I’m supposed to hide that I was a stay-at-home mom, rude receptionist, and more

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

1. I was told to hide that I used to be a stay-at-home mom

I had a very strange review yesterday, where my boss shared some feedback that she received from another leader in our organization. Basically I was told that I should stop telling people that I was once a stay-at home mom, as it could negatively impact my growth in this organization.

To be clear, this is not something that generally comes up in my work environment and it’s certainly not something I regularly talk about as I have been back to work for six years now and my work has nothing to do with kids or parenting. Over that period I have successfully grown from an individual contributor to a manager and recently to a director-level position. My reviews have all be stellar and my boss was clearly uncomfortable sharing this feedback, but share she did.

It took me a bit to realize where the feedback originated and then I recalled that last year I was nominated to work on a special project designed to elevate the visibility of emerging leaders in the organization. The year-long project involved designing a product intended for stay-at-home moms. Through the course of this project, there were times that certain designs resonated with me and I would say something like, “when I was a stay-at-home mom, this would really have helped me.” It was always in the context of how my personal experience could help us create a better product. I honestly don’t think the feedback related to me sharing this information too frequently, but was intended as a caution to share this information at all.

I don’t think having been a stay-at-home mom is a dirty little secret to keep hidden; in fact, I am proud of the work I did during those years, which included both hard work at home and balancing several volunteer leadership roles. I feel like I am being asked to adjust my narrative to cater to someone else’s bias and I am disappointed in my boss that she shared it with me. On the other hand … well, is there another hand? Should I just let this go as another example of bias that exists and through which I need to navigate? Or should I have a heart-to-heart with my boss highlighting how inappropriate this was? I would love some advice about what to do with this strange feedback.

Yeah, that’s messed up.

Is the person who shared this feedback with your boss someone who will have a lot of influence on your career in this company? If so, I’d take it as a useful information about things that might unfairly impact you in this company. But if she’s not, I wouldn’t put a ton of weight on it; she’s one person with a kooky viewpoint.

But I do think it’s worth going back to your boss and saying something like, “I’ve been thinking about the feedback you passed on to me from Jane about not saying that at one point I was a stay-at-home mom. I haven’t been able to make any sense of it — many people are stay-at-home parents at some point in their lives, and many go on to have successful careers. I’m curious to know your take on what she said. Do you agree with her, or does it seem like off-base feedback to you?”

You might find out that she thinks it’s ridiculous but felt obligated to pass it along (either because the person is influential enough that it seemed relevant or because she’s one of those managers who passes along everything without applying her own judgment to it). Or you might find out she agrees, which would be useful to know about her. Depending on how the conversation goes, at some point you might say, “I think we’re in dangerous territory if we’re saying the company would be biased against moms who used to stay home with their kids. If leaders here really think that, that’s awfully unfriendly to women and parents, and seems like a potential legal liability.”

2. Our receptionist is rude to people

We have a coordinator in our office who is our receptionist. She’s the first to answer the phone, and she is the first one clients see when they walk in the door. A big part of her job is customer service, but lately I’ve received complaints about her interactions with people — two from other departments and two from customers.

It has been very surprising to me because she is so friendly with me and the manager in the office (it’s just us three in our office). She’s upbeat, bubbly, friendly, etc. My office is in the back of our suite, so I cannot overhear her interactions with people, and same for the manager. The complaints I have received say that she is rude, difficult to work with, unfriendly, etc., but when I asked for the specific conversation no one has been able to say “I said X and she said Y.”

I’ve spoken with her once about this in the past because I had received other complaints. During the conversation, she got very quiet and just said she’d do better. She didn’t try to rebut the complaints or say they were wrong. It seemed like there was improvement based on some of my office creeping (literally standing around the corner while she was on the phone so I could overhear). But today I got two more complaints, same with the rude, unfriendly, etc. and no specific example. One of the complainers asked me if there was a way to work directly with me as he wanted to avoid any interaction with the front desk because he says it is so bad.

I obviously need to do something, but I’m not sure how to fix this since I already talked to her once. Other than this, she is a stellar employee. Her work is quick, perfect, and she’s very proactive. I’ve asked before if she felt overwhelmed and she said no. I thought maybe that could have been causing her stress and that’s where the behavior came from. What do you think? How do I handle this the second time around? I really like her and see her moving up in our office. She’s rather young and this is one of her first jobs so then I wondered if maybe it could be inexperience? But maybe I like her so much that I’m just trying to make excuses for her.

If people aren’t telling you that it’s about specific language, my bet is that it’s about manner — that she’s coming across as annoyed, brusque, put-upon, or unhelpful. You shouldn’t drill customers for details, but go back to the internal complaints you’ve received and ask those people to tell you more about what’s going on. (Frame this as “I want to better understand so that I can coach her,” not as “you need to prove this to me before I act on it.”)

Then, talk to your receptionist. Tell her about the feedback you’re hearing and ask what she thinks is going on. This should be a dialogue — not just you relaying the complaints and telling her she needs to do better. Really talk to her and try to figure out what’s happening and why.

It’s reasonable to have one of the measures of success for her job be “people come away from their interactions with you feeling you were warm and helpful.” Be very clear to her about that, and paint a picture of what that looks like — for example, “If you’re stressed or annoyed by a request, the person you’re talking to shouldn’t pick up on that. We want them to feel that you’re looking for ways to make their lives easier, rather than that they’re inconveniencing you.” You might even try role-playing some particularly tricky interactions and coaching her on how to respond.

But ultimately, you can’t have someone in that role who’s alienating people, especially customers. So really stay on this — find more opportunities to observe when she’s talking to people, and follow up with other people internally for feedback. Now that you know there’s a problem, you want to proactively monitor it — don’t just wait to see if other complaints show up.

3. I don’t want my partner to take a job on my team

I was recently hired after a months-long job search because a friend (Fergus) recommended me for a position in his company (Company X). I’m really excited about the work and I liked the team and manager when I met them in the interview. I’ll start in a few weeks.

My partner has also been looking for a job for the last several months; he is quite miserable at his current company. He and I work in the same field, so Fergus recommended him for a position at Company X as well. It now looks like Company X is moving forward with my partner’s application, and will be interviewing him in the upcoming week. He will be interviewing for the same team that hired me. The position for which he is interviewing does not report to mine, or vice versa.

Before I accepted the job, I didn’t think that I would have a problem with Company X interviewing both my partner and me. Now that I have the position, though, I’m having second thoughts about working together. I’d like to think we can be completely professional with each other at work, but I recognize that working on the same team as your partner has many potential pitfalls (professional and personal). I brought this up with my partner, who acknowledges my concern but wants to move forward with the interview. He thinks any awkwardness that might result from our working together would be worth it if he can leave his current position.

I’d feel pretty selfish about asking my partner to withdraw his application from Company X, knowing how miserable he is now. But I’m really concerned and tempted to push back harder. Is it reasonable to not want to work on the same team as your partner? Am I overreacting, especially since he doesn’t have the job yet?

I also have a few logistical questions about this. If Company X continues to be interested in his application, when/how/by whom should our relationship be reported? And if Company X hires him, what kinds of boundaries do successful coworker couples negotiate to keep everyone on the team comfortable and maintain professionalism?

It is so reasonable not to want to work on the same team as your partner. There are all sorts of ways that it can end up being bad for your personally and professionally. You aren’t overreacting — this is a really big thing, and it’s not the kind of thing your partner should move forward with if you’re not okay with it.

I get that you’d feel selfish about vetoing it since he’s so unhappy with his current job, but it truly does have the potential to cause real problems for both of you. And what he’s proposing would be a fundamental change to the conditions of your own new job, which you should get to sign off on. I get that he’s unhappy in his current job and desperate to get out, but he does have a job; taking this one isn’t the difference between him being able to eat and not being able to eat. And there are other jobs and other teams out there.

If he moves forward anyway, he should alert his interviewer to the relationship — saying something like, “I should mention that my partner, Jane Smith, was just hired on this team and starts in a few weeks. I wanted to up-front about that in case you wouldn’t want both of us working on the same team.” And there’s advice here about boundaries you’d both need to have. But I really hope he won’t move forward with this if you tell him you’re not comfortable with it.

4. My student employee lied on his resume and said he was a director

I managed a student employee, Benjen, for about six months. Those were a tumultuous six months where we had a lot going on, absent directors, etc. I got a new job and Benjen, a part-time grad student, had to step into my old role more than he should have had to. I was happy to stay in contact with him and help him where I could after I left. Benjen was in way over his head and it wasn’t his fault.

When he left a few months later, I was happy to help with his resume. He was a great employee! Well, after a few revisions he sent me his final resume … and he claimed he was the director of the department for the ENTIRE job duration. He was never even full-time, and I wasn’t even a director. That was two levels above me.

I dropped the ball in responding to his last resume, which was months ago. I was so mad at his self-promotion that I just didn’t respond. 

Now I’ve been contacted by someone for a reference on him and it turns out I’m still angry and I’m not sure how to give a reference. HE WASN’T A DIRECTOR!

Tell the truth. This is the whole point of references — as a way to verify the information candidates are self-reporting and to learn more about them. Talk to the reference checker and be very clear that he was a student employee, not a director. (And if you can only speak to the six months where you overlapped, be clear about what those dates were. If there’s any chance he was actually given the director title after you left — which sounds very unlikely — you want to be clear about that and careful to say that you’re only speaking to the time period you were there.)

Frankly, it also makes sense to write back to Benjen now and say, “I’m confused about the title you’ve listed. You were a part-time student employee while you worked with me, not a director. You definitely can’t send it out with this on it.”

5. How often is too often to have a reference contact a firm I’m interviewing with?

I’m wrapping up a graduate program in just a couple months and am currently job searching in my city. I’ve been lucky enough to have a short-term job for the past year in my new field where the managers I work for have offered to be generous with their advice and connections as I search.

I recently applied to a job at a related firm where one of the managers I’ve worked with over the year has connections. I asked him to put in a good word for me, which he did with someone who is not the hiring manager, and I’m not sure if the message got through to the hiring manager. I did receive a first round interview, and now, after a month delay, have been asked back for a second interview. This interview will be with the hiring manager and a staff member of the firm’s client, with which the open position works regularly. This staff member is another person that my manager knows and with whom he shares professional contacts and interests.

Should I ask my manager to put in another good word for me to the firm’s client? How many times can I ask for these kinds of favors from my generous manager (particularly as this would be two for the same job), before I “overask my welcome”? Assuming this potential employer did get the message the first time, how many of these kinds of informal references are helpful as opposed to annoying? And just generally, any advice on using informal references to get your resume to the top of a pile or to reinforce an interview?

You’ve already used this reference for this job, so I wouldn’t use him again for the same job; that would be overkill. If the firm handles input about candidates well, they will have shared the reference’s feedback with the hiring manager, and it would be odd to then have the same reference approach that client as well.

If there you have other references who know the hiring manager, you could have one or two of them contact her. But only if they know her, and only if they haven’t already mentioned you to her previously.

{ 574 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, I want to push back gently. If a core part of her job competencies is customer service, and if her coworkers are actively trying to go around her to avoid her and you’ve received customer complaints, then she is not a stellar employee. The lack of specificity doesn’t mean that she’s not rude or difficult, nor does it mean that the complaint is invalid; it could mean that folks are struggling to articulate the problem to you in “professional” sounding terms. And if there’s any truth to these complaints, she should not be on the path to promotion in this line (maybe she’s a better fit in another line).

    1. MommyMD*

      There are some people who just come off as pissed off no matter if using correct words. You just know you are annoying them by even existing.

      1. Canadian Teapots*

        I remember many years ago at a workplace, there was one person I just somehow rubbed the wrong way and I could never quite rectify that. :\

          1. Anonymoose*

            Let’s not immediately jump to that conclusion. Not to say CT was actually annoying (as if!), but I do think these kinds of situations do allow for growth, if we allow it the attention and discipline it deserves (gathering feedback, trying to correct the problem, directly dealing with the person until they’re satisfied, etc). So simply saying it’s them does us all a disservice I think. JMO.

      2. Mookie*

        Yeah, but that doesn’t appear to be this coordinator / receptionist’s default manner, because the LW has observed her behaving pleasantly on the phone (with whom, we don’t know) without realizing she was under direct observation. So, she seems capable of controlling any underlying hostilities or resting-bitch-voice tendencies when she wants to.

        Her tepid response to the original feedback is weird, too, because she seemingly accepted the criticism as spot-on and didn’t ask for clarification or examples, which is what I’d expect of most people, irrespective of their ability to acknowledge their own weaknesses. A defensive person would respond defensively, a conscientious person would want to get to the bottom of the matter and express more effusively a willingness to change. She just got quiet. Curious.

        Given that the LW describes her as otherwise proactive and problem-solving and that part of her duties appear to involve coordinating or scheduling things with and passing along information or directives between the LW’s department and others, combined with the fact that she’s fairly new to the working world, makes me wonder if she understands what her role is when handling people other than clients. It’s a passing thought, but I have interacted with office administrators who behave like guard-dogs for their staff and try to intimidate people they regard as time-wasters while privileging comfort and convenience for their own department. It can get messy very quickly, especially if support staff clash heads or one or both become territorial.

        In any case, as Alison says, it’s imperative that she is made to understand that the role requires one to exhibit exceptional soft skills at all times and that there is a functional and very good reason for it doing so. It doesn’t matter if it’s difficult sometimes or if people do so in turn (provided they’re not being egregiously and alarmingly shitty).

        1. Zennish*

          This. I’ve had more than one problem with front desk staff who feel that part of doing a great job is making sure no one gets through to bother the internal staff with “trivial” matters…while having a very broad definition of “trivial”.

          The tepid response fits with that, if she feels she is only trying to look out for you, but is getting criticism for doing it.

          1. Mother of a lesser god*

            or the tepid response could be due to her young age and being taught that pushing back is interpreted as being defensive and not accepting of the complaints. I was this way, particularly when I was younger. I just accepted criticism and tried to figure out how to do better.

            1. nonymous*

              Yes, when my supervisor gives criticism, there isn’t really anything that is an acceptable response. Immediate apologies makes him feel bad. Describing what you changes you make in the future is not apologetic enough (read:defensive). Asking for clarification (because it was a case of genuine cluelessness) is also defensive. What I’ve found works best is being quiet until the moment is uncomfortable, letting him change the conversation topic, circling around 5 min later and describe in my own words how I screwed up, and then have an email waiting in his inbox at the beginning of the next day describing the way I’ll solve it. Note the lack of constructive feedback on the supervisor’s end in all of that!

            2. pope suburban*

              Oh my god, yes. I still struggle with it. I am not sure how universal this is, but hearing a lot of general rhetoric that young people are bad and lazy and entitled and so forth really made me disinclined to advocate for myself or even trust my own judgment. What if I’m wrong? What if I get fired from a job I am lucky to have in the first place? I’m finally at a point where this is becoming a professional handicap and it’s taking a lot of work to address it.

          2. Anonymoose*

            And I remember learning (and later teaching) that a receptionist doesn’t just have customers external to the company. All employees are her customers and they must all be satisfied as much as within our power. Re-shifting OP’s receptionist’s view on her role as simply ‘receptionist’ might help the employees. Now, the external customers…that’s a little tricky. More observation needed. She might not be overwhelmed but she might have a hard time transitioning between project work and reception disruptions. It happens. It’s really is not easy doing things that take concentration while being constantly interrupted. This is generally why we give receptionists easy tasks.

        2. MerciMe*

          Hard to know without being there, but I’ve noticed that often, women who are more reserved get read as bitches for leaning too heavily on formal speech and courtesies. She may be relaxed around close and trusted colleagues but careful when “representing her employer to the outside.” Honestly, the demand that women should be bubbly and engaging and disingenuous at all times is exhausting. You can be courteous without having to act like a 20-something.

          1. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

            I’m a twenty-something and I’m about as bubbly and bright as a lead brick…

            1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

              Same here! Also, I have an extremely low voice for a woman, and everything I say — even if I’m happy and excited — basically comes out sounding like the cartoon character Daria. I’m pretty sure I could never work in customer service. :)

          2. Nanani*

            Thiiis.

            I also wonder if there’s something like, is she a person of colour? An immigrant? Have an accent that’s uncommon in LW’s area? Any of those and more could lead to complaints, even if the complaining customers never say “I just don’t like her accent” or something. Unconcious bias is real. So is concious bias hidden under layers of indirectness.

            Not saying it necessarily has to be this, but if the receptionist is indeed a minority in some way, consider that your complainers might have a point that should NOT be acted upon.

            1. DesertRose*

              It could even be a cultural difference in the definition of “polite.” For example, in the US South, “polite behavior” entails (at least in part) being friendly and chatty, but go a few hundred miles up the coast to New York/New Jersey/New England and “being polite” means doing what needs to be done and not wasting someone’s time. It’s not that either is more correct than the other, but someone being polite by US Northeastern standards would seem rude to a lot of Southerners and someone being polite by US Southern standards would come off as being an overly familiar time-waster to a someone from the Northeast or even parts of the Midwest.

              My sister-in-law is from Michigan, and she ran up against this more than once when she moved to the Southeast (where she met my brother); people think she’s rude because she’s direct (and probably also because they hear the upper-Midwest accent and jump to the “Yankees are rude” conclusion), and at first she couldn’t figure out why everyone is so talkative even to people they don’t know at all!

              1. Amber T*

                LOL as a former receptionist in NY, my job was to get you to the person you were calling for ASAP. Most of the people we worked with were also from our region, so they’d call, state their name and company, ask for so-and-so, and they were transferred – done! But once in a while, we’d get a caller from the South… how’re you doing today, miss? How’s the weather up there? It was like playing 20 questions. Meanwhile, the phone is ringing with other calls…

                I’m sure I’d be considered rude or robotic (actual description of me when I described how to took phone calls to a friend) in some other cultures, but it was efficient for my area, and I don’t think I got any complaints.

                1. Anonymoose*

                  This is why I like PNW, it was a little bit of my West Coast talkative side mixed with a perfunctory efficiency that worked with my impatience/ADHD. One ‘how ya doin’ question followed by the person they needed and BOOM, they’re off the phone. God, I miss Seattle. <3

                2. DesertRose*

                  I mean, I’m culturally a Southerner, and I worked a number of receptionist gigs (as well as a few jobs in call centers) but there’s a time for being chatty and friendly and a time for being considerate of other people’s time. Like, it’s all well and good to chat when the phones are dead, but when I’ve got four other lines blinking, can you please just tell me who or what you need so I can direct your call appropriately?!

                  (And that’s to say nothing of the shooting-the-messenger bit to which some people will subject receptionists. Yes, I passed on the message. That is quite literally my job. No, as the very bottom link in the chain of command, I can’t go to their office and make them return your call.)

                3. Episkey*

                  This is hilarious. My cousin is from NYC and worked in HR — they had a division in the South and she would say the exact same thing. I would drive her CRAZY when one of the Southern employees would call. She learned to put up with it and try to have a little small talk with them because they were complaining she was rude as well. She’s not rude, she’s just efficient and busy lol.

              2. NorthernSoutherner*

                OMG, relating! Moved from the South to the North and it was definitely culture shock. I was used to the chattiness, and the ‘honeys’ and the ‘sweeties’ and it took time to adjust. OTOH, I appreciate getting in and getting out at the post office and other places, so…

                I guess it’s a matter of adjusting for individuals. I’m not a receptionist, but I spend a fair amount of time making and receiving calls. You can tell who wants to chat and who doesn’t, who wants a little TLC and who wants to just get down to business. Adjust accordingly.

            2. eee*

              agreed–my first thought if it’s completely 100% unexpected feedback, was are people reading her differently because of some prejudice.

              one time my boyfriend and i got completely screwed on a flight, having to be rerouted multiple times during our journey. we exited our flight at 2 in the morning at a podunk regional airport after having been told that we’d be able to arrange our free stay at a hotel that night with an airline employee, we discovered that there just wasn’t an airline employee around. nowhere. we were near tears, when I found the baggage lady for that airline. she went out of her way to help us, and at the end called the hotel that they had a deal with. we were able to hear both ends of the telephone conversation, and she was just as friendly and polite on the phone as she had been to us. she was a serious lifesaver. when we got to the hotel, the front desk employee complained to us about how sassy and rude she had been on the phone–i guess not knowing we could hear both ends of the conversation and knew that that was absolutely not true. the baggage lady was black, the front desk guy was white. we were both too exhausted to react in any way other than a quiet “huh, well, she was nice to us and really saved our skins, soo, we liked her a lot”. it was immediately obvious that his problem with her was at least not based in any reality of their interaction.

          3. Jenna*

            I temped for a while and I always hated the reception jobs. I was never bubbly and chirpy enough to please, and I have no poker face. If I’m stressed it does come through.
            I do fine in other people related positions, but, the standard of bubbly/cheery/calm under pressure even when people are not being nice to me is something I will never, ever, be able to reach.
            I have real admiration for the people who can succeed in reception jobs.

            1. Anonymoose*

              Yes, unless you’re a naturally positive person, it can feel like a lot of work/pressure to always stay professionally calm and collected. That said, it’s excellent practice for later in your career when you have to deal with assholes that directly impact you’re own success. ;)

            2. selena81*

              it’s something i can never imagine myself doing: even friendly interaction with other people makes me stressed and tired.

              it feels so absurd when those kind of jobs are treated as ‘let the intern handle it’: making people feel at ease (at the phone or in person) is just as much a valuable skill as being able to use sql.

          4. Batshua*

            I know that when I’m delivering bad news to someone who looks like they’re going to be very mad, I go … flat. Firm, not unfriendly, but I rein my personality in big time. I think it’s the most appropriate option, because cheerfully delivering bad news is obviously going to sound off, and apologetically delivering it doesn’t work on these type of people.

            The downside is that in those cases, at least some of them think I’m being rude because I’m not smiling when I tell them they don’t have an appointment today, they’re too late to be seen, their appointment was cancelled, etc.

            I try to just state the facts. No, I cannot do that, because it is not possible. If I could, I would, but we don’t have the staff or time to do that today. I would like to help by rescheduling you now for when you can be seen.

            I know nobody can tell me if I’m pulling b*tchface at work from this post, but based on that, would you say I’m delivering wrong?

            1. Aunt Piddy*

              I usually try to sound a little apologetic when I’m delivering bad news in a “I’m sorry this is happening to you (even if it’s your own dang fault)” kind of way. If they can tell you empathize, but have to stand firm, they seem to feel better.

              I also offer options, even if they seem obvious. “I’m sorry, your appointment was cancelled because XYZ. I can reschedule you for 2 on Monday if that works.” That way you’re telling them what you CAN do instead of focusing on what you can’t.

              (Source: four years managing a legal call center)

              1. Anonymoose*

                I think this is perfect for on the phone because you can’t see someone’s face. But if you’re in person there’s a bit more work so you don’t appear either condescending or cold.

            2. Anonymoose*

              People often forget how much their EYEBROWS communicate. As long as your eyebrows aren’t lifted when you give someone ‘bad’ news, its hard to make it personally about them (or you, as the deliverer of said news). Also, get in the practice of very slightly pulling the corners of your lips in. It’s not that you’re smiling becasue it’s way too small, but it alleviates any possible frown so you’re truly appearing indifferent to said news, but without looking cheerful. You can modulate your voice to be warmer, making sure it’s not delivered too flat, then you’re perfectly distant and professional. (damn, I should teach a class about this…)

              1. Teclatrans*

                As a very young adult, I ran into so much trouble facilitating group discussions — prople kept complaining that I was interrupting them, being dismissive, etc. But I wasn’t saying anything! Turns out, though, that my eyebrows were speaking volumes.

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          My thought was she just got quiet because she was blindsided by the info and/or inexperienced. I’m definitely one of those people that struggles to react to things in the moment and I’m twenty some years into my career.

        4. Michaela Westen*

          This sounds like me in my 20’s – early 30’s.
          I wanted to do a good job and I wanted very much to have good relationships and pleasant interactions but… I didn’t know how.
          I grew up with abusive parents in a fundamentalist culture. I learned from those examples. My soft skills were non-existent.
          I had/have PTS from the abuse and if I was triggered, I would get very upset and either express it, which got me in trouble, or try to hide it, which often also got me in trouble. When I wasn’t triggered or stressed I got along fairly well.
          It was extremely frustrating when I received feedback like “Fergus said you did what he needed, but you were rude/mean/bad attitude” and I didn’t understand why that was said or why anyone said anything since I had done what was asked of me. At that point I thought resentful, angry, disrespectful behavior was normal since it’s what I grew up with. I also thought other people wouldn’t notice because my parents always pretended they weren’t doing this and that I wasn’t.
          The non-response to feedback also sounds like me. Since I was always getting punished, I would have kept quiet for fear saying anything would bring on punishment, and tried to understand what I was doing wrong.
          Something like this could be the problem if she’s sincerely trying to do a good job.
          However, it’s also possible she’s one of those manipulative people who are sweet as pie to management, but lets loose when she thinks she can get away with it.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Also, that assumption that 20-something women always have bubbly personalities and excellent people skills is part of our oppression.
            Several times I was hired or assigned work by people who *assumed* I was like that and when it turned out I wasn’t, they acted like I’d deliberately deceived them! I didn’t even understand what they were doing. :'(

            1. SarcasticFringehead*

              This reminds me of my youth, when people assumed that because I was a teenage girl, I would be good at babysitting. I was not! (I mean, nobody died, but I did/do not have the skills that babysitting requires, even though I was the “right” age and gender.)

              1. Former Employee*

                I never babysat, not even once. I did stay with my younger sib when my parents were busy, but sib was already in elementary school.

                No one in their right mind would have ever left me alone with a baby more than a few minutes to dash out and move the car, run next door for to borrow something, etc.

            2. selena81*

              that assumption that 20-something women always have bubbly personalities and excellent people skills is part of our oppression.

              I honestly sometimes overdo my ‘autistic’ side, because it seems to put people at ease when they can place me as ‘not really a girl’.
              It frustrates the hell out of me that my gender is supposed to make me caring and compassionate and always-looking-for-conversation.

        5. Runner*

          There are red flags here to me going in the opposite direction — one person explicitly asked to have a way to directly contact tye OP rather than go through the gateway front desk. This is an office with only three people. If OP has been asked to in any way filter who has direct access to OP and the other manager and at what times and in what scenarios, that changes things and can explain why people don’t have specific examples of what they don’t like. Many positions like this are both customer service and necessarily gatekeeper focused.

          1. Question #2*

            I was on vacation when this was posted :( But you are very right – there are only three of us and I’m the highest ranking staff member in the office. My manager is new so he isn’t always as helpful as I am. People request to speak to me ALL THE TIME and it’s about the most trivial things. I have asked our coordinator/receptionist to try to keep people from me if she or the manager could help them instead so that may be part of the problem.

            She is also black while me and the manager are white. She’s also the youngest in the office but I’m only 32 so only 6 years older than here. But I wonder if there is some racism coming in to it.

      3. Lora*

        Yeah, had this problem a couple of jobs ago. Found out as I was leaving, the reason the guy hated me so much was because I was a dead ringer for his ex-wife.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Ouch. I once interviewed with a guy who told me the same thing, in the first few minutes of our interview. Things went downhill from there. You often can’t overcome things like that.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I 100% have RBV. I have to actively inject warmth into my tone or I sound somewhere on a scale from “super intense” to “phenomenally torqued” at all times.

        2. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

          RBV is my constant state of being. I naturally sound monotone and annoyed when I talk, but I also have a malfunctioning tone-of-voice picker it seems. When I try to sound amused or joking people hear it as irritated or whiny, which is made worse by the fact I can’t really pick out tone of voice – not even my own. So what was meant as a light-hearted quip starts an argument when people think I’m moaning.

          1. TheAssistant*

            Ugh, also me. I have to go super-high-pitched almost ditzy, like inflecting a question at the end of every sentence, just to get the annoyance out of my voice. I’m not walking around in a constant state of annoyance. So frustrating.

            I usually just tell this to new coworkers – I have no natural inflection, this is just my voice, I prefer video calls so you can see I’m smiling and engaged, etc.

            1. pope suburban*

              I have found my people. It takes me a lot of concerted effort to do client-facing stuff because I have to modify my voice and facial expression. I’m not a jerk naturally (I don’t think? I hope not? I don’t harbor jerk-y feelings toward People as a concept?) but I’m a pretty understated person, I don’t emote a lot, and that doesn’t play well with the general societal expectation that I will be bubbly and cheerful and whatnot. It bugs me, but I do it because I don’t want to make anyone feel bad or damage my professional relationships. I long for the day that I’m not in a client-facing role, though; I thought it’d get easier and more natural over the years but it hasn’t.

          2. Luna123*

            I’m so similar, Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The only tone I can deliberately do is best described as “intensely friendly.” Otherwise I sound annoyed or bored/stoned. I find myself having to add, “Wait, I meant to sound more lighthearted, I’m really not annoyed at all” to the end of comments

        3. Oxford Coma*

          I think this is true for women with low voices. My voice dropped a lot in my 30s (maybe related to severe chronic sinusitis and throat damage? Not sure.) and I get many more “you sound mad” comments compared to when my voice was higher.

          1. DesertRose*

            My speaking voice has always been low-pitched for a woman’s voice; a couple of jerks in middle school called me “Darth Vader” just to be mean. By the time I entered the paid workforce (aside the babysitting gigs of my early adolescence and one volunteer job at a food bank when I was about thirteen–school was closed because of a hurricane and I was bored to tears, so volunteering!), I had started to raise my pitch deliberately when on the phone (even when I wasn’t at work), because otherwise I got called “Sir.”

            The downside of having deliberately pitched my voice higher is that people would ask me. “Are you a computer?” I never quite knew what to do with that one. (Would a computer answer, “Yes” to that question?) I took to giving a slight laugh as I said, “No, I’m a real person.” :)

        4. Lynca*

          It very much is. I’ve had people flat out asking if I was depressed (not at that time no) because “I didn’t ever sound happy.”

          I’ve found forcing myself to be unnaturally upbeat on the phone helps. In person I haven’t had as much of a problem because I can more organically make jokes/small talk which offsets it some.

        5. Kelly L.*

          It is! I’ve sometimes been read as angry just for having a lower (in pitch) voice than some women.

        6. Yvette*

          “Maybe Resting B**** Voice is a thing just like RBF?”
          YES YES YES!!!! I once worked at a firm where secretary had a voice that if you wanted a voice-over for the evil wicked witch/stepmother etc. she would have been perfect. Always sounded mad and gruff. Sweetest women ever. You just had to learn to discount the sound and listen to what she was saying.

      4. Nita*

        Ugh, I think I came across like this to someone yesterday! My cell phone rang halfway through a work phone call, and it was my local area code. Long story, but I was sure that it’s my kid’s school and that it’s an emergency. I really like the person I was talking to, and I tried to be as pleasant as I can, but I’m pretty sure it still came across that I’m massively freaked out and cannot wait to get off the line. We’ve never talked on the phone before, only emailed, and now she must think I’m horribly rude.

        Thankfully, the cell phone call turned out to be something really random and unrelated.

      5. Serin*

        We had one of those in my old job. I said to my boss, “Sometimes I wonder if I accidentally did something to Anita to make her take that attitude with me,” and my boss said, “Like what? Inadvertently killed her children?”

      6. Teal*

        If part of her role is “handling customer complaints without letting them through to the back office” she may need some leeway to be “mean.” OP says a lot of her duty is customer service. And the problem seems to be phone-based. That just indicates to me that she may be front line on customer complaints.

        That’s all I was thinking reading this- that some part of her actual duty involves being “the bad guy” and yet when a customer complains she gets in hot water.

        OP think carefully whether this may be the case.

    2. Sylvan*

      I agree, as someone who burned out badly in a job that included customer service. She might be a better fit somewhere else in the company or somewhere else.

      I think the beginning of burnout for me was when I kept getting contradictory feedback: I was nice and mean, I was dumb and bright, I was rudely abrupt and an excellent listener. I took it all personally and lost confidence. The customer service coworkers I had who handled the job better could just let those things roll right off of them.

      1. Sylvan*

        My second sentence sure is an Insomnia Comment (TM). Sorry y’all. I have actually been trying to read at night and comment in the morning!

      2. Jennifer*

        The thing I hate about customer service is that you’re always being told how horrible you are. You can be a star to one person and a devil to the next, just depending on their problem or mood.

        1. Corrvin*

          OP2, when people complain to you about your staff, ask them what their request was. I’ve found that some people think an employee is rude when they are “unhelpful” and they define “unhelpful” as “won’t give me *exactly* what I want.” So the complainant’s story might be “point-blank refused to connect me to Director Bob” when the situation was “Director Bob had just been rushed to the ER, I wasn’t free to disclose that because it’s personal, and they didn’t want his voicemail or to talk to his assistant director either, they just kept asking me where he was.”

          Also, is your employee getting adequate personal breaks? Are callers complaining about being asked to hold two minutes but the reason is so your employee doesn’t literally wet her pants? If no one else in the company can hear her unless they go up front, then it’s possible she’s occasionally overwhelmed and doesn’t feel like she’s allowed to ask people to wait while she goes to the bathroom or eats an emergency cookie for her blood sugar or anything.

          1. Edina Monsoon*

            I had a customer service job a few years ago where my boss kept telling me she’d had complaints from co workers that I was rude and abrupt to them, but she could never give me any examples and it just felt like I was being bullied. The only thing I could put it down to was that I’m from a different part of the country to them, and where I’m from we tend to be more direct. I’ve moved jobs since and I get praised for how nice I am and have won company awards for customer service, so I can only put that old job down to a clash of personalities.

            1. LS*

              And sometimes it’s straight-up racism. I had one employee who was, if not my best employee, definitely in the top five. And yet she was the one I got by far the most complaints about from customers, particularly older customers. Eventually I realised that it was because she was half Asian and had a non-Anglo name, and I was kicking myself for taking so long to realise. After that, I took the complaints with a grain of salt. “She’s so hard to understand” was ridiculous when she had been born and raised here!

              1. Mookie*

                “She’s so hard to understand” was ridiculous when she had been born and raised here!

                Their ears were racist, which is a special kind of very dedicated bigot. It must take a lot of work to speak to a compatriot but hear an “accent” because the person’s appearance confounds and mesmerizes you with its exotic Otherness.

                1. MakesThings*

                  Oh god, I HATE that. The number of times people pointedly asked me where I’m from, and after fishing it out of me, promptly said “oh yeah, NOW I hear an accent!”.
                  Enrages me every time.

                2. SophieChotek*

                  I’ve never understand that one. I’ve had people tell me I have a Chinese accent (as I am Asian) even though I was raised in the US and don’t speak any Chinese at all.

                3. Jiya*

                  Haaaa, MakesThings, I’ve gotten that too, which is funny because my accent is firmly mid-Atlantic American – no one knows I wasn’t born here unless I tell them, and then it’s magically “ah, I thought I detected something.” No, you really didn’t, you Professor Higgins wannabe.

              2. Gazebo Slayer*

                This is actually the very first place my mind went. OP1, is the receptionist a person of color, or otherwise someone who might be subject to people’s biases?

                1. Kali*

                  I wondered if there was something like a concerted bullying campaign going on, but this seems more likely on a logistical level.

                2. boo bot*

                  First thing I thought, too, still what I’m thinking. It seems really strange that the only complaints you get about her are of the vague, indefinable sort. Surely *someone* among these affronted people must be able to explain what it was that she did wrong!

                  It’s a commonplace for “rude” or “abrasive” or “loud” to be coded descriptors for “she was talking while black/trans/female-and-disagreeing-with-me.”

                3. LKW*

                  This. It’s like when you get “person doesn’t look professional” and it’s because they have a natural hairstyle, facial hair, or dress a little differently (not unprofessionally, I’m thinking conservative women in long skirts) where people get all “one of us! One of us!” and they don’t want to actually say the words because they know they sound (and are) totally bigoted.

                4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Thirded (fourthed). “She’s so bad I cannot deal with her, but I am unable to give you a single example of what exactly is bad” sounds fishy to me.

                5. AKchic*

                  I can remember having a similar issue. Everyone complained about a very heavy WOC receptionist of ours. She was a very nice woman, but she was so shy, which was completely different from our last 4 receptionists (me included). She barely spoke to people unless she knew them. Our company didn’t like to fire people either. The last person in the position was terrible at the duties so we’d consistently taken work away from the position and redirected it to the program assistants, so she really had nothing to do.
                  Then we started asking her to do things. She was happy to do them, but we realized she was dyslexic. No biggie, we could handle that.
                  I also realized that because she was a bigger woman, she expected people to be mean to her, so her default setting was not only shy and standoffish, but to be slightly rude because she expected those jabs/barbs all the time.
                  So many times I wanted to wrap her up in a blanket and hug her and pop in a movie and bring grilled cheese and just have a comfort day so she could relax and not have to worry about those things, but damn – she never did let her guard down.

              3. kb*

                Yeah, I was also thinking there was a possibility the issue may be racism or prejudice of some kind. Being a woman of color who has to tell an indignant white man (or sometimes lady) that they can’t do something/ have something does not always go well. My manager from when I worked retail noticed that happening to me. A customer would lodge a complaint but couldn’t give a detailed explanation because they recognized what I had said was perfectly reasonable and polite (“I’m sorry, you can’t go into our back storage area– there’s a public bathroom and drinking fountain right across the hall, if that’s what you’re looking for”), they just didn’t like someone who looked like me telling them no.

                1. Jesca*

                  Yeah, this was definitely one of the things I was thinking as well. Also, when I had my year long stint doing some direct customer interaction, it really did depend on regional norms too.

                  Also, those people internally? Could they be huge divas? I think if I were OP, I would pull the employee in and ask them what interaction they had with these coworkers and try to determine what happened. Sometimes cultures in companies can be hugely toxic and it is best to smack that down ASAP. Just know, OP, that this may have nothing to do with your employee and have everything to do with your company culture.

                2. Lora*

                  THIS. OMG THIS +10000.

                  This is now a thing I ask management when they approach me wanting to have some sort of Diversity In Tech initiative. What they want to do is sponsor a lunch-and-learn with a banner and a photo for the company website, maybe an after-work networking and beer/wine session. What they very expressly do NOT want to do is figure out how they will deal with the bigotry in the ranks, start identifying when a complaint is unfounded and what they will do specifically to deal with the complainer who will find out (possibly for the first time EVER) that their opinion is crap and likely not take it very well.

              4. Dragoning*

                This would also explain why the receptionist just got quiet when called on it instead of defending herself or seeking more information. She might already know what it is.

              5. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

                At my first job we got the reverse complaints. People called us “unhelpful” because we couldn’t reroute their calls to people in Europe or the US, because they thought that since we spoke English we were at their local offices. We were tech support, not receptionists.

              6. Wehaf*

                The reverse could be true as well – that the employee may treat clients and coworkers differently based on gender, ethnicity, religion, orientation, age, or some other characteristic. Her interactions with people from certain groups may end up being subtly hostile or unpleasant in ways that are hard to describe or define. I suggest OP see if she can suss out whether this is playing a role.

              7. nonymous*

                My mom used to work in a benefits group and people would say that about any of the reps if they wanted a different rep. She’s originally from a foreign country and definitely has an accent, all of her coworkers were American-born, but it happened to all of them.

            2. Murphy*

              I’ve experienced the same exact thing. (Not the winning awards for customer service part, that will probably never be me! But I’ve had no complaints at my current job.)

            3. Jam Today*

              I had a similar experience many years ago (and I am also from a very “direct” part of the country!), customers *loved* me for a host of reasons (they would game the phone routing system to get me on the call, and asked to talk to me for months after I left that job) while coworkers or other people only even vaguely associated with me (like, people I barely knew who walked past me in the hallway) said I was “mean”. It took me years to untangle that one, but what I finally settled on is that 1) when I walk around with things on my mind, I get a very serious look on my face, and 2) I don’t use upspeak. I have an authoritative tone, which is entirely appropriate when in a problem-solving mode, and also just generally as a competent adult in the workplace. The majority of women I worked with in that capacity talked in upspeak and varieties of what I woudl consider almost baby-talk, which to my ears makes them sound like they have no idea what they’re doing (or they’re 13 years old), but apparently they think it makes them sound “nice”. As soon as I figured that out, I got over it.

              1. Bigglesworth*

                At my law school, we had two public speaking coaches come in and one of the things that was mentioned was upspeak – specifically don’t do it. I did theater and music for several years and can generally control my tonal inflections. It was amazing to me to hear how many of my fellow students talked in upspeak and it wasn’t just women either. It’s most likely why my peers always seem to think I have my act together – I don’t sound like I’m questioning everything.

                That said, it has also given me a reputation as the b**** no one should mess with. This was actually mentioned to me last night. Apparently being a youngish woman with a pixie cut, wearing a bold lip, and not talking in upspeak means that people stay away from me until they realize I’m actually really friendly. Biases are hard to overcome.

                1. Calpurrnia*

                  For whatever it’s worth, you sound like a badass and exactly the sort of person I’d want to talk to if I worked with you!

            4. Witty Nickname*

              When I was 20, I was a receptionist at a small insurance agency in the deep south for a few months in the year I took between college and grad school. My family moved to that city when I was 8, and I grew up there, but I never really picked up a strong southern accent, and I lost most of what I had when I went to college in the midwest.

              Just before I left to move away, one of the agents told me “I have gotten so many complaints that you are rude. And I couldn’t figure it out, because I’ve heard you on the phone, and with clients, and you are the nicest person ever. Until today; I realized what it was. Fergus complained again that you were rude, and I said ‘It’s because she talks like a Yankee, isn’t it?’ And he said, ‘Yeah! She’s a Yankee! She’s so rude!'”

              It’s been almost 20 years, and I still laugh every time I think about that.

              1. Former Employee*

                In the South, the Civil War is still being called the War of Northern Aggression by many people and they remain convinced that the real reason it was fought was that the South had to preserve its way of life/culture and it had nothing to do with slavery!

          2. paul*

            I get that, but four complaints in a short time period all from different people? I highly doubt that’s the case here.

            1. Someone else*

              I used to manage a team of tech support personnel. We do random post-interaction surveys. Generally our scores were fantastic, but if in the course of a year we got 10 one-star reviews, inevitably 2 would be people who clearly accidentally reversed the scale (their free text comments would be glowing, despite the boxes they tickets), 1 would be a genuinely mishandled ticket, and 7 of them were people scoring us “1” for “knowledgeable of the issue” and “1” for “helpful” and when we’d dig into those incidents, it turned out the support person knew exactly what the issue was, and told them, but unfortunately the answer was “it’s working as expected and doesn’t do the thing you wanted”.
              So, long story short: while the lack of specifics might mean the issue is tone and not words, I also have no problem believing there were complaints from a wide variety of people, and the issue might not be “person is actually rude and unhelpful”. It could very easily be “person gave me a true answer I didn’t want to hear.” It also might not be. That’s why OP needs more specifics about what went down in these interactions. It’s possible the receptionist is mostly great and OP just hasn’t caught her in a bad moment; it’s possible the receptionist knows better than to let ‘tude slip through when OP is around;and it’s possible OP has witnessed some of the things those people responded badly to, but simply finds them reasonable in those contexts, and had the complaint happened in the moment and in front of her, she’d not find the receptionist at fault.

            2. Anna*

              If it bias based on the receptionist’s race or gender, this still wouldn’t surprise me. Because there are that many people in the world who are shitty racists.

            3. Kate 2*

              When I worked in retail some customers would straight up lie about us. We would have another sales associate or department manager around that the customer didn’t see, and they would tell the store manager after the inevitable complaint.

              The two main things people would lie about were us telling them some coupon they had would work even though it was expired or for the wrong thing, when we *didn’t*, and saying they should get the discount anyway since we supposedly told them it would work.

              And they would try to get us to do things, give discounts or small items for free, then as revenge when we refused to break store policy and cheat the store and risk getting fired, they would tell our managers we had been jerks to them or were incompetent.

              Luckily we had a really good management team who had worked their way up, they had experienced these customer tricks before and knew us, so they knew not to believe them.

            4. slick ric flair*

              100% agreed. There is no indication in the letter that all of the customers/employees are secret racists out to get the receptionist. In my mind, it’s really bizarre behaviour for commenters to jump from ‘people complained about the receptionist being rude, and I have a history of those complaints about them’ to ‘all the complainers are racist’.

              1. Kate 2*

                It’s not all of them, no one is saying that. Just the fact that we have a cheerful hardworking receptionist who has been dinged by two internal and two external people who are *completely* unable to give even the SMALLEST or vaguest descriptions of what she has done wrong. No “she didn’t smile” or “rude tone of voice”, nothing. I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous complaints during my years in customer service, this is not normal.

                1. J.*

                  Cosigned to all of this. It is very strange that not a single one of the complaints could cite a single specific example of behavior and points to something else going on.

              2. kb*

                I don’t think people are jumping to conclusion that racism is 100% the issue here, it’s just something we’d want the OP to keep in mind as they try to get to the bottom of this. It’s plausible that this isn’t the issue at all. It’s also plausible that it’s a compounding factor– as I said above a lot of people really can’t stand being told no, but a woman, especially a woman of color, telling them no makes them absolutely irrate.

              3. The OG Anonsie*

                No one’s saying that’s definitely the case, but that the fact that the complaints have no substance and the LW has been unable to actually observe any issues herself means she should have eyes open for it to be an issue of an issue on the side of the complainers.

            5. Been There, Done That*

              Four complaints out of how many calls? You can’t please everybody. In fact, my mom had a saying, “Some people just won’t be satisfied.”

          3. a*

            OP also mentioned that some people from departments within the company complained. This may TOTALLY be my dirty lens as a former receptionist, but I had to wonder if it was a case of “Receptionist dared to prioritize other urgent tasks over helping me print 50 copies of something.” Sooooo many people regard receptionists as a sort of company-wide floating personal assistant and get stroppy when you refuse to do “just this one little thing” (on top of the 500 “just one little things” you were already doing).

            Not to project my own experiences all over this, OP’s receptionist may truly be sucking at her job, but if these complaints are truly at odds with OP’s observations of her work then it may be worth investigating from this angle as well.

            1. Kate 2*

              Yes! I have had this too. They’d ALSO try to give me some personal work to do, for their personal lives I mean, and then give me dirty looks for, you know, actually doing the business stuff first and theirs last. I couldn’t refuse to do it (even though they weren’t supposed to give me that stuff) or they’d make my life he11.

            2. AKchic*

              Ugh. Can totally relate to this.
              “But I only needed 100 copies of this 50 page double-sided color print-out, 3 hole punched and put in binders before 4pm for my group!”
              “It’s noon”
              “But I forgot I was out!”
              “But it’s noon, and we have a grant that has to be in the mail before close of business today, and you know the rules. If you have a big project like this, it has to be in writing and emailed to us two weeks in advance”
              “But I forgot!”
              “Like the last two times?”
              “YES”
              “No”

              *cue complaints to the CEO*
              Same program manager every single time. Same person who threw a fit about everything I did that wasn’t specifically me answering the telephone and taking messages. Oh, the stories I have of this creep. I was so glad when he left. I even swore I would quit if they ever hired him back.

                1. AKchic*

                  Generally, no, they didn’t. But he was a rehire pushed into his management position by a board member who swore he saved her husband’s life during his first round of employment with the company. He felt he could do no wrong.
                  The drama that ensued when he left was perfect. Well, not for us cleaning up the mess for years after his departure, but perfect in the sense that he so thoroughly burned his bridges that he’ll never be able to get rehired there. I’ve left and I am so glad not to be dealing with it anymore, but man thinking about him makes me want to jab pencils into pictures of Billy Idol (who I swear he modeled his look after).

            3. Kelly L.*

              This too. And sometimes the job really is to say no. That was one of the hardest things for me to adjust to when I moved from food service and retail jobs to an office job–in food service and retail, you’re expected to be a doormat, but sometimes in (for example) an academic department, the thing they’re asking for is flat out impossible or against policy or the law, and saying no is what you must do. And people aren’t any happier than when you tell them they can’t have extra sauce for free.

            4. MissingArizona*

              Something like this happened to me. I applied and was hired for data entry/receptionist, my whole training was based on these two things. After a couple of weeks I could not understand why this one person was just a total jerk to me. Turns out, I was also supposed to assist him with things, NO ONE mentioned this! I just kept doing the things I was trained to do, took care of stuff for him if I had time, but he wasn’t a priority. After a month of this guy being unbearably awful to me, the owner of the company calls me in for a meeting and fires me! He said that my priority was to help this dude and I should have known that without being told. Dude told the owner I was unhelpful and rude, I was just doing the job I thought I was hired for!

            5. The OG Anonsie*

              Right? When I was support staff I often had to prioritize what people were asking me to do, and many otherwise kind and reasonable people would get real cranky when I wouldn’t drop Mandy’s deadline presentation to donors to help them find an article they don’t really need but kind of want to look at right now.

          4. sometimeswhy*

            I was going to bring up something similar to this. There are (really a lot) people who will actively go around me and the rest of the people who report to my boss and at least part of it is he’s jovial and kind and will say yes to anything while the rest of us do things like, ask clarifying questions, set boundaries, or make suggestions based on our technical expertise.

            And when he (kindly, jovially) suggests that they go to one of us, they inevitably respond with the reasons they’d rather work with him. If it’s me or another one of the female managers, it’s because we’re rude, unreasonable, or difficult and if you dug into the specifics, their interpretation of unreasonable usually boils down to not dropping everything to do their thing AND intuiting what they really wanted. Seriously, I’ve gotten complaints because I asked if they wanted something for all of X or a subset of X. If it’s one of the male managers it’s because they’re not on site even though they were there the whole week before and will be back the next day and are available by phone and email, magically the thing HAS to be dealt with the instant they’re gone.

            1. Kate 2*

              Me too! I was actually called “defiant” once for daring to ask questions about the task they gave me, you know so I could do it correctly, and they were pissed I didn’t just read their mind!

              1. sometimeswhy*

                We were once asked to do something that involved needing something else from the requester to even get started. Like, yeah, we can shave your favorite sports team’s logo into your llama but we’re gonna need your llama. And kind, jovial boss who has faith in our llama art design capability had given an enthusiastic, “Of course they can!”

                And then…?

                Then we were collectively complained about for being obstructionist when we asked for the llama.

          5. A Nickname for AAM*

            This is my question. I’ve worked customer service and people are so quick to claim they’re getting “bad customer service” when you are, in fact, doing your job. Your receptionist is not required to go along with someone who is harassing her, abusing her, or otherwise violating any of the policies she is required to uphold as part of her job.

            Often the people complaining of bad customer service are doing something wrong.

            1. whingedrinking*

              I used to work for a coffee company that’s local to my area. At the Christmas party one year, I was talking to someone from head office, and I said something that triggered a memory for her somehow. She snapped her fingers and went, “You’re the Pour-Over Girl!”
              It turns out that one time, a customer had gotten very grumpy when I told her I couldn’t make her a pour-over coffee, and she had called head office to complain. And called back the next day to ask what had been done about her complaint. And a third time, when she insisted on being handed up the chain. The person she got handed off to smoothly informed her that yes, her complaint had been taken very seriously and I had been informed of the seriousness of my offence and it would not happen again. Working at head office must be really boring, because apparently this story got passed around for days.

              1. Kali*

                …wait….is the issue that you should have been able to make a pour-over coffee, but didn’t know that your store did that? If so, why weren’t you told? Or was it that your store doesn’t do that, and head office just kept lying to the customer about you?

                1. whingedrinking*

                  Our store didn’t make pour-over coffees and never had. Head office apparently had said something like “okay, we’ll find out what happened” the first couple times, thinking that would be enough to placate her, but she kept calling. She never came back to my store that I know of.

          6. Cafe au Lait*

            My first thought was if she was answering questions as asked, but not understanding the subtext of the question.

            Question: Can you tell me where the pens are stored?
            Subtext: I want you to grab pens for me, oh, and also ask me what color and how many I need.

            Even if she answered “Supply cabinet, third shelf on the right hand side,” the answer would be RONG according to asker.

            It wasn’t until I was twenty-eight or twenty-nine that I really started to understand subtext questions. Then I was able to direct my answering in a much more focused manner. I work in a library, so my answer to “Where are the directions on how to use the photocopier?” became more than “On the handle.” Now I walk over, show the patron where the directions are located, and then pretty much set-up the photocopying parameters for the patron. The latter way is seen as “correct” where the first way earned me a “prickly” complaints.

          7. Question #2*

            Hi! I was on vacation when this was posted and just got back.

            I do know the situation. It may be a little of that but I think they’re thinking of her overall demeanor. Like she had to stop what she was doing to help them and they got the impression she was rude because of her reaction to having to do that.

            She does get adequate breaks. I can’t hear her phone calls but we have a bell up front so if she’s away from the desk, our manager or myself will get up to meet with the person. I’ve had no complaints related to her not being there or being on hold for a long time. It’s all been attitude related.

        2. Dragoning*

          In retail we kept getting surveys back that dinged us on things because “we should have something to strive for” even though they had no complaints whatsoever.

          They infuriated me.

          1. Nanani*

            Reminds me of teachers who never give full marks even if you made no mistakes and hit everything their rubric asks for, for similar reasons.

            1. BeautifulVoid*

              Ugh, I got into this debate with colleagues back in my teaching days. I taught mostly in a middle school, and the year was split up into four marking periods. Some of my coworkers said they would. not. ever. give a 100 as a final marking period grade the first half of the year, because then the kids wouldn’t have anything to work for and might slack off. Um. I guess the logic kind of makes sense if you squint, but I wasn’t going to ding a student one point and give him/her a 99 just because it was September – January.

              (And it’s not like I was giving the 100s out to everybody. If anything, I got waaaaaaaaaay more phone calls from the parents who thought the grades I gave were too low.)

          2. Bryce*

            This bugs me when filling out surveys, because the baseline isn’t always clear. “How was your food, with 10 being ‘Exceeded Expectations'”? How do you exceed expectations with a taco? Are you going to fire the guy if I only rate it a 9?

            1. J.*

              Me, too. I travel a lot for work, and I get a lot of post-trip surveys from hotels about my stay. It was fine, I guess? It was a bed that fine in a clean room that was mostly an ok temperature. Does that deserve a 10? Like, I paid for a safe place to sleep and you gave me a safe place to sleep, I didn’t ask for or need anything beyond that, but it wasn’t The Greatest Experience Ever.

            2. JamieG*

              At least where I worked, anything besides a 10 counted as a zero for those surveys (which is ridiculous because I agree – how good can a taco really be?). So I always just give the highest score unless I have a specific reason not to.

            3. Jamoche*

              Last time I bought a new car, I got a “how was your experience” survey – and an email from the salesguy begging for top ratings across the board because anything else counted as a fail.

    3. o.b.*

      I’m curious about the scale of the problem. How many people does she deal with daily/weekly? Is it 4 people out of 20? Or is it more like 4 people out of 100? For the latter, I’d give the client’s concerns a little less credence. Definitely agree you need more information to determine the extent and nature of the issue.

      1. Question #2*

        We have a very busy office so she’s probably dealing with 20 people a day and she’s been here about 10 months. I’ve only received 4 complaints. But of course those complaints are always “This has been going on SO LONG, it’s an issue EVERY TIME, etc etc”

        I have seen a few of her interactions where I’ve immediately provided feedback. She is very quiet and very direct. I think part of the issue may be that she doesn’t have that warm demeanor people always demand so I chatted with her last time about using that approach. Since then I haven’t received any other complaints.

    4. LKW*

      I’ve seen men get mad at a woman for not being receptive to creepy flirting -might that be the case here? Or clients that are self important and want to be treated differently than the standard customer care? If the clients can’t give you specific examples of “she was so bad” then see if the receptionist has perspective, instead of simply telling her you received a complaint – get her side of the story.

        1. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

          “She didn’t give me her phone number when I asked!! She friendzoned me!! And I’m a nice guy!!”

      1. AnonEMoose*

        At a previous job where I was a receptionist, a client once complained to the rep who worked with him that “your receptionist should recognize my voice by now.” Because, you know, saying “this is X, calling to speak to Y” was too much trouble. Or something. And it’s not like his voice was that distinctive.

        So, SO glad that while my current job is still administrative, it doesn’t involve receptionist work.

        I think the OP does need to do some more investigation to try to figure out what is happening. It’s possible that the employee is coming across as brusque or irritated or otherwise doing something inappropriate, but it’s also possible that the issue really rests with the people complaining. Or somewhere between. There’s just not enough information to really know right now.

        1. Anonymeece*

          Oof. I worked at a fast food restaurant when I was 16 and we regularly saw hundreds of people over a shift (small town, only food joint along a major highway). I was perfectly polite, upbeat, and happy to people who came through, but I got people who were mad because I didn’t recognize them (almost always men). I can’t even imagine only having a *voice* to go off of!

          1. Kelly L.*

            Ugh, I hate that. Some people just can’t conceptualize that a fast food employee sees thousands of customers, while the fast food customer only sees, IDK, twelve McDonald’s employees, and only ever talks to two or three of them directly.

          2. AnonEMoose*

            I truly don’t understand the mentality behind it. I never really expect restaurant or retail workers to recognize me, even if DH and I go to the place fairly regularly. I’m always kind of pleasantly surprised on the occasions when they do.

            It just seems really…entitled to expect it, and especially to get offended if they don’t.

            I didn’t last too long at that job – a bit under a year. That guy wasn’t the only reason, but he was just kind of the tip of the iceberg when it came to unrealistic expectations.

          3. Pebbles*

            I think I had the reverse of that during my fast food days. There was a couple that came in together once a week, same day, about the same time, and ordered the exact same thing every time. I saw them come in and I SWEAR it was them, so when they get to me I politely ask “and you’d like the X, Y, and Z?” (their usual order). The guy gets mad and says “We haven’t ordered yet!” “Um, ok, no problem, what would you like?” “X, Y, and Z!” *sigh*

          4. Michaela Westen*

            I think this kind of person expects everyone to meet all their needs for attention, recognition, etc. all the time and it has never occurred to them that maybe they should take some responsibility for their own needs. IME it’s usually men who get away with this more than women. :p

        2. leslie knope*

          yeah, i got chewed out for saying “can i ask who’s calling?” to the district manager who i’d never met. just one of the many horrible things about that job.

        3. BeautifulVoid*

          In my area, there are two attorneys with a distinctive first name whose offices are fairly close to each other in the same town. For anonymity’s sake, let’s call them Balthazar Jones and Balthazar Smith. My boss gave me an assignment at Balthazar Jones’s office, and when I showed up, he was very confused, as he nothing on his schedule that day that required a court reporter and hadn’t called to hire us. I called my boss, and she quickly had her “oh, crap” moment and realized I was supposed to be at Balthazar Smith’s office. (Then she gave me the wrong address, 150 North Main Street vs. 150 South Main Street, so I was REALLY late, but I digress.)

          When I checked in with my boss later on, she honestly couldn’t remember if she had just had a brain fart and put the wrong person on the calendar, or if whoever had called to schedule just told her “We need a reporter at Balthazar’s office tomorrow at 10:00,” and she guessed/picked incorrectly. Getting all the information is never an insult and is better for everyone involved!

      2. n*

        Yup. “She didn’t answer my questions about her personal life! Terrible customer service!”

        Ugh.

    5. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I’m going to go in a little bit of a different direction here, only because I recognize something that I did as a young customer service person. Is it possible that as they are making their request, she dives immediately into working on it? So she’s getting their request done very quickly, but wouldn’t be making eye contact or saying any of the things customers want to hear (general pleasantries, assurances she’s going to take care of the issue) because she’s already jumped in to just doing the request. This can come across to the person who can’t tell what you are doing as you aren’t giving them your full attention and seem rude.

      1. Luna*

        Yeah this is a good point, when I worked in customer service clients either loved me or hated me- some liked that I was direct and solved their problem quickly, while others thought I was rude because I wasn’t good at making chit chat.

        And then there were the ones who were just crazy and would freak out if you didn’t cave in to their extraordinarily unreasonable demands.

        The number of complaints here is a lot in a short time, but OP should definitely ask the customers for more information (what were they asking for? what did the receptionist say in response?) and then talk to the receptionist.

      2. Ama*

        Yeah when I was doing reception/general admin work, I got dinged on “she seemed like she didn’t want to help me” and it turned out that part of it was that I was so busy that I was writing down their request on the to do list and say “okay I’ll take care of it” — but not really pausing what I was already doing. So it came across to people as not being helpful, even though I was really just trying to stay on top of my overwhelming workload and minimize the constant interruptions.

        (I now have a job that doesn’t involve so many interruptions because that job made me realize that I am better suited to positions where I can really focus on my projects.)

    6. Mother of a lesser god*

      Letter 2 resonated with me because I had a similar experience with 1 person in my office. It turned out to be the language I was using. I am used to, at all my former jobs, letting people know timelines when work is brought to me. As in “I have x, y, and z on my plate right now. I’ll get to your project at approximately this time after I’ve finished x, y, and z first.” I thought I was managing expectations because this is exactly what most people have wanted in the past. But my co-worker complained, said I seemed to be overwhelmed and pushing back on work she brought to me. I was stunned. But, I changed my language and stopped telling her timelines, simply letting her know that her project was on my to-do list and asked if she had a specific need by date or time. No more mentions of what else was on my desk or what projects were before hers. Our relationship almost instantly turned around, now she thinks I’m the most helpful person and only has compliments for me.
      Literally, it might not be attitude at all but language; so many people think they are being helpful and communicative but others are interpreting the message in a different way.

    7. Stranger than fiction*

      If it weren’t for the outside customers ‘ complaints, I was actually starting
      to wonder if this was some sort of bias, like she’s too attractive or that type of scenario.
      Op, are you able to record calls? If not, maybe do some sit-ins with her and critique her calls afterward?

      1. Mother of a lesser god*

        It’s strange though that no one has been able to give specific examples of how she is rude. When I’ve encountered an unhelpful or rude person, I can always specify the problem. The woman I referred to in my post never gave a specific answer; my boss and I figured out the language thing together and so I changed my approach and language in hopes that would turn things around.

        1. Anonymeece*

          I mean, on the one hand, yes, specifics are good, but I know I’ve had interactions with customer service reps that left me feeling like I was annoying them by asking them for something, but couldn’t pinpoint what exactly it was. Sometimes it really is just tone or body language, and it’s all so subtle that you pick up on it almost subconsciously, so you can’t really articulate *why*.

          I’m not saying that’s not necessarily what’s happening here, but it is possible.

          1. Recovering Adjunct*

            “I felt like my request was irritating to her.” is pretty specific though, more specific than what the LW has gotten

    8. oranges & lemons*

      Yeah, I’ve definitely worked with people who were very friendly and pleasant to management and jerks to everyone else. One other thing that occurred to me is that perhaps she’s only like this with certain groups of people, those she doesn’t think are worth being polite to for whatever reason. It might be worth thinking about whether there is a pattern in the people who are complaining about her behaviour, just in case that might be a factor.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        But then why are none of these four people able to give a single example? That’s what I find puzzling. When I think someone is being a jerk to me, I am usually able to explain why I think that. And by “usually”, I mean always.

        1. oranges & lemons*

          Interesting–that’s actually the part that made me think she might be targeting certain groups of people. I find when someone is being disrespectful or condescending, it can be kind of subtle and hard to explain–particularly if you want to avoid implying the person is a bigot.

          On the other hand, as others have said, this could also imply that the people complaining are the ones who are biased. It’s really hard to know without more information.

        2. YuliaC*

          Sometimes it could be just the tone, a whiff of indifference for example, or of superiority. That kind of thing can be hard to complain about. I tried to make a complaint about a doctor practice receptionist once, she was efficient but accompanied everything she did for me with little annoyed sighs and barely-there eye rolls. That is hard to complain about because those things are quiet and fleeting, and I was sure she did not do those things to her superiors…

        3. TootsNYC*

          Then again, I was bullied on the bus, and it was always so frustrating, because once I tried to explain the specifics of how they were being mean, I couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t make me sound absolutely stupid.

          But yes, I think a longer conversation that tries to winkle out more info would be VERY helpful. And necessary.

    9. The OG Anonsie*

      I disagree. The LW has no support whatsoever for the complaints other than that there’s more than one of them, which is significant, but the fact that they can’t be substantiated is a big deal. No one can give any actual examples, and the personal experience of others who work with her does not match up. When the LW investigated and observed this employee without her knowledge, she’s never seen her do anything inappropriate. That doesn’t add up to this employee truly just being bad with customer service, so I really doubt that’s the whole story. If she were just getting snippy with people, at least one of these people would be able to articulate that, don’t you think?

      I’ve seen plenty of instances of a young person (usually women) in a junior role who is very competent receiving a lot of tepid or negative feedback from people who expect her to be deferential to them. Being polite and friendly and professional isn’t enough for some folks, the expectation is that they’ll be… Comforting, if that makes sense. Nurturing, even. And if the junior employee is also particularly talented or thorough, that can make some people uncomfortable because they feel like they’re being shown up by some rookie upstart when the junior emp is just doing their job well and being polite. They feel destabilized or threatened. So then suddenly it’s “Jane is difficult and has a bad attitude” with no tangible explanation as to what that means.

      For example, at oldjob we had an assistant who was supposed to facilitate certain areas of support for large projects. Periodically I would hear people being grumbly about how she wasn’t very smart, didn’t understand their work, or wasn’t helpful/reliable enough for them to work with. I would also know, because I was typically close enough to hear the conversations she was having with these people, that what was happening was that when she asked them all the questions she needed to know in order to help them, they often didn’t know the answers because they had not planned everything out very well. They’d get uncomfortable or embarrassed about it, and then try to act like it was really her who didn’t understand what was up. Those folks were a minority, but having anyone come out and say they want to avoid you because you’re not competent is pretty damaging, and people are quicker to believe the complainer than start digging into their fee-fees and biases. That’s just one specific instance of this phenomenon, but I’ve seen it enough that I treat feedback like this with a lot of skepticism if I can’t substantiate it.

    10. TootsNYC*

      The thing that strikes me about these complaints–that gives them credibility–is the plural-ness.

      two from other departments and two from customers.

      So, departments, plural. If it were two people from the one single office, I might invent a scenario in which she’d had a testy relationship with one of them, and that person got pissy and (intentionally or not) roped her close coworker in on a “bitch about Susie” point of view.

      But two different departments.

      And two different customers, one of whom invested enough energy in the complaint to ask if it was possible to work around her.

      How much contact do all these complainers have with one another?

      1. MerciMe*

        It depends on the business, I think. I’m not even a receptionist or call center rep and I work with literally hundreds of people in the course of my job. Four complaints is a lot less than even one percent of my total interactions.

        And seriously, there’s always that one person who thinks they shouldn’t have to deal with underlings and will just say whatever they think will get them direct access.

    11. Wintermute*

      I disagree that the lack of specificity doesn’t mean the complaint is invalid. If they can’t tell you WHY someone was rude they’ve given you nothing actionable. There’s smoke, but we’re not sure if there’s fire or not yet.

      It’s time to observe interactions more directly, and see if your PBX system supports call recording (and if you’re managing people that do a lot of phone work and not recording their interactions you’re missing out on a massive tool to manage performance), because giving vague feedback of “be nicer!” without examples, without anything actionable and without any proof.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, that is so odd. Assuming he wasn’t intentionally trying to lie or misrepresent his job history, do you have a sense of why he would say he was a “director” when he was nowhere close?

    1. Canadian Teapots*

      My feeling is that he ought to be able to say he was a backup who excelled in his temporary role, but that saying he was -literally- the director is greatly overstating the case.

      It’s unfortunate OP#4 didn’t respond right away to clear it up and say “I’m happy to vouch that you did X, Y and Z, but you cannot make this claim about your job title”, as that could’ve worked out well for both of them.

      I get being mad at someone who ‘oversteps’, but it sounds like the worker in question is fairly new to professional norms and doesn’t understand the full ramifications of that claim.

      1. LouiseM*

        Yeah, it’s too bad that she didn’t respond to the resume in the moment. I mean, it wasn’t her responsibility to begin with to edit his resume, but since she took that task on it’s unfortunate that she dropped out without at least saying something about this major error.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Which he probably took as it being ok. She didn’t say it wasn’t, and he he’s still learning professional norms, so if she didn’t tell him it was wrong, he took it as being ok. Or else he’s a jerk and knew full well what he was doing.

        2. tangerineRose*

          Maybe I’m just grumpy today, but I think it’s too bad he decided to write something clearly untrue on his resume. How can he think that’s OK?

      1. Mookie*

        Or he may believe that if a director role is temporarily empty, he assumes that title by default because he took on a few extra duties for a while or was, perhaps, the highest-ranking employee during some short interval (which is highly unlikely if he was part-time). I could just about see someone very green thinking this was so, even if it’s mindbogglingly weird to the rest of us.

        However, if this wasn’t a good-faith sort of mistake, it takes a lot of chutzpah (and a fair amount of underestimation of the LW’s attention span) to share that resumé with somebody who knows and can readily verify the claim as codswallop.

      2. cataloger*

        Yeah, I could see this. I’ve had a number of student workers call themselves “librarian” on their resume, because they worked in a library.

        1. Kali*

          My first reaction was “is that not what that means?” so I can see how the error arises. What other job titles are there in a library?

          1. Liz*

            There are many job titles in a library and anyone who worked in one knows that so saying you are a librarian when that was not your title is a deliberate inflation. There are pages, clerks, library assistants (most jobs are in this category), catalogers, IT staff, admin staff, and finally, some librarian positions (for those with an MLS/MLIS mostly).

            1. Emily Spinach*

              I think someone just starting in a new structure could be forgiven for not knowing their actual title in many cases, but “student worker” to “director” is a pretty big misunderstanding?

            2. CmdrShepard4ever*

              But everyone knows the only qualifications to be a librarian are work in a library and to know how to reed and right good. Librarians don’t need to go to school or get a MS in Library Science at all.

            3. Pomona Sprout*

              Actually, catalogers often are MLS-holding, professional librarians. At least that was the case when I was one of those people. It was a while ago, granted, but I really hope things haven’t changed THAT much.

          2. PB*

            In general, “Librarian” implies that they hold an MLIS or equivalent, and general implies a slightly higher level of authority. Lower titles might include things like “catalog technician” or “reference associate.” That said, this is fairly esoteric, so it doesn’t really bother me if someone describes themselves as a “librarian” even if they only have a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s in a different area.

            On the other hand, I saw a part-time student describe herself as the “principal cataloger” once, which was blatantly inaccurate.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Not a librarian, but my understanding is that “works in a library” does not mean a librarian. By analogy, if this were a lab, a librarian would be the equivalent of a PI or a senior researcher. The fact that the job is in a lab doesn’t change that the student worker is not a senior researcher or PI, or even a lab tech.

          4. cataloger*

            It’s just a specific job title, like how not everybody who works at an accounting firm is an accountant, and not everyone who works at an engineering firm is an engineer. It’s a job title very similar to the name of the place, but that doesn’t mean people with other specific titles don’t work there too.

            That said, I wasn’t too bothered by it (though I did tell them to take it off their resumes if they showed them to me), and was never sure how to stop it in advance. Something like “Welcome to your job at the library, where you are not a librarian” would seem pretty defensive.

        2. Librariana*

          Yes, I have seen that happen at our library too, where student workers will call themselves “librarian” or “student librarian” in conversation. No, you are a library student worker. Actually, out of a staff of 15, only 5 of us are actual librarians, the rest are “library staff.”

          1. Gov doc lib*

            And trying to explain to people you meet socially that you are library staff and not a librarian is a Sisyphean task.

            1. Salyan*

              True! In the small town I grew up, the highest ranking library staff member (our ‘librarian’) was a library technician. When I was taking my libtech diploma, I would shorthand it for family and friends as ‘studying to be a librarian’ because the duties of a library technician matched what they called a ‘librarian’. If I called myself a libtech it only confused them.
              And then there were the times I’d run into someone who actually knew the difference…

            2. Wehaf*

              A hospital-based analogy may work well for those who ca’t get it – librarians are like doctors, with lots of specialized training/schooling and a specific position and duties. There are lots of other people who works in hospitals – nurses, administrators, medical assistants, etc., but they’re not doctors.

              1. Penny Lane*

                To the average person, they don’t see a librarian doing anything different from what the library tech or shelver or whatever does.

                1. YuliaC*

                  Yes! I frequent libraries as a visitor, but had no idea that most people working in libraries were not librarians until I started reading this blog.

            3. Kelly L.*

              Yes! I was a page for a little while and all my friends kept calling me a librarian. Noooo.

            4. cataloger*

              When I introduce myself as a librarian, people seem to picture a public librarian who does storytime. I don’t correct them.

            5. WerkingIt*

              This is true! All of my in-laws (and like everyone else I meet) thinks I’m a librarian. I just let it go. I worked in a library, but in the admin offices. Seriously, I have explained it to some of them for years, and they still think I’m a librarian. HOWeVEr! That is still totally different from putting it on my resume.

      3. Marthooh*

        I thought the same! And the OP didn’t tell him otherwise, so he has confirmation, as far as he knows.

        1. Anna*

          I try to not question letter writers too much, but I’m kind of confused by the LW’s reaction that they were SO MAD that he had given himself such a promotion, they just didn’t respond. It’s kind of an odd way to react.

          1. Anonymous Librarian*

            I think it’s a socialization thing; people assigned female at birth are taught not to get mad, not to show it, to “be nice” and “say nothing if you don’t have something nice to say”. I know I was like that until recently, when my give a crap meter went to “No” and has gotten permanently stuck there.

            1. bonkerballs*

              I can maybe see that socialization as a reason for not responding if the guy had sent just a really poorly done resume and OP didn’t know how to critique it without hurting his feelings. But OP says she didn’t respond because she was SO ANGRY at him. Socialization to be nice doesn’t at all explain why this mistake would make OP that mad (even if it wasn’t a mistake – which I think is unlikely since why would he send it to OP to be critiqued if he was trying to pull one over).

            2. Anion*

              I’m sorry, I just keep puzzling over this idea. Women are “socialized” to be so quiet, nice, and good that it’s natural for us to become infuriated over something that has nothing to do with us, and to assume the worst instead of giving another person–a young person who looked up to us, a young person of whom we previously thought highly–the benefit of the doubt? And indeed, we were raised and groomed to behave with such silent venomous rage and assume the worst of everyone we know, because Sugar and Spice, or something?

              Wouldn’t that “socialization” you seem to have experienced have exactly the opposite effect? Did being raised to be “nice” and “good” make *you* instantly jump to the worst possible conclusion–about someone you previously liked, and who therefore especially deserved the benefit of the doubt–and to become so outraged and offended at the strongly negative interpretation that you created of their probably-innocent behavior that you refused to even correct them, leaving them instead to be rejected by employer after employer, with a reputation possibly damaged permanently?

          2. tangerineRose*

            My thought is that the LW couldn’t come up with a polite way to say “That wasn’t your title; please correct your resume.” because maybe what I just suggested felt rude. I know there have been times when I wanted to correct someone but knew that in the mood I was in, it wouldn’t come out well.

      4. Genny*

        Yeah, it sounds to me like he took some bad advice about inflating his job title (did you ever once direct someone to do something or hold any amount of authority no matter how small? You should definitely put “director of llama operations” as your job title) , not realizing that “director” means something very specific in that organization and it is not what he was.

        1. Anion*

          Agreed. That was my first thought. He’s a student; how does he know how much that matters? You always see people, like, calling themselves “French Fry Technicians” or “Directors of Hamburger Quality” in movie/TV comedies when they’re listing McDonalds on their resumes, you know? The kid probably thinks it’s just a normal way of doing it.

          That the OP was so furious she didn’t even respond seems a bit much to me, and I’m not buying some “socialized that way” thing, either. Normal people of either sex are not “socialized” to be so livid over minor slights that have nothing to do with them that they can’t even speak, and normal people are not “socialized” to refuse to give help & advice after agreeing to do so. Unpleasant, resentful people are, perhaps.

      5. doreen*

        I don’t know that “director” always means the same thing – I’m never exactly sure what people mean when they talk about a “director-level” position. Are they talking about something like the directors of admissions/financial aid at the small technical college I once worked at, where the offices consisted of the director and 5 or 6 counselors with no supervisors or managers in between ? Are they talking about the regional directors at my current employer, who are responsible for all staff (100-200)and operations within a given geographic area? Or are they talking about the “Director of Llama Wrangling” positions at my current employer, where the director is the subject matter expert on llama wrangling and develops policies and provides training regarding llama wrangling – but isn’t in the chain of command of the people actually doing the llama wrangling who instead ultimately report to one of the regional directors although he or she does manage the five or ten people who work in the “Office of Llama Wrangling”.
        Which doesn’t mean Benjen should have claimed to be the director if he wasn’t – but I did know someone who truly went straight from student worker/financial aid counselor to director of financial aid at that college I mentioned.

    2. sacados*

      I think it smacks of the sort of inexperienced resume-writing that you often see with students or new grads.
      When people are telling you that you need to make every task sound as Official and Professional as possible, so that your weekend babysitting gig becomes “Executive activities coordinator” and that sort of thing.
      I know that’s what I thought you were supposed to do when I was creating my first few resumes, and it’s pretty cringey to look back on now.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This is interesting, because it’s something my now-college student had to work on–not obscuring her (actually very relevant) experience behind over-fancy verbal twists.

      2. Alli525*

        I made this mistake in my mid-20s! I had been reassigned to a new manager when he was hired, and he and I got on like gangbusters – I became so invaluable to him that he said “I want you to be the marketing analyst for the team,” so I changed my signature (luckily just my signature and not my resume) from Exec Asst to Marketing Analyst. Then the CEO (with whom I was close) called me into his office and told me under no circumstances whatsoever could I publicly call myself an analyst of any kind, no matter what my manager said.

        I felt humiliated, but I realized later that no, I’d been hired as an Exec Asst and that was my title until I could be officially promoted. Not that assistants were EVER promoted there (I was the first or one of the first), but that’s a different gripe.

      3. VelociraptorAttack*

        I work at a University Career Center and the biggest thing I flag for students when I’m talking about resumes is how easy it is to change words to try to make something sound professional until it gets to a point that it’s flat out incorrect. I think it’s very possible this was a case of this and then not really thinking about it and realizing what an exaggeration it was.

        1. Bryce*

          Sounds like it was also coupled with, due to a chaotic environment with changing roles, just sticking his entire time there under a single title. Could have been intentional inflation, but could just as easily be a newbie error.

    3. Rosie*

      I was wondering if someone had told Benjen to do this. I’m a student and I get advice from various people, sometimes conflicting, and it can be hard to know what to follow. Perhaps someone felt sorry for Benjen and told him this would be a good move for his career?

      1. Lora*

        Ha, I wondered if the career center counselor told him, “it sounds like you took on director level work! That matches some of the Director job description we have in our database!”

        1. Amy*

          I think that may be it, I’ve seen this advice in places. And advice to make sure you’re adding “director level tasks” in your description could be misinterpreted as inflating the title.

    4. MicroManagered*

      I work with a lot of students and I think it *could* be chalked up to inexperience. He might be trying to represent that he acted as OP’s temporary replacement and not even know what her official title was, and not realize he can’t just name it himself. I think OP would do best to start by approaching it from there–assume it’s a foible due to inexperience and help him correct his resume so that it shows (as it rightly should!) that he took on additional duties beyond that of a part-time student.

      1. Anonanonanon*

        That is also the easiest way to correct him. Assume inexperience and tell him something like “I took a look at your resume, and it looks good except for the job title. In this context “Director” has a very specific meaning. Even I was not a director. You should list out the actual job titles you held and for what span of time.” If he takes correction easily or seems embarrassed, then you know it was simple inexperience. If he pushes back then he is intentionally trying to inflate his role.

        1. Irene Adler*

          Agreed. Another angle would be to point out how out of place the Director title would be. If I were reading the resume of a student and I saw student type jobs and then a Director job, I would really wonder how that occurred. Where are the jobs preceding director (team lead, supervisor, manager, etc.)? It would cast doubt onto the entire resume. I would have to ask many questions about how such a grand promotion occurred. Most likely the questions would ferret out the real circumstances. Or, there’d be some lying going on.

    5. CBH*

      My guess is that since student was helping OP with some tasks from OP’s old role, naively the student assumed he / she was handling a director’s position. At some point in a job you handle tasks from different positions. If what I said is true with student’s thinking, student is very unrealistic thinking a student would get a director’s position! OP definitely follow Alison’s advice all around especially with contacting the student.

    6. Anxa*

      So I”m not sure where the best place to comment here is, but I think we need to keep in mind that this seems as though it’s work at a college or university.

      And “director” is a fairly common term and doesn’t necessarily have to be a very “high up” position. Plus, those are roles where student workers fill in sometimes.

      I know when our hall director died in undergrad, I was much more experienced than our assistant hall director (a grad student), who suddenly had to fill in as hall director, so I did a lot of his hall director responsibilities. Had I done it for longer, I could see added “served as interim asst director, blah blah blah” as a bullet point.

    7. Stranger than fiction*

      I’m going to go out on a limb and say he got some bad advice from someone. I’m sometimes shocked that people in my own circle (adults well into their careers) still fudge dates, titles, pay, etc when job hunting.

      1. Canadian Teapots*

        I actually accidentally did that with dates on my resume. I’ve held what amounts to the same “job” (but with differing duties from time to time) for so many years I accidentally put one year off my actual start year on my LinkedIn and was very embarrassed when I realized my mistake.

  3. MommyMD*

    The stay at home mom comment is totally messed up. I would let it go. I also would never bring up “legal” aspects as it has not held you back and it doesn’t seem as if you’ve been legally discriminated against. When you insinuate legal issues, a red flag against you will automatically raise. It may be wrong but it is what it is. As of now, you seem to be thriving. Ask yourself if this is really a battle you want to fight right now. I’d file it in my head and leave it alone.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree on dropping the legal liability comment, not because it isn’t true (it sounds like it could indeed be an unlawful/discriminatory bias that’s directly impacting only women), but because I don’t know that it’s persuasive/effective.

      The feedback OP#1 received was messed up and wrong. I would be livid if I’d heard about it, and that particular bias doesn’t directly affect me [aside: of course it affects everyone, but those effects are more diffuse]. But I also would try to gather more information before deciding next steps, which could run the gamut from digging deeper, complaining, doing nothing/staying, or to beginning the job search process to leave.

      1. Luna*

        Agree. Though in a way I do think it is good that the manager passed along the feedback, if for nothing else to warn the LW that someone higher up (I’m assuming) thinks like this.

    2. LouiseM*

      Agreed with both of you that bringing up the legal issues might not be the best way forward.

      I’d definitely talk to your boss, OP, and see how she feels about this piece of feedback. I’d also let her know you do not plan on concealing that you were once a SAHM, and letting her know how insulting the implication that you should is. I know that if I heard that my coworker was told to hide something like that, I’d really question whether I could continue working there if I wanted to begin my own family.

      1. Lance*

        What makes it all the more insulting was that OP being a SAHM was actually relevant info for the project she was a part of. Was she supposed to just… conceal that info, not help out at all, and let people guess as to what SAHM’s would like?

        1. Lora*

          I’m sort of impressed they listened to her at all, frankly. Most places doing product design rarely include users as anything but an incidental focus group. In my field, most equipment is built by folks who have never used said equipment in their lives, least of all under time constraints and high-stress pressure at the end of a 12+ hour shift. When users complain of design flaws that were easily anticipated and corrected IFF you have used such equipment in real life, they are told by management to suck it up because remediating it is expensive and troublesome. At one job I had which was B2B and designed custom systems, they routinely ignored those of us who had recently worked as employees of major customers, then wondered why on earth the customers were unhappy.

          See also: Siri and other virtual assistants programmed by male engineers which can’t direct users to rape crisis support, reproductive services or domestic abuse assistance, but are perfectly capable of responding effectively to men’s health issues.

          1. Emi.*

            I’m convinced that none of the engineers at Dyson have ever used a vacuum to actually clean anything.

            1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

              For me it’s infant car seat manufacturers. Have they ever tried to actually carry one of those things?! Could it be any harder on your back?!

          2. Luna*

            Oh man this drives me INSANE. This happens all the time, in every field. My university had to completely torpedo a new database they had custom built, spent tons of $$ building for years, because they didn’t include any admin staff in the design process and it was immediately apparent that the site just did not meet the requirements needed. After all this hype, it was shut down only a few months after launching.

            1. JustaTech*

              Yikes! I thought it was just scientific equipment/software, which has such a small market that you probably couldn’t do any focus groups (and the users are busy anyway) so you end up with super non-intuitive stuff like “the Prime button is the one that looks like a alien or a ladybug”.

          3. Cucumberzucchini*

            I fully have suspected this goes on. When I was a bank teller in college we got new computer software near the end of my time at that bank. It was clear that nobody who built the software had ever gone and sat with a real live teller before and watched them work. It took me 4 times as long to process deposits with the new software due to unnecessary screens and clicking. I had learned all the keyboard short cuts and was extremely fast in the old software. There was no way to be as fast on the new software (I learn things quickly so it wasn’t a learning curve issue).

          4. whingedrinking*

            I remember getting my first iPhone, looking at the built-in Health app, and thinking I must be using it wrong because I couldn’t figure out how to track my period on it. To me, that was just about the single most obvious bodily function any human being would want to keep a record of.
            Turns out, no, apparently nobody at Apple considered that that might be something people would want. It’s since been fixed, but man it chafed.

        2. boo bot*

          I would actually mention this when she talks to the boss-not in a defensive way but something like,”By the way, I was confused by this feedback because I didn’t think it was something I brought up frequently – as you know I’ve been back in the workforce for six years! I realized what X must be referring to was comments I made while working on the XYZ project, which was targeted at stay at home mothers. I’m not comfortable hiding the fact that I was ever a stay at home mother, but I want to clarify that the XYZ project is the only time I’ve really mentioned it at work.”

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            And add to that something along the lines of “are they trying to send a message that I should not have more children?”

      2. Strawmeatloaf*

        Seriously don’t get the prejudice against this. She was clearly a SAHM in the past. And then she wanted to get a job. Isn’t that normal for a lot of women who only want to stay at home when their kids are little and then when they can finally put them in preschool/kindergarten that they then go and get a job for some more income?

        1. Observer*

          Well, there is a certain strain of misogyny, most commonly seen in people in feminist ranks, that considers being a mother to be little more that being a human cow (I know, that’s gross) and that being a full time SAHM is a “waste” of time and resources.

            1. Alli525*

              It’s an earlier-wave brand of feminism that isn’t really feminism – basically it stems from the idea that “we/our mothers worked so hard for the rights we now have in the workplace, how dare you opt out and just revert back to old gender stereotypes?” It entirely ignores the concept of, you know, CHOICE and FREE WILL, but it’s definitely something that I’ve heard.

              1. MissingArizona*

                If you really want to rile someone like that, try saying you’re a stay at home wife. I swear when I’ve said it out loud you can hear the fireworks go off in their heads. And just to dig in I’ll get all gushy about my car that my “big strong husband ” bought me. I intentionally do not mention being a full time student.

                1. Wintermute*

                  Oh I imagine you get a great reaction, because those tend to be the same old-school feminists that literally say marriage is slavery

              2. Penny Lane*

                That free choice and free will doesn’t pay the bills if your spouse / partner becomes disabled or dies. There’s nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mother, but just be aware that you shouldn’t expect the work world to take you back at the same level when you’ve taken off significant amounts of time. And also be aware that your SAHM experience doesn’t really provide you with skills that translate to the work world — unless you do significant volunteering work, in which case it’s the same as working anyway so why not get the money.

                1. Liz*

                  I personally have seen way too many stay-at-home moms, including my own, who ended up as destitute aingle moms after dad bailed. In my family’s case, we lost our home.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            “most commonly seen in people in feminist ranks”

            Hard disagree on that assessment, but also, can we not do that here?

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I don’t think that’s an accurate description of feminism or feminists. Unless we’re talking a small subset of second-wave, maybe not hip to advances in feminist thought, old timey folks.

            1. Wintermute*

              That’s exactly the case, the really strident 2nd wave types that literally say “marriage is slavery”

          3. Kate 2*

            Yes, luckily it is fairly minor but outspoken. There’s also the feminism that says “All traditionally female things are bad. Women should be more like men.” So makeup, knitting, baking, pink, dresses, etc, all get slammed on, and the people who do them too.

            I’ve seen and experienced it. Some great examples of pushback on this are the forward to “Stitch n Bitch” the knitting manual, whose author used to work for the feminist magazine Bust magazine. She talks about being shamed for knitting as a feminist 2nd waver, and eventually realizing she had nothing to be ashamed of. Another example is a fairly well-known scene from New Girl, in which Deschanel’s character defends herself, and that there is nothing antifeminist about liking pink or being cheerful. Pink Think, a book about the ways women are socialized, and a fun read, mentions this, using the example of an innate fear of mice vs a pretended fear of mice to illustrate the distinction between real personality and socialized feminity.

          4. Millennial Lawyer*

            I wouldn’t say this is common in feminist circles at all. A popular issue to discuss is how domestic work is devalued since it is considered women’s work.

            1. Wintermute*

              it’s a very 70s extremist view, but it does exist. Honestly some of the quotes from that era are indistinguishable from bad strawwoman arguments against feminism, they’re that out there.

          5. KTZee*

            I think what Observer was intending to say was not that this view is common amongst feminists but rather than individuals who espouse this view commonly identify as (a particular type of) feminist. “Hardline feminists” is one way I’ve heard this subset referred to.

            1. Millennial Lawyer*

              I understand the intention, it’s just that it is too often that people use that term or “radical feminist” as a way to impune the broader group of self identified feminists even though they may not have any real world examples of such statements or behavior, like it’s purely a straw man. That said, I’m sure that women who feel the way Observer described definitely do exist, and it’s not worth derailing the conversation into a debate about what ideology that falls into!

        2. AMPG*

          I’ve worked for bosses who cared about the “optics” (for lack of a better term) of their employees’ backgrounds. So they wanted to be able to say that their team had a combined X years of experience in the field, or Y% of their team had [Relevant Degree], or whatever. I could see this being in a similar vein – OP’s years out of the workforce don’t “count” in a way that enhances the overall pedigree of the team. Mind you, I think it’s a really stupid way to assign value to your team, but I can confirm it exists.

    3. Jennifer*

      If it came from “another leader in the company,” I think it sounds at least implied that it was someone above her boss’s head that dictated that she say that.

      I concur it’s messed up but I don’t think this is a fight you can win.

      1. I prefer tea*

        It’s true that perhaps not much can be done about this leader, but I think it’s worth a conversation (with OP’s boss) to find out how ingrained this thinking is. If it’s one leader without much direct influence, make a mental note of strange insight and move on. But if OP’s boss in any way agrees with this, then the company’s culture is the problem and it’s time to move on…to a new opportunity.

        This burns me up. There is no other hand.

        1. OP#1*

          Yeah, I like this advice. The person that provided the feedback is above me, but on a lower level than my boss, but in a different department. Upon reflection I don’t really know if this is more than one person’s opinion. I would like to believe it is…but then….my boss did bring it to me so I am questioning that assumption.

    4. Mookie*

      I also would never bring up “legal” aspects as it has not held you back and it doesn’t seem as if you’ve been legally discriminated against.

      But the manager did say that the LW could be if she kept it up. That’s… pretty intimidating, actually.

      When you insinuate legal issues, a red flag against you will automatically raise.

      The red flag appears to have been hoisted, anyway, by Jane. The LW is on Jane’s radar because of this.

      I’d also not mention legality but I would ask her manager for clarification, because Jane either means that the LW talking about her private life could limit her upward mobility in this company because of the underlying structure or culture within, and she’s trying to help a sister out in an unfair world, or she means she and other leaders will actively regard this information as a demerit when considering promotions and raises. To me, there’s a difference there that might help the LW determine if she wants to remain working for this organization in the longer term.

      1. Mookie*

        I mean, tying this into a feedback meeting is pretty egregious for me. The LW has steady risen the ranks. Now that she’s revealed her Dirty Little Secret, the powers that be Have Concerns that ultimately may clip her wings. I’m really questioning the judgment of the boss and of Jane, even if the boss seemed reluctant to disclose this. The boss appears not to have enough cache to protect a director and push back on asinine feedback aimed at that director.

        The company wants SAHMs’s (and SAHDs’s?) money, but also regards them as icky and would rather not rub shoulders with a former member of their ranks. Okay. This is good information for the LW.

        1. The Ginger Ginger*

          This is what really stuck out to me. They’ve created and are marketing a product for SAHMs but are telling SAHMs that they’re unwelcome in their company. Not only is that a huge issue for OP, but if I were a SAHM and I learned this about a company who was trying to sell me a product? Oh HAAAYYYYEEELLLL NO. I would not EVER be sending money to this company or using their products. The optics on that are so egregiously awful I’m nearly speechless. It’s totally gross. The heads of this company are a bunch of hypocrites.

          1. Plague of frogs*

            Heck, I have no desire to ever be a mom to anything except my pet rats, and I already feel like boycotting this company. OP1 is doing well at her job and actually brought helpful insight from her experience; I can’t believe this would be seen as a negative. It’s making me a little ragey.

        2. MommyMD*

          Nevertheless, going in intimating legal action is super aggressive for a first conversation. I guarantee it won’t come off well. OP can voice her genuine surprise and disappointment without throwing down the legal card right off.

      2. Keeley*

        I agree. This wasn’t only a negative comment about SAHMs in general; it was a specific threat to the OP’s career trajectory based on her being a mom. That crosses the line for me.

    5. Lindsay*

      I find it so odd too, especially since the majority of times the OP referenced it was in a context that was valuable. I do program design, and having input from people who use our services/target audience is a key piece of the process. If anything, your experience as a stay at home parent is MORE relevant and important in this context. That might be something worth mentioning to your boss also.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      That’s what I didn’t understand about the comment – she’s already gone pretty far up the ladder. Sounds like some executive got their undergarments in a twist over some seemingly harmless remark she made during a project.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#5, the number of times you can use a reference for a specific position is once during each hiring process; i.e., if you don’t get the job the first time and apply to another position several months/years later, it would be ok to ask him to call for you, again.

    The number of times you can use him in your overall job searching process depends in part on your industry and the kinds of jobs you’re looking for. You can ask him to leverage his professional relationships for more than one employer, but the overall cap for a personal relationship cal is probably around 3–5 calls.

    1. o.b.*

      Nope—you need more context. If the clients are the problem and you get a new receptionist, you still have the same clients and the same problem.

      If you dig more and the receptionist is really the problem, THEN you need a new receptionist.

      1. WellRed*

        But it’s clients and coworkers, one of whom actively wants to avoid her. The letter writer needs more context, sure, but that’s a lot of complaints.

        1. Wintermute*

          it MAY be a lot of complaints. In some jobs if you’re not getting ten customer complaints a month about being “unhelpful” then you’re either giving away the whole store or you’re bending rules you really should not be bending, in others, one complaint is a big, big deal.

        2. JM60*

          That greatly depends on the job and how many customers interacts with. For many jobs, four complaints per month might be really low.

      2. Q*

        I agree that more details are needed. I’m thinking maybe the receptionist is sticking to the rules and when she won’t bend is when these people are complaining. That’s why they can’t or won’t provide specifics. I imagine its something like “receptionist is a big meany because she wouldn’t send my FedEx package same day even though it was 2 hours past the deadline and the truck had already picked up for the day.” Or “she’s so rude she wouldn’t let me just pop into the boss’s office for a minute to ask a question even though she had strict instructions from the boss that he not be disturbed for any reason.”

      3. MommyMD*

        Multiple clients don’t like her. One to the point of completely wanting to avoid her. Over a period of time. There’s your context. She’s coming off brusque or put upon or annoyed. That she is well behaved towards her superiors and doesn’t deny the allegations shows she knows it is happening.

        She needs to go.

        1. Bette*

          You know, your abrasiveness and peremptory decrees sometimes make me not like you, MommyMD. Hope you’re not like that at work, otherwise, you know, you’ll need to go.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Hey now, there’s no need to get into personal attacks. We can disagree without being disagreeable to one another.

            1. Close Bracket*

              lol. Do you disagree with the message or with the tone? Because what Bette is saying to MommyMD is the same thing that MommyMD said about the receptionist. It’s ironically humorous that you agree that the receptionist should go based on the reports of four people.

              1. g*

                It was an effective rebuttal, but also lowers the positive tone of the comments section we all value.

          2. Zona the Great*

            Change that to, “You know, I have found your comments to be abrasive and the frequent peremptory decrees often make me not like your comments, MommyMD” and I agree. I have often blown right past this commenter’s contributions because of this. I would not work well with this person and often hoped s/he would soften the delivery a bit as I think s/he has much to contribute.

        2. Kate 2*

          Honestly asking, have you worked in customer service before, recently? Because I am in it right now and have been in it for *years* and it is actually expected that you will get complaints every once in a while. 2 customer complaints in that span of time is *nothing* to really worry about.

          Customers/clients complain when they don’t get exactly the impossible thing they want, they complain if the person they want to talk to is in the bathroom because, you know, they’re human (after demanding over and over again to know where they are and why they can’t get on the phone), and on and on.

          Luckily most people are decent, but you ARE going to get complaints even if you are perfect at everything. There’s a really good thread about this from other customer service people at the top of the comments.

          And I say this as someone with clients who rave about me to my bosses. I still get complaints occasionally.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Truth! I used to be in customer service for years, then got burned out and went back to admin. Oh silly me, now I’m just serving internal customers. Either way, nobody can please all the people all the time. (And I’ve actually gotten more complaints that turn out to be I just had to pushback due to priorities or follow a policy they expected me to bend here with internal customers then I ever did when I was in customer service).

          2. TravelBug*

            When I worked in customer service at a travel company, I once had a client who thought the hotel number we had listed in her travel documents was wrong. She proceeded to curse me out after I explained to her that I could not give her the “corrected” number for the Italian hotel she was trying to call, because the number she already had was correct- when she called the hotel the phone was being answered by someone who spoke Italian because she was CALLING ITALY.

          3. MissingArizona*

            I remember a particularly busy night at work (bartending), and nothing was working right, whole night was terrible for everyone on staff. Following night the owner called me into the office to tell me someone said I was rude, I responded “just one?”, laughed and went back to work.

            You can be the greatest person on the planet and sunshine can fall out of your rear, and someone is still going to hate you.

          4. Anion*

            I had that thought, too. I’ve had people complain that I was rude or unpleasant after what I actually thought were perfectly pleasant interactions; I’ve had people complain, after I said my little greeting on the phone, that I’m “talking too loud,” and then, when I lower my voice, that I’m mean and they want to talk to someone else; I had the phone slip out of my hand once as I hung it up (it was wall-mounted and was literally above my head) and the customer called back to speak to a manager, outraged that I had “slammed the phone down on them;” I’ve had customers decide my friendly, cheerful manner was overbearing or pushy or rude; the list could go on, and I’m someone whose cubicle walls were papered with customer compliment forms.

            And I’ve had co-workers who took against me for whatever reason, or with whom I just did not mesh and everything I said or did was wrong no matter how pleasant I tried to be, or co-workers whose life or upbringing or whatever were just so far removed from mine that what seemed friendly and polite to me was rude or difficult to them. I had a co-worker get nasty with me once, and complain to a manager, because I asked him to stop taking my (self-)prepped work materials to use himself; I asked him nicely, in the genuine belief that he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to take them, but boy did I make an enemy of him by doing so. I had another co-worker who hated me because I didn’t set out prep materials in the same order she did–not that I put them in the wrong places, you understand, I simply set out Item B before Item A–and she screamed at me, called me a moron, and accused me of ruining the entire set-up for not putting out Item A first when it literally did not matter in any way, shape, or form which went on the tables first.

            I digress. The point is, sometimes people just complain about even good employees, and sometimes co-workers, for whatever reason, just don’t get along. I’d talk to both of them in that case, and keep an eye on them, but I wouldn’t assume it was all one-sided.

        3. Kevlar*

          I think this is too harsh of an assessment to make based off the little context given. Also, I’d argue one client wanting to avoid her isn’t a strong indicator she is rude by itself (especially if there’s no example or context given as to why: only ambiguity). If there were multiple clients avoiding her then maybe, but it could also just be a client who wants to bypass the necessary channels to get what they want and they know what to say to do so.

          Terminating her at this stage would be a missed opportunity IMO to learn more about not just the situation but about the other staff and clients and their expectations, internal processes, etc. Maybe there’s a responsibility of hers that can be delegated elsewhere. (Or not, maybe what I’m suggesting is overkill but that’s my two cents.)

      4. Wintermute*

        I second this comment, we really need more context, we also need a timeframe.

        If this is over a few months– that’s perfectly normal for someone in a customer-facing position to irritate a few people, you can’t please everyone all the time, especially because some people you offer them the sun and the moon and they want the stars too.

        Have any policies changed? is this really ire at a policy the receptionist can’t bend or shouldn’t bend that’s being redirected at her for being “unhelpful”?

        Have any office circumstances changed? Likewise, are people in a lot of uninterruptible meetings, and the receptionist is just getting blowback from not being able to break into conferences and get people through to who they want to talk to, or anything else that might cause more people to be more disappointed more often?

        If you know this person to be generally friendly, so that’s a sign that there’s something going on here, but I think a good manager starts with the assumption that their employees are NOT at fault and looks for more information rather than assuming outside criticism is automatically valid. It’s a subtle difference (assuming they’re wrong and then looking for exculpating evidence versus assuming they’re right and digging for a reason they might not be) but that difference is very visible in your attitude and it shows in how supported your employees feel.

    2. Anonanonanon*

      It sounds like she isn’t even the receptionist. She has other job duties that include reception work, which could be the problem. She might resent being seen as the receptionist or she could be overwhelmed but afraid that if she speaks up the work she actually enjoys will be taken away.

      1. Anon for This*

        That’s what I noted as well. She’s a coordinator with receptionist duties. If she’s being asked to work on multiple other projects (some of which may be time sensitive), then she may find it challenging to keep from sounding frustrated or annoyed when she’s interrupted by a client/customer.

        1. Allison*

          Yeah, not a great setup. We have a similar situation at our company, the woman who works the front desk does other stuff, and is only at the front desk part-time, her hours are a bit unpredictable, she’s not very pleasant to visitors or employees, and does seem to drop the ball sometimes. I could see this arrangement being “good enough” for a company that isn’t making much, but the company I’m working for is big enough, and doing well enough, that we can and should have a full-time front desk receptionist who’s friendly and helpful.

          It should be worth noting that reception isn’t for everyone! It does seem to take a certain personality to be very nice and helpful without taking BS from rude, unreasonable people. A person can be very smart and professionally competent, but could stink at helping visitors and clients. I used to sit in what was apparently the “HR reception area” and people would ask me for help with this and that, and sometimes even if I had the answer in my brain, it would take a second because I didn’t switch into “helper mode” easily.

      2. Mockingjay*

        I agree that the multiple duties may be the cause of the issue.

        At ExJob, which was a very small company, our receptionist was also the HR rep and facility security manager. When wearing her “HR hat,” she would have to get one of us to cover the front desk so she could go to an office to make calls regarding private employee information. Regarding security, if a repairman came in, either she or or one of us would have to stop work to escort the worker, and if it was she doing the escort, again one of us would have to cover the desk. And so on. And yes, she did get complaints because she was trying to do three things at once and people felt slighted because she couldn’t give them her full attention. It was a no-win situation for her.

      3. a*

        I agree with this. Not the same situation, but when I was a coordinator (and already severely overworked), I was required to be part of a rotation to relieve the regular receptionist when she took breaks or her lunch hour. Of course everyone deserves a break, and theoretically I could have worked on other tasks when the phone wasn’t ringing. But it was so difficult to have to regularly refocus that I really couldn’t get much else done there. I am not sure how I would have managed to do both jobs on a permanent basis.

        When LW talks with the coordinator, perhaps she could inquire about her workload and whether that may be a factor in how she is responding to certain people.

        1. Admin Amber*

          Yes, definitely needs more context. It does sound like a combo of the employees are possibly asking for things they could be doing themselves and the receptionist having multiple duties. I have been in this position and it sucks to be constantly interrupted with internal things on top of front-facing duties to clients as well.

      4. nonymous*

        I would also ask if the company is okay with the coordinator tasks being left undone (or pushed into OT) if there is a high demand for reception duties that day. Practically speaking, if the coordinator tasks are 6hrs of work and assumes 2hrs for the interruption of reception duties, then it’s totally reasonable for quality to drop on days that there are 3hrs of reception demands.

        Having said that, I could totally see a customer being annoyed by having to explain their request to reception only to be forwarded to the manager’s vmail (having to repeat myself with no idea of response time). My dad had this habit of ringing up the principal at whatever business he was patronizing even when asking for small things (like replacement insurance cards) – as a customer he felt there was a relationship with the principal and the staff was there to act in service to the principal by doing the petty tasks, but as a customer it was not his job to direct the staff.

    3. Observer*

      You need a lot more context. Sometimes you cannot give in to your clients – for legal, moral and / or practical reasons.

      So, the OP needs to do a bit more digging.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      That’s harsh. Op says two customers complained, out of how many we don’t know. Two employees complained, out of how many we don’t know. Meanwhile Op and other employees have not observed anything wrong. Needs further investigation.

    5. chi type*

      I’m kind of amazed at how many people are pushing back against this comment (and elsewhere). Have ya’ll really never encountered people that are rude to the customer but kiss up to the boss?
      In my experience that is waaaaay more common than people who are genuinely good at customer service (a rare talent, IMO).

      1. zora*

        It’s not that we don’t think that’s possible, but we think there isn’t enough context to know if that is the case!!
        I have encountered people who are rude at customers.. I have also encountered customers who are a disaster and impossible to please and blow up about the tiniest things.

        The push back here is on the summary firing. We all agree with Alison that she should dig in more with this employee to figure out what is actually happening, the OP doesn’t have enough info yet to decide if she should be fired or not.

      2. Justin*

        Sure I have. I would never demand their immediate firing. Especially when I have no idea what the problem actually is, the people complaining have no ability to explain beyond “I dunno I just don’t like her,” and we know from study after study that women (and especially women of color? are held to weird standards of having to cater to the every whims of men, no matter how unreasonable, just to not be considered a b****. So no, I would definitely not fire this woman unless you have clear evidence that’s shes doing something wrong and that this isn’t an example of bias ruining yet another woman’s career.

    6. Michaela Westen*

      “You need a new receptionist. Clients do not like her.”
      I know this is late, but this is a very class-oriented attitude! I and everyone who worked their way up from lower-level jobs has suffered unfair treatment because of this. It’s just a receptionist/secretary/laborer/gardener/babysitter/clerk/sales associate/tradesman. Don’t bother trying to respect them as people and treat them fairly. They don’t deserve it.
      That’s what this attitude is, and it causes many of the problems in this country.

  5. Oilpress*

    OP#3: I would also be really annoyed at having to work on the same team as my significant other. It sounds as if you’re stuck because of that recommendation, which your partner might find difficult to get for any other open role elsewhere. Nevertheless, I think it’s reasonable to ask your partner to find another opportunity because of how concerned you are that working together would be professionally and personally challenging.

    I have worked with a couple who were on the same project team. It was awful. They worked and thought as if they were one person, which made us wonder why we were paying them as two people. At least they didn’t have problems competing against each other, but no one wanted to work with them.

    1. Canadian Teapots*

      If they “worked and thought as if they were one person”, then it seems to me your company also got the benefit of essentially having one person do twice the work of another.

      1. LouiseM*

        Huh? This does not make any sense to me (although the initial comment also did not make sense to me).

        1. Canadian Teapots*

          Oilpress is complaining of a perception that the company was paying the couple as two people when they “worked and thought as if they were one”. Well, if that’s true then effectively they were paying for being able to get twice the duties (two jobs, two people versus one job, one person) and get very similar performance results consequently.

          1. Canadian Teapots*

            Addendum: consequently, regardless of which one of them did XYZ and the other did ABC, versus XBZ and AYC.

          2. Eliza*

            It depends on what kind of work it is. If coming up with original ideas was a major part of the job, and the two of them always ended up having the same ideas, I can see how that could be a problem.

            1. Mookie*

              I’m more boggled by the notion that employees should be “competing against one another,” rather than working together to make for smoother sailing. I guess Oilpress was/is in sales?

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                In a lot of jobs you’re supposed to come up with original approaches, and point out possible problems or benefits with other people’s suggested approaches. A pair who are always in lock-step about their way being the best is indeed like getting one point of view for the cost of two. And other people could be reluctant to work on a small team where 2/3 or 2/4 will always be perfectly aligned and ready to outvote any other suggestions. (I could see this happening with someone and their former assistant, too.)

                1. Jennifer Thneed*

                  Yup, and it’s a great tiny example of groupthink. Two people who always agree with each other will never see any flaws or shortcomings in each others’ ideas, whereas someone outside of that personal circle will have a different set of experiences and opinions to draw on.

            1. MommyMD*

              Yes. It makes no sense. It is two people doing two bodies of work, even if the work is the same. Otherwise this theory can extrapolate that workers who do the exact same job are doing one body of work. EACH is doing a body of work and contributing.

              1. Anna*

                Because you’re taking it literally. What Oilpress is saying is that if you’re paying two people, you not only want two people’s work, but you also want two people’s perspective and thought process. If you have two people who ALWAYS agree with each other, you’re not getting that. It’s about the intangible things you offer your employer, not the tangible product.

                1. Delphine*

                  Are we going to apply that logic to any employees who agree with each other regularly, or just spouses?

                2. Falling Diphthong*

                  @Delphine: A few posts up, I explicitly mentioned a work-only pairing that might come with a similar amount of lockstep, and the same problems.

                  This stuff is exactly why the top person firing anyone who has voiced opposition, and hiring a bunch of yes-bots whose only line is “Brilliant, I completely agree” is alarming to the rest of the company.

    2. Nonprofit worker*

      I agree, you should listen to your gut. I was in the same situation about five years ago when my current husband (then boyfriend) worked in the same industry as me. We moved to a more competitive city and he was having a hard time finding a job. At one point he was even considering taking a job in a city over an hour away, and then a spot opened up at my super small company. I kinda agonized over not wanting him to join because I felt really guilty but it just seemed like a bad idea.
      He ended up finding another job that wasn’t too far away, and at my job there ended up being a lot of problems with our manager (I could write a book) and I’m sure she would have found a way to make it more difficult if my significant other was working there. It was probably really good for our relationship that we didn’t end up working together.

      Question, did Fergus ask you before recommending your significant other? Or did he recommend you both at the same time? If you were already hired and Fergus recommended significant other without telling you, I’d maybe talk to him about that.

  6. Overwhelmed*

    Woah OP2 were you from my old company? Our receptionist was exactly the same scenario – usually friendly, but very brusque. Example include:
    “Mr Teapot? We have five Mr Teapots. Who do you want?! I am not going to help you figure this out.”
    “Stop crowding my reflection desk!”
    “Don’t put your bag on my table!”
    All technically reasonable comments but not all in all good for customer service.
    She got away with it though by being with the company for 40 years

    1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

      I was also wondering if the receptionist was “polite but brusk” – which is often perceived as rude. I’ll admit a hair of sympathy if so – as someone who moved from NYC to the deep south, it can be hard to deal with when some people just want to chat and chat… but that’s also what a receptionist is being paid to deal with.

      The LW needs to inquire more from the complaints if that is the issue, because if it is that can be worked-on.

      1. Zennish*

        I’m your typical taciturn mid-westerner, and worked in the deep south for several years. I felt like I could never get a 30 second answer to a question without twenty minutes of preliminary chitchat about my family, their family, all the local gossip, the weather, their church, did I see the game last night, etc. etc. I’m sure they thought I was insanely rude, but really I just had an eight hour day, and a lot to do.

        1. Allison*

          I’m a northerner, and I used to work with someone who worked remotely in Atlanta. A call that could have taken ten minutes took at least twice that because he insisted on lots of pleasantries and chitchat before getting down to business. Part of it could have also been that he worked at home, and he was maybe a bit lonely.

      2. Oxford Coma*

        In addition to multiple other factors, that was a reason I knew I could not relocate to the South when the opportunity arose. I am classic northeastern brusque–talk fast, walk fast, get it done. When I was in Georgia, I was ready to tear my arm off just waiting for a waitress to finish reciting the specials.

      3. Anonymous72*

        It’s a big assumption that chit-chat is what all receptionists are being paid to deal with. At my office, the “receptionist” sat at the front desk because someone had to, but she was not getting paid to chit chat and smile. She had real projects and a real work load with real deadlines with real consequences, and the people who assumed she was there to chit chat all day cost the company money, and, ultimately, the entire office the receptionist area. They also almost cost the company an incredible employee, who, out of frustration of not being able to complete her work due to the incessant reception-area chit chatters, darn near quit. Our boss ripped out the reception area. “Person sitting at reception” does not automatically equal “there to chit chat and be social with you at the expense of her deliverables and job.”

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      One of our admins is this way, some people do not realize that she is just not a chatter and wants to get things done quickly. She and I get along great, but most people prefer to go to the other admin in the area if they need something. However, she isn’t the face of the company and more of a direct admin to our execs with some office manager duties so it’s less of a problem than OP is talking about.

      1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

        The admin in my former department was like this – extremely helpful and a good worker for me and people inside our department, but definitely not a chatter. We work at a university, and most of the people who came to our department were confused students, or professors who loved to talk. She didn’t tolerate either very well. I really think she needed to be taken off front-desk duty and given a more behind-the-scenes admin role, but management never did anything, and she’s still there to this day, very grumpy and gets complaints all the time, which just make her grumpier.

    3. MLB*

      Actually those comments are rude, not technically reasonable whether you work in customer service or not.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I disagree, I don’t think the comments themselves are rude, the tone in which they are said can be rude.

        Why is asking for more clarification on who someone is looking to talk to rude? Why is asking someone not to invade a persons personal space rude, or asking someone not to put things on your desk? I have had people do that before and sometimes they know something down or might crumple/mess up papers that I working on.

        1. MLB*

          Based on the way those comments were written, they are rude. The first one is rude in the words used, they are not just asking for clarification. And the last 2 are using exclamation points, which IMO implies tone. And “please” goes a long way.

          1. Robin Sparkles*

            You posted before I could! I was going to add that even a please would change those last comments (the first is just plain rude).

        2. Robin Sparkles*

          I am from the east coast and I think even minus tone- for a receptionist- these comments sound rude and off-putting for example:
          Mr Teapot? We have five Mr Teapots. Who do you want?! I am not going to help you figure this out.” <–saying "I am not going to help you…" is rude. Maybe the first part is statement of facts and tone matters but the last sentence?
          For the other two – I could go either way -honestly they sound like commands rather than polite requests.

    4. Basia, also a Fed*

      I don’t think that any of those comments are reasonable, no matter what the tone. I have worked in private industry and for both the state and federal governments, and those comments would be considered inappropriate in any of those offices. I’m struggling to think of any voice inflection that anyone could use to make the words “I am not going to help you figure this out” not be rude. Ways to phrase them that wouldn’t be so rude:
      “Oh, Mr. Teapot. We actually have five Mr. Teapots! Do you know his first name?”
      “I’m sorry, could you step back from my reflection table? I need to have the light shine directly on it.”
      …I can’t think of any reason why someone shouldn’t be allowed to put their bag on the table. However, if there was, for example, something fragile there, you could say “Oh, I’m sorry, could you please not put your bag there? I don’t want this major award leg lamp to be damaged.”

  7. LouiseM*

    OP#3, do not let your partner take this interview! You are already uneasy about this when it’s only a possibility, so there’s no reason to think you’ll feel better about it when it’s a reality. If he decides that the awkwardness (for you) is worth it so he can leave his job, he’ll just be putting his own unhappiness on you–making him, not you, the selfish one in this scenario.

    That said, many happy couples meet at work or work together on the same team with no ill effects! I even know one couple who met at work, broke up will working in the same division of a fairly small company, and most people had no idea. But the personal devastation it caused for the couple was another matter. Buyer beware!

    1. MK*

      The OP can’t actually forbid her partner to take this job. And frankly I can see his point of view: she is asking him to let go of an opportunity that might allow him to escape daily misery for a a discomfort that is based on suppositions on her part.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        +1 This. Honestly I see more blowback to the relationship than the job in the short term. Putting her career over his, and her quality of life over his is a business decision but would definitely impact the relationship with her partner; if I were in his shoes and feeling miserable about work every day, I don’t know if I could resist holding it against her and wondering if she just doesn’t want me to succeed. And from her POV, it’s pretty awkward to listen to him complain about work after you asked him not to take a job elsewhere.

        1. Boo Berry*

          Yeah, that was my read as well. My immediate thought was “force him to not pursue an out to his current situation and enjoy being single.” I know I’d be resentful as all get in his situation if my partner, who ideally is supposed to have your back, wanted me to stay in a place I was absolutely miserable because of something like this.

          Honestly, the LW should be sitting down with her partner and discussing what it would look like if both of them were employed on this team. Have communication about the division of work/life and how the two of you will be able to navigate that. The answers may surprise her and put her mind at ease. But not even attempting to have that conversation in full? That’s a bad call.

          1. Kate*

            “Honestly, the LW should be sitting down with her partner and discussing what it would look like if both of them were employed on this team. Have communication about the division of work/life and how the two of you will be able to navigate that. The answers may surprise her and put her mind at ease. “

            I just really think this deserves echoing. Relationships aren’t supposed to be about “winners” and “losers” where one person draws a hard line. I can see where they are both coming from in this situation, and really, they probably just need to sit down and have a long talk about how this would work for them so they can decide, as a couple, what would work best for them moving forward.

            1. LW*

              There was no discussion of forcing my partner to do or not do anything. Of course this would necessitate a conversation in which my partner could talk about his own concerns and we could come to some sort of agreement. My question was primarily about whether I am justified in having a fuller conversation about my concerns at all. Even by bringing it up, I’m aware that I’m putting him in a kind of tough spot.

              You’re right that we should be talk about what working together would look like. That could help a lot. And the boundaries Alison put forth in her response would be a good starting point.

              1. Robin Sparkles*

                Yes I think given that you have not actually sat down and had this conversation seriously and thoughtfully- the advice above would be helpful. I understand both his and your concerns. No matter what we say, only the two of you can come to an understanding that makes sense for your relationship.

              2. Kate*

                I didn’t get the impression from the letter you were trying to draw a hard line, so that part was more in response to some of the comments I was reading. I totally understand why you’d feel less than certain about working with your partner and why you might want a reality check to make sure you’re being reasonable before taking your concerns to him. Personally, I would feel the same way you do, but I also get why he might feel like it would be worth it for him to be able to leave a job he’s deeply unhappy with. Only you guys know what will work for you.

      2. London Bookworm*

        I think the reasonableness of his position (if he were to insist on interviewing) depends on a lot of information we’re not privy to, like how many potential job opportunities he has available to him, or how aggressively he’s been searching for a new position, etc.

        I hear you in that, if he’s been looking aggressively for months in a really tight job market, and his current company is incredibly dysfunctional, it would be really tough to give up this opportunity. On the other hand, if his recent search has been a more passive one, or if some of the factors making him miserable are more about personality fit rather than a seriously toxic culture, this might be him trying to force a quick fix when in reality it would be much better to wait and search a bit more seriously.

        Sometimes when we’re feeling drained, it can seem like there aren’t really a lot of options available so you have to take any that present themselves. OP is in a better position than us to know if that’s true for her partner or if he’s getting tunnel vision about his first opportunity to escape.

        1. Anonanonanon*

          I agree with this. Also, the OP should consider how she would feel if the roles were reversed. It sounds like they applied at the same time and were both ok with that. If he had gotten the job and then she got called in for an interview, would she have turned it down? Also, does she not want her partner working at the same company or just on the same team?

          1. LW*

            More details: we’re in a field where there are plenty of job opportunities for people with experience. I do not have experience, my partner has some. I was unemployed before getting this position. My partner has been searching fairly passively until the last few weeks, and his current position, while very much not ideal, is (in my understanding) more of a personality clash than a completely toxic environment. My concern is more about working on the same team/working very closely. If my partner were applying to the same company but to a role where we wouldn’t interact regularly, I’d be 100% okay with that. And yes, if the roles were reversed I’d definitely be okay with leaving this job on the table and looking elsewhere.

            1. boo bot*

              For what it’s worth it didn’t come across to me at all as if you were considering “forcing” or otherwise pressuring your partner about the job, just that you have new concerns and you want to talk about them.

              Frankly, given the info you just added, I think there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I have serious reservations about this and would prefer you pursue other jobs, can we talk about that?” It sounds like he’s not desperate right now, so both of you have some breathing room before he makes a move.

              I think it is wise to be aware of how working together might affect you as a couple and take that into account. That’s not selfish, and it’s not insisting on putting your career above his. It’s thinking about the long term, and what will work for your marriage and your careers.

              1. Luna*

                +1

                You are not being at all unreasonable to be concerned about this, LW. Definitely bring it up to him!

            2. Witty Nickname*

              I have some direct experience with this exact situation, so can offer my perspective. In my case, I was the partner who got hired at my husband’s company and I had worked there previously a few years before, but not in the same department as him (it’s where we met actually). It was actually nice to have someone to vent to, or to ask “how would you handle this situation?” and know they understood the context and unique company dynamics around it.

              Things I think helped make it work:
              * His desk was not near mine (we weren’t constantly around each other at work and home)
              * We were careful not to be unprofessional or inappropriate at work (and not just in terms of pda or acting like a couple, but things like when he was promoted and managed teams that I needed to request things from and sometimes push or escalate things, I was careful not to leverage my relationship with him to do that)
              * He was really good about leaving work at work (I am not so good, but he was also really good at refusing to engage)
              * Conversely, we were both good about leaving home at home (we didn’t argue a lot, but we didn’t bring any personal disagreements to work). Neither of us is prone to drama or holding grudges, etc.
              * We are both conscientious workers who are generally high achievers, so we were able to build up professional reputations that minimized any negative view of the fact that we had a personal relationship
              * It was not uncommon in my company for couples to work here; less so in the same department, but not unheard of even then.

              We only worked in the same department for a bit under a year, until I was promoted to a role in another department, but for that year things went really well. And in my new role, we worked together on projects from time to time and never had issues there. We actually both worked at the same company for almost 11 years, until he was laid off in the wake of an acquisition last year.

              Only you know yourself and your partner, your personalities and work ethic/habits, etc. This is definitely not a situation that will be successful for everyone, but it is also not necessarily going to fail either.

      3. Natalie*

        I think working with a partner (especially on the same team) has some significant negatives that would be present even if everything works out swimmingly, so I don’t think it’s automatically as mild as possible discomfort. And as London Bookworm illustrates, unless he’s in an extreme situation, this isn’t his only escape opportunity.

    2. WeevilWobble*

      Marraiges don’t work that way. You can’t just say you’re the selfish one and leave it.

      She knew he was applying when she interviewed. She didn’t raise an objection and now wants him to continue somewhere he doesn’t like.

      Both would be selfish in this scenario.

      1. Natalie*

        The timeline isn’t actually clear in the letter, but regardless, just because you don’t raise an objection at the first opportunity doesn’t mean you can’t have different feelings later. Marriages also don’t work that way.

        1. WeevilWobble*

          She’s very clear that she didn’t think it would be a problem when she was interviewing so she knew then. And she hasn’t started yet.

          And of course she can raise the objection. But it doesn’t change that it’s selfish to want your spouse to remain unhappy because you got the job a few weeks sooner.

          Doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be selfish for dismissing her concerns too. But one doesn’t negate the other.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But now she has the job. Is she supposed to quit it so that she can avoid working closely with her partner, something that many people would want to avoid doing?

            It’s beyond reasonable not to want to work with him.

            1. WellRed*

              I am really surprised by all the negative responses. I don’t imagine anyone here wants to work with their partner.

              1. Emily Spinach*

                I often think I would want to, but to be fair we’re in such different fields that it’s completely hypothetical. If the possibly actually arose I don’t know how I’d feel. (And he thinks it would be weird, even while it’s hypothetical.)

              2. Robin Sparkles*

                Yes same here… and I love my spouse and we originally met at work but we both agreed it sucked to work together and not be able to objectively discuss your work day!

              3. MK*

                “Wants to work with their partner”, no. “Isn’t necessarily set against it”, maybe. I know that we hear a lot of horror stories in AAM, but there are many, many couples who work for the same company or even team with little or no issues.

              4. boo bot*

                I am surprised too, partly because I guess I would see this from the angle of “Team Us needs 2 jobs. One down, one to go!” rather than a competition over who got there first. The husband has a job that he’s not happy with, and that’s being treated as serious enough to take seriously. I don’t really see why the LW’s concerns about working together should be taken less seriously. They’re both employed, she’s not stealing the last job off the plate while his head is turned.

                I am also a little surprised by the idea that she agreed to it, now she’s stuck with it. “No take-backs” is a great rule for playground games and legal contracts, but in a marriage it just seems destined to lead to conflict and O. Henry stories.

              5. Academic Addie*

                I’m especially surprised at the strength of the negative responses. Allison had to step in on a thread below implying the LW was intentionally manipulative and maybe even abusive. I’m really sorry the LW is having to see these types of wild extrapolations!

            2. Liz*

              I have been miserable in jobs. As has been pointed out here many times. It can skew your view of the world. So much so that I would deeply resent my partner for “making” me drop my escape plan. And if he pulls out of the process, he may not have an easy time in future if he has an opportunity to apply there again. Person X recommended them both, presumably he felt their relationship would not be an issue at that company. And there is excellent advice here about how to set ground rules when you work with your partner. I feel the OP could be directed to those ideas too. In balancing his need to escape and her need to feel ok, I’d give more weight to the escape and the options for working together before pushing back on his employment there.

            3. McWhadden*

              But she made the choice not to bring this up sooner when they realistically could have had a conversation about who should be the one to pursue it.

              She basically wins because she was a few weeks before him. This seems really different from someone who has been working at a place for awhile and a spouse wants to apply. She knew ALL of this when she was interviewing. She knew he was applying. Knew he had a good reference from within the organization. And even said it was fine.

              1. Natalie*

                They say they’re having second thoughts, not that they concealed their feelings. People’s thoughts can change when something moves from purely theoretical to probable.

                And that timeline is conjectural.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                We don’t actually know the timeline, but she “wins” because she actually has the job, whereas he’s only interviewing.

                And people are allowed to change their minds or realize that they feel more uneasy with something than they initially realized.

                1. NewJobWendy*

                  I agree with Alison but I think OP needs to make it really clear to her partner that she understands and acknowledges that she’s changing her mind / feeling differently and she she is now asking her partner to accommodate her new feelings. In a strong relationship they’ll find a way past that but I think it’s an important part of this conversation.

                2. McWhadden*

                  Sure, but a spouse is allowed to be livid that his wife didn’t mention this before when they could have discussed it.

                  The answer makes it seem as though he would be unreasonable not to withdraw his application. When she was just as unreasonable to not give the option to have a genuine conversation about who should pursue this from this start.

                3. Lora*

                  Plus, now LW has *been there* and has a better idea of how the company works and how the personalities mesh – not something you can necessarily gauge in an interview alone.

              3. LW*

                Yes, I would of course have preferred if my hesitations had arisen sooner. But to be honest, at the time we both started the application process, the possibility of our working together seemed very hypothetical.

                The timeline was: Fergus mentioned both our names at the same time, but followed up on my name a little bit more because I was unemployed and I’m less experienced in our field than my partner. Also, my partner had only been passively job-searching until a few weeks ago. Part of the reason I feel remotely justified in bringing this up with my partner is because I’m fully confident that he will have other, equally strong opportunities, pretty quickly. If this were his only chance to get out I’d of course put my feelings aside on this one.

                1. Myrin*

                  For what it’s worth, your stance in both your original letter and the comments sounds completely reasonable to me. What an annoying situation to be in!

                2. oranges & lemons*

                  Yeah, this seems totally reasonable to me. He hasn’t even interviewed there yet, so his connection to the job is pretty tenuous. I think it would be a good idea to have a conversation with him now, before he gets more invested in the position.

        2. WeevilWobble*

          And if she had raised the objection sooner they could have had a conversation about which of them should go through with applying and interviewing if there could only be one of them. And Fergus may have wanted to choose who to recomend if there could only be one. Maybe if there could only be one he’d prefer to use his capital on the husband.

          By waiting she conveniently made it so she’s the only one who can take the job.

          1. Anonanonanon*

            That is what I was thinking too. They should have had this conversation before they both applied at the same company. I would be very upset if my partner blocked me from interviewing at a job he knew I was applying for. I can see having concerns about the dynamic and brining it up int he interview and even possibly deciding that we would have to work too closely together for it to work, but that can be addressed in the interview rather than just proactively pulling my application.

            1. Married*

              Along those lines, I don’t think the only options are that he either continues interviewing while disclosing that he is in a relationship with OP or drops out of the application process– there’s also the very real possibility of breaking up and continuing with the job application. Given how unsupportive his partner is of his career aspirations, I think OP’s current SO should also consider whether his relationship with OP is worth the professional sacrifice.

          2. Natalie*

            Cool, so we can add “manipulative” to “controlling” and “selfish” in the list of bad character traits the LW must clearly have. That’s neat.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            By waiting she conveniently made it so she’s the only one who can take the job.

            This is really ungenerous (and I think unwarranted). This situation sucks. It doesn’t mean the OP manipulated it in the way you’re implying.

          4. PB*

            Well, she has the job, and he doesn’t. He also has another job, and she was unemployed. Sometimes, something seems like a good idea, and you later realize it isn’t.

            It’s not a great situation, of course, but I just can’t see OP as a master manipulator.

            1. WeevilWobble*

              Nothing suggests she didn’t have a job. She uses the phrase “searching for months” for both of them. And that she starts in a few weeks suggests she had to give notice somewhere.

              She has the job and he doesn’t now. Before when they could have discussed who makes the most sense to pursue it neither of them did.

              I didn’t say she was a manipulator. But intentional or not this is a crappy thing to do to a spouse.

              1. AnotherJill*

                She writes in a comment above that she was unemployed. But in any event, sharing concerns about working on the same team is not a crappy thing to do.

                1. McWhadden*

                  It’s not a crappy thing to do when both of them have a chance to discuss the possibility of who will apply. It definitely is now.

                2. Natalie*

                  @ McWhadden, ones feelings changing isn’t crappy, it’s just a normal part of life. I personally wouldn’t want to be in a relationship where my partner’s reaction to that was being “livid” as you said upthread, but you do you I guess.

          5. LW*

            Of course it would have been ideal if I’d raised the objection sooner. I wish I’d had it sooner! But I changed my mind based on new information, and it sucks. I would have been totally fine with working at the same company, but working very closely/on the same team is more concerning to me, and I wanted to know if my concerns were sufficiently justified to discuss it with my partner.

            I mention this in another comment, but Fergus did use his capital for me. Fergus and I are closer both personally and professionally, and Fergus knew it would be more challenging for me to find a position than for my partner (my partner is a bit more experienced than I am in our field, and it’s pretty easy to find job leads in our field for people who are experienced).

            1. AnotherJill*

              Your original question and concerns are perfectly reasonable. You may also be worrying for nothing, since having an interview doesn’t mean that your partner will be offered a position. It’s also important if the company knows that you are related – some companies wouldn’t actually make an offer to a spouse for a position on the same team.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s a tough timeline. If OP were well established at the job, I would push for not wanting SO to come onto the team–of all the gin joints in all the towns, etc. But if you’re both looking for work in the same field, then saying “Okay, you apply only to companies in the first half of the alphabet, and I’ll do only companies in the second half” likely isn’t a good system–you’re probably both putting your resumes out to every relevant company in your area.

      1. LW*

        Honestly, we’re not both putting our resumes out to every relevant company, because we work in a field with A LOT of relevant companies who are hiring! Part of the reason I feel remotely justified in bringing this up with my partner is because I’m fully confident that he will have other, equally strong opportunities, pretty quickly. If this were his only chance to get out I’d of course put my feelings aside on this one.

    4. Robin Sparkles*

      LW posted a few times- I think some comments are uncharitable. Sometimes we say something is OK without thinking it through because we don’t think the situation is going to become a reality. Then when things do start becoming more real, as in this case where the partner is interviewing and may actually get the job, we start to really look at it clearly. This is normal and OK and making her feel badly for not thinking every single aspect from the beginning isn’t really fair!

  8. Casuan*

    OP2, my quick thoughts:

    Is there a pattern to the timing of the complaints?
    ie: Could Receptionist’s bahaviour have been caused by a temporary situation which then improved?
    If so, that doesn’t change the fact that you should address the complaints although context might help.

    You didn’t give a time-frame as to when you talked with her in the past or when you asked if she was overwhelmed. When you discussed this did you make it clear that she was free to speak up if she ever does feel overwhelmed or has other issues? This could be why she “got quiet” & didn’t defend
    herself when you talked with her & it’s good that she said she’d try to do better.

    Could Receptionist have ideas to make her role more productive & she doesn’t think she can propose &or implement new procedures? If so, this type of frustration could translate to rudeness, especially in a role where one must be continually “on”.
    follow-up: Does Receptionist get adequate breaks &or does she need to find coverage if she’s away from her desk for a few minutes?

    The red flag to me is that you actually have a client who has asked to bypass your receptionist.

    Try to talk with her from a different angle. Instead of immediately giving Receptionist information, ask for her version. If she questions this approach then you can be candid & tell her that there’ve been more complaints & you are trying to understand both sides so you can address it properly. Or you can just say that you’re reviewing office procedures & client contact.
    eg: “When Client called earlier, how did he seem?” or “Were you able to get that research for Arya finished? How did that go?”

    I like what Alison said about her manner; demeanour is important, especially for the person who is the first contact & face for your company.

    Please update us!

    1. Jennifer*

      My best guess about reading all of this is that if she runs into some kind of problem or trouble she can’t/doesn’t know how to deal with, that’s when things go wrong for her. She may be a naturally perky person except if things are going badly, for all I know.

      1. oranges & lemons*

        I might be reading my own past experience into this, but I also wonder if she might resent the customer service parts of her job so she only puts minimal effort into them? I have been in a position where customer service was tacked on to another full-time job and it was frustrating to be interrupted all the time.

    2. Drop Bear*

      I would also consider: Is it the same staff/clients complaining each time? I temporarily took over the management of office Administrative staff while a position was being filled a few years ago, and had complaints from two managers about one of the Admins – I hadn’t observed a problem but they said it had been going on for a while and it made them uncomfortable and they had finally ‘had enough’. Turned out they were unhappy with her refusal to put up with their slightly sleazy flirting. What they called rude I called boundary setting. The previous manager was conflict avoidant so had done nothing about her requests for help with the situation, so she was doing her best to manage it herself -not making eye contact with them, not smiling at their ‘jokes’, being polite but cool (which sometimes tipped over into curt – partly through frustration and partly through inexperience). Just something to keep in mind.

      1. LKW*

        This is what I was thinking. Are the complaints coming from men or across genders? Some people are such fragile beings that if the object of their attention doesn’t respond, they get very very upset.

        I think you need to ask the receptionist for her perspective. It can be very difficult to be bubbly when you know that it will be perceived as “receptive to being harassed” so as Drop Bear says it’s boundary setting.

        If they can’t give you specifics: “It was so bad” = what was bad “It was just so bad” then perhaps they are getting the help that the job requires but perhaps no ego stroking along the way.

        Another thing to consider -if these clients are important then they may need to be “handled” a little differently than your standard client. They may be expecting to never be put on hold or referred only by their surname “Oh hello Mr. X, let me put you right through to Fergus”

    1. Liz*

      I just heard, honey I love and don’t care if you are miserable and deeply unhappy at work, it might make me uncomfortable. So rather than discuss it and try to set up ground rules and see if I can be comfortable with this, I’d rather you drop out now.

      I have been miserable at work and am feeling more for the partner than I am for the OP.

      I think they could discuss the options for working together so that both parties can better understand the options.

      I can see choosing my own mental health over a partner, no matter how much she loved me.

      1. Queen of Cans & Jars*

        “I can see choosing my own mental health over a partner, no matter how much she loved me.”

        I think it’s definitely worth a discussion, but ultimately that may be what it boils down to. But then the partner is working in a company with their ex, so that’s a whole new level of discomfort. I think this is really a no-win situation, unfortunately. :(

      2. Luna*

        I’ve been there too at previous jobs, but I also would really not want to work at the same company as my partner, let alone on the same team. It won’t do the partner any good to go from one bad work situation to another. If it was a different team at the same company I would say it’s worth a shot, but this just seems like no good can come from it.

        Of course, the partner might decide he cares about the job more, and then LW might find herself working on the same team as an ex instead. LW can’t stop him from interviewing if that’s what he really wants to do, but if they do end up working together they really need to figure out a system to make it as bearable as possible.

      3. LBK*

        So if it turns out to be a bad idea to work together, they both get to be miserable? And one of them presumably has to job search all over again? Pass.

      4. LW*

        There’s no discussion of putting my foot down that strongly! That would of course be horrible, and my partner’s well-being is more important. Neither of us is putting the relationship on the line based on this situation. But this also isn’t his only opportunity – I mention some more of the details in comments above. My question was primarily about whether I’m reasonable to want to push back harder – the situation sucks for everyone.

        Talking about ground rules is a good and important idea. The links Alison included in her response seem like a great place to start.

        1. nonymous*

          well, since you’re already at the company, can you look around and see if there are any other couples working together? where I work, there is a married couple that have offices next to each other. They work peripherally on the same team, but are in charge of different tasks. I’m pretty sure the only time I see them talk is to coordinate lunch/transportation, and even when they eat lunch together they don’t really talk to each other. In the same group there is another married couple where the wife periodically “intercedes” in meetings when the husband gets fixated on some topic (really, she’s doing us all a service by reining him in; there’s a certain tone that clues him in that he’s taking it too far). In grad school we had a married couple who was part of our lab and reported to the same PI – that was really great for them because they could team-code on bigger parts of the project, but it meant that us singletons missed out on some opportunities and they got the higher-profile ones.

          Anyway, point is that it can work, but it will be a lot easier if your org has some experience and others have created work norms that you can follow. For example, in my org there can be project shuffling because spouses can’t be in chain of command, even at a project level. I think this is a good policy, because you don’t want the relationship to taint the validity of any praise/awards that result from successful projects.

      5. oranges & lemons*

        This is pretty harsh. Alison often writes about how it’s not a good idea to move from one bad situation to another, and I don’t see how this is much different–I think the partner may be conveniently ignoring all of the ways this could go wrong in his desperation to leave his current job. It’s just as much of an issue as if he were getting other red flags about the new job.

        1. Susan Sto Helit*

          Also, often when we’re unhappy, or depressed, we fixate on the ONE thing that’s causing it – like if we can just fix that single thing in our lives then everything will be ok, and we’ll be happy again. Sometimes thats ‘I just need a new job’. Sometimes it’s ‘I just need a partner’. Sometimes it’s ‘I just need to break up with my partner’. Or something else entirely.

          In my experience, though, changing that one thing doesn’t actually fix the problem – because it might have been contributing to it in some way, but it wasn’t the whole problem. The problem, often, is something you haven’t been fully ready to identify yet.

          What if the partner gets this new job, and it turns out he’s still unhappy?

  9. Close Bracket*

    OP1:
    I am really sorry that you got that feedback. It is terrible that you have to work for someone who thinks poorly of stay at home moms, and who thinks that your time as one reflects poorly on you. I hope your manager has your back on this and will pushback on the
    complainer.

    OP2:
    How many people does your receptionist interact with, approximately? Four people who don’t get along with her sound like a lot, but if she interacts with 100 or more people, it doesn’t sound like very many. I am wondering if there are personality clashes between individuals going on rather than a systemic problem with her being rude. I would keep an open mind, talk more with the people were bringing the complaints, and also get your receptionist’s side of the story. The more information you have, the closer you can get to the root cause of the conflict and the complaints.

    1. o.b.*

      Yeah, exactly my thinking for OP2. When I was a receptionist, there WERE a small number of callers AND COWORKERS I was rude (okay, maybe just professional but extremely icy) to sometimes. Typically this is because THEY were exceedingly rude first and my patience was expended. However, I always behaved in a way I felt was justifiable and I (think I was!) exemplary in customer service overall. None of them ever complained about me, but I would have felt empowered to defend myself to my bosses if they had. (It was also a somewhat informal environment. If you are my coworker, you call my cell 5+x on my day off without a good reason, and you don’t apologize or even acknowledge this is out of the ordinary, you better believe we will not be on friendly terms going forward.)

      The point being—it’s hard to assess your receptionist’s behavior without more context. Go back to the coworkers who complained, but also see if you can get more information from other coworkers who spend more face time with her than you do. It really may just be Certain People.

      1. o.b.*

        Caveat—your receptionist may also just suck. But if I’m upset enough to complain to someone’s boss about their professional conduct, then I’m upset enough to remember specific problematic things about their behavior.

        1. Viki*

          Exactly!

          If something bothers me enough that I feel to need to complain, I will tell you it. And even if it’s vague, like tone of voice I will still say that.

          Details tend to give legitimacy to claims and can produce results.

      2. g*

        Yeah I’d feel weird taking action on nonspecific complaints for exactly this reason: maybe the receptionist was brusque because the colleague/client was being awful. If she’s fired without knowing the full story she never gets to defend herself.

        If it was me I’d let the receptionist know politeness is important and that there’d been complaints, but not with a view of taking further action unless more information surfaced.

  10. Kaittastic*

    #2
    When I worked as a receptionist at a hotel we had managers from other properties do a “test call” pretending to be a customer to see how our skills were. We also had mystery shoppers that would check in and rate us on specific things we were supposed to do. Maybe try this so you can personally see how she’s interacting with customers. She’ll probably recognize your voice but maybe another manager can do a test call

    1. arjumand*

      This is the best suggestion I’ve read so far.

      OP2 – you’re never going to get the full story out of the receptionist herself, and the clients have been very vague.

      Ask another manager to do a test call, and listen in to see what’s really going on.

    2. TootsNYC*

      There’s also the idea of recording the calls on the phone; that’s what all those recordings say: “for quality assurance purposes, this call may be monitored.”

  11. Thlayli*

    OP3: “Before I accepted the job, I didn’t think that I would have a problem with Company X interviewing both my partner and me.”

    Does this mean that you knew your partner had applied/was being recommended BEFORE you accepted your new position? Or did your partner only come into the running after you accepted the job?

    This is pretty inportant. If you knew partner would be considered also, then you should have had the conversation BEFORE you accepted the job. The sentence above makes it seem like you knew that you were both in the running for the same team, but you decided to take the job anyway, and now you are changing your mind. If I were your partner I would be pretty upset about that.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think people are allowed to change their minds, or to factor in new information.

      It’s part of growth.

      I disagree with the concept that once you’ve made a decision, you can’t ever change it. Once you have accepted a boundary line, you can’t ever move it.

      I can see that the partner would be upset, but I still think it’s OK for the OP to do so.

      1. Anonanonanon*

        But you don’t get to unilaterally change that type of decision. If they both agreed that it would be ok to potentially work together and applied and OP changed her mind once she got it and doesn’t want her partner to work there, it is entirely reasonable for the partner to say no to that. If he is incredibly unhappy at his current job and this is his best opportunity to get out, then maybe OP will have to put up with a less than ideal situation for a while until one of them can transfer to another team or get a different job. That decision should be made by BOTH of them, not the OP alone.

        1. Liz*

          Exactly, it is the unilateral part that is off here.

          There is excellent advice in AAM about how to work with a partner. That advice should be part of a convo BEFORE he accepts a job there. I might choose my mental health over my partner but I would like to have the convo first. Asking him to back out at this point could also make it harder for him to reapply in the future.

          1. Natalie*

            What unilateral part? There’s nothing in the letter or the answer that suggests making a unilateral decision or giving an ultimatum or anything like that.

        2. Colette*

          Well, “I think we should do X together” is exactly the thing you can unilaterally decide will not happen – because if you aren’t willing to participate, it cannot happen.

          The OP doesn’t want them to work together. There is good reason to think it will cause problems. That will likely not be happy news for her spouse, but there are plenty of things that come up in relationships that are non-negotiable for one partner or the other, and that’s just life.

          Their choices are:
          1) they work together, causing strain and resentment on their relationship (pretty much guaranteed, since the OP does not want to work together)
          2) spouse rules this job out and keeps looking for other jobs
          3) OP quits the job she hasn’t started yet, harming her professional reputation and possibly causing her spouse to miss out on the chance of the job anyway

    2. LW*

      Yes, I did know he was being recommended before accepting the position. I wish we had had the conversation then, or sooner. To be honest, while I was applying the idea of our both being accepted seemed pretty hypothetical, and after I got the job offer I was so excited I forgot to factor that piece of information in. It wasn’t great, but now that’s the situation we’re working with.

      There’s no discussion here of unilateral decision-making. We will make the decision together. But this also isn’t my partner’s only (or even best) job lead. If it were, I wouldn’t even be asking the question.

  12. AcademiaNut*

    I successfully work at the same employer as my husband, in a field with lots of coworker couples (it’s not unusual to have only one employer for our field in commuting distance). But I would be wary about being on the same team as him. We’ve found that working too closely is bad for our relationship – it’s too easy to bring work issues home with us. We do interact occasionally, but it’s not the central part of our jobs, and we’re careful to keep work stuff at work.

    One US specific pitfall to consider – if you want to take FMLA for something where you are both eligible (like kids), you only get 12 weeks *total*, rather than 12 weeks each if you work for the same employer.

    1. Scotty_Smalls*

      OMG really why? It’s not like they’re the same person. It’s be akin to saying “You two share the same last name so we’re gonna have you split the 2 weeks paid vacation.”

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I have no idea, but this occurred to colleagues of mine when they adopted a child. They had to split the 12 weeks.

        1. Scotty_Smalls*

          I just googled it. It’s only combined for births, adoptions, or caring for a sick parent.

          FMLA is separate if one gets sick, or if you are caring for the sick spouse or child.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Because we’re still insanely regressive when it comes to our family and medical leave policies.

      3. Overeducated*

        The idea is that the kid only needs one “primary parent” and if you both work at the same place, your employer can say, “which one of you is it?” (This was the policy of my employer when I had a baby. They literally used the words “designated primary parent.” I was so mad. That policy so clearly holds back gender equality.)

      4. essEss*

        I worked at a company that also penalized married couples….. If you were married to another employee, you could not EACH get health insurance to cover the other. In the normal world, if each person worked for different employers they could each get family health insurance that would cover both of them so that one was primary and the other was secondary on each insurance. This allowed you to have 2 insurances to cover medical expenses.
        Since they both worked at this company, they could each get just a single-person health coverage or else only 1 of them was allowed to get the family health insurance so they were penalized for being married to each other. If they had been married to outside people, then each could have gotten family insurance (as well as their spouses at their own jobs). I frequently argued that this was denying an equal benefit package to one of the employees since one of them wasn’t allowed to use their health benefits package just because of WHO they were married to.

        1. Natalie*

          This doesn’t really make sense. The company presumably contracts with one insurer, and that insurer isn’t going to double cover two employees just because they could technically each enroll with their spouse as a dependent. They wouldn’t each be able to enroll the same kid, either. That’s just how insurance works.

          1. JeanB in NC*

            In my (small) company, we only cover most of the employee premiums. We do not contribute at all to the family or spouse coverage. So I would hope that our insurance company isn’t going to say that the two married employees can’t each have their own coverage.

            1. Natalie*

              No, absolutely, but that’s not what essEss is describing. They’re talking about the possibility that Joe could sign up for family insurance at Company A himself and Jane, and Jane could sign up for family insurance at Company B, covering herself and Joe, so both Jane and Joe have two health insurances. If Jane and Joe work for the same company, they can only sign up for one insurance coverage each. But this isn’t the result of the company penalizing married coworkers, its the insurance company declining to provide double coverage for each person.

              (I’ve always considered what your describing to be a small benefit for a married couple at the same company, since I’ve never worked anywhere that charged the same per-person amount for family coverage as they did for single coverage.)

          2. Judy (since 2010)*

            “2 insurances to cover medical expenses” is not how the primary and secondary work, as far as its been explained to me.

            There is a medical expense for $100. The primary insurance pays 80%, so $80. If the secondary insurance would have paid 85% or $85, so the secondary insurance pays $5. If the secondary insurance would have paid 75% or $75, the secondary insurance would not pay. If both policies are identical, the secondary insurance will never pay. The only way the secondary insurance would pay would be if it had a lower deductible or a lower coinsurance.

            My company has a lower deductible and coinsurance than my husband’s, so the kids are on mine. But my company doesn’t offer employee + children, only family (or single), so my husband has my insurance as secondary.

          3. Jennifer Thneed*

            I’ve worked for (large) companies where there were 2 options for insurance coverage. Not just PMO/HMO, but two different actual companies.

            1. essEss*

              Exactly. My company offered several insurance options so the married couple could have chosen different insurances if the company allowed each of them to get insurance. Instead of denying married couples the ability to each get family insurance, they should have told them that they can’t get the same insurance.

    2. Mookie*

      Good points, but they may not apply to the LW and their partner because we don’t know the legal status of their relationship.

      1. Anna*

        In many companies, their legal status as married is irrelevant. All they have to do is sign a document that says they are “domestic partners.”

  13. JamieS*

    I’m going to somewhat disagree with Alison on #3. OP can certainly talk to their partner, make a case for why it’s a bad idea to work together, and even end the relationship if their partner pursuing the job is too much (not that I’m recommending that). However OP dictating whether or not their partner should pursue the potential job is asserting a level of control over another person OP has no right to.

    1. WeevilWobble*

      And maybe she’d have standing if she actually worked there already but she hasn’t even started. And she KNEW that he was applying when interviewing. And thought it was fine then.

      1. JamieS*

        Alison pretty explicitly says OP can tell their partner whether he can pursue the job or not.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, I don’t — which is why there’s a “if he moves forward anyway” paragraph. I say that she should tell him directly that she’s uncomfortable with it.

          I do think, though, that if she explains she’s deeply uncomfortable with this thing that will impact her career and her day to day life, that should be enough to kill it unless there’s some circumstance we don’t know about.

          1. JamieS*

            You said OP can veto their partner pursuing the job and double downed by saying they get to sign off on their partner pursuing the job. A veto is an authoritative prohibition and signing off on something is giving your permission to proceed neither of which is a conversation.

            Your last paragraph merely acknowledged OP’s partner could ignore their proclamation but it doesn’t negate you saying OP has the right to make such a proclamation in the first place. OP doesn’t have that right. They have the right to be uneasy and talk to their partner about it. They have zero right to unilaterally decide who their partner can or can’t interview with.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The OP has no ability to ban him from proceeding. But she has every right to say “I’m deeply uncomfortable with this and am asking you not to do it.”

            2. boo bot*

              I’m perplexed by the idea that *telling her partner she is uncomfortable* is the same as dictating what he can and cannot do. By that logic, expressing a feeling or preference is (a) an expression of absolute power, and (b) always wrong.

              I would counter that by saying nothing, she would be keeping secret vital information that the partner would probably rather know before deciding whether to take the job. What’s worse, a conversation about things right now, or what could be years of silent, mutual resentment?

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          No, she doesn’t. She says the OP can tell her husband she’s not comfortable with it.

          1. Liz*

            I know AAM never says OP can put her foot down and veto it but it reads to me like AAM is saying the partner should not do it if the OP does not want, that he was incorrect to do so. “it’s not the kind of thing your partner should move forward with if you’re not okay with it.” I read the post as more, he is wrong and should not do it but if he does, do this and less, you both have an opinion here and here is how to have that convo. And here is what you can do if he won’t listen.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I do think the partner shouldn’t do it, but the OP can’t dictate that to him. What she can do is share her concerns and the seriousness of them, and have a serious conversation with him about those concerns.

    2. Murphy*

      Dictating in the sense of “I don’t like this, and therefore you can’t do it” wouldn’t be cool. But I think saying “I have serious reservations about this, and we need to figure something out” is reasonable.

    3. LW*

      There is no discussion of dictating anything to my partner. Of course we need to have more conversation about it and make a decision together! My question was primarily about whether it’s okay for me to bring up more conversation/push back at all.

  14. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

    So, #2.
    Occasionally I have to push back at folks who aren’t happy with the quality of our receptionist’s decision making or work product. I believe that THE job of someone who works front desk is to make every one they touch (customers, vendors, employees) feel great about the interaction. People who complain about stuff like “she misrouted someone who should have been my customer to another sales team when if she had only done XYZ investigative process she could have put them to the right place”, have never worked a front desk. If you don’t like the quality of work on a clerical project you gave her, find somebody else to do it, don’t bitch to me about it.

    She is unfailingly sweet, warm and kind to everybody who calls and comes in. Stuff mostly gets to the right place. That’s the job, and it is our job to be warm and kind to her back so that she has gas in her tank to keep that up for an entire year every year.

    OP, I don’t know how you coach for that but I like Alison’s wording. If you are able to offer to remove some tasks, so she can focus on Job One completely, it may or may not help but it would show the level of importance you are placing on it.

    1. soon 2be former fed*

      Hard disagree. Routing calls correctly isn’t that hard. I appreciate that you like your receptionist, but you don’t seem to expect much from her. An occasional mistake sure, but misrouted calls can annoy customers and wastes everybody’s time.

      1. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

        I hard disagree your hard disagree. You don’t know our business.

        If a caller asks for Gwen and is routed to Martha, that’s on the receptionist. If someone says they are calling from XYZ Corporation and don’t have a sales rep, receptionist sends to a sales team. If it turns out that XYZ corporation is a subsidiary of ABC corporation and should have been routed to another team? Oh well. Her job is to answer phones and route to the best of her ability. She is not a mind reader or a forensic researcher.

      2. NotMyRealName*

        It’s not that hard until you are actually doing it! Somebody calls with a vaguely worded request or no idea what they actually need and you just have to try to figure it out. Part of my job is covering for the receptionist and frankly there were many things I only learned when I did them wrong. “Utility bills go to Fred, except the phone bill goes to Alice. All statements go to Lucy, except A,B, &C go to Ricky.”

        1. NotMyRealName*

          And we’re not going to tell you the exceptions until you give the phone bill to Fred.

        2. AMPG*

          At my current job AND my last job, I’ve ended up being the catch-all person for the receptionist – the one she can route calls to when she can’t figure out what they’re asking, and then I can do some digging and figure it out. It usually doesn’t take that long, and earns valuable brownie points from support staff.

      3. Kate 2*

        It isn’t hard until you are doing it, as NotMyRealName says. I get calls from people who don’t know the name of the person they’ve worked with for 20 years, people who ask for Thomas when the person’s name is Terry, people who refuse to talk to an assistant who can solve their problem OR leave a message but call over and over again, etc.

  15. J-Dre*

    The oddest part to me about the OP’s boss’s colleague’s bias against stay at home moms is that …well, OP was a SAHM **SIX YEARS** ago. I could somewhat understand the manager’s concern if OP has been a SAHM only six months ago, because that could indicate that she’s still relatively inexperienced in the workplace.

    But six years? That feels like telling a 26 year old employee not let on that 6 years ago they were a only a sophmore in college.

    1. Lynca*

      Honestly if I was the OP I’d take that as all the signal I need that I need to take my talents elsewhere. Where people aren’t crazily giving feedback that my 6 years of gainful employment don’t matter more than having a past as a SAHM (or SAHD).

      1. OP#1*

        yeah…I’m trying to figure out if this is one person’s screwed up opinion in an otherwise sane organization or this is one person saying what’s on many people’s minds in this organization.

        I think the feedback was intended as a woman-to-woman “be careful there’s bias out there and I’m looking out for you” but came across as “hide your past because we’re uncomfortable with it”. And…said past is nothing anyone should be uncomfortable with.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          And if your company markets products to SAH parents, they certainly shouldn’t be disrespecting those customers!

  16. Kiwi*

    OP3, someone has to tell your new manager that you and your partner are a couple before they offer him a job. Not doing so could scupper your new job and definitely won’t start you out on a good note.

    Ideally he’ll tell them, but if he feels strongly that it’ll hurt his job chances (which it probably will), then he may be very reluctant to. If that happens, you may have to tell him that you’re going to tell your manager yourself.

    1. LW*

      Yes, this is good to know! We’ve had this conversation and he is happy to bring up our relationship during an interview.

  17. carlie*

    OP#1: Aside from everything else, the anti- SAH attitude will hurt the company’s bottom line. If they are making a product for SAH parents but have such a huge disdain for them that they don’t even want someone on the development team who has been a SAH and can provide firsthand feedback, they’re not likely to make a decent final product that demographic will want. “This attitude is bad for business” is, or should be, a compelling argument.

    1. Penny Lane*

      What products are there that would be good for SAHMs but not WMs (aside from a social groups intended for at-home parents)
      And what products are there for mothers that aren’t equally relevant for fathers (aside from products related to nursing)?

      Products marketed “for the busy mom” reinforce that mom is the only one tasked with feeding, changing, buying clothing, cleaning up, etc.

      1. MommaCat*

        Having been both a SAHM and WM, I can think of a few things. As a SAHM, I was far more likely to cook; as a WM, I’m just as likely to pick up something on my way home. So, kitchen items definitely got more wear and tear and needed replacing more often. As a SAHM, I definitely needed something to “keep this dang kid busy while I do the dang dishes so we have some dang bowls” far more often than now, since now I tend to be home the same time as my SO, so we can split those duties more easily. Those are just a few of the things that come to mind (and I had a mostly SAHD, btw, and his patterns of the time seem to match mine).

      2. OP#1*

        This particular product was aimed at the isolation some SAHMs feel, especially those with medically complex children/infants. Certainly it wasn’t only for SAHMs. I was just trying to succinctly communicate that the context was appropriate to bring up the fact that there was a time that I was a SAHM.

        1. Nita*

          I kind of wonder if there were some crossed wires with the feedback. Maybe the person that made the original complaint meant that when you were working on this product, you mentioned your experience as a SAHM often enough that others on the team felt you didn’t value their input as much, seeing as they weren’t stay at home parents. Which is subjective, and possibly unfair, but translates more into “don’t overwhelm project development with your personal experience, others have valuable input too,” not “never speak of being a SAHM or people will think less of you.” And then this person talked to your manager, who thoroughly misunderstood what they were saying. I’m just guessing here, you would know better if that’s what may have happened.

  18. SandrineSmiles (France) - At Work*

    Hehhh. I’m a receptionist. About 300 employees (a little more maybe, but I don’t know) and I speak to customers daily (though I mostly transfer them to actual customer service, which makes it a lot easier) .

    I see two possibilities here. One, the receptionist is nice to coworkers, but that’s about it. Sometimes it happens: coworkers “know your struggle” and can commiserate with you about clients or customers, you can share stories, get friendly, things like that… (can happen, for example, in call centers and all) .

    Or you have shitty clients who, as others have mentioned, don’t like it when they don’t get their way. So they’ll complain for nothing, and I’ve seen stories of people being fired because of nasty clients/customers (NotAlwaysRight anyone ?) . I’d try and find a way of observing her more closely when she’s interacting with various people (from the company, not from the company, clients, etc) .

    And also: if someone can’t pinpoint exactly how she is rude, don’t listen to them. No, seriously. There is no point in taking these remarks into account. Either she’s rude enough they can tell you how or why, or they’re just whining and you can just put it aside as whining.

    1. paul*

      I’d agree with that if it was a one off, but you’ve had two internal and external complaints within a short time period.

      OP: by any chance do you have call monitoring software (assuming these were calls)? It might help to be able to hear. We’ve done that at work and it’s been really helpful for when caseworkers have phone based interactions (and yes, clients are informed we record our calls). We only started doing it because the state grant that funds us wanted us to, but it’s been really handy. Sometimes it turns out that yeah, the client was unreasonable (or flat out delusional, it happens), sometimes a usually good caseworker just had a less than great interaction…and sometimes it may reveal a pattern of one person just being rude.

    2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

      Yeahhhhh… I take a pretty hard stance on “if you can’t be specific then your subjective complaints aren’t going to be taken into account in any sort of substantive way”. Even if it’s some of those items that Alison listed (coming across as annoyed, brusque, put-upon, or unhelpful) – then you SAY THAT. Not just “she was bad”. You say “her tone came across as annoyed” or “she didn’t offer attempt to offer any sort of solution/compromise/alternative” or “she seemed distracted”. Even if its something really hard to quantify you can always go the route of “she made me feel… whatever the issue was”.

      I’m still going to be somewhat skeptical of subjective complaints bc when it comes to customer service there are lot of gender/racial landmines that are well documented (and discussed above), but if you give me something specific then I can investigate and address it.

      Unfortunately, my experience in customer service type roles (almost 15 years of waitressing + reception + admin) is that generic complaints *that specifically decline to add any details when given the opportunity* are generally unfounded (not always! But a large per centage of the time and of course I can only speak from my experience).

      In this specific situation I would go back to the internal employees who complained and ask them for more details – being employees, not external customers, I think you can press a bit more. I’d also try to get specifics for any future complaints. Then just observe, observe, observe. Creep if you have to. And keep an open mind! Maybe she is being rude – it is possible, but maybe she’s not.

      Also two things to keep in mind:
      1. The numbers. If she’s dealing with 100’s of customers, then 2 complaints is nothing! I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”
      2. If it turns out this is some sort of racial/gender issue please have your employees back and nip that in bud – particularly for the internal complaints. That is toxic and we all need to do everything we can to stamp out these sorts of racial/gender micro-aggressions.

    3. FCJ*

      I kind of wonder if this could be a case of Resting B*tch Face. I have a particularly severe case of it, and I also have a tendency to get very “business-like” when I’m busy, so what I intend as matter-of-fact, neutral observations or requests can come across as rude demands if I’m not careful to soften my delivery. Not great for a customer-facing position. (And 100% super gendered, too, but not a lot I can do about that). It took a few years and some personality clashes for me to figure out the problem.

      I wonder if there’s someone that OP2 can talk to who interacts more with the receptionist and could be trusted to accurately observe what might be going on. Maybe she is rude to people she doesn’t like, or who she perceives as “less important.” Or maybe she has issues with a few specific people, or maybe she just needs to be told that what she thinks is neutrally pleasant is coming across, for one reason or another, as rudeness.

  19. Not Today Satan*

    Re: the receptionist. I used to work with (and then supervised unfortunately) someone who was VERY friendly to higher-ups in the organization. Bubbly, happy, eager to do anything and practically glowing. But when she didn’t perceive someone as important enough, she had a huge attitude and could be very rude and difficult. It was like night and day. She was pretty untouchable (as in un-discipline-able) for a LONG time because the higher ups liked her.

    It’s possible that this phenomenon is happening. Entitled customers are, sadly, always a possibility as well though.

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I would think that customers would be considered important, but this could explain the issue with other departments.

    2. soon 2be former fed*

      Customers are entitled to be entitled and expecting courteous helpful service isn’t entitlement anyway. I’m not talking about abusive name calling or cussing customers. Some receptionists/front desk folks do have annoying subtle attitude, that I try to ignore but I don’t suffer fools gladly. I’m debating reporring the front desk person at my village hall because every three months when I go in to pay my water bill it is unpleasant. Not glaringly so, but previous front desk people were much less off-putting. We could just have a personality conflict, and it’s a few minutes every few months, but meh.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        “Customers are entitled to be entitled and expecting courteous helpful service isn’t entitlement anyway.”

        Yeah, but when I see someone mention entitled customers, I never think they mean “ZOMG customers expect courtesy? The entitled nerve!”

        When I read a comment mentioning “entitled customer” I think back to my bookstore sales clerk days, and remember things like: the customer who felt we should babysit her child so she can relax at the cafe, and got annoyed when someone asked for her assistance reigning the child in (he was literally climbing the shelves); or the guy who felt entitled to treat the store as a library, taking up a huge amount of floor space, gatherers a ton of books, and was on the floor doing research and taking notes for a paper for *3 hours* before being asked to, you know, maybe let us put books back on the shelf because they were for sale, and consider visiting the library for his needs instead.

        There are front desk people, or people whose job is to interact with clients, who are Not Good at it, too, and who seem to have an attitude – I’ve certainly dealt sometimes with people who gave off the impression that they were, say, annoyed at having to help someone.

        For the OP, the complaints are *so vague* that it’s just not possible to know what the issue is. Pushing back with internal complainers for something, some detail (tone of voice? Attitude? Refusal to help? There was *something* that they noted) is really critical here, so OP can know if the problem is reception or misguided expectations from the complainers (or something worse, such as gender/racial/etc bias).

        1. Edina Monsoon*

          I used to work for a bank and we’d get family members come in when one of our customers had died, and they’d want bank statements and to keep using the deceased bank accounts. When we’d explain that they needed to bring a death certificate in and we’d close the account, but no they couldn’t just use the account, they’d get really annoyed and say they were going to complain about us and we were just being awkward. I had to resist the urge to say “we need to be sure the customer is actually dead before we just hand all their details and cash over to someone we don’t know.”

    3. MommyMD*

      Completely agree. I’ve seen managers and employees who convey the perfect attitude towards any higher up and treat everyone else like shiit. These are toxic people.

  20. Snarkblog*

    Re: SAHM. I wonder if the issue is the break in the career path— kind of like, “I took off six years and look at me now!” Like you were a world-traveler or a loafer. Maybe the issue that you took a significant chunk of time off is the “optics” problem (to use a word I hate) he wouldn’t want others to imitate.

    1. CityMouse*

      Why should he care? One of the best attorneys I ever worked with took two years off to write a mystery novel while his wife was doing two years overseas.

    2. Parenthetically*

      Staying home to raise your kids isn’t taking a “significant chunk of time off.” Also, does it really matter why the boss is being a bigot? Even if that were the reasoning, Jane is evincing a horrible attitude toward a whole lot of women, since about a third of mothers are SAHMs for a season, and men as well — 16% of stay at home parents in 2014 were men. That’s a hell of a lot of people to expect never to talk about The Time Before.

      1. Snarkblog*

        Sure it is. If you work for 30 years and take off 6 to raise kids, that’s 1/5. That’s a lot. I’m just saying that he could be balking at that proportionally. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just tossing out a reason he might want to keep the OP quiet because it “looks like” a path he doesn’t like.

        1. Parenthetically*

          It’s not “taking time off” in the way you seem to be implying, like being a “loafer” or traveling the world. It’s a different kind of work.

    3. OP#1*

      I think this was exactly why the person giving the feedback felt justified in providing the feedback. However, I would argue that taking time off to say, be a peace corps volunteer, would not have resulted in this feedback. I believe it was a underlying bias that SAHM = non-career oriented person, that made the person speak up. And yet my 6 years of work for this organization, raising in the ranks doesn’t seem to be enough to convince her.

      1. Snarkblog*

        I hope you have the political capital built up to point this out. Others who are lower-ranking will surely benefit from your leadership on this one.

      2. oranges & lemons*

        This is so ridiculous. Sorry, I don’t have any helpful advice to add to Alison’s, I’m just really angry and confused on your behalf.

  21. Jules*

    #4 I LOLed a little. I had a co-worker before who lied on his resume and titled himself as a manager. Went to interview and totally pulled it of. He ultimately used the offer to get himself promoted at the organization. Some people will do whatever it takes to get to the top. The angry part of me wanted to report him, but what’s the point? The zen part of me realize that karma will get him. Like every person I know who climbed up on the backs of other people’s back and sweat. It might take a long time but it was a LONG way to fall. It didn’t give me pleasure (ok maybe a little), but I know Karma and she always seems to boomerang back.

    1. soon 2be former fed*

      Parr of the reason AAM has so much material is that people lie, lie, and lie. If they don’t outright lie about education or job titles, they materially misrepresent almost to the point of lying. I never bothered because I prefer the simplicity of the truth but it has cost me jobs and I have ended up working for people that clearly shouldn’t have been in that job. It won’t change.

  22. Coalea*

    Ugh, OP #4, you have my sympathies! In a previous job, I managed a young woman who was a part-time intern for the company for a few years. She left to pursue graduate studies, but later returned and applied for a full-time position on my team. She was hired and stayed in the role for another couple of years. She eventually moved on (and so did I) and at some point I learned that she was listing a 6-year tenure in the full-time position on her LinkedIn profile. (I realize that LinkedIn is not the same as a resume, but I still feel that she is misrepresenting herself!)

  23. TotesMaGoats*

    #2-I would see if you can find a trusted colleague to do a little mystery shopping for you. Someone who can give you details to help frame the conversation.

  24. Murphy*

    OP#2, not in a receptionist position, but I experienced something similar to your employee. People (either volunteers or staff in another department) would complain to my manager that I was rude or unfriendly, but I would never give any specifics. I don’t know if they didn’t give my manger specifics, or if she just didn’t want to pass them along to me, but it was really not helpful, because there was nothing I could do fix it. One of the complaints was literally “Murphy wasn’t as sunshiney as she could be.” I definitely don’t have bubbly outgoing personality. I’m quiet/have social anxiety, and when I’m working I really don’t take the time to make small talk with people, plus I am a NYC area native in the south. That coupled with the fact that this manager was pretty much in the “take all complaints as gospel and never ask the employee’s side of the story” was really frustrating.

    I agree with Alison, definitely have a dialog with your employee and try to find out what’s going on from her perspective. You should definitely take the complaints seriously, but you need more information before you can work with her on fixing it.

    1. soon 2be former fed*

      What you have been doing is generating complaints. How about tweaking your behavior a bit and seeing what happens? No need to change your personality to do this, but not doing anything because you don’t have a specific itemized list of your alledged transgressions isn’t useful.

      1. Murphy*

        This was several years ago at a different job, and I never said I didn’t tweak my behavior. But when you don’t think you’re being rude or unfriendly, and all you’re getting told is “someone said you were rude/unfriendly” without any more information, it doesn’t lead to a productive conversation on the issue, and it’s difficult to institute behavior changes. I remember now that there were times I would ask for more information and my manger would say “Well, I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

        This is sort of beside the point, but management’s general behavior about complaints at that job (not just about this issue and not just about me) made it hard to take complaints seriously. People in the other department at work would never talk to us directly. Someone would tell our manager that someone did X, and manager would say “Don’t do X” without getting our side of the story at all. Sometimes she would just send an email to the whole department without even talking to the employee directly. She told me once that she wasn’t interested in being a manager, she just wanted to focus on [field we were in].

        Getting back to the letter, OP is interested in managerial duties, and is interested in helping her employee. I think getting more specifics about what’s going on and talking to the employee to find out what’s happening on her end would be a productive thing to do.

        1. Murphy*

          I have no idea why I keep typing “manger” instead of “manager”. I’ve had my coffee and I know how to spell!

        1. Murphy*

          To continue this analogy: Someone tells you there’s a fire somewhere in the building that you need to put out. Not sure where. Some people said they saw smoke a few times. Not sure when. I didn’t ask them for any more information. But definitely work on putting out that fire!

          1. a1*

            It is entirely possible to see even lots of smoke in a building and know where it’s coming from, and also not go investigate where to find the fire out of safety concerns, so this analogy doesn’t really hold water (no pun intended) for me.

      2. Kate 2*

        What on earth are you supposed to do??? Something is wrong, but we don’t know what and can’t tell you, you just have to fix it. Uh, yeah I’ll get right on it. Look, I am a serious people pleaser, but if you don’t tell me, even as vague as “tone of voice” or “facial expression”, I can’t figure it out. I am not a mind reader, and if no one will tell me there’s no way to find out.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Exactly. How would any of us like being told at our next performance review: “there have been complaints about you, the four people who filed the complaints would not tell me what is wrong, but you need to work on whatever it is.” Best of luck with that!

          In my field, which I admit is not dealing with people, but with tech, the response to a written complaint that states something like “nothing works, everything keeps breaking, we don’t have examples but fix it” is typically “we will fix it after you give us examples”. Because, honestly, what else can we do?

          1. Pebbles*

            ^^^This!

            I also do tech, and my biggest complaint I have of my (internal) clients is when they tell me a tool “broke”. Okay, how did it break? What were you doing? Was there an error message? “I dunno” *sigh*

          2. Teddie Kuma*

            Ah, those IT tickets that simply say “error in ” without any specific details on what the error looks like or what it says… it’s like for some reason there is just One True Error in the system and we in IT should know what it is LOL ugh…

  25. TootsNYC*

    5. How often is too often to have a reference contact a firm I’m interviewing with?

    You should definitely tell your reference about the second interview, and who it will be with, etc. If you were someone I really liked, and I’d been willing to proactively call to promote you, I might be willing to follow up a bit to reinforce–as long as I also felt that the call would be well received. (“I heard your colleague called Jane in for a second interview–she’s terrific.”)
    But I wouldn’t like it if you specifically asked me.

    I also will only feel comfortable speaking to the people I actually know, not the hiring manager I don’t know.

    1. Ally A*

      Yeah, I think thanking them for the recommendation and letting them know you have a second interview is a good idea in general. Maybe asking if they have any advice going into the second interview?

  26. Fabulous*

    Speaking as a former receptionist who has been told I was coming across semi-rude, she may not realize it’s even happening.

    TL;DR – Someone told me I was rude to them when I stated a fact and I missed out on getting a promotion because of it.

    I know am not a rude person. I’ve always gotten along with everyone and I’ve never had a complaint in a non-front desk role. In fact, I’ve always been told I’m quite pleasant and a great worker. But I also know that I am just not, nor will I ever be, a bubbly morning person who has a smile on my face 24/7. I am very matter of fact when given things to do and I will let you know when to expect it completed or if things just aren’t possible. Apparently this manner came across “wrong” when a co-worker gave me something to ship out when our UPS account was on the fritz (we didn’t have a FedEx account nor did I have means of reimbursement to charge shipping elsewhere.) Apparently letting her know I was unable to send anything out at that moment was unacceptable and came across as insubordinate or whatever. Which she ‘kindly’ let me know when I was interviewing for a position in her department. Gee thanks, BEC, just doing my job…

    1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

      Uggghhh – this reminds me of a time that I was dinged on the “teamwork” aspect of my review bc I wasn’t as “helpful” as the last person in the role. Now, I pride myself on teamwork and will bend over backwards to help my co-workers/go above and beyond in my job. To the point that I’d say my real weakness is sometimes taking on too much work/not saying no and setting myself up to burn out.

      So I asked for an example, because I was utterly confused. Boss referred to the time when he asked me, midday, to “overnight” a critical document to Japan (we were on the East Coast). I set it all up, and confirm with him that it will arrive in Japan on T+2 days, Japan Time. He blew a gasket. It needed to arrive in Japan by T+1day, Japan Time or *huge consequences* (and it needed to arrive before a specific meeting at 9am, Japan time). It was literally impossible to do this – it takes 12hr for the flight to Japan. Even if we chartered a private jet to take off that moment, it couldn’t get to Japan in time for this meeting. This isn’t me being unhelpful – this is reality/physics. He wanted me to call UPS to see if anything could be done. I tried to push back on that, b/c that was a waste of time and it delayed us from focusing on other potential solutions (moving the meeting back, seeing if we could have Japanese counterparts come to office early and recreate the document, seeing if we can somehow use reproductions rather than originals). He insisted, so I called up UPS, sounded like an idiot and confirmed that no, they do not have a time machine that would enable us to UPS this doc to Japan in time for this meeting.

      THAT was what stuck in his brain as me being unhelpful. Maybe I did let a bit of frustration leak through, but any reasonable person would realize they were insisting on things that were not in the realm of possibility. That’s also when I realized I worked for an unreasonable jerk and had to get out.

      1. Kate 2*

        Oh yeah . . . I empathize with this. I left a comment above about being called defiant because, smiling and agreeing over and over to take on the task, while asking questions about it so I could do it correctly wasn’t good enough I guess. Jerk!

      2. kb*

        Your story is making me bang my head on my desk! I hate it when people ask for something impossible or just unreasonable and then call you unhelpful for saying it can’t be done.

        I used to work the front desk at a small hair salon while I was in college. Three years prior, a Lululemon pop-up shop had been housed in the building the salon now was. A solid number of people came into our salon looking for a Lululemon, so I was familiar with the situation and could explain it to them. The salon owners and I had been submitting requests to Google to take it off the map, but it wasn’t happening for some reason beyond our control. One day, a woman came in looking to exchange some leggings. I apologized, explained the situation, and told her the location of real Lululemon, which was across town. She gets angry at me and says she should be able to exchange them here– she shouldn’t have to drive across town. I apologize again and explain that we are in no way affiliated with Lululemon so there is literally no way for me to process the return. She leaves in a huff. A while later I noticed we had gotten a bad online review. This woman had posted a long, rage-filled rant about how we would not accept her return and made her drive across town. Luckily, my bosses were sane and thought it was hilarious. They printed it out and framed it.

        1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

          I hope it helps to know that if I came across an angry/ragey review about not being able to accept a return of leggins, when I looking for a hair salon, I would be extremely amused and not hold it against the salon.

      3. AMPG*

        I HATE complaints like that. I once got dinged on a review for a study tour I arranged that I hadn’t set up a certain high-level meeting, which had always been part of the program in the past. The reason I didn’t set it up was because the requested VIP was on travel for the dates of that year’s program, and I controlled neither the program dates nor the VIP’s travel schedule, so there was literally nothing I could do.

      4. AMPG*

        I HATE stuff like that. I got dinged on a project evaluation once for a study tour I arranged because the client wanted a certain VIP meeting to be arranged that had always been part of the tour in the past. The reason I couldn’t arrange it was because the VIP was out of town for the entirety of the program, and I had control over neither the study tour dates nor the VIP’s travel schedule. I tried to explain this, but it was apparently still “my” failure.

  27. Jubilance*

    #2 – My first thought was “Is this a situation where the clients/other depts are trying to get the receptionist to do something that’s against protocol, and that’s why they are claiming she’s rude?”

    I’m surprised that they couldn’t point to specific words/phrases, or even things like tone of voice for her rudeness. I’ve done a lot of customer service, and people will pull out the “you’re so rude!” when you don’t let them get 10 sauces for free, or return a sweater that was bought a year ago and used, etc. If clients are asking for things outside of protocol or depts are asking her to do things that go against company policy and she’s declining, that’s not rude.

    Anyway you can get more information?

  28. finderskeepers*

    For number 4, I feel like there is an innocent explanation as to why Benjen (is that a nickname for Bennifer?) wrote “Director”. What did Benjen write under responsibilities?

    1. OklahomaSpeaks*

      I reread that question and I didn’t see a timeframe for when the LW left the organization for a new job. They (LW) admits themselves that the student was overwhelmed and the job was tumultuous for SIX months! Even if he wasn’t full time working he could have been doing a lot of work that he should probably not have been doing. So….maybe he did have director level duties without the pay or the title—AAM gets those all the time, right. All that to say, No I wouldn’t have made that resume choice title but that’s thanks to Alison and the commenters here

  29. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    #1 – that is ridiculous, especially given the context of your mentions that you stayed at home. Unless you were talking about it ALL the time and monopolizing conversations (which it sounds like you weren’t), that is just a dumb, biased complaint. I would take Alison’s advice and talk to your manager about it just to get some context, but otherwise let it go, and remember that if that person says those types of things to other people, THEY will most likely come across as weird, and not you.

    #2 – So I’ve been working in higher ed for 10+ years and I’ve encountered some people (professors, parents…) who will complain about EVERYTHING. So I’m curious – are the complaints coming from the same person or few people? Do they complain about other things? Any time I hear a complain about someone, I really want to dig into it and hear all sides of the story – because some people are never happy with anything, but sometimes there is a legitimate problem to address.

    As others have mentioned, your receptionist might just not have the very specific attitude the complainers are looking for, so they complain. Or, she really is rude and it needs to be addressed. I hope you can get to the bottom of it!

  30. CityMouse*

    The employer in LW1 makes my blood boil. My mom faced a lot of prejudice (in education, no less) re-entering the workplace and it was sexist and unfair. My brother got some grief for being a stay at home dad but never faced some of the same comments when went back to work. I had hoped it was a sign of progress, but now I am not so sure. The idea that they would tell someone to conceal that they were a stay at home parent years ago is totally nutty.

  31. LiveAndLetDie*

    OP4 – I had a temp employee for roughly 8 months and when she moved on, she listed supervisorial duties on her LinkedIn. I haven’t reached out to her about it because the way she left indicated to me that I wouldn’t get through to her anyway (she burned the bridge pretty hard) but if I ever get called for a reference, you can bet I’ll just be confirming that she was a part-time temp data entry clerk with no supervisorial duties whatsoever to whoever calls. That kind of thing bites people in the rear end more often than it helps them get a job they want.

  32. Fergus*

    I have a strong feeling that if the person complaining about the receptionist can never give a concrete example they are lying, or if she was rude then maybe they caused the rudeness by saying something very inappropriate. The receptionist is not saying anything because maybe the person said if you say anything they will have their job. I am quite sure it’s one or the other since no one can give an example.

    1. CityMouse*

      That is true. I had someone make a big fuss about me being rude to them once. What that actually meant is that they were upset that I refused to violate the law and give them access to someone else’s confidential information.

        1. Kate 2*

          Precisely! I had a couple of clients, guys who thought they were really funny and should be fawned over, who were mad that I did not realize their really bad jokes were jokes, and treated them as a serious comment. I did so in a polite and friendly way, but their embarrassment at the idea they might not be as funny and great as they thought caused them to lash out at me.

      1. Delphine*

        Then they should be able to be specific, so that the receptionist has something concrete to improve on.

      2. Kate 2*

        Seriously this is not at all unusual in customer service. There are always a few people who want to be angry about something.

  33. Skipjack*

    #2: if this is in the US, I would also keep in mind how much of the perceived rudeness could be race-based. There’s a lot of research showing that black men and women are seen as more unfriendly when saying the exact same things as a white counterpart. Not that this takes precedence over your clients and employees feeling valued, but it is something to keep in mind.

  34. Roker Moose*

    Re #2: Soemthing similar happened to me: I’m not the friendliest/chattiest person, and I was accused of rudeness to certain clients. Some people, when they meet a receptionist (or similar type role), are expecting all smiles and sunshine, and if they don’t get it, it seems rude. It’s possible she just needs to make an effort to be a bit more accommodating— make a comment about the weather, offer tea/coffee/water, etc.

    If no one can give specific examples— ‘she told me to eff off’— my feeling is that she’s probably not being overtly rude, as much as she’s not being overly-friendly.

    1. mf*

      Yes, this: “she’s probably not being overtly rude, as much as she’s not being overly-friendly.”

      Even for people who are naturally friendly, being performatively bubbly ALL THE TIME is exhausting. If she’s being polite but not friendly some of the time, it’s worth thinking about if that’s okay. Does she really need to be super bubbly/friendly 100% of the time?

  35. stitchinthyme*

    #3 – Stick to your guns. This wasn’t a partner, but I once worked with a roommate for a summer, and by the end of the summer, I was ready to kill him, because I basically saw him ALL THE TIME. It wasn’t that he was annoying or anything; it was just that there is no one on the planet that I want to be around 24-7; I felt like I could never escape him.

    I have worked at the same place as my husband twice, but never on the same team or even in the same department. The first time, we worked on the same floor but on different sides; I got his help on one project because he had the knowledge I needed, but other than that we never worked directly together. The second time, we were on the same campus but in different buildings, and our work never intersected. It was nice in both cases because we could carpool and occasionally have lunch together, and the first company was small enough that we knew a lot of the same people, so when we talked about our day, it was nice not to have to explain who anyone was. But the key was that we never really worked together, and while people knew we were married, it never impacted our professional lives, and we didn’t see each other much (or often at all) during the work day.

    Being on the same team as my husband is something I would never do. In fact, I got a job offer with my husband’s current company a few years ago, and one of the reasons I turned it down was because, although we wouldn’t have been on the same team, it’s likely his team would have been supporting mine (I’m a developer, he’s a sysadmin), so that seemed a bit too close…I’ve heard him complain enough about the developers trying to push bad code that I didn’t really want to become one of them!

  36. Mrs B*

    Had to LOL at this one, I’ve worked with more than a few librarians who would gasp at such a statement! I’ve tried to explain to people that although I work in a library I am not a librarian, but they never get it, one library I worked with was so upset with non-librarians being referred to as librarians, that they had these huge LIBRARIAN name tags made for themselves. I asked if I could get one that said FAUXBRARIAN, but no.

  37. Hiring Mgr*

    I don’t understand #1 WHY don’t they want you to mention that you were a SAHM? It doesn’t make any sense..Is it because they think you might have another kid and quit? Either way it’s completely absurd and makes me want to do bad things to them

  38. L*

    My (ex-) husband always wanted us to work together . . . he got his wish . . . it was awful. But I don’t see how OP can demand that partner not interview. That’s going to put as much strain on the relationship as working together would, and there is no guarantee s/he will get the job. Crossing one bridge at a time keeps serenity possible.

  39. thesoundofmusic*

    #2 I have been in workforce a long time, mostly managing other people. I don’t have a scientific study to prove this, but it is my opinion that in general people are becoming less aware of how their non verbal communication is perceived. (and some of their verbal communication too). . Maybe it’s because we do so much more communication via text, email. etc etc, but I have a much harder time explaining to an employee today about how their body language, posture, tone of voice, not lo