managing an overly chatty employee, using up vacation time right before resigning, and more

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

1. Managing an overly chatty employee

A new employee started in my department just over two months ago (I’ll call her Sarah). Sarah has been struggling to adjust to the work in ways we didn’t foresee from the interview — she seemed very qualified for the position, but is having trouble retaining information and prioritizing work. I’m working with her on those issues, but I’m not sure how to address another, less pressing issue: she’s very chatty. When someone is talking to our administrative assistant at her desk, Sarah will run out of her office and join the conversation; she does this for lots of other people around the office too. She also doesn’t really seem to be able to pick up on the “I’m politely ending this conversation” social cues and will just keep going. It’s irritating other people in the office.

I’m not sure what to do here. I don’t want to tell Sarah to stop socializing — we’re a pretty small group in a larger organization and we do all talk to each other pretty often. Is this even something I should address, or should I just let it go and hope it gets better as she gets more acclimated? I’m also relatively new to management and am honestly not sure what my role is in this situation.

Yeah, you should address it. She’s struggling in her role and having trouble retaining info and prioritizing her work; it’s reasonable to want to see her focused on that, not on spending huge amounts of time chatting with coworkers. You could say something like, “I’ve noticed you leaving your office to join social conversations a lot. I want you to have good relationships with coworkers and certainly a bit of chat is normal, but I don’t want it to pull you out of your office and away from focusing on work.”

I’d see what impact that has. If it doesn’t solve it, you may end up also needing to coach her about paying attention to people’s cues/being mindful of how long she’s talking with someone. But since you don’t want to totally demoralize her and make her hide in her office, I’d start with the above and see where that gets you.

2. My new company’s focus on company-wide games and rah-rah-ness is aggravating my anxiety

I just started a new job and it’s going great. But what I’ve discovered is that this company is very big on things like company-wide games and institution rules at meetings like “make sure you sit next to someone you’ve never met before.” (There have already been two in the four weeks I’ve been here.) But I have a pretty serious anxiety disorder, and something like a trivia contest where the entire company is screaming and everyone is countng on me to answer and I’m surrounded by strangers has the potential to really mess me up, possibly even for days.

I hate how this limits me, but it’s the nature my life and it’s just a thing I have to deal with. I know I’ll have to tolerate work-related big loud meetings, but is it beyond the pale to ask to sit things like charity games out? Would an email like this be okay to send to my manager: “I hope no one will take it personally, but I do have an anxiety disorder and these kind of situations have the potential to knock me out for the rest of the day, so if it’s not a problem I’d much prefer to sit it out.”

I wish there was an easy way to say, “It’s not you, it’s my chronic illness,” without people feeling like I’m a jerk. I love my departmental coworkers and am enjoying getting to know them, but company-wide, mandatory-fun type stuff is just not worth the risk of my being a crying risk for the next few days to me. I also worry about people taking “This gives me anxiety,” as a more general “I’m shy,” instead of the more debilitating thing it is for me. I don’t know. It always makes me feel like a jerk. I wish things weren’t like this, but they are, and I’ve been dreading this all week.

Ugh, yeah, this is tricky because a lot of people don’t quite understand anxiety and why these events would impact you that way. So before you go that route, I’d instead try just saying to your manager, “I tend to get really drained and frazzled by big, loud events like these, and they actually impact a medical condition I have and can knock me out for the rest of the day. I’d like to sit them out if it’s okay to do that.” A reasonable manager is going to be fine with that and not demand to know what the medical condition is. If your manager turns out not to be reasonable, then that’s a sign not to disclose the anxiety to her anyway — so at that point I’d go to HR and talk with them about a formal accommodation.

3. How do you punctuate around emojis?

This may be a somewhat asinine question, but I’m a stickler for good punctuation (of course after saying that, I will inevitably have some incorrect punctuation in this email!) and I have been bothered by this while drafting several emails lately. While I don’t use emojis with colleagues I don’t know well, I do use them often with colleagues I am comfortable and friendly with. My question is, do you punctuate before or after the emoji or not at all? For example:

I hope you’re having a great day. :)
I hope you’re having a great day :).
I hope you’re having a great day :)

I run into this with lol as well. Again, I know I’m over thinking this and I doubt anyone notices or cares that much, but I was wondering what the consensus is and how others punctuate with emoji.

I don’t think there are rules on this because emojis defy all rules, but I like to think of an emoji as the punctuation. So there’s no need for a period before or after it; the emoji is replacing the period. (However, “lol” is an abomination that should not be used. I know society has outvoted me on that, but I maintain the rightness of my position.)

4. Using up vacation time right before resigning

I am considering switching jobs, but I have a week’s worth of vacation time left with my current employer. Do you think it would be considered unethical to try to get that vacation time approved and used right before giving notice? I see it as taking what is owed to me (I was provided the vacation time as part of my benefits to be used throughout the year) but I can imagine some seeing it as taking advantage of the company. What is your take?

Nope, you’re right that it’s part of your benefits package. It’s fine to try to use it up before you go. The exception to this would be if if were, say, February and your company front-loaded your vacation time (giving it to you all at once at the start of the year rather than having you accrue it if you go); in that case, yeah, it wouldn’t look great to use it all right before you resign … although even then, sometimes that’s the way it works out and it’s not an intentional grab at everything you can get.

5. Balancing hiring processes with different decision dates

I am interning at a large nonprofit organization, and there is a job opening that has not been posted yet that would be my ideal job and salary. The HR manager suggested that I prepare for the interview, and I agreed to stay a few extra weeks to help wrap up current project.

The issue I am faced with is that I have been interviewing for several other organizations that seem very interested, and a former boss wants me to return and help establish a program there. The pay for each is very low compared to the potential spot at the current job. I am trying to buy time, but the other jobs are starting sooner than when I would hear back from my current organization.

I really want to stick around and wait, but the fear of losing out on an opportunity is nerve-wracking. I will be meeting with the HR manager soon to talk more about the position and my growth with the company. How should I tell him that I am willing to stay, if he can guarantee that I can get the job? He is very laid back but I am afraid that he will think I’m desperate.

Since you’re approaching the end of your internship, it’s normal that you’ll have been job searching and interviewing with other places. So explain that you’ve been talking with several other employers and think you’re close to the offer stage for some of them, but that the job at your current employer would be your first choice, and ask if it’s possible for them to speed up the process on their side. If they’re strongly interested in you, they may be willing to do that (and if they’re not willing to do that, it could be a sign that they’re not as enthused as they’d ideally be).

{ 348 comments… read them below }

  1. Kyrielle*

    Re #3 – I punctuate normally and put the emoji outside the punctuation because it is not part of the sentence, it is a commentary or meta-data on the sentence.

    That said, I get emails and texts from people who do it any of the three ways and they are all clear and all work.

    Just don’t use a smiley face to end a parenthetical without another parenthesis, unless you know for sure your recipient’s system doesn’t translate smiley faces to a graphic.

    Because an aside that doesn’t close (like this [smiley image here] looks really silly.

    1. Margaret*

      I totally agree! I punctuate as normal, and the emoji is a separate phase after the real sentence, echoing the sentiment, perhaps, but it’s not actually part of the sentence.

    2. Marina*

      I punctuate normally and put the emoticon outside the punctuation and I feel VERY STRONGLY that this is the only possible correct way. ;) One reason is how many apps now turn emoticons into picture emojis, which I feel should be treated like any other picture. If you put a picture in an email, that doesn’t mean you leave out the punctuation in the sentence before it, or that the picture is somehow part of the sentence and inside the punctuation.

      1. Ellie H.*

        I feel extremely strongly that the emoji IS the punctuation. I think it looks bizarre in combination with punctuation when the punctuation is a period. One exception would be if I would end the sentence with a question mark or exclamation mark. But this is less common, particularly because an exclamation mark conveys some degree of informality or enthusiasm which is typically also what I would be conveying with the emoji.

        I like the :) much more than the pictures our phones now turn them into.

        1. Miss Education*

          Same here. I think ending the sentence with a period and then following with the emoji/emoticon (they’re different things!) signals that the emoji/emoticon is a separate, discrete idea from the sentence, where in fact it is directly related to it — like it’s almost a clause to the sentence, rather than an entirely separate one. I think it informs the reader of the writer’s emotion/perspective the same way you smiling/frowning while speaking a particular sentence does — it’s not like you robotically spit out a sentence and then emote by smiling or frowning. So I think the emoji/emoticon is necessarily connected to the sentence and should be considered as punctuation. Or, at the very most, preceded by a comma, like this:

          “Oh, I totally think you’re right, :)”

          I 100% agree with the commenter who said that an emoticon at the end of a parenthetical DOES NOT CLOSE THE PARENTHETICAL FOR GOODNESS SAKE. Are you an animal?!

          Ahem. Strong feelings on that one. If you’re gonna do it, add the emoticon, a space, and then the closing parenthesis. Otherwise, you make people like me twitch and feel like the rest of whatever you’re saying is a parenthetical, even though we know logically it is not.

          As far as LOL goes, I consider it the same as saying “haha” in a sentence, so I treat it like an interjection or independent clause, with a comma preceding and a period after (or a comma after, if it’s inserted in the middle of the sentence). Example:

          “Oh, LOL, you’re totally right!”

          “Oh, you’re totally right, LOL.”

          I also strongly believe LOL should be capitalized for the sake of visuality. All lowercase looks sloppy/lazy to me, and can confuse the eyes to look like i-o-i, but with uppercase “I.” I mean, obviously most, if not all, people interpret “lol” correctly, but I think the concept is more clearly conveyed in caps. Also because most abbreviations are generally capitalized, so I feel like we should treat them all that way.

          In other news of things that may not surprise you, I have an entire shelf on my non-fiction bookcase dedicated to grammar and the English language. SO MANY FEELINGS.

          1. Blueismyfavorite*

            “Oh, I totally think you’re right, :)”

            But that comma never followed by a period feels so wrong!

          2. JessaB*

            I get totally twitchy about unmatched parentheses. Especially nested ones that are not counted out right (especially if I myself make the mistake and can’t correct it because there are no editing tools in the posting system.) It’s not being a grammar nerd, it’s my OCD.

              1. Kyrielle*

                The problem I have with smileys is that if your system *doesn’t* translate them, you have the closing parenthesis covered. But if it *does*, you have a picture and no closing parenthisis.

                I have tried to make :) in my mind equivalent to the picture and not discrete elements, because it *has* to have another parenthesis after it if it gets turned into a picture. Which depends not only on the system I send from, but also the recipient – we could have different results.


            1. Thomas The*

              AFAIK LOL is just a word, and should be treated as such. Admittedly, grammar nazi’s might go WTF! LOL is an abomination! But who cares what they feel? ROTFL!

              1. coffeepowerred*

                Am I the only who is genuinely hurt by the wonderful “LOL” being called “an abomination”?
                FeelsBadMan, Keepo, DansGame.

                1. ZuKeeper*

                  It is an abomination. Especially when someone actually says, “LOL,” in conversation. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

          3. Purest Green*

            Also because most abbreviations are generally capitalized, so I feel like we should treat them all that way.

            I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but it’s interesting that “LOL” has become so ubiquitous and put to use beyond its acronym that I could understand an argument for no caps.

            1. Kyrielle*

              I am still trying to figure out how to deal, in face-to-face conversation, with people smiling and saying (often dryly), “lol” (pronounced as “loll” with a long o). When they are, demonstrably, *not* laughing out loud.

              It has not only become that ubiquitous, it has apparently become its own amused reaction completely beyond its meaning. (Which makes sense – I’m often not literally laughing out loud when I type it, just amused enough I could have. But in conversation it seems so odd to say it rather than actually laughing!)

              1. Audiophile*

                I’m not a fan of “loll” at all.

                In fact, I was late to the Aim/internet slang party. I had one friend who regularly used it (this was back in junior high) and I had to regularly ask her what she meant.

                I’ll take hahaha any day over lol.

              2. SevenSixOne*

                I know a non-native English speaker who says “lol” out loud, and it rhymes with “bowl” when he says it. I still think it’s silly, but also kind of charming.

                1. C Average*

                  I had a Chinese colleague who had zero compunction about making fun of her own accent, and on IM she would use ror . . . raughing out roud.

              3. Purest Green*

                And then you have the Japanese who write one or a series of Ws, which is their lol equivalent.

                1. Judy*

                  In Brazilian Portuguese, there’s rsssssss to mean giggling. And kkkkkkkkkk to mean laughing. Or at least that’s what I was told they meant.

                2. Purest Green*

                  I’ve seen kkkkkkk before from Spanish-speaking people in online gaming, but it’s probably used outside of that too.

              4. Kiryn*

                I’ll actually type out “haha” most of the time I’m actually laughing out loud at something online, while “lol” has morphed into a different meaning altogether. It’s more silly, more mocking, more trollish. I’ve been known to say it out loud on occasion, but usually only to my husband who knows what I mean by it.

              5. Milton Waddams*

                In that case, a spoken lol is just a new synonym for “Ha!”, for when things are more bemusing than funny.

          4. ThatGirl*

            Thank you for mentioning that emoticons and emoji are different because that was bothering me :)

          5. Ellie H.*

            I think this is even more controversial, but when I am using an emoticon that involves the closing parenthesis such as: :) ;) then I let that be the closing parenthesis. (I use parentheses A LOT, too much, but possibly not as much as I overuse ellipses.) I considered this and decided it is visually better than a double closing parenthesis.
            If I’m using an emoticon that does not use a closing parenthesis such as :/ or :D, or if I was choosing a graphic emoji rather than a text emoticon, then I would also close the parenthesis.

            One of the nice things of my erstwhile broken phone was that text emoticons such as :) ;) :D stayed as text emoticons, and I had to choose in the keyboard if I wanted the emoji graphic. I realize recipients’ different phones may have converted them anyway but I was satisfied on my end.

            What do you think is supposed to be in our brains instead of these thoughts and feelings about this question?

        2. Callielee*

          Is it weird I find this fascinating? I never thought of the emoji as the punctuation!! It makes sense though.

        3. Tyrion*

          Agreed. Using punctuation with an emoji is something old people (probably still using AOL) do, along with using commas in an email greeting:

          Hi, Karen,


      2. Claire (Scotland)*

        I completely agree. Emojis are not punctuation, and I do not parse them as such. If the punctuation is missing, it looks just sloppy to me.

      3. Dangerfield*

        I think that makes it look like you’re assigning the emoji to the beginning of the sentence before. The full stop finishes the sentence, and anything that comes after it belongs to the next one.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          To me, the emoticon/emoji is a comment on the previous sentence, not the next one. And all of the sentences should be punctuated as if there were no emoticon.

        2. fposte*

          I’m with you, and it looks like we’re deviants. So that’s our thrill for the day.

          Though I might feel different about actual emoji images than ascii emoticons. You can put a picture wherever you please–it’s an illustration. But if it’s made of punctuation, it needs to go in the sentence.

          1. Kelly L.*

            And then just to muddy it further, sometimes between devices, something will show up as ASCII on one and a picture on another!

            1. fposte*

              Yup. And I get annoyed when something autocorrects my ascii emoticon to an emoji. Dammit, if I wanted a picture I’d have put in a picture!

      4. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        I don’t feel strongly about punctuation but I feel strongly that :) is correct and (: is weird and wrong. ;)

      5. MsChanandlerBong*

        I’m a proofreader, and I would agree with you. Punctuate as normal and then add your emoji.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I’m a professional copyeditor for high-profile publications. I too consider the emoji to be apart from the sentence. It’s a symbol, and a self-contained sentence of its own.

      1. chickabiddy*

        Also a professional editor, but not so high-profile, and I agree that an emoji is a discrete expression and belongs outside of the conventional punctuation.

            1. Lucie in the Sky*

              It’s because emoji is a Japanese word originally. So it gets the lack of “s” pluralization like other Japanese loan words. Sushi, Tatami, Pokemon… etc

            2. TootsNYC*

              yeah, we looked that up several months ago.
              Of course, there’s the argument that “emoji” is now an English word (and not a Japanese word, bcs you aren’t putting it in itals, right?) and should now follow English rules.

          1. NolongerMsCleo*

            I feel like putting a period after an emoji makes it look like it’s sticking it’s tongue out. Could just be me.

    4. PowerBall*

      I’m on team emoji/emoticons are punctuation, but I don’t think I’d bat (wink?) an eye at any of those three variations :-)

    5. Rahera*

      Oh! I tend to look at the emoji as part of the sentence so I compartmentalise by placing the full stop after the :). I am quite relaxed about what other people do, but it unsettles me slightly if I don’t put the full stop after the emoji, go figure.

      (Lol must die, by the way.)

          1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

            I use lol like “I smiled but didn’t laugh” and hehehe as “I giggled” and bahahahahaha as “I snorted laughing and now can’t breathe”

    6. Jen RO*

      I think the smileys replace the punctuation and anything else is an abomination :)
      (But then again, I also think that American way of using punctuation inside quote marks makes absolutely no sense, so I may be in the minority here!)

      Also, this may be my favorite question this week.

      1. Susan C.*

        YES THANK YOU. Look, I KNOW. I get it, from an aesthetic PoV. But STILL.

        Putting commas and periods inside quotes when they’re not explicitly part of the quoted thing is just grating on me on so many levels – it’s like closing different kinds of brackets in the same order as they were opened and expecting your code to compile. It does not. Stop trying to make context-sensitive grammar happen, people. It’s (virtually) not a thing in natural language.


    7. Bluesboy*

      I think there are going to be some very strong feelings about this one…

      The way I see it, punctuation has to be consistent both when typed and when hand-written. If you were writing by hand you would actually draw a smiley face, and you wouldn’t consider it punctuation. So you would have to punctuate the sentence separately.

      You should therefore follow the same logic when typing and punctuate separately.

      I like your comment Kyrielle because it is explains your opinion well, but makes it clear that other people will feel differently and that’s ok too!

      1. Jen RO*

        Actually, I would consider it punctuation even in hand writing! The other ways just scream “wrong” to me. (Why yes, I do have very intense feelings about grammar, punctuation and style.)

        1. Amelia*

          Thinking of emojis as punctuation is just so weird and wrong to me. It feels like a whole lot of stuff is missing. Like someone doesn’t know punctuation at all. It looks sloppy and unfinished to me, and that makes me thinks their thinking is likewise.

          1. Sigrid*

            That’s a rather extreme reaction to a new development of the language whose rules are still in flux.

            1. Myrin*

              Yeah, some people just write in a way that… doesn’t fit them, I guess? I honestly don’t know how to describe it. I was casual friends with a girl from school for years when she wrote me an email for the first time and it had about half a million exclamation marks in it. It would have been kind of weird on its own already but coupled with the fact that she actually wasn’t an EXCITEMENT!!!!1! person at all in real life, it was downright jarring. It didn’t make me think differently about her, I just figured that her real-life personality and the one that presented in her emails didn’t quite match up, so it wouldn’t really do me well do draw conclusions about her based on how she uses punctuation and emoticons since they’d be false.

              (OTOH, there are people who write exactly like they are, even on a “meta level”. My thesis advisor is somewhat socially awkward and he recently sent me the first email in the six years we’ve known each other that had an emoticon in it. AND IT WAS SO WEIRD because it was super strangely placed in the text both visually and with regards to the content and I couldn’t believe that even his emoticons are awkward. It amused me greatly.)

              1. Natalie*

                The instructions one of my predecessors left me uses ellipses* between practically every sentence. It’s so hard not to think of her as Spicolli or a humanoid sloth, but apparently she was really intense and aggressive.

                *Technically most of them are just a series of periods, since she used random numbers of periods each time. But I digress.

                1. Marisol*

                  Ugh, a random number of periods, instead of a three-period ellipsis…Now THAT drives me crazy…some weirdos use two periods as an ellipsis, as if they’re just too lazy to type that third…so vulgar…!!

                2. Kate M*

                  Further proof that The Office is applicable to everything:

                  Darryl: “I got too much ice cream. You want some?” “Getting’ my fry on.”
                  Kelly: Boring.
                  Darryl: Uh, “The moon is huge tonight.”
                  Phyllis: Ooh, gosh, the moon one’s damning. Yeah, sorry.
                  Darryl: That’s regular text talk.
                  Brandon: You forgot one.
                  Darryl: “You’re such a great friend.”
                  Brandon: With the dots.
                  Darryl: “You’re such a great friend, dot dot dot dot dot.”
                  Kelly: Five dots, Darryl, are you kidding me? Okay, ’cause three dots means ‘to be continued’, four dots is a typo, but five dots means “Whoa, do not make me say what I want to say, baby, but if I did, it would blow your mind, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot.
                  Everyone: Oh…
                  Brandon: See? Yes. Thank you, sister.
                  Val: Brandon, Darryl and me? That’s ridiculous, right?
                  Darryl: Yeah, totally crazy. Puts me in an insane asylum just thinking about it. I’m stranded on shutter island over here.

      2. Erin*

        I think once you are using emojis, it doesn’t matter what type of punctuation you are using because of how casual the communication is. In the same sense, proper spelling matters less too because of your relationship with the recipient or because it’s IM. I would judge anyone to using an emoji in an inappropriate way more than I would be judging the grammar around the emoji.

        And clearly, from this thread, there is no consensus. Does anyone else hate how Outlook translates a :) into J sometimes?!

        1. Marisol*

          This is my thought exactly. I have wondered about the punctuation w/emoji and appreciate the logic of those who say it doesn’t count as such, but really, if you’re putting an emoji in a message, it’s not going to be formal business correspondence, so it’s kind of irrelevant.

          Yes, I hate that J, along with many, many other things about Outlook. :(

          Hmmm I put a period just now.

        2. bearing*

          Oh my goodness you have solved the mystery.

          I don’t use Outlook but I wondered why that one person always sends “J” where I would put a smiley.

          “Does it stand for ‘joking’?” I wondered. I will now wonder no more.

          1. Schmitt (in Germany)*

            Oh, whoops. I had a particularly annoying client who sent emails with that J all over the place – but it was always at the end of a line so I assumed it was a weird Outlook line break error.

    8. Purest Green*

      In my mind, using an emoji automatically brands the communication as informal, which grants it a lot of flexibility. So I’ve used the emoji after the punctuation and also allowed the emoji to punctuate the thought, because sometimes you need to express different things. And other times I don’t give it much thought at all because it’s informal, and I don’t know that the linguistic authorities have given us any hard set rules for this yet.

    9. Mona Lisa*

      I agree with the punctuating normally. Many e-mail clients automatically “correct” the emojis into smiley face icons or similar. The graphic then feels like it’s own element, separate from the sentence.

    10. The IT Manager*

      Yes! An emoticon is a sentence containing punctuation so

      I hope you’re having a great day. :) New sentence starts here.

      is the only grammatically correct example. ;)

    11. Vicki*

      >> Just don’t use a smiley face to end a parenthetical without another parenthesis, unless you know for sure your recipient’s system doesn’t translate smiley faces to a graphic.

      Way back in the pre-Facebook mists of time when only programmers used :-), we called them “smilies”, and not programs converted them to graphics, I used to use them as the closing parenthesis.

      Now I have to be very careful about that. But I always put the period on the sentence before the smiley.

    1. Not Karen*

      Ugh, I know. As soon as I read that letter, I said to myself, “Here come the comments that she probably has X disorder…”

      People are just people, people!! Not everyone needs to be diagnosed with something!

    2. Jo*

      Now, I think this is a slightly OCD response ;)

      (Hopefully the humour will come through with the above, as will the fact that I am commenting on two questions with one sentence!)

  2. Mags*

    “However, “lol” is an abomination that should not be used. I know society has outvoted me on that, but I maintain the rightness of my position.”

    I have never agreed with you more. I have my hopes that it’s just a reeeaallly long phase, and it will eventually die out.

      1. LisaLee*

        This might be nuts, but I actually read LOL and lol differently. LOL to me is a genuine “haha that was funny” response while lol is more of a sarcastic response.

        Anybody else do this?

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          That, or LOL is, “This actually was funny enough to make me truly laugh out loud,” while lol is, “Heh – I find this amusing.”

          1. Al Lo*

            Yup. If it’s all caps, I was actually laughing. If I smiled or chuckled, I don’t actually use lol or LOL; I’ll use :) or “hee!” or “heh” or something like that.

            Although I got a text from my sister recently that said, “Okay, that literally made me laugh out loud,” and I’ve found it’s not super uncommon among my friends to preface a sincere LOL with some kind of “literally” qualifier.

          2. Sherm*

            ikr? Kind of like how typing in all-caps in general is viewed as yelling. If it’s in all-caps, it’s loud.

          3. KTM*

            Yep – they’re different to me. ‘lol’ is not so much sarcastic, but just a replacement for ‘haha’.

            I also (not sure why?) associate people who only use LOL in all caps as being an older generation (the way that my mom writes ‘r u home’ and I know that only someone 50+ would write this…). Have I made this up?

        2. Former Invoice Girl*

          Me, too.
          As an example, see a response from a colleague that includes “lol”:

          >Sorry, I don’t know how to help you at this point, lol.

          Doesn’t sound very friendly.

        3. Gandalf the Nude*

          Too me, LOL is pronounced el-oh-el, but lol is pronounced lahl/luhl/lohl. LOL is for people who are genuinely using it to show amusement, and lol is for people, like my friends, who are making fun of LOL because what is wrong with haha? Consequently, lol gets used sarcastically in spoken conversation quite a bit, though it’s being usurped by lulz.

        4. Jillociraptor*

          Yes! “lol” is more like “lolsob.” We use it often to laugh at the absurdity of something.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Well, language evolves. Plenty of acronyms have became words (or slang, like lol): scuba, laser, etc.

    1. Jeanne*

      It will only die out if it is replaced by something else. Back in the days of letters I knew people who would write out “ha ha” or “tee hee”. I see little difference. The old ways are now LOL.

      1. Bluesboy*

        This is true, it really IS the same concept as people used to do with ‘ha ha’.

        I used to hate all these contractions until I found out that ‘Goodbye’ actually comes from ‘Godbwy’ which is a contraction for ‘God be with you’. And realised that text speak has been around since forever.

        I like to imagine now parents reading letters from their children hundreds of years ago and saying “Godbwy? What on earth does that mean? Why can’t young people just write in PROPER ENGLISH these days!? Standards are slipping!!”

    2. Drew*

      One of my coworkers literally pronounces “LOL” as a word (“lawl”) to signify “I found that mildly amusing and wish to acknowledge your humorous intent, but I’m not actually going to laugh.” In other words, “lawl” means “not LOL.”

      He also says “jay kay” (“just kidding”), usually right after being a glassbowl. I’ve received sincere apologies from him, so I know he’s capable of them, which makes “jay kay” even more dismissive somehow.

      teal deer (tl dr): I have an annoying coworker.

    3. valereee*

      My 22-year-old informs me that no one uses lol any more except sarcastically. Her friends all use haha (sarcastic), hahaha (mildly funny), hahahahaha (really funny) and HAHAHAHAHA (OMG I’m peeing.)

      1. Clever Name*

        Yeah, I’d heard that only oldsters (like me) use lol anymore. I do try to avoid it at work and opt for “ha ha” or whatever instead.

      2. Lizketeer*

        That’s how I (23) use it

        The only person I know who uses ‘lol’ regularly is my dad, and ‘LOL’ if it’s really funny

        Everyone else just uses haha with however many extra ha’s it takes to accurately convey the emotion. The more ha’s the funnier it is

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        That’s what my 20-year-old and 16-year-old tell me, too. Apparently only “old” people use lol non-sarcastically. And by “old”, they mean people in their forties.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Type out ampersand-“lt”-semicolon or ampersand-“greaterthan”-semicolon and it should work. If you don’t see it properly below, here’s a preemptive apology and request to forget that I ever attempted this. :)

            This is what you type in the box:


            When used properly, you should get:


              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Well, some of it worked! You definitely have it!

                These are HTML special characters, but I wonder if some of the rules don’t apply because it’s WordPress. Please excuse me while I experiment

                <<< >>>




      1. NolongerMsCleo*

        I think that came off as harsher than I meant it. I still don’t use it, but I don’t feel that strongly about it when others do.

  3. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

    #4 my employer allows us to “anticipate” leave, but if we take a day off before we have earned it and we are terminated for any reason (death, resignation, layoff, firing) they will recover the leave from our final check. So I can take 5 days off in January, but if I leave at the end of the 7th pay period I would have earned only 3.5 days, so they would deduct 1.5 days pay from my final check. But if I leave after earning 10 days, I get the extra 5 days of pay.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Yeah, double-check if your company’s rules are like this for PTO before you take it.

      At ToxicJob, I did have a planned day off that landed during my final two weeks. I debated working that day because I felt a bit bad. Many coworkers (who have literally been at ToxicCompany for decades) pushed me to keep it – I ended up getting that day taken out of my paycheck because I had used more PTO than I had earned…. which no one in my department (and again, people there literally for 20-30 years) actually knew their PTO worked that one, because ToxicHR was vague about it and ToxicEmployeeHandbook a complete confusing 200 page mess.

  4. Bee Eye LL*

    #4 – Some places are “use it or lose it” so definitely burn it off if you’re going to waste. Just know that some places may have rules where they won’t pay for sick or vacation time if taken during your last pay period. I got pegged on that at my old job. I have two weeks notice then used a couple of sick days during that time and they went unpaid.

    1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      Agreed, def check your employee handbook #4. I have had jobs where I had to use it, and others where I was given a check for the amount of unused days when I left. It varies company to company.

    2. Paige*

      I made a similar mistake at my last job – I thought my vacation would be paid out and instead I lost all of it, and three weeks’ pay. That was a hard, painful lesson.

    3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      Learning that my last job did not pay out for vacation was the absolute best motivator for me actually using my PTO.

      They also had a policy that PTO could not be used once notice was given.

    4. Happy Lurker*

      Absolutely use it. As others caution above do it ASAP and as well in advance as possible before you even give notice.

      1. Anna*

        Seriously. And please note this does NOT apply necessarily to personal time or sick time. We just had an instructor who gave notice and then called in sick because she had earned that sick leave. You’re an instructor and you gave two weeks notice and now you’ve been “sick” three of those days. You kind of suck

    5. INFJ*

      Yes, yes, yes! I didn’t know my last company paid out PTO and got a surprise jumbo last check because I hadn’t been planning on job searching/leaving and was saving my vacation time for later in the year.

      1. Al Lo*

        My favourite part about lol is that it looks like a person with their arms up in celebration. Emoticon and abbreviation in one!

        1. Dangerfield*

          One of my favourite emoticons is \o/ or its even more celebratory sister, *\o/*

          You’re right that lol kind of looks like it!

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            I use \o/ a lot for “woohoo!” or “yay for you!”.

            But I think the only time I type LOL (and yes, I have issues typing abbreviations in lower case, shut up) is to say “I actually LOLed when I read [previous post/comment]! :D”

            1. (Not an IRS) Auditor*

              Huh – I always thought that was just someone offering me a martini. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            1. Myrin*

              I know that that’s what it is but for some reason, I always read this particular emoticon as the o being an open mouth and the lines as arms/hands covering the eyes.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I like that one. \0/

            Also :}
            Which is kind of like :3 but cuter.
            And the sad version :{ or :'{
            That one looks to me like a little lip wobble before it cries. Aww!

  5. Mags*

    Re: #4
    But, can they take the vacation out of your final paycheck if you don’t work the full year? We get a flat amount of vacation a year (not accrued monthly), but for those who start after January, it is prorated. If you are to leave before December 31st, can they ask you to pay back vacation days you’ve already taken?

    1. MarketingLadyPA*

      It might be given to you in January, but it likely is accrued and will be deducted from your last check. My job also gives us all our days in January, but if I take them all by May and resign in July, I’d owe half them back.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      Check any employment law or company policy

      I’m in the UK and my holiday is all given in January for the up coming year, but I only accrue 2.5 days a month.

      If I take off 10 days in February and then leave at the end of March I will only have accrued 7.5 of holiday (2.5 days for Jan, Feb and Mar) so my last pay check will have a deduction of 2.5 days that I wasn’t entitled to be paid for.

      It works the other way too, if I use 5 days holiday in the year and leave at the end of December I would get an extra 25 days pay in my last paycheck.

      1. Anon13*

        Comments like this always make me so depressed about the dismal number of days off so many of us in the U.S. get (me included). Other than the set holidays (New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve), I get ten days off total all year, and that includes sick days. Getting 30 days off would be a dream! (I know that’s not he point of your comment, but I wanted to vent for a second.)

        1. LW #4*

          This leads to my desire to make the most of it and take that vacation time rather than leaving it on the table.

          Slightly off topic, but in a previous job, we had an “unlimited vacation” policy. I took very little vacation because even though no one was supposed to be counting, I never felt like I had earned or was entitled to the vacation. The policy was written in language like “take time off as needed to recharge” and I often felt that I didn’t *need* the time. Moreover, my coworkers seldom took time off except for illness, and a precedent was set. I would much prefer to work where vacation time is allocated (and generous) than in another “unlimited vacation” workplace.

          1. Anon13*

            Yes, that definitely makes sense! I was very lucky in my last job in that I got 20 days off a year (plus the above-listed holidays, MLK Day, Presidents Day, and Veterans Day). Ten were technically vacation and 10 were sick, but the only real difference was that the vacation days would carry over from year-to-year and only get paid out upon leaving the company and the sick days were paid out at the end of the year. There, I never worried too much about using my vacation days because I didn’t feel like I lost a benefit if I didn’t. Here, I’m vigilant about using all of my days off because, not only are there so few of them, they just go away at the end of the year. Of course, this can cause problems if I happen to get sick at the end of year and I’ve used my paid days off already. I do agree with you, though, that having unlimited days off can be just as bad, especially when the expectation becomes that you will not use them. I also think having unlimited days off can lead to people expecting you to answer the phone, respond to e-mails, etc. on your days off.

          2. Ali*

            YES THIS! I have “unlimited” vacation at my current place of work and its literally the worst. Especially since you don’t feel like you’re entitled to take the days and if you’re super conservative about taking days off there’s no benefit to that with a payout or whatever if you leave the company eventually. Not my favorite.

            1. DoDah*

              Beginning derail—-

              In the group I work in now–I see this as hugely polarizing. Two people (my boss being one) would take all.the.days.all.the.time. The rest of us would take no days–because of the increased workload.

              End derail—

        2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          *sigh* Yeah. I was just having a conversation with someone on my team regarding whether we’ll be allowed to work on Labor Day, because with zero paid time off, those “holidays” are just a bite out of the paycheck.

          1. Anon13*

            Ugh, that stinks. I recognize that, even though I see my amount of PTO as dismal, I could have it worse. Hopefully you’ll be able to work that day if you want to! (Or, hopefully, when you’re ready to move on, you will find a place with a better PTO policy.)

        3. Elizabeth West*

          I know right? And according to my calendar, UK had two bank holidays this month. TWO!

          Note: Never ever ever go to Primark on a bank holiday. Just do. not. do. it.

          1. NolongerMsCleo*

            It drives me crazy that we get Columbus Day but not the day after Thanksgiving. I mean who has Columbus Day plans? My department works with attorney firms throughout the country so even though we have to be here the day after Thanksgiving, none of them are so it’s really just a wasted day anyway.

          2. Anon13*

            Yep, I know, just as not everyone gets Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve (or any of the other set days off I mentioned) off. I was just listing the set days off at my job.

            On a side note, I’ve always thought that, with obvious exceptions like hospitals, drug stores, police stations, etc., business should be closed on Labor Day and give their employees PTO. Considering what Labor Day is supposed to represent, it’s always struck me as odd that many (most, probably) white collar workers have the day off, while many blue collar workers and those in the service industry have to work. I know this is not something that will ever actually happen, but I wish it would!

            1. Garrett*

              Yeah it’s all about demand. If people show up to stores to shop, then stores will be open. Stores open on holidays now and at first I was angry with the stores, but then I realized that if people didn’t go shopping, they wouldn’t be open. It’s a vicious circle really.

              1. Anon13*

                Oh yeah, I know, which is why I also know the stores will never close, it’s just my wish in my own little ideal world.

    3. LW #4*

      I checked the employee handbook. Our policy is “use it or lose it” and remaining vacation time is not paid out upon termination. Also, it is given up front with no written policy about paying back time taken or accruing it — it’s all given in January for the year to come. The only restriction is that it cannot be used during the notice period.

      1. Evie*

        I would double check state law. My state mandates it is paid out when leaving. If they don’t and your company is use it lose it they have set up this system and you should feel no guilt in using it.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        I second the comment to check the state law. My first employer had a policy in the employee handbook stating that vacation time wasn’t paid out once you leave, but state laws requires any employer to pay you for accrued and unused vacation time. They were just trying to get around the law, and most of the employees were straight out of college and unaware of the state law.

        Regardless, if it’s a use it or lose it, I would take the vacation time and then give my notice. Why waste those days?

      3. AdAgencyChick*

        In that case I think it’s time for a nice relaxing trip (or a staycation)!

        If I had a dollar for every time I’ve resigned the day I came back from a vacation, I’d have…three bucks. None of the bosses I worked for in those situations seems to have held it against me (although the first time I did it, my company docked my last paycheck for having gone over my vacation accrual, despite the fact that for the previous 2 months, I’d been pulling late nights and weekends on a regular basis. Nice.).

      4. SevenSixOne*

        Even if your employer DOES pay out vacation when you leave, they may not pay all of it–at my last two jobs, one paid out 75% of your total accrued, and the other only paid out a maximum of 80 hours.

      5. Paige*

        This was the case at my last job. Definitely use it then, but make sure you’re good regarding the notice period. I made the mistake of thinking it would be paid out and lost three weeks’ potential pay since I’d hardly used any vacation. Use it!

      6. Anna*

        At a previous job our vacation was front-loaded and was use it or lose, but you still had it paid out if you left. So when I was laid off my four remaining days for the year were paid out. When my friend moved and resigned, her days were paid out. (You’ve read the handbook and know their policy. I’m just chiming in to say it really is individual to the company.)

  6. Christopher Tracy*

    Re: letter #4. We had a guy in my division recently resign to go back to school and he took paid vacation the last two weeks of his notice period. Our SVP approved it and said if any of us have PTO remaining when we’re on our way out, we should use it since we earned it (ours is given on an accrual basis). I can’t wait for the day I put in my notice.

    1. Drew*

      Our employee manual specifically says they do not pay out accumulated leave if we leave the company and goes on to point out that the point of giving leave time is so we can use it when we need it rather than trying to push through illness or other speed bumps of life. It’s one of the things they do right; I’ve almost never gotten pushback about calling in with “I’m not feeling up to coming in today” unless I was up against a deadline.

      Our employee handbook also says that if people are feeling ill, they are EXPECTED to stay home, because no one wants their cooties if they’re in the least bit contagious. Sometimes, it’s nice to work for a germophobe.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Here too. If youre having allergies or something you have to hide from the one bigwig because she wont believe you and send you home!

  7. Geneva*

    OP#2 I feel your pain! I also have an anxiety disorder that flares up in chaotic environments, and coping can tough, but it’s not impossible.

    The best advice I ever got was to treat panicky moments like no big deal. Like when you’re in a meeting and your heart starts racing, just say you’re not feeling well and take a timeout. No one needs to know your medical history and honestly it’s better if they don’t.

    Also prep for your triggers. What helped me was getting to meetings early so I could pick my seat, settle my mind, and greet my teammates as they trickled in instead of all at once. They also liked stupid games, but I’d just tell myself “I hate this so very much, but this too shall pass,” and it did.

    Give yourself credit for making it this far. Working with a constant adrenaline rush doesn’t make you weak, it makes you a badass!

    1. Memyselfandi*

      As a fellow sufferer I agree with this. Try to engage in small doses and use it as exposure therapy. It can get better. But after 25 years I sill find conferences exhausting. As the OP says, it’s just the way life is for me.

  8. Chaordic One*

    #4 There are some states where it perfectly legal for an employer to withhold any unused vacation pay. If you haven’t used it, you lose it and you do not get compensated for it. It sucks, and such companies deserve to get bad ratings on websites like GlassDoor.

    1. fposte*

      That’s most of the states, in fact. There’s additionally a good chunk where it’s not legal to fail to pay it out if the employer has said in the manual or elsewhere it is to be paid out, but it would be okay for them to have a policy of not paying out.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Yeah…growing up in California and holding my first salaried positions there…boy was it shocking to realize how different labor laws were in other states.

        My current state has does not require payout, does not require break or even meal times,

  9. Not Your Honey*

    My mother-in-law ends all her texts with LOL, because she thinks it means “lots of love”. As in: “Uncle Philip is in hospital. LOL”.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I had to break that one to my mother too. I suggested she have some fun by appending random acronyms (WTF, RTFM, that sort of thing) to emails to other family members, but she didn’t go for it.

    2. anonykins (OP5)*

      I saw a great parody meme defining LOL as “Lucifer Our Lord” and warning of the end of days.

    3. RVA Cat*

      I wonder if she thinks WTF means Wisdom, Trust, Friendship? Or EAD = Everlasting Affection, Dear?

      1. SusanIvanova*

        TheDailyWTF went through a phase where the site owner was claiming it meant “worse than failure”. Nobody was convinced.

    4. Naomi*

      I had to explain TMI to my aunt, because she knew what it stood for but thought it meant something like having too many files saved on your computer. Aw, bless.

    5. Callie*

      This was a joke on season one of The Newsroom. Maggie told a story where her boss got mad at her because she sent flowers to the spouse of a board member who died and signed it “sorry for your loss, LOL.” She thought it meant “lots of love.”

    1. Jen RO*

      Lol, I had missed this one!

      (I did notice that I started the sentence with “lol”, but I don’t know how else to do it and convey the same meaning.)

      [Also, the second one is obviously the best way of closing the parenthesis. With a mandatory space between the end of the smiley and the end parenthesis.]

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Thank you! I was going to comment on the space being necessary, because :)) can be a big-grinned smiley!

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          Back when Yahoo! Messenger was a thing, :)) translated into an animated smiley that was moving its mouth in laughter. So when I only mean :) in a parenthetical, I put a space between the emoticon and the closing parenthesis ( :) ). Otherwise, it’s going to turn into the laughing smiley in my head, even though it’s unlikely to do so in real life (since I haven’t had a chat in Yahoo! Messenger in yonks).

          But emojis/emoticons/smileys/etc. do NOT replace punctuation. Nope.

  10. MW*

    Everywhere I’ve worked in the UK has paid me for any untaken vacation days when I left the company. i.e. if I had a week’s worth of vacation unspent, my final paycheque would have an extra week’s wages in it. Although it’s never come up, my last employer had a clear policy that your holidays were front-loaded, and if you took them all at the start of the year and then left, the ‘balance’ would be deducted from your last pay cheque.

    1. Ponytail*

      Yeah, I was coming here to say that – if you’ve taken too much for the amount you’ve worked that year, you’d be paid less in your final pay slip and if you hadn’t taken it, you were either strongly encouraged to take it (if they didn’t want to pay the extra money) or paid for it (if they were panicking at you leaving early).

  11. Myrin*

    OP 1, I want to commend you for wanting to tackle the chattiness issue as nipping that in the bud will almost certainly help your employee – not only with regards to her own work (being able to fully concentrate on and commit to the work she has to do) but also regarding her relationship with colleagues. You say that people are already becoming irritated by this so if it were to go on, her coworkers might eventually become quite resentful towards her and the main attribute people will associate her with would be how chatty and annoying she is, which is obviously not how you want to be viewed by your coworkers.

    (I’m also imagining this to a comical degree. I mean, imagine standing at someone’s desk talking to them and out of the blue someone comes racing out of their office to join this conversation they have nothing to do with. Awkward.)

  12. FD*

    #3- I would tend to treat emoji as going after the sentence, like this.

    And we all know that Wakeen’s Teapot Company delivers on time every time. ;) Incidentally […]

    I feel that an emoji is somewhat similar to a quotation mark from a grammar point of view–it gives information about a sentence, and therefore goes outside the sentence’s punctuation.

    LOL is a different matter, because LOL is technically an acronym for a phrase and can be treated in a similar way as ASAP. One thing I would argue is that you usually need a comma before a use of LOL, like this:

    That video was great, LOL!

    is correct because it’s a shortened way to say

    That video was great, laughing out loud!

    LOL often acts as a sort of absolute phrase, and therefore generally needs a comma to separate it. Also, being an acronym, LOL should be capitalized, like OK, ASAP, and FYI.

    1. Bridget*

      Is ok an acronym? I always spell it out (okay) because I hate “ok” or “OK” (the first one sounds, in my head, like “ock” and the second one sounds like shouting). But I never really thought about what “OK” could possibly stand for as an acronym…other than “O-Kay”?? Does that count as an acronym? Now I’m just confused.

      1. IvyGirl*

        It’s an abbreviation.

        I tend to use “Okay” when I’m starting a response that is going to disagree with some point of what was int he previous message – paraphrasing “I hear what you’re saying, but…”.

        I use OK when I’m agreeing. OK – will do.

      2. Natalie*

        Nobody’s exactly sure where okay/OK/ok came from, but a couple of the suggested etymologies are that it is an acronym.

          1. Natalie*

            That is the most popular theory, but it apparently isn’t proven despite being presented pretty uncritically most places. Not that it especially matters, I just think etymology is neat.

            It’s also interesting to note that if it is an acronym, it’s one of the very few older than the 20th century. There are a lot of false etymologies involving acronyms (posh, SOS, fuck etc) but practically all acronym-words are from contemporary history.

      3. FD*

        I tend to treat it as an acronym and capitalize it when shortening it. It behaves more like a contraction, really, but o’k just looks silly in English.

  13. Patrick*

    I’m dealing with #1 at my job right now, with the added complication of the chatty employee being on my team but reporting to a different boss (my department does a lot of purchasing and he writes the actual purchase orders.)

    Making things worse is that we work in a very open floorplan, we have dividers but he openly eavesdrops on any conversation to the point of turning his chair to face, say, me talking to my boss about business. He also tends to ask business questions that are slightly inappropriate for a support position IMO, like openly questioning why we’re making various purchases and giving his 2 cents on every business decision. And he’s already been talked to a bit about this because there was a point where if he didn’t have work on his plate he would start wandering around trying to find a conversation to join.

    Unfortunately his reporting structure is awful and there are no real people managers in place (he reports to someone doing the same job as him, the dysfunction is honestly too complicated to explain but it’s managed similar to the looser way admins are at a lot of places.) I just wish there was a way to stop the weird eavesdropping as it makes me uncomfortable…lately I find myself being a bit more brusque and stopping the conversation to ask him if he needs something, which makes me feel like an ass but seems to be the only way he gets what he’s doing is not normal.

    1. Myrin*

      FWIW, I think your reaction to him as described in your last paragraph is very appropriate. He is the one being rude and awkward by obviously staring (!) and eavesdropping, so it’s only right you get to push the rude and awkward right back onto him.

      (Also, I’ve commented on this above already but all these situations are actually super weird and comical or would be if they weren’t so annoying for the people participating. Like your coworker, just plain turning around his whole chair with himself in it and staring at you with big round eyes without actually saying anything. Like a cow, as we would say in my language.)

    2. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

      Eh. I’m getting a BEC vibe from your comment.

      There is nothing wrong with wanting a greater understanding of the business reasons behind purchases, or an understanding of how purchases will fit into the grand stategry. It’s also reasonable to join into work conversations that relate to you. My co-worker, who reports to another boss, does this to me all the time. We both frequently turn and face the boss talking to the other person whenever X or Y subject comes up, because it impacts our job.

      Your coworker may need to work on his approach to those questions about the industry, but just wanting details is not a problem in and of itself.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        There is nothing wrong with wanting a greater understanding of the business reasons behind purchases, or an understanding of how purchases will fit into the grand stategry

        From the comment, I assume it was more judgy type of questioning, rather than information-gathering.

        1. Marisol*

          I assumed the same thing, that the guy was coming off judgy, but I think someone who is well-intentioned and just wants to learn about a company’s strategies and actively participate can take a sort of devil’s advocate stance, just so they can play along, and give offense without meaning to. Especially if this person is young and still has school as his main frame of reference for social interaction. In school, debate is encouraged and is considered a sign of intelligence and engagement.

          I agree with Diluted_TortoiseShell that there’s nothing inherently wrong with asking questions about a company’s strategy. If it’s a business question, as opposed to a personal question, then I think he is actually entitled to ask it. I’m an admin and I frequently ask my bosses things about their asset management strategy and no one takes offense.

          The butting into conversations is annoying, but instead of being brusque, maybe the next time the guy butts in, Patrick could say something like, “Fergus, I appreciate your interest in [this topic] but I don’t have time to spend discussing it. If you write down all your questions, I can find twenty minutes this week to answer them.” Or something like that. This will 1) satisfy the guy’s curiosity 2) send him a subtle message about how to behave, and 3) set up a precedent for shutting him down in a nice way going forward. So the second time he pesters, Patrick can say, “this is another one of those times when I can’t discuss this with you. Remember what we discussed?” A strategy like this might also improve the eavesdropping.

          Just a thought…

      2. Temperance*

        I disagree. He’s an assistant, and is questioning decisions that are not relevant to his job. “The grand strategy” is not something he needs to worry about.

        It sounds like he’s trying to boost himself by seeming more important to the company than he is.

        1. AD*

          “Boost himself by seeming more important to the company than he is”?
          Just by asking questions? Methinks that assessment is a bit harsh. Diluted_Tortoiseshell may have the right approach here.

        2. Marisol*

          “‘The grand strategy’ is not something he needs to worry about.”

          He may not *need* to worry about it, but the more understanding a staffer has of a company’s goals and strategies, the greater an asset they can be, if for no other reason than they are more committed. The guy may be going about it the wrong way, but someone asking questions to learn about their company is inherently beneficial to the company. Lots of brilliant people who wind up as CEO’s start off in the mailroom. Maybe he is trying to “boost himself.” So what? Is that really so terrible? We all want to boost ourselves up.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I think it’s a balance/approach thing. I think it’s great when junior staffers want to learn more about how and why we do things.

            But…there is a time and place for questions. Interrupting two senior managers, or inserting yourself into a conversation between a co-worker and their manager is not appropriate.

            1. Marisol*

              I agree, and think that obnoxious behavior should be stopped. I just wanted to point out it’s not asking questions per se that is a problem. He may be a diamond in the rough. (Or, he could be a total blowhard idiot, who knows…)

        3. DoDah*

          Yes x 1000000000. At OldJob the accounting assistant ( guy who printed the checks (NOT signed–but printed them out)) used to try to insert himself into every budget decision–regarding budget that was already scrutinized by CEO, COO, CFO, VP and Director. It was obnoxious.

      3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I think this is less a BEC thing and a “time and place” thing. I think it’s great when people want to learn more about things, but interrupting someone’s work conversation when it’s out of your purview is a bit much.

    3. Clever Name*

      My officemate is kind of like this. She’ll comment on phone conversations I’ve just had, and she’ll jump in if people come into our office to ask me a question. I really want to say, “Don’t you know that you’re supposed to pretend you can’t overhear phone conversations that have nothing to do with you?” It’s gotten to the point where I’ll make brief personal phone calls (like scheduling a vet appointment) elsewhere because I just don’t want to have a conversation about taking my cat to the vet.

    4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      AAM actually had a LW with a very similar situation a few months (?!) back and gave some really good advice. It may be worth looking up.

      I had a similar issue, but with a person who shared a pod (four cubicles) with my lead writer. I had to step in and say, “Sam, I am speaking with Dianne now, and this does not involve your work. I appreciate that you have ideas about X should be handled, and I’ll be happy to speak with it about you at another time.”

  14. VintageLydia*

    Alison, I understand why you don’t always separate out the more controversial questions because what will be controversial isn’t always apparent. But man, you should have seen we’d spend hours this morning discussing the finer points of grammar in relation to emojis, emoticons, and initialism we use online :P

    1. HR Expat*

      Dumb question- what’s the difference between emoji and emoticons? I thought they were the same, but the word changed from emoticon to emoji. Am I that out of touch?!?! :(

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I never heard the word “emoji” used until it became a thing on my iPhone’s keyboard. As far as I know, emoji are graphics, and emoticons are made with keyboard characters. But that’s just my best guess.

        1. HR Expat*

          That makes sense. I rarely hear people say emoticons anymore, so I assumed they had all become emoji. Thanks!

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Huh. My understanding is just that language evolved and now the standard name (for both keyboard smileys and graphics) is emoji.

            I’m glad because I could never decide how to pronounce emoticon. Ee-moat-ih-con? Ih-maht-uh-con?

            1. Ellie H.*

              I agree exactly, I think that “emoticon” was the word for punctuation marks/keyboard symbols that created a picture. Such as:
              :) ;) :/ :D ^_^ ^_^;

              And “emoji” was the word for the little pictures that were possible on cell phones or some websites such as FB. But then, I think likely associated with the rise in ubiquity of communicating via smartphone, “emoji” has become the standard word to describe both the regular keyboard symbols and the graphics that we use on smartphones and websites such as facebook.

              1. Kyrielle*

                Especially since lots of systems now translate the :) into the graphic equivalent, so even if you typed an “emoticon” you and the recipient may both see an “emoji”. They kind of needed the same term at that point….

          2. Purest Green*

            I swear I used to hear them called “emotes.” But that sounds more like a verb to me, so maybe I hallucinated it.

  15. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

    #1 I disagree with Alison’s approach a little bit. Someone who struggles with social cues usually needs pretty dry cut “Please do this, due to X & Y business reasons.”

    I struggle with office socializing, it’s just difficult for me to read people, and when I am over or under socializing (I’ve been in both situations), it’s always been useful for me when the boss focused less on the “You are awkward” (Yes I effing know that. How do I fix it?) and more on the “I need you to do X because of Y or Z.”.

    1. Anna Lawless-Collins*

      Thanks! I think you and Alison have good ideas for this. I was struggling with how to phrase this without totally demoralizing her, and focusing on the work rather than the socializing issue will help.

      1. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

        I wouldn’t mention the leaving your office to socialize bit. That would personally confuse me (I have to leave my office to socialize, therefor you don’t want me to socialize at all.).

        Maybe Sarah wouldn’t be as confused by this as I would be, but just in case I would really focus on the productivity metrics.

        My guess is that this over chattiness will die down once she get’s use to the office a bit more after she masters some concepts. I know I personally cross that line when I first start, usually in the first 3 months, because I want to get to know my coworkers and I know I suck at meeting people.

        1. Graciosa*

          Well, no, it doesn’t convey a message to never socialize because 1) other people can stop by your office, and 2) you leave for your office for other reasons (visit the copier, the restroom, the breakroom etc.) and can socialize if you happen to have the opportunity while up and about.

          The latter is definitely not the same as “leaving the office to socialize” and telling the employee not to stop working while in her office to get up and join a conversation gives her a simple, logical rule which should help her dial it back.

          If the manager is dealing with someone who has trouble with social cues, I would definitely provide this specific guidance.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, I think “Don’t leave the office specifically to socialise!” is a pretty clear-cut and not easily misinterpreted sentence. (To be fair, though, I’m not quite following Diluted’s train of thought here anyway, so I might be misunderstanding and missing something.)

            1. Grimmerlemming*

              That’s not exactly what Alison said though. If some one struggles with social cues focusing on whys and how’s is very helpful too them.

              1. Myrin*

                I wasn’t actually referring to what Alison said but more to the broader message the OP wants to get across. But I maintain that – to use Alison’s wording – “I’ve noticed you leaving your office to join social conversations” actually does convey “you are leaving your office specifically and with the sole purpose of joining conversations that have nothing to do with you”. Alison also adds ” I want you to have good relationships with coworkers and certainly a bit of chat is normal” to her proposed script, so I’m not sure where a misunderstanding thelikes of “my manager doesn’t want me to talk to anyone ever” can arise from here.

          2. Grimmerlemming*

            I find it interesting that you disagree with DTs interpretations to state it’s crystal clear. The fact that DT personally would take it to mean no socializing is empircal proof that it is indeed miss interpretable.

            1. Marisol*

              Well said. I think it would depend how literally the sentence is interpreted–the more literal, the greater the emphasis on leaving the office vs. socializing per se. I can totally see how a misunderstanding could occur. A linguist could probably give a nuanced breakdown of the sentence, but off the cuff I’d say that since, “I’ve noticed you leaving your office” is a complete sentence, whereas “to join social conversations” is a fragment, there is greater emphasis on the first part.

          3. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

            Not sure how to respond to this. I clearly stated this is how I would personally take it, and that Sarah may not take it that way.

        2. SusanIvanova*

          Coworker Coffeecup had been in the industry at least 20 years and still hadn’t picked up on any “let’s cut this conversation off, thanks” non-verbal cues.

          1. MouseCopper*

            Well maybe try helping coworker coffecup out by clearly stating. “I actually need to get back to this TPS report. Bye coffeecup” instead of snarking about their lack of this skill.

            Ugh. These comments burn me up so much. If Dan is Red/Green colorblind, and everyone is like, wow this logo is so visual and it just pops amazingly and it’s so easy to read! And the Red on Green text makes it a grey unreadable mass to Dan – no one gives dude a hard time about it!

            Why is it so hard for people to get that not reading social cues is a literal disability for some people? You would never pull Dan into a performance review and criticize his lack of being able to read the logo, but make Dan an Aspie and suddenly it’s “He’s an odd duck. I don’t understand why he can’t just get the subtle cues. How can I manage Dan?” Duh! You manage Dan by being direct and verbalizing your needs and avoiding subtle cues to convey your message!? Just like you would “manage” colorblind Dan by not writing stuff in Red on Green.

          2. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

            Well I tend to pick up on this after a few months. I’ve known other new to office folks who also dial down the chatter once they are comfortable in the new setting.

            A small socially tight group is the hardest team for me to join. I’ve learned that I function much better in larger teams which are far less likely to get uppity about a little social awkwardness here and there.

      2. B*

        As someone who has had to deal with the chatter and interrupter please do talk to her. My issue was very similar – super chatty person who was not getting all of her work done and would interrupt when I was talking with colleagues. Yes, it is an awkward conversation to have but your other employees will be very grateful.

      3. Amanda*

        #1 It’s possible she has Asperger’s or something like that, because I can relate. I actually wouldn’t correlate the socializing problems with the work problems. I would address them totally separately.

        The first problem is she has trouble prioritizing work and retaining information. As a manager, I always try to look at the problem as a “systems” problem, rather than a “personal” problem. Even if the person before her was able to remember everything off the cuff, it doesn’t matter. (There are even consulting firms that corporations pay to come to help people with this skill set — it’s a really common problem.) Figure out a way to make the system work for her. First ask her what system she’s using now, and try to make suggestions. For example, you might suggest putting tasks in a calendar instead of a to-do list. Or writing everything down in a categorized binder, even if she thinks she’ll remember it. I’ve learned not to trust my memory, especially when starting something new, because even if something “makes sense,” it’s easy to get mixed up with other information I just learned. Treat it as a system problem, and not a personal problem.

        The second problem is she’s chatting with people, and it’s irritating them. This is a separate problem. I don’t know if she has Asperger’s (or maybe she’s nervous or maybe her old office ran differently or maybe she’s trying to make a good impression and it’s backfiring), but whatever the case, you get to decide how your office is run. It’s up to you (and the other people in the office) to set your own boundaries. Someone had to TEACH me that if I had a question for someone or wanted to chat with someone, not just to show up and talk to them, but rather to send them an email and ask them when they were free to chat, or ask them the question via email. (It wasn’t because I was TRYING to be rude or avoid work — I literally didn’t know that’s how things should be handled!) You just need to tell her what behavior you want and you find acceptable in your workplace. Tell her when it IS acceptable to join in a conversation, and when it’s not. Telling her not to chat and focus on work instead (especially if she can’t pick up on social cues anyway) will probably make her more aware of NOT TALKING for awhile, but it won’t give her any useful, practical information in the long-run. Bottom line: set the boundaries, talk about what IS acceptable, and what isn’t. Instead of relying on social cues (which aren’t working anyway), give her feedback and tell her straight up what behavior isn’t working and WHY/HOW she could tell in the particular situation.

    2. AK*

      I agree with this approach also – I feel for poor Sarah because I feel like I’ve been in her shoes! It’s a tough place to be in because you want to get to know your co-workers and feel like you fit in, but you’re coming off all wrong. Definitely focus on the productivity first. I like Diluted_Tortoiseshell’s direct approach and phrasing. Especially if Sarah has trouble picking up on subtle social cues, you’re being much kinder to her by being direct and clear rather than dancing around the issue.

      This isn’t necessarily Sarah’s problem (I’m not trying to internet-diagnose) but I have ADHD and Social Anxiety, which is a pain of a combination because I tend to get overeager to please and be liked, which causes anxiety, and I react to my anxiety by talking… and then I’d sense people were getting annoyed and the anxiety would get worse, which would lead to more talking… it’s a terrible cycle once you get caught up in it, especially if you’re unaware of it. A quick but direct nudge in the right direction is usually all I need to get back on track, and over time – once I get to know people and feel comfortable with them and my new job duties as well – the anxiety eases and the problem fades.

    3. Natalie*

      Hmmm. I think it’s worth mentioning the leaving her office thing specifically. I’m assuming it comes across as slightly odd and possibly annoying to Sarah’s co-workers that she pops out of her office and joins every conversation she overhears. If Sarah is in fact struggling to read cues she may not be noticing this. Telling her to not leave her office specifically and only to socialize should cover both the productivity and the possible co-worker irritation.

      1. nonegiven*

        Do not leave your work in your office to interrupt conversations that you were not invited into.

        1. Colette*

          I don’t think that’s a hard & fast rule, though. In this case it makes sens, but if she were a subject matter expert who heard junior employees discussing her area of expertise and getting it wrong, it would be OK to step in.

          In other words, it’s ok to invite yourself into work-related conversations where you have something of value to add.

        2. MouseCopper*

          Or if Jane and Jill are talking about video games, and Sarah is a video game expert, she can pop out and say. Ohmigosh are you guys talking about video games? I love video games – what do you play?

          I mean, this kind of stuff happens all the time in cubicles. I’ve had people pop their heads over the wall to say “Wow I love sushi too!”.

          It’s ok when done well in moderation. It’s not OK all the time for every convo though.

  16. baseballfan*

    #5 – I agree with this and I was in this exact situation just a few months ago. I was into the process of interviewing with two companies when a third, the one I really wanted, called me for an interview. I explained to them during the interview that I was very interested in the position and it was my first choice, but that I was in the process and farther along with two other opportunities.

    They called me with an offer an hour after I left the interview (Of course, that meant they already had the offer in their pocket when I walked in the door). It helped that I had a good relationship already with a few of the team members and felt comfortable being open about the logistics of my search.

  17. Purest Green*

    OP # 2 – I don’t have an anxiety disorder as far as I know, but the activity you described would make me uncomfortable too. I realize your situation goes far beyond discomfort, but I hope it helps to know that it’s a reasonable thing to object to.

    (Just as a side story, I once attended a work holiday party that involved all the employees singing carols! Yay! Except I do NOT sing. I left the room. That same party, a circle was formed around a dancing, singing Elvis Santa who plucked people from the circle to dance with. Once more, I left the room. We all have our triggers.)

    1. Marisol*

      I’m a singer (minored in classical voice in college) and a former actress, and that would trigger me.

  18. Not a Pigeon*

    #1: I’ve seen this from both sides (as the chatter and the chatted-at), and I’m pretty sure there’s no way you can address this that won’t make her feel self-conscious, probably forever. I still feel bad about a couple of times in the early 2000s when I trapped someone against their will, apparently, and they made it known by talking to my boss or, in one case, by actually closing the door every time I came down the hall. On the other side of it, someone I really liked chatting with, but couldn’t in the job I was in at the time because I was so busy, quit talking to me entirely when I told her–truthfully–that my boss had told me I needed to tell her to stop talking so much. And like most people, I’ve had co-workers corner me and talk about politics or religion or their kids until I’m ready to chew my own arm off to escape.

    You’ve said that your group talks to each other a lot; it’s going to feel very unfair to her if you talk to *just* her about it when everybody is doing it. You didn’t say whether others are having a lot of one-on-one conversations, but if they are, she’s definitely going to feel singled out when all she’s doing is the same thing everyone else is. Is this really something you need to just address with her, or is it something the entire group needs to be more aware of?

    If your issue is truly that her chattiness is keeping her from doing her work, then continue to focus on that, but I would not go NEAR the “you’re not picking up on other people’s social cues” thing unless you’re *trying* to make her feel like a socially awkward, unprofessional jerk who can’t function in an office, or trying to get her to leave. Which maybe you are–it does sound to me like people in your group find her annoying and are trying to get you, as their manager, to make her less so. I’m not being judgy about that; sometimes it’s hard for a group that works well to absorb someone who isn’t necessarily a great fit. But talking to her about things that she might not be able to fix (not everyone has the same degree of sensitivity to social cues… and some people who think they’re very good at picking those up–or giving them–actually aren’t) is just not right.

    Talk to her instead about the things she can control: Prioritizing her work over social interactions, getting things done well and on time, and focusing so that she retains information better. And maybe include her in some social activities like lunch or office-supply shopping so she doesn’t feel like nobody likes her, which she probably will if you tell her that her co-workers, who have been chatting amicably with her up until now, say she’s not picking up on their cues–which, btw, might not be as clear as they think.

    1. Not a Pigeon*

      (While I was writing all that, Diluted TortoiseShell said it much better and more succinctly, above. :-) )

    2. OhNo*

      You’re right that mentioning the social cues thing is pretty much guaranteed to make her feel awkward. The real question there is whether she is the type of person who is more likely to be grateful that OP pointed it out so she can work on it, or whether she’s just going to be hugely embarrassed by it. I’ve known people on both sides, so the OP will have to judge that based on what they know of her personality.

      But I did want to call out one thing you said. When you mentioned that singling her out would make it seem unfair, I don’t think that’s true. This is one of those situations that, all other things being equal, would be unfair. But all other things aren’t equal here: she’s new, she’s struggling, and she’s operating outside of established office norms on chatting. This is very much a case where addressing this is not just fair, but probably important to help her adjust to this office’s norms and the expectations of the position.

      1. Myrin*

        Very true. It also doesn’t appear from the OP that anyone else regularly “run[s] out of her office and join the conversation” that has nothing to do with them, so I don’t know where the “unfair” sentiment comes from here. No one else seems to be behaving out of bounds.

        1. OhNo*

          I mean, I understand where the sentiment comes from. It’s possible that the employee would see it as unfair.

          But it really isn’t, and if she did take it that way it would be unjustified. So I don’t think that the OP should take that into consideration when deciding how to address it.

      2. Natalie*

        Or both! I would do both – I’d be really, really embarrassed for at least a day and probably randomly after that, but I would also want to know.

      3. Not a Pigeon*

        Well, I said that she would feel that it’s unfair–not that it actually is. I agree with you that she’s new, and might not have figured out the office norms, but if everybody else is chatting and she’s the only one the manager talks to about it, then she will probably feel that she is being unfairly singled out.

        I do think that’s something the OP might want to keep in mind when talking to her about it, if only to specify *which* behavior it is that needs to change. If the OP says something like, “We’ve noticed that sometimes you leave your office to join in conversations, and that takes you away from work that you need to be focusing on,” that’s probably less likely to set off the “unfair” alarm than something like “You need to stop chatting so much with everyone” (assuming that other people in the office chat a lot, which it sounds like they might).

    3. Pixel*

      You’ve put it so beautifully, Not A Pigeon. I’m the chatty, not-always-focused one who sometimes misses out on social cues and is so anxious to do well and be liked on the first months on a new job that it causes her to make inattentive mistakes and put her foot in her mouth numerous times. Joining a small office with a smaller cohesive sub-group did not help, and like you said – for a very long time I felt like a total misfit who nobody liked. Things are better now, but your insightful, spot-on description stirred up a pile of emotions.

      1. Not a Pigeon*

        Oooh, I’m sorry I did that to you on a Friday afternoon. :-) I was pretty squirmy too, remembering all the times I missed some non-verbal cue because I was new and nervous and concentrating too hard on trying *not* to sound new and nervous.

        1. Pixel*

          It’s all good :-) I look at how bad things were three years ago, when I was trying so hard to pass as a cool, calm and collected professional, and how vastly different and better they are now, and think I did pretty good overall. And tonight is pizza night, and Boss is too busy thinking about getting away for the weekend to ask for anything, so a bit of reminiscing is just right.

    4. Sami*

      Social cues CAN be taught (to most people, at least). Talk to any elementary or middle school counselor or social worker. If the OP (or someone kind and tactful she could delegate this to) wanted to do, say 20-30 minutes of research (easy place to start: Pinterest) and work with Sarah for again say 15-20 minutes or so, it could pay off big time.

      Note: it is absolutely not anyone’s responsibility to do, but it could make a difference and also be a kindness to Sarah.

      Assuming it works, it could be something for the OP to use as an example in a future job interview (handling a difficult situation, working with coworkers, etc.)

      1. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

        Ugh! No.

        By the time you reach adulthood, if you have not learned social cues, most likely you CAN’T learn them.

        I do not get why people struggle with this concept. I LITERALLY CAN NOT READ YOUR FACIAL EXPRESSIONS because I have a DISABILITY! No amount of reading personality books, studying personalities, writing conversational flowcharts with rules like (after 4 second pause say good bye), etc, is really going to help me be less awkward. Yeesh.

        The only thing that helps me is YOU BEING DIRECT! “I actually have to go now DT. Thanks.” “I was talking to Claire DT. Did you need something about work?”

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      Unless you are blue, furry, and have googly eyes, I do not want to hear “nom nom nom” …

      1. SevenSixOne*

        I’ll grudgingly tolerate “nom nom nom” as onomatopoeia, but I HATE hearing people call food/snacks “noms”.

        1. Callie*

          I never use “noms” to refer to people food, but I do use it when I’m babytalking my cat. “Kitty want some noms?” It’s cringeworthy typing it out, but oh well :)

    2. justsomeone*

      I will nom nom nom and squee for the rest of my life and you can’t stop me.

      I’ll just be over here squeeing over cat videos and nomming my tiny, adorable oranges.

      1. Jillociraptor*

        At this point, I barely use the words for food anymore. We’re always nomming our noms, ready for noms, what noms should we get?, saying “om nom” as an affirmative response to a suggestion for noms, etc.

    3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      One of the Harry Potter internet forums I used to frequent had filters for certain words that either bugged the mods or were inside jokes. If you tried to type “squee” in there, it would automatically change to “*word Cap’n Kathy hates*” when posted. (And “rocks” would be changed to “ROX” and socks would be changed to “SOX” and so on.) Oh, the memories. . .

      Said Cap’n Kathy has recently become a published author of YA fiction. In the tweet I sent congratulating her, I typed “*word Cap’n Kathy hates*!!! That ROX!” Took me right back to 2003.

    1. Recruit-o-rama*

      Not all work emails are formal. I “smilie face” my close co-workers a lot.

      Email to team: “Does anyone have the Teapot Maker job description handy?”

      Recruit-o-Rama: “attached! :-)”

    2. valereee*

      I use emoticons in email a lot — it makes communication clearer. I don’t use a lot of them, and my workplace is pretty informal.

    3. Misteroid*

      I wouldn’t use them when emailing a client, but my office is pretty informal and mostly communicates by IM. When someone cracks a joke over IM I’m going to send back a lol or an emoji.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I upgraded my computer the other day and the Skype for Business emojis are excellent. THEY MOVE YOU GUYS
        And there is a teddy, a cursing emoji, a punching emoji, and a little dog that jumps up and down. I am so happy with these.

        1. Marisol*

          The only emoji I hate, with a passion, is the dancing green banana. Never send me that emoji please. It makes me angry. And no, I don’t know why.

        2. Sami*

          Your comment instantly reminded me of the cute little dog that you could use as a wizard in Microsoft Word. I hated -with a passion- the paperclip so I always changed it to the dog. And then it would remind me of my sweet little pup at home.

  19. Seren*

    Sarah sounds very ADHD (maybe primarily inattentive) to me!
    no diagnosis, no offence meant, I’m ADHD myself and inability to prioritize, getting easily distracted by socialization or other things, not processing/retaining some information well even though I understand it have been things I’ve dealt with for years!

      1. valereee*

        Not Seren, but fwiw — I write everything down. It seems like that’s how it gets into my brain. I tell people around me, “If you don’t see me writing it down, it didn’t happen.” They see that I’m trying to remember, and sometimes help me by saying, “That’s important, write it down” if they see I’m distracted. I use my calendar for EVERYTHING, and put alerts and it. I put alert deadlines on for a week before and 2 days before deadlines or meetings, and when I get those alerts I update them each time — for instance, when I get the 1 week alert, I change it to 1 day so that now my alerts are at 2 days and 1 day, and when I get the 2 day alert I change it to 2 hours so that they’re now at 1 day and 2 hrs, etc. My main problem is that when I focus, literally everything else ceases to exist. You can walk up and say my name and I won’t respond because I truly did not hear. I tell people that, too — if you interrupt me while I’m working, you may need to say my name two or three times, and even then wait until you see that I’ve focussed on your face before continuing.

            1. Anon for this*

              I love it. I will say one thing against it, which is that it’s hard to use at the same time as other productivity tools.

          1. MashaKasha*

            I have it! Each time I try to set it up, I get distracted!

            (not going to say “lol”, not going to say “lol”…) ha ha

      2. Just Another Techie*

        I have this problem too. Bullet journaling (I did this before it was called bullet journaling) is my primary coping mechanism. Also breaking projects down into the tiniest pieces possible and writing it all down.

        If you want details: I have a notebook I carry with me everywhere. I write down tasks as they are given to me and leave a half page or so for me to break the task down into components when I’m at my desk. I use the shape of the bullet point to indicate what kind of information that line contains: assignments/deliverables get an open circle (that I color in when done), steps/sub tasks get an open check box (check when done), and useful information (no action required) get a triangle. Questions I have (eg, “look up function FOO in the Teapot Spout API” or “Ask Jonah if the regression tests really cover BAR”) get a question mark as a bullet in front of the question, that I scribble over once I have the answer (and have written it down). If there’s a block of information or training material I know I’ll need to reference once I fill up that page, I put a sticky note on the page that acts as a tab/bookmark. At the end of the day I’ll review any ?’s, O’s, or []’s that are unchecked, and either declare them irrelevant, or copy them onto a fresh page for tomorrow’s work.

    1. AK*

      I have inattentive-type ADHD combined with social anxiety, and Sarah could be me. If I hadn’t been praised by my boss the other day for my productivity I would be worried that she was the one who wrote in.

    1. Salted French Fry*

      I saw that too;. I wonder if AAM is getting a traffic uptick today. 〈(゜。゜) (emoji bc topical)

  20. Also anxious*

    Dear OP#2,
    This line really resonates with me:
    “I wish there was an easy way to say, ‘It’s not you, it’s my chronic illness,’ without people feeling like I’m a jerk.”
    Managing an anxiety disorder at work is hard. In my case it isn’t usually debilitating, but sometimes it is. It’s the type of thing that I can discuss openly in my out-of-work life, but definitely gets hidden at work.

  21. Serin*

    Re #1, I really wish more managers would coach employees on making good decisions regarding office chitchat. Of course introverts and extroverts are going to view this differently, but at the very least, people need to be taught to understand the nonverbal signals that say a person is trying to bring a conversation to an end.

    I used to have a co-worker who wanted to talk to me all day long, and if I said, “I need to stop talking and get my work done,” that would be his cue to set up another forty minutes of chat about how I was doing a great job and didn’t need to worry about anyone complaining that I was spending too much time talking!

    1. Drew*

      This is one reason I hate hate HAAAAAAAATE my open office floorplan. My desk is next to a small work table and near a couple of chatty coworkers and within sight of the break room, and as a result it circles the maelstrom of much of the office socializing. I have very obvious headphones that I use to block out most of the chit-chat, but I haven’t yet found a good solution to the people who walk up and stand next to me, waiting patiently for me to take off the headphones I wear to avoid being distracted or interrupted so they can distract and interrupt me.

      Fortunately, most of them respect “Sorry, in the middle of something, please just email me” — the key is to say it without taking off the headphones — and the real problem is the social conversation. I’m working hard on remembering that it’s not actually rude not to participate in a nonwork convo when I’m trying to get work done, but I’ve also had to be the “gang, would you mind taking that to the break room” guy, which is not my preferred mode. And when someone starts by asking me a work question and then pivots to “Wasn’t Stranger Things awesome?” I am still working on the best way to say “Yes, but are we done with Work Topic? If so, I’m going back to what I was doing” when I really WANT to gush about how awesome Stranger Things is.

  22. NJ*

    #5, I was in that exact position a couple of years ago — my internship was almost up and they said they were pretty keen to have me on board in a paid position. I waited as long as I could afford to, but eventually I told them, “I really want to work with you guys, but I can’t afford to hold out anymore and I’m looking at other positions.” They were pretty understanding, if not a little disappointed. They actually called me almost a year later, so I’m glad I didn’t wait!

  23. Self employed*

    Technically, that’s an emoticon. An emoji is an image, while an emoticon is made from letters/punctuation on your keyboard.

    Punctuate the sentence as a normal sentence, then emoji/emoticon away. :D

  24. Seuuze*

    I have never ever used lol and never ever will. I accept that people will continue to do so, even people I like a lot, even though it is well past the “sell by” date and very tiresome and useless.

  25. Tennessee INFP*

    OP #4 – A lot of employers will actually pay you for the days off you’ve accrued but don’t use. You might take that into consideration – if you’d rather have the money for those days, as if you worked them as opposed to the time off.

  26. Sue Wilson*

    #3 It seems to me like many people are missing the forest for the trees with this entire question.

    1) There’s no point in trying to determine formal rules for informal language unless you are trying to formalize it. It’s informal so the commonality of meaning and use has grown haphazardly, and therefore any punctuation has developed so too, especially since there’s been no formal understanding of it’s place in sentence structure.

    2) Emojis and acronyms like lol are descriptions of feelings. What has developed in many places is that punctuation is also part of this description, meaning that “lol.” and “lol” can actually mean two different things. So can “Your pants are ripped. :)” and “Your pants are ripped :).” (I would interpret the first as a little bit amused about ripped pants, and the second as an attempt to make pointing out ripped pants as no big deal without any other conversational context, which is by no means a universal understanding, but I would read those differently). You’re not going to find consensus in syntax, because you’re not going to find consensus in meaning. The best way to use punctuation here is literally to use it how you think it conveys your feelings, whatever rules that might entail.

    3) Honestly, though, what is the point about being prescriptive about informal language, when the use of informal language is meant specifically to ditch some of that?

    1. Ellie H.*

      I love your post. I totally agree w/everything and really appreciated your example of the “Your pants are ripped” difference in punctuation choice.
      Reflecting on this after think we’re all describing our own speech (in writing) patterns and the ways we individually tend to use language to express ourselves.

    2. fposte*

      A wild linguist appears!

      I think it’s sociology, not just linguistics, that’s relevant here–it’s human to be prescriptive about behaviors. Cups up or down on the shelf? Which way does the toilet paper unroll? Shoes on or off in the house? Then throw in the fact that it’s a workplace, where prescriptivity is the name of the game.

      1. Drew*

        Cups up so any remaining water has a chance to evaporate. If you put the cups down, the water gets trapped.

        Toilet paper OVER the roll so I’m not having to scrabble behind the roll and touch the wall that hasn’t been washed since the Clinton administration. Exception: homes with roll-spinning pets or toddlers can go under if they want, as long as they’re working on training the offenders out of the paper-wasting habits.

      2. Sue Wilson*

        I agree that humans are prescriptive about behaviors, but we’re talking about informality which is deliberately running away from prescriptive grammar, which makes that impulse out of place. Furthermore, you learn all those examples things from your parentsusually, so there’s not really the same quickness of change that happens with informal language and which makes prescriptivism less natural.

    3. Jaguar*

      Yeah, I was prepared to make a post about how grammar should be taken as guidelines, not rules, but this sums it up rather well.

      Grammar exists to formalise clarity. You should understand why the rules exist and what they are meant to address and then make choices about whether it makes sense to follow those rules in individual circumstances. Clarity and an engaging style should take precedence over grammar. The Road won the Pulitzer Prize and it’s filled with run-on sentences and comma splices. There aren’t formalised rules for emoticons, presumably because they’re not something you would use in formal language to begin with. Use whatever looks best to you.

  27. Katie*

    THANK YOU for the comment on LOL! That’s the abbreviation that will not die, and I hate it. It should have been gone with dial-up.

  28. Mena*

    3. Alison, society may have out-voted you on LoL but I’m with you on it … silly in any context, but most especially in a work context. You are very right … an abomination that has strangely caught on .. ??

  29. C Average*

    Apparently I need to turn in my pedant card, because it’s honestly never occurred to me to care about how people punctuate around emoji. I have a way I do it, but I don’t regard it as the One True Way. (Speaking of which, Slate ran a fun piece about irregular capitalization yesterday.)

    Maybe I don’t care because my stepdaughters often communicate with me solely through emoji when we’re texting each other.

    I don’t understand why “lol” is still in use when its dry, delightful alternative “heh” is readily available.

    An old colleague and I did enjoy using “loll” to signify that we were laughing out loud literally.

    1. Myrin*

      I don’t care about how people use it – I honestly don’t realise usually unless something about its use or punctuation is really weird or out of place – but I’m very consistent with my own use and it registers with me as a typo-like mistake when reading my own texts. So, like, half a pedant card for me?

      (I’m also not a user of “lol” – never been – but I did have the urge to write it just two or three days ago on this very site! Somehow, nothing else fit the feeling I wanted to convey quite as well. Weird.)

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I don’t care either, but I intend on maintaining my pedant card by posting the survey I’ve created on emoticon preferences. Because DATA. :D

      But seriously, this is a smart group, and I’m curious how many people prefer each method.

  30. EddieSherbert*


    Honestly, even for informal IMing at work, I try to avoid using emojis. I am a HUGE fan of them, but I realized in work conversations I was using them to “lighten” every comment of mine. I’m one of the youngest in the department, and a female in a male dominated company. So to me, it felt like using something that informal and maybe silly was making me look childish or wishy-washy when I really needed to have people listen to me on certain things.

    It makes me think of this spoof (and this site is awesome if you want some LOLs… Hehe):

    So anyways, that’s just my opinion on it (and I use emojis constantly with friends and family!)

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Yeah, I hear that. I definitely use them to intentionally lighten messages. But I’m very aware that I need to monitor myself for excessive lightening (“just,” “I’m sorry,” etc.) so this is a good reminder!

    1. Naomi*

      It bugs me that Skype doesn’t make their full set of emojis easily visible! I wanted to use the four-leaf clover last St. Patrick’s Day and tried typing (clover), but it didn’t work, and it wasn’t until the holiday had passed that I discovered it was (goodluck).

  31. Rat Racer*

    #3 – is the jury still out on whether it’s OK to use Emoji’s in business communication? I think I use them more than I should, but they’re a useful tool to convey emotion – especially over IM.

    The one thing I hate (HATE!) is when people say something really offensive over email and then add a winky smiley face like “ha ha no harm meant! all in good fun!” Someone in sales once told me I was being a Prima Donna* and then added the winky smiley face. Dude, that doesn’t “soften” your message.

    *This was because I asked her to post slides she asked for to her own sharepoint site. I have a mental block about SharePoint. I screw it up every time. If this makes me high maintenance, then so be it.

  32. Becky*

    What I don’t get is why pronounce out the letters of LOL, WTF, OMG, when you’re speaking out loud and not texting? As in, I’ll type “OMG” but I will definitely say “Oh my god!” in person. I put saying “el oh el” up there with saying “That’s funny” but not actually, you know, laughing out loud.

    Maybe it’s just fun to say Double-u Tee Eff out loud, I don’t know.

    I run into issues with smiley faces in work communications all the time. It’s one thing if it’s just casual, slightly-ironic usage between cronies, but when a senior colleague emails me and includes smilies, I feel more compelled to reply in the same vein. Sometimes now I catch myself typing in a smiley instead of using actual vocabulary to convey my tone and meaning. Agh, conflict. /probably not a hill to die on

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I sometimes say el oh el to be sarcastic. WTF, no. I just say, “What the fuuuuuuuu…” and people get it. Or “What the flegnard?!”

      I do use emoticons in emails sometimes, but usually after I’ve been talking to someone for a couple of replies or if we’re particularly friendly. I’ve been trying to dial them back in everyday communication and just use my words. Though outside work, all bets are off.

  33. Norman*

    lol is appropriate in one instance: responding to a message (text, facebook, email) that actually makes you laugh out loud.

    1. Pixel*

      My guesses would be reminding them to write things down, emphasize important points, and asking them to echo back instructions given to them a few minutes ago. I’m sure there are other useful tricks (which I’ll be more than happy to learn).

  34. literateliz*

    The emoticon issue is addressed in The Subversive Copy Editor, which is a sassy little guide written by the woman who runs the online Q&A for the Chicago Manual of Style. (Although I think the question was about smileys at the end of a parenthetical statement – does the mouth serve as the closing parenthesis, or do you add another parenthesis, like so, creating a double-chin effect? :)) I don’t have the book with me now but the answer was basically “Heaven forfend CMOS start giving advice on emoticons.” Not helpful, but funny!

  35. bee~*

    Am I the only one who uses “lol” to indicate a tone of voice? I’m not actually laughing, or trying to make the person feel that I am laughing, I’m using it to indicate a light, humorous tone.

    Never in a professional context, though. The only internet-speak I will use in a professional context is the very simple, classic :) emoticon, and only under very particular circumstances. In informal settings, though, I throw emoticons and acronyms into everything. Much more descriptive in as small a space as possible!

  36. Aloot*

    #1: your letter struck a little too close for comfort, I could very well be Sarah. (And you betcha I’m going to keep an eye on my own chattiness from now on!)

    And as a Sarah, I will say that I would *greatly* appreciate if someone told me that I kept doing something that drove other people nuts. Chances are, your Sarah wants to fit in as a genuine part of the workplace as soon as possible and that involves getting to know people, which in turn means talking to them…and then she just totally overcompensates in her eagerness. Same eagerness makes her blind to any hints.

    As to *how* to be told, I can only speak for myself but a “I’ve noticed you can get a little overenthusiastic when it comes to chatting, and I think it might be a little off-putting for the others. Maybe you could tone it down a little?” would work nicely on me.

  37. Rachel B*

    #4: Are you not aware that you’ll be paid for any unused vacation time when you leave (your accrual balance), so it’s not like you’d be losing it. Isn’t that how most places operate? I thought that was the law.

    1. Moonsaults*

      It’s often mistaken that things like this are dictated by law. I suppose it would depend in your country of origin as well, since I know other countries are more detailed about vacation not being an option for the employer themselves but part of labor negotiations and regulations.

      The law mostly regards paying vacation if you are promised it in the way that, you schedule X Week for vacation. Management approves it. You take that vacation and return to work at the end of the vacation. Then they can’t turn around and say “Oh we actually eliminated paid vacation, you won’t be paid for that time after all.” Otherwise it’s just a benefit that can be cancelled with appropriate memos sent out to staff.

      Lots of companies have “use it or lose it” policies. Some will let you cash it out but others say “You take the days off or you don’t, that’s up to you.”

      1. Natalie*

        I’m not sure that’s accurate for the states that require payout. Most of those laws consider paid vacation to be part of your compensation, so whatever you accrue is considered owed to you. If a company in one of those states cancelled their vacation policy entirely, they would still have to pay out the earned, unused vacation.

  38. MadGrad*

    Re: #2 if you’re not willing to disclose too much about your anxiety, you could always phrase it as “stressful”. As in “Oh, I get why you guys love it, but I get waaaayyyy too into it and it stresses me out like you wouldn’t believe. I’m sitting this out!” Most people I think have an easy time relating to “stress” without the baggage that “anxiety” brings.

  39. Moonsaults*

    I hated LOL for much of my younger life, when the internet was so fresh and exciting. Now my texts have all turned into LOL Emoji emoji emoji and “why isn’t there an emoji for this feeling right now?”. You’d think we were all a bunch of uneducated children, instead of professionals, one of which has a MD, whomp whomp whomp.

    Always use up your vacation if it’s available to you, a lot of places do not pay you out for that unused time. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s yours to use it or lose it.

  40. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: This is kind of a fussy point, but consider whether you feel that the new employee is violating actual norms or whether it’s the culture of your office that’s pointing in a slightly different direction. Some people are perfectly happy to be outgoing and extroverted, and it’s not always helpful to shut that down in a complete way. Coming out of her office to join in other people’s conversations is odd and should be quashed, but other than that try to embrace her as a new addition to the office. Being extroverted isn’t a bad thing, regardless of what the internet tends to think.

  41. Milton Waddams*

    #3: For end-of-sentence, emojis go after the punctuation.

    For in-sentence, rules are less fixed. When a program automatically replaces the ASCII with an image, there are good arguments for putting emoji before colons and semi-colons, to show that they are part of the preceding thought. On the other hand, emoji should probably be avoided next to colons and semi-colons when dealing with pure ASCII, as it can make things ambiguous — is ;): a semi-colon and a frown, or a winking smile and a colon?

    In informal short online conversation such as chat and text messages, the period is used to imply abruptness beyond that caused by character limits in texting; proper punctuation combined with very short sentences (i.e. “Sure. Yeah. That’s great.” may imply that conversation is unwanted right now. This has lead to emojis as substitute periods. However, this really only works with programs that convert text emoji to images. The “eyes” in emoji being made of punctuation marks really confuses things otherwise.

  42. DeeCal*

    I agree with you complete, AAM! I’m a big hater of the LOL usage….the only exception to that is my 71 year old mother, who uses it often. She thinks it means, ‘lot of love’. :)

    LOVE your site!

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