiling. The big cost w/ Europe is airfare. But when the Holiday Inn in Scranton PA wants $120/night (Jersey shore? Fuggedaboutit), I think the cost evens out. We take trains, rather than renting a car. If you have a big lunch you don’t need much dinner (in fact, happy hour includes tapas-like snacks so we often skipped dinner altogether). The museum passes are often a good deal, altho we went E10 more and got a yearly membership in Perugia because of the number of things we wanted to see.

          Portugal is really cheap (airfare isn’t). We rented an entire 3-story house in Sintra a couple years ago for about 2 grand for a week (shared w/ friends).

          The London Pass was a good deal. Pubs are pretty reasonable for dinner (by London standards, so like 12-15 pp).


      4. Stranger than fiction*

        “It’s all about priorities in what you do with your discretionary spending”

        Exactly that’s so true. Some people don’t care for traveling all that much and would rather sink their money into a new car or bigger house or whatever.

        Conversely, you also see all these Tiny House shows where people are giving up their big houses so they can do more that’s important to them, like travel.

        Also, sometimes people win free trips in the radio. You just don’t know what a persons bigger picture is.

    3. OriginalEmma*

      My old boss was always going on these great vacations and I wasn’t jealous – I wanted to be LIKE him!

    4. Mike C.*

      Yeah, i was going to say the same thing. The people who look at me because I drive a sports car over a “practical family vehicle” are few, and are generally judgmental jerks to begin with.

    5. Green*

      We don’t have any kids, so we travel to exotic locations and talk about our dogs a lot. People have different priorities. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I’d just say “Oh, I put checking off my bucket list above pretty much everything else” or something to remind them that they likely have the same amount of money and just choose to allocate it differently.

      1. John*

        I know what you’re saying because my dogs go to daycare (I live in the city and it’s not much more expensive than dog walkers and they are socializing and watched over all day). To some, that’s extravagant but to me it’s a necessity, especially given the length of my days, and the right thing for them, so I refuse to feel guilty about it. On the occasion that someone rolls their eyes, I explain the rational and they always seem to totally get it.

        I really think it comes down to the way you say it. If you announce, “I just returned from PALM BEACH! We stayed at the Ritz-Carton!” it sounds like you’re dropping luxury labels, vs saying, “We had a really nice vacation.” Where was it? “Oh, Palm Beach. It was lovely.” Where’d you stay? “We found this amazing hotel right on the water. We loved it. It was the Ritz-Carlton. We had such a wonderful time.” In the latter case, the person is sharing a great experience vs rubbing a label in your face.

        1. Cactus*

          Yep. The principle I’ve come up with in my adult life when dealing with these sorts of income disparities/generational wealth disparities/discretionary spending disparities issues, when I’m the one with more money, is “don’t hide/don’t flaunt.” So I’d agree that the LW shouldn’t be screaming “I’M GOING TO TAHITI!” all over the office. But they also shouldn’t be saying “no real plans” or “I’m going to Tacoma.” [I live near Tacoma, insert your own nearby-small-city-of-choice here.] If the coworkers ask where LW is going, “Tahiti” would be the answer to give. This is probably an easier thing for me than it is for some people; I’m generally a fairly private person, so the whole “I’m not going to talk about my business unless they ask” idea comes naturally. But it can generally help to ward off some weird snide crap. (Although not always–once I had to shell out a lot of cash for computer repairs/file recovery, which I felt really down in the dumps about, and my co-worker–who I thought was my friend–noticed, asked what was up, and we talked about it. She just assumed, without even asking, that my parents were paying for the expensive services. Nope, nope, nope.)

      2. Ad Astra*

        The first thing we did when we got back on our feet after a layoff was adopt a dog, for whom we buy ridiculously expensive food and way too many toys. I wouldn’t trade that dog for an all-expenses paid trip to anywhere. In fact, my primary motivation to save up and buy a house is so that we can adopt another dog; right now, our lease doesn’t allow it. It’s all about priorities.

    6. INTP*

      I agree. I think only the very money-conscious, money-jealous people will care about OP’s vacations as long as OP isn’t running around bragging about them, and those people have probably already noticed that OP has more disposable income than they do based on other factors (car, clothes, where OP goes out to eat, lack of joining in when they complain about student loans or car payments, etc). The people who are resentful about money are already sniffing it out everywhere. Others might be a little jealous, but won’t hold it against you, so it’s not worth trying to hide your vacations.

      1. INFJ*

        Good point. I think the OP is trying to prevent any snide sallys from making the “must be nice” comments, but those people are probably hyper aware about it anyway.

    7. Devil's Avocado*

      Agree. I have a coworker at the the non-profit that I work for who is rich beyond the wildest dreams of most people. She goes on vacations that none of us could afford. If she lied about where she was going it would make things so much weirder. Plus, she always brings us back treats (coffee, or chocolate, or other edible snacks). No one complains or appears to be dying of jealousy…

    8. Erica B*

      I just want to add that, as a person whose boss, takes vacations without letting us know he will be away, is extremely frustrating- for work purposes.
      I don’t care that my boss goes on vacation- I envy him actually. He’s goes to some amazing places, but it doesn’t make me angry or resentful. It’s extremely frustrating to find out 3 days after not seeing Boss, when my co-worker or myself need him for something, it’s because he’s out of the country on vacation for 2.5 weeks. ugh. I mean why can’t he (or you) just put it on the calendar. If I know Boss is on vacation I try my best to not leave messages/emails/texts, but if we don’t know- we look like a-holes who don’t know when the boss is out of town. As a side note, it’s just helpful to know what to say when someone comes by looking for him. “He’s out of town, and we expect him back around X”

      Please let your colleagues know that you’re unavailable, it’s courteous. I often have to say to my Boss, “Going on any vacations this year?” just so *I* can put it on the calendar for him- otherwise he doesn’t openly share the information.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        That’s really weird! If I go on a trip more than a week, I spend as much energy on planning at work for my absence as I do on the trip

  9. LadyCop*

    #4 I love your response Alison! As someone who has PTSD, and many job anxieties back in the day because of it, it used to become SO easy to take feedback into a whole new realm of awfulization! Having a manager that can have your back is priceless!

  10. Ruth (UK)*

    1. Incidentally, while I think that the work situation that happened in 1 is as horrifying as Alison (and presumably everyone else) did, I think the number of people who enjoy tickling (depending on situation) is far far above 10%.

    It’s something I’ve ended up discussing at length, not to go into detail why. But if you include playful (non aggressive) tickles and also ticking between close / intimate friends or romantic partners, I actually think the percentage of people who NEVER enjoy tickling is low (possibly more close to the 10% mark). Though there are some people who always hate it, I think a lot of people can enjoy it in the right situation from the right person.

    At the same time I do also think that there are almost no people who indiscriminately like being tickled no matter where or who from. I think almost no one would be ok with aggressive tickling from a coworker…

    1. LSCO*

      I agree with you – if the percentage of people who enjoyed it was so low, it wouldn’t be “a thing”.

      Personally, I have an odd relationship with being tickled. My SO likes to play-tickle me a lot, and whilst I hate being tickled (my SO is skilled at dodging flailing limbs), usually the circumstances around it are fun and playful and so I don’t actually mind it in context.

      Anyone other than my SO? Hell no, I will not be in control of where my arms and legs end up and I will not take responsibility for any injury that may come your way.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m probably off-base on the numbers. I just tried googling this and could only find one oft-cited survey showing “only 32% of respondents enjoy being tickled, with 32% giving neutral responses and 36% stating that they do not enjoy being tickled.”

      1. Ruth (UK)*

        I think a lot of people self-report that they don’t like it even when they do in some situations, because they wouldn’t like it in any situation relevant to the person asking. Or, they usually dislike it except from people they’re very intimate with, but give no as an answer overall. I think it becomes too complicated to separate it into people who like tickling and people who don’t. I also think it’s something people are frequently embarrassed to admit they like, or afraid to as, with the case of someone who only likes tickling from a person they are intimate with, they may worry that people who find out will think it’s ok to tickle them.

          1. LQ*

            I cannot +all the numbers enough for this. The radical difference between these two situations is so big that it’s not the same at all. (Especially when you add aggressively to the second one.)

          2. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah. I enjoy mild tickling with my SO and a small handful of other people I care about (and who I trust to stop immediately if I tell them it’s bugging me). That doesn’t mean that I want to be tickled by a coworker, ever! To me, it’s an intimacy on the level of cuddling (although not inherently romantic), and I don’t have to hate it entirely to not want just anyone to try it.

        1. Student*

          While I’ve never gone out of my way to ask about it, I’ve also never had someone tell me they like being tickled. I’ve met people who like tickling other people, but about half of them have been purely malicious – people who do it over others’ objections as a form of bullying/control.

          I don’t want to extrapolate either of those numbers to imply something about the population at large. But I do wonder if maybe there’s a cultural aspect to it that might cause a nonuniform distribution in the general population. Maybe it’s Not A Thing where I grew up, but it’s Totally Normal in some other part of the country.

        2. anon*

          Especially since sometimes the distinction is ‘only as foreplay’, which is not information someone’s likely to share willy nilly.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        I feel bad for the person who had to actually make the phone calls for a “tickling” survey. I know I would assume it was a pervy prank call if someone called me and asked me to answer questions about how much I like to be tickled.

    3. Kyrielle*

      Yes. I do occasionally tickle my youngest (3) unexpectedly, but only because _he actively likes being tickled and has made it clear surprise tickles are fun_. Both my young children know they can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to tickles and it should be respected, and except for occasional sillies with the three-year-old, I hold my hands out in a tickle shape and ask if they want it.

      I don’t really enjoy being tickled, but I tolerate it, and I allow it to my immediate family during tickle moments in the interest of fairness. (My boys are now both old enough to get that Mom does _not_ want to be surprise tickled, and they don’t. Asking first really is a basic concept that a pre-schooler can learn. Sadly, not everyone does learn it.)

      Being tickled should be opt-in, though.

      1. Bostonian*

        So much this. I hate being tickled and it totally baffles me that my toddlers like it. So I respect it if they say no, and if they say yes I only tickle them for a few seconds at a time and wait for them to catch their breaths and ask for more, which they’ll keep doing for quite a while. They’re still under two and don’t have bodily autonomy in all ways yet (they get wrestled into a coat or car seat or a clean diaper over their objections pretty regularly), but even at this age I feel that tickling should be opt-in.

        1. Rana*

          That’s how I approach it with my toddler, too. There’s some tickling she enjoys in that fashion, but there are other parts of her that she cannot stand to have tickled, and it’s important to respect that, I feel. If I accidentally tickle her that way, I apologize!

          One thing I find sort of weird, though, is how many children’s songs, teachers, etc. encourage parents to “give the little one a tickle.” When that happens in her music class, I just sort of jiggle her arms, which are not at all ticklish on her, because I’m simply not going to tickle her for real in a public setting.

      2. Robin*

        +1 for teaching your kids they have power over their bodies and get to say yes or no to all types of touches! In tickling especially (as a ticklish and therefore constantly tickled child, I’m not a fan) but also hugs or kisses from relatives. Even Grandma isnt automatically entitled to hugs and kisses. It allows children to set boundaries and learn they will be respected, and helps teach them to respect the boundaries of others.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yes! I am also very clear that that’s their choice – at one point I was (politely) defending my oldest from a relative who wanted hugs he didn’t want to give, because nope. He doesn’t get to hit you or sass you, but he absolutely gets to decide he won’t hug you/let you hug him.

          Both my boys are – as I am – very ticklish. (My youngest is wildly ticklish – you can tickle his neck, or his eyebrows, or his wrists.) I want them to know, without a doubt, that no one has the right to use that against their wishes. My oldest occasionally wants to be tickled, but not often. My youngest currently thinks that’s awesome.

          (I do differentiate between tickles they can decline, and tickles as a result of a necessary activity. My youngest is pretty good at washing his own face and neck, for when he doesn’t want to be inadvertently tickled by someone doing it for him.)

          1. Op 1*

            Thanks everyone for your comments and thanks for publishing the question Alison! Today has been pretty unpleasant and it was good to have reminders that this place is a bit ridiculous!
            Predictably costumes were required for the Halloween party on pain of getting silly string sprayed on you.

      3. LD*

        Yes. I hate being tickled, but with the grandkids, it can be fun. We play “Tickle Hands are coming to get you!” and they like to run and be chased by the “Tickle Hands.” The “Tickle Hands” catch them and tickle them for a little bit and if they say stop, we stop. And I usually wear out before they do!

    4. Can't even*

      tickling is a ‘hard limit’ for me. I make a point of telling anyone I start getting physically affectionate with that they Can Not Tickle Me. It feels like I’m either going to puke or pee my pants, or both. Distinctly unpleasant. Honestly I would have been tempted to lodge a complaint or at least meet with HR to say that it should never ever happen again.

  11. Ruth (UK)*

    Also 2 (sorry I would have replied in one comment nut on phone and ended up posting): I sometimes struggle with eye contact and used to more so. I was told directly about it in a retail job. Anyway, one thing that helps me is to look at the nose of the person I am talking to, or forehead if I struggle with actual eye contact. It’s not true that people can’t tell the difference but it will be harder for them to tell. You can make eye contact and then look away to their forehead or nose as well. Maybe this could be an idea for that employee?

    1. Myrin*

      I am weirdly unable to concentrate whenever I directly look into someone’s eyes. It’s distracting in a way I can’t really explain and makes me totally lose my train of thought. I combat this by letting my eyes kind of roam the person’s face while looking into their eyes every once in a while or by doing what others already suggested, focusing on their nose or forehead. That being said, I wouldn’t take offence at all if someone pointed it out or asked me to change it. It would probably be a bit difficult for me but nothing horrible.

  12. SCR*

    #2 – I totally feel you on this. Hopefully no one at your office is like mine and makes comments about how much I spend and shouldn’t I save more and how can I travel alone all the time (I’m a woman) and isn’t it unsafe and blah blah blah. I specifically live in a place just because of the ease of traveling to awesome places nearby. I go off on weekends to Europe on a regular basis, I’ve been really self-conscious because I feel like I’m bragging to coworkers but also friends back home. I’ve found it’s easiest for me to just be truthful when someone asks but I choose not to openly tell people like, “guess what I’m doing next week!” They ask, I answer, and I don’t downplay or give in to the judgments. If someone says, “wow, how awesome, I wish I could afford that!” then I just reiterate “yeah I’m really excited, so what about that document?”

    1. StudentPilot*

      +1 to this. I also get a lot of comments about being female and travelling alone, which can be….annoying, because they often don’t let that thought go.

      Anyway – I do the same as SCR – I answer their question, then divert back to a work topic. I don’t rub their noses in it, i.e. “HAHA, I’m going to Botswana and you’re not, SUCKA!”, but I don’t shy away from “yeah, I’m going to Botswana for Christmas this year. I’m really excited! We need to finish the teapot catalogue description before I leave, though – so let’s take a look at what we have so far.”

      1. Student*

        It’s worse when it happens in professional contexts. Ridiculous to have to explain to a boss or co-worker that I’m perfectly capable of doing a job that requires traveling outside my office alone. I won’t get eaten by sand worms, kidnapped by bandits, or accidentally wander into traffic if unsupervised by a guy. There are a couple places in the world where there is actually a real issue – but we aren’t talking about travel to Saudi Arabia here.

        Statistically speaking, on business travel as a woman, the biggest threats to your safety from other people are actually your male co-workers and not male strangers. For a man, there’s a much bigger risk from strangers than co-workers than there is for a woman.

        1. SCR*

          Luckily I’ve never had anyone make comments about business travel alone but I totally see what you mean. I’m in a job where I have had to travel to Saudi and it’s really … not that bad in a small dose. I got in and got out but it was fine overall. I even have a friend in the UAE who used to live there and faked being a man and drove everywhere. Not recommended but yeah, you’ll be fine. Keep your wits about you, understand the culture, stay inside the rules and it’s much much less safe than the US. Alarmingly so.

          Disclaimer: places where the IS is operating are much different but that should be a given and your company should not be sending you there — unless you are a journalist.

          1. SCR*

            Much much MORE safe! Gosh. But yes. Insane criminal justice laws in MENA keep certain acquaintance and stranger crimes way down.

            1. SCR*

              Sorry I wasn’t clear — she used to drive in Saudi marauding as man. We live in the UAE now. We both drive here.

          2. Student*

            Yeah, no, I wish I was talking about places where the company would at least have some valid safety or security concerns. I do know one woman who got kidnapped while on travel in the Middle East, though. It can be fine to travel there for business as long as everything goes smoothly – issues come up when something goes wrong and you have to deal with their laws/justice system etc. or don’t know ahead of time what the rules and expectations are.

            I once had a boss tell me I couldn’t travel alone to drive a van of equipment to Las Vegas. That’s a couple hour drive for us – long enough to be an obnoxiously long, overnight trip, not long enough to require a second driver. I needed to bring another person along to make the trip okay by the boss. Ended up not doing the trip.

            I also had a project manager give me a serious lecture on my recklessness and orders of “never do that again” for making a 15-minute walk between two of our campus buildings by myself. On a path, within sight of a well-traveled road, on flat ground. We’re in a desert – there aren’t other people likely to ambush me, there’s virtually no wild life, there’s no vegetation. It’s not so hot that I’ll get dangerously dehydrated in 15 minutes, nor are we so far away from civilization that I couldn’t go over to the road to signal someone or call for help on my cell phone if something bad did happen, against all odds. I was specifically instructed that if I had to go out there on my own, to drive it, or ask someone else to drive me. I just don’t tell him about it when I make the walk now.

            I wonder how they think I survive outside of work.

        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I used to travel for work *a lot* at my former job and no one batted an eye.

          At my current job I got pulled aside for a conversation about “safety concerns” when I expensed a $10 Metro Card rather than s6+ cab rides :(

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I got those “Weren’t you scared to go alone?” comments too. I would just look at them in a puzzled way and say, “No, why?” For some people, it’s just completely out of the realm of possibility that a woman (or for some people, anyone) would travel alone.

      I don’t LIKE travelling alone, but it’s not because I’m scared.

  13. TV Researcher*

    #1… I didn’t even have to read the actual letter to respond with an immediate “NOPE!”

    I’m getting uncomfortable just thinking about it.

    I used to be very ticklish (probably still am, though few people get to test this out), and my family used to love to torture me through tickles. And though I probably laughed, I wasn’t having any fun. But, I was a kid and there was little I could do.

    But if you tickle me today, especially if I’m not expecting it, I will lash out and it will likely be violent. I’m not all that crazy about people I’m not close with touching me (handshakes excepted), but tickling will be met with an immediate, reactionary response.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      Nope is about the only reasonable reaction to this foolishness. No one should be touching there coworkers without permission.

      1. SherryD*

        Yeah, tickling is WAY too intimate to be doing with colleagues. A handshake, a clap on the shoulder, even a brief hug when it’s merited — fine. Tickling is totally over the line.

      2. MashaKasha*

        My thought exactly! It’s like they combined Opposites day and a sexual harassment seminar into one fun team-building event.

  14. Merry and Bright*

    #1 Now, I admit I’m not neutral here because I Hate Team Building Events. Set us a good team work project instead. But just what is it with these things? They almost seem designed to cause resentment and humiliation – just what you don’t want. As for unwanted physical contact and personal space invasion – just no.

      1. the gold digger*

        Here is the only acceptable method of team building (in the world where I AM BOSS):

        Company-paid meal on company time at a nice restaurant with time and room for mingling and talking to co-workers.

        Or company-paid cake on company time.

        Meal or cake. That’s it.

        1. OriginalEmma*

          Yes. Thank you. If team building is SO IMPORTANT, do it on company time with company money. Otherwise, it’s not important or critical to the mission of the business.

          1. Sarahnova*

            …Is it not normally on company time with company money? I’ve never known a teambuilding event that wasn’t!

      2. MashaKasha*

        Seriously. You know what’s the best team-building activity in my opinion? Working together and getting things done together. I left OldJob almost ten years ago, still have friends there, dated a guy from there, and we all get together for reunions twice a year, you know why? because we were all on call together, supported mission-critical systems together, that kind of thing. It really gets people to bond the way aggressive tickling never will!

        1. Prickly Pear*

          My old team and I hung out together, and we still are close, because we served in the trenches and we tell war stories and we were the most dysfunctional family (mostly our company’s fault), which made it better. I ran a team-building thing based on how well we got along. I was surprised when I left that not all coworkers became entertwined like we did. (I like my team now, but our workplace is toxic as all get out. Nature of the job.)

      3. Anon Accountant*

        Yes!! Side story – I once turned down a job offer because the company participated often in “team building events” such as obstacle courses, scavenger hunts, etc. When they described their events it was too much like summer camp to me. Their events were often too.

    1. Oh no not again*

      Bonding through a shared, awful experience? I kid!

      Anyone who expects me to do that will get some choice words and sarcastic comments about sexual harassment.

      1. the gold digger*

        A technique I learned in my organizational behavior class for team building is to get people to unite against a common enemy. So tickling could work for that, in a twisted way.

  15. Blurgle*

    #1 There’s that “termination with extreme prejudice” phrase again, raising its ugly head and giving the teambuilder the evil eye.

  16. Sherm*

    #4: I can attest that it’s not always a nightmare situation for the boss to find out the employee is looking to work elsewhere. I, too, pretty much had to tell my boss I was looking. I was extreeeeeemely nervous to tell him, but he was very understanding. Although he was disappointed, being sane, he knew that I could not grow where I was and appreciated why I would want to leave. He gave me a good recommendation, and we keep in touch.

  17. Apollo Warbucks*

    #2 I’m holiday at the moment. My wages aren’t great but I saved up all year for this and it’s the first time I’ve traveled long haul in 10 years.

    People at worked asked where I was going and I told them, there were a few comments about how it sounds exciting and someone even said “you must be getting paid to much” I didn’t say anything but I was thinking well you earn twice what I do (I see the payroll file fairly often) and just brought a flash new sports car and have your own house, all I said was yeah the flight cost a bit, but once I get there it’ll cost me like $15 a day to live.

    I can’t imagine anyone really cared what I’m doing its just something out of the ordinary that’s a talking point in an otherwise dull office setting, I never get the same comments when I travle to Europe (from the UK) and that would have cost me much more than this holiday.

    Let people think what they want to your budget is your business no one else’s, enjoy the trips you take the positives of travelling are worth so much more than money in the bank of letting other people’s perception of the situation bother you.

    1. Artemesia*

      If the jackass who said that has any authority over you that is just shameful (it isn’t that swell if he doesn’t either). Plenty of well paid men in the workplace think that lower level staff should live in penury. Hope you have a fabulous time. One of the reasons we travel for long periods is that our cost of living once we get someplace is no greater than living at home — the cost is the getting there.

  18. MaryMary*

    #1 I totally agree that this situation is colossally inappropriate, but I can’t help but wonder how the group photo turned out after management shouted “tickle each other AGGRESSIVELY!” I’m picturing 80% of people wearing WTF expressions, 10% crazies reaching out to tickle their coworkers, and 10% tickling victims trying to professionally handle their fight or flight response.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      I pictured just the OP being tickled and everybody else looking horrified/ducking out of the way. Which is totally the professional look this season.

    2. fposte*

      I was wondering if maybe she shouted that as a funny *idea* to make people laugh, not as a thing people would actually do. Because it doesn’t seem photographically useful to me either.

      1. neverjaunty*

        My money’s on “poor boundary issues”. Mandatory-fun workplaces seem to breed people who center their own personal idea of fun over anyone else’s interest or consent in participating, and of course people who actively enjoy steamrolling over other people’s boundaries. That latter group is very good at wrapping their control issues in ‘fun’. Oh, but you’re laughing, so it’s okay! kind of thing.

  19. Ani*

    #3 read to me like the main professional issue is that he’s staring at women’s chests (all the more a problem because he works the front desk). Somehow many responses have latched onto the second graph where OP mentions that the employee seems anxious. Wouldn’t the direct approach be to be kind but point out women are crossing their arms in front of their chests because that’s where he’s looking and it needs to stop.

    1. Tamsin*

      I wondered about this because the OP mentions that the way he stares is “it’s not in an ogling manner” but that it still makes her uncomfortable — actually, just the use of the word “ogling” was so unexpected in the post that it made me back up and think again about why OP thinks this issue needs to be addressed.

    2. KT*

      +100. He may be looking down at women’s chests–not to be a creeper and ogle–but because he’s nervous–but for women, it could make them uncomfortable because that’s just weird.

    3. LBK*

      I have a coworker who does this exact thing (doesn’t make eye contact, focuses his eyes vaguely in the chest area) and it makes me uncomfortable even as a man with no chest-high body parts worth ogling, but I’ve also just kind of learned that that’s how he is. We don’t have any direct customer interactions, though, so it’s easier for us to write it off internally as just one of Bob’s quirks than it would be if he were meeting with a lot of external people who weren’t familiar with it.

    4. mander*

      Yeah, that’s what I picked up on. I had a professor who would never, ever make eye contact when he was talking to you, but he’d look off to one side. I think maybe he actually had some sort of issue where he had trouble controlling where he focused his eyes.

      At any rate, everyone thought it was weird but nobody thought he was staring at their breasts because he was looking to the side of their face. If he’d been staring at my chest I might have felt more uncomfortable. The OP might want to focus more on this aspect than the lack of eye contact, IMHO.

    5. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, and this is why if the person actually can’t make eye contact for some reason, looking at the forehead or nose or something (as others have suggested) is still probably going to be an improvement. I actually can tell when someone is looking at my forehead instead of my eyes, but it’d still be a huge, huge improvement over appearing to be staring at my chest. The former is a wee bit awkward, but the latter would make me outright uncomfortable.

    6. beachlover*

      Honestly, if I was a customer and felt like someone was staring at my chest, I would say something, along the line of
      “My face it up here!” I can be pretty blunt. If someone is so anxious that they cannot perform their job properly, and with a front facing job, you have to be able to interact with visitors and make them feel comfortable, then perhaps it is the wrong job for him.

  20. Jozie*

    #2, I agree that you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable to mention your vacation plans. Like literally anything else, you shouldn’t brag about it but you seriously don’t sound like you’re the type to do so or that you intend to do so.

    From a different perspective, it would be a cool thing to know as your coworker because it gives me something to bring up in my small talk with you! I’m fairly socially anxious, and I often forget details of things people have told me randomly (not work things, personal life details) but it’s easier for me to remember a big trip and is a guaranteed good topic of conversation – assuming you had fun on your trip and don’t mind talking about it!

    I’m not trying to encourage becoming BFFs with your coworkers, but I do like knowing innocuous but interesting details about mine (pets, hobbies, etc.) simply because I think it helps make them less one-dimensional, and frankly I tend to be more patient with them and not see them as bots designed solely to assist me with my work projects. Ahem, carry on.

  21. FD*

    #2- I think Alison’s advice is good. I also work in an organization where people tend to get jealous about trips, but I’ve seen that some variation of “I build my whole budget around it” can help. It’s unfair that you should even have to explain it, but it seems to diffuse some of that, because the jealous people can imagine that you don’t get to have as much fun as they do going out/taking classes/etc.

    #3- I would be careful a little about explaining how to do eye contact, though. If your employee struggles with social skills, he might easily swing from not making eye contact to staring uncomfortably. Could you maybe demonstrate for him?

  22. Amber Rose*

    On my second date with my (now) husband, he thought it would be cute to tickle me.

    I broke his nose. (Still not my worst date but close.)

    Completely aside from how VERY NOT OK it is to touch someone without permission (very, very not ok), I can’t control that reflex. With years of hard work I can resist if I’m expecting it, like in physio or massage, but out of nowhere, someone would get hurt. And I would be beyond furious.

      1. Amber Rose*

        It’s a tie! There was the time I had an asthma attack and had a random security guard passing by call me an ambulance. Both painful and embarassing.

        And there was the dude who went on a long story about this ghost that once tried to kill him, and that he was convinced it was in the house with us. At that point he pulled out his “book of shadows” which was a notebook with a rubber skull on the cover, and proceeded to do an exorcism. I use that term in a loose sense mind you, since what he did was strip off his black t-shirt, replace it with an identical black t-shirt from his bag, and then babble incoherently for 5 minutes while looking constipated in a weird pose. I swear, I can’t make this stuff up!

        Painful and embarassing in a whole different way. Plus I may have damaged a couple muscles in a heroic effort not to laugh in his face.

        1. knitchic79*

          I’m so tempted to start a poll of worst date experiences on the next weekend open thread. Lol those were awesome Amber Rose.

          1. Amber Rose*

            If you do I’ll go into more details. I left out some of the good parts in the interests of not writing a novel. ;)

          2. MashaKasha*

            I swear will ditch my boyfriend and my kid to log in over the weekend for this! I do have stories!! Nothing close to Amber Rose’s, I admit, but still decent stories. And I’m looking forward to reading other people’s. Let’s do it!!

            I think the one benefit of online dating is that it brought is into contact with people we’d never meet otherwise, and some of these people are just balls-to-the-wall crazy. And because we don’t know them, and don’t have any mutual friends that could tell us, “don’t go out with him, he’s nuts”, we do go out with them, and hilarities ensue. I don’t have any good dating stories from my pre-marriage, pre-online days, but I’ve got a ton from the 6-12 months combined that I spent dating online.

            1. Amber Rose*

              This was probably about 10 years ago now, when I was in university. I have no idea where that dude ended up.

              At least he gave me a hell of a story.

  23. jhhj*

    My family tickled me despite my disliking it and saying so because I was laughing so I must have been having fun, right? I trained myself to kick very hard while being tickled. When my family would get mad that I kicked them, I just explained that if they didn’t tickle me, I wouldn’t kick, and it eventually ended.

    I now have a lot of trouble holding back the reflex to kick when, eg, small children or animals touch me in a way that feels like tickling (but isn’t deliberate) — I am very sensitive to tickling. Still was a worthwhile tradeoff, though sometimes it makes receiving massages on my legs or feet difficult.

    1. F.*

      My brother used to hold down and tickle our younger sister until she would pee her pants. He thought it was funny. It was abuse.

      1. jhhj*

        Yes, it was. I don’t think my family realised it at the time, or would have done it if they had really realised how much it upset me, though it was really horrible for me. I think culture has changed about this (except at this weird teambuilding conference) for the better.

  24. F.*

    #1) We spend a lot of time and energy educating children about inappropriate touch (which includes non-consensual tickling). We spend a lot of time and energy educating in the workplace about sexual harassment, including inappropriate touch. I can’t for the life of me imagine a responsible adult in the workplace telling other adults to “aggressively tickle” each other! How is that not a sexual harassment incident waiting to happen, not to mention a gross violation of personal physical boundaries?

    1. Observer*

      How is that also not general lawsuit territory? This really could be assault, and even without that if anyone got hurt in any way, the employer would have to be facing liability.

      1. Winter is Coming*

        This is a really good point. I could seriously see my back going out or something during such an incident!

  25. baseballfan*

    #4 – I have been in this situation, actually quite recently. I was interviewing for a position with a couple of Big 4 accounting firm while employed at a major client (Fortune 10 company, so they are everyone’s client).

    At one firm, I got pretty far down in the interview process and ultimately they were not able to make the business case to hire, but I had not as of that point been asked to disclose, although I knew I would have to soon, almost certainly before getting an offer. At another firm, they would not even talk to me until I had disclosed. The second example seems a little extreme, but it’s their firm and their client and their risk. I was middle management, so not a highly responsible role. I would say the higher up you are, the sooner you have to disclose, if a conflict of interest exists.

  26. OP*

    I’m the original letter writer of question #3. The issue is not cultural nor is it related to autism or any disability. I am confident about this because the employee has been fairly open with me about his anxiety and other health issues. I have had comments made to me by customers. It’s an issue because people come to us with fairly complex problems and the lack of eye contact makes it questionable as to whether this staff member is listening and taking in all of the information. I have that issue with him myself. Alison is correct that “the issue is that he’s not providing the kind of warm “face of the organization” that [we] want [our] front desk person to have (because lack of eye contact can read as uninterested, uncomfortable, or unfriendly).” His main job responsibilities are the front desk, so there is no option to move him.

    1. fposte*

      I think the suggestions people make about looking at noses and foreheads could be worth relaying in the conversation–that he needs to look at people’s faces, and if he’s uncomfortable with eye contact he can look elsewhere on their face. But he has to look at faces.

      1. Winter is Coming*

        And it wouldn’t even have to be prolonged “looking” either. He could focus on the face for a few seconds, then move to say, a parallel point in the room, then back to the face. We don’t want him going overboard either.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Training him to look somewhere on the face close to the eyes would be a good start then. He can work his way up to actual eye contact.

      There are plenty ways of faking it. Fake it till you make it and all.

  27. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    Oh god, #1. No one is allowed to tickle me, I hate the feeling and it’s always made me really upset because why are you having fun making me physically uncomfortable? Add on to that that when someone is doing something incredibly physical like tickling and ignores me if I ask them to stop I’m liable to have a panic attack related to some PTSD- which is an issue that has never come up in a work place before because people are generally adults who keep their hands to themselves! I’m glad the LW is leaving that job, if it were me I’d be filing a million complaints.

  28. Erin*

    #1 – Wow. I have coworkers who don’t even like being touched – not on the shoulder when someone is talking to them, no hugs, nothing. If this had happened at my work there would have been one big awkward moment when everyone just stopped back and excused themselves from this situation.

    #2 – I 100% hear where you’re coming from, but it’s no one’s business how you manage your money. Please don’t worry yourself over it to much. In fact, the people I know of who are the most frugal also travel the most. But whether you’re a whiz a budgeting, or your partner or a family member is helping you out, or whatever the case may be, again, it’s no one’s business.

  29. Batshua*

    Since I’m at work, I don’t have time to read all the comments, so please forgive me if this has already been addressed. I’m sure folks already suggested reasons why OP #3’s employee might not be making eye contact. If he finds it uncomfortable or challenging, perhaps he might try to “cheat”. Some folks do better looking at, say a person’s right ear. If done well, it looks like eye contact to the other person without the discomfort of trying to make “appropriate” eye contact. He can come off as friendly this way and can work on making eye contact more slowly.

  30. Marilyn*

    It’s not just tickling, but tickling AGGRESSIVELY? I don’t want my coworkers to touch me, like, at ALL. It’s weird enough when we have to take a group photo and have someone’s arm around you awkwardly. Tickling? We’re not 5….

    I worked for a hotel, that was managed by a third party management company. The hotel went into foreclosure, and the management company sold the hotel to the bank. Upper management would pile into offices for weeks and weeks, and slam the door, on a near daily basis. Then one day an article was published about it in Business Journal and then suddenly “Hey guys, come on in…. now our hotel is in foreclosure…. sooooooooo just know that we JUST found out about this, so if anyone asks, we don’t know any more details.” Just found out, my ass. They told us not to worry about our jobs, yet many of us ended up being fired for petty reasons, or laid off very soon after “finding out.”

  31. Rose*

    re: Travel: I’m in a similar situation though I’m not uncomfortable with sharing my plans with my coworkers, because most of them are travel junkies too.

    If I get any weirdness, I just say that travel is the one thing I prioritize/splurge on to the sacrifice of other thing. Or, I’m a super bargain hunter.

  32. Lauren*


    I went to 7 countries in Europe over 16 days at end of August / early September, and paid less than I did the prior year for 1st week of August to 3 countries. More countries / more time = less $. I planned better and had great weather. OP #2 shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed because they know how to budget, plan, and do stuff. This is my big annual trip from the US, and I refuse to not talk about how excited I am about it. Though I do feel I should explain to people that I can afford it because I don’t own a house or have kids, but even if I did – I would find a way to continue to traveling before I am longer able to. Talk to only people who get why travel is a priority in your life and ignore everyone else. US culture is that we shouldn’t use our vacation time cause it looks bad if we do so traveling anywhere but disney or somewhere you can drive to is seen as extravagant here. Yeah I’ve been to Bosnia, but not to California. I’ve been to Spain and Denmark more times, than I’ve been to NYC. I traveled to Poland. I went to Croatia (simply because of Game of Thrones) and had the time of my life. Enjoyed every minute, and I have no regrets. I will always have these memories. My grandfather said to me before he died – ‘do it while you can, Lau’ – and I am.

  33. Anon Accountant*

    #1 – I wouldn’t be held legally responsible for what would happen if someone tried that on me. My limbs would wildly take on a life of their own as a reflex and I may knock a few people unconscious. Unintentionally. But I’d guarantee they’d never suggest that again nor would anyone dare try it. I can’t even process thoughts at the suggestion that someone do this.

  34. The Optimizer*

    Is it just me, or do other feel that we have become a little too overly concerned with the sensitivity of others when it comes to constructive criticism? I’m talking about things discussed above like not giving an employee who is customer-facing feedback about how their lack of eye contact may be perceived and worrying about what others may think about your vacation plans because they just might be jealous about them.
    I tend to be rather pragmatic. I don’t gossip or take part in making fun of others for things like their singing ability, outward appearance, etc. but feedback and constructive criticism has a time and place, most especially at work. If it’s your job to manage others, open and honest feedback HAS to be a part of that process. I know the approach can be different depending on the recipient but some things need to be discussed even if it upsets or makes that person uncomfortable. Even if that person has anxiety, is autistic in one degree or another or just can’t handle criticism because they were coddled too much as a child, they still need to hear the truth that their actions have consequences and they can improve if they do things differently. I have one EE that is VERY sensitive to being told about mistakes and does not do well with change. She can get very upset very easily so the way I have to approach her with mistakes or changes in procedure is far different than another EE who just rolls with the punches, accepts responsibility, moves on and is better for it. I have to temper my approach but I still need to make her understand that she did X wrong and the result was Y or that A & B are changing because of C and it will benefit our department/the company/the client for various reasons.
    Is the approach that we shouldn’t criticize someone because they *might* take it hard or become upset a generational thing? I’m the epitome of Gen X myself and I seem to see the reluctance to more with younger people than I do with people my age and older. I have been on the receiving end of this at work as well when I’ve asked someone to do something differently or asked for something and been told yes even though they didn’t agree with me or thought they couldn’t do what was asked because they wanted to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear rather than the reality of the situation. I think this can lead to all sorts of workplace complications and drama. What ever happened to “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and learning from mistakes?

    1. Ad Astra*

      I don’t think this is generational at all. Some people have always been overly concerned with what others think about them, or excessively careful about hurting people’s feelings. Some people, like you, have always been pragmatic and direct. And others have always been sensitive, perhaps even hypersensitive, to criticism.

      That’s why Alison’s advice is usually something to the tune of “You should address it directly, and here are some scripts that might help you deliver criticism to someone you know to be sensitive/pragmatic/whatever.”

      1. Sarahnova*


        The ability to take feedback and learn from it is a critical workplace skill. If the employee in #3 has an autism spectrum disorder or is from a culture where direct eye contact is rude/discouraged, he can raise this when the manager gives the feedback. Nothing about OP#3’s desire to raise this or Alison’s proposed approach is changed by this possibility, and I tend to agree with those who say that the armchair diagnosing of “he might have [X issue]” is unhelpful and fairly unnecessary. It doesn’t add anything to the way the OP can best approach the issue. And someone who is highly sensitive to receiving feedback and requires a lot of “handling” around it… needs to hear feedback on that issue, to wit: that it will hold them back and it is something they need to work on.

    2. LBK*

      Nope. There’s always been people who are afraid to give feedback – before they had the excuse of “they might have (mental) health issues,” people would just fall back on “I don’t want to be mean” or “they’re really sensitive” or some other reason. And there’s always been people who don’t take feedback well.

      I do think that we’ve getting more sensitive to the fact that there are sometimes mitigating factors, though, and I think that’s a good thing. Being more willing to accommodate or at least understand people with ADHD, autism, depression, etc. is a step in the right direction.

      1. The Optimizer*

        Agreed, completely. It’s the people who think the sheer possibility of mitigating factors means they shouldn’t give feedback because it might upset another when it’s their job to do so that I find so frustrating, not to mention those that think NO is a bad word and someone will be upset to hear it rather than the truth that something may not be possible.

        1. LBK*

          I think that probably happens less than you’d imagine, and I also think that most of the time when people here bring up potential medical reasons for behavior it’s not to say “…and therefore you shouldn’t do anything,” although I admit I read it that way sometimes too.

          My point was more that people who hate giving feedback have always existed, and I don’t think the proportion of those people has increased as dramatically as it might seem – they’ve just shifted from a weaker excuse like “I don’t want to hurt their feelings” to something that seems more concrete, like “It might be a medical issue”.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I think many of those people who don’t like giving it are more concerned with how they will be perceived than how the recipient will take it. They’re like parents who hesitate to discipline because then their child “won’t like me anymore.” It’s not their job to be liked; it’s their job to manage, and part of management is giving feedback.

    3. neverjaunty*

      “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was always stupid, speaking as a fellow GenXer. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you cripples you for life. I really don’t see that AAM’s very good advice on this subject was a great place to plant a soapbox about how kids these days need to toughen up, which was old-man-yelling-at-clouds BS that I (and probably you) rolled our eyes at when we were young’uns.

      If you are approaching your EE in a calm businesslike, professional manner – and your comments about ‘tempering your approach’ and ‘rolling with the punches’ make me wonder if perhaps you should double-check that? – then the problem is that your EE does not have a required job skill, i.e. accepting feedback and fixing mistakes. The problem is not that it’s 2015 or kids these days are coddled.

      1. The Optimizer*

        LOL, I wasn’t even remotely trying to plant a soapbox about anything. Really, it was in reference to the many, many other comments (not from Alison – her advice was spot-on, as usual) I saw in regard to question #3 that I had read just before posting this. Things such as “Bringing it up will most likely hurt the situation more than help.” and “Pointing it out, however gently, might make the problem worse.”

        As for the generational thing, that was a question, not a statement. I have observed the reluctance to give negative feedback as being more likely to see from people younger than myself. That is my experience and I wanted to know if others had observed the same thing. I really can’t see how that’s planting a soapbox or disagreeing with anything said by AAM and I really don’t understand how that turns me into someone complaining about “kids these days” or needing to double-check my approach when I give feedback.

        I never said I had a problem with my staff or their reaction of my approach. I KNOW i have to adjust my approach based on the personality of different individuals, just as the advice has been here many times. The person that is the most sensitive under me happens to be the most senior member of my staff and needs a lot of explanation for any change and a much more in-depth explanation of any kind of negative feedback, otherwise she is prone to get very upset. Another is much more logical and so I don’t need to soften my already very level-headed approach; that is what I mean by “rolls with the punches” – nothing more. Oh, and for the record, both people in the examples above are actually older than I am.

  35. BeeBee*

    #1- what the what?! I can’t even comprehend how anyone would think that’s acceptable in a work environment. I would feel violated. I like my personal space and anyone crossing it makes me highly uncomfortable.

    1. eplawyer*

      Exactly. Regardless of how you feel about being tickled, this is not work appropriate behavior. Have all those harassment trainings been in vain? You never ever touch a co-worker without permission.

  36. Mimmy*

    #1 – I can’t STAND being tickled…if you tried to tickle me, there will likely be lots of shrieking and me trying to scrunch myself so that you cannot reach your intended spot. What is your employer thinking??!

    #5 – That’s just horrible.

  37. minuteye*

    For OP#3, it might be helpful to point out that different ways of not making eye contact are going to have different results. Looking at other people’s chests (?!) is definitely unacceptable, and bound to get noticed, even if it’s not lecherous. However, if the employee can manage to look at someone’s chin, or their cheekbone, in my experience that’s often indistinguishable from eye contact unless the other party is really paying attention.

    I’ve been complimented on my eye contact before, even though I actually rarely make it.

  38. Owl*

    For #3:
    As an adult with eye contact issues due to a processing disorder (making eye contact painful) and anxiety (making eye contact distressing for inexplicable reasons), that passes as a “normal” person* through a lot of hard work but doesn’t always make it, I’d like to give you the ideal script *I’d* like to hear from my manager thought that I wasn’t making enough eye contact:

    “Owl, I’ve noticed that you don’t make much eye contact when during customer service interactions. It is in our customer services expectations that you make some eye contact while you interact with customers and colleagues. Can you please try to keep your eyes at chin level or higher?”

    It’s not great, but again, this is what *I personally* would want to hear from my manager, as someone for whom eye contact can be physically painful at times, and I just forget at other times. Actually, now that I think about it, my Deaf colleague has used almost the exact script above when we’ve talked before, except not customer service expectations, but needing to be able to read my lips. I also like what Alison gave you for a script, but a casual tone like that would actually make me *more* nervous (I don’t understand casual sentences like that well, and would prefer a more concrete “this is the expectation”, but I think this is why I get along with my manager so well).

    Also, you might want add eye contact to your customer service expectations (and if you don’t have customer service expectations written down, you need them, pronto). You can’t expect it every time, because we’re human (I know my own level of eye contact is not up to “normal” eye contact, but it is enough for our customer service standards laid out by my managers (and I’m a highly rated customer service person, so it can be done)), but having it in writing makes it a standard that your employee will see and know that it is an expectation. A simple line would do: “Makes eye contact with customers”. I work in an extremely diverse environment with a number of cultures and abilities (including neurodiversity), and having those expectations written down for everyone really helps us be a dynamic customer service team.

    *As an aside, being able to “pass” is a thing I wish I didn’t feel like I have to do, but I do due to cultural expectations. My closest friends don’t require eye contact/regular conversation/avoidance of long talks about special interests and they are some of the best relationships I have.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      I like the idea of making the expectation very clear, but I’d make it “nose level or higher” rather than “chin level or higher.” This probably sounds super pedantic, but I’ve known several people with eye contact issues who try to compensate by focusing on someone’s mouth/lips. (I think because it’s easier to focus on someone’s lips because they move when people talk?) But having someone focus on your lips can be really, really odd and distracting, because (to be blunt) it makes them look like they might kiss you. (This sounds super weird, I know, but I’ve heard it from multiple people.)

      Obviously this doesn’t apply to people who are watching your mouth because they’re Deaf/hard of hearing and are lip reading, but I wanted to mention it for other cases because it’s not necessarily obvious and yet can have a surprisingly strong psychological effect.

      1. eee*

        I think the biggest issue is that the advice for people who have trouble with eye contact is basically “pick one part of the face and look at it.” I personally feel uncomfortable making platonic eye contact even with close friends for more than a few seconds (locking eyes just feels…weirdly intimate to me?) , so maybe I’m incorrect, but I think that even people who feel comfortable making eye contact don’t just sit eye-locked during an entire 5-minute conversation. Similarly, staring at any single body part of a person is going to seem super weird. The best advice I’ve read is to pick like 5 different spots and switch between them. Like, eyebrows, hair, mouth, (very briefly) eyes, notebook. Like a very speeded up way you would look at a painting–you wouldn’t pick one corner and stare at it, you’d first take it all in and then let your eyes wander over some areas. This avoids the creepy “staring at lips” problem.

  39. Nanc*

    How to Fake Eye Contact (from the one and only drama class I took in college from some requirement or other so maybe the advice has changed, but it’s worked for me since 1985ish): Look at one eye of the person you’re talking to, especially if you have to have a long, intense dialogue (or love scene!).

  40. Lily Rowan*

    I know it’s late in this thread, but I wanted to make one more note about the traveller — if they are regularly having to call out of one more day of work because of flight delays, etc., they should be scheduling more time off up front. That’s the kind of thing that makes me crazy as a manager and colleague. “Oh yeah, he’s scheduled to be back on Monday, but probably won’t be, because he always flies back late on Sunday.” Just say you’ll be back in on Tuesday!!

    1. Kyrielle*

      Agreed, but normally flight delays means your flight was delayed, not that you scheduled it to be too late for you to get sleep. Hopefully major flight delays are rare. My husband once had a 24-hour flight delay, though. (Alas, it cut into his weekend. It was travel back from a major business event on a holiday weekend, they had mechnical issues and had to cancel the flight, and getting everyone rebooked was a nightmare. It would’ve been closer to a 36-hour delay if he hadn’t gotten a little lucky and his company agreed to cover a hop flight on another airline from a nearby major airport to ours…because the airline he was flying with sure didn’t feel the need, they would’ve put him on a later direct flight to ours. But they were willing to send him to $NearbyAirport instead, if he considered that the termination of his travel. Nearby = 4 hour drive.)

  41. 0118 999 881 999 119 725 3*

    I loved picturing #1 if it happened where I work. There would be puzzled looks and, in unison, “No”. We’re kind of conservative here, accountants and all that.

  42. Was it something I said?*

    I almost broke the jaw of a supervisor who came up and suddenly hugged me from behind. I can’t imagine a work situation where tickling would be okay.

  43. Sparrow*

    OP #2 – I don’t think you need to hide your plans, but thank you for being conscientious about this. I’ve been in your co-workers’ shoes (though the lacking-resources-for-fancy-trips folks were definitely the minority in my office.) The vast majority of the time, I had no problem hearing about my colleagues’ travel plans. It was really only obnoxious if the co-worker(s) had a really entitled attitude about it or failed to recognize that not everyone can take this kind of travel for granted. It was basically the difference between comments like “I finally booked the hotel in Rome. I’m excited!” and “We’ve been to France the last several summers, so I’m kind of bored with that. Maybe we’ll go to Rio this time.”

    The fact that you’re trying to be thoughtful about this makes me thing you’d fall into the first category, and that really should be fine. Enjoy your travels!

  44. Prickly Pear*

    Day late/dollar short comments:
    1) no touching.
    2) I’m a week out from my first major vacation by myself ever. I’ve done small things (cons, because nerd) but this is a cruise and yeah. I work in a weird salaried place- there are the experts that make the money and the support staff that don’t. I’m support, but I have been for a while and I don’t have a lot of big expenses. I hope that I’ve been coming off as hyper-excited and not as a braggart, but I think it helps that I don’t initiate the talk about it and that’s a theme cruise and not perceived as luxe, maybe? I’ve also been open about my desire to travel more and so it’s seemed more like achieving a goal as opposed to flashing bling.

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