I share an office with a hoarder, did I creep out my coworker, and more

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

1. I share an office with a hoarder

I share an office with a guy who has a hoarding problem, and the company president has asked me to somehow persuade my colleague to clean up. I have no authority over my colleague — we have the same position and he has seniority.

My understanding is that hoarding is a serious and difficult-to-treat psychological problem, and I have no idea where to go with this. Help?

Hoarding is indeed a serious and difficult-to-treat psychological problem, which perhaps your president doesn’t understand.

So that you can say that you tried, I would make one good-faith attempt at handling this the way you you would if your coworker were just extremely messy. For example: “Bob, I’m having trouble working in here with so much clutter. I’m starting not to be able to locate documents, or even to focus because of how much has gotten packed in here. Could we set aside a day to clean up and organize?”

That will presumably not solve the problem, and then you can go back to the president and say, “I’ve urged him to clean up but haven’t been successful. My understanding is that hoarding is a serious and difficult-to-treat psychological problem, so I don’t think anything that’s within my authority to do will solve the problem. I think someone with authority over Bob will need to make cleaning his space a requirement of the job, and follow up with him to make sure it really happens.”

2. Friend/client asked me to disclose the salary of someone I recommended

I recently passed along the resume of a seasonal, entry-level staffer to a friendly acquaintance who is also a director at an organization that’s a client of ours and that just posted a job that our soon-to-be-former staffer would be a great fit for. I sent a general but glowing recommendation, noting that we’d love to keep her if we could but it’s a cyclical business, etc.

My friend/client wrote back asking how much we currently pay my staffer. That’s icky, right? My plan is to send her a pretty vague answer and hope she drops it, but am I nuts for feeling like that is totally out of line? I don’t want to negatively impact our business or personal relationship, but I can’t wrap my mind around a scenario where sharing that info would be acceptable.

It’s definitely a thing that happens, but you’re right to resist it. Your friend probably wasn’t thinking “how can I lowball this candidate?” but rather “what would it take for us to be able to hire her?” … but the impact on the candidate is basically the same.

A good answer could be something like, “I wouldn’t feel right sharing her salary. (Did you know there’s actually a real move away from asking candidates about salary history? Massachusetts even just outlawed it!) But she’s really great and I hope you’ll contact her if she seems like she could be the right match for you.”

3. Did I creep out my coworker?

I occasionally browse a careers forum for my industry. Recently I saw a post asking about experiences at my large company, so of course I clicked in to see what people were saying. The first comment was incredibly negative (fortunately not my experience so far!), and I clicked through to the poster’s profile to see if I could figure out her department, etc.

Amazingly, many of the comments she had posted made it seem very likely that she works in *my* job family (based on very specific project and team descriptions). Some comments on non-career topics revealed some more personal details and … I’m pretty sure I know exactly who that commenter is. Specific enough to identify her if you were inside our organization, but probably not if you were external. She’d also made quite a lot of comments about her “incompetent MBA manager” and trying to start up the job hunt again soon.

I sent her a message basically saying “hey, ignore me if I’m being creepy, but do you work in chocolate or vanilla teapots? I think I know who you are; I work there too and feel your pain” and she deleted her profile the next day. I honestly have no desire to rat her out or anything; I just wanted to know if my sleuthing was correct!

Was I too stalkerish? Good to warn her that she’d maybe been venting unwisely online? Is there a “right thing to do” in this situation, or should it just be left alone? I don’t manage or work closely with her, and definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing it up in person. (And, of course, I could’ve been wrong and it *wasn’t* who I thought it was… but I’m pretty sure I’m right.)

Ooooh, yeah, you should have left it alone. She was venting anonymously and you violated her anonymity — of course she’s going to feel uncomfortable. (This is the exact same reason why I discourage people here from posting comments like “I think I know what company you work at”; whether they’re right or wrong — and I suspect they’re wrong more often than they’re right, just given what they’re based on — those sorts of comments are likely to make people feel really uneasy.)

I suppose there’s an argument to be made for alerting her that she wasn’t as anonymous as she thought she was, but the way to do that would have been something more like “Hey, I want to let you know that I work at Teapots Inc. too and thought your comments might have made you more identifiable than you intended. Believe me, I feel your pain with what you’re saying and have no issue with the post, but I wanted to give you a heads-up in case you wanted to up your privacy protection.” … But actually, having now written that out, it feels like an overstep. I’d just let it go and trust her to manage this herself.

4. Not allowed to use the office microwave

I have a small but weird question. My husband teaches guitar privately and picked up a new gig a couple of months ago. These positions are typically paid as independent contractors. It can take time for slots to fill with students, so he has a day where he has multiple lessons but hours between each one. It’s not long enough to come home, but long enough that he’d like to eat dinner. He asked the owner if they had a microwave he could heat food up in, and the owner said no, but he could ask the restaurant next door. Okay, no big deal.

On Friday, he asked one of the teachers for a large box, and the teacher brought him into a back room where gear is held. There was also a fridge and a microwave. Husband asked the teacher about it, and he said it was for he and owner because they’re in the studio long hours. Husband is upset with the owner, mostly because of the lie and because it’s such a weird thing to be denied access to. Can you think of any reason for this? Should my husband even bring this up with the owner?

Well, it doesn’t sound like it was technically a lie — he asked if there was a microwave he could use, and the answer to that is indeed no, there’s not a microwave he can use. There’s a microwave, but it’s not made available to anyone but these two people.

And that’s really their prerogative. It certainly sounds weirdly petty on the face of it, but who knows, maybe they’ve had issues in the past with letting contractors use it and finding that people left messes in there for them to clean out, or they ended up having to wait for other people to be done with it before they could use it, or who knows what. Either way, your husband shouldn’t bring it up with the owner — he asked, he was told no, and it’s not something to push further than that.

5. Coworker was called back from vacation to be written up

I just found out that a coworker was out on an authorized vacation and, after being on vacation for a few days, was called back into the office to be written up for some reason. Is this a legit thing that can be done? Employee on their own time being called in to be written up?

Legally, yes, it can be done. Practically, though, it’s a pretty crappy thing to do. I’m hard-pressed to think of a reason why any sort of disciplinary measure couldn’t wait until someone was back at work and not still on vacation. If something was egregious enough to warrant firing for very serious cause, then in some very limited circumstances possibly not — but even then, you’d call the person, not force them to cut their vacation short to return. (And to do this all over a “write-up”? Puke.)

If what you heard about how this went down is indeed what happened, your company sucks.

{ 465 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    So FYI y’all, I have bronchitis (and am about to go into day six of laryngitis!), so I’m going to continue this abbreviated posting schedule all week — three posts a day instead of four.

    1. Drew*

      Ack! I used to get bronchitis every winter as a kid, pretty much like clockwork, and it sucked. (Mostly it sucked because after the first couple of days, I had a horrible cough that didn’t even hurt anymore but sounded AWFUL, and I had to keep reassuring people that I felt fine, that the cough didn’t hurt, and that I definitely was not contagious and shouldn’t be sent home.)

      1. Artemesia*

        Me too — I remember after 60 years the misery and embarrassment of sounding like a wounded buffalo for weeks every winter. Get well soon Alison.

        1. Rebecca*

          Yes, that description is so valid! I was a sickly child, and this was my burden every Fall, Winter, and Spring – endless rounds of bacterial and viral infections, with bronchitis on top of it. I had to go to the hospital for breathing treatments as well.

          Alison, get well soon – take good care of yourself.

        1. ancolie*

          I was gonna post something similar! I had bronchitis, strep throat, etc. every dang winter as a kid. Both of my parents smoked a lot. I didn’t realize it until later, but I got these less and less as I grew older and didn’t spend as much time with them (like an enclosed car with 1-2 smokers and maybe a window cracked 1″, max). Then my mom quit smoking completely and then I moved out and wouldn’t you know, I’ve had bronchitis exactly once and no other lung-related illness since then.

          1. Lia*

            Same here — my dad was a heavy smoker when I was a kid and I had bronchitis or pneumonia every winter until I moved out at 18. Never had it since (and luckily dad has quit smoking).

          2. PlainJane*

            Ditto. I had tonsillitis, bronchitis and on and on every year, and dad was a 2-pack-a-day smoker. He quit smoking the summer before I started high school, and lo and behold, I didn’t miss a single day in four years due to illness.

        2. Cath in Canada*

          I wasn’t, but I did have whooping cough when I was two years old, and then lived in very cold student apartments in northern England and Scotland with no central heating for 6 years. (The place in Glasgow was so cold I used to sleep wearing head-to-toe fleece, inside a sleeping bag, under a duvet. We once went out of town for a long weekend and the weather turned unexpectedly cold. When we came back, my roommate’s goldfish was dead because its bowl was frozen solid). I used to get bronchitis at least once a year and it was miserable. Now that I can afford to heat my place properly I still get a nasty cough with every cold, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be.

      2. librarygirl*

        Ugh! That’s me right now. I feel fine but the cough won’t stop and my voice is somewhere between smokey, breathy jazz singer and a squeaky Muppet being strangled. My voice started squeaking as I was giving a report in our staff meeting, my manager lost it and so did everyone else. Glad to have made the meeting for them, I’m sure my self esteem will recover soon ;)

        Feel better soon Alison!

        1. Jean*

          Thank you for a giggle at the end of a difficult day. May you speedily recover your voice and self esteem.

    2. Gaia*

      oh gosh, Alison. Feel better! I came down with some nasty plague Sunday but I seem to be recovering quickly (thankfully!). Take the time you need. We’ll be here patiently refreshing :)

    3. OldAdmin*

      Get well soon! Sei gesund! :-)
      There’s a big laryngitis epidemic out there, I have a mild case myself and have been hoarse for weeks.
      We need you here to enlighten us!
      I’ve learned so much on this blog, and feel less alone. And the principles from here actually help! (How to talk to colleagues constructively comes to mind. :-) )

    4. BouncingBall*

      Feel better and rest up! I remember how absolutely, dreadfully draining bronchitis is. I’m surprised you even have the energy to do 3 posts a day.

    5. TheCupcakeCounter*

      Feel better! I found that taking an over the counter allergy medicine (Zyrtec/Claritin) along with the antibiotics helped relieve some of the symptoms that were not necessarily part of the bronchitis but made it a lot worse and let my immune system deal with the actual illness rather than the autoimmune issue. Obviously make sure your Dr is okay with the meds combo but I never had an issue. I do the same thing when I get a cold too as it “seems” to keep it from progressing. Granted I tend to get sick around the time my allergies are in a transition period (spring pollen and winter dust/mold from being stuck inside so much) so maybe that is why it works for me.
      Also tea with honey and lemon juice! My grandpa swear adding a shit of whiskey cures all but I’m not sure about that. The honey in the tea soothes and coats the throat plus has amazing antimicrobial proprieties and the lemon juice helps cut through mucus.

        1. Artemesia*

          I didn’t even think of it as a typo which shows how far my standards of discourse have slid over the years. I remember when I was deeply offended by that word and now it is in my daily vocabulary.

      1. ThatGirl*

        When I have chest congestion or a sore throat I love a hot honey/lemon/whiskey combination. Soothes the throat and makes me feel a little more relaxed :) Dark rum works too … it’s funny, we don’t really drink whiskey otherwise…

        1. SimontheGreyWarden*

          My mom would make us hot lemon toddies for throat and chest issues. Hot water, lemon juice, splash of whiskey or rum (when we were young this part was skipped), a cinnamon stick, 4-6 cloves, and honey. Always helps.

          Also, I have found drinking echinacea tea helps a lot. I can’t stand the stuff when I’m not sick, but when I am it is like nectar from the divine.

      2. KL*

        My great-grandmother swore by the same thing! Granted, my grandmother would not by her whiskey or bourbon herself, but ever winter, she make her cough syrup of 1 part honey, one part lemon juice, and one part alcohol.

      3. Anon1*

        The whiskey-lemon-honey-tea thing is basically homemade Nyquil. The whiskey helps knock you out so you can sleep.
        Stick with just honey and lemon if you’re taking actual Nyquil.

    6. the_scientist*

      Oh no! I got bronchitis this summer and it was horrible. I coughed so hard I strained an intercostal muscle, which took weeks to heal fully! Initially I thought I’d cracked a rib. The whole thing was just miserable so I hope you’re on your way to a full recovery!

    7. Betty (the other Betty)*

      Four substantial posts a day is a very ambitious schedule, and I am in awe that you manage it on a regular basis. I don’t think your audience is going to go anywhere if you cut back a bit for a while.

      You could probably even split your multi-question posts up if you needed to stretch some material, and toss in a few more “ask the reader” and “open discussions on topics.” Clearly many of your readers love to participate in the discussions, so the community will keep things going for you.

      Rest up and hope you feel better soon.

    8. Lily Rowan*

      Poor you! I swear we would be fine if you actually didn’t have new posts up every day! Give us an open thread and I’m sure we can entertain each other for a while.

    9. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      UGH, ALISON, YOU WORK FROM HOME. I mean, really, what is your excuse?!


      (Seriously, though – rest up and feel better soon!)

    10. Lady Blerd*

      I once had a pretty horrible bronchitis that beat me up for weeks a couple of years ago so I feel your pain. Take care of yourself.

      1. JaneB*

        And much empathy over the laryngitis too, that is my particular regular winter curse, and it is EXHAUSTING. ‘Flu without the fever!

    11. SJ*

      I got bronchitis about ~5 years ago after a summer of studying abroad in Dublin where I had turned into an occasional/casual smoker. I quit when I returned to the states, but I’d already done the damage to my lungs, and the bronchitis came along not long after. Don’t smoke, people!

    12. Anon Millennial*

      Feel better, Alison. If you can stomach it, garlic always helps me deal with laryngitis.

    13. Seal*

      I’ve had bronchitis a number of times and it’s definitely no fun. Take care of yourself and how you’re feeling better soon!

    14. AnonEMoose*

      I hope you feel better soon! When my throat is sore/irritated, the following helps: take a coffee mug or similar. Add lemon juice (a tablespoon or two, depending on the size of the mug). Add honey to taste. Fill the rest with hot water, stir, and sip. Not a cure, but it does soothe an irritated throat, and the liquid is a good thing when you’re sick.

    15. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Thanks, all! If you don’t want gross imagery in your head, stop reading right here. I guess a defining feature of bronchitis is that you keep coughing up phlegm? It’s super gross. If anyone has any advice on how to make that process less horrible, I would be delighted.

      1. Algae*

        When I get like that, I tended to continue to use Sudafed or Mucinex for a while so the mucus would dry up. I didn’t need them so much for the sinus issues (which were usually gone thanks to blessed antibiotics), but drying up all the phlegm that would accumulate. The dry heaves were the worst.

      2. Newby*

        Did you ask your doctor for an albuterol inhaler? My sister gets bronchitis every year and they give her one which helps widen the airways which helps with the coughing fits.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          They gave me a fluticasone/salmeterol inhaler and I can’t use it — it’s a powder and my lungs reacted really badly to it and kept trying to expel it. (There are still 59 uses left on it and it cost a ridiculous amount of money so I would love to donate it somehow, but I’m assuming that you can’t donate used medical supplies?)

          1. Newby*

            I’m sorry. Fluticasone makes me sick too. A spacer would help but it probably isn’t worth it at this point.

          2. KL*

            Please don’t hate me for saying this, but you may want to give it another shot. I was a severe asthmatic growing up and I can’t count how times I had bronchitis. Usually when my asthma flares up, I cough violently for anywhere from 2-15 minutes after almost every inhaler/discus I use. It’s awful, but I do notice a difference within a few days and it does get better.

            Hope you get feeling better! And sadly, you can’t donate used prescriptions.

              1. 42*

                But she needs something with a steroid as well. Albuterol alone is only a bronchodilator.

                Maybe ask your doc if he/she would be willing to switch your inhaler to Dulera? It’s not a powder, it’s a liquid inhaler, and has mometasone and formoterol.

            1. 42*

              Former respiratory therapist here. Will your doc prescribe a codeine-based cough suppressant? If you’re coughing to the point of vomiting (and I’m assuming it’s also disrupting your sleep?), it’s time to take the gloves off.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I am dying for something like that, but I have a sensitivity to codeine — it makes me euphoric, which is nice, but it also prevents me from sleeping. Same thing with hydrocodone, as I learned this weekend to my sleep-deprived horror. They’ve recommended Mucinex DM for nighttime, but it’s been giving me horrible dry throat, so I’ve just been relying on a humidifer and ibuprofin (plus I have an antibiotic because they think there’s a secondary bacterial infection, which is slowly helping).

                I am loving all this advice — thank you!

                1. Case of the Mondays*

                  Advice straight from my grandma that saved the day when I couldn’t kick bronchitis. You need a bit of whiskey. I make honey lemon tea with a few teaspoons of whiskey in it. Not enough to even get a buzz. I had tried every rx cough medicine out there and I was still bruising ribs coughing. The whiskey shut it right down. In a pinch, I’d sip the whiskey straight. I even had my boss’ permission to have the whiskey at work. It was safer than codeine and I wasn’t getting drunk off of it!

                2. Artemesia*

                  I wish that was my reaction to opiates — mine is heaving my guts out for 12 hours so even after recent surgery the only pain killer I could have was Tylenol ( a placebo as far as I can tell). Mucinex really helped the phlegm of my bronchitis along with steam several times a day. And for me antibiotics helps when it gets this bad — but of course that depends on whether it is now bacterial or just a bad viral infection.

                  Get well soon.

                3. Case of the Mondays*

                  Also BEWARE if they suggest you take a larger than over the counter dose of Delsym. It worked but I hallucinated a black and white cow with large eyelashes prancing through my bedroom. There is a lot of DXM in Delsym – the stuff kids take to get high. I was rx’d a dose essentially double or triple the OTC dose. While the cow was sweet, I shudder to think about what kind of scary hallucination I could have had instead.

                4. Bye Academia*

                  You are probably already doing this anyway, but make sure you are drinking a lot of fluids when you are taking Mucinex. It thins the mucous so you can clear it more easily, and the water that thins the mucous comes from you. You have to be replenishing all this fluid or you end up feeling dry/dehydrated. It may just not be right for you, but something to keep in mind if you are still wanting to try it.

                  Also, it’s possible the cough suppressant doesn’t agree with you. You could always try taking regular Mucinex during the day. I do not recommend it right before bedtime because, in my experience, all that thinned mucous comes up at once in the morning….

                  Isn’t bronchitis great??

                5. Anon1*

                  Important: Avoid the whiskey suggestion if you’re taking anything “for nighttime.” DM-labeled stuff, Nyquil, things like that, relax you, and so does whiskey. Relax too much and you can stop certain involuntary processes…like breathing while you’re asleep. You can regulate how much whiskey you put in tea, but not how your body reacts to meds + whiskey while you’re sleeping. Don’t mix whiskey tea with “for nighttime” meds.

                  Honey-laced herbal teas and cough drops can help a dry throat. If you’ve got a lot of drainage maybe prop up on multiple pillows?

                6. Renee*

                  I have paradoxical reactions to things that normally induce sleep too, including codeine (and diphenhydramine, and opiates, and migraine meds). As I have chronic insomnia and chronic migraines, it’s been a real battle to find things that do help me sleep (and I have to cycle through them or I develop a tolerance very quickly).

                  For bronchitis, I use a QVAR inhaler, which is a steroid. My doctors have also generally given me prednisone which helps with some of the compulsive coughing that can develop. That may have been because I have an asthma diagnosis (which now appears to have been a very inflamed gallbladder instead).

                7. PlainJane*

                  We call phenergan “instant nap” at our house. If you can tolerate it, it will probably knock you out so you can sleep for a few hours.

                  For the person who gets sick from opiates–so do I. I’ve found that some bother me less than others, though, so I’ve been able to get pain relief after surgery without heaving my guts out. I have to go with lower doses, less-strong stuff, and combined with an anti-nausea drug (hence my experience with phenergan-the-instant-nap). FYI, my dad had the same problem (hereditary? probably) and was able to get narcotics that didn’t make him sick when he was dying of cancer. But he couldn’t have anything with codeine or morphine in it.

            2. Judy*

              I take the lowest dosage of what’s probably that inhaler twice a day. When I’ve had bronchitis I’ve been prescribed a heavier dosage. Even on my daily dosage, I can tell when my airways are less clear because I cough after I use it.

          3. Lynxa*

            Ugh, I’m on Advair, too (I have awful asthma) and it took about a week for me to get used to it. Steroids are always going to leave you feeling nasty. It helped to just do it once a day and work up to the prescribed twice.

          4. Jen*

            A few years ago, I had several awful bouts of bronchitis & pneumonia, each of which lasted at least several weeks. (I was off work for a month during the worst bout.)

            During the last one, I saw a locum who was a retired doctor subbing for my regular doctor. In addition to giving me regular meds, he also had me doing the following:

            Advil cold & sinus 4x/day with food.
            20 minutes later steam with eucalyptus oil (inhale through mouth and nose for 4-5 minutes; head covered with towel over bowl/pot) (4x/day). (This wasn’t particularly pleasant, but seemed to be effective.)

            Nyquil/robisuin at night for coughs
            Puffer in morning and at night after steaming

            Sleep with cold air vaporizer while sleeping – right next to bed blowing on me while I slept. (I actually set up an umbrella next to me while I slept, then covered me and the vaporizer with a bed sheet. It was ridiculous to look at and not particularly comfortable, but it made breathing easier and loosened the phlegm.)

            Oregano oil under the tongue for 30 seconds, followed by a large glass of water. (as often as can stand; I usually did this 4-5x/day).

            It took a few days for it to work, but considering how long the previous bouts lasted, it seemed pretty effective. Ever since then, any time I have any symptoms, I just do the oregano oil and eucalyptus steam – and the symptoms disappear within a day. I haven’t been sick since. (It’s been over 2 years!)

      3. Red*

        Mucinex is made for that! It dries up all the gunk in your lungs so you don’t have to cough it up. Buy generic though, it really does work just the same as the brand name.

        1. 42*

          Incorrect, sorry. Mucinex thins bronchial secretions so they can be more easily expectorated.

          However one formulation has a suppressant, if all you have are hacking, dry, non-productive coughs.

          1. Artemesia*

            This and if you gargle with hot salt water while coughing up the gunk it makes it less nauseating. Works on sinuses too. When I have bronchitis I have all this green crap in my longs in the morning — and muscinex plus steam plus then coughing and then immediately gargling hot salt water to rinse out the gunk makes it all less unpleasant.

      4. General Ginger*

        Do you have a humidifier? Running one, so you’re inhaling “wetter” air helps with loosening the phlegm so the coughing is less traumatic. If you don’t, you could just do some steam inhalation — run a hot shower, or hold
        our face over a hot cup of some nice tea or soup.

      5. BetsyTacy*

        I know it sounds totally backwards and a little crazy, but a hot toddy (so, whiskey, lemon juice, honey, hot water or tea) actually can help. A friend of mine had bronchitis but is allergic to the normal ‘cough suppressant with codeine’ in it that they give you to help out.

        The doc suggested hot toddies, as there is a mild relaxing effect, plus the soothing of the hot liquid plus honey. My friend was at the point where they were actually talking about giving her medicine she was allergic to and then treating the reaction if this didn’t work, but ultimately it did. And even if it doesn’t fix things, it’s hot and might make you feel a bit better.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Seconding hot toddies. Have a hot toddy once or twice a day, drink tea and broth at other times, use your humidifier constantly, and take at least one long, steamy shower per day. I’d keep a book and a bathrobe in the bathroom so that you can get out of the shower and just camp out in a steamy bathroom for as long as you feel comfortable. (Leave if you’ll feel like you’re going to pass out.) All of the hot fluids and steam should help your lungs feel better.

          I’ve also used a personal steam inhaler, which is uncomfortable but seems to help.

      6. Catalin*

        Even grosser, but when it comes up you have to spit it out. Mucinex DM will help, along with a vaporizer/humidifier, vicks on your chest and lots of warm liquids.

        Don’t want to wait for the honey tea to kick in? Cloraseptic spray kills the sore throat.

        Sore ribs? Ben Gay or vicks or mentholatum rub.

      7. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eeek, I have just read something upsetting — apparently whispering is terrible for your vocal cords and the worst thing you can do when you have laryngitis (equivalent to yelling, supposedly, and can cause long-term damage to your voice). I have been whispering for six days straight.

        1. Susan C.*

          Uh. Could you link that? I’m not necessarily disputing it, considering I’m not a medical professional, but once upon a time in college I did take articulatory phonetics – and I’m reasonably sure that your vocal cords literally don’t move when you’re whispering (as very much opposed to shouting). So, I’d be curious about the reasoning there!

            1. Susan C.*

              Oooh, I see – no, it’s probably right. See, there’s basically two places air can pass through around your larynx, one with you vocal cords, and one without. For normal speech you close the one without and close the cords enough to build air pressure, making them vibrate. When you whisper, there’s no vibration, but of course you have to strain you vocal cords even more in order to keep them closed tightly and force the air to go the other way. Never thought of it like that, but makes perfect sense unfortunately. Sorry Alison!

            2. Heather*

              If I’m remembering right, my old voice therapist told me there are different kinds of whispering and one is worse for your voice than the other. It’s like the difference between a stage whisper & the one you’d use to say something to the person next to you in a really quiet place.

              A couple of commenters on that NYT article (starting w/Emily at 9:56) mentioned something similar. So maybe it’s not as bad as you thought?

              I hope you feel better soon!

            3. Clinical Social Worker*

              Try singing. Seriously. Our choir teacher would admonish us for whispering (because it will keep your voice dead) but we could still sort of sing (though not that well).

        2. longtime lurker*

          Whispering is the worst for your voice.
          There are some good apps out there with text to speech (you can even try out an accent!)
          I damaged my voice years ago and it never truly got better. One loud cheer and it is gone again.
          Rest your voice as much as you can. Talk normally when you must speak.
          Take care and get well!

        3. Mona Lisa*

          Whispering is so awful for your voice! It puts a lot of strain on already damaged cords. I would recommend talk at a normal volume through the cracking or, better yet, getting a pen and paper to write everything you need to say down. I have an erasable one kind of like an Etch-a-Sketch that I’ve used when I’ve been on vocal rest.

          Your resident, classically-trained, opera singer

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Also a classically trained singer–hi! *waves* :)

            We were told not to talk at ALL during bouts of laryngitis. I really like the erasable thing; that’s a good suggestion.

            1. Mona Lisa*

              Helloooooooo! Yes for sure on the talking. I had one friend who was on vocal rest for an entire month after a really bad cold/coughing stretch. Her ENT gave her a sheet of stickers to wear that said things like “I’m in silence!” or “Vocal resting.”

            2. zora*

              Yep, in high school when anyone in our theater/choir group would get laryngitis, if there was an imminent show or concert coming up (and there almost always was) we would force them to wear a sign around their neck all day saying “I am sick, I cannot speak,” and the group policed the sick people pretty hard core! “No, Stop. Stop talking RIGHT NOW”

              I got it a couple of times, it was kind of funny how seriously we took it. ;o) But we took our performing arts very seriously in our school.

          2. Sorrischian*

            A lot of whispering can wreck your voice even if you’re perfectly healthy beforehand! I know this from personal experience, because in the choir I sing in, last year we had a piece where my section had to whisper for eight. pages. and all of us were incredibly hoarse afterward. The rest of the concert was a struggle, to say the least. (Not quite classically trained, but I do all right – I hope!)

        4. TootsNYC*

          That’s what a trained opera singer told me about whispering. She said, “Just speak very, very quietly and slowly. Or not at all.”

        5. Lynxa*

          That’s what my voice coaches always told me. They said it’s best to just talk “normally” and let your voice do what it’s going to do because it’s more effort for the chords to whisper.

        6. Jean*

          Try steaming up the bathroom by running the hot water in the shower? Then sit on the edge of the tub and breathe in the steam. Then cough (yuck.) Tessalon perles (sp?) are wonderful for me, but everybody has a different chemical makeup so YMMV.

          Rest. Read or watch or listen to only soothing, non-challenging books / TV / radio / streaming. Don’t force yourself to talk. Drink fluids until you feel like a water pipe. Rest some more.

      8. Lilly*

        I have what you have! Solidarity. I was at urgent care last week getting a nebulizer treatment when I started coughing so hard I was gagging, and everyone there was rushing around to help and a nurse shoved two pills and a glass of water in my hand. I am not really a person who takes unidentified pharmaceuticals so I asked about it and it’s something called benzonatate, which suppresses your lungs’ urge to cough. They prescribed me a whole bunch and they have made a huge difference!

        1. Lily Rowan*

          I was literally just googling tessalon pearls, which turns out to be perles, which turns out to be benzonatate. So: +1.

      9. Mona Lisa*

        Mucinex-DM, honey, and steam. When I’ve got a bad cold/cough, I love to sit in the shower with the water on as hot as I can tolerate and just bask in the steaminess. During my last cold, I’d sit in there for hours a day. Honey is a natural cough-suppressant that can be helpful; it’s really good combined into the hot lemon water that BetsyTacy and Sami mentioned.

        1. SimontheGreyWarden*

          Steam, yes! I have before made a bowl of hot peppermint tea, tented myself with the bowl and my head under a towel, and let the smell of the peppermint tea soothe my sinuses.

          1. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

            Toss in a couple of drops of eucalyptus next time (instead of tea if you have it)! Healed my throat and vocal chords when nothing else worked.

      10. MeepMeep*

        Warm water and sea salt that you gargle helps the pain in your throats and gets that weird “residue” gross phlegm feeling away. If nothing else it’s really soothing and takes away some of the pain from being sick. Good luck!

      11. Nea*

        This may be just me, because I’ve never heard anyone else ever mention anything similar. But when I’m coughing up crud, I find comfort in a humidifier with a good glug of vinegar in the water. (Which as a bonus descales your humidifier while you use it.)

        Also, and this is even weirder, but I get on my hands and knees for the really bad coughing bouts, because it’s easier on my lungs to clear out horizontally instead of vertically.

        If the drugs work for you, great! But they don’t for me, so I have to go really old school.

      12. EyesWideOpen*

        Ugh, I have been in that situation. It is the worst. No real advice. I would take a sleeping pill and just sleep because no coughing while sleeping.

      13. ConantheLibrarian*

        I used to have good luck with Robitussin DM, Cough + Chest Congestion. Unfortunately, I’ve become very sensitive to medication and now everything bothers me, especially inhalers. (I don’t have asthma, just reactive airways.) This is going to sound weird, but what I’ve found that works for me is to have my husband gently massage my back and chest for about 5 minutes. It reduces my coughing spasms significantly, and the coughs I do have are productive. Also, drinking a lot of water or tea helps to thin the mucus.

      14. NP*

        It sounds like you can’t take the good cough suppressant with codeine, but have you tried/can you tolerate just regular Robitussin (or generic) cough syrup that doesn’t have the medicines in Sudafed or Mucinex DM that cause the throat drying effects you described below? Or Alka Seltzer? Sudafed really dries out my sinuses so much I get headaches and Alka Seltzer actually gives me hives, but I can take regular cough syrup just fine.

        A few years ago I discovered that it is better to take medicines that contain single active ingredients than take the medicines that have multiple. This is mostly because everything seems to also include Tylenol, which you are really supposed to limit due to toxicity. But it also tailors what you’re taking to your exact symptoms at the time and reduces side effects.

        I can confirm that the coughing fits are miserable…and can lead to bruising or breaking ribs. Hope you feel better soon.

      15. Stranger than fiction*

        Sometimes I sit in a hot steamy shower and cough up as much green chunks as I can.

      16. Saucy Minx*

        Saline Flush
        12-ounce mug
        teaspoon for stirring
        baby aspirator
        12 ounces of warm water
        1 teaspoon salt

        Fill mug w/ comfortably warm water from bathroom tap. Stir salt in until dissolved. Hang over bathroom sink. Squirt water up nostrils. Can do this daily, twice daily, however often you like as long as there is still phlegm. Closed door & privacy are a good idea.

    16. Gandalf the Nude*

      Look on the bright side: now’s the perfect time to perfect your charades game and secret, silent language with your husband!

      Get well soon, Alison!

    17. ZVA*

      Feel better soon! If you need to abbreviate even further, I’m sure everyone here will understand…. (I certainly would.)

    18. OP #4*

      Alison, thank you very much for answering my question, especially while you’re sick! My husband appreciated your advice and agreed he would just let the issue go.

    19. WildLandLover*

      Geez . . . it’s definitely going around. I have a coworker who was out almost a week and now her husband has developed walking pneumonia from the same icky. Best wishes for a quick recovery! And THANKS for all you do!

    20. Menacia*

      Wow do you at least have a sexy voice (if any voice at all)? That’s the only thing I like about having laryngitis. Relax, drink some nice tea and have hubby wait on you hand and foot! :)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I have zero voice – literally no speaking ability. Six DAYS of this. And the husband is sick too (even longer than I’ve been sick) so we are just mopey invalids in a house full of phlegm.

        1. Serafina*

          Gah. All the cyber hugs. There are some nasty bugs going around this season; I had the worst bout of bronchitis in almost 10 years in September, and it triggered my asthma for weeks. I’m still wheezy. It went through my office and family, and several of us were also a mess for days or weeks.

        2. GrumpyPants*

          Just gonna throw something out there for you to try if you want. When I have a bad cough I take a teaspoon of molasses-black strap if I’ve got it. It’s not a long-term help, but it does soothe and stop my cough long enough to get to sleep. (also a trained vocalist). Sometimes it just a matter of trying different things in different combinations to hit on something that works. Take good care!

        3. acmx*

          My crazy advice is to hang over the edge of your bed when you cough to help cough up the phlegm. This is probably more useful if your cough isn’t productive.

          Yes, I really did do this.

        4. PlainJane*

          Ugh, so sorry you’re going through this. I take lots of hot baths when I get bronchitis (or, this summer’s treat, pneumonia). It seems to help with the coughing and ease breathing. I hope you and your husband feel better very soon!

  2. Stellaaaaa*

    OP4: Is it possible that it’s more about access to the back room than the microwave itself? I 100% understand why only authorized permanent employees would be allowed in the gear room. Musical instruments and sound equipment are huge theft risks.

    1. Phoebe*

      I kind of assumed this was the case when I read the letter. It was located in an off limits area, so I think it’s very likely that the 2 people allowed to use the microwave are the same people who have access to that room.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It might be worth him thinking about that, though–not letting people back there, but providing another microwave so people who are there through their lunch period can have use of it. You can get microwaves cheap and they don’t cost much to run.

        1. Sarianna*

          My first thought about a shared microwave was, “Can’t blame him, nobody wants to be responsible to clean that!” The cost of a microwave and the electricity to run it may be low… the stress of trying to get people to clean up microwaved messes, or resenting other people for leaving them could be a good deal higher.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq*

            Oh my yes. I worked at a bookstore in high school where the owner/manager had a microwave in the back office that was off-limits to everyone but himself. He agreed to let me heat water for tea in it but only when I was the only one working – he’d had too many bad experiences with employees making a mess, or worse, a stink that would spread out into the main floor.

            OP: I would totally be annoyed if I were your husband because most people figure that they’re not the one who would be a problem, but this definitely sounds like something to shrug off as an annoyance and experiment with salads or bento-box style meals one day a week.

          2. Koko*

            While I totally understand that it isn’t feasible or practical in all situations, I firmly believe that the only way unrelated adults can share kitchens and bathrooms with each other is to hire a professional cleaner. Unless everyone is a neat freak, they’ll most likely end up fighting over whose job it is or isn’t to clean up and how clean is clean enough. I’ve seen $20/person/month to hire a cleaner to do kitchen and bathrooms once a month end wars inside group houses. Well worth it when practical.

    2. Tequila Mockingbird*

      It’s possible that former contractors abused the microwave in the past – burning popcorn, cooking very smelly foods, etc. – and the owner just got fed up and made it off limits to everyone.

    3. LF*

      Perhaps the owner or employee has a food allergy- it can be a huge pain to educate people (even very, very well meaning people) about cross contamination and such

      I need to eat gluten free, so I’m really careful about covering my food up using the microwave at work, but it still makes me nervous.

  3. LadyMountaineer*

    Oh man. I work in gov tech and one of my fellow devs (senior, not a rookie) ignored protocol, disabled safeguards and overrode a code base promoting it through the environments all the way up to production and it left our client completely hosed. To this day I don’t know why he did it. Was it sloppy? Did he not ask for the help he needed? Who knows. The point is the status quo was not ideal but it was workable and he left an unworkable mess and blew out the door for a vacation. My boss called him back in to write him up and have him work through the issues since she had to follow our progressive discipline policy which requires that supervisors try to fix all fixable employee issues. Rather than forcing her through all of the steps he’s retiring this week.

    Fun times! My point being could this person have pulled this kind of stunt?

    1. MK*

      My understanding is that the employee was called back from vacation only for the write-up. It’s different, and perhaps justified, to cut someone’s vacation short, so that they can fix a mistake that needs to be corrected urgently. I mean, you might have to do that with someone who did nothing wrong for random emergencies, so doing it for an emergency that is the employee’s fault is understandable.

      1. Nerdy Canuck*

        Of course, the question stands as to what happens if the person’s vacation has them a good distance away – can they really be expected to fly back early or whatever if that’s the situation?

        1. MK*

          Well, reallistically speaking, if they are so far away that they have to fly back, they likely won’t be able to do so in time for it to make a difference. But I think many people, if they had really screwed-up, would prefer the inconvenience of cutting their vacation short and salvaging their reputation by correcting it, than enjoying their holiday only to return to an angry client and a boss with serious concerns about their abilities and work ethic.

          1. thexacra*

            Reminds me of a situation from years ago. A co-worker was on vacation in Spain, came back, & was immediately laid off along with many others (it was during the dot com bubble). I remember thinking, maybe they have reached out while she was still in Spain because maybe she would have chosen to extend her trip. Of course, I suppose, it could have also ruined her vacation.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              Not at all the same, but I recently had a coworker who was on a short business trip, missed the layoff day by one day, and was laid off when he came back. I think the company could have managed around that in a kinder way.

            2. Jan D'oh!*

              I was laid off the day I got back from my honeymoon, and was told they “didn’t want to ruin my trip” so they waited until I got back.

              Apparently they didn’t bother to consider that it would have been really useful to know I was going to come back to no income before shelling out once-in-a-lifetime amounts of money.

          2. Joseph*

            Yeah, the real issue if it requires a flight is the practicality of the situation. Even if you want to ignore the expense (not realistic for most people), you’re talking most of a day between the “come back immediately” and the person actually getting back once you add up the time to: drop everything and get back to your hotel, changing the flight, packing up your hotel room, getting to the departure airport 2 hours early, the time spent on the plane, and the time spent getting from the airport back to your office.

            1. MK*

              Yes, and that’s even assuming there is an immediate flight back that has a vacant seat. I used to work in an island location that only had direct flights to my hometown five times a week; there were layover fights via the capital, but the connecting times were not always conventient. And all these airplanes were tiny and usually booked weeks in advance during the high season. Reallistically “get back immediately” means “within a couple of days”.

            2. Elizabeth*

              I go overseas for vacation occasionally, and when I do, I don’t have cell service and become difficult to reach. I’ve also gone to remote parts of third-world countries, or out hiking in the backwoods, or on a boat for a few days. Getting back in a hurry often isn’t an option. When I’m away, I assume my coworkers can handle any emergency that arises (but I also make sure that I’ve pass on important info and that I’m not leaving the dept. understaffed for the time I’m gone).

              And calling someone back to do a write-up? No. Just no. Even if it’s something that is a fireable offense, it can be dealt with when they return (assuming the return date is within a week or two).

        2. Christine*

          Some people may not have the income to change a flight, etc. I think it was sh####. I would look at how my current employer’s other behaviors to see if would warrant job searching.

          It could be that they were supposed to have had completed something before going on vacation and failed to do so.

          1. MK*

            If you are refering to LadyMountaineer’s story, there is no indication that this person was away; they may have been hanging around their yard when they got the call.

        3. Observer*

          The guy is “retiring” rather than forcing his boss to go through the process of firing him. That sounds like is SO MAJOR that it might actually make sense to expect that.

    2. Moonsaults*

      When I read the letter, my instincts said “someone found out Employee was doing something deliberately wrong while covering for Employee” and in order to get their point across that this wasn’t just a slap on the wrist, they called to have the employee come in despite being on vacation for the paperwork.

  4. Maxwell Edison*

    For #5, I would not be at all surprised if this happened at my former employer, ToxicJob. It sounds like the sort of petty stunt they’d pull.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        In Switzerland you have to be laid off in person, so they made our works-from-home Swiss team member drive 2 hours to the nearest office without telling him what it was for.

    1. Dante (from the call center)*

      I’m confused about the “on their own time” part of the question. If the employee is hourly, they need to be paid for the time they were at work being written up/if they were salary, they need to be paid a full week’s salary because they worked part of the week being in the building written up, don’t they?

      Or do write-ups not count as “work time” so they don’t have to be paid? (I ask because my employer avoids paying us for any time we’re not “working”–which has resulted in law suits when they’re wrong about when they need to pay people, but they don’t entirely care.)

  5. MK*

    OP3, why would you say you “feel her pain”, when your own experience with your company hasn’t been negative?

    1. Former Invoice Girl*

      Maybe s/he realized s/he was being a bit out of line and tried to cushion the impact / decrease the creepy factor (as in, signaling that s/he didn’t mean to rat her out to other coworkers).

      1. MK*

        But that adds a whole level of creepy, when she is pretending to sympathise with somone who is obviously very unhappy at her work. I have to say the “I just wanted to know if my sleuthing was correct” justification strikes me as unbelievably selfish and entitled, and adding hypocrisy to it?

        1. Former Invoice Girl*

          Don’t get me wrong, I agree – this was not a good idea, and just made things more uncomfortable. I personally would just keep this info to myself in a similar situation.

        2. Jozie*

          I think the justification was added simply to emphasize that OP’s intentions were innocent and she did not contact her potential coworker with the intention of ratting her out or getting her penalized in some way.

          1. op3*

            This was more my intention, plus Jen RO’s comment about having the same, but not as extreme, frustrations in our job.

            1. Dante (from the call center)*

              Aww, I’d wondered what happened to Jen RO. :(

              The really frustrating part is that it was this forum and you’ve decided to both out her username and hint that she’s back under another name, which you’ve also identified because you are so clever but you’re posting anon.

              Yes, this is creepy. Campaigning to silence people on the internet is creepy. WTF is wrong with you?

              PS – I miss you, Jen Ro.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think you misunderstood something here! Jen RO still posts regularly here. She has a post on this page, in fact. OP3’s comment was a reference to it. No one is being called out for anything.

        3. Rat in the Sugar*

          I think “unbelievably selfish and entitled” is pretty harsh for someone who was just being a nosy nancy. OP’s curiosity might have led them to do something they probably shouldn’t have, but she wrote in to Alison to ask if it was wrong, was told it was, and presumably won’t do it again. The harm is that OP’s coworker is now creeped out about using an internet forum they used to post on. I mean, that sucks a little, but I think you’re being a little hard on OP.

            1. op3*

              Not a week later, there is a new account posting on the forum about our company, our location, and a terrible manager with many of the same traits complained about before.

              So I guess she’s not scarred for life, which is good to know.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                It also looks like she didn’t learn her lesson, if that lesson was “you are identifiable.”

        4. Chaordic One*

          I agree, MK.

          Contacting the person who she thinks commented was not cool. It just confirmed that, yes, she is indeed “creepy.” What a “creepy” thing to do. It just amped up the “creepy” factor.

      1. Mookie*

        I have to agree. I think the intention here was not to protect someone but to be entertained, and the OP went through some amount of work to derive that entertainment.

        The first comment was incredibly negative (fortunately not my experience so far!), and I clicked through to the poster’s profile to see if I could figure out her department, etc.

        This isn’t describing someone accidentally uncovering something. The OP browses employee feedback about her company and then plays a deliberate game to match a name and face to a comment. Fair play to them, but it’s not appropriate to contact someone you’ve been carefully stalking on-line to inform them that you might know their identity. Despite our best efforts, most of us only ever achieve a thin tissue of anonymity because our thoughts, habits, manner, and preoccupations come out in how we write and engage with people on-line. Few could maintain their anonymity under this kind of scrutiny.

        Also wanting to know if your “sleuthing was correct” rarely falls under the category of “right thing to do” in the first place, so I personally wouldn’t spin this as ethical behavior. I don’t necessarily think it’s unethical, but I think it’s unwise and impolite to contact the person.

        1. Emmie*

          I think your description of OP’s behavior as stalking is harsh and inaccurate. To be fair, I would have felt uncomfortable and leery if I was on the receiving end of this; however, OP’s lurking wasn’t some ongoing pattern of obsessive, harassing, intimidating behavior. In hindsight, it appeared to be a one-off mistake that was unwise and impolite that shouldn’t be repeated.

        2. Anna*

          You’re attributing a pattern of behavior to a one-time act that the OP then asked about to determine whethe or not they were overstepping. This isn’t a “deliberate game” or “carefully stalking” and it feels a little melodramatic to describe it as such.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I’d have checked this out too. Because 1, I am a Nosy Nancy, and 2, there might actually be concerns that I could help get addressed.

          2. Mookie*

            The OP explained that this is what they regularly do, read and then try to identify commenters. That’s the pattern.

        3. MegaMoose, Esq*

          Yeah, I agree that this seems harsh. This isn’t stalking or doxing or anything like that – the OP just sounded like she was curious and poked around a bit. From the response, she realized it was probably inappropriate, which AAM confirmed, so lesson learned.

        4. Sas*

          Agree with Mookie. Might not be the best words, but the actions of OP were NOSY. Nosy person- it’s either inappropriate and they help someone or it’s inappropriate and they hurt someone.

      2. Fiona the Lurker*

        Actually, it came over to me as a rather ham-fisted overture of friendship, as in “We have this in common, maybe we can talk about it off-line.” I don’t think I’ve ever quite done this myself, but I’ve seen the day when I’ve been horribly tempted to reach out to someone on a very similar basis.

        1. EyesWideOpen*

          I have to agree with you Fiona – to me it also looked like an overture of friendship perhaps maybe mishandled. I know if I was on the receiving end of the overture I would have probably vanished as well.

    2. Jen RO*

      Maybe she understands the problems that the other person is facing, just that they don’t inconvenience her that much? For example, I could empathize with a developer with an unreasonable workload, but I am in a different department so my own workload would not be an issue.

      (Although I do admit that the email is phrased awkwardly, so maybe the OP did not mean this.)

      1. Apostrophina*

        That’s how I interpreted it. And honestly, if it’s someone in a different area of the company, I could certainly see reading the other posts like OP did, because I’d be assessing the chances of [whatever problem it is] affecting my job down the line. (I don’t think I’d have written the message, though.)

        1. op3*

          The funny thing is I’d been jealous of her roles and responsibilities before and kind of wanted to be on her team. Not anymore.

  6. Gene*

    For #1, is the coworker someone like me who works from piles? If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. It’s been a problem with a former superintendent who was of the “Orderly desk, orderly mind” mindset.

    If the coworker is gathering piles of junk, that’s another matter.

      1. Jane D'oh!*

        I waited ALL DAY to look this up because I had a feeling it w0uld be NSFW. I was right! Never heard this name for it before.

    1. Hellanon*

      Thankfully my workplace runs heavily to people who organize and work from stacks & piles – such a relief! Although I draw the line at bringing into work the habit I employ at home of forming a semi-circle of stacks of papers around myself when I’m writing a new multi-topic talk or a paper – one stack per topic – that one is less office-friendly. I admire my boss’s immaculate desk but her job is more conversations than papers, and the people talking to her take their papers back away with them when they go.

      1. Artemesia*

        I wrote a book with piles of printouts of interviews I was incorporating into the book color coded with little flags completely covering the floor of the spare room I used for an office. Me in the center with the computer and piles of paper everywhere.

    2. BoyMom*

      We have a coworker who teeters on the pile problem and hoarding. He also lack judgment such as having an empty beer bottle on his desk that he likes the label of.

      I’ve organized everywhere else but his desk but I had to do all organization projects while he was gone or they would never had got done.

      But I think she gave spud advice on this one.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        I am deeply curious what auto-corrected to “spud” advice. Or what spud advice might mean.

          1. Mephyle*

            ‘Spud’ could come from ‘solid’ if you have the left hand letters correct but the right hand is one key too far right. Then you’d type ‘sp;od’ and ‘spud’ would be a reasonable autocorrect suggestion.

    3. Sibley*

      I understand the out of sight, out of mind mentality though I don’t share it. However, there comes a point where it is unreasonable. Even if they’re neatly organized piles of paper, no, you can’t have multiple foot tall stacks of paper on your desk for weeks or months. It becomes a safety issue, beyond the appearance issue. Either wrap up the project so you can put everything away, or figure out a system to remind you to go back to it and put everything away.

      The more usual piles of paper are fine of course, and if it’s limited to a short time period because it’s the busy time, that’s ok, but there is a minimum level of neatness that needs to be maintained in a public space.

      1. JustaTech*

        My adviser in college was like this. He had a pretty big office and his desk and the counter and the floor were just covered in stacks of papers. But if you asked him a question he could turn to a random stack and pull out exactly the paper you needed.

        Then again, he had 12 pairs of shoes under his desk and the box of an Apple IIE in his lab.

    4. Gandalf the Nude*

      We had some senior leadership with that mindset come in this week, so I was scrambling to get my office into something resembling order. It felt like that scene from Matilda with the kids hiding their art projects from Miss Trunchbull!

    5. AnotherAlison*

      I also wondered if the coworker kept hard copies of past projects. It used to be that the senior engineers at my place would drag around boxes and boxes of past projects and reference material. They’re technically hoarding it, I guess. (These aren’t official record copies, and if you haven’t opened a box in 5 years, do you need it?) But, I’m not expecting that I would see their homes on an episode of Hoarders, either. I don’t think the work hoarders I’ve encountered have actual psychological hoarding issues. . .I am wondering if the OP’s boss sees it the same way, and that is why the problem is being addressed casually.

      1. RKB*

        My dad is an engineer and he still has textbooks and project manuals from the 80s and 90s. However, if he didn’t have us sneakily throwing things out, he would totally be a hoarder. He can’t bear to part with anything if it’s remotely functional!

        1. Liz*

          Yes, there’s the hoarder who just can’t do it themselves but won’t miss 90% of it if you just toss when they aren’t looking, and then there’s the truly anxiety disordered who will actually fill the space back more quickly to feel comfortable again if you toss things.

          1. Karo*

            I feel like that’s the difference between a pack rat and a hoarder. Pack rats hold onto things because maybe they’ll be useful one day in the future and they always remember that one time years ago that they needed the thing they had just thrown out. Hoarders have a compulsion.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Yeah, from what I’ve seen and read, hoarders have anxiety dialed to 11. The mere thought of getting rid of a thing (even if it’s clearly trash, which sometimes they literally cannot fathom that it is) causes them EXTREME distress. You’ve seen the shows–the psychologist will ask if they can hold an item and the hoarder is like a deer in headlights the entire time his/her grubby mitts are on their item.

      2. Moonsaults*

        “If you haven’t opened a box in 5 years, do you need it?”

        I’ve had to dig into years old boxes for paperwork working in accounting :'(

        I have a client who is getting audited from 3 years back and I gasped when he phrased his question as “If your records go back this far, can you help me with copies of these things?” Of course I can go back 3 years, who can’t go back three years.

        I can only imagine anyone who carries around records like that does so for similar reasons, you never know when you’ll hear back from a project. I have had people call me over a decade about because they remember your individual projects much more than you do since it’s personal to them.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Official engineering records are retained for 15 years, but the company has a very specific document retention and archiving policy. (Like accounting, we have legal reasons to keep these).

          None of that policy specifies that individuals personally drag old files around for 15 years. Official calculations and drawings are now archived electronically. Previously, the official boxes of documents were put into cave storage. It makes sense to keep a few things you want quick access to for a couple years (like while a project is still in its warranty period), but you could get things out of the caves in a day or now from online archives at any time.

          As for references, a single shelf can reasonably hold everything you need. I’m not changing my mind that there is no legitimate business reason to lug a dozen boxes around!

          1. Kira*

            I recently heard a professor complaining about how small his new office is. He has 12 bookcases worth of books, and is miffed that he can’t fit them in his office along with the other furniture (desks, meeting table, couch). What gets me is that he isn’t a literature prof, he’s in the sciences. I just can’t imagine that he actually references or looks at that many books.

            1. Amadeo*

              I worked for the math department of a local university looking after their website and other such sundry things. Some of the profs had only a path to their desk, and a small space for a chair for a student that may visit during office hours. There were several of them like this. Stacks and stacks and stacks of books and papers jammed into an office that was at best 12’x12′. I have no idea how they found anything, or got to any of the books they had.

          2. Jane D'oh!*

            Not only is legal a reason to save things, but it often can be a reason why you’re not allowed to leave unsecured documents lying around. In my field, a messy desk isn’t just annoying, it’s a security breach.

          3. Gene*

            We have to keep originals of all our records on hand for 5 years by Federal law. So we have a row of fireproof file cabinets at 600 pounds empty each that will go straight through the floor of our trailer when the Cascadia Quake hits.

            And I keep my phone notes on 5X7 tablets next to the phone. I have a stack of them going back 12 years on the corner of my desk for reference.

          1. Kira*

            Oh yeah, we had a new IT person who wanted to automatically delete all emails over 2 years old. But in my work I often needed to research past conversations, deadlines, etc. that didn’t seem important enough to file when they happened but are suddenly relevant again.

            To compensate, she and I started working on convincing the bosses that keeping digital copies is sufficient and that we don’t need to print everything.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Haha, I had this problem with Bosswife at Exjob. She insisted we print a copy of each shipping request I sent out, regardless of the fact that they were all contained in an Access database, which was backed up regularly and could be accessed again at any time. They filled up two entire lateral drawers. When she and Boss left, I pitched them all with inappropriate glee. :)

          2. Emilia Bedelia*

            Here in my world of medical devices, records are kept for at least 55 years (or “for perpetuity”, depending…). Our files are pretty exhausting to even think about :)

          3. Elizabeth*

            The government regulations I work with most frequently says “6 years past the last date upon which you relied upon the the document”. I have emails from 1996 & 2003 that are the advice we relied on to make a decision that is still policy today, so I still have them.

      3. James*

        I just had a project come back to life after 6 years of being dormant. Between that time and now, I’ve had a massive hard drive crash that cost me all of my data on this project (and a few others). Fortunately I had hard copies of the maps, references, and other relevant documents, so I could recover–if I hadn’t, I’d have had to re-create about four months worth of work. In a week. While working on another time-sensitive project.

        Further, as-builts and other, less-formal documents engineers frequently deal with are of TREMENDOUS value when you have to re-visit a site or machine or whatever. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to rely on an old field notebook or a sketch drawing to find something I was looking for.

        The issue is how to store reference material in these cases. It’s not official, so you can’t (and often really, REALLY don’t want to) put them in the official files or documents. On the other side of the equation, they’re not worthless either, and may become critical on short notice. How everyone decides to handle such things is a personal choice, one that you can’t really make a rule of thumb to govern because there are simply too many factors involved.

    6. neverjaunty*

      Working from piles is way, way different from hoarding in a shared space. We can probably take the OP at her word.

      1. Tequila Mockingbird*

        Yeah, I don’t see how one could interpret “hoarding” to mean “working from piles.”

        “Hoarding” is a very specific phenomenon. It’s a type of anxiety disorder that has serious health and safety issues if left unaddressed.

    7. Joseph*

      “It’s been a problem with a former superintendent who was of the “Orderly desk, orderly mind” mindset.”
      Ironically, at LastJob, I actually saw the exact opposite mindset. I was known around the office for keeping my desk fairly clean and organized* and had some people insinuate that “well, if you were BUSY LIKE ME, your desk would look like mine” (i.e., tornado-stricken mess). Like spending five minutes while on a conference call to clean my desk meant that I’m not working hard enough or something.
      *Partly because I like a clean desk, partly because I was the only person in the entire office who actually followed the document destruction/risk management plan, and partly because I put little-used documents in boxes under my desk to be out of the way.

    8. Karo*

      It might be, but there are people who are just…ridiculous with their desks. The ten people I share an open space with are a mixed bag – I work from stacks, a co-worker’s desk is so clean you could eat off of it, another has stuff strewn across her desk but it’s all relating to the one or two projects she’s currently working on, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

      Then we have one co-worker whose desk you cannot see through the mountains of stuff. He has started hiding stuff in empty desks because he’s run out of space on his desk. He frequently complains about not being able to find anything. Anything that ever has or ever could have a purpose of any sort he keeps. And it all creeps into his neighbor’s area, to the point where you have to essentially draw a line and just start shoving stuff back over when it crosses the line. (I may or may not be speaking from experience on that part).

      I get that there’s not anything that a layperson can do about it, but I’m not surprised that someone who has to consider how things appear to the public would be concerned with a desk that looks like this.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Bullyboss was like this, as was his most frequent victim, which made me snicker in irony every time he said something snarky about it to Victim. They were both from-the-pile workers. Every so often, Boss would insist they clean off the piles because their desks were visible to visitors. Victim was pretty good about it, but BB had to be prodded. I don’t think he was a hoarder–he was just a lazy asshole.

    9. Koko*

      I’m chuckling a little bit to myself because I can’t remember the last time I needed to physically print something for work other than meeting hand-outs. I work in digital and it can be easy to slip into a bubble and think nobody uses paper and ink anymore!

    10. Vicki*

      How do we know that the co-worker is a “hoarder (i.e. suffering from a serious and difficult-to-treat psychological problem” ? And why has no one else asked this?

      Why are we assuming the co-worker “needs professional help”? Why are we assuming that the CEO or the OP can diagnose “hoarding”?

      1. NOPEtopus*

        We are taking the OP at her word.

        No one has diagnosed the coworker and there is no plan to force the coworker into therapy. The OP had a theory that could explain Coworker’s behavior, and researched that theory. You’ll notice the suggestion was to try to resolve it so the manager will know OP tried, then escalate it if the situation isn’t resolved.

  7. Marzipan*

    #1, I shared an office (various offices, actually) with someone who absolutely could not throw anything away that could be useful. It wasn’t hoarding exactly – it came from an environmentally-motivated standpoint – but good grief, there was a lot of stuff. A lot. Soooooooo much stuff. Theoretically-useable office supplies. Pieces of only-slightly-broken furniture that other offices were throwing out. Enormous balls of string. Teapots! The commemorative plaques from out-of-date accreditations. And so on.

    We actually did (eventually) get asked by this person’s manager to get them to clean up, but at that point the person was due to retire soon, so in all honesty we just left it and then had a cleaning spree after they left. The one time I absolutely put my foot down was when they left a load of materials for an environmental awareness project they’d taken on in bags behind my desk, and the contents needed to be cleaned so they wouldn’t smell, and hadn’t been cleaned. I noped out very definitively on that one.

    In practice what I mainly did while sharing the office with them was to apportion then a disproportionate amount of storage space, and to instigate periodic sorting cleaning where I would insist that everything be put away somewhere or at least ordered somewhat. But assuming you have previously made some sort of efforts in this direction, I’d go back to the company president now, and say “I’ve been thinking some more about your request for me to persuade Alberforth to clean up. I wanted to be clear that I’ve already done X and Y in the past with no effect. Of course I’m happy to continue to try, but I’m concerned that is likely to have little effect unless someone senior to him directs him to deal with the mess. I’d really like it to be resolved, because as you can imagine it’s affecting me directly since I work in the same space as him. Would it be possible for you/other senior person to make the request of him?”

    P.S. The legacy of all this, for us, is that there remains, to this day, a large light-up seasonal decoration in the corner of the office. All year round.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      Just so you know, that actually is textbook hoarding. They can’t let go of anything that they see any potential use for, and that’s how they justify keeping all the stuff – you can’t make them throw it out because you never know when they might need it.

      1. mazzy*

        I don’t agree, my house is spotless but I’ve done the same thing at work. There are so many “smart” and “environmentally aware” folks out there who constantly buy and leave around huge chunks of plastic that could technically somewhere be recycled. Maybe once a year I go through that hassle. If I left it to them they’d throw it out

        1. TL -*

          There is a huge matter of scale here. If you have a few boxes or maybe a drawer or shelf with reusables, that’s quite different from a full and unusable office. The latter is definitely some brand of hoarding. (Especially if you can’t bear to get rid of things, which is the biggest test.)

        2. neverjaunty*

          Saving some stuff in case it might be useful later is very different from ” absolutely could not throw anything away that could be useful.” The latter is hoarding.

          1. Anon For This*

            My husband does this to a lesser extent than his father, who does it to a lesser extent than HIS father. When we first got married I would wonder aloud if we had a son, if he would have a normal relationship with getting rid of stuff.

            Husband’s grandfather probably suffered some serious undiagnosed mental illness. His house was full of stuff and he had a school bus parked on his property full of empty milk jugs, newspapers, any number of things. He also had severe paranoia and some other things going on that lead me to believe he was ill. Husband is not anywhere near as bad as that, but we definitely have things we don’t need and can’t use because “you never know.”

        3. Tequila Mockingbird*

          What you’re describing is NOT hoarding, since you make the effort to go through the junk once a year to organize/recycle/throw things out. Textbook hoarders don’t do that. There is a difference.

    2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

      I feel you. Oh Lord do I feel you. (We are still at the making comments stage, because no one really wants to mention it. Maybe we’ll move offices and be able to…loose a few boxes? I say this in jest. Mostly.)

      1. Anon 4 dis*

        My favorite is “This hasn’t been used or moved in a year. Can we decide what we’re doing with it?” It’s how I get my boss to get rid of things. Also once or twice a year we get a pile of things we’d like to toss and have him go through it with the option to toss or keep. Another thing I found that helps is that I keep the rest of the office as organized as I can and the stuff he insists on keeping get put on his desk or the shelf near his desk. Is his desk an unusable black hole? Yes. Is my desk clean and usable for me and I know where everything in the office is? Yes.

        1. Anon 4 dis*

          But I’m also my boss’s admin so it’s kind of my job. OP shouldn’t have to keep their coworker organized.

    3. Temperance*

      My boss is big on reusing, repairing, and recycling, and she hates seeing stuff in the trash . So I wait until she’s off for the day and chuck stuff. Otherwise, I’d waste countless hours sOrting through manuals to see what sections are missing.

    4. Mookie*

      Enormous balls of string

      I always find this fascinating. Where are people finding and gathering this amount of loose or stray string such that they can have multiple balls of it hanging around? I’ve only seen something like that in cartoons. Yarn and other textile materials I can understand, but are offices in such shambles that string is just piling up everywhere?

        1. JaneB*

          String is great! AS the child of two keen gardeners I can never encounter a useful looking piece of string without carefully unknotting it and winding it up. There’s often a hank or two in my pocket (and it’s surprising how often it IS useful).

          I always put string on a package I’m sending by mail, it makes a nice little handle for the post office to handle it by and reduces the risk of stuff getting dropped or coming apart.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Have you actually discussed this with a postal worker? I’ve heard it makes the package much more likely to get caught in a machine.

            1. neverjaunty*

              You are right. At least in the US, packages are sorted by machine and string jams the machines. Letters with strings are “nonmachineable” meaning they have to be sorted by hand.

              To keep a package from coming apart, tape it!

          2. Charlotte, not NC*

            I’ve worked with automated sorting machinery. This is a terrible idea. No staples, no string, and no fibrous tape allowed. Smooth tape, that’s all. Your packages are much more likely to get mangled in the machinery this way, and can cause expensive downtime to repair or untangle the machine.

          3. First Time Poster*

            String on packages is against USPS guidelines. It jams the sorting machinery. Using string means they have to hand sort a package, (if they don’t remove the string) which delays the package delivery and increases labor costs, which we all pay in higher postage.

            1. CEMgr*

              Yes, USPS has come out against string on parcels. “…Tape the opening of your box and reinforce all seams with 2-inch-wide tape. Use clear or brown packaging tape, reinforced packing tape, or paper tape. Do not use cord, string, twine, masking or cellophane tape. Place a strip of clear packaging tape over your label to prevent the address from smearing….”


        2. Fiona the Lurker*

          I have to admit that on scrupulously deep-cleaning a previous office I acquired a huge amount of that thick, hairy parcel string. (It had been tied round some computer boxes about a decade earlier.) It was a challenge to work out what to do with it, but eventually I plaited it and literally wove myself a new doormat. Okay, I could have bought one quite cheaply – but this was free, and the satisfaction of having repurposed the string was immense.

          Plus, you can actually knit with string; you can make shopping bags and so forth. May not be your scene personally, but it’s a perfectly practicable proposition!

        3. ginger ale for all*

          We use string a lot in the library where I work. We even teach our student assistants a special knot to use with it. It is a pretty handy to know if anyone wants to google slip knot to see. We use the string when we want to bundle periodicals to send off to the bindery.

      1. A Hoarder's Daughter*

        My mother just moved into an assisted living facility and 95% of the stuff she insisted on lugging with her will never be needed or used. Everything was, “just it case”. She’s got unopened boxes everywhere and I’m just waiting for the management to tell her that they all have to go.

        1. Bob Barker*

          Ha ha, I was thinking this. I keep ribbons that come into my office (from gifts, usually), and bring them home periodically. While I do have a single large bin of ribbon short ends, most of them do end up being cat toys.

          (The Godiva ribbons are the best — long, satiny, and solid enough poly to hold up to chewing.)

      1. Dot Warner*

        Yep, that and “I don’t want this going to a landfill!” – meanwhile, the hoarder’s home and office are turning into landfills.

        1. Temperance*

          Yep. While the person is trying to “save” actual junk from the dump, they’re destroying their home and the earth around it. Which means that the house will have to be demolished (even more waste) or at the least repaired.

          1. MsChandandlerBong*

            My best friend built her house in 2008. Honest to dog, it looks like it is 30 years old because of the hoarding. I appreciate that she wants to make good use of everything and not be wasteful, but I have almost injured myself several times while trying to walk through the living room. She also goes around and takes stuff out of people’s trash with the idea of painting/fixing it and then selling it. The problem is that she thinks everyone likes the same things she likes, so instead of staining a piece of furniture and putting it up for sale, she’ll paint it with a matte purple paint and then wonder why no one buys it. So, her entire garage is filled with other people’s castoffs.

        2. Allison*

          I do have to actively fight both thoughts sometimes.

          “It’ll just rot in a landfill!” – Okay then, I have a few weeks to find a way to repurpose or recycle it, but if it’s still here after a certain amount of time, I have to get rid of it even if it means throwing it in the trash.

          “What if I need it again??” – I may not be wealthy, but I can afford what I need. And I live in a city, I’m surrounded by stores, and I have Amazon Prime. I don’t see a need for it in the near future, but if I do need something like it again, I can easily replace it, probably with a newer and nicer version.

          I don’t think I’m a hoarder, but I am a pack rat who could become a hoarder if I don’t fight those tendencies and frequently purge my collections of junk that accumulate.

          1. TC*

            This is me. I find the less stuff I have, the easier it is for me to get rid of stuff — it took me years to get to this kind of tidy-ish point and I’ll be damned if I’m going back. My parents hoard (no to TV extremes) so I recognise I why I have to work on it.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            SAME. Pack rat 4 life! And I’m the same as you–I’ve finally realized I can replace it if I need to, or find something even better.

            I watch hoarding shows to scare myself into not doing it.

          3. Collarbone High*

            My dad once had a meltdown because, while packing for a move, my mom and I threw out scraps of dowels he’d been hoarding for years (among other things). He was barely mollified when we pointed out that we lived half a mile from a Michael’s and dowels cost less than a dollar, and if he really, truly found himself needing a 2-inch section of dowel, he could just go buy and cut one.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Thrift stores do not want junk. No one will buy it, and they’ll have to pay to have it hauled away. If you can’t think of any reason why you or your family or friends would not want it, there is very little chance any thrift store would be able to sell it.

            1. Sarita*

              My mother is a “send it to a thrift store! Someone out there will want it!” proponent, especially for broken electronics and extremely worn-out or stained clothes. The electronics should be recycled, and the clothes should be tossed unless they’re easily fixable (and if they were we’d have done it already). Other than maybe tchotchkes in good condition, like vases and picture frames and statuettes (so long as they don’t have someone else’s name engraved on them), thrift stores don’t want junk.

              1. SusanIvanova*

                Here in Silicon Valley, the Goodwill dropoff places also take electronic junk for recycling – which kind of makes sense, because for every donated electronic thing that works they probably get a lot of stuff they have to recycle. It’s a lot more convenient than the city-run dropoff place, which is somewhere off in the industrial zone near the bay.

                1. Elizabeth*

                  In my area, Goodwill partners with Dell to recycle electronics. I’ve also seen some locations partner with Threadcycle or other linen recyclers, so even if the clothes are not resellable, they can still be worth something.

      2. Aurion*

        That’s totally my father. In fairness to him, he is like the machinery whisperer and has repaired all sorts of things with odds and ends he has kept around. He once repaired a broken inner part of an aquarium filter with, I kid you not, the plastic refill of a ballpoint pen. (A part of the rotor had snapped and it was thus too short to turn the next piece, or something. I’m fuzzy on the details. I was too busy boggling.)

        His garage is somewhat-organized chaos. No one dares venture except for him. :) But anything not remotely useful or repair related I make him throw out/recycle.

      3. JustaTech*

        When it’s really tedious is when your boss was a hoarder (“We have to keep this piece of machinery that’s from the ’60’s that no one uses and we can’t get the disposable kits for!”), and then he leaves, and now all that crap belongs to no one, and you *still* haven’t gotten around to throwing it out. It’s been 3 years and there’s still junk in storage we just can’t be bothered to get rid of.

        In my experience I’ve found that scientists can be terrible hoarders. I don’t know if it comes from academia and tiny budgets, or what, but even in industry we have to watch each other and say “do you really need that?”.

    5. Mabel*

      As someone with (diagnosed) OCD, this sounds very familiar. I work very hard to NOT keep things “in case they might be useful in the future.” I have to tell myself that it’s much more stressful (and honestly, it makes me feel like a failure) to have stuff around that I’m not using than it would be to get rid of it. It’s hard to do in the moment, but it’s such a relief later to not have clutter! And as much as I hate throwing things out, if something is not in good enough shape to donate, I make myself throw it out. It’s not fair to the people working at Goodwill or other places that take donations to make them throw it out.

    6. Chaordic One*

      I once shared an office with a pair of coworkers who were like “The Odd Couple.” Oscarina would purposely leave leftover food on the shelves above her desk to annoy poor Felix whose cubicle was next to hers. Sometimes things would sit there, over the weekend, for a week or more. Old hamburgers, old french fries, old curried rice, old pizza. I could smell it from 3 rows of cubicles over.

      My other coworkers thought it was hysterically funny. Felix would eventually break down and clean up Oscarina’s mess. Our supervisor was basically a BEC. (But not Oscarina’s old ones.)

      After Felix transferred to a different department, Oscarina stopped.

    1. Loony Lovegood*

      I actually came here to say this, too! Or alternatively, they could have other dietary restrictions that prohibit using the microwave for other foods. That being said, however, the nice way to handle it would have been to offer that explanation in the first place.

      1. Kosher microwave*

        Yep, when someone asks to use my microwave, I say “I’m sorry, I keep kosher so I can’t let you use it.” In my case there’s a communal microwave I can direct people to, but even if there weren’t, I politely explain why mine is for my own use.

        1. Chloe Silverado*

          True. There’s a microwave that looks brand new in our office kitchen, but it’s broken. You wouldn’t know from walking by it that it didn’t work.

        2. SophieChotek*

          Although in that case you would think the boss might have said “It’s broken” although I suppose it could be broken and he still doesn’t want OP’s husband to use it.

          Hadn’t thought about the kosher one; reminds me of a time I heated something up in my friends microwave and she hadn’t told me she was keeping kosher…oops, I felt really bad about that!

          But in a way the boss followed the rule of saying “no” and not having to offer the explanation…?

  8. Cat Steals Keyboard*

    #1 This definitely isn’t an appropriate way to deal with this. Your colleague needs professional help.

    #3 If that happened to you wouldn’t you be afraid that it was HR or your manager?!

  9. Fresh Faced*

    #3 Yeah that was kinda creepy and you overstepped a line. At a base level you took away her anonymity whilst keeping your own, which made the whole exchange unequal. If your message was “Hey I think you work at vanilla teapots I’m Jeff from IT!” it may have gone better, as she knows you aren’t her manager or HR. Even then this seemed like her place to just vent into an internet void, so I don’t think she’d want to discuss any of that with you.

    1. Sarita*

      Mm-hmm. The “hey I know you! [but you don’t know me]” unspoken second half of that message, while probably unintentional, is hard to miss when you’re worried you’ll be reported to your boss and end up fired.

  10. NP*

    I shared office space (and a title) with a hoarder. She was such a mess, she got us both fired. I couldn’t find any of the work that needed to be done and she cried every day when I purged. Every day. FOR A YEAR. It was miserable.

    1. Susan C.*

      The mind boggles… was your entire management off-site, or actively mean-spirited or – augh. Just. What.

      I do hope she’s getting help, though (and of course that you’re in a good job with nice, well-adjusted coworkers now).

        1. Susan C.*

          I’m guessing it was a case of “management” being hands-off to the point of negligence, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the hoarding as a problem and at some point deciding that starting from a clean slate would be the best way to fix the team’s not-so-great bottom line. Which, I guess, is true if your primary metric is “will this course of action require me to actually manage”?

          Or who knows, at this point I’m willing to believe that they thought hoarders were a protected class or covered by ADA, so treating everyone the exact same was the only way to avoid getting their pants sued off. Guh.

          (sorry for the wild speculation, NP)

          1. NP*

            When I was hired, the manager in place was amazing and very understanding but they got rid of her (short version: new manager hired due to nepotism) and the new manager was just looking for excuses to fire us all so she could bring in her own team. Fun stuff!

          2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            It sounds like the hoarding prevented the NP from doing her job, so her performance suffered.

          3. Dorothy Lawyer*

            That’s not so far off… I work in housing and hoarding is a mental illness that requires reasonable accommodations in housing. Practically speaking, it means that it can be really hard to evict someone with that illness, even if they’re creating a fire hazard, noxious odors, etc. You have to jump through a lot of hoops – especially in public housing.

            1. Susan C.*

              Ok, I’m sorry, that probably sounded really insensitive – I really do wish NP’s former coworker the best! I’m just really irked at how this was handled, because it made things worse for pretty much everyone involved.

    2. misplacedmidwesterner*

      I worked with a hoarder that a LOT of problems that spilled over into the workplace. (Massive liability issues, massive policy violations.) When he was finally fired, they fired his immediate supervisor because she had a couple years to fix the problem, to actually supervise her employee, and ignored several directions to do so.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Make sure you vent the can before you put it on the campfire. I had a can of soup explode all over our camping gear once. He wouldn’t want to get beans all over his guitar.

      1. Trig*

        Ohmygod I hadn’t thought about buddy burners in YEARS!

        They were so fun to make in Girl Guides as a kid, but now I am infinitely grateful for proper white gas stoves. You can make more than a can of soup and a burned grilled cheese on them…

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Hahahah I remember those!
          I made those can stoves and built tiny fires and cooked on them. I was fascinated with that when we learned it in Girl Scouts. Now I keep cans of Sterno and a tiny stove that goes with them in my garage. I actually used the heck out of it when trapped in my house for three days during the ice storm in 2007. I was very glad I had bought a small camp coffeepot at the flea market too–I will NEVER get rid of that, not ever!

  11. Liane*

    OP #4:
    Your husband can bring a meal or big snack that doesn’t require heating–fruit; veggie strips; chips; single-serving cups of dip, pudding, or gelatin; granola bars; cookies; cold sandwiches. Use a cold pack in the bag if necessary. Or an insulated container if he really wants hot food. Also, once he has a full schedule, he may not have long enough breaks to heat and eat a real dinner; eating 1 or 2 items that don’t need warming between students may be all he can fit in.

    1. fposte*

      Bento is all about stuff that doesn’t need heating and how to pack it safely–could be worth looking at some bento blogs.

    1. BouncingBall*

      My industry has a website (with a forum section) dedicated to reviews of companies by employees. It’s like Glassdoor, but veeerrryyyyy specific to my one industry. I admit that whenever I see a new review about any company I’ve worked for, I try to see if there are any bits of info that tip me off to who the review’s author is. Yes, I’m a bit nosy. But I think many people are. The difference is that I would never actually contact someone if I thought I recognized them. IMO, that’s where the line gets crossed.

      1. Allison*

        Right. I’m active on a subreddit for a particular hobby of mine, and sometimes someone reveals they’re in the same scene as me, or they attended an event I recently attended as well, and I may go through their post history to see if I can piece together their IRL identity. But when I get a good idea of who someone is, I don’t message them to try to confirm, nor do I message someone to say I know who they are. Some people don’t mind being “out,” but messages like that could make someone very uncomfortable.

    2. CM*

      I think a lot of the comments here about OP #3 are overly harsh… I read it as them being curious, and then not realizing they overstepped when they contacted the person. I mean, OP #3 wrote in to ask, “Did I do something wrong?” That seems like somebody who didn’t have bad intentions, they just didn’t understand all the implications of what they did. (Which weren’t that terrible anyway. Coworker now feels worried that they shared too much online, which they did. That’s not a big deal.)

      1. Lil Lamb*

        I agree. Sometimes people are just eager to make connections to others and don’t realize how they are coming across.

      2. ThatGirl*

        I agree. I have totally done internet sleuthing like that before. The main difference being I’ve never actually messaged someone — but I really do understand that curiosity.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          I’ll join team been there, been tempted to do that, so let’s cut the OP a break. Nobody’s got perfect judgment all the time and it really doesn’t seem like much harm was done (or at least, there’s really nothing to be done to correct said harm).

      3. ZVA*

        Agreed. My take is that OP #3 was curious, which is perfectly natural—but overstepped by indulging their curiosity at someone else’s expense. They didn’t think through how their message might make the coworker feel. Thoughtless, yes—but “creepy” is taking it a bit too far!

      4. Emma*

        I don’t know, I think “don’t try to out someone, even privately, on an anonymous forum” is such a basic rule of internet etiquette that, yeah, violating it makes you look like a massive creeper. I’d do my damndest never to interact with you again if you tried that on me.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hey, that’s not very kind to our letter-writers. There’s a way to weigh in while still being constructive (and which won’t discourage other people from writing in the future, as this does).

      We all make mistakes or misjudge things, and we don’t need a crowd of strangers stoning us for it.

    4. Emma*

      Agreed. And some entitlement issues too, especially with OP4, though I was really creeped out by how OP3 frames her annoyance over their coworker not responding as the OP wanting her curiosity assuaged.

  12. Anon This Time*

    In regards to #3, If she was complaining in general it’d be one thing. But she was calling her manager incompetent in a way that could identify both her and her manager on a website at least two people from the company frequent.

    I don’t think LW#3 phrased it particularly well, but I don’t think he necessarily should have let it slide.

    On my company’s glassdoor profile, there’s a scathing and grossly inaccurate review from an employee that was fired for cause. Anyone in the company would be able to tell exactly who this ex-employee was talking about. I mentioned it the person the post referred to so she could manage the situation if it ever came up for any reason. I think it’s highly inappropriate to rant about people on the internet in a way that can identify them.

    1. INFJ*

      Glassdoor policy states that you can’t put information in a review that identifies a specific person. I once saw a review for my previous company that badmouthed a specific person (didn’t use the name, but stated the position, which would have made it obvious because it was a position of which there was only 1). I flagged it, and Glassdoor reviewed the post and then removed it.

  13. Mookie*

    I think it’s highly inappropriate to rant about people on the internet in a way that can identify them.

    That’s not what happened here. The OP had to dig around in this person’s commenting history–including visiting threads and posts on non-work subjects–to identify them. The comment about the manager itself was not what potentially revealed the co-worker’s identity. It was the gathering together of facts.

    1. Anon This Time*

      The person ranted on the internet about her incompetent manager and someone was able to identify her. It is exactly what happened here.

      1. May*

        The person was only able to identify the poster because they work at the same company. I doubt anybody outside the company would have been able to, therefore there is no risk of tarnishing the company’s image.

        For comparison’s sake, I had a coworker at a previous job who kept a personal blog and once wrote a post complaining about people at her job who annoyed her, and included very specific, quite insulting descriptions of the people in question. Anybody who had worked in the office for a single day would have known exactly who she was talking about. She then tweeted a link to the blog post on an account under her full name, which she also used to make tweets related to work (she was in a media-facing position). Needless to say, she was fired.

        The person on this forum was not posting under her real name, she did not put personally identifying information in her work-related posts, she did not post anything mean-spirited (from what I can tell), and I think she could very reasonably expect to remain safely anonymous. Curiosity is one thing but to have reached out to her the way OP did was creepy and inappropriate. If somebody read the paragraph above and replied saying “I think I know what company you worked for” I would be extremely skeeved out and honestly would probably never comment here again.

        1. op3*

          To be fair, she posts on every thread about Company Name about how her manager is incompetent and she’d never recommend this place and she’s trying to quit. The type of stuff that would probably get you fired real quick.

          When combined with info about her location, role, team makeup, project descriptions, heck even personal info she’s let out like ethnicity, alma mater… it’s not so difficult to identify the source.

          Anyway, the consensus seems to be that I should’ve let it lie, and so I will :)

          1. Christine*

            OP3 — you did it, and just take it as a lesson learned. The poster shouldn’t have been posting any details about projects, etc. From your comment here, it sounds like the poster wasn’t thinking and put too many details. Almost makes me wonder if the poster was wanting to shame their coworkers, managers, etc.

            I think you did her a favor in many aspects. How many times have we written something, proofread and wonder what we were thinking? She may have been using the site to blow steam and went overboard. It’s better that you said something in many aspects because if you figured out where they worked and which department, than they could have found themselves called into the managers office, much less HR.

          2. May*

            Ah, that’s a little different than I was imagining. Probably not the wisest choice on her part even when posting anonymously. Doesn’t really change anything about your choice to respond but you’ve gotten that point already!

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I changed to a more anonymous user name on this site a long time ago, after becoming nervous that some some things I’d said might be identifiable if anyone from my large workplace happened to be reading in the comments section. I still think I could be identifiable if anyone ever had their curiosity piqued enough to take an interest in digging around. I’d be pretty creeped out if anyone zeroed in on me personally and called me out as someone known to them. I’d probably be creeped right out of the comments section.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Woo @ no “aggressively playing devil’s advocate for the hell of it”. I’m married to someone who occasionally has that tendency and it’s SO OBNOXIOUS.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Ugh, I overheard a co-worker defending his love for playing devil’s advocate to entertain himself in conversations. I always think people who do that for no good reason* are just being jackasses.

          *There can be good reasons for playing devil’s advocate, such as exploring how our arguments might change if various scenarios were actually true, but it can be tedious and frustrating when people do it just to be aggressive or to show off how smart they think they are.

          1. Emma*

            Also, if you’re in a group that uses the devil’s advocate method to test your arguments, it’s generally a wise idea to rotate who plays that role, specifically because the devil’s advocate is so damn annoying.

          2. zora*

            politics is full of these people… it’s one reason I am no longer in that field. I’ve literally heard variations of “I like being contrarian, it’s fun” too many times to count.

        2. LQ*

          I played devil’s advocate not long ago on something that made me DEEPLY uncomfortable. But I’m not sure it was bad, but then in those cases is it “devil’s advocate” or actually raising questions even if you don’t believe it but it is important to the situation. I was in a room with mostly not strongly religious people and there was a question which the other side would have been deeply religious people who are part of the population that is served by the body this group works with, and it wasn’t being raised. I felt so gross raising the question because I despise the devil’s advocate people, but I think it needed to be raised. (Icky, still feel gross about it.)

          1. Sarita*

            That’s actually the exact circumstance devil’s advocate was designed for: you’re making argument that you disagree with to help your own side strengthen its position. That underlined part is a key component of the concept of devil’s advocate.

            People who argue things just for fun, or because they sincerely believe them, or because they’re undecided yet, are not playing devil’s advocate. The first kind of people are usually being jerks, the second kind either misunderstand the term or don’t want to own their actual position, and the third kind are perhaps sincerely seeking to understand the complexities of their opponent’s argument but are misusing the term anyway. Better alternatives to “playing devil’s advocate” in my opinion are, in order: “needling your opponent,” “disagreeing,” and “evaluating an argument.”

    1. Jane D'oh!*

      We shall endeavor to prove our maturation through the extensive nature of our multi-syllabic utterances.

  14. Allison*

    #3, I won’t fault you for looking at this person’s history to try to piece together a) whether they do work at your company and b) who they might be. But if you get an idea from their history, keep it to yourself. “I know who you are”-type messages can and often do make people feel uncomfortable.

    Also, you mention that you hope this person realized they were doing something bad; it seems like the real purpose of that message was to passive-aggressively shame this person for what they were posting. You wanted this person to know they’ve been caught, and they’re on someone’s radar, so that they’d feel embarrassed and shut it down. Like saying “you dropped something” to someone littering in public.

    1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

      On one occasion, I realised that one of my classmates was in the same fandom as me, we had friends in common, and she had a public twitter.

      I admit, I turned up in fandom clothing, and said “heeeey, so, I accidentally worked out who you are, and we know people in common.” We are now friends. I would probably have given her a heads up anyway. What OP3 did, though seems very different to me, because I told her who I was in fandom. Mutually Assured Destruction?

      1. Lil Lamb*

        I have had a similar experience in regards to fandom! Lets just say my work and fandom life collided and I couldn’t resist sending the person a message. I deleted it immediately though because I realized it was an over reach and wasn’t sure if she would get upset.

        1. Anna*

          I don’t think connecting to someone over fandom is an over reach as long as you reach out and then let them make the next move it they want. If I found out someone I work with was also active in the same online community as me, I would totally try to connect with them. If they wanted to leave it alone, I would leave it alone.

    2. op3*

      Well, I did kind of want her to realize she’s not as anonymous as she thinks she is. With the level of detail she’d shared, anyone in my 100+ department could identify her immediately. Others in the company, with a weird level of digging, also could. Alison’s wording would’ve been much better for that.

      Whether she cares about that or not is totally her prerogative. I definitely would appreciate that message to shut my stuff down if I was in her shoes, even if it was creepy.

      But also I think she’s already made a new profile posting the same complaints about our company.

      1. Allison*

        You would appreciate someone sending you a vague message just to know they caught you doing something they didn’t approve of, or you would appreciate someone giving you a direct heads-up? If you need to get a message across, say what you’re trying to say. Cryptic, passive-aggressive comments aren’t the answer, especially when they’re creepy.

        At my first job people would say “that’s a cute dress, Allison . . .” but with a somber tone that wasn’t at all approving, and had a sort of mysterious, sing-song inflection, and I suspected what they were really trying to say is “I know you thought you could wear that to work and no one would notice, but I noticed, just so you know . . . ” And I just thought, for the love of God, if they didn’t think my clothing was appropriate for work, why couldn’t they just tell me?? And if they couldn’t tell it to me directly, why bother saying anything at all?

        It’s not at all helpful to make someone feel weird about something, with the hope that they’ll feel just weird enough to stop, without you having to ask or say anything direct; that strategy is ineffective, confusing, and frustrating for everyone involved.

        1. op3*

          Sure, as I said, Alison’s direct approach is better.

          But to answer your question, if I’m posting things that can get me fired if traced back to me, and you think you can trace me? Absolutely, I’ll take that warning any way you choose to give it to me, as long as you don’t go mess with my job (by contacting my manager with concerns or something). God help me if you chose to go directly to the manager and not give me any heads up.

          If she doesn’t care and continues to post, her business. I’m not going to interfere with her life.

  15. MissGirl*

    Mmmh, good reasons to call someone back from vacation to be written up. “Hey, Jim, the FBI is here and they dug up the basement.”

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Actually, if you want to make sure Jim actually comes back, I’d keep the FBI visit under wraps. ;-)

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        And besides, Creed would be the one worried about someone digging up the basement, not Jim. ;-)

  16. Erin*

    #4 – I’m certain it’s basically what Alison said – they must have had a bad experience with someone using (or over using, or whatever) the microwave before that made them have this blanket rule. I tend to hate blanket rules in these situations for just this reason – they should have dealt with the problem with the individuals they were upset with on a case-by-case basis, not just banned the microwave from anyone who isn’t them.

    So yeah, if it helps, that’s almost definitely the reasoning behind it. But it sucks. He shouldn’t have to waste money at a restaurant when there’s a microwave right freaking there. I’d suggest getting creative with meals that don’t need to be heated up. You said there’s a fridge – is that banned too?

  17. Lady Blerd*

    I used to have a coworker like OP1’s hoarder and what I suggest not to do is to dive in there without their knowledge. That was done to a previous coworker and I knew that although her desk was a fire hazard, she wouldn’t take it well and as predicted she didn’t.

    I find it crappy that OP’s boss asked them to ask the coworker to clean her spot, so Allison’s plan is the way to go.

  18. Adlib*

    Re: #1 – It’s so weird that the president asked them to go to their senior coworker about the mess. Why didn’t he ask the supervisor? I guess it could be that the president is the supervisor and doesn’t want to deal if this is a small company. That just struck me as odd.

    1. Beth*

      Maybe it’s because the coworker shares an office with this person, so the coworker seemed like an easy person to pawn this off on? Because after all, who else would be more motivated to get people to clean up, than the person who shares a space with the hoarder? (Not saying it should be this person’s responsibility, by the way.)

  19. Merida May*

    #1 kind of reminds me of when teachers used to sit me next to the loud, obnoxious kids in the classroom in an effort to mellow them out, and I’m pretty sure any efforts you make to convince your co-worker to clean up will be equally unsuccessful. Who does he report to? They really need to address this with him from a performance standpoint, because I would be willing to bet it interferes in co-worker doing his job. At my old office there was a hoarder in another department, and there were quite a few issues with that person that ultimately stemmed from the hoard that had accumulated in her office. She would try to work at other people’s desks because she had no space, she was constantly at odds with the IT staff who literally couldn’t get in to the space to fix computer and phone issues, and meetings that could have easily taken place in her office required the use of already in short supply conference rooms because taking people in to her office was just not an option, not to mention the giant fire and pest hazards the area posed.

    1. KR*

      IT person here. We had an employee that didn’t quite have a hoard but had a very crowded office. She enlisted my help in getting an older printer to work. One tipped over plant and a lot of dust and debris later we told her we’d come back when the space was cleared out and have since made it a policy that we won’t move your desk or clear away large piles of junk from your desk to reach your machine.

      1. Merida May*

        That is ultimately what wound up happening in my example as well once a few poor IT folks wound up stumbling around in her space, but if you were to ask the employee she’d usually say IT was ignoring her requests. She was definitely a missing stair kind of employee!

  20. Anon 2*

    #5 – my office has done that, but it was directly related to the fact that critical work that needed to be completed in advance of taking time off was not completed.

  21. Carol*

    OP#2 – In addition to Alison’s suggested response, you could also add “She hasn’t discussed her salary requirements with me” (or similar). Basically, subtly make the point that what this person is making at your company doesn’t necessarily have any relationship to what they would require to work at your friend’s company – because that is the truth of it. Good on you for not giving up this info!

    1. Lauren*

      I really would love it if people who are in charge of hiring would voluntarily STOP asking for salary history. You don’t need a law to do your part in not asking. I live in Mass and I think the waiting until July 2018 for this portion of the law is ridiculous. There isn’t some big implementation on the employers part to stop asking. Just stop asking. In conjunction, if you are a skilled worker in demand – help others by stop giving your salary history. Only recruiters get angry with me when I won’t budge. If you lucky enough to be in a job that has huge pay ranges I go with – “Well I’ve seen these jobs be anywhere from minimum wage to 150k, I am well into my career so I am closer to the higher side of things, but it really depends on your budget and where you fall in relation to market rate and the experience you are asking for.”

      1. Pari*

        I agree but realistically how are smaller employers that don’t have the capacity to buy salary surveys or do targeted salary research supposed to find out what market pay is? most employers who want to know what the market is find out by asking applicants what they make. I know the problem is that some employers don’t aggregate the data and simply base salary offers off the person who’s sitting in front of them, but I don’t see how employers could gather specific market data another way. Sites like bls and others aren’t that helpful because their data is too broad or not very credible. For example you can find some info on salaries for admins in your region but an employer would really need to know what admins at small competing law firms are making in the north part of town to make a well informed offer.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          how are smaller employers that don’t have the capacity to buy salary surveys or do targeted salary research supposed to find out what market pay is?

          Why do they need to do targeted salary research? They can just ask the candidates who apply—”What are your salary requirements?”

          Not “How much do you make now?” but “What are your salary requirements?”

          Asking that of the candidates who actually apply is the best, most relevant research they can do. “We have 25 candidates applying, 13 of whom are qualified on paper, and 8 of those have salary requirements in such-and-such range. Can we afford that?”


          1. Pari*

            That sometimes works but most candidates have no idea what the market is either. They simply want a raise

            1. Pari*

              Besides the salary requirements question is the same problem. Most candidates hear “what is the lowest salary you’ll work for?”

              1. TL -*

                I don’t think that’s true. Plenty of people have written in here saying they gave their range and then wanted to give a lower number when they didn’t hear back.

                Also, I’m confused about these companies that are hiring for a position without budgeting for a salary first. Do they just put up a posting and hope what they can afford is market rate?

                1. Pari*

                  Most small companies I know budget vacancies at the same salary as the previous person but understand that it can change wildly once they start determining what it will actually take to hire someone.

                2. Anonymous Educator*

                  If they’re restricted by budget, all the more reason to post the salary in the job posting, so candidates can self-select out. Don’t waste anybody’s time.

            2. Anonymous Educator*

              But that will still give you helpful data. If some of your candidates know what makes sense for their position and others just take their current salary and add $3000, you’ll still get useful data from your applicant pool.

            3. Anonymous Educator*

              Once again, it really doesn’t matter if that’s what candidates hear.

              If what you’re asking is what their salary requirements are, that is a legitimate question. If you’re asking them what their previous salary was, that is not a legitimate question.

              1. Pari*

                Sure it matters. What people think they deserve is often far different that what actually deserve? people have wildly different expectations with regard to how much of an increase they think they deserve. So if you’re using that to make an offer it wouldn’t be reliable in terms of how it compares to real salaries for that position in that industry in your area. And one thing that is a flag for me to ask about is if I see someone willing to move for same or lower pay. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’s definitely something I need to ask about if it isn’t obvious.

                1. TL -*

                  Wait, what? Why is it any business of yours whether or not they want to keep their salary or are okay with a lower one?
                  Because it’s not. It’s really, really not.

                2. Anonymous Educator*

                  What people think they deserve is often far different that what actually deserve?

                  So, why does that matter? Again, let’s say you post a position and get 100 applications. You ask the 35 who are qualified-on-paper “What are your salary requirements?” and some will go based on Glassdoor or other posted salary things, and others will go a little bit above their current salary… and you may get some randos who go wildly out there. You’ll likely get some kind of a bell curve, even with 35 respondents (or even with 20).

                  So take the outliers out of your pool. If the vast majority of applicants want something in the $55k-$65k range, that’s a reasonable range. If two candidates want $100k, knock them out of the pool. If three candidates want $35k, also knock them out of the pool.

                3. Pari*

                  Many times folks who take a lower or same salary are doing it because things are going badly at their current job and they want to get out as quick as possible. If that’s the case (sometimes it’s not) I’d want to find out more to help determine if my job seems more like a short term or long term goal. Obviously there are other reasons that are perfectly acceptable but asking about this helps me determine the credibility of what you say your goals are.

                4. Anonymous Educator*

                  Many times folks who take a lower or same salary are doing it because things are going badly at their current job and they want to get out as quick as possible.

                  You can’t actually control for and predict everything. I took my current job because my last job was going so badly I wanted to get out of their as quickly as possible, but I love my current job, and it’s a long-term gig. There would have been no way for my current boss to know that. No way.

                5. Pari*

                  And that’s a legitimate topic for an employer to want to discuss. Don’t you think they might want to ensure the same problems that resulted in you leaving aren’t likely to happen with them?

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Okay, but are there really employers who decide they’re going to hire someone to do X when they have NO idea of how much that person typically makes? How, then, do they decide to hire someone in the first place? Isn’t “can we even afford to hire someone” a fairly basic question that should be answered before you get to the interview stage?

          1. Pari*

            Sure that’s how it should work but when you have to have someone doing a job you don’t necessarily worry about budget on the front end because you know you’re going to have to figure it out regardless.

      2. Bob Barker*

        I just applied for an in-Mass job that had salary history (starting and ending) for EACH JOB in your job history at the application stage. I put “Prefer not to say” down 10 times. This was for a position with set salary bands, too.

        I ain’t even mad if a real, live person brings it up, because people be nosy, but when it’s a default in the application (and we all know the law is going into effect soon)? Grumble.

        1. Collarbone High*

          What a ridiculous question. I have no idea how much I made 20 years ago. “Not enough.”

        2. Snazzy Hat*

          My last two jobs had an hourly wage that is at the bottom of my desired range. I’m fine with working at that rate, especially if it’s as a temp like those aforementioned jobs.

          Anything before that? It would be illegal to pay me that small of an amount now. My answers to “what did you make at [non-office job]” are rendered pointless. I think of it as a way of replying, “see this is why you shouldn’t care about this info in the first place.”

    2. Pari*

      I would go further than that. I would add something like “i know she’s sharp and will likely do some research on the going rate for that type of position. If you make her an offer I’d suggest you do the same.”

    3. Lou*

      As a seasonal employee, is she eligible for benefits? If not, then she may have been paid differently than a year-round employee with benefits. Therefore, her current pay is not a reflection of what she should or wants to be paid for a regular position.

  22. Larina*

    #3. A couple of months ago, there was a question posted here that Allison answered that I was 97% sure was someone else from my company. The details of it were far too specific, and I just hate to imagine some other company with the same setup. I didn’t comment and try to suss out if it really was someone from my company. I’m still certain it was, but I just let myself live with the knowledge that someone where I work needed advice on a frustrating situation, and let it be. I’d take this as a lesson that when someone has general anonymity, it can be really terrifying for someone to recognize you when you least expect it.

    1. Lil Lamb*

      I think that a large portion of it is also because the OP kept her anonymity when she made the comment. She freaked out the comment writer because she could be anyone: his/her boss, HR, a coworker who is hoping to climb the reigns by getting her/him in trouble. If it was a general forum on knitting or something there is little risk in contacting someone, but a job is your livelihood

      1. Anna*

        OP overstepped, but if you’re posting things that are critical, you don’t want to give any details that can help people suss you out. It’s just too easy. Larina’s example is kind of a random coincidence. OP#3 was on a post specifically about the company they work for.

      2. Jane*

        Agreed, there’s an implicit threat of blackmail, intentional or not, in guarding one’s identity while teasing another about having identified theirs. If, as the OP says above, they wanted to warn instead of threaten, they should have said that explicitly to put the poster at ease.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I hadn’t thought about the OP’s comments that way, but you’re right. Obviously the OP wasn’t trying to blackmail the poster, but there’s just something about telling people “You thought you were anonymous but I know who you are” without identifying yourself. I think the OP was trying to be the opposite of creepy, but it would be pretty unsettling to have that happen.

  23. Whats In A Name*

    #5 I admit it’s a pretty crappy thing to do, to call someone in off of leave to be written up but it did happen once in my place of work. The person who got called back in actually did something that put the company in a potential legal position, cost us thousands of dollars in project money and the write up was actually in conjunction with a 2-week suspension. We found out about the incident while the employee was out on their pre-approved leave for a day or two.

    Normally, we would not call someone in just to write them up but this was a circumstance where we need documentation pronto. This could be the situation in your office right now.

    I would recommend looking for a pattern, though, because this doesn’t seem to be warranted for a low level offense. If they routinely call people in on their day off for things that don’t affect core business that’s an entirely different story and could be a major red flag. And if it is a pattern, you’ll have to evaluation if you really want to work somewhere like this?

    Also, if you are sure you don’t do anything to put the company in a precarious position you should be in the clear for this.

  24. Rusty Shackelford*

    #2 sounds like the potential employer is taking advantage of your situation, and I’d be annoyed as hell. I’d probably say “I’m not the right person to ask.” (Or am I mistaken, and it’s a common/accepted practice to call interviewee’s employers to see how much they make?)

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Instead of implying the potential employer should ask the candidate what she’s currently making (right question, wrong person), I’d recommend asking what the candidate’s salary requirements are (wrong question and wrong person).

  25. mreasy*

    I agree that OP#3’s wording was awkward, but were I posting what I thought was an anonymous vent to an online forum that could be traced back to identify me (or almost identify me), I would rather it be brought to my attention than not. Whether or not OP’s motive was the thrill of the hunt or actually letting this person know that someone else could also discover this (HR/management) who would be less benign, I do think that the effect was a positive one, and that obviously the commenter took it seriously by deleting her profile.

  26. Sami*

    For the hoarder …maybe suggest to your boss a professional organizer to come do a session for the whole office followed by a day of planned clean up for everyone? I know someone who does this for offices and is very understanding of Hoarding (she’s actually been on both Hoarders shows)…check out NAPO (http://www.napo.net/).
    I once worked for a hoarder and it was awful…he had piles and piles of professional magazines, journals and newspapers that he was “going to get to”. Some of which were from 2 or 3 jobs ago at the company he worked at, he also stayed on distribution lists for publications. Another assistant at the job would periodically throw out stacks of stuff. It hurt him professionally because he became a joke.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      A hoarder’s problem is not that they are unorganized. In fact, there’s a variety of hoarder called the organized hoarder.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This is true; however, I can see it being helpful if they have to share the space. And if the organizer has experience with the disorder, she can also model behaviors to use with the person. If it’s an office-wide thing, I’m sure there are other people who can benefit from it.

  27. bopper*

    I had a friend who used to tell his officemate: “Could you keep your stuff on your 2/3rds of the office?”

  28. Sally*

    #4: I’ve seen these tiny, single meal sized slow cookers online. Besides being cute as a button, they might be a good solution for heating up food without a microwave.

    Another workaround might be a really good thermos. I just found one for food on Amazon that purports to keep food hot for 7 hours.

    1. A*

      I have one of those mini CrockPots and they are a lifesaver! Seriously, it has transformed my lunch situation during the workday and made leftovers much more palatable. You can’t use it for something like pizza, but they are wonderful for reheating soups, casseroles, meat/veggies/potatoes, and lots of other things.

    2. irritable vowel*

      My mom used to send me to school with a thermos-type container filled with mac & cheese or something and it was always still hot at lunchtime. Like a Tupperware but insulated. I had forgotten all about them until I recently saw some for sale in an *antique store*!

  29. Dr. Ruthless*

    OP #2–I’d also (maybe) be concerned about violating the antitrust laws. The DOJ and FTC have recently published “Antitrust Guidance for HR Professionals” (link in reply), which spells out problems with doing things like sharing information on current workers’ wages.

    “Sharing information with competitors about terms and conditions of employment can also run afoul of the antitrust laws. Even if an individual does not agree explicitly to fix compensation or other terms of employment, exchanging competitively sensitive information could serve as evidence of an implicit illegal agreement. While agreements to share information are not per se illegal and therefore not prosecuted criminally, they may be subject to civil antitrust liability when they have, or are likely to have, an anticompetitive effect.”

    If the purpose (as Alison suggested) is to make your employee the lowest offer that she might accept, that’s likely an antitrust violation.

    I’d say something like, “Since we both hire the same type of workers, I’m afraid that talking too much about what we pay might actually run afoul of the antitrust laws.”

  30. Moonsaults*

    #1 reminds me about my former boss, who was much like a father figure to me. He kept everything, ever. Once I had cleaned out an order book, that is just where I jotted down the orders before putting them into the computer and printing an official sheet off for my actual records. I tossed the old papers and later I found them sitting somewhere in his office.

    I learned to throw things away in a trash bin that he wasn’t going to have any reason to see (I had a recycling bin under my desk, so if I threw it in there and let it sit, he’d see it walking by, he wasn’t excessively digging by any means).

    When he had to retire due to his health issues, his wife helped me clean his office and we both cried while finding things from the year he began in the business. Which was 30+ years prior. It wasn’t filth either, just cluttered. He had every catalog for supplies on his desk, a couple really were useful but others were places he hadn’t ordered a thing from in over a decade or crazy enough, had gone out of business of course.

  31. Abby*

    I once had an office next door to a hoarder. I started to get bugs in my office (even though I didn’t have anything to attract them). The CEO once came to my office (which was very rare because he usually called people to his office). He walked past the co-worker’s office and told the co-worker’s boss that the co-worker had to clean up her office immediately. It was a big problem. The co-worker did because she had no choice, but it quickly went back to usual. I am not sure that an employer is capable of getting a hoarder to meet basic office norms regarding hygiene, cleanliness, and organization. It truly is a serious mental health issue and I think companies aren’t capable of handling that. It isn’t enough to just order someone to clean up.

    I think this then brings up ADA issues. It likely would be considered a disability; however, I would think that if a co-worker’s hoarding was infringing on another worker or causing bugs or other problems that the company would have recourse.

    1. DCGirl*

      ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations such as assistance or changes to a position or workplace that will enable an employee to do his or her job despite having a disability. An employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the job, and a disability does not inherently exempt a person for conduct and performance standards. There is no way that hoarding behaviors would be an essential function of anyone’s job. What the employer might need to provide to an employee who is a hoarder is, for example, flexible hours or time off to meet with a psychologist to address the hording behaviors. ADA does not require an employer to have to deal with a situation that attracts bugs or other problems.

    2. Moonsaults*

      Hoarding is also a safety issue, since you cannot block just tunnel your way in and out of your office. So that right there, you wouldn’t be allowed to continue to hoard in your office environment due to the mental illness.

      ADA does not cover nearly as much as many people believe it does or even should.

    3. Clinical Social Worker*

      I worked somewhere with a hoarder (he had his own office though). He was told several times it was a *fire hazard* and fire code violation.

      It never changed. It really is something that requires treatment.

  32. Crazy Canuck*

    The situation in #5 is why I never take my phone with me on vacation. If I need once, I will buy a cheap burner phone and use that instead.

  33. Important Moi*

    OP#3: “I just wanted to know if my sleuthing was correct!”

    I didn’t even bother to see if anyone else responded to this, so it may be a repeat.

    If your sleuthing was correct, what were you gong to do with this information?

    I may get flack for this. You may get support for your actions on the grounds that this person posted online making themselves fair game. If I were that person, in addition to deleting my profile, I would make sure other know about what I consider your extreme lack of discernment.

    1. Important Moi*

      I went back and read the comments after I posted. I’m surprised, I feel I’m in the minority on this. Oh well, back to work.

      1. Bananistan*

        I totally agree with you. I can see how it might be useful to the poster to know she’s not as anonymous as she thinks she is, but the way the OP phrased it was completely creepy. Like a cat-and-mouse game. I also would wonder what the OP was planning on doing with the info.

      2. Emma*

        I completely agree with you, though. OP3 went about this in a very creepy way, poked around for info they didn’t need just to get the satisfaction of destroying someone’s anonymity, kept their own identity hidden, sent the person a disturbing message, and is annoyed they deleted the profile without assuaging their curiosity. And all the “but really I was doing them a favor! I’d want a warning!” talk is flimsy as hell and smacks of post-facto self-justification. The OP was more honest when they admitted in the letter to it all being about satisfying their own nosiness.

        Anonymous messages are a horror staple for a reason. The OP was so far in the wrong here that I am very surprised they have so many defenders. Nosiness is not an admirable character trait, especially not when you act on that in ways that distress others.

  34. Whats In A Name*

    OP #1: Does your company have an EAP program that your co-worker can be referred to. Hoarding is a serious mental health issue not cleared up as easily as “hey, let’s clean this stuff up” or “you’re disorganization is hurting your professional career”.

  35. TootsNYC*

    #2–the salary inquiry

    here’s what you could do: indicate where you think she should fall along a range of skills and capabilities for that position. Or, where she falls on the range in your business.

    Something like this:
    “I’m not comfortable revealing payscales, but she’s one of our favorite people, and her initiative and work ethic and smarts mean we pay her our top wage.” Or, “she doesn’t have quite as much experience as our top person, so we pay her just over halfway up our scale.”

    Or, “I know she’s got a lot of experience in X and Y, more than I think someone would have as an entry-level widget polisher, so I’d think she’s worth the high end of your range.”
    Or, “I know her experience in widget polishing isn’t as high as it could be, but she’s got great initiative and smarts to really make up for that, so I’d put her in the top half, if I were picking a wage point for her.”

  36. cofpwnd*

    OP #4 – Office microwaves are commonly personal expenses of the people who work there, so they are not an entitlement. And yes people will abuse the crap out of your appliances in the name of community, but won’t pitch in when it breaks.

    1. nonegiven*

      My husband took his own microwave, small fridge and coffeepot for his office. He said every time he went up front he’d get waylaid and it took forever to get back to work. If they really need him they know where he is.

  37. NPwho*

    Oh boy… I was actually about to write in to AAM with a question about a hoarder! We have an elderly gentleman who comes in 2 days a week. His desk is covered with all sorts of crap, coffee mugs, decorations etc. We recently moved offices and it took him 2 (full, 8+ hour) days and 11 boxes to pack up his desk. For comparison, it took me 3 boxes and about 30 minutes to pack.

    He is also incapable of getting his work done. He’s there to do simple administrative tasks like stuffing and hand-addressing envelopes. He will be at work for a full day and complete 12 envelopes. We have talked to him about how he needs to work faster, that it’s more important for him to complete his work in a timely matter than spending an hour making sure that everything is lined up correctly etc. He always has an excuse. It’s also pretty rare to find him actually at his desk–he’s always wandering around the building. We recently had to tell him that he couldn’t leave work for 3+ hours in the middle of the day to take the bus to the bank to cash his paycheck, which he was doing every other Friday. He’s an hourly employee.

    NB: We are a non-profit and this man is a member of our client population and also accesses services here. He is very low-income and needs this part time job to supplement his social security & other assistance, which combined are below $1000/month.

    Any advice from the AAM readership??

    1. caryatis*

      Fire him. I bet there are lots of other low-income people in your client population who would love an easy, part-time office job and who would actually get the work done.

      1. NPwho*

        I am trying to move my boss in that direction. He has become a huge drain on morale for the rest of us. He often talks about how he used to be suicidal before he found our org and we’re all scared that he’ll do something if we let him go. Plus, he has become close to my boss’s family, spends holidays with them and the like.

        Boss is one of the best managers I’ve ever had, and has spent his entire professional career trying to help this population, so I understand the hesitation. It’s a tricky situation!

        1. KR*

          Could you have the role split into 2? He comes in for a few hours and someone else who is more functional comes in more.

    2. Anon for now*

      You may need let him go, which would be distressing as a thoughtful human being even if it’s the right thing for the organization. If you have been clear about the need to improve, what improvement looks like, and the consequence of failing to improve, and give him a fair shot at making the improvement, I think that is the best that any employer can do. If things haven’t been so clear (e.g., telling him he needs to be “faster,” but not telling him, “We expect you to complete X envelopes per day” or not telling him, “John, if you can’t meet these expectations, you are at risk of losing your job”) then make them explicitly clear. If you end up firing him, but it is important to provide an opportunity in the client population, you can direct advertisement to that population; others may be interested and able to do the job if he is unable to satisfactorily improve performance. If you need to fire him, I would also make clear that he is welcome to continue accessing the services he needs as a client of the organization and he’s not “fired” as a client.

      I worked at a non-profit with an employee similar to the one you describe (very low income, member of client population, very much in need of the income). She was awful at her job though and it dragged down the morale of everyone and made it more difficult for the staff and volunteers to do their jobs serving the client population. I don’t know if she was ever coached to improve or anything (I was not a supervisor), but she never did. The manager was very kind and worried about her, but never did anything as far as I could tell. It was a detriment to the organization to keep her on. She would have been welcome to access the non-profit’s specific services as a client, but the scope of those services was not meant to include employment at the non-profit. I think the manager had a hard time keeping the concepts separate.

      1. NPwho*

        Thank you! This is really helpful. I’m not the client/employee’s manager, but I will pass on this advice about being more explicit about expectations/consequences.

    3. Moonsaults*

      I understand why this tugs on your heartstrings. I have a somewhat similar story at my former employer, where we had to let someone go because he was just simply so klutzy and didn’t adhere to the rules such as “do not come to work before your scheduled shift and certainly do not clock in X amount of time early!”. He was racking up a couple of hours of OT a week at one point and I kept reminding him constantly. He’d stop for a little bit but dip back into that habit.

      It turned out that one day someone came earlier than usual because of something that he was cleared to arrive early for to make up for the time loss. He found the other guy just sitting in my desk with a cup of coffee hanging out…before I arrived at work. I was the operations manager and he was a production person who was mostly in charge of the clean-up aspects. So in no way shape or form should he have been hanging out in my office like that. We let it go for so much longer than I ever wanted it to but finally the owner let him go but did take the easy way out and laid him off due to lack of work. It wasn’t a total lie, we were slowing down that his jobs were easily absorbed (although with real anger from the other crew who didn’t want to have to clean up, bleh whole other story there though).

      You have made it clear to him and despite all your efforts, he’s made no effort to change. I would start with saying that he needs to take home his personal items, since there are too many of them. That way it’s not like saying “This is trash, throw it away” but making a reasonable request, unless there’s someone else with a huge collection that would make him feel like he’s the only one being told to not have all that on his work station!

      He needs to see real consequences to his behaviors instead of people just taking pity on him. Even if it’s just knocking him down a day and getting someone in there for the other one. Then make them share the workstation, he has to clean up the mess since it’s not only his desk. If that still doesn’t help enough, then yes, let him go completely.

      1. NPwho*

        Wow, this sounds like the same guy! He comes in early, stays late into the night… and feels comfortable enough to kick off his shoes and walk around the office in socks. This is great advice, thank you.

  38. Suzy*

    I had a co-worker who seemed to be a hoarder. She kept many years of old calendars and phone messages as well as informal work notes from jobs long closed out and archived (any notes should have been in the archived files). She had years of magazines and newspapers, boxes of rubber bands and paper clips. Our boss hated it but couldn’t get her to change. Then she left for maternity leave and boss had the rest of us purge her desk. We complained that this probably wasn’t the right thing to do and certainly wasn’t our job, but purge we did. When she returned she had a major melt down at what had been done. Most of us left the office for a few hours and let the boss deal with her. Next day she just started her old ways back up and it didn’t take long until her desk looked like an overgrown jungle again. And, yes, this was relatively recently so we had computers and databases etc. In fact, I think I recall that she saved printouts of every email she every received!

  39. Joe Blow*

    I doubt the person in #1 is actually a hoarder — more than likely, the people working next to him don’t understand the piles and chalk it up to, “Well, if they don’t ‘organize’ like I do, they have a problem.”

    My wife organizes like the clean desk people: a bunch of stuff is put out of the way, with no rhyme or reason, and when you need it there will be lots of furious shuffling going on to find what it was you were *just* working on that has all of the relevant information. Or, the 19 things you’re working on at the same time, that you’re keeping at arm’s length because you can only get them 90% done and are waiting for some information from someone else, gets put into a folder somewhere that ends up getting it forgotten…you know, for the sake of not seeing it on your desk and all.

    I’ve had multiple managers who would screw up every spreadsheet you’ve ever worked on, so you always had to save a master copy somewhere they couldn’t touch to go back to later. They would also write stuff on working copies of things that forced you to do something differently than you normally would — saving stuff with their handwriting was key later on when they reamed you for doing things exactly how they asked you to do them. No, none of the items were “official” copies, but having all of your notes, diagrams, and other information available saved you countless hours/days of, “What does ‘Balance Adj 9/16’ mean?” when there’s no backup included. It was likely a voicemail request from a clean desk type person who couldn’t be bothered to keep any records of their own.

    Now, I used to work with an AP manager who took up four desks with stack after stack of unpaid/unnoticed/unfiled invoices, and it was a nightmare to deal with it. Of course, he was a company favorite and could do no wrong — it was truly bizarre to watch him screw everybody in accounting up week after week, month after month, but because he had been there the longest everyone was supposed to work around him. Of course, that necessitated a couple extra piles just for him, but god forbid if you had to take a second to find that one thing from a few months ago that you’d be holding onto and keeping in *that* pile because you knew it was going to come up at some point — that’s just terrible organization skills! Even though you’re the one person who thought to actually keep it and have it on hand when needed..

  40. AGeekNamedBob*

    Reminds me of my nearly six years in the US Navy and one of the many things I didn’t enjoy about it.
    Your leave can be revoked at anytime. One time they TRIED to call me back from NYC (I was stationed out here in Washington state) because the guy who signed me out make a mistake (some one above you making a mistake and ruining your situation is a very common thing…). Luckily I was able to work it out with a frenzied series of phone calls. But there are many times I know of people putting so much money down, carefully working things out for their whole family and boom, day of leave – something big needs to be done and there goes it all, down the drain. Or; as stated in the middle of said vacation you gotta come back and pay out of pocket to do so.

  41. tommy*

    Well, its not my spouse, it’s my mom. She always hides to call someone. I hate what she is doing. I already know the phone number of the other man and some information. She always denies it and gets very mad. I need more proofs, that will be impossible to deny. It quite hurts, the way your own mother is acting. It’s also disgusting. Well, I guess I got off the topic. I wanted to know if the information of a cell phone can be transferred to some other device, to be viewed. Thank you, the information was helpful,contact him in gmail with this address ..he will surely help out like he did for me

  42. ScarletNumber*

    It seems odd that they would suggest asking a restaurant if a complete stranger can use its microwave.

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