my coworker is off-putting, my boss thinks travel reimbursements are part of our compensation, and more

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

1. Should I talk to my coworker about her off-putting behavior?

I am a technical employee in a government branch full of technical employees. I’ve been in my branch for seven years and am in my mid-30s. I’m a woman (and therefore in the minority). I have a colleague about seven years my junior who is rather new to our branch, let’s call her Rachel. She’s about the only other woman in my work role.

Rachel is in many ways a great employee, and I’m grateful that she’s on my team. She has a crackerjack work ethic, she’s sharp as a tack, and her heart is always in the right place.

But some of her office behavior is a tad off-putting. She often doesn’t seem to know how to pitch her voice correctly, so she ends up yelliiiiiing in the middle of our open-concept office. She doesn’t get that when our superiors are trying to talk to us, she needs to show them at least a modicum of deference (i.e., not talk over them). She interrupts people’s flow often, and for the flimsiest of reasons, as though something popped into her head and she just couldn’t control herself. She also seems to be unable to take cues in meetings, e.g. when the rest of us are saying we need to table a topic but she wants to stay on it.

In some ways, I feel like her big sister in the context of our team and branch. I keep feeling like I have a responsibility to talk to her about smoothing down some of her rough edges. I have the seniority of years in the government, years in the branch, and GS grade, but the whole endeavor still makes me nervous. I’ve thought that maybe I could take the coward’s way out by suggesting she read a book that would give her tips on workplace behavior (and, in fact, if the commentariat has suggestions, lay ’em on me).

But would you say anything? Would you pull her aside for a long talk, correct her in the moment, or leave it alone entirely? I don’t want her to get the impression at all that I dislike her or that I don’t value her contributions.

Unless you have a mentoring-type relationship with her or are willing to first develop one, I’d leave it alone. If you were her boss, I’d say that you absolutely should be talking to her about this stuff. But as a peer, it’s a lot trickier and you may not have the standing to do it at all.

I do think that you could do something like invite her to lunch and, if you sense she’s open to it, tackle one of these (maybe the deference-to-management thing, framing it as “this is what I’ve learned about what’s effective in our context”). But hitting her with all of this — or even probably more than one of these items at once — is going to feel like a lot.

Some of the other stuff, though, you could probably address in the moment. I mean, if she’s standing in the middle of the office yelling, it’s reasonable to say, “hey, could you keep it down?”

Really, though, the person with the responsibility to really dig in on these issues more broadly is her boss.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My boss says travel reimbursements are part of our compensation

The recent question about the “personalized benefit breakdown” sparked my question. My coworker who handles HR (among other things – we’re a very small org) recently told me that our boss (the executive director of the organization) asked her to create compensation summaries for each employee outlining the full extent of the compensation and benefits they receive. This in itself is fine, but I mentioned to her that I’m sure he will ask her to include our travel reimbursements on this, as he frequently mentions reimbursements as part of the “benefits” we offer. She confirmed that he listed reimbursements among the benefits she should be calculating!

Am I wrong in being frustrated by this? Travel is a required part of the job, so reimbursements for this are a cost of doing business, NOT an employee benefit. It’s not like I have the option to not travel. How can I get my boss to understand that reimbursements are NOT a benefit?

Well, you might not be able to. Someone who thinks that travel reimbursements are a benefit isn’t showing a high capacity for logic and reason.

I mean, you can try. You could say something like, “I’m confused about why travel reimbursements are listed as a benefit. They’re business expenses that employees are fronting for convenience, but they’re not expenses employees would otherwise be bearing. They’re part of the cost of sending employees on travel. We don’t consider printer ink or other office supplies to be benefits, and this isn’t different.”

Whether this will get through or not, who knows. But you’re certainly not wrong to find it absurd.

3. My friend is applying for a promotion — but I’m applying for the same job

A highly desirable job opened up at a place I’ve wanted to work for years (good pay and location). I emailed a friend/former colleague of mine who works in that department to ask about it. She let me know that she is applying for said job and that whoever is hired would be the manager for her current position. I told her I hope she gets the promotion.

However, because the job is so awesome, I chose to apply anyway, assuming I wouldn’t have much of a shot versus her … but now I have a phone interview and I wonder if I should give my friend a heads-up.

Additional wrinkle: If they do promote my friend, her position will be open and I’d like to apply for that one too.

Yeah, you definitely need to mention this to your friend. You’re not only applying for the same job that she told you she’s applying for, but you’re applying to be her boss. I know you might be thinking that you might as well wait and see how it plays out rather than having a potentially awkward conversation for nothing, but it’s going to be a lot more awkward if the conversation starts with you telling her that you’re now her new boss.

Fortunately, she already knows that you’re interested since you emailed her to ask about it. So I think you could just email her back and say that you wanted to let her know that you decided to throw your hat in the ring too. (Or depending on your relationship with her, it might be better to do this in a phone call.)

I’d wait to bring up any interest in her current job until you know how this plays out and if her job will even be open.

4. I interviewed for a job where I’d be replacing someone who wouldn’t leave for a year and a half

I recently interviewed for a senior position (vice president) where the outgoing incumbent was retiring. The interview went well until I was told that the retirement date for the current employee was going to be December of 2018. The person interviewing me told me that the person hired would be able to train with the outgoing person prior to her retirement.

I have never had this proposed before. Isn’t that a bit weird? It would make sense if the person was leaving THIS December but not a year and a half away.

I am not going any further with this position (not just because of this one issue) but wanted your thoughts. Is this a new thing that companies are doing?

No, that’s unusual, and ripe for problems (like whether the new person will really have all the authority of the position, and what would happen if she wants to do things differently than the outgoing person, and much more).

If you had decided to continue in the hiring process, it would have been fine to ask more about it — like, “You mentioned that there will be overlap between this person and the outgoing VP until December of next year. Can you tell me about how that will be structured, and what was behind the decision to have so much overlap?”

5. Do letters here get edited?

When people submit letters here, do they get edited or condensed? Do you ever decide to cut out details because of length, which then end up becoming relevant? I’m just curious about the behind the scenes process if you’re willing to share it!

I edit for a few things: (1) grammar, spelling, and punctuation (I add a lot of commas), (2) site style consistency (so for example, in letter #1 above, I changed “7 years” to “seven years” because I follow the AP rule of spelling out numbers one through nine), (3) clarity (which usually just means something like moving a sentence or two to a different spot where it flows more logically), and (4) occasionally length, but when I do that I try to be sure I’m not cutting anything that could be relevant, and I do this pretty rarely overall.

I do usually write the post titles myself. People have sometimes assumed those titles are the subject lines of the letter-writers’ emails to me, but that’s not usually the case (otherwise nearly all the titles here would be things like “a question for you”). Sometimes the email already has a perfect subject line, but usually I just try to sum up the letter as directly and concisely as I can.

{ 331 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth H.*

    Re. #4 – do you think it’s possible that the person retiring is going to be working in a half time/sabbatical/emeritus role for part or most of that? At the institution I work for (university) people sometimes do that, especially when it’s someone who’s been in the position a very long time. It’s possible that Dec 2018 is a “formal” not a functional retirement date. (I do think 1.5 years is unusually long even for that) Also sometimes senior execs will stay working part-time but in a different role or as an advisory role or something, while the new hire actually assumes the full responsibilities of the actual role.

    I can imagine if the facts of the situation were more clear in context – I’m just speculating – but that’s the first explanation that jumped to my mind.

    1. Artemesia*

      This has disaster written all over it. One frequent outcome of this type of hanger on person leaving is that they change their mind and don’t leave and that leaves you hanging. Even if they leave you will not have been able to make your own mark and will be subordinated or second guessed. If you already worked there and were sort of identified in a succession plan and they were grooming you, it would make sense. But to recruit a new person to hang around for 18 most? Has disaster written all over it.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        I have a vague recollection of Alison answering another letter maybe a year or two ago where the writer had been hired to take over a soon-to-be-retired person’s role, and there was some overlap of their time for training and such, but then the outgoing worker just kept hanging on and on and on. Maybe I’m misremembering, though.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think there were two. One was the one that Alison linked, but there was also one about someone hired to replace someone, and they overlapped for transition training. Except then the outgoing person changed their mind and told the LW they planned to stay in their position (despite the LW having quit their job and maybe relocating and maybe now having lost their old job as well as the new?).

          1. selenejmr*

            My predecessor decided to retire so a few months after her announcement I was hired to replace her, with her training me during the five weeks before she retired. Sometime during those five weeks she decided she didn’t want to retire after all, but my boss told her that it was too late. (Thank goodness!)

          2. Observer*

            Three was one where someone had left and then wanted to come back and was trying to push / guilt the letter writer out of her position.

      2. Jaune Desprez*

        This happened to me! I took a sub-managerial role with the explicit understanding that I would work under the current manager for eight months until she retired and then be promoted into her position. The entire recruitment process was conducted on this basis, and everyone on the team was aware of the intended transition and full of suggestions like, “Only Jane really knows how Process X is done, so be sure that you’re fully up to speed by the time you take over.”

        Jane was a character, but we really clicked and we made a great team. However, I was dismayed when she reviewed her finances and announced that she wouldn’t be able to retire for several more years. She had been in her position forever and had influential friends throughout the organization, so they would have never forced her out in my favor. I was still deciding whether to wait her out or move on when she had to retire for health reasons. I ended up in the manager position not long after I had expected to get it, but I would never take another job on that basis.

        1. Next In Line*

          I’m in a sort of similar position, but I LOVE it, so it’s interesting to hear the other side of the coin! I got hired as a senior director (new role) of an organization with the intention that I will be the executive director when that person leaves…. which is 5 years away! Unless I majorly screw up, I become ED and just don’t backfill my old role. It was designed to give me lots of time to learn the org culture, politics, and get involved in the day-to-day before the reins get handed over. I love it because it’s out in the open, and I have a nice long time to absorb as much from the ED as I can.

          1. Natalie*

            I think your timeline is the clear difference year. Five years is a normal tenure in a lot of roles, and certainly long enough to really get into the role and own it. Eight months… eh, not so much.

      3. aebhel*

        Yep. I had a similar situation when I was hired for my current role; the previous person was retiring but decided to stick around part-time, and since there really wasn’t enough work for both of us (and while she didn’t actually want to DO the work anymore, she was insistent that every aspect of the workflow be exactly as she had done it) it made things difficult.

        She did eventually retire completely, and things were much smoother after that, but it was an awkward year and a half or so. Having her around to ask questions was occasionally useful, but it can be a really challenging situation, especially since someone who’s been there for ages often feels a sense of ownership over the role. And I suspect it would be a lot worse if the person retiring was around full-time. I’d tread very carefully, OP.

    2. Mike C.*

      On a related note, if we’re talking about really long transitions and very senior employees, why aren’t there any contracts involved? It would protect the candidate from a company acting in bad faith or incompetently and would allow a company acting in good faith to have their smooth transition.

      1. JustaTech*

        Because this is America and we don’t do contracts? (Outside of specific industries.)
        I agree that a mutually-agreed-to plan would make a lot of these situations better for everyone.

      2. Thinking Outside the Boss*

        I would insist on a contract for these types of situations. A lot could go wrong: (1) retiring executive doesn’t want to leave and you get stuck in limbo; (2) there is a company buyout and the new owners bring in someone else, despite what promises the old company made to the new hire; (3) new members join the board of directors with the same result as #2; or (4) the perpetual office reorganization where that job doesn’t exist anymore.

        If anything is done on just a handshake, then DANGER WILL ROBINSON!

      3. LBK*

        Yeah, at an absolute bare minimum I would think you would get something in writing, even if it’s not a binding contract. That way there’s no question down the road about what the agreement was (and, god forbid, you can defend against potential gaslighting).

        1. LBK*

          And, perhaps most importantly, I’d want to get in writing what the contingency plan is if the person you’re replacing doesn’t end up leaving. Do they lay you off with generous severance? Do they just keep you both on? Do they find you a new role within the org? Again, even if it’s not binding, it at least forces them to think about this and come up with a plan.

    3. Hillary*

      Sometimes this situation is necessary for succession planning. My company did this with a technical leadership role – it took more than a year to go through the knowledge transfer, and the retiree will be on retainer for five years.

      There were a couple things that made it workable and reassuring for the new guy. 1) the new guy had a specific project during the transition that would also facilitate the knowledge transfer. 2) the retiree had already bought land and was building a house out of state, and everyone at the company knew his wife couldn’t wait to move to warmer weather.

      1. Heather*

        Yes, I also work in a technical field (power generation industry) where knowledge transfer is so important due to not just the technical knowledge but tribal knowledge and memory of how various types of technical issues have been solved in the past. I hear from colleagues in the industry that when people are hired to take over responsibilities handled people about to retire, the overlap is beneficial, and missed if there’s no overlap at all since the knowledge goes with them!

    4. CheeryO*

      We do this at my state government agency. It’s hard to get new positions approved, so we hire entry-level people when we get a chance and have them work with the most senior employee until they retire, at which point the new person takes over their responsibilities. It’s… not perfect. I got 10 months with my predecessor, which was more than enough time, but our two more recent hires will both be getting 1.5 to two years, which is just way too much, even though there’s a steep learning curve and we place a huge emphasis on institutional knowledge.

      I guess the difference is that there’s no danger of being fired if your mentor decided not to retire – we’d just shift responsibilities. And typically managerial roles can get backfilled more easily, so you don’t see the same kind of extended training period with them.

    5. JessaB*

      I wonder if the keeping them on may be to vest a pension or stock option and they really don’t intend to put in all that time but will be there for you to learn from.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I mean, that could be true of anyone given the information we’ve been presented. This could easily be someone who’s neuro-typical, also. But whether Rachel is one or the other doesn’t change the advice for OP#1, which is that unless she’s willing/interested in forming an ongoing mentorship relationship with Rachel (and Rachel wants that relationship), it may not make sense to intervene.

      1. Wildlife Rehabber*

        Yeah- I’m neurotypical and in my first job definitely had a tendency to do some of those things (talk over superiors, be unable to table a topic), because I was both excited and nervous, and also awkward, and not totally sure how jobs worked. My boss talking to me about these bad habits was all that was needed to help me. I think if it had come from a coworker, even a senior coworker who I had a good relationship with, instead of my boss, I would have felt more embarrassed. So I think Allison’s advice is right on the money! (As always.)

      2. Still learning how to adult...*

        Just a quick interjection here; the term ‘neurotypical’ seems to be used here as a shorthand for behaviors that are _out_ of the social norm, due to not being able to read normal social cues.

        Really, it’s for people who are _closer_ to ‘normal,’ or better at reading social cues that we’re all supposed to be able to do. It’s a slightly nuanced way of saying ‘normal.’

        My intro to the concept of NT’s (neurotypicals) is from Lisa Daxer at Reports From a Resident Alien, ( , which details her attempts at forcing herself to learn NT behaviors to fit into NT society. Fascinating reading.

        In #1’s example, talking over others , not deferring to upper management , or talking too loud are some of the items that we’re supposed to learn, and if you haven’t by the time you’re an adult, you’re considered rude. But sometimes these behaviors are considered normal in a person’s growing up environment, so they continue to use them, regardless. And they’re considered rude, but often tolerated for a multitude of other reasons (Oh, yeah, he’s a little rough around the edges, but he gets the job done. Oh, she means well. Oh, that’s just how he is, ignore it and move on.)

        TL;DR: NT = NeuroTypical = Normal social behavior & catching social cues.

        1. CMart*

          Thanks for the summary, it’s good for people who haven’t seen the term used much before :)

          I think PCBH was using it properly, though. She was saying that “Rachael” could be [whatever neuro-divergent presentation Sofia suggested], or she could be NT also. Either way it doesn’t change the advice.

        2. fposte*

          I think that’s how both the people above you are using it, though. It’s in contradistinction to the removed post, which talked about ASD.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think my use looks odd because the original post was removed. The author of that post was armchair diagnosing Rachel as “possibly neuro-atypical,” which is why I used “neuro-typical.” I’m using the term to refer to individuals who do not have diagnosed behavioral or other health condition affecting how their minds process information.

          So I’m fairly sure I’m using it correctly, but I understand why my response and word usage looks strange because of the lack of context.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              No problem :) It would be pretty frustrating if people were using “neurotypical” to mean “neuroatypical,” and the extra information was very helpful!

    2. Moi*

      I also think it’s important for OP#1 to make sure that she is not critiquing behaviors that would generally be acceptable if the junior coworker were a man.

      1. Lora*


        And, importantly, not necessarily if they are acceptable to *you* personally (because when young men do this it is just as annoying) but acceptable to the management culture when guys do it because it shows gumption.

        Can think of three young men off the top of my head who were considered to be showing gumption and initiative and whatever when they did this sort of thing. It was SO ANNOYING and the rest of the office was all, “wow, we hate that pompous twit” but management thought he was a real go-getter. One of them said, “yeah, I was like that when I was his age” with a sort of indulgent dad tone. Oh, you were the snot-nosed jerk that everyone hated to work with? THAT EXPLAINS A LOT.

        1. CMart*

          I think this is an import thing to consider, but also in the mirror-image presentation of it. There’s “acceptable if coworker is a man” meaning it’s an actually acceptable behavior that we value in men but often discourage in women, but then there’s the other meaning of crap we put up with in men because… we don’t discourage it?

          See: your example of being a snot-nosed jerk that everyone hates to work with. It’s “acceptable” in that it’s an “accepted way to be” but it’s not actually a GOOD way to be. I think the way to handle that is if you’re coaching snot-nosed jerk behavior out of women that you’re also mindful to coach it out of men as well.

          1. Lora*

            YES. STEM managers please take note: Everyone should act like a friggin’ adult person at work.

            It’s like they’re indulgent parents watching a kid throw a temper tantrum and everyone else is looking on thinking, “why don’t they DO something? take the kid out to the car, tell him to knock it off, SOMETHING please god I can’t stand the screeching anymore” while the parents wave lollipops and coo “honey, if you stop crying we will go to Disneyland!” at Junior, to no avail.

      2. LBK*

        I think the correction there should be to ensure that men are being held to that higher standard, though, not to let women get away with obnoxious behavior just because men do. I mean, is there a strong justification for letting people interrupt in meetings or yell in an open office plan?

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, please say something to your friend sooner than later. The longer you wait, the weirder this is going to be. I’ve gone up against friends for positions, and I find front-loading the transparency can help avoid a lot of conflicts that arise from not disclosing information early on. When you don’t disclose, it just looks like you’re hiding something, and that can create weird feelings of suspicion that would not be there (or the feeling would not be as strong) as if someone were up front.

    1. PB*

      I agree. I was in a similar position to your friend once, although for a lower level position. I was working part-time for a great business when I graduated. Shortly after, a full time position came open, and my supervisor strongly encouraged me to apply. I told a friend about it. She’d ask about updates periodically. I thought she was just being a good friend.

      A couple weeks later, my supervisor asks if I can interview for the job while I’m at work. I went to the interview, and then went back to work. While I’m working, my supervisor continues to interview the other finalists, which includes giving them a tour. Imagine my surprise when I’m sitting there working, and see my friend stroll through as part of her interview! It didn’t feel good. If she’d told me she was applying, I would have understood. Being unemployed sucks, and this was a really good entry-level job. As it was, it felt like she’d been trying to hide it from me, and use my connections to get insider information.

      Trust me, being in that position stinks. The sooner you talk to your friend, the better.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – I disagree strongly with AAM. This is tech, women are in the extreme minority, and there are still a LOT of discriminatory things going on. It is especially true that women are many times downgraded on their performance reviews for their soft skills. For example, over 70% of high performing tech women are criticized for being “too aggressive”. Many managers will NOT take the female aside for coaching on soft skills. For this reason, other senior women have to fill in the gaps.

    OP, I would approach this as something that is keeping them holding them back. Emphasize that soft skills are super important. I would agree with AAM that you need to choose one topic at a time.

    Mentoring this woman would be a huge service, especially if her skills are as good as you claim.

      1. M-C*

        Totally agree with you, Engineer Girl. In this case, AAM is not taking enough account of the fact that the OP and this girl are the only women there. A male manager is highly unlikely to take this girl in hand in any effective way, or to even wish to do so. There is a lot of risk that his intervention would lapse into sexist enforcement, or be perceived as such by the recipient.

        The key wording here to me is “big sister”. OP, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to take this girl out to lunch and announce that you feel like that. Leave that all warm and glowy on the table for the first time. Then see if she raises any particular issue that she’s been thinking of, and address that the best you can. After that, you’re allowed to pick -one- of the issues you list, raise it gently, offer some constructive suggestions. Let time pass, see if there’s any improvement, see if she wants to discuss it more, etc. When it’s fully resolved in both of your opinions, maybe raise the next. Or not. The best may be for her to feel that -someone- has her back, and let her work out the rest for herself. Her way of resolving things, her very way of being, is likely different from your own. Maybe your direct advice would be helpful, maybe it’d be too judgmental in an environment that’s likely not friendly to her. Maybe you should consider talking to her about some problem that’s been bugging you too – a new perspective could be helpful to you. And mutual problem solving is always better long-term than straight-up mentoring, no matter how unequal the initial situations.

        But thank you for trying at all :-).

    1. Junior Dev*

      OP #1, if you do say anything to your co-worker, be specific, as nonjudgmental about describing the behavior as possible, and provide concrete suggestions for improvement.

      For example: “hey, I noticed that in our conversation with Fergus yesterday, you talked over him a few times. I’ve found that it’s often easier to get what you need from the higher-ups at this company when you let them finish what they’re saying before responding, even if you think you already understand what they are talking about.”

      People talk about the “compliment sandwich” which is all well and good but to me the most important thing about feedback is knowing what to do about it. I’ve gotten feedback from bosses a few times that was vague (so I had no idea what to do differently) or judgemental (so I felt awful about myself and couldn’t focus on constructive solutions) and no amount of compliments before and after will solve that. People often make feedback *less* helpful by trying to cushion it–sometimes so far that the person doesn’t know they are being criticized, but also by obscuring any useful information for fear of offending. Don’t be mean, but do be clear.

      1. Marty*

        To extend this, being clear means that you should avoid judgement. Instead focus on specific observable causes and effects, or genuine human emotions. Don’t say “your interruptions are rude”, instead say, “when you interrupt me, I feel frustrated, because I lose my train of thought”.

        This is built on a formula: “when you X, I feel Y, because Z” where X is something specific that was done, Y is a real human emotion (as opposed to something else like “I feel that you disrespect me” (a judgement) or “I feel like you damage your reputation”, and Z is something that you need, or something specific and observable.

        This formula should, if applied well, make such a conversation much easier.

    2. KWu*

      It’s true that the junior woman’s manager may not support her career growth very well, but I don’t think that gives the OP standing to provide unsolicited feedback about soft skills. I think that could actually backfire a fair bit, without that pre-existing mentoring relationship being established first. The junior woman could end up feeling discriminated against by the OP and turn away from her entirely, despite the OP’s good intentions.

      OP, your desire to help a fellow woman engineer is admirable but I don’t think you should have to feel obligated. If you do want to do some mentoring, though, I think you could start with praising your colleague’s strengths and accomplishments first. That helps establish trust that you’re on her side and not a “f you, got mine” type. Then, wait until you have an opening from your colleague, such as, “I’m frustrated that our boss doesn’t take my ideas seriously. What do you do to be more successful?” Sometimes it might even be good to explicitly check whether she wants someone to listen or does she want advice. In the meantime, she may very well be learning already from the example that you set just by going about your everyday.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        OP already has some standing by being a more senior member of the team.
        This could be a casual thing. “Hey, can I give you some feedback on something that might be impacting your career here? You’re super talented and I want you to succeed”
        Then keep it factual and actionable.
        “We’re in an open office. People get distracted and annoyed when others talk loudly. I’ve noticed on occasion that you yell across the room. That’s not likely to get you points with people.”

        1. Lindrine*

          Yep I agree with you Engineer Girl. I have always been grateful when I am the newer person at a job and a peer shares tips on the culture and gives me advice a bit at a time that is actionable.

    3. PM Jesper Berg*

      @EngineerGirl wrote: “For example, over 70% of high performing tech women are criticized for being “too aggressive…. OP, I would approach this as something that is holding them back.”

      Except that in this case, it’s OP who viewer her colleague as too aggressive (shouting, not being deferential enough to her superiors, etc.), and her advice is the opposite of what women need in the tech industry or elsewhere.

      Women *can* buy into stereotypes about other women as much as men can, and when I read OP #1, that’s what I thought was happening here. OP#1 bemoaned the colleague’s vocal pitch, her lack of deference, and her penchant for interrupting. All of these are common criticisms of women in the workplace that don’t get applied to men. In this case, I agree with AAM that OP should drop it.

      1. Jen RO*

        I disagree that the issue in #1 is gendered. Not interrupting people and not yelling in the open space are common courtesies and apply to men and women equally.

        1. Mookie*

          I agree that that behavior is ungendered, but the LW highlighted her colleague’s gender (and her own) front-and-center. I’m wondering why the LW thinks, beyond her ” seniority of years in the government, years in the branch, and GS grade,” that this is her responsibility to manage. Is this meant to be a gesture of solidarity? Would she, the LW, be equally unnerved / concerned if it were a man behaving this way? And are other colleagues visibly perturbed or disquieted by this woman? This is kind of a curious letter, I must say. Surely this isn’t the first time the LW has worked with someone with poor social skills. LW, how have you navigated this situation in the past?

          1. Myrin*

            I don’t actually find it particularly curious, to be honest, although we might be reading some aspects of it differently.

            It’s pretty clear to me why OP feels the way she does: “In some ways, I feel like her big sister in the context of our team and branch.” OP and Rachel share that they are female and that they are about the only two women in their particular role – I actually have no problem seeing why OP would feel a certain amount of camaraderie and even responsiblity for Rachel, especially since she seems to be a very good employee in general and an asset to the team (I’d assume OP would feel differently if she found Rachel to be generally unlikeable or bad at her job).

            1. David St. Hubbins*

              That’s what I thought too.
              And the things the OP mentioned are unprofessional (yelling across the open plan office, interrupting people etc.), regardless of the person’s gender.
              They’re both women in a male dominated field, so it’s only natural that she would feel some kind of solidarity with the coworker, and want to help her.

              1. Tau*

                +1, as a female-ish person in a male-dominated field who could easily imagine writing such a letter in a few years’ time.


                And the things the OP mentioned are unprofessional (yelling across the open plan office, interrupting people etc.), regardless of the person’s gender.

                I’d agree with this, and add that if men aren’t criticised as much as women for this sort of thing then maybe the problem is that we’re not criticising men enough instead of that we’re criticising women too much.

                1. Myrin*

                  Agreed entirely. And I actually remember that wise fellow commenter fposte talked about your last paragraph not too long ago (with regards to clothes IIRC) and it really stuck with me because growing up with a mum who in general criticised men more heavily than women and as such not being aware of the general cultural attitude being completely different for a really long time, I found it so relevant.

                  I actually saw this exact thing play out a couple of years ago and it was really fascinating. I followed a TV show and there was some awards show or gala or charity event or similar, quite fancy stuff. The female cast members were all dressed elegantly with amazing makeup and hairdos, the kind of thing you expect on the red carpet. But two or three of the male members showed up there looking like they just rolled out of a trashcan. Seriously, hair unkempt, scruffy faces, clad in rumpled t-shirts and trousers that were like ten sizes too big. And it was really amazing how the reaction by both the media and fans alike was something akin to outrage at what little effort these guys put into looking at least presentable if not actually good and how someone can be so sloppy and stand next to their wonderfully-looking colleagues and not feel bad and so on and so forth. And I think there are many more situations which would actually warrant such a reaction and not necessarily that women should be able to show up at an evening gala with tomato sauce-stained t-shirts. I mean, I get the impulse and meaning behind that but I often feel like it goes in the opposite direction of what would be sensible.

                2. RVA Cat*

                  This. I also wonder if there are men in that workplace making these same faux pas – and getting away with them? Because if there are, Rachel is getting the message that her behavior is okay.

                3. Super Anon for This*

                  But part of the issue is that women are *perceived* as doing those things and men not. We subconsciously filter it out when men do it.

                  For instance there was a study in the early 2000’s that found that teachers perceived girls as playing more loudly than the boys on the playground, even though they were actually factually *quieter* and told them to be quiet and so on much more often. The bias is so powerful that it deceives our senses.

                  I would strongly recommend that the OP watch her male colleagues very closely, keep track (record numbers and buy a decibel meter) and see if her male colleagues are actually interrupting and being louder than she realizes.

                  I have been there. When I first started my current job I was criticized by my male superiors for having a high pitched voice, sounding like a Valley Girl, being too cheerful and not serious enough, etc. At first I was ashamed, then I stumbled across an article about this prejudice online, searched and found another and another, so many!

                  I realized there was *nothing* wrong with my voice. I was born with a high pitched voice (actually not that high on the scale really). My vocabulary is excellent and I don’t say like too much. They said I sounded like a Valley Girl because I come from another part of the country which is well known for having a rising and falling speech pattern, which they knew, and which no one has ever complained about. And apparently “being cheerful” aka having a female voice implies that you are brainless and not capable of handling “serious business”.

                4. Myrin*

                  @Super Anon, that’s all very true – I know the studies as well and they are positively infuriating. But I feel like with that whole topic being somewhat more publicly discussed recently (which is a very good thing!), people can sometimes forget that there are women who speak inappropriately loudly (I’m actually one of them; I don’t think I’ve ever been in a conversation where I didn’t have the loudest voice); there are women who interrupt others to such degrees that they can’t finish their sentences; there are women who can’t seem to understand and accept when a topic is done and over with; and so forth.

                  I’ve seen a trend, even here on AAM, that the first reaction to letters like this one isn’t to take OPs at their word but to immediately question whether they’re actually right or not which I think is somewhat misguided. Just because women aren’t as loud and annoyingly high-pitches as certain men would like you to believe doesn’t mean that it is unthinkable that there is indeed a woman who is too loud and too annoying and that that isn’t a serious problem.

                5. Super Anon for This*

                  @Myrin, It is true that there are women who are inappropriately loud, louder than the men, but they are the overwhelming, overwhelming minority. To date, I have never actually met one.

                  On top of that, we know for a *fact* that despite reality, both men and women perceive women as being louder and talking more than they actually do.

                  I am not doubting the OP, I am suggesting that they check whether they are motivated by reality or subconscious biases which everyone has. I have them, you have them, no one really escapes socialization by the culture they are in.

                6. Myrin*

                  @Super Anon, I guess that’s a difference in experience, then. Loud women absolutely haven’t been the “overwhelming minority” in my life. I actually rarely meet loud people in general (as I said, I’m usually the loudest and everyone else pales in comparison) but of the five I can think of from the top of my head, three are/were women.

                  But in any case, the “yelling” was only one of five things the OP talks about. Everything else is something that can pretty easily be quantified and doesn’t need to rely on an unspecific “I feel like…” so she can draw heavily from facts here.

                  (I’m also regularly fascinated by all these studies of how women are perceived as talking more or being scrutinised for how they dress or the way they speak and so on and so forth because that’s not my experience at all. I’m obviously not doubting these studies and I’ve totally seen these biases in other people but as I said elsewhere, when I grew up, my mum criticised men much more heavily than women and I was basically already an adult when I realised that that’s not the norm so it’s always a bit of a “culture shock” for me.)

          2. Beezus*

            Right–I could easily see another youngish new hire with lack of work social norms behaving as such, male or female. OP’s letter sounds like this Jr woman is good at her job, lacking in common office sense and that OP feels a kinship/mentor urge to help this younger woman correct her course to succeed, especially because it’s such a dude heavy field they’re in. She wants this smart younger woman to succeed!

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            I think when you and one colleague are the only two outliers in an otherwise uniform office, it’s normal to feel that you’re somewhat lumped together. You could be the two 20-somethings in an office where most are 45 and up, or the two people of a given race when everyone else is a single other race, or the two people from away when everyone else is local, or the two male teachers in a school that’s otherwise women, or the two no pet people in an office of ardent animal lovers, or the two people of one religious persuasion in an otherwise monolithic group. It’s normal both to feel that the two of you might reflect on each other (independent of how fair or logical that is in the abstract) or that you have a particular obligation, especially if you have more experience, to help out your subgroup by smoothing the rough edges off your co-somethingist.

        2. paul*

          Yeah. I can’t speak for tech in particular, not my field. But I do know I’ve seen men get negative feedback about that (hell, I’ve gotten it). It’s hard to know without knowing details about the situation that just won’t get…but is it really done in most workplaces to cut your boss off mid sentence?

        3. Turquoise Cow*

          I think it’s a gendered issue if other employees are doing the same things and OP doesn’t have a concern about it.

          Are her younger male coworkers loud, talking over their supervisors in meetings? Does OP want to take them aside and coach them into stopping? If not, is it because she isn’t bothered by their behavior, or because she doesn’t feel that camaraderie with them?

          OP, if you’re going to talk to Rachel, I’d first look at how your coworkers behave. Do they all yell across desks and talk over supervisors? Does that behavior inhibit them? Is this behavior actually going to inhibit Rachel, or is it just something you personally find unappealing?

          1. Myrin*

            I do think, though, that there are two different issues at play here and that we have a tendency to conflate them when that doesn’t have to be the case. Namely, Rachel can do something that is objectively annoying/unprofessional/wrong and her male coworkers can do the same thing without it being recognised as such, but that doesn’t mean that what Rachel does isn’t still unprofessional or wrong.

            I mean, let’s say Rachel regularly calls her coworkers “stupid buttclowns”. Let’s further say that everyone else there in her group does that, too. That doesn’t mean it’s objectively okay for Rachel to call coworkers she doesn’t like “stupid buttclowns”! The fact that there might be others who don’t care that her male coworkers do the same doesn’t change that. Of course on a more psychological level, that difference in perception is unfair and gross but on a practical level, Rachel will surely benefit from learning that it’s not okay to call others “stupid buttclowns” at work because I’m willing to bet that the male colleagues who didn’t learn that will sooner or later find themselves in a situation where they are going to be reprimanded for their insults.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        I disagree. Like it or not, these things will hold her back. No, it’s not fair. That said, she needs to know about them. Women pay a higher penalty for the same behavior as a man. All of the actions are annoying- interrupting, not letting things go, loudness. But the female will pay a higher price.

        It’s not unfair to let the coworker know about this. The problem is real. Then she can decide for herself if she wants to die on that hill. But not telling her means she doesn’t have the ability to make that choice for herself.

        This will become more and more of a issue as she rises in the hierarchy. Soft skills become more important.

        I’m saying this as a female with 35 years experience in tech (aerospace). I’ve seen women derailed for all sorts of bizarre “reasons”. I’ve experienced it myself on occasion. The issues are real and she needs to know that. I wish someone had taken me aside and explained it to me when I was that age.

        1. Lora*

          Yeah, there are ways to approach it though which can be more like…tips and tricks.

          For example, my female colleague and I proofread each others’ important emails to make sure we aren’t writing too girly. Minimize the adverbs and adjectives, efficient and streamlined. Rephrasing statements as questions with a bit of subtlety. Directing credit to the correct person when it is mis-attributed or when some sketchy dude is trying to steal your ideas. Meeting with stakeholders individually and addressing their concerns prior to getting everyone in a room, so that by the time you are ready to have a meeting, it’s just 15 minutes of agreeing with each other. Calling on people in a meeting and asking for their $0.02 when they haven’t had a turn to speak what with all the shouting. There’s plenty of classes on conflict resolution which are really helpful – you can think of it more as an intellectual exercise. There’s the Dale Carnegie classes too, those are good for soft skills.

          It’s easier to explain all that as, “hey, this is what I found super helpful for getting by in a man’s world” than “don’t do this”.

          For shouting, I would just shush her in the moment. She might not even realize she’s doing it, some people are just loud and that’s how they are.

          1. BeenThere*

            .. or deaf, I have zero volume control I really have no idea how loud I’m speaking because sometimes I think what happens is I’m trying to speak over the background noise to hear my own voice.

        2. BeenThere*

          Thank you Engineer Girl! This has been exactly my experience, I always pay a higher price. I’m a woman and have +10 years experience in technology mostly finance and industrial automation, then moved to silicon valley last year.

          I’ve had a really bad 6 months as my feedback switched from all the technical things to vague statements that sound like soft skills. I was pushed to manage a team after our manager was removed and I refused ( I want to stay on the architect track) and I’ve basically been punished for not wanting to be a manager.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Anita Borg Institute has a lot of research showing that tech women are pushed to management roles at a much higher rate than men. It’s almost as if women are discouraged from the tech path.
            I too wanted and went the tech expert path. Yup, I got pushback and was punished for it. You can argue that it doesn’t line up with your career goals.
            On the vague feedback – specifically ask for clarification. Ask for examples. Be clear with your manager that you need and expect actionable feedback. If your manager gets enraged by that sort of request then you have the info you need. It’s time to leave or transfer because you won’t get a fair shake.

            1. M-C*

              Interesting. I always thought I was being pushed to management because managers think they’re so hot they think the utmost reward is to make you one of their own :-). But I can totally see how even a clueless woman would seem like a better bet than some of those men who think they can manage.. Sigh. I too have had to switch jobs because my refusal to manage was seen as a fatal flaw. Still a techie though :-).

      3. hbc*

        Jasper, I had the same thought. I really, really don’t like the fact that most of the feedback boils down to “be quieter, dear” and the OP would only be delivering it because the colleague is a woman. Realistically, a lot of young men would get away with that behavior if they were above average in talent.

        OP could be seeing the behavior through a sexist lens (there are plenty of studies that show we perceive women taking over conversations when they contribute less than their fair share), but even if she’s not, a message like this has to be delivered by someone the colleague has reason to trust, because there are a lot of ways it can be taken.

        1. Jadelyn*

          The feedback isn’t “be quieter”, it’s “be respectful of others’ needs in a shared space”, “talking over people is rude”, etc. That’s gender-neutral feedback.

          1. Super Anon for This*

            Um, telling people they need to “be respectful of others’ needs in a shared space”, by being quieter isn’t gender-neutral feedback.

      4. Beezus*

        IDK the OP but I’d strongly disagree. The letter reads that she’s concerned this younger woman who is technically very skilled lacks office social norms and she’s unsure how to help her.

      5. MashaKasha*

        Seriously? If you’re regularly yelling across an open-floor office while I’m trying to work, hijacking the meetings I’m in, etc., I am going to be annoyed whether you are a man, woman, sentient dog, alien from outer space, what have you. Like OP1 and Rachel, I work in an almost exclusively all-male environment, and see men do it all the time. It’s distracting and a huge pain, no matter who does it.

        1. PM Jesper Berg*

          But see, that’s the point. The men are doing it “all the time,” no one is stopping them. And realistically, that’s not going to change: alpha types interrupt. (Remember the episode of Star Trek where Kirk gets split into a good half and a psychopathic half, and the former discovers he has no command ability without the latter. Unfortunately, there’s some truth to that, and some academic studies have found a correlation between a degree of rudeness and leadership. So the way to promote female leaders isn’t to lecture everyone about Emily Post manners, which won’t work even if it were desirable; it’s to get them to interrupt, too. As Madeleine Albright wrote in a recent OpEd, “women need to interrupt.”

          OP doesn’t see it that way, of course; to my mind, she should ask herself candidly whether she’s engaging in “Queen Bee syndrome” here or perhaps feels threatened by her colleague who colors outside the lines.

          Now, I definitely agree that interruptions all day long can be “distracting and a huge pain”; but I blame that on open-office plans more than anything. The solution is to look at better interior design.

          1. MashaKasha*

            That is not my experience. Abrasive, obnoxious men lose their coworkers’ respect, their professional reputation, and in the more extreme cases, their jobs. How else can all-male teams function when one person is making it difficult for everyone else to do their work? People don’t just shrug and say, “well he’s a guy, so we’ll let this slide”.

            The only interior design that will allow an obnoxious colleague to not be obnoxious while retaining every character flaw that makes him or her obnoxious is having them work remotely; preferably from another state. Open-office plan is not the issue here. They will just as well yell across a cubicle farm, or barge into people’s offices to yell at them. That’s what they do, that’s what they will continue to do if they continue to be given the message that it is all good and well.

          2. MashaKasha*

            I am also not exactly crazy about the idea that OP1’s letter can all be explained by her feeling threatened by her more awesome new coworker. Honestly, in this situation, nine out of ten people I’ve worked with would say nothing to Rachel, and would instead avoid her, gossip about her, discuss her on FB or at group lunches behind her back, or any combination of the three. OP wants to help (which I admit is more than I’d be willing to do – I’d probably just stay out of that whole thing, and commend OP for not wanting to do so), and is accused of being jealous of Rachel, because, I guess, no good deed goes unpunished.

          3. Elizabeth H.*

            I agree with this more. I would start with getting the larger number of men who interrupt to interrupt less, before moving on to the small number of women who interrupt.

        2. Snark*

          I’d totally be okay with a sentient dog yelling across the office, because I’m pretty sure whatever it said would be marvelous.

      6. neverjaunty*

        But here is another thing that is VERY gendered – interrupting women and talking over them being seen as normal and appropriate, and it being pushy (or worse) when a woman does not quietly tolerate that.

        OP, you don’t need to correct Rachel’s behavior generally – you can and should speak up when any colleague (not just Rachel) does it TO YOU. “Excuse me, I wasn’t finished.” “Can I talk to you for a second? I find it really disruptive when you yell across the room.”

    4. Beezus*

      “take the female aside”??? Yikes.

      OP–if you have a good rapport with Rachel, take her to lunch and be blunt but kind IMO. I’d guess Rachel doesn’t 100% get how she is coming off and if she’s a habitual interrupter, she might not realize it if everyone around her before now ignored or tolerated it. If you’re in your mid 30s and she’s 7 years younger, she just might not have any experience for office norms. Do not go the “big sister vibe”; it feels condescending. I’d frame it more like what it since: a senior co-worker showing a junior person the ropes and being friendly.

      Honestly that she doesn’t know not when to not interrupt senior staff is eye opening. Where is her manager?

    5. Thlayli*

      OP1 I was a lot like Rachel when I started in my oldjob. I don’t pick up on social stuff that easily put once stuff is explained to me clearly I can follow the rules no problem. In a lot of jobs what you are describing would be totally acceptable but it seems like in your office this behaviour could hold Rachel back. As a former Rachel I urge you to say something. I was at my old job for about 2 years before I got a new boss (who had previously been a colleague) who gave me clear and actionable guidance on how to behave socially with others. I really wished someone would have just told me sooner. This stuff varies from place to place (believe it or not in some companies speaking loudly and interrupting are totally normal) and it’s ridiculous the way people are just expected to know what is the norm when there are lots of people who just don’t pick that stuff up naturally (and I’m not just talking about people with disabilities – neurotypical people aren’t all perfect at picking up social nuances either).

      What I would do in your situation is:
      1 observe other people’s behaviour and ensure you are 100% correct that she is the only one doing this and you aren’t subconsciously noticing it more just because she’s a woman
      2 make sure you are right that this is holding her back and not just something that bugs you personally
      3 ask her straight out if she would like some advice on stuff that might help her in her career. You could frame it like: hey I was wondering if you would be interested in some unofficial mentoring / guidance / advice to help in your career here?

      If she says no then leave it but if she says yes then as others have said be specific and clear and what she needs to change and why it may affect her. And then leave it, don’t follow up again unless she requests that.

      If she also thinks of your relationship as sisterly she may be over the moon to get the info, if not then I guess you have learned that your relationship is different than you thought.

      1. LadyProg*

        Great advice! Specially the 3 steps before going ahead to give advices :)
        I’m a woman in tech for 11 years, some of my early advices/manager feedback were biased like Engineer Girl explained and it took me a while to understand, by myself, that they were in fact biased and I should disregard. Saddest part: they came from my first female boss…

      2. Purplesaurus*

        Great suggestions! I agree that OP should say something, given she passes steps 1 and 2.

    6. Sarah*

      I agree here. You aren’t REQUIRED to take on this mentorship role, but if you’re willing to do it I think it’s a kindness. I’m also a woman in a male-dominated field, and it has been beyond helpful when senior women have been willing to mentor me — of course I have great male mentors as well, but there are some issues they just don’t understand in the same way (for example, even if they’re parents, parenthood — and the perception of parenthood — affects women hugely differently in the workplace.)

    7. Jaguar*

      Agreed. If you want to offer advice to someone you like, OP1, do it. She’s not obliged to follow it. Withholding advice because reasons or, worse yet, because it’s not your job is pretty lame. Men course-correct each other all the time. Why shouldn’t women?

  4. Ally*

    relating to #4- my dad’s replacement when he retires will train and overlap for a year. He’s in international freight forwarding and has a number of VIP clients that get very specialized service (way beyond industry standard) and have arranged that my dad is the only person that handles their accounts.
    Eventually my dad would work from home most days as the new person gets more acclimated. Unfortunately, they’ve hired three people in the last five years and had to let each one go after a few months.

    1. Music*

      In doing so aren’t they just training those VIP clients that your dad will always come back?

  5. Beezus*

    #2, your friend’s employer is TERRIBLE. They’re basically saying being paid back for giving the company an interest free loan by requiring employees to pay out of pocket for travel isn’t just a “perk” but part of “total compensation”??? Uhm no, not how that works.

    If travel is a key part of the job, the employer should be paying for as many big up front expenses as they can centrally (airfare, hotels, etc) and issuing company credit cards to employees for the other routine expenses like meals, supplies, etc. The employees issued the cards should be held responsible to get/keep/submit receipts for reconciliation to accounting or whoever.

    Also, I’m not sure which state #2 is in, but California explicitly considers money spent by employees on behalf of their employer reimbursible expenses owed back to the employee. “In accordance with California Labor Code Section 2802, an employee is entitled to be reimbursed by his or her employer for all expenses or losses incurred in the direct consequence of the discharge of the employee’s work duties.”

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      We’re a little oddball in that we’re very aggressive/comprehensive about employers paying their business costs and not shifting them onto staff.

      But even in the other 49 states, what OP#2’s boss is suggesting is so ridiculous that I literally did one of those single “ha!” noises that connotes abject foolishness (and foolishness).

      1. Beezus*

        Honestly that just seems best business practices! I’m going thru a merger and my old job was very like that/yours and new company is like “IDK we’ll book plane tickets?” But not hotel rooms for work trips. Gotta book where they say then send in a receipt. It’s grossly presumptuous as Alison has said to assume that everyone has access to a personal credit card they can charge several hundred dollars of hotel fees to even if it was just 1-2 nights.

        1. Jadelyn*

          That’s always my problem with that sort of thing – reimbursement arrangements assume employees have the capital to spend upfront. And that’s a bad assumption to make. I’m at a point in my life now where, if I had to, I could put a few hundred bucks upfront and get reimbursed without freaking out too badly over how that’s going to affect the rest of my finances, but when I started this job I was scraping by paycheck to paycheck and even one temporary major expense would’ve been enough to completely wreck the delicate balance of bills I was trying to keep going.

          Management making that assumption just makes me think they’re out of touch with most people’s lives. When you’ve been making good money for awhile, you forget what it’s like to be struggling and without fallback resources.

          1. SC*

            True. When I was 22 or 23 and traveled for my first work trip, I put the travel expenses on my mother’s credit card (I had one in my name for emergencies) and paid her back when I got reimbursed. To be fair, I think my bosses would have put the expenses on their credit cards, but I preferred to ask my mom than to admit I didn’t have a credit card and didn’t have enough money in the bank account to cover the rental car hold for a renter under 25.

          2. E*

            A friend of mine, for her 1st day at a graduate job, was required to front several hundred pounds for a plane ticket to an office in another part of the country, along with every other member of the graduate programme. She was lucky enough to be able to borrow the money from her parents, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was this sort of expectation that reduces social mobility.

            A couple of years later she was abroad on business, and her company proved it had learnt nothing by forcing her to pay for and expense her hotel room – which had to be booked night by night at inflated prices due to uncertainty about the duration of the job. After maxing out her credit card and hitting her overdraft limit, she was found in tears by her boss trying to get the hotel to accept an over the phone payment from her dad. At which point the boss put it on her own personall credit card, because despite it being a major international company, no one had a company card!

            Her situation made me doubly grateful that my own, much smaller, employer had a policy that presumed against staff using personal credit cards for expenses – if you needed travel or a hotel it was paid for by the office manager on her company card, and purchasing of incidentals such as food, bus tickets, etc. was generally paid for as a matter of course by the most senior person present, who usually had a company card. I think the most expensive thing I ever paid for out of pocket was a pub lunch for me and the summer intern, and after that my boss commented that I should have asked for his credit card (we have chip and pin, so the staff don’t know that you are using someone else’s card).

        2. JustaTech*

          Exactly! A coworker of mine was having financial issues due to a car accident (the other guy was drunk and uninsured and it took insurance *forever* to pay out) and was only using a debit card when she was told to book cross-country plane tickets 3 days out. She thought it was just a holding card and then the company would pay with a corporate card, but no, suddenly it was reimbursement and she got charged overdraft fees.

          It all got fixed in the end, but she was super upset that no one had warned us the travel system changed.

    2. Daisy*

      My only thought is that maybe he’s heard travel expenses referred to as a benefit, where it covers your normal commute, and is getting confused with that? Some companies will reimburse your daily travel, and that is a pretty valuable benefit. Although he’s still not thinking about it very critically

      1. Engineer Girl*

        My old company used to give us yearly transit passes. I know several of my coworkers used them to get to work. I think it was worth $500 if you bought it yourself. It saved my coworkers $$$$$.

        1. Daisy*

          I work in Tokyo, and it’s standard here for companies to reimburse your train fare to the office. It’s great.

          1. Beezus*

            Right. There are various ways to do that in the US, usually via part of a pre-tax FSA Transit if employee paid, etc.

          2. Dweali*

            My company got taken over by another and they offer travel benefits for the daily commute…unfortunately public transp is horrible in my city so its not one I get to use :-(

        2. Sarah*

          Yes, we get this too and it is AWESOME. It works for most of the regional trains too so you can use it for quite a lot more than just commuting to work. THAT is a legitimate benefit!

      2. Beezus*

        In my experience, most companies in the US will not reimburse your daily commute directly but many offer the option to set aside money pre-tax to buy transit passes and/or offer access to discounted transit options, carpooling incentives, etc.

    3. GeoffreyB*

      ObHomerSimpson: “remember that time you lent me ten dollars, and I paid it back? Well, now I need YOU to do ME a favor.”

    4. Chelle*

      Well, at my job we travel frequently (like 3ish weeks a month), and we do put the expenses (other than airfare) on our own cards. It’s seen as a perk because then you get to keep the credit card reward points, and the company will pay the annual fee of a credit card that gives nice ones, if you’re a frequent traveler. However, it’s also seen as “a perk that exists to balance out the drawback of being on the road”, and not part of our compensation. This boss is bad.

      1. Beezus*

        If I traveled 3 weeks a month I would not be happy paying for hotels on my personal credit card. I’m not interested in loaning the company that kind for money for the cost of doing regular business and not sure why you are either. You should have a company card for air/hotel/meals/transportation at the very least. What happens if you hire someone with no credit card or who can only get a tiny credit line of $500 or less???

        1. Anon Gov Spouse*

          If you have the credit it is a huge benefit because with that kind of travel you can get 3 personal trips a year for free on points or even cash them in for money. You can also get preferred status at hotels and airlines and get free upgrades to business or first class. We put all of my husband’s travel on our personal card until his employer started requiring certain things to go on the gov’t card to save taxes. Also, having the gov’t card has the same problems as using the personal card. We have to pay it in full even if it is due before the reimbursement comes in. Normally they are quick with their reimbursements though.

          1. AMPG*

            I used to book travel for consultants on government projects, and they HATED it when we switched to direct billing for their hotel reservations. We saved the government a ton of money by not having to pay hotel taxes on the bookings, but all they saw was the loss of their reward points and miles.

        2. Chelle*

          I’m fine with it because:
          1) for frequent travelers, reimbursements take <1wk. They just give us the money we ask for and reconcile the receipts after the fact, and if there's a difference they adjust our next reimbursement accordingly.
          2) You can request travel advances if you're uncomfortable with loaning the company money, which you also get within <1wk.

          I understand your perspective, but I would be very upset if my company decided to issue us company cards and took my rewards points away :)

          1. Jadelyn*

            There is a compromise possible, of course – my org issues company cards, runs flight booking through a travel service, but also allows employees to use their personal cards for the points *if they want to*. That’s the critical distinction. If it’s an option, that could be seen as a benefit since you get all the rewards perks; if it’s required, it’s deeply unfair to employees who aren’t as financially stable and well-off as management assumes they should be.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yeah, same. I’m a little confused because the company can still pay up front for an employee’s travel, and the employee can still accrue points. Granted, it won’t be credit card points, but they could certainly accrue loyalty/FF points.

      2. Michael*

        Yeah, I was also wondering whether the benefit that they are thinking of is the ability to accumulate points and miles through all the personal spending.

        1. Beezus*

          I’m baffled by this “perk” because admittedly I’ve never had a credit card for the “perks” but I’ve found the airfare ones incredibly obnoxious and just have applied the cash back to my balance.

          Plz don’t ask about my dad’s expiring corporate United miles he let me cash out for magazines my parents still get and my mom grumps about way too many years later.

          1. Anon Gov Spouse*

            I’d recommend Chase Sapphire Preferred to get into the points game. No fee for the first year and you can cancel it after that. Spend $3k or $4k in the first 3 months (easy with all that business travel) get 50,000 free points. That’s $750 towards your personal travel on the Chase website.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Just another +1 for Chase Sapphire Preferred. A lot of folks mistakenly get Chase Sapphire or Chase Reserve and miss the point-bonuses/benefits. But for individuals who are not AmEx platinum/purple/black card rich, it’s one of the best credit cards out there for travel, dining and entertainment points.

          2. Chelle*

            Well, it depends on what you find to be a benefit–I like to travel (which is a good thing, with my job), so getting points that I can use for travelling is a good deal for me. I do have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, work covers the $450 annual fee (which gets me free TSA Pre-check, free National Executive membership, free airport lounge access, and a host of other benefits), and I get all the points–which works out to about ~$1.5k of free travel when booked through Chase.

            And that’s just for using my personal card. I also get the Marriott points for staying at hotels, and airline miles for flying even though work pays for our plane tickets up front. We can also add travel onto the end of trips–so if I want to go see family for the weekend, they’ll book me a trip from the customer site to my family and then back home on Sunday, and I only have to pay the difference in cost.

            Of course, if you don’t like to travel, none of those are perks! I wouldn’t strictly call any of them compensation, either, though.

      3. Beezus*

        Furthermore how is it a “perk” if you have a credit card without an annual fee so don’t even get the company chipping in for that? I’ve never found points terribly useful other than applying cash back towards the balance.

        1. anoncmntr*

          I’m having a hard time understanding why you don’t think cash back is a perk! My family used the miles from my dad’s business travel to take a family of five to Europe and Asia multiple times growing up, and now I like getting $500+ back per year from just my personal card. I find that to be a huge advantage to credit card over cash/check (in addition to consumer protection, etc).

        2. Natalie*

          I only use points for cash back as well, but if it was a work purchase that means I’m getting cash for nothing. Work reimburses the expense, not the expense minus cash back.

          (YMMV as some companies claim the points, which is 100% BS in my opinion)

        3. Samata*

          My old manager used to travel like Chelle is referring to and insisted on using his own card for the points instead of company card and the company agreed to pay the annual fee for the bonus perks card. He flew his wife, himself and their 2 adult but unmarried children to Hawaii from the east coast for 10 days and it was an essentially free trip – free hotel, free flights, free rental car, free breakfast and happy hour because at his hotel level he was able to get concierge service – all on the points he accumulated.

          I agree with you that in my case the points will never amount to much and I never get a card with an annual fee but when you are travelling that much they add up quickly.

          1. teclatrans*

            When my husband was traveling internationally for work, we definitely used his United points to buy domestic plane tickets. We have also bought several flights using Southwest points (and the flights themselves accrue points, so it’s all a whirlwind of points and free tickets).

      4. Name required*

        On the other hand, I’ve been paying interest on 5 figures of reimbursable expenses for a few months now whilst waiting for someone at this small company to have time to handle my expense report. The points I earned are not offsetting the interest I’m paying. Hopefully my crap situation is not the norm for smaller offices.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          They should pay for your interest/fees/penalties, as well. I think it’s worth nudging them, and it has the added benefit of encouraging them to process expense reports expeditiously so that they bear the burden of the fees that you’re currently being subjected to.

    5. Katie the Fed*

      They could also be talking about per diem. I don’t know how many companies give per diem, but US government still does and you can make bank in some places with it. Especially places like Tokyo or Abu Dhabi – per diem is insane but I’m good at eating cheap so I can come out with quite a bit extra.

      Although when you factor in dog boarding and other expenses, it’s not SUCH a great deal.

      1. Beezus*

        Wait–Katie you just get the full per diem no matter what? For us it’s you can expense meals on a trip up to XYZ, no room service, above which you need to be able to bill it. And that runs through accounting via an employee expense report or a company credit card as applicable. Nothing to do with your W-2 compensation and wages.

        1. LCL*

          The federal government has a website where they calculate per diem per different areas, and you get the full per diem for the area. We use the federal calculations for per diem meals when people have to travel. The federal government has access to the statistics and computing power to make the calculations, so it is easiest for us to use their guidelines.

          1. Natalie*

            There’s actually a reason besides easiness – any per diem amount provided above the federal rate would be taxable income to the employee.

        1. Samata*

          My mom did this. Her and my grandfather worked for the same company so when they were on assignment they rented a small, very cheap apartment about a 20 minute drive from the site, bunked together ate meals at home instead of out.

          At the time my mom had 2 small kids at home so she was able to fly home every weekend instead of the every other weekend the company paid for AND banked some money in the process.

      2. Government worker*

        Per diem still isn’t considered a benefit, though. At least not by my employer.

      3. K.*

        Yeah, at my old company you got a per diem if your travel was more than four days long, and I’m GREAT at eating on the cheap (someone send me a Buzzfeed quiz recently called “Can you go to the grocery store and only spend $15?” I was like “Pfft, challenge accepted” and spent less than $8) so I almost always came out ahead. But that wasn’t considered a benefit.

        1. yasmara*

          Yeah, we switched to per diem and on the one hand it’s nice because you get the same $$ for each day no matter what (pro-rated for travel time, i.e. you don’t get the full per diem if you have a night flight from your home to the business location and it is also reduced if you have breakfast included with your hotel room rate) so you can eat where you want and it’s more under your control. Then again, the per diem rate is pretty low (it’s not supposed to include lunch!) and if you go somewhere expensive because it was a group restaurant pick, you may overspend. On balance, though, I like it because I don’t have to track every receipt and if I choose to eat take-out in my room one night, I make a few bucks on it.

          1. OP #2*

            My per diem is SO low that it generally doesn’t cover meals for the day and I have to cover the difference out of pocket. It’s not like I’m enjoying the “benefit” of nice meals while on the road.

        2. Decima Dewey*

          “all it does is simplify expense reporting.”

          As someone who had to doublecheck expense reports at an accounting firm (many accountants can’t do arithmetic, apparently), simplifying expense reports is a good thing.

          1. Sarah*

            Sure, but that’s not a BENEFIT to the employee doing the travel. It’s a benefit to the business (and maybe the accountant, but I would not consider “my job being somewhat easier” to be compensation).

        3. Katie the Fed*

          I never thought they were, but that might be what the boss is thinking in this letter.

    6. TootsNYC*

      I think our OP should start explicitly using the term “loan,” and “I wish the company would pay the airline directly instead of making me of them with my own money and then paying me back later.”

      Maybe even start complaining about having to loan the company any money, and asking about a company credit card, or asking the company to write a check directly to the hotel.

      It probably won’t do any good, but it might start to reframe things.

    7. OP #2*

      Hi Beezus – it is MY employer, not my friend’s, and you’re right :-P

      They do not issue cards, so yes, we get the “benefit” of keeping our points and airline miles, but the money I receive in my reimbursement is the payment on the money I loaned them to pay for the travel costs, not a benefit. And our per diem is SO low that I almost always spend money out of my own pocket just to cover meals (and I’m eating at cheap places).

  6. Wakeen's Duck Club*

    There are more inappropriate office behaviors than what #1 is describing. Just saying… (quack, quack)

    1. Music*

      Why do you keep making this same joke on several comment threads every week? It’s a really weird obsession.

      1. Coming Up Milhouse*

        And getting really obnoxious. The joke has been beaten to death, burried and resurrected to be beaten again.

          1. N.J.*

            Yes it is funny, or was the first few times, but Junior Dev has a point. One of the blog etiquette rules it not to derail conversations. If the repetitive comment from duck club has reached the point that commenters have started responding to it as annoying or unhelpful, then it has otibdbly reached derail status…

            1. Emi.*

              Ehh, it’s so easy to keep scrolling that I think the actual derail is not the duck club joke, but the objection to it (although I guess I’m continuing that derail now).

                1. N.J.*

                  This right here proves my point. Humor is awesome, but not if it becomes actively unproductive.

        1. La società delle papere di Wakeen (sede italiana)*

          On behalf of an international branch of Wakeen’s Duck Club, I’d like to say that I agree. Quack! (or as we say in Italy, “qua qua”)

  7. Beezus*

    I said my piece on the bad biz practices of #2’s friend’s boss above, but may I state for the record I HATE “personalized breakdown packages” or “total compensation packages” ??? They’re basically fluffed up cost lists for the company to hire for the position (probably minus the office equipment/computer). Employees don’t in my experience care how much the company is chipping in above what they get paid. Employees want decent wages, a good time off policy (both paid holidays and PTO or vacation/sick), and affordable insurance.

    At the end of the day the company could say, “Well total compensation you’re getting $53k, which could actually be $47,840 gross salary + company pays 50% of the medical insurance premium that’s $4800/yr for an additional $2400 (these statements rarely figure in the employee deductions) + 10 days vacation which they’ll price at $1840 even tho you’d only get that money 1. if you acrrued it all 2. never took it 3. got to cash it out/live in a state that pays it out if you leave your job + 5 sick days valued at $920, of which I know no state that considers sick pay acrrued wages. TOTAL COMP: $53K.”

    1. Edith*

      The money my employer spends on my pension and my insurance and the like is money I don’t have to budget for. If I don’t know how much my employer is spending on my benefits, how could I evaluate a job offer by my potential next employer?

      I get paid below market value at my current job, but the benefits package is stellar. I stay here because I know that difference in benefits makes up for the difference in pay.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Pensions are like unicorns. Rare and getting rarer. That is a lot of money you don’t have to set aside in 401k or IRAs.
        I have one and yes it makes a big difference!

        1. Gaia*

          Right! I don’t have a pension but my employer contributes non-matching funds to my 401k (and then matching funds on top) and I’ve yet to come across another company in my industry that does this.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            I work for my state’s government, and my retirement plan is like this. When I started, we could either have part of the state’s contribution in the pension plan and part in a 401k, or all in the 401k (fully vested after 4 years). I chose the latter option, so for the past 6 years, they’ve been putting an amount equivalent to 10% of my salary in my 401k without me having to contribute a cent. They also do a (small) match. It’s grown to a pretty good amount!

      2. Beezus*

        So I’m guessing you’re not in the US where they have to disclose any retirement match if there even is one. Many of which have a vesting schedule of several years.

        As for insurance–your employer has no obligation to tell you how much they paid $$ of the premium. As an employee you need to know how much 1. You will need to pay if any of the premium 2. What other out of pocket costs you’ll potentially be on the hook for depending on said insurance plan.

        You should evaluate IMO your next job offer first on what you think you’re worth salary wise and then ask about the benefits in addition. Cynically, benefits of all kinds are something employers offer to help with retention and hire better talent.

        1. Edith*

          Nope, I’m in the U. S. Oklahoma, to be specific. Industry is higher ed.

          Your reply to my comment contradicts your original post. You said you hate it when companies tell you how much they spend on your benefits, but now you seem to agree with me that it’s useful information to have.

      3. Natalie*

        Although as someone pointed out in the last comment thread on this, how much the employer spends on insurance doesn’t really matter to the employee – what matters is what value they are getting from the insurance. Two companies can easily pay different rates for the same insurance package. It doesn’t mean the higher paying company is giving you a better offer.

        1. Natalie*

          Bleh, that last sentence is confusing. By “higher paying company” I meant the company paying more for the same insurance.

        2. Kyrielle*

          This. My total compensation is *what I am getting*, not what the company is spending. I definitely want to account for the insurance I have in there – but based on how much it costs me, how good the coverage is, etc. Not based on what it costs my company. (I mean, when I first switched jobs, the PPO option at my new company was nearly perfectly equivalent to the one at my old company. But I’ll bet that my new company was paying less per employee for that plan, because my new company was more than ten times the size of the one I was leaving….)

        3. Mike C.*

          There are tons of benefits like this. I can, for example, buy certain cars at dealer invoice because their parent company is a supplier of my employer. My employer isn’t paying anything for that privilege and I’m not getting anything out of that deal unless I happen to buy one of their cars.

      4. paul*

        On insurance, it’s not how much *they* spend, it’s how much *you* have to spend and how good the coverage is.

        My wife’s insurance cost her employers less than mine would; it also cost less for us for me to be on hers. The fact her job is spending less doesn’t somehow make it a worse benefit though, since it’s better coverage, and cheaper for us (she works for a major company, I work for a community non profit).

        1. JustaTech*

          When my employer added a high-deductbile with HSA plan to our insurance options they had someone come in and try to convince us how awesome the new plan was. “It saves so much money!”
          Finally someone asked “If me moving to the new plan saves the company $X, will they give me that money to put in my HSA?” “Uh, no.” “So it’s not saving *me* any money, just the company?” “Uh, yeah.”

          Dude, don’t try to sell me an insurance plan on how much it will save my employer.

          1. Samata*

            Interesting. We have a high-deductible plan with an HSA. My employer contributes funds to the HSA if you choose that option. $900/year if you are single coverage, $1800 per year if you have a spouse or family coverage. That full amount gets deposited each year regardless of how much you used the year prior and if you start mid-year they pro-rate it.

    2. PepperVL*

      When I worked at a company that did them, I thought they were great. I had no idea in a day-to-day basis what my pension was worth or how much dollar-wise they were matching in my 401(k). The amount they were paying for my heavily subsidized insurance gave me an idea how much I’d have to pay if I ever needed to go on COBRA and what to look for if I was ever pricing in the individual market. And for people with spouses, it helped if they had to compare plans with their spouse’s office. Plus, it was easy to forget how much they saved me in parking downtown and how much I would’ve spent on lunch if they hadn’t had a cafeteria. (Yeah, the place had great benefits. To bad the culture wasn’t a good fit for me.)

      It also helped when I was looking for a new job to know which benefits I personally was getting the most value from and what to look for in a new place.

      Some companies may use them as a “look what we’re really paying you, now setup asking for raises” thing, but as an informational document, they’re fantastic.

    3. Book Lover*

      I like getting mine. It includes information about pension among other things and I find it helpful. I absolutely do care what the company is chipping in beyond what I see in my paycheck. Perhaps you are not happy with it because you are not happy with your benefits?

      1. Kyrielle*

        I’ve never gotten one, but my objection as described here is if they tell me more about what the company is paying than about what I’m getting. My health coverage is not suddenly better or worse if the company cost for it changes, even between different jobs. (But knowing that, for example, they’ll put $X in the HSA if you sign up for a CDHP is; knowing the actual coverage is; knowing about 401k, pension, etc., absolutely is.)

        It works both ways, too – I don’t care if they got an exceptionally good deal on our group plan. (I mean, actually I do in the sense that it’s good for the company. But it doesn’t change the value of that plan _to me_ either way.) I care what the plan is. If they have a bus pass benefit worth $500, I don’t care if they got a bulk discount and only paid $250 per employee – the benefit _to the employee_ is still $500.

        1. Gaia*

          I guess to me it isn’t really about how much the plan costs them, but what percentage have they taken on for me. That is the value in my mind – what costs have they retained that I don’t have to take on?

          1. Kyrielle*

            And to me that’s…interesting, maybe nice, but ultimately not useful in evaluating my compensation. My monthly premiums for my health insurance even stayed almost the same when I switched jobs (with near-perfect equivalence in coverage) – which probably means my new company is carrying less of the cost, by percentage. (My previous job had hundreds of employees; my new one has thousands, which is easily large enough to make a change in insurance rates.)

            But that doesn’t change the value I’m getting out of it.

    4. anna*

      I disagree. My company started doing this a few years ago, and I found it interesting to see the total breakdown of how much my company paid for things besides my salary. Mine also shows the potential benefits available to me that I may not be taking full advantage of, such as tuition reimbursements, so it can be a reminder of more things I could potentially use.

      It’s also helpful when deciding if another job is right for you–you have that breakdown in front of you, so you can easily have your benefits package in your mind when weighing another offer.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But there’s a difference between knowing how much you the employee are receiving (e.g. company contribution to your 401k) and how much a benefit is costing the employer (e.g. life insurance premiums). The former is telling you what your benefits are. The latter, like the OP’s company, is trying to inflate the perceived compensation by painting a business cost as a “benefit”.

        1. anna*

          Oh, I agree that a travel reimbursement for work travel is not a benefit, and that is not on my benefit statement. That’s totally ridiculous. But the employer’s contribution to my health insurance plan? Health insurance is a benefit. It is part of my compensation. It is interesting to know how much it costs.

      2. Sarah*

        I also find it interesting and useful. There’s a few categories that end up a little odd (we have unlimited and untracked PTO and they factor that into the total compensation in a sort of strange way, but obviously it IS extremely valuable!) I think honestly a lot of what it comes down to is that people who love their benefits often think seeing more about them is a nice reminder and pretty cool, where people who are already down on their compensation and don’t particularly love their benefits think it’s ridiculous (for example, a job where the boss is claiming travel reimbursements to be compensation is probably one who’s skimping on a lot of actual, real benefits!)

    5. Gaia*

      I, for one, do care because it helps me consider seemingly comparable offers. It also shows me how valuable my medical plans are (for example, I had no idea my company was paying 95% of my premiums until I saw my total compensation plan).

      1. ParaGirl*

        The employer can call it whatever he wants on an internal worksheet, but are you being taxed on it as income? I would look very carefully at your W-2 to make sure the reimbursements aren’t included in your income. At Old Job, the knuckleheads in accounting would include travel reimbursement as income for our outside directors on their 1099s.

        1. Koko*

          Yes, that’s the big thing that jumped out at me and made me think, “This can’t possibly be legal in California at the very least!” If you spend $50 on a business expense and then get reimbursed $50 but $15 is withheld for taxes, I’m pretty sure you effectively just spent $15 on a business expense and doesn’t California require reimbursement of all expenses?

          My work is very clear on the difference between the two. If I spend $717.53 on travel I get a check for $717.53 with no taxes or other pre-tax deductions (like 401k contributions) subtracted, and is not included in my gross wages on my W2 at the end of the year.

          OTOH, our monthly “fitness reimbursement” is a benefit, not a business expense, so we get an extra $50 on our paycheck once a month if we submit gym receipts, but it’s classified as compensation, taxes and retirement are subtracted from it, and it adds $600 to your annual gross wages reported to the IRS.

      2. Beezus*

        You don’t need a compensation breakdown to know how much the employer pays for your premiums–your company isn’t being transparent about their insurance if they and/or their broker didn’t tell you up front how much the company paid when you signed up. How else would you be able to decide the plan you wanted if you didn’t know how much of the premium you’d be responsible vs the company?

    6. Steve*

      What I don’t get about #2 is: the total compensation statements are already silly and meaningless. What difference does it make if they include a extra silly line item?

    7. klew*

      Many years ago I worked at a CPA firm that did this once. In addition to adding in the regular stuff they also added the estimated cost of the office provided sodas and snacks I might eat. Seriously.

  8. TeaFactory*

    #5 Alison I’d love to submit an update on a letter you published about two years ago but I have no idea which email address or pseudonym I used when I wrote it (used a pseudonym as I was convinced the Apocalypse would happen and my employer would somehow find out). The advice I received was overwhelmingly ‘run for the hills’ and due to finances I didn’t and well….you can guess the rest.

  9. Caledonia*

    #3 – if you want to have some sort of positive relationship with your friend/former colleague then you should give her the heads up so she isn’t blindsided and it gives her time to become used to the idea that potentially you could be her boss or if you got her job, she would be yours(?)

    It’s not only nice in a friendship sort of way but also a courtesy that was not recently extended to me by one of my colleagues. Don’t be that person.

  10. GeoffreyB*

    #1: I’m autistic and I don’t always notice when I’m doing stuff that comes across as rude to others. I appreciate it when my managers give me a heads-up about this sort of thing.

    However, it would be confusing to me to have other co-workers getting in on that, because everybody has their own ideas about exactly what constitutes correct behaviour. It would leave me trying to figure out “is there actually an issue, or is this just one person who thinks it is?” At which point I probably need to go to my manager for an “official” call on the issue anyway.

    For that reason, unless I know you well, probably best to take this kind of thing to my manager and let them decide whether to talk to me about it.

    (My preferences and reasons may not match those of OP’s co-worker, mind.)

    1. Tau*

      Also autistic with similar problems in the past (hopefully not as much now), and I’d generally feel the same.

      I do think the fact that OP and Rachel are the only two women in their role adds a wrinkle to this. I’ve had difficulties in the past with some rules not being the same for women than men (“business casual”…), or women getting judged differently on certain behaviours than men, etc. and these are often things women are more able to give feedback on than men. So although I’d generally feel uncertain about social criticism by a coworker, if my boss was male I think I’d listen to my senior, only female coworker in this context.

      Same caveat applies. This is sensitive stuff, and OP would definitely run the risk of Rachel taking it badly if she brings it up.

      1. Specialk9*

        Thanks for chiming in! Just thinking of the sheer amount of brainpower you have to apply to everyday situations leaves me in awe.

      2. GeoffreyB*

        Yeah, that’s a good point. I wonder if there’s any good way for OP to get a better idea of Rachel’s preferences before volunteering advice?

      3. oldbiddy*

        This. I’m a woman in tech. When I started my first post-grad school job I had a hell of a time figuring out that the rules for acceptable behavior were different for the guys than me and that the gap was much wider in that group than anywhere I’ve encountered before or after.. I had to keep dialing things back more and more.
        Example – coworker was very opinionated and outspoken. He’d shoot off his mouth any time, anywhere. He once wrote a letter to a supplier that started with “Dear Numbnuts,” Meanwhile, I got dinged in a performance review for being too blunt. The example given was a time when I’d politely said something like “I disagree because (technical things x, y, and z)” in front of customers.

    2. Beezus*

      I’m very very ADHD and myself and my parents converse in a very interruptive and topic changing manner by default. My ADHD make me quite good at my job. But I do interrupt conversations A LOT and it drives my coworker nuts and her telling me pissed me off at first but has been hugely helpful in the longer run to check myself if I need to talk or I just want to. our company just merged too and we got video conference software and my God it is hard to know when to speak so I feel so thankful every annoyed minute I but my tongue. And I’m very very far from perfect but, I think this is the kind of thing OP would like this younger woman to be able to shift towards.

    3. Eliza Jane*

      Also an autistic woman, and I will say that this advice coming from a coworker would just make me assume it was what EngineerGirl was talking about above — gendered crap because women acting like men isn’t considered appropriate.

      It may or not be accurate– this might be a real problem for the OP’s coworker, but with just one report, from a peer, that is what I’d assume.

      1. Emi.*

        It doesn’t sound like this is an issue with “women acting like men” as much as it’s an issue with women acting obnoxiously (so maybe like obnoxious men?). If men aren’t getting told not to interrupt people and yell in an open office (!!!), that’s the problem, and we won’t solve it by encouraging women to interrupt and yell too.

        1. Eliza Jane*

          Eh. I’ve been called out before for “yelling” and “interrupting” because I was raising my volume to override the man who wouldn’t let me finish a question before he started answering. Kamala Harris was scolded on the floor of the Senate for “not letting Sessions answer the question” for trying to instruct him to answer the question she asked instead of wasting time talking about something else.

          “Yelling” and “interrupting” aren’t binary on/off switches. For a lot of people, the threshold for what is yelling or interrupting is a lot lower when a woman is doing it than when a man is doing it.

          I made a call early in my career that I’m okay with my behavior holding my career back if the alternative is shrinking myself to fit in a box that people make of my gender. If a manager told me I needed to change something, I would. But a single peer? I would not trust that her assessment was based on the actual facts of what I was doing and not unconsciously biased by the fact that I’m a woman.

    4. Anon for this*

      Also autistic, presenting as female, and yeah, I’ve had coworkers weigh in on my behaviour (answering too many questions across desks in my case). But it was a pompous male coworker rather than a female peer or a manager. So I shut the hell up because he said the manager had approved his course of action to tell me not to answer questions. Quality plummeted because other people (him included) were answering them incorrectly and I got dinged in my review for ‘being unhelpful’,’isolating myself’ and ‘letting the team down’. All the manager had wanted was a reduction in volume. These days if I had a manager, I’d do like GeoffreyB and run all feedback through management otherwise it gets confusing

  11. David St. Hubbins*

    #1 – I have a coworker who is just like that. Loud and he interrupts other people. He would ask a question, and when you start answering him, he doesn’t listen and just talks over you. Unfortunately our manager seems to think it means he’s super competent and just the best.

    I think he was just raised to believe that he is special, and he is still young enough to believe it.

    I don’t have any advice though, sorry. Just try to ignore it?

  12. Steve*

    Please don’t edit or condense this comment. It reads exactly as I want it to. Thank you.

    1. Mookie*

      Please, don’t! Edit this OR condense this comment. It reads? Exactly, as I want it. Too, thank you. [No, money down!]

    2. JulieBulie*

      I feel like there must be more to this comment than what I’m reading here. Is something missing?

      1. JanetM*

        I think, although I could be wrong, that it’s a reference to question five, about whether Alison edits letters before she posts them.

  13. OrangeYouGlad*

    #1- coworker you want to give advice to

    I’ve had coworkers give what they thought was helpful (but not requested) feedback. It doesn’t go over well. For me, I need to be in the “let me analyze my behavior & make changes” frame of mind. When I’m in Work Mode I am focused on the tasks in front of me- not my coworkers opinions of me.

    So if you choose to give feedback, please pre-frame it. ASK first. “Rachel, I would like to discuss something with you that could be a little sensitive- is now a good time or would you like me to come back later?”

    Or even start by asking “Rachel, it’s totally ok either way- would you be open to some feedback about differences in office communication styles?”

    1. NCKat*

      If you do go this route, please do it in a meeting room or area where it’s private. I had a boss who yelled at me in front of my work team and it was humiliating. I never trusted her again after that.

  14. Duck Duck Møøse*

    #1 : 30+ years ago, I was a Rachel; young, techy female in the government, trying to learn the ropes of how to work as an adult. One of my older female coworkers tried the same thing, to offer sisterly advice. I didn’t appreciate it, and it was ignored. It was especially annoying because she was calling me out for things our coworkers – the men – also did. Thirty years ago, there was more of an impetus for women to try twice as hard to be considered half as good – I didn’t subscribe to that theory then, and it’s total bunkum now.

    I know you mean it as a kindness, but I see too many ways it could damage rather than help. I agree with AAM – maybe – MAYBE – address one thing that is the most agregious to you (so let the managers handle her interactions with them – what does she do that affects YOU the worst?) Everything else? It is not your job or your place, in any way. Who wants a pushy older sister telling them what to do? In the workplace??

    Many of the things you cite may just be her personality, and that’s a touchy area to critique. Evaluating work product is one thing, but once it starts getting personal, things can get too, well, personal. Do you want to make her question herself, lose confidence, and be a bundle of nerves during every work interaction? Let her grow into her own working style, instead of trying to shape her into what you think she should be.

    1. mreasy*

      I agree. I’m a woman, and I have had “gentle suggestions” for behavior correction that are either not made to, or are simply ignored, by peer men (and men junior to me). This as covered the volume of my phone calls (when a male member of staff’s phone volume is considered a funny quirk of his), the way my voice modulates seeming “intense” (women’s voices usually shift in pitch more than men’s), interrupting (when often I’m interrupting the man who has started his statement by interrupting me!). Unfortunately, women get this feedback much more often than men, and I would be wary of suggestions, however useful, to soften tone or communication style. She will learn this in time.

      1. Beckie*

        ” interrupting (when often I’m interrupting the man who has started his statement by interrupting me!)”

        YES, I see this happen all the time — women get criticized for interrupted when they’re just trying to reclaim their place in the conversation. If OP#1 is going to shut down patterns of interruption, she needs to be sure she’s working with everyone, not just the other woman in the company. Actually tracking the patterns — using an app, or quickly noting it down in a meeting — might reveal a reality that differs from her perception.

    2. Specialk9*

      I have an in-law who is partly deaf, with serious hearing aids. He either talks incredibly loudly, or incredibly quietly. I’ve progressed very delicately in negotiating volume. I explained that I have sensitive hearing so it hurts when someone speaks loudly, esp when I’m tired, and is there a respectful way I can communicate that? We settled on a semi-subtle volume control gesture (lowering hand). You might find a way to have that conversation – with work interruption or distraction instead of pain.

      Or go the group route — identify the distraction element of open offices and suggest some guidelines for how to keep general volume down. Then post kind – not condescending – reminders.

      1. Name required*

        I think this is a shining example of navigating conflicting needs with empathy.

    3. Yorick*

      Interrupting people isn’t someone’s personality, though. Someone should be coaching her about these things. Whether OP should be that person depends on their relationship.

      1. paul*


        I don’t know, maybe tech is it’s own world, but I don’t think that’d fly if it was a consistent issue in any workplace I’ve had for either gender. Also yelling in an open office, yikes.

        The stuff about pitch may be a lot more questionable, but those two were pretty basic bits of workplace etiquette.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        It might not be personality, but it is culture for sure. In my family, you basically keep talking until someone else starts, which seems like interrupting, but is totally fine in that context. See Deborah Tannen’s work for more on this.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Oh goodness, yes, and especially for girls and women.
          It can be how you’re raised and what you’ve done to simply BE heard at all in many families.
          No one listens to mom unless she yells, right?

      3. Duck Duck Møøse*

        I wish someone would coach the entire world on the interrupting thing, because that happens constantly. If I tried to coach everyone who has ever done that to me, that would have been my entire career, to date. :) :p

  15. Katie the Fed*

    #1 – I suspect I’m unusually sensitive to loud voices, but that drives me crazy! And I work with some LOUD talkers. I have no qualms about telling them to keep it down – they usually don’t realize how loud they are. My deputy tends to get very loud when talking, and sometimes I have to say “Wakeen, you’re three feet away – why are you yelling at me?!”

  16. Evandsp*

    Re: Question 2 —
    Not sure if OP is new to this organization but if s/he is, should check now to make sure company handles reimbursements right for tax purposes. I once worked for a summer in college at a tiny nonprofit and I had to be reimbursed for numerous expenses associated with programs, volunteers, etc. When I got my 1099 that winter (another problem altogether!) I discovered that they had reported every reimbursement I got to the IRS as income. Basically, their idiot accountant had classified every payment to me as payroll. The reimbursements totaled more than I had made in stipend, so I would have been stuck paying a huge tax bill on money I never earned. The accountant seemed very confused when I called him about this, but after a lot of back and forth (and showing him my paycheck stubs, so a good reason to keep those) I was able to get him to reissue the 1099 for only what I’d actually earned. What a mess. Beware of a small company that thinks reimbursements are benefits is all I’m saying…

    1. OP #2*

      I’m not a 1099 employee – it is reported (and processed as reimbursements). But thank you! :)

  17. Elmyra Duff*

    “She doesn’t get that when our superiors are trying to talk to us, she needs to show them at least a modicum of deference.” Maybe it’s the millennial in me, but this made me bristle. I don’t give “superiors” any more respect than the rest of my coworkers. That being said, interrupting people is rude, no matter who is being interrupted.

    1. Myrin*

      I get where you’re coming from, but I’m guessing that you’re viewing this as more of an “every human life is worth the same and no one person is better than the other” issue than the OP meant. It’s pretty normal to have a different relationship with your supervisor/a person above you in rank on the one hand and your peers on the other hand. The fact alone that your boss can tell you what to do is an example of that. Obviously you don’t want to cower before her or worship every step she takes with round eyes and elaborate gestures of reverence, but being more formal or distant with your boss doesn’t automatically mean that you buy into a “all us unworthy peons must shiver before the greatness that is our boss” mindset.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        Agreed. I am a bit more formal and less irrelevant with the people who control my raises and have the authority to fire me. I call it enlightened self-interest! They’re not better than me, but they do have more power within the company than I do, which creates a different relationship than that with a peer.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Agreed as well. I’m going to date myself, but in my first job, my coworkers and I used to play a PC game called Leisure Suit Larry. You had to answer a few multiple-choice questions to prove you’re an adult in order for the game to allow you to play. I had the best English of everyone in the office, so ended up answering everyone’s questions for them so they could play. The one this reminds me off went like this: “My boss is: a) a jerk, b) a total jerk, c) an absolute total jerk, d) responsible for my paycheck”. If you answered a, b, or c, the game would say “you are a kid” and kick you out. For all the good reasons stated above. Basically my approach to it has been, if my supervisor is doing a decent job, then I respect what they’re doing and try to make their work easier, as they do mine. If my supervisor is running the place into the ground, I transfer or leave. There are no other options.

      2. BPT*

        Yeah, “deference” means deferring to others. Which…you definitely have to do with your bosses. I mean I can talk with a coworker about a strategy for this project, and if they have different ideas we can go back and forth and I can make my case pretty strongly. If I’m talking with my boss about the same thing, and they say “this is the strategy we’re going to take,” then I don’t really have the standing to go back and forth. You have to defer to them. Maybe, depending on your relationship, you can ask why that strategy was chosen or say “I was thinking this strategy instead, is it worth talking about?”, but in general what they say goes.

        If the employee isn’t showing deference to her bosses by doing things like going back and forth with them like you would with a coworker on a decision that’s already been made, then yeah that’s a problem.

        1. LBK*

          Maybe you’re shorthanding these conversations, but I completely disagree that you have to just take your boss’s orders without question. I’m the expert on the day-to-day operations of our business, not my boss, so if he gives me a directive that doesn’t jive with what I know from my technical expertise, I’m absolutely going to go back and forth with him. Same goes for his boss. Part of what they pay me for is because I know things other people don’t know, and a big part of my value is stepping in sometimes and saying “Whoa, wait, that doesn’t make sense.”

          1. doreen*

            Deferring doesn’t mean you have to take your boss’s orders without question. It does mean that if after you’ve explained why it doesn’t make sense , s/he says ” This is the direction we’re going to take” the back and forth ends rather than continuing to try to make your case until you get some version of ” It’s my call, not yours”

            1. LBK*

              Right, that’s what I couldn’t tell from BPT’s comment – if “this is the strategy we’re going to take” was implied to be stated by the boss after any questions had been raised or if she was just taking the boss’s directive at face value without raising any potential objections. From the context of the rest of the comment it sounded like the latter to me.

              I certainly agree that if you raise your objections and the boss says “I understand your concerns but I’ve decided this is our course of action,” you do as you’re told (unless perhaps there’s grave safety or regulatory concerns). But BPT’s comment seemed to say that you shouldn’t question your manager’s orders period, which I don’t agree with.

    2. Allypopx*

      Mm, I don’t think that’s a millennial thing, though it might just be a broader young people thing. But I’m certainly more likely to interrupt my workflow if a superior needs something, or to nod as they’re talking, or to assume my answer to what they’re asking is going to be yes than I would be with a colleague. That’s all deference, it doesn’t mean throwing your jacket over a puddle so they can walk over it.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        Another example of deference would be the degree to which one needs to change what one is doing based on feedback. If one of my coworkers needs guidance, they can ask a peer and then choose whether or not to take their advice. If they ask me, part of the respect for my role as quality control is that they either follow my instruction or ask my manager for further clarification (I just *love* when that happens, assuming I give clear direction, but so it goes). I’m not a direct supervisor, but my opinion is given more deference than that of a peer.

      2. Emi.*

        Yeah, like I would say “Mmm, have you read the documentation?” to a colleague but not to my boss.

    3. Specialk9*

      You’re kidding me. You think it’s ok to interrupt and talk over your managers?!?! O_o

      I’m kinda speechless here.

      1. Elmyra Duff*

        “That being said, interrupting people is rude, no matter who is being interrupted.”

    4. Yorick*

      You do have to be more deferential with superiors, though. You have to give their opinions more weight than your peers’ opinions, and you probably need to frame your response differently if you disagree.

      1. Lora*

        As a woman in tech? Gotta disagree there. In STEM there are often right answers and all the other answers are wrong. Boss can say until the cows come home that we don’t need a pressure relief valve on an ASME stamped tank, but he will still be wrong and I can’t ethically allow him to just go around being wrong – that’s how people get killed. Boss can say, pressure relief valves and testing cost money and we don’t have the budget, boss can say the lead time on the PRV is 8 weeks and we don’t have time, but he is still wrong and going to have to deal with it. I’m not going to buy that tank without a PRV. And that’s one of the tricky things about being in a STEM field in general: you gotta tell people higher up in the food chain than you that they are just wrong. Men are not penalized very often for doing this without subtlety or charm, but the Powers That Be will come down like a ton of bricks on a woman delivering the same news. So you have to learn how to develop political capital that you can spend as needed, how to get people to trust your judgment (this typically involves cleaning up a lot of other people’s messes), how to ensure that you are being credited appropriately for being right (“Rachel saved the company $$$$ and everyone’s life with her design for XYZ”).

        It’s complicated.

        1. Mike C.*

          I really have to agree here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a high up manager want me to perform some incorrect statistical analysis to show something that wasn’t actually there.

        2. Eliza Jane*

          I have also been in that place, where I just would not shut up about a thing because it was literally life and death. I will get fired for speaking up before I will back down on someone cutting corners there. And I’ve done it with people who are so, so, SO much higher up the food chain from me.

          But there are things that I will not have on my conscience.

        3. paul*

          That’s true in narrow, technical senses. It isn’t true in terms of business analysis or strategy.

          I’ve been asked to perform things that would violate state contracts (not life and death but still). That’s a hard no, even to my our ED and if needed my boss’ll run interference. But there’s myriad things where they still call the shots (like where we’ll focus outreach and marketing for instance, or what other partnerships we’ll enter into).

        4. Junior Dev*

          I would love to learn more about this. I’m a woman in programming and no one will die if we mess up, but there’s the same issue of “some things are just more correct” and as someone who is 1) the only woman on my team 2) the youngest 3) been here the least time 4) knows way more about the software package we are using than anyone else on this project I am struggling a lot to express these issues in a way that’s not “what the hell are you talking about? That’s a terrible idea”–but also that gets people to listen and understand.

          1. tigerStripes*

            When I need to disagree with someone politely, I usually explain what I’ve learned that contradicts it, maybe something like “I’ve been researching x, and authorityz says …” Or, “I’m concerned that x might cause y issue.”

        5. Yorick*

          I didn’t say you can’t tell higher ups that they’re wrong. The way you explain to your boss that he/she is wrong is often different from the way you’d say it (or could say it) to a peer. This is especially true for things that aren’t as black and white as the examples you gave here.

          This does get tricky for women since we are evaluated differently, but I don’t think we should just assume that OP’s feedback is based on gender.

        6. The Strand*

          I thank you for this! I just had a conversation with my supervisor over this. My big boss, a woman and confirmed bully, seems to resent my “truth” (we cant do x, and if we do x, it will fry the system) more than similar comments by an argumentative male coworker who recently transferred out, and he used profanity routinely in our meetings. She has complained twice that I disagreed with her: the disagreeableness is more important than whatever is said. Just because she is a woman doesn’t mean she can’t behave in a sexist manner.

          1. tigerStripes*

            Could the reason the argumentative male coworker transferred out be because the big boss didn’t like what he was doing either?

    5. aebhel*

      Eh, I mean, I kind of bristle at the term ‘deference’ too, but I think in this case it’s clear that OP is using it in the sense that ‘hey, the boss does actually get to tell you what to do, and you should probably listen to them.’

    6. Natalie*

      Huh, I don’t really think of deference and respect as meaning the same thing. Deference to a boss seems normal – they are the boss, you are going to defer to their opinions.

      That said, when I looked it up in various dictionaries there seemed to be a wide range in the definition, so maybe this is a regional/cultural distinction.

    7. HisGirlFriday*

      Please don’t purport to speak for all millennials. I’m one, too, and that certainly doesn’t apply to how I interact with my co-workers/boss.

      I am respectful to everyone I work with (even BEC Lunch-Stealer!), but I’m differently respectful to my boss than I am to my co-workers.

      As I mentioned on a thread earlier this week, through truly terrible management on my boss’ part, I’m currently the only person in my office who knows how to update our website, among multiple other tasks. When a co-worker who REFUSES to learn how to do things (as in, has said, ‘I know I’m supposed to know how to do X, but I don’t want to learn’ and the boss is OK with that) says to me, ‘HisGirl, I need you to do X for me,’ I say, ‘I don’t have time today or tomorrow, because of A, B, and C, but I’ll get to it by Friday.’

      When the boss says to me, ‘HisGirl, I need you to do X,’ I say, ‘OK, I can do X, but that means that either A, B, or C won’t get done. Which would you like me to let slide?’ And then if Boss says, ‘No, I need A, B, and C,’ then I can say, ‘OK, well that means I can’t do X.’ And let her decide which task is left undone or done late.

      Same message — your failure to plan/manage isn’t my problem — but delivered very differently.

      1. Natalie*

        I am respectful to everyone I work with (even BEC Lunch-Stealer!), but I’m differently respectful to my boss than I am to my co-workers.

        There was an interesting meme going around about respect: (paraphrasing) that it can mean both “treat someone like a person” and “treat someone like an authority”. So of course you treat all of your coworkers like humans, but you only treat your boss like an authority.

        1. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

          That’s not a meme, but a comment someone made on Tumblr that went viral. It explains that some people use respect to mean “Treat as an authority” when others use it to mean “treat as a person/human being”, and conflicts arise when the former doesn’t feel they’re being shown respect because they aren’t being treated as an authority figure – particularly when they are not an authority figure.

          Peers with seniority over you may bristle at a perceived lack of respect because they think junior employees should treat them as an authority figure when they are not.

          1. Natalie*

            That’s not a meme, but a comment someone made on Tumblr that went viral.

            Thanks for being super nitpicky, I guess? A screenshot of something pithy that gets passed around is pretty much the common definition of a meme.

            1. Typhon Worker Bee*

              Heh, my cocky 17 year old nephew recently decided to argue with me about the definition of a meme, saying that it refers only to funny captioned photos. I pulled out my copy of The Selfish Gene (where Richard Dawkins’ neologism was first used) to prove to him that a funny captioned photo is just one specific type of meme. His step-mum told me later that it’s the first time in years he’s conceded defeat in any kind of disagreement. Yay, science!

    8. ThatGirl*

      So… there’s a thing called code-switching where you speak differently with your friends than you do your family or your co-workers. Likewise, sometimes it’s smart to treat your supervisors and superiors just a little differently than you would a co-worker. Why wouldn’t you show a little more deference to someone with firing power? Seriously? (I’m an “old millennial” but I really don’t think this is generational … did you treat your teachers and professors and school administrators the same way you did your classmates?)

    9. Samata*

      I am hopeful what Elmyra here is really saying is that you should show respect to all coworkers equally when it comes to communication & time (hearing them out, etc.).

      However, I do conduct myself different with my superiors than I do my co-workers. I don’t morph into a different person but I respect their position and their opinion. I do try hard to give a polished and pointed response to questions or in reporting in a way I don’t with peers.

      I’ve been lucky, though, in my career that most of my managers have gotten into their positions due to good work ethic and I want to learn from them to better myself.

  18. Oryx*

    I have a co-worker like #1 who exhibits a lot of the same behaviors but the most frustrating is the yelling in the middle of our cube farm. I can tolerate everything else but she does not know how to speak at a normal level and it carries in our office. If you are clear on the other side of the large open room and I can can hear your conversation as if you are right next to me, you need to quiet down and it has nothing to do with you being a woman and me telling you to shush because women should be seen and not heard or some bs. It’s because you are too f&cking loud.

    (I’m at BEC stage with her so I may come off a little more snarky than usual in this post.)

    1. mreasy*

      It sounds like Thisbe is an egregious case, but another thing to consider is that women’s voices, being higher, often carry more easily in an open office.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      The yelling out loud in the cube farm can be address in-the-momemnt hopefully in a firm but positive way.
      “Hey Rachel, I’m sure you don’t realize how your voice carries in here, so can you tone it down a bit, thanks.”

      “Rachel, you input is important, but could you please hold your comments to the end of the meeting so we can get through the rest of the topics, thanks.”

  19. Anna*

    Is Rachel from #1 hearing impaired? I am, and I talk way too loud because I can’t hear my own voice and I talk over people and interrupt because I didn’t hear that they were talking in the first place.

    1. David St. Hubbins*

      Could be. She could also be like a guy I work with. He will call out to someone waaay over there. As in “Heeeyy, Dan! {insert unfunny, sarcastic joke}”

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      Such a good point! I was recently at a dinner where I did this and it was because I could not hear when one of my tablemates spoke. I finally told her – “I’m so sorry I interrupted you for a third time. I have some hearing issues with my right ear and had no idea you were even talking until it was too late.” It was embarrassing.

  20. Evandsp*

    Re: Question 2 —
    Not sure if OP is new to this organization but if s/he is, may want to check now to make sure company handles reimbursements right for tax purposes. I once worked for a summer in college at a tiny nonprofit and I had to be reimbursed for numerous expenses associated with programs, volunteers, etc. When I got my 1099 that winter (another problem altogether!) I discovered that they had reported every reimbursement I got to the IRS as income. Basically, their accountant had classified every payment to me as payroll. The reimbursements totaled more than I had made in stipend, so I would have been stuck paying a huge tax bill on money I never earned. The accountant seemed very confused when I called him about this, but after a lot of back and forth (and showing him my paycheck stubs, so a good reason to keep those) I was finally able to get him to reissue the 1099 for only what I’d actually earned. Beware of a small company that thinks reimbursements are benefits is all I’m saying…

    1. Allypopx*

      Very very good point. If it’s being listed as a benefit vs. compensation, it’s probably not being reported as income, but it’s certainly worth double checking.

    2. Observer*

      Yes, this is what I was thinking about as well.

      OP, please make sure that your boss / payroll / accountant is not treating reimbursements as income for tax purposes.

  21. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I want to respond to this with a related thing I’ve seen.

    I recently worked for a small company. Shortly before I left they hired Wakeen, who needed some serious mentoring and coaching. Like, a LOT. He did things on the similar order of Rachel’s stuff here – not earth-shattering, but definitely limiting. Flash forward a year, and I learn Wakeen is leaving, although possibly not of his own choosing. I still work in the industry and hear people complain that Wakeen doesn’t seem to get that certain things he does hold him back. (This is all behavioral stuff, not substantive work-related stuff) I can’t help but think that with a little coaching, he could have been effective at his job, and possibly stayed where he was. But nobody with any authority could figure out the right way to coach him.

    So, all this to say that maybe an easy avenue in might be to start with the fact Rachel’s voice is loud in the open office plan. Blame it on the bad acoustics of the building or the layout or whatever, but mention it to her. She may not realize it and may be thankful for the tip.

    1. MashaKasha*

      I like the blaming it on the acoustics piece! This would come across as completely non-confrontational, “you’re not yelling Rachel, it’s just our office layout sucks and that is the only reason why we find ourselves needing to keep our voices down”. Rachel might actually listen to this!

      1. Zahra*

        And it totally is because of acoustics! Open offices don’t have walls or cubicles to reduce sound traveling everywhere.

        I’m working in a digital media open office layout, with an Agile environment (stand-ups every day). People try to not speak too loudly, but the noise level between 10 and 11 is just… too much for me to concentrate on anything. And if someone has a loud voice, we all hear them. Headphones are a must for me.

        1. peachie*

          My office is moving soon, and we’re getting “central white noise” (I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s comparable to central air vs. a window AC unit). I’m so, so, so glad–and we’re not even doing a full open office!

          1. MashaKasha*

            WOW I did not know it was a thing. I love and want it in every workplace. A white-noise maker has been a lifesaver for me at home, and I wished many times that we could have one at work!

  22. Rusty Shackelford*

    For #2, I wonder if it would be possible to say “I’d like to decline this particular benefit. Of course, it means the company will need to pay for my travel expenses upfront, rather than paying me back after I’ve already spent that money. But I’m still willing to take the hit and lose this benefit, if it helps the bottom line.” ;-)

  23. ZSD*

    I wonder if in the boss’s mind, the benefit is the opportunity to travel, and this is the way he’s trying to quantify it. Of course, some people consider business travel a perk, and others consider it a burden, but if the boss only sees the perk side…
    Also, does your company allow people to extend their work trips into vacation? E.g., you have a three-day work trip to Paris, and you can choose to take four days’ vacation while you’re over there to stay longer and see the sights? If so, I think many people would consider that a benefit — but the boss is still taking entirely the wrong approach to trying to quantify that.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was wondering if the CEO goes wild when he is traveling- expensive dinners, entertainment, first class travel – and that is why he thinks it is a benefit. He may be expensing $20,000 for a trip to Chicago while the rest of the company is only using $2,000.
      If they truly consider business reimbursement a benefit, then their shouldn’t be any caps on what someone can spend. $100 for a lunch? Okay! $5,000 for a first class domestic flight? All good!

      1. aebhel*

        I wondered that, too, because it’s the only way it makes any sense at all to consider this a benefit–and I generally like traveling for business, although I don’t do it more than once or twice a year. If the company is reimbursing extra entertainment and so on, that IS a benefit, but basic travel expenses? Hell, no.

    2. Chloe Silverado*

      Totally possible – I just interviewed with a company that viewed business travel as a career opportunity/perk.

    3. paul*

      I’m just puzzled as to the boss’s end game in all of this. Just to say “no, you don’t need a raise because this part of your total compensation”? Seems kind of weird to me. Particularly because he could just say “no” end of discussion.

      I just don’t get what his goal is.

    4. periwinkle*

      I just returned from a 3-day business trip to St. Louis, where it hit 100F every day (with humidity just to make it more fun).

      “Perk” is not the word I’d use for business travel.

    5. OP #2*

      We ARE permitted to extend work trips into vacation….at our own cost.

      I certainly think the opportunity to travel is occasionally a benefit (like to a conference in New Orleans or a site visit in San Antonio in the dead of winter – I live in the northeast), but it’s worth noting that a LOT of my work travel is to rather boring small towns that lack great travel experiences (dining, sightseeing, decent hotels, etc.)

  24. Anon to me*

    #4 – often there is overlap when senior positions end up being replaced. The most I’ve seen is six months.

    One of our c-suite staff decided to retire, and the organization opted to hire two more junior level people to replace him, and then had them start almost 2 years before the official retirement. It hasn’t gone well. To the point where one of the two staff (the more integral of the two of course) left a few weeks before the c-suite staff member was due to retire. That persons retirement is now cancelled, and they staying on another year while they search for a replacement.

    Extended transitions (more than 6 months) are a very bad idea.

    1. K.*

      Another YEAR? Yikes. Can you actually cancel someone’s retirement? What are the powers that be going to do, fire you for retiring?

      There’s a person where I work who is retired but working part-time because they haven’t found his replacement yet (they’re actively looking; I don’t think it’ll be too much longer). He gave them a finite amount of time that he’s willing to work part-time, and then he’s out. It’s nowhere near a year.

  25. Biff*

    Ugh, I worked at a company that had a situation like #4. A c-suite executive was due to go, and her replacement was found. She came back, I kid you not, 3 weeks later. Technically she was only there to work a highly specific project, but (to my lowly eyes) it appears that when she returned, she so hated all the new executive’s retention initiatives that she destroyed the department very deliberately by completely revamping the product being provided to the customer. She didn’t like him, though he’d trained with her for six months, and so she crushed part of a company to get revenge for what he did to her fiefdom. The kicker? People were just beginning to warm up to him after months of thinking he was a) a shill for her, b) going to continue the same bad policies.

    I honestly would have doubts about any company that has this sort of trailing executive. It’s possible there’s a good reason for it, but it smacks of trouble.

  26. Sue Wilson*

    #1: You don’t say how long Rachel’s been in the industry, but this might be a problem of environment change. There are some company cultures, where women are expected to behave as aggressively as men as expected to behave (and men as expected to behave aggressively). Where not doing so would hold Rachel back, and would single her out as out of sync with company culture. I think you can give Rachel advice in this vein. You aren’t obligated to, but if you want to you can give a sorta rundown on this company’s culture (with examples of how being out of sync has harmed people). I agree with everyone else that you should make sure Rachel is receptive to advice first.

  27. Case of the Mondays*

    On #2, travel reimbursement (and other business expenses) in the technical legal sense (except in California) is a benefit. It is the business norm to pay it and you won’t be competitive without it. However, there is no legal obligation to pay it. That’s why business expenses can be deducted on your tax return if they are not reimbursed. I think it is a crappy thing to point out to an employee as a benefit as it certainly isn’t viewed that way by most. The employer is technically correct though that they are not required to reimburse. I have friends industries other than law (health care, teaching, non-profits) that have to pay to travel to attend industry conferences. They get $500 or something towards the trip but it does not cover the full cost of the trip. They are not allowed to expense the difference.

    In law, payment of CLEs and bar dues is a benefit. Most firms do it but a few don’t and there is no legal requirement that your firm pay those things. I probably received $5k in such benefits this year. It’s something to keep in mind because if I ever quit without something else lined up, those are fees I would have to maintain on my own.

    Lastly, in fields where the employee is a revenue source (sales, law, accounting, medicine), it’s important for the employee to know what all the employer is paying for benefits like insurance. Otherwise you might think well, I charge X and I only see Y of that money so my employer is profiting too much off of me and I should get a raise. You later learn the employer’s profit is only Z and then your compensation looks more fair. People tend to forget overhead costs.

    1. Observer*

      There may or may net be a legal obligation to report it. It is NOT compensation, however. Don’t take my word for it – check with the IRS.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Most travel reimbursements to employees are made under what is referred to as an “accountable plan” which allows the employer to deduct the expenses and the reimbursements to the employee to be treated as nontaxable. Virtually all large corporations and most non-profits utilize an accountable plan. In fact, most businesses, regardless of size, that have employees that travel routinely utilize an accountable plan. Any employee that is receiving reimbursements should be told, ideally in writing, whether or not their reimbursements are taxable.

        Reimbursements received under an accountable plan = Nontaxable to employee

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          Yeah, the point of my post wasn’t to touch on taxes. That is way over my pay grade. I just meant that there is no legal obligation to reimburse travel expenses even though it is the business standard.

          1. Former Retail Manager*

            Totally understand…just threw some info out that some folks might find helpful. And I agree with your point that people often forget overhead costs and can easily overlook benefits such as dues paid, etc.

        2. doreen*

          However, if your expenses are paid under a non-accountable plan, that money is income and is supposed to be reported on your W2. My husband is in outside sales and his employer used to pay each employee a certain amount per week for expenses (gas, tolls, parking, cell phone). They did not have to account to the employer in any way for their expenses- no receipts, no bills, no log of miles driven, nothing. They got that amount (lets say it was $200) every week , even when they were on vacation or if they spent the entire week in the office.
          My husband’s company reported the payments on a 1099 instead of a W2- and lets just say that ended when we got audited.

    2. OP #2*

      Thanks for this info – it’s definitely an important element of the conversation.

      While they may not be legally required to reimburse for the “benefit” of work-required travel, if this “benefit” ever goes away, so will the “benefit” of having me as an employee :)

  28. Sue Wilson*

    #2: It sound like your boss believes that anything a company isn’t required to provide (even if not doing so would make them a terrible non-industry standard company nobody wants to work for) is a benefit. That said, if you want to change his mind, I would get to the bottom of what he thinks makes this a benefit in the first place.

  29. FlibertyG*

    I interests me that so many people seem a little touchy about the total compensation letter. I got one for the first time this year (some kind of corporate trend? A new law?) and was excited. I’m job searching so now I know precisely what to ask for.

  30. Sue Wilson*

    #3: If you’re going to apply to either be a friend’s boss or subordinate, you need to have a conversation about what your friendship will look like professionally (or at least agree to have that conversation), otherwise you’re going to risk wreaking havoc on both your professional and personal life. It seems like you called her, considered not applying, but decided to go ahead. If so, you should tell her that as soon as possible. You don’t know how that company’s interview process is, so you don’t want her to be shocked before you can tell her, and frankly you should want to know what dynamic you’re going to have with her before it comes to an offer.

    1. Would-be-manager*

      I’m writer number 3. I’m lucky in that the first step is a phone interview, so no chance of running into her in person, but I agree with you (and the other commenters) that it sounds like I should let her know ASAP.

  31. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#3……have you really considered the potential impact on your friendship with your friend should you ultimately get either position? While I have no reason to doubt your or your friend’s professionalism, working with/for friends definitely changes most friendships and, especially when one party is in a supervisory role over the other, things can get hairy between the two of you, not to mention the perception by others in the department. I certainly agree with immediate transparency with your friend, but I also think that you need to be okay with the fact that if you get either position, it may change your friendship with your friend permanently and potentially destroy that friendship. If the two of you aren’t really close friends, and your relationship leans more professional than personal, then I could see it not being as big a deal. I have befriended former colleagues as well and remained friends after one or both of us left the old job, but I would never work with 90% of them again, all for varying reasons, but mostly because I have come to value their friendship personally and working with friends is just tricky for most people. Also, when the two of your worked together previously, were you peers or was one in a supervisory role over the other? That might also factor in. People can be great co-workers and not so great managers.

    Best of luck with your situation and job search!

    1. Would-be-manager*

      I’m writer number 3. I have thought about the implications of managing/be managed by a friend. In my current position a coworker was elevated to a very similar middle management position above me and became my boss. And yeah, it’s not the best dynamic. My coworker and I are “buddies” and hang out outside of work occasionally, but not lot. I feel free to disagree and argue with my coworkers in a way that doesn’t feel as natural now that she’s my boss.

      In the case of this specific friend, we’re not close and I think could have a professional relationship. I doubt becoming her manager would make us closer, but I’m OK with that.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Glad to hear you’ve considered it and are okay with the potential outcome, however it may play out.

  32. WC person*

    #2 – whether its considered compensation (or a type of compensation) should be driven by the type of reimbursement and state & federal tax laws. Reimbursements are also specifically addressed for workers compensation premium and benefit purposes. An HR professional and accounting professional should have those answers or know how to get them.

  33. peachie*

    Eek, I am totally that loud office talker. (I’m actually rarely chatty, but when someone is talking to me, my voice carries.) I know I’m doing it, I also hate that I’m doing it, and I promise I’m trying not to.

    1. FlibertyG*

      I have a friend like this. I think there’s some internal calibration that’s just off. I’ve actually asked her if she’s hard of hearing (which can make it seem to you like you’re being quiet when you’re not) but no, she’s just loud, even when she’s trying not to be. It’s awful being in a quiet restaurant with her. But I have thought perhaps a career in the stage or teaching would be a good use of this ability!

      1. teclatrans*

        Not internet diagnosing, but FWIW, lots of people have auditory processing issues, which means the ear is totally doing its job, but the brain doesn’t process sounds from the ear correctly.

  34. Mimmy*

    Related to #5 – Just curious: Are letter-writers notified before a question gets published?

    1. RB*

      Thanks to whoever (whomever?) brought up #5. I admire how Alison doesn’t let a letter that’s riddled with punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors color her view of the letter writer. There was a LW recently who got rather aggressive in the comments section and it didn’t help her case that her posts were riddled with errors. It made me wonder what other sorts of errors she makes on the job and maybe that’s why she was having trouble finding or retaining work. I also wonder whether a letter is sometimes so bad that Alison would take the time to point this out to the person, either privately or in the answer.

  35. Kelly*

    #2 – I have had a recruiter tell me of a person who the place and came in to a fairly large, local not for profit to train for the CFO position. The NFP hired her with a 2 year lead time on the retirement of the CFO, who was a male. He had all intentions of actually retiring after the two years were up, however, in doing the final “wrap up your job, formal transfer of power” stuff, the CEO realized that this woman would be taking over the CFO’s job and called her in and said that there would NEVER be a woman on their board of directors, under no circumstances, over my dead body, etc. and basically said we’ll hire someone in over you to be the CFO and you are going to train them. (CFO is automatically a board position) The woman informed HR and the CEO said he wasn’t changing his mind and so she left, obviously, and has marched right over to EEOC to file a complaint.

      1. Kelly*

        Nothing yet. It’s just been in the past couple of months that it all transpired. The woman went back to the same recruiter to look for a new position and that’s how she had the info to pass along to our accounting group.
        I really want to know too. The way the guy acted it’s his hill to die on and maybe he’ll pay a fine, restitution to the woman and move right along. The board probably has no idea this has happened – maybe they do and they agree, I am in the south.

        1. Observer*

          If the board is at all competent, he’s NOT going to “just move along” – that’s a firing offense right there. And if they didn’t know about this, they WILL when the EEOC comes around. I hope she has something in writing, and that the CFO (who’s retiring anyway) backs her up.

          Even if they personally agree with his point of view, telling someone something that is totally and clearly illegal is something that no board can allow. They’ll want to know why she was hired in the first place, why he woke up so late and why he didn’t make up some other excuse for not allowing her to take the position.

          1. Kelly*

            I can’t figure out why he’s just now coming up with this excuse either. I would hope that the board would find this despicable and discipline him by showing him the door. And the poor woman gets a hefty settlement. Since it’s a Not For Profit I would expect that this would hurt their standing in the community and directly impact their donations. When money starts walking they would have to address it.

            1. Observer*

              Also, if they get any government money (and most larger non-profits do), this could be a really big issue. The Board may have no choice but to let him go, whatever they may personally think.

  36. Curious reader*

    Alison, would you consider posting the update you mentioned in last week’s Friday thread (the one you have not published because of the comment storm in the original letter) if it was edited? (I have been so curious about what letter that was, I was thinking the bird letter but you did publish the letter for that one so I don’t know).

    My other question is, has a letter writer ever called you out or gotten upset about your edits? I know I would appreciate it, especially if I made an embarrassing typo or something. I also respect how you don’t judge people based on things like their grammar and don’t let it change how you respond to people who write in. (also how kind you are to people who are struggling with their mental health when they write it). It’s refreshing and one of the things I enjoy most about Ask A Manager.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No one has ever complained that I can recall. The edits are generally so minor that I think people might not even notice. I’m not changing anything substantive, just doing a little light fixing where needed.

      On the update: Ooof. I will have to contemplate!

  37. Elsadora*

    The OP with the co worker who talks too loudly, is interuptive, and has trouble reading social cues should leave well enough alone. Based on her behavior, I have to wonder if she has aspbergers, an offshoot of high functioning autism. If feel you must address it, be gentle, because whatever you say will be nothing the lady doesn’t already know.

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