my coworker’s constant emergencies mess up my work, office weight loss competition, and more

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

1. My coworker’s constant emergencies mess up my work

I have a coworker, let’s call her “Cersei,” who seems to be the unluckiest person in the world. At least once a week, she has to bail on work because of some emergency: her husband’s car was towed, her car battery died, she has a parent-teacher conference during the day, she has a crippling stomachache, etc.

Obviously, things happen and we’re all sympathetic to the fact that everyone has personal lives that sometimes interfere with work. But the frequency of Cersei’s personal crises—and their tendency to coincide with her deadlines—makes me doubt that she’s always telling the truth.

Cersei is senior to me but in a different department. My work is often dependent on hers, and her absences make things difficult and sometimes force me to push deadlines back to accommodate her. Is there anything that I can or should do in this situation, or should I just accept that it’s part of working with her and try to work around it?

If you were senior to Cersei, you could talk to her manager and say, “Cersei’s regular unplanned absences are causing problems X, Y, and Z. We need her here more reliably or need to figure out other arrangements for work she’s involved in.”

Because you’re junior to her, you can’t say that. But you can say a different version of it to your own boss: “Cersei has a pretty unreliable schedule and is usually out unexpectedly at least once a week. That’s causing me to have to push deadlines back and do X, Y, and Z to work around her. Is there anything I should be doing differently to handle this?” You’re not saying “make Cersei act differently”; you’re saying “here’s the impact on my work; let me know how you want me to handle it.”

2. I don’t want to participate in my office’s weight loss competition

HR sent an email out this morning that they want each individual office to hold wellness competitions. Any office who partakes will get $150 in prizes to hand out to the winners. The challenges can be as mundane as 10k Steps a Day (whoever gets closest/goes over for the time period wins) up to The Biggest Loser (whoever loses the most weight wins).

There’s already an odd obsession with food here. If we all go out to eat, my choices are usually commented on by a few of the women here. (I can’t help it, a cup of soup is not going to be enough for me, I need at least a sandwich.) My office has done The Biggest Loser independently and it’s always A Big Thing if I don’t participate. Call me crazy, but I don’t exactly cherish the idea of having a weekly weigh-in with coworkers, especially when it’s pushed by my two male bosses. The first year we did it, we all had to sign up to cook healthy meals and then all eat together.

I know my office fairly well, so I know the odds of it being the more mundane activities are next to zero. Seeing as we do The Biggest Loser on our own twice a year, I’m pretty sure they’ll jump at the chance to do that one. Any advice on how to bow out as gracefully as possible?

“I’m not interested in competing over weight loss.” That’s it! But the trick probably isn’t in what initial wording you use, but in dealing with any pressure afterwards. You’ll just need to hold firm — “I’m really not interested, but hope you enjoy it if it’s something you like,” “Please don’t keep asking me — this is not for me,” etc. And if your bosses get in on the pressure, which it sounds like they do, you may need to say something to them specifically, like, “I’m really not interested in discussing my weight or diet at work, so please assume I’m sitting this stuff out.”

Any chance you’re up for pointing out — either to your bosses or to HR — that this kind of thing is out of place at work? You’d be doing the world a service if you pointed out that workplace weight loss competions are dangerous for people with eating disorders, overlook people who are trying to gain weight or maintain it rather than lose it, and can promote really unhealthy habits.

3. My interviewer asked me what I admired most and least about my parents

I had two phone interviews this week with the same company, and things are heading in an exciting direction! I thoroughly prepared, and felt comfortable with all of the questions asked and with all of my answers … except for one question. It was a two-parter during the interview with HR: (1) “Tell me the trait you most admire about your parents.” (Ummmm – why? But okay, I tied this in to what we had been talking about.) (2) “And what about least?” That was actually what she said. I asked her to rephrase – she had to think about it, and said, “What traits about your parents do you like the least?”

In my mind, I laughed and thought: well, definitely that they are dead. I happen to HATE that about them. But I BS’d an answer, and we moved on.

I can think of 50 reasons why you shouldn’t ask someone you are talking to for the first time / you don’t know about their parents! Have you ever heard of such questions for an interview? What could the reason be for asking? The interviewer had no way of knowing of my relatively recent loss. I love my parents more than anything. But what if they had just passed and I reacted very emotionally to this question? What if I never knew my parents? What if my parents abused me? What if I had answered the way I truly feel: I hate that they are dead? What if, what if, WHAT IF?

I have posed this to several friends, and everyone thinks this is a very strange line of questioning – mostly because what I have been through, but also for all of the possible what-if’s you could imagine. The interviewer is in a position where she’s been interviewing people for a long time. I just can’t imagine this being a standard question she uses each time she interviews someone.

If the company wants to proceed with the application process, should I bring this up with someone? If I end up being offered the position and accepting, is this something I can talk to the interviewer about once I have hit the ground running? The question will have no impact on my decision to accept an offer should we get to that point – the more I heard about the job, the more I really see myself being the perfect fit.

Yeah, this is just bad interviewing. It’s overly personal and invasive and there’s no job-related reason for asking it. She probably heard or decided at some point that this is a brilliant way to learn about your values, but there are far more effective ways of doing that, and ones that won’t turn off candidates.

I don’t think there’s any benefit to bringing it up at this stage, but if you’re offered and accept the job, you can definitely mention it after you’ve been there a bit, framing it as something that you found off-putting and that they should re-think asking.

4. Asking about staff demographics during an interview

I’m a woman in my early 30’s with a PhD in a STEM field. I am currently job hunting, and I landed an on-site interview this week. I received the agenda for the day which consists of several one-on-ones, a group lunch, and a scientific presentation (all very typical). I noticed that of the nine people I’ll speak with, the only woman is the HR manager who recruited me!

As someone who has been involved in STEM programs since I was a kid, I am very aware of the gender disparity in the sciences. I have also been on the receiving end of disparaging comments because of my gender and age. I’m proud that both my current workplace and the lab I worked as an entry-level scientist are at least 40% female. I may have been spoiled with workplaces that have great representation for women, but I am honestly disappointed at the abundance of dudes. Laboratory cultures that are heavily male can be tough to deal with. I’ll give the company a fair assessment during my interview, but I’ll definitely have that in the back of my mind.

Is there an acceptable way to ask about the demographics of the company during my interview? Is that question better to ask the HR manager or the person who will be my direct manager?

You can ask either or both! You can be straightforward about it and say, “I’ve noticed I’ve met with a lot of men here but only one woman. Can you tell me about the demographics of the staff here and how well women are represented?” And if you get a disappointing answer, you can ask follow-ups like “What’s the company doing to address that?” and “What kind of feedback have you had from women who work here?” (A fluffy BS answer to the latter is more of a danger sign than one that genuinely acknowledges and grapples with the issue.)

5. Are you supposed to reply to “we are currently reviewing applications” emails?

I’m applying for many jobs directly through email. If the hiring manager responds with something like, “We are currently reviewing applications, we will get back to you if you meet our needs, thank you for applying,” is it considered polite manners to respond? Do hiring managers view candidates who do respond more favorably — or would it be annoying?

It’s neutral at best. There’s no benefit in responding, and you’re definitely not expected to. They’re basically saying “you’ll hear from us if we’re interested” and there’s an implied “please don’t check in.” If you choose to respond with a “great, thanks for letting me know” (or whatever), you’re just kind of creating email trash for them — which isn’t going to get you rejected, but there’s no benefit to it either.

{ 636 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, that question would make my blood boil. There are so many family types and arrangements that asking about a person’s parents is pretty inappropriate (and depending on the circumstances—e.g., abuse, adoption, death, alienation, etc.—offensive).

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’d think a better question would be “who do you admire and why?” That should get you the similar kind of results, especially if Alison’s reasoning on why they asked is correct.

      1. A.N. O'Nyme*

        This. This so much.
        Seriously, asking about parents specifically is just weird. Maybe if it’s a faaaaaaaaamily office how you look at your parents might be considered to see if you’re a culture fit, but PCBH pointed out all the problems with that reasoning too.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        With the first half of the question, I figured the usual response she got was “my mom” and she’d decided to take the bull by the horns and just go straight there with everyone. Still a bad question, but I could see its possible origin.

        But the second half goes right off the rails. Is there ever an interview where talking about how your parents bug you is a plus? (Stand-up comic?)

        1. neverjaunty*

          But the follow up question would be “tell me more about why you admire your mom”. Deciding to then do a best/worst to a dumb interview question makes no sense.

      3. SoCalHR*

        This also could backfire. One of my first times on the interviewer side of the table I asked “if you could have lunch with anyone who would it be?” The interviewee was a soon-to-be-graduating foreign college student and his answer, while a bit choked up, was “my parents because I haven’t seen them in a long time since I’ve been out here at school.” I felt SO bad for the guy – I wasn’t trying to take it to an emotional place (thinking people would pick an author or world leader or celebrity), and that question isn’t as obviously emotionally charged as the one in the letter above, but still resulted in the same net effect as the admiration question could.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Yeah you have to be careful with these kinds of questions. Just reading your comment my (initial) answer was “my son.” That doesn’t seem like a very in depth/emotional thing, but he died in 2010, so this kind of question would hit me really hard emotionally. Of course I’d pick a different answer, no interviewer in the world is allowed into that part of my life, even still…

        2. InfoSec SemiPro*

          That’s why I don’t think these sorts of questions are particularly helpful in an interview. The interviewer isn’t looking for honesty, they’re looking for illumination, but honest interviewees get emotionally mistreated.

          Ask questions about what you’re really looking for, that pertains to the job. Leave people’s personal lives – including who they want to spend time with – alone.

      4. Cuddly Cerberus*

        One portion of the Scouts Canada screening interview for new volunteers involves asking about mentors. They ask questions like “Who was a mentor to you when you were growing up,” “why,” “how did they deal with things like discipline,” etc. Nothing is specific to a person’s parents, because you have no idea what a person’s background is, and it gets pretty good results.

        1. pancakes*

          Where does that leave someone who didn’t have a mentor growing up? The idea that everyone’s childhood happened in a supportive environment perfectly aligned with middle class norms is pretty insular. “Who is your mentor” would be an improvement, though it still presupposes an effective support network of some kind, which I think is a bit much for a prosective employer to demand to know about. It’s not necessarily relevant to employee performance, either.

      5. Hobgoblin*

        I ask this question and most people say a parent but I did have an applicant once who said, “Dolly Parton” and had a really thoughtful explanation about why and I loved it! She got the job and is wonderful coworker.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I can actually see that–Parton is a marvelous woman, gets things done in her own particular style, gave Lyle Waggoner the heave-ho when he so richly deserved it, and lives her own life the way she wants to.

    2. RobM*

      Agreed, this is wholly inappropriate for the reasons Princess Consuela mentions, and should be added to a list of questions _not_ to ask.

      If we suppose the intention is to get an insight into how a candidate discusses the strengths and weaknesses of other people then I think a question along the lines of Amy’s “who do you admire and why”, or “who have you learned the most from in your career” or suchlike would work well.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Or ask the same question but about former bosses (well, maybe for the negative: what area could a former boss have improved in?)

    3. Birch*

      Definitely inappropriate and not even helpful in the best of circumstances. People don’t have very clear perceptions of those the closest to them–it’s all based on your relationship with them.

    4. Bagpuss*

      I think it would be possible to raise it whether or not you get the job – although if you don’t get offered it you may (quite reasonably) decide that it is not your problem to solve!

      I definitely agree that it is a weird and inappropriate question to ask, that a question about who you admire and why, and what traits you have found difficult to deal with [at work] in the past and how you addressed them would be far more reasonable and relevant.

    5. Oxford Coma*

      If I had the luxury of wanting a different job (versus needing any job at all) I’d be so tempted to blow up that bridge with an answer like “Well, my least favorite was probably being beaten until I lost consciousness”. I doubt I’d have the nerve, though.

    6. Not a Blossom*

      Heck, my parents are both still alive and both are loving and hugely involved in my life; I would still find these questions, especially the second one, off-putting and weird. They aren’t appropriate for business, and I would immediately begin thinking about people for whom these questions would be difficult, like one friend who lost her father young and who is estranged from her mother.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Same here! And one of the things I most admire about my mother is the fact that she went into business for herself as an artist in her 50s which is…maybe not the most relevant thing to admire if I’m applying for a standard office job?

        1. whingedrinking*

          It’s also a bit weird in that just because it’s true of your parents and you admire it, you don’t necessarily have that trait yourself. I admire my mother’s organizational skills, and personally struggle to maintain any system more complex than “it’s around here somewhere”.

      2. SKA*

        Ditto! And with my spouse or friends, I have no problem rattling off complaints about my mom (who is a great mom! Just kind of aggravating at times), but I’m not going to tell an interviewer that my least favorite thing about my mom is how she recaps every tv show she’s watched recently every time we talk. What useful information is that telling them?

        Honestly, I can’t even think of a BS answer that would give them any positive information. Or maybe the correct answer is “nothing” as if they’re trying to test your ability to stay loyal or something? (Which would still be bonkers, since there are many good reasons to be disconnected from your family.)

        1. Sam*

          Maybe the correct answer is, “I don’t think that’s relevant to my candidacy and don’t feel comfortable discussing my parents in this setting.” Perhaps the interviewer is looking for someone who can step on the brakes when they are asked to do/answer something inappropriate.

          1. Specialk9*

            People are almost never looking to be told that they themself are doing something inappropriate.

          2. pancakes*

            Entrapment is a pretty aggressive and manipulative interview technique. It’s also one that’s bound to leave the interviewee with questions of their own about the workplace that they’re not in a position to ask.

            The idea of it being strategic reminds me of an interview I had years ago, while in law school. The only on-campus interview I got, the guy looked me up and down when I walked in, looked at my transcript as I sat down, and said, “well, you got an A in con law, you managed to convince someone you aren’t dumb.” Maybe he was testing me to see how I’d react to an arrogant, sexist creep in a professional setting; maybe he was simply an arrogant, sexist creep himself. It’s not as if I was in a position to ask him that and expect a candid answer. Instead I thought, any firm that would send someone like that to interview students is rancid, and I’d rather not have anything to do with them.

      3. Dragoning*

        I suspect, now that I’ve had time to prepare an answer for this instead of being blind-sided by this in an interview, my answer would along the lines of, “I’m not interested in criticizing my personal relationships to a third party.”

    7. Kittymommy*

      I truly do not understand how people don’t think these type of questions aren’t wholly inappropriate. The obvious ramifications just seem so obvious to me. I’m just baffled.

      1. neverjaunty*

        They don’t understand interviewing, and probably they read some business article listing “good” interview questions. And sometimes people just get an idea in their heads and fall in love with it.

      2. Spider*

        I’m almost 40 and still occasionally think about the college entrance interview I had at 16-17 in which I was asked, “What’s the hardest thing in your life you’ve ever experienced or lived through?” and my mind reels yet again over how horrible and intrusive that question was.

        The funny (not funny) thing is, I had grown up in a really dysfunctional family and yet still thought all that was normal, so I’d had to scramble for an answer! But even in the moment, I could think of all kinds of things no one would want to tell a perky college interviewer and wondered what she did when someone cried.

      3. WannaAlp*

        Because some people can’t make things jump into their head if they aren’t obvious to them, no matter how blindingly obvious they may be to other people. It is fascinating how some things can be so obvious to some people but not to others.

    8. wat*

      Why would that make your blood boil? That’s a little bit strong of a reaction. The interviewer asked a pretty stupid question, but what is the problem with the interviewee just making something up real quick?

      I just don’t see the need for OUTRAGE.

      1. Mrs. Fenris*

        Well, I do! There is no way to know what kind of minefield they are stepping into with such a question. I was raised by stable, loving, awesome parents and I love talking about them, but there are so many people for whom this is an exquisitely painful subject. If an interviewer had asked me this question a month or two after my dad died, I would have undoubtedly collapsed into tears. And what about various people I know whose parents were abusive, mentally ill, or absent? Most of them have a quickie answer they give when people ask about their families, but this is a probing question that has nothing to do with their professional lives.

        1. wat*

          Anyone could ask such a question at anytime, though. It’s like when an interviewer says “Tell me about yourself” they don’t mean tell me how terrible your life has been up until this point and you badly need this job because you life in a car. It’s understood the answer needs to be in a professional context.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            But what would you consider the professional context for this question? How would you have answered it?

            1. wat*

              You just make up something simple and noncommittal. Or walk out. Or decline a follow up interview. You have the right to be OUTRAGED and have your BLOOD BOIL, but there’s also a whole world out there that’s not going to cater to you.

              I agree it was a stupid question and that’s where it ends for me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

              1. Not Who I Think I Am*

                Clearly, kittymommy had a different reaction than yours. Can you allow that and move on?

                1. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

                  @wat “girl, bye”? Seriously? Are you naturally so obnoxiously condescending or did you take special classes?

                2. Specialk9*

                  ‘Girl bye’ is incredibly rude. Please don’t do that here, that’s not what this forum is about.

              2. Sam*

                I agree with you…no need to get super offended or up-in-arms about an inappropriate question here or there, in any setting. People aren’t perfect.

          2. Dragoning*

            “Tell me about yourself” is a lot more general than what is potentially “Tell me about this specific thing that triggers terrible memories for you.”

            Some people literally do not have a professional answer for their relationship with their parents.

          3. Jessie the First (or second)*

            There is no “professional context” for one’s relationship with one’s parents.

            Though “anyone could ask such a question at any time,” no one is going to expect it at an interview, because it is irrelevant at an interview, so interviewees are more likely to feel blindsided and unnerved by the question. And though “anyone could ask such a question at any time,” if a random person asks, you can brush them off and change the subject – whereas at an interview, you’re a captive audience and you are going to feel you have to actually answer it. Sure, you can lie and make up something bland – but it’s obnoxious for an interviewer to put that burden on a candidate. Especially because, again, there is zero professional relevance to the question.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              “Sure, you can lie and make up something bland…”
              If you can manage to not be so blindsided by such an off the wall, inappropriate, and intrusive question that you are able to come up with an answer in the moment. Most people would probably find that difficult to do.

      2. Kittymommy*

        Off the top of my head : abusive parents, neglectful parents, parents who are recently dead or dying, absent parents/no parents….

        1. boo bot*

          Yeah, I’m pretty off-the-cuff flippant and would have rolled with it (I would absolutely have said “I hate that they’re dead” in the OP’s position, as it is also one of my father’s most unpleasant traits! And, he NEVER wants to talk about it.) However, I know plenty of people who would be deeply thrown by having to think on their families of origin during a job interview of all things.

          And, for someone that’s a difficult subject for, having to suddenly scramble to talk about a therapy topic in a work setting might throw off their interview game. I, for instance, would have stumbled even on the first question, not because I don’t have great things to say about my parents, but because it’s so out of left field (and as I thought up answers my mind would also be occupied by wondering what the heck was up with this job.)

        2. Not Who I Think I Am*

          Right? “I was raised in foster care, and lived in 18 homes by the time I aged out. Which set of parents would you like to hear about?”

        3. Chameleon*

          “Well, I suppose I most dislike the way he broke my ribs when he misplaced the remote. Why?”

      3. Murphy*

        For many, thinking about what they don’t like about their parents immediately triggers outrage, or other strong negative emotions. Personally, it would make it difficult for me to come up with an innocuous professional answer.

        1. Part-time Poet*

          I so agree. Not all of us can come up with an innocuous answer when it triggers a lot of unpleasant memories and issues. I’ve spent many years in therapy dealing with my upbringing.

          During an interview I had for a position in city government which was for the head of a department, one of the two interviewers prefaced his last several questions with “Now I am going to ask some gimmicky questions.” I rolled my eyes slightly which I realized was a bad move. I should have had more self-control. The questions were: “If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?” What did you learn from your parents?” There was one more really awful question and I don’t remember what it was. I got really uncomfortable and my stomach had knots because of the question about my parents. I did learn some very good values from my parents, even thought I was raised in a very dysfunctional house filled with narcissistic behavior and sociopaths, which is somewhat puzzling in retrospect. None of the four adult children speak to each other and I haven’t spoken to my father for over 20 years.

          I did not get the job. And as a professional I have resisted the urge to send him copies of Alison’s answers about stupid questions like these. I still want to though.

      4. Competent Commenter*

        Because it’s not so easy to make up something quick when you’re in a stressful situation like an interview and you’re blindsided by a question about your personal life.

        I hope my foster kids never have to answer a question like this in an interview.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        The blood boiling isn’t because it’s a bad question; it’s because a bad and invasive question is being asked systematically, which indicates that the interviewer thought up the question, didn’t think through the information they wanted to solicit from that question, and didn’t vet the question.

        There’s a long list of reasons for why it is problematic to assume people have healthy relationships with their parents (or that they know their parents, or that their parents raised them). Given how widespread those “non-traditional” family structures are, it seems insensitive and can be triggering to ask an inappropriate question when non-offensive alternatives exist. I think it’s more triggering when you or people in your life have had dysfunctional relationships with their parents or grew up in “non-traditional” circumstances.

        So I understand why other people’s blood doesn’t boil, but I also think it’s ok for a bad question of this type to trigger outrage for others.

      6. mrs__peel*

        If you’d had a bit of experience working in family law as I have, you might have a better idea. A fair percentage of people grow up in circumstances than range from less-than-ideal to extremely horrifying.

        These kinds of questions seem to come from people who grew up with a comfortable, “Leave It to Beaver”-esque middle class life, and who don’t have the empathy or imagination to understand that other people might have had a very different experience that they don’t want to share with a total stranger.

        People shouldn’t be put in a position where they have to come up with a lie in an interview to avoid painful topics.

        1. Specialk9*

          Yeah, the two people I know in family law have had their idealism about what adults will do to children, and other adults, utterly boiled away and then set on fire and then nuked from orbit. Being involved in family law, in its full range, exposes one to some bad stuff, on a massive scale.

      7. anomonom*

        I think that it would be difficult to make something up real quick if I were either my cousin who was repeatedly raped by her dad from age 3 to 17, or my cousin who (at age seven) saw her dad shoot/murder her mother then turn the gun on himself.

        People need to step outside their world and understand that not everyone has the same experiences. A little empathy would be useful.

    9. Nita*

      I would just give them a blank stare and ask: “What do my parents have to do with this position?” and wait for them to come up with a reasonable explanation. Which they probably won’t, because there isn’t one.

      1. Sam*

        I think this is the best answer, indicative of the fact that an interview is a 2-way conversation, not a grill-fest.

    10. LBK*

      It definitely seems biased towards younger candidates, too – I wonder if they would ask a candidate in their 50s whose parents are less likely to still be alive than someone in their 20s.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Yes, this jumped out at me. It feels really condescending to bring up an applicant’s parents in a job interview. I would be very suspicious of whether this is a question the HR person asks everyone, or mostly young people (or mostly young women?).

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I’d bet it it aimed mostly at young people because they aren’t ‘really’ adults yet and especially at young women who because they are women will never be adults.

          I’m in my mid 50s and even though I don’t interview with anyone for jobs anymore, there are still certain life things that involve interview-ish conversations. I am just stunned at times at the kinds of questions I get asked that I absolutely guarantee they wouldn’t ask a male of any age, much less one of the age to be a grandparent. It’s especially annoying when some kid in his (I do mean male) 20s-30s speaks to me in some kind of paternalistic tone. Step off Youngblood.

          For the record I don’t indulge them when they ask. I shut it down in whatever way is appropriate to the situation. It took me a lot of years (decades) to find my voice and be able to do this though.

    11. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I really wish OP had said “I definitely hate that they are dead” to the interviewer. Then maybe the interviewer would realize what an awkward question it is.

    12. Anie*

      I was once asked a similar inappropriate question on an interview: how would my mother would describe me. It was honestly the most jarring and off putting thing I’ve ever been asked interviewing. It was during a group interview with one other person being interviewed alongside me, and there were two interviewers. So it wasn’t just one stranger I was supposed to talk about my mother with, but three.

      I think I made it through an answer, but in my mind all I could think about were the several answers that would not at all but what they wanted hear, or things I was willing to discuss. My relationship with my mother is incredibly strained, as much as I wish it wasn’t. (What would my mother say about me? I honestly have no idea. What day is it? Who is she talking to? What is her mood like? What does she think will get her the most positive attention from whoever she’s talking to? I don’t think that’s what they were after, somehow.)

      There were a lot of red flags about the whole recruitment process for that company, looking back, but this one question always stands out the most in my mind. I know many people with a lot worse family situations than mine, a lot of people who were raised by grandparents or other relatives, and several people whose parents have died. It feels so ridiculously insensitive to me to assume these sorts of questions could be easily answered by everyone.

      1. boo bot*

        Wow, that is the worst question ever. I started making one of my self-amusing lists of examples and it was way too depressing to post. Instead, Classics Edition?

        “Oh, Telemachus is just like his father, bold, adventurous, foolhardy…”

        “My daughter is the cleverest girl. She spent her entire childhood hiding inside her father Zeus’ head, then broke right out of his skull! Did you know they named a whole city after her? Here’s a picture…”

        “My son, Oedipus? WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE’S MY SON!????!?”

      2. CMart*

        Ugh. I assume that question is attempting to get at “describe yourself in the way someone who knows you really well would, given that they love you but feel comfortable being critical and honest.” But seriously, ugh.

        I know way too many people who, if they were to take that question at face-value and answer with total honesty would have a response along the lines of “that I’m fat and ungrateful and never take her advice”. Why can’t people just ask the question they actually want answered?

        1. Decima Dewey*

          I’d go the meta route: “When they were hiring they’d ask weird questions. Like the one you just asked me about them.”

      3. Is it Friday yet?*

        My mother is severely mentally ill. How would she describe me? Well, that depends on how well her meds are working today. You might hear something reasonably accurate, or you might hear what the voices are telling her about me and my evil twin. What you would not hear is anything about my qualifications for a job.

      4. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

        She’d tell you I was funny, sweet, talented, with a lot to offer, and that I need to do the hoovering more often.

        Only one of these things is true.

      5. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I mean, my mom would probably say I’m in a cult because I attend a Unitarian Fellowship and it “doesn’t say anything about Jesus” on their website. That’s what she posted on my Facebook wall when she saw I was attending an event there: “Mallory! It’s a cult — get out!” I’m sure my job interviewer wants to hear about that.

    13. Elsewhere*

      For myself personally I would terminate the interview after being asked what traits I least admired. That question pushes several hot button issues in my psyche, and I would be tempted to tell her. She might never ask again.

      Never ask a question to which you do not want a completely honest answer.

      1. Hardwood Floors*

        I think I would end an interview right on the spot and not further pursue the opportunity. I would be blindsided by immediately recalling that my dad is dead and my mother very sick. I would not be able to get back into interviewing mode.

      2. Specialk9*

        “I find it rather concerning that you would ask me that question. It makes me wonder how much your company blurs the line between professional and personal. I seek to maintain rigorous standards of professionalism at work.”

        /What I’d say if I didn’t really need the job
        //By which I mean, the answer I’d think of two days later

    14. Jadelyn*

      I’d be so tempted to respond to the “least” question with “Probably my father’s rampant alcoholism and abuse, why?” just to watch the interviewer squirm. If she’s going to poke and prod at sensitive spots when we’re total strangers, it seems only fair to return some of the awkwardness to sender.

        1. Tax Nerd*

          Ditto. “The things I admire least about my dad were his alcoholism and lack of anger management, especially when those things collided. I don’t drink during the workday, and I strive to be very difficult to anger, so I don’t think that I will have those issues when working on Teapots & Co’s composite tax filings.”

    15. AKchic*

      I would outright refuse to answer the question. My family has nothing to do with the jobs I apply for, and my personal history has nothing to do with my career and how I excelled to where I am today. Nobody needs my tale of woe, and no stranger has earned the privilege of hearing it.

    16. Phillippa*

      This is my first time commenting because #3 makes me feel so strongly.

      My mom died when I was 22 and my dad died when I was 2. I have had the dead parents conversation a million and one times in my life, and I am so honest-to-God sick of it. Even outside of work contexts, just stop it. I am sitting on a bus for you for the next two hours, there is no reason you need to know this about me. It doesn’t make pity-Christmas better. Asking if I at least have siblings doesn’t make it better, and I don’t feel like talking about how my aunt tried to steal my inheritance, meaning I have no family, zip, zilch, nada. In so many cultures, not having a family makes you an out-of-reach pity figure. It complicates my single-woman-with-no-children status, because no, not even that is looking like an option, AND YES IT DOES HURT. IT HURTS EVERY DAY SO LET’S STOP MAKING IT A BASIC CONVERSATION QUESTION.

  2. Starling*

    LW #1, I get that the perpetual emergencies seem questionable, but it’s possible they’re real. Since you’re in no position to do anything if Cercei happens to be lying about a crisis, you may be happier just suspending your disbelief about them and working with your boss to mitigate the effects.

    I’ve had a year and a half of dramatically terrible personal luck, including some deaths, some hospitalizations, and some violet crime. I feel like everyone in the department must be rolling their eyes when I call in with (yet) another personal crisis, but sometimes things happen inconveniently.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I have a friend who traveled across the country for her grandmother’s funeral and, while she was there, her roommates accidentally burned her house down. It’s the kind of thing that sounds implausible, but it actually happened.

      Of course, those are bigger and more catastrophic than the kind of things the LW is talking about. That doesn’t mean a string of smaller occurrences of bad luck isn’t real though.

      1. LouiseM*

        True, some people do just have exceptionally bad luck or stretches of bad luck. Absolutely it’s best for the OP to take Cercei at her word and be as compassionate as possible.

        One weird thing that stood out to me is that a parent teacher conference was among the “emergencies” the OP listed, though. Unless some OTHER emergency came up (like her husband who was supposed to go was sick) this is something that can and should be planned and shared in advance. If her other emergencies are similar, I’d definitely raise it with the boss.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          That’s a great point. I wouldn’t think parent/teacher conferences would count as an emergency. Same with routine doctor appointments, court dates, etc.

          1. Miss Elaine e*

            Depends on the reason for the conference. If it’s just going over Junior’s academic progress that’s one thing. If there’s been an incident involving Junior (as victim or perpetrator), that may require a spur-of-the-moment meeting.

          2. Annon for this*

            The last coworker who had an “emergency” conference with a teacher was really at an interview. They came to work the next day, very elaborate story and all and never showed up again.

            Good luck OP – update us please!

          3. mrs__peel*

            “court dates”

            Well, missing those could have some pretty major consequences, depending on what they’re for…

        2. paul*


          And how long has this been going on? Is it a rough month, or are we talking a rough year+? That’d probably change my approach and how I viewed it.

          1. OP #1*

            We’ve worked together for about 4 years and she’s always been like this to some extent, but it’s been worse over the last year or so.

        3. OP #1*

          Should have clarified! It’s almost always that she’s forgotten she has a meeting at her child’s school until the last minute, and has to leave mid-afternoon with no notice. If they were on the calendar and shared in advance they wouldn’t be a problem at all.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Whoa, that is a big deal. Perpetually forgetting appointments is whole layer of problematic.

          2. Allison*

            Ah, I thought maybe the teacher had to discuss an issue with her at the last minute, like a behavioral problem or poor grades.

          3. AKchic*

            Ugh. The perpetually disorganized bother me. Calendars exist. Both paper and digital. Coordination / planning an absence is not rocket science.

            I have four boys. At one time, I had a kid in high school, a kid in middle school and two in elementary school, all while working full time, two part time volunteer projects running simultaneously (gotta love spring time), a springtime work event, and end of school year events. My calendar was color-coded, and completely full, but dammit, everything was written down and organized. I managed to break my foot (stress fractures), break two teeth (one had to be pulled), put my husband through shoulder surgery and that was the year my grandma started going downhill. That year sucked. But I was organized through it all.

            Someone enforce calendars with this person.

            1. crackpotsamizdat*

              Though I certainly understand where you are coming from, as someone with ADHD that manifests almost entirely in organizational difficulties, this is tough to read. On behalf of Cersei and others like her, she may very well be trying.

              1. OhNo*

                Agreed. As another person with ADHD, I gotta say that for people like us sometimes using calendars can be harder than squeezing blood from a stone. My forgetful tendencies are significantly reduced by using color coded calendars much like the ones described, but that’s only possible because I rigidly schedule an hour of time every morning to manage, update, and triple-check my calendar to make sure I know what’s supposed to be happening.

                Cersei may not have that kind of time, or she may be one of those folks for whom trying to manage a calendars only makes things worse. There’s no way to know.

                1. Teach*

                  As another person with ADHD, I would add that while I routinely spend WAY too much time working on my calendaring and “to-do” list systems, I occasionally miss something. I also am super consistent in meeting my deadlines. If I had forgotten about a parent-teacher conference and it was occurring during a time that would result in me missing a deadline, I’d call the teacher and reschedule. I am pretty careful to put the consequences of my creatively wired brain on me, not my co-workers.

      2. many bells down*

        That totally happened to my maintenance guy. Except, he went across the country because his dad had a heart attack. His dad recovered, fortunately, but while they were all at the hospital, dad’s house burnt down.

      3. H.C.*

        Speaking of ridiculous happenings, I once got snowed in driving back to LA from Vegas during a freak cold snap; I actually implored my boss to check the weather report & freeway closures when I emailed her my extra day off request.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The nice thing about this situation is that ultimately it doesn’t matter whether Cercei’s emergencies are real or not — the advice for the OP is still the same: she still needs to just ask her boss about how to manage around it.

    3. JamieS*

      Yeah they could be real but if OP’s examples are representative of the type of “emergencies” Cersei has then they’re also incredibly preventable, can likely be taken care of after work, and/or can be planned around. That doesn’t change what OP should do but I don’t think a car being towed can be compared to something like hospitalization or a death.

    4. Worker bee*

      If I’m having any bad luck/difficult transitions/emergencies pop up, they happen all at once for some reason. As soon as I came back from maternity leave, my water heater exploded. As soon as I got a promotion and was trying to work extra hours to get up to speed, my son’s daycare closed out of the blue, leaving us scrambling for daily childcare. Everything is pretty calm most of the time, but the disruptions all seem to happen in concentrated bursts.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I think people can determine the type of emergency. Traffic, towing, meetings are preventable. Things blowing up, burning down, suddenly closing are external to the person and surprises.

        The issue is a series of events.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Traffic can change in an instant…say a truck overturns and spills crap all over the highway and you’re stuck at a stand still on Parking Lot I-5 for three hours, not even moving enough to get to one of those cut outs in the median that the police use to turn around. Towing? What if your car dies out suddenly with no warning and you can’t just leave it stopped on the side of the expressway? Hit ice on the freeway? Has to be towed. Not preventable.

        2. whingedrinking*

          I had a boss who’d get cranky and scold me when I was late – even though I was only behind when there’d been an accident on a bridge that, one way or another, I had to cross to get to work. Once it was because someone was threatening to jump off said bridge and they had to be talked down. But apparently, I should have known that a total stranger was going to have a mental health emergency and prevented it because it was going to inconvenience my employer.

      2. NYC Weez*

        I’ve gone through my own bad patches and seen others go through them as well, but the difference with the “Cersei” in my life is that almost all of the “emergencies” she experiences feel very avoidable. For example, at least once a week she has some sort of child care gap where she needs to be home to meet her kids after school. They aren’t little ones—one is in 6th grade and the other is in 8th grade—and both are good kids who could be trusted to be home by themselves for the occasional hour or two, …or given the frequency of the problem, she could make arrangements with a local college student or alternate with her husband. But no, she herself has to leave work every time. For every good reason she has for not coming in or leaving early, there are 2-3 like the above example that feel like she could easily make other arrangements to avoid or minimize the impacts. Besides taking off all the time during the regular work week, she never goes to any team building socials—even ones scheduled during regular working hours. Instead she’ll take off and go home…again with one of these excuses at hand.

        The impact to me personally is minimal, except that I have to deal with a parade of people frustrated by trying to find her because they need her input. But the constant parade of “issues” is still irritating because it feels more like she’s only working 75% or less of the time for the same salary as the rest of us. I feel for the op, bc I know I want to be supportive of my coworkers when they have challenges. It just seems like Cersei abuses that good will.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Is she not using PTO? Because I feel like being required to burn through her vacation time might curb this a bit.

        2. Seriously?*

          I think that there is a good chance that Cersei’s “emergencies” are real, but she needs to reprioritize how she deals with them to impact work less. Things like scheduling parent teacher conferences can be pushed back on to avoid doing it during work hours or at least to meet the deadline on the project first. Things like her husband’s car being towed does not necessarily have to result in her leaving work. Right now she is dealing with things in a way that is the most convenient to her rather than the most convenient for those she works with. Until someone higher up calls her out on this it is unlikely to change.

        3. Artemesia*

          The people who need her and can’t find her need to contact her boss with ‘I need Cersei’s input to get this done and she isn’t here, what should I do, is there someone else I can talk to.’ EVERY SINGLE TIME. I would never do this for someone with a rare absence, but for the chronic slacker the only solution that works is for their boss to be inconvenienced often enough that s/he is aware of the issue. Since you are not her boss, you should direct them to her boss to see what to do. You go to your boss when you are personally affected.

    5. Lissa*

      I see this advice given a lot, and I’m curious about something. Can someone really just “decide” to believe someone like that? For me, if I am finding someone questionable or am not believing the stories they are telling me, I can’t just force myself to think otherwise. I mean, I can tell myself out loud “Of course all these emergencies are real and everything is above board, doubting someone’s illness/situation is wrong!” But it doesn’t actually change how I really feel/think about it or decrease my annoyance. But it seems other people are able to do that! I mean, clearly I’m able to keep my mouth shut if I think someone’s lying, but I can no more make myself *really* believe something I don’t than I could make myself be attracted to someone I’m not, enjoy someone’s behavior who I don’t, etc.

      I’m currently having a situation like this in my personal life where I believe a friend’s new SO is just…well, a big liar about some things he tells me, and I keep trying to make myself not be annoyed/think of reasons why it isn’t true but it’s still there.

      1. Lissa*

        Also having reread it, I don’t see anything that indicates the coworker is lying, in fact she even says “we’re all sympathetic” etc. It seems to me that it’s phrased very carefully to *not* doubt the emergencies are real.

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          Except for the next sentence, where OP writes But the frequency of Cersei’s personal crises—and their tendency to coincide with her deadlines—makes me doubt that she’s always telling the truth.

        2. boo bot*

          I think the advice about “deciding to believe” is more about detaching emotionally from the question of whether she’s lying than about actually committing to the belief that she’s telling the truth.

          I actually don’t know that it’s all that helpful to try to force yourself to think the best of someone. I do, though, think it’s possible to step back from the situation a little, decide not to spend energy dwelling on the lying part of the issue, and then respond as if she were telling the truth, because it’s often (as Alison points out) the same response you need regardless.

          If the problem is that someone is lying (rather than the problem being absences which are probably being lied about) this method is probably a bad idea.

          1. OP #1*

            Well said, thank you! Definitely trying to reframe my response to this and redirect my energy in a more productive direction. The two of us are never going to be best buddies, but I think we can be better coworkers than we are right now.

      2. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

        I don’t think you can change that sort of stuff overnight and certainly if a certain person is giving you bad vibes, it’s not likely to stop unless they change their behavior in some way dramatically. However, I think you can consciously reframe and rethink situations when you’re not in control. As a general principle, if you do it enough, you can redirect your mental and emotional patterns to be healthier.

        In this case, reframing it as “There’s a realistic possibility that Cersei is having a really hard time in a concentrated period of time and that sucks for everyone” isn’t gonna make you magically believe Cersei if you don’t. However, it can help you emotionally detach from the viewpoint of “Cersei is lying (and is selfishly inconveniencing me),” which is much more demoralizing and less compassionate. This isn’t to even say Cersei must be telling the truth, but since LW isn’t in a position to know 100% for sure, it might be better for her to leave it as Cersei’s business and focus on the work.

        And as Alison says, her advice isn’t dependent on whether Cersei is being honest. The focus is on her impact and how LW can react (the factor she has actual control over). LW’s boss can also then be tipped off and it might prompt some more direct intervention, but in this case, LW isn’t in a position to force the issue like that.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is a “wisdom to accept the things you can’t change” thing. Any mental effort spent trying to figure out which emergency might be fake is not going to make someone senior to you hit a deadline.

      3. Temperance*

        I think a lot of it has to do with the person’s character. You think your friend’s partner is a liar and you want to protect your friend from a sleezy guy, so you’re not going to like him. In this case, Cersei’s constant emergencies are causing problems for the LW, so I doubt I would be able to flip the switch and just like her/believe her.

      4. Starling*

        The intention is more to keep OP from being made crazy by the unfairness of it. It’s less a matter of forcing belief than just consciously acknowledging the story may well be true for reasons beyond Cercei’s control. I find that being perpetually annoyed at a coworker makes my work life less pleasant and has no beneficial effect. I don’t suspend my critical judgment, but I do try to keep sympathy ahead of irritation, and the awareness that it’s ultimately none of my business ahead of either.

        I don’t practice this in situations where I’ve got more control over interactions, generally: if my BFF’s boyfriend is lying, I don’t feel like my life is improved by allowing him to be an enormous jerk.

      5. Flinty*

        I think especially if Cersei is generally a pain to work with in addition to the emergencies, this could be a very valid point and it might cost the OP more energy to try to “reframe” everything she does in a more positive light. Sometimes there’s a lot of relief in admitting to yourself that you don’t like someone, and reminding yourself that part of what you are being paid for is to interact pleasantly with this person.

        1. OP #1*

          … this is a lot of it. She’s talented but notoriously difficult to work with, and I think my frustration with her other qualities is bleeding into my reaction to her absences.

          But I think that with some practice I can shift my focus from “ugh Cersei’s gone again?!” to “OK, how do we get this done even though Cersei’s not here?” and have a much more pleasant work experience.

          1. Magee*

            That’s a great way to handle it, OP. I hope it helps! I’m trying to do the same thing at my job.

          2. nonymous*

            I would say that’s the message to pass along to your boss/anyone affected by the deadline. Like when Cersei sends out the next “Emergency! out of office !” then you can just forward that along with any comments about how it affects deadlines.

            For example “The new teapot marketing brochure still needs the images from Cersei’s group. This milestone needs to be pushed back X days after Cersei’s return in order to do tasks A, B, C. Will we make the printing deadline of Y? ”

            The big issue I’ve had with the Cersei’s of the world is that I get stuck in the position of absorbing all the delays. So my dev time gets robbed but no one downstream is penalized and the person causing delays doesn’t get feedback. If that’s the case, I’d recommend working with your own boss re: prioritization. “Because I got the images with 1 day to accomplish Task instead of the three that had been planned I won’t have time to work on OtherTasks. How did you want me to deprioritize or delegate those?” Obviously your actual words will depend on the relationship with boss, but definitely approach it with an attitude that the task takes some finite amount of dedicated hours, full stop.

      6. Artemesia*

        It doesn’t matter. The issue is leverage. If you are not her boss then you deal with them as if they were real and on the off chance they are you don’t get caught out ‘disbelieving’. Whether they are real or not doesn’t matter to you as peer or subordinate, only that they impact your work. As I said before, if it were rare, then I would not do anything to draw attention to it with superiors; we sort of have each other’s back. BUT if it were frequent regardless of cause then you take it to a superior to find out how to deal with the problem and you do that every time you are held up by it until these superiors deal with it (or not).

    6. Trout 'Waver*

      Generally, I tend to look to other areas of a person’s work. Are they engaged at work? Do they get along with their colleagues? Do they make good suggestions and collaborate? Or do they just do the bare minimum?

      If someone is otherwise very attentive at work, but has a long string of bad luck, I’m much more inclined to believe them and work with them. This is one very real way that reputation matters. This may sound a bit petty, but if Tyrion got me the spreadsheet on Friday at 4:30 pm so I could schedule the works orders and leave for the weekend on time last time, I’m much more inclined to believe him this time when he tells me that he has to go pick his kids up from daycare because they’re sick.

      But, it seems that the people that are in perpetual crisis mode are almost always the ones that just don’t seem to be engaged at work.

      1. Teach*

        So. Much. This. If you have consistently met deadlines, worked with me if there are issues, and are generally squared away, if the sky falls, I will meet you with baskets.
        If you are constantly in emergency mode, not meeting deadlines, not staying late or working at home to mitigate issues, – then you get relegated to my mental file labeled “Can’t Fix This.”

    7. Oxford Coma*

      One lesson I learned early in my career is that what I perceived as a series of entirely preventable “emergencies” in my coworker’s life was in fact a long-term financial situation.

      Yes, she should have dealt with her constant engine failures and blown tires–but car repair or replacement is hella expensive. Yes, she should have had more reliable childcare than shuttling her son around to various relatives with constantly shifting schedules–but daycare costs a fortune.

      Convenience and reliability is easy when you can just throw money at it.

        1. Washi*

          YES. These are great examples. And in addition, I think one of the reasons supposedly preventable emergencies can end up clumped together is that when you’re dealing with something very time-consuming and stressful, your health can be affected, your executive function can be affected, and things can get out of hand that you might have been able to keep under control in a less stressful time.

          We can’t know what’s going on with Cersei, but this reframing might help OP from getting to BEC level with her.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        That’s a good point. I was thinking while reading the letter and comments about a former coworker of mine who always had emergencies. She had to leave early to get her kids. She had frequent migraines. Her husband needed a ride. A car got towed. Etc, etc. always something.

        And I don’t/didn’t doubt that each of these emergencies was true, but it still got kind of annoying when I was the one staying past 5:00 to finish this urgent task because she had to go get her kids because her in laws who usually took the kids after school had some illness and couldn’t handle it that day. I was also more annoyed because she admitted to job hunting (to our mutual supervisors) after only a few months of work.

        And it was all absolutely an economic situation. The kids were with her in laws because they couldn’t afford daycare. She had to carpool with her husband because their car was repossessed because they couldn’t make the payments on it. She got a second job because her husband was under employed and they needed the money.

        We don’t have enough information to know if that’s a factor for Cersei in this case, but “preventable” emergencies are preventable with money. Cars don’t break if you maintain them, but maintenance costs money. Childcare costs money.

      2. Artemesia*

        Yes. I am much more sympathetic to a low paid admin with these issues than an executive who is well paid. Both can have financial problems, but for the low paid person with car, child care etc issues, there can be an absolute inability to cope any better regardless of personal management.

    8. OP #1*

      Thanks, this is helpful. I generally try to take her at her word, but we’ve worked together for years and she’s always been like this to some extent. It’s just been particularly bad lately, which has led to some uncharitable thoughts on my part.

      I’ll work on reframing how I think about it. Alison’s right that whether or not it’s true I should be focusing on how it affects our work, not the reasons that she’s calling out.

      1. Avalanche Lake*

        OP#1, you sound like a good coworker. I hope your manager is able to help you out.

    9. KMB213*

      I agree with this! In the past year, I’ve had five flat tires, have had to attend six funerals, have been blocked from leaving my house by two different neighbors/people working for the neighbors, had to miss a few days of work when my mother had a heart attack, had to pick up my nephew from school when my sister had to rush to the hospital with my other nephew, etc., etc. It’s been a mix of emergencies, actual tragic things, and, for lack of a better word, annoying things, happening. I’m beginning to think my coworkers think I’m lying, but no one has said anything to that effect. I suspect my case is helped by the fact that I am always ahead on my work and I frequently work 50-60 hours a week.

      Anyway, the point of this is that I always give people the benefit of the doubt, which is why Alison’s wording is perfect – it doesn’t place the blame on Cersei or imply that these aren’t real emergencies.

    10. TardyTardis*

      I had to holler “Becky! Mike emergency! Be back as soon as possible!” Did you know that some forms of chemo can cause kidney failure, and that the aforementioned kidney failure can be fatal if diabetic drugs are still circulating and not being metabolized? Oh, yes and the week before it caused hallucinations. Plus, there were other problems later on that year, and this is why I took early retirement.

  3. Cornflower Blue*

    #2 That sounds awful to me.

    Any chance you could perhaps gather up a group to suggest the 10K step with the reasoning “we keep doing the biggest loser and since there’s only so much weight you can lose, we won’t fare well with it in a competitive setting and will ‘win’ more easily if we do something that everyone can contribute to”? It’s a lot easier to walk extra steps than it is to shed weight.

    1. LouiseM*

      +1. I mean, I still don’t think companies should be telling their employees how many steps to take per day (just typing that felt ridiculous) but since your office seems pretty into these challenge things, this might be a more realistic step to take.

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      The office probably should figure out how to maximize participation. I wouldn’t mind 10k walking, but I have plenty of friends (young and not apparent) who couldn’t walk 10k steps/day.

      I kind of like the cooking thing but I might suggest doing it differently. Could they instead ask for healthy recipes (parameters TBD) and whoever provides the most wins? The employees would have a nice cookbook at the end.

      Or ask people to go get a wellness check at the doctor (assuming everyone has insurance) and raffle off the prize if you went?

      1. Clare*

        Speaking of the prize, is the $150 for the whole office or per person? Cause thats a pretty cheap prize if its meant to be split between everyone in the office. Wellness competitions, if they really must be done, should award a set prize to each individual who participates and meets certain benchmarks, so that it takes away the pressure to join in “for the sake of the team.”

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          In a way, the cheapness of the prize compared to the required effort helps–I won’t feel I’ve lost much by refusing to participate, even if I might have no shot at the drawing for a $20 gift certificate.

        2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          The way I read it, it sounded like each office did their own inter-office competition, with the $150 provided by HR as a prize to the individual(s?) who won in each office, then each office could choose what kind of competition to do and how the prize money would be awarded. If I’m reading that right, that sort of makes pressure to join in from coworkers even sillier- why would they want more competition?

        3. LW #2*

          For each office. So you can divide it up however the office sees fit. (heh)

          All $150 can go to the first place. Or spread it among the first three. Or whatever.

          1. nonymous*

            Well the easiest approach might be to suggest that it’s a top-three thing. Then your coworkers can diet together and be happy in the great opportunity to get the reward. Frankly it would be worth not getting part of that prize money just to skip such an icky competition.

            My go to when choosing not to participate in group competition is to assign myself the role of cheerleader. The whole concept is squicky, but if you can’t push back too hard this approach might be something you can live with. Alternative to the prize structure, one option would be to advocate for novel accessible snacks with this money? There was a team at my church that did a special coffee hour to highlight vegan options, and in the context of wellness I could see rotating through a weekly theme of Paleo, Atkins, Vegan, Whole30, Nut-free, Gluten-free, etc snack tables as an educational event. The competition could be for tastiness/cost effectiveness/min cal/max protein instead of focusing on body image. There are definitely ways to encourage competition about health and be inclusive.

      2. Julia*

        I can walk 10k steps on days I don’t work my desk job – not right now because I hurt my ankle, so I couldn’t really take part in the competition anyway.

        But also, like Alison said, what about people who don’t want to or shouldn’t lose weight? Why do the bosses assume that everyone in the entire office needs to lose weight?

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, I always get hung up on your second paragraph here.
          I have zero hangups around weight or food but I also have zero interest in losing weight. It’s pretty stable no matter what I do (give or take something like 3kg) and I have absolutely no ambition to do anything with it.

        2. Kalamet*

          Yeah, my last company had weight loss competitions all the time. I was recently talking to someone who still works there, and I said that I thought competing for weight loss in the office was a terrible idea. I’m technically underweight, so I can’t possibly win and it would be unhealthy for me to try. He just said that I don’t _look_ underweight and of course I could stand to lose a few pounds, everybody can!

          Ugh. I think fitness and healthy eating are important. But anytime health comes up at work it turns into a toxic judgmental mess instead of a positive thing. I wish I knew why.

          1. Strawmeatloaf*

            Eww. I know I’m only on a diet to go back down a pant-size so that I can fit into my old pants better, but then I would be at my ideal weight where I really shouldn’t be going any lower after it.

            I mean if anything, I would love how to make healthier foods for someone who is pretty lazy like me and where I’ll be able to eat it within 3 days before it molds in the fridge.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Divide it into portions in glass containers and freeze it. :) I have to make my own food because of allergies and I do that all the time.

          2. Recently Diagnosed*

            As someone who is currently overweight due to the recovery process from an extremely unhealthy eating disorder, this infuriates me. Could I lose a few pounds? Oh my god, yeah. More than a few. But I had to struggle to allow myself to gain ANY weight, and even though I’m not in traditionally good shape, I am the healthiest I’ve ever been. It has taken years, but I now am able to see each of these extra pounds as a victory. I’d probably have bitten his head off. And then eaten a piece of cake. With ice cream. As I learn to process my weight healthily, I will do so. Until then, back off, dude.

            1. Jadelyn*

              “even though I’m not in traditionally good shape, I am the healthiest I’ve ever been.” This is so important. As I’m fond of reminding people, “health” includes mental health too. Are my energy drinks and pre-processed meals particularly healthy? Not really. But they represent, to me, the hard-won freedom to eat what I enjoy, when I want to, without guilt or shame. They may not be objectively healthy items, but they are a sign of my mental health having improved. And if I have to choose between losing a few pounds, and being able to stay mentally healthy and stable, I’ll take the latter any day. Being overweight won’t kill me. My mental illnesses, on the other hand, might.

              “Health” is such an intensely personal and subjective concept that it’s a terrible idea to try to prescribe health to someone based on your own assumptions of what “health” looks like for them. I wish workplaces would figure that out and knock this kind of crap off.

          3. many bells down*

            My daughter still struggles to GAIN weight due to a digestive disorder – her mesenteric artery is displaced and pinches shut part of her stomach. The only way she got over 100lbs was hospitalization and tube feeding. She’s still not where her doctor would like her to be, and she loses weight very quickly. Which could put her back in the hospital. Everybody could NOT stand to lose a few pounds!

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Can she eat french fries? That’s the only way I can keep my weight up during stressful times. I found out I was going to move and then got sick, and lost 4 pounds in a week.
              I’ve found I can get an order of Five Guys fries and divide it into servings and freeze it. I reheat it in a frying pan on the stove, then blot the extra grease off. This kept my weight up during the move. :) Also, yum!

              1. many bells down*

                Anything greasy would set her off and she’d throw it all up. She had to be really careful with what she ate. She can totally eat them NOW (although she’d rather have fried chicken) but during the worst of it she could only eat tiny portions of very simple foods.

                Five Guys does give you a MASSIVE amount of fries, tho. We’ve never finished a serving!

        3. Persephoneunderground*

          Julia- exactly your second paragraph. I need to maintain or gain weight due to some meds I take, but it’s not just that. It’s that bringing that up in an office of people trying to lose weight is a “my tiara is too heavy” kind of thing, so I really wouldn’t like being pressured to go into my reasons when I’m staying quiet about it to try to be considerate of others.

          1. Julia*

            I don’t even think that your bringing that up would be “my tiara is too heavy” kind of thing! At least not for me, but I don’t know the people you work with. I guess as someone who has had different health issues, I know that even though someone looks healthy and enviably thin on the outside, they’re not “whining about first-world problems” or some similar insensitive brush-off of your real problems. I’m sorry you’re not getting any support.

              1. LBK*

                It isn’t, but I think it can sound like it is in a culture that’s so obsessed with being thin and has drilled “thin = healthy” into everyone’s heads for decades. I can see why someone would be hesitant to bring it up.

              2. zora*

                An office like the OP describes where they have weight loss competitions *TWICE A YEAR* definitely WOULD consider it a “my tiara is too heavy” kind of thing.

              3. Kyrielle*

                It isn’t, but it gets taken that way. I was underweight through my mid-20s, enough so that people sometimes wondered whether I had an eating disorder. (Um, no. I had a ridiculous metabolism, which seems to be normal to my family. Mom told me I’d lose it one day, and sure enough I did – same as she did.) But mostly I got compliments. Meanwhile, I was eating lots of calories (and not terribly healthy) because my doctor wanted me to gain.

                People would get offended if I mentioned that and they were trying to lose, because in our society that loves being thin, I was “boasting” by my complaints. It really does get policed and can genuinely upset people, because our society says that having the problem I had then is “good” and having the one I have now (of being overweight) is “bad”.

                But now I am eating healthier food and exercising, including long walks several times a week. In terms of my actions, and many of my numbers, I am objectively healthier now. Just heavier.

            1. PersephoneUnderground*

              Thanks- in my case I have plenty of support, but I try to be aware of my audience and not bring it up or complain to people who I know have the exact opposite problem. I’m young and skinny, the current popular ideal body type, so unless I know someone well it seems insensitive to me to complain about it even though the appetite problems I’m dealing with are really sucky. It’s too bad because I actually miss my old curves :( . I’ve occasionally had a good conversation about it, but it’s understandably tricky ground so I try to avoid it at work. Luckily, I mostly deal with people too polite to comment on my fried chicken sandwiches and ice cream etc. I would *hate* LW’s office, though, because they won’t Let It Go Already.

        4. Justme, The OG*

          Or what about people without a Fitbit or pedometer. Is the company going to provide one for everyone to track their steps?

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Ours did. But our wellness efforts are a series of different things you can take part in for small monetary rewards/cuts to your insurance premiums, and not weight loss competitions.

          2. Seriously?*

            I think that type of thing is a great idea. Instead of doing a competition, they should simply make resources available to people to help those who want it. Provide things like pedometers or gym memberships. Provide healthy snacks in the break room. Have a nutritionist available for those who want a consultation. Make sure the health insurance is good enough to cover well visits. Essentially, make good health accessible but don’t push.

          3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            Don’t even get me started on the fitbit or similar pedometer. I’m on my husband’s insurance so this really doesn’t effect me, but I hate that my company places so much emphasis on step count with our “wellness initiative”. My company’s health insurance requires you to get so many points through a fitness app/website. One of the bigger ways to get points is to have 10k steps on a pedometer that will link to the app (10 points for everyday that you hit 10k and you only need 400 to get the lower insurance rate). I have soooooo many issues with this and I’m not even on the stupid health plan here.

            And, no, our company doesn’t provide pedometers or really any good solution for what to do if you don’t have a smart phone.

              1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                We have a family handbell choir, and my sister logged 5,000 steps during one rehearsal when she forgot to take her fitbit off. :P

                1. Jadelyn*

                  Oh my god this is beautiful. I used to play bells, I can’t believe I never thought of doing this during the office step competitions.

          4. MCMonkeyBean*

            Our company did actually provide us all with pedometers once for a challenge like this a few years back.

            I like work step challenges, but only if participation is 100% optional! And weigh-ins at the office seem entirely unacceptable to me so this biggest loser competition is baffling to me.

          5. many bells down*

            The museum I volunteer at did give people pedometers if they wanted to participate in the *totally voluntary* competitions. I don’t know who took advantage of it, because I didn’t join.

        5. MJ*

          Exactly. I honestly live in terror of working somewhere like OP’s office, because I have a hard enough time without being in an office full of people obsessed with eating and food. I could definitely win a weight loss competition…because I know how to work disordered eating patterns and exercise. I’m hardly alone in this, and that’s why these competitions horrify me.

        6. Tuxedo Cat*

          For clarification, I also don’t think weight loss is right. Besides being invasive, I’m also someone who couldn’t compete.

        7. smoke tree*

          Also, those “lose as much as possible as quickly as possible” contests are totally unhealthy in their own right. That’s not how healthy, sustainable weight loss works, even if you do want to lose weight.

      3. many bells down*

        My cardiologist (I have a congenital heart defect) has advised me to set my step goal lower, to 7k, And I don’t even manage that more than twice a week. If my workplace did this, I’d just say “my doctor has advised against it.” Even though I could stand to lose 10 pounds or so, I’m certain that any one of my doctors would write me a note if necessary.

    3. A.N. O'Nyme*

      Not to mention losing weight goes quickly at first before slowing down and stagnating (or even fluctuating slightly), meaning the regular weight loss challenges might actually put the team at a disadvantage if they do that one.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I gained a bunch of weight over winter and it wasn’t a huge challenge for me to get back to my “maintenance weight” by just being mildly cognizant about what I was eating (eg not having a donut for breakfast every day and then stuffing my face with cookies all afternoon), but once I hit that I plateaued hard.

    4. LS*

      As well as all the reasons Alison listed, it’s also a problem for people with certain illnesses or on particular medications: I take a thyroid medication and the dose is very weight-sensitive, so if I gain or lose weight I need to have a blood test and check my levels and discuss with my specialist. Most medications are not this sensitive (and if you still have a thyroid your dose won’t be as closely monitored) but some are, and some illnesses also require close monitoring of food, activity levels and weight – diabetes is a common one but there are many, many others – so endless nagging to join in is very uncomfortable and (if forcing them to disclose disabilities) possibly illegal. There’s so many reasons why these “challenges” are a bad idea!

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Sort of related to yesterday’s cereal discussion, but a previous job did a pedometer competition with prizes for whoever reached the step target first. Thinking I was in with a chance of winning an IPad I started on the Friday the competition launched.

        Only to discover on Monday morning that somebody had managed to win before most people had even started, so no more IPads!

        1. Wednesday Mouse*

          Urgh. I had a similar thing at an old job – they gave a pedometer to everyone, and there were daily/weekly leaderboards with who had taken the most steps. The idea was to encourage people to walk a bit more and sit a bit less – with tips such as getting off the bus a stop earlier, parking a couple of streets away from the office, taking a walk on your lunch break instead of sitting at your desk. There were prizes for those who managed to record the most steps.

          Personally, I decided not to partake. I was training for a marathon at the time, as well as putting in long swimming sessions and other exercise (all cardio-based exercise could be converted into “steps” in an attempt to not penalise those who couldn’t walk/run and incentivise other forms of physical activity). Whilst I wasn’t confident I would win, I recognised that my tally of steps would be far higher than those who the scheme & competition was aimed at and as a result would seem demoralising. I was keen not to alienate the majority of participants with an absurdly high step total. Besides, my reward was the exercise itself; I didn’t want or need the prize incentive.

          Unfortunately, not everyone held the same view. A fair number of already athletic coworkers immediately signed up. They were constantly at the top of the leader boards, recording their daily runs, cycles, swimming, spin class, yoga, hikes etc. I overheard several people who had signed up to the competition in good faith moaning about how impossible it was to even get onto the leaderboard, let alone win a prize. No matter how many lunchtimes they walked around the block for half an hour, unless they could put in a 20 mile run at the weekend and 3 spin sessions during the week, they weren’t going to touch the prizes. Most I think pulled out by week 3 or 4 (it was a 12-week scheme), meaning only the already-athletic types were left in the competition, defeating the object of the game altogether.

          It was horrible.

          1. INTP*

            This is why I don’t do FitBit challenges with groups or friends. They’re really only winnable if you’re a runner so I don’t find it encouraging.

            1. RobM*

              My partner and I both do fitbit challenges with friends who are mostly of similar (middle) ages and abilities.

              We’re _all_ a lot fitter now than when we started and all of us agree that it would have been very offputting when we started (I was 18.5 stone/260lbs so not winning many races then) to be in the same challenge as a 20-something athlete.

              I can get 10/12k steps a day easily now and wouldn’t be a lot of fun to compete against” for someone getting started, and equally there’s a few super fit people where I work who could leave me eating dust.

              These competitions remind me of contrived “team bonuses” – they might come out of good intentions but their power to demotivate if they go wrong is greater than their power to motivate when they go right.

              1. many bells down*

                My husband and I do one with each other every week. Loser has to take the winner on a date. We used to make the loser cook dinner, but I cook most nights anyway as I only work part-time, so that didn’t work for me.

          2. CheeryO*

            I’m a runner too, and I would definitely opt-out of a step challenge, but I would also feel a little annoyed about doing so if the prize was really great. Those challenges either need separate tiers for people to self-select into, or maybe smaller prizes for anyone who averages over 10K a day or whatever.

            1. INTP*

              Maybe a contest for movement during the workday could work? Fitbits track the number of hours during a certain window that you take at least 250 steps each hour (they probably use cheaper pedometers for work contests, but maybe there’s something with a similar function). Let everyone set their work hours, and track who hits 250 steps during the most hours. Research shows less prolonged sitting is good for everyone, even if you exercise, so it would be beneficial for both people that run 10 miles before work and people that don’t exercise outside the workday, and put everyone on a fairly equal playing field. It could even encourage workplace bonding if people are getting up and going to the water cooler more often or taking walks around the hallways together.

              1. rldk*

                This sounds like a great idea! It could help with camaraderie and even with productivity – short breaks that help everyone focus :)

              2. TootsNYC*

                It DOES sound like a great idea.

                For one thing, it’s all at work. Which really equalizes the differences among people with big family commitment versus those who have big blocks of exercise time carved into their schedule.

            2. neverjaunty*

              A former job did exactly this – self-selecting tiers. The prizes weren’t enormous and nobody tried to game the system by joining a tier with lower goals. It meant the supercompetitive fitness people could all go against one another and the less active folks weren’t discouraged.

            3. TootsNYC*

              Maybe they need a baseline-setting week, and then people get prizes based on how much they’ve improved. And yes, based on the baseline, you break them into tiers.

              For the really competitive people, you can point out that this means they REALLY have competition, and I think you can say flat-out that the tiers are there to provide an arena for the non-athletes to not feel left out.

          3. EmilySpinach*

            A version of this that actually made me chuckle, although I am totally against this kind of thing in the workplace as a rule: my university did this for all faculty and staff, and many people in office jobs jumped on the bandwagon, only to realize they were competing against several teams of our groundskeeping and maintenance staff–people whose job it literally is to be up and walking around all day. Not a chance in France that the desk-job folks could keep up! (For a lot of us it turned out to be a great reminder of how hard our sometimes-invisible colleagues worked, so that was a good side outcome, at least.)

          4. Annie Moose*

            While I have issues with wellness competitions in the office anyway, I think the way my office does it helps with this–everybody who hits a certain minimum step goal (50,000/week) is entered into a drawing for five gift cards each week. Last time, even though I only hit the step goal a couple weeks out of the six or eight weeks of the competition, I still managed to win one! And there’s no monetary prize for the overall winner, just a little trophy and bragging rights.

            Of course this still leaves out anybody who for medical reasons can’t walk 50,000 steps in a week (or do the equivalent of other exercise), but it does mean that even people who aren’t overly athletic can win a prize.

          5. Buckeye*

            I have (thankfully) never worked in an office where wellness competitions were a thing, but I’m curious…is the expectation that the majority of the steps will be taken outside of working hours? I’m trying to imagine management telling an employee “this report has to be finished by 3 p.m.! But also get up every half hour to walk around the office!” Workers who have a more active job would definitely be at an advantage compared to a cubicle worker.

            1. Teapot Tester*

              That’s kind of the point of the competitions, in my experience. Not every half hour, but taking frequent breaks to stretch your legs. My office encourages walking meetings and people often take advantage of the beautiful trail that happens to pass right behind the building.

          6. Magee*

            My company will do these step challenges. But they give out the prizes randomly to everyone who participates. I think this is such a better way to handle it, than based on who walked the most. It takes all of your points into consideration- participants who are already active, those who are unable to walk/run, etc.

              1. TootsNYC*

                Folding clothes is actually exercise.

                Back when Walter Hudson was still alive, and Dick Gregory was trying to help him lose some weight, Hudson couldn’t stand easily because of his extreme weight.

                So Gregory gave him a conductor’s baton and played lively music on the stereo. Exercising with your arms can be cardiovascular exercise.

                So people who couldn’t walk could still participate.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          My office uses a third-party site for wellness challenges and I really like how it’s set up–the people who go all out will get prizes (I think the top 3 people) but then everyone who hits a very low and super achievable goal gets entered into a raffle with a few more winners. And there are step challenges that people can compete in as part of it, but you can also hit the points goal by doing things like taking short quizzes on various wellness topics, so people with limited mobility could still win a prize.

    5. INTP*

      Realistically, they’re probably gaining the weight back between every Biggest Loser, so they might have just as much to lose as when they started. But I do think it’s a good idea to point out that this isn’t an inclusive contest and that they do it all the time, so maybe something else would be good to try. I don’t think they’re going to do anything low key enough to really be inclusive, but taking the most steps or something like that would be less uncomfortable for the losers.

        1. SpaceNovice*

          Exactly that–taking it slow and steady is the only way to not mess up your metabolism permanently.

    6. Trout 'Waver*

      I’ve never done ‘steps’ but I’ve wondered: how to you control for step size? My lanky 6’8″ colleague has a natural stride that is probably twice as long as my 5’2″ colleague, despite them being similar weights.

      1. Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate*

        It has to do with the up and down motion, not the distance traveled. My mom gets a lot of steps when she knits (her pedometer is in her wrist)!

        1. EmilySpinach*

          But I think it’s more to the point that someone who plans a 3 mile walk with a 5-foot stride is necessarily going to take fewer steps than somebody with a 3-foot stride. So if I’m on a walk with a short friend, I will take fewer steps than she does to cover the same distance: her FitBit (or whatever) will show a higher number than mine. So if the challenge is on steps, not distance, I’ll need to walk farther to stay even.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            And even if it’s measuring distance, it’s not going to be equal. Unless the FitBit is more accurate than the Apple Watch? Because I’ve walked the exact same path with my taller husband and child, and not only do I have more steps (thanks to my short legs), but I get credit for more distance as well.

            1. Skullclutter*

              Certain models of fitbit can link to the GPS in your phone, or have built-in GPS, so they can get the distance travelled that way, and reverse-engineer your stride length from there.

          2. Birch*

            Which kind of highlights the pointlessness of step challenges. If the idea is to be healthier, well, take more steps than your short friend! The short friend (in my experience) is working harder to keep up with you, so it makes sense that extra steps on the tall friend’s part will equal out in terms of exercise benefits. If you look up the step conversions though, it’s really not that much extra. If you’re already going for the range of 10k steps, it’s not that much really to do 500 more (which is near the difference between 5 feet tall and 6.5 feet tall).

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              It’s a lot more complicated than that. Heavier people do more work to move the same distance. Also the difference in stride can be >50% between individuals, rather than the 5% you indicate.

              1. Birch*

                Of course it’s more complicated, but my point is that focusing on the steps alone is not the ostensible goal of the challenge anyway, so it’s sort of pointless in that regard. The steps don’t take into consideration other factors, like height, weight, age, other health issues, terrain, weather, etc. If people really want to compete on just steps and ignore the actual health benefits of different types of exercise, then I think they should not complain and just do the extra steps. Maybe jog in place.

          3. many bells down*

            Yeah, my spouse has a good 6 inches on me and takes much longer steps. We’ll take a walk together and I’ll have several hundred more steps than he does at the end.

        2. Canadian Public Servant*

          I was going to note that! Those “pedometers” count a lot of things as a step – as my crocheting friend found out.

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            I’ve heard of people putting their fit bit on the dog and sending them to doggy daycare for the day!

          2. LBK*

            My Apple Watch will frequently tell me it’s time to stand up, then a minute later congratulate me on hitting my Stand goal for the hour when I haven’t moved. I don’t know what about typing on my laptop convinces it that I’ve stood up!

      2. Not a Morning Person*

        Most pedometers have to be set to your stride. It takes a few tries to count your stride and set your pedometer. But, of course, whether you are running, or walking, or skipping, or strolling, your stride will be different. It’s not perfect.

      3. WillyNilly*

        I have had several pedometers in my life. I haven’t figured it out on my phone (haven’t looked hard) but all the stand alone pedometers except for the cheapest freebie ones have a way to set your stride. Basically you measure out 20 feet in a line. You then walk it and count your steps. You enter that into the pedometer and it calculates your stride length.

        But stride only accounts for distance. 100 steps is 100 steps regardless of how far you travel.

    7. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

      Another point for the OP to possibly bring up to HR is that these types of wellness competitions are often frowned upon for a variety of reasons, and maybe dipping the toe into illegality. I’ve attached a link to an short but interesting take on this. You might be able to use some of these reasons to discourage your company in participating in the types of programs you mention.

    8. Earthwalker*

      Wellness competitions apply peer pressure in a way that makes someone who makes a personal choice not to participate appear to be a poor team player professionally. You can’t just decline without having some of your teammates feel you’re being stand-offish or that you’ve let them down. Where individual health is concerned, workplace competition is inappropriate.

    9. Allison*

      I really liked my old company’s Fitbit program. Everyone got a basic device for free, or could upgrade for maybe $30 if they wanted the extra features, it was all optional but I definitely saw the challenges encourage people to get more active, even if it just meant going walks at lunch, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator! And they gave out prizes to everyone who participated, plus bigger prizes for the teams that won, and the challenges were a little different every time. But it could have made people with disabilities feel excluded.

    10. Traveling Teacher*

      And, for these challenges, what if you have one or more pregnant women in the office? They’re going to be gaining weight–and should be, for a great reason! They’re maybe going to be able to do some walking challenges but also might not be able to do much (I personally suffered a joint injury while pregnant the first time which still flares up when I haven’t been taking care of myself). I suppose that that falls under the category of “people who can’t participate”, but it would be pretty terrible to feel like you have to bring up a pregnancy earlier than planned just to explain your weight gain or lack of steps to nosy Nellies doing the challenge!

  4. Tuxedo Cat*

    For #3, it’s a terrible question for all the reasons you imagine.

    My guess is that they want to know not only what you value in someone but also your ability to be critical of people they assume you like. They could have gotten the same info by asking about a coworker/boss you enjoyed working with or even a friend.

    1. LouiseM*

      This is a good guess. I’ve gotta say, it really gets me when reputable companies use these scammy “personality quiz” type questions to try to suss something out. Just ask a direct, work related question! Oof.

    2. Anonicat*

      They’re also not even going to get an honest answer in a lot of cases because the honest answer is harrowing.

    3. Violet Fox*

      My family has well.. issues, and my relationship with them is deeply complicated because of that. From a lot of my experience there is also a lot of judgement from people who have more “normal” families that there must be something wrong with you because your own family is messed up and because your relationship with them and to them is complicated on a good day.

      So yeah, bad question.

      1. Exhausted Trope*

        Violet Fix, I row in your boat. :'(
        So much judgment and from people who have no clue. This is the big reason why I do not share my family dynamics with anyone now let alone potential employers.

    4. INTP*

      I thought maybe they want to know what you dislike in an authority figure, but ability to be critical of someone you like is a good guess too. In any case it’s a horribly misguided way to ask.

      1. Mara*

        That seems logical but wouldn’t a better questions be something like;
        “Tell me about someone who has been in a position of authority over you for example a teacher or former manager and what did you like and dislike about them?” it makes the question slightly more open.

        I am lucky enough to have a great relationship with my parents and things I dislike would be minor irritants such as my father’s insistence at watching top gear episodes over and over again or my mother’s fondness for a a certain singer I don’t like and playing her songs in the car. What would that tell anyone about my suitability for a job? It just tells them I don’t like top gear or a certain singer.

    5. hbc*

      It’s just dumb on so many levels. Even if you have a standard issue nuclear family, it’s asking to provide one opinion about two unique people. I’d have a hard time coming up with something non-generic I admire or dislike about mine as a Parental Unit. Ward has different strengths and weaknesses than June.

    6. Cheryl Blossom*

      It’s an awful question. I have a standard nuclear family that I’m fairly close to as an adult– and I would not want to talk about what I least admire about my parents because that would lead into some Real @!#$ real fast. (Partly because it would also involve coming out in the middle of an interview!)

    7. Bex*

      I have a difficult relationship with my parents, with some history of abuse, so, while I could come up with a BS answer for this question, I think, I would definitely be flooded with adrenaline/negative emotions just considering it and would not be at my best for the rest of the interview.

      I think it’s difficult for people who come from healthy families to imagine what it’s like for people who don’t. People make assumptions and put words in your mouth and it’s really usually better just to avoid the topic altogether.

  5. Engineer Girl*

    #3 – “Hmmm, that’s a really personal question! Could you tell me why you’re asking it?”
    Said gently.

    1. Sherm*

      I do think this type of approach is best when a question is personal and/or weird. I remember somebody once wrote in about having been asked “what type of nacho plate would you be?” The poster answered along the lines of “I’m having trouble understanding the point of the question,” and the panel sheepishly admitted that the question had been suggested to them. It sounded like everyone was able to move on and both sides liked each other.

        1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

          My version: Nachos on a plate, covered with shredded cheese, jalapenos, salsa, peppers then baked or microwaved until the cheese has melted.

      1. Birch*

        This is a dumb question not only because it has nothing to do with work, but because the question itself has different ways of interpretation. “Which food item would you be” is a very different question than “which food item is your favorite” and it’s not like there’s a real, objective method of interpreting it either way! I kind of see this as an icebreaker, but the answer absolutely should not be taken to mean anything!

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      That is a really good response. Regardless of your relationship with parents… if it’s a good and healthy one, you’re doing someone else a favour! Maybe they’ll realise and stop using it.

      A follow up to the answer could be “Interesting. Do you think it may be inappropriate for an interview?”

    3. anonagain*

      I really like both your suggested response, Engineer Girl, and your follow up idea, Akcipitrokulo.

      I can never think of how to respond in the moment so I definitely benefit from mentally rehearsing these things in advance.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Me too. Things like this you can rehearse in advance for any inappropriate question which is good!

    4. Irene Adler*

      I like to ask “how does this relate to any of the elements of the job description? Perhaps you could explain this to me please because I don’t see it myself. ”

      I often wonder what useful info interviewers glean from asking such questions.

      1. Millennial Lawyer*

        This seems unnecessarily combative to me – it would appropriate to say to someone who’s really nosy, but not to an interviewer.

        1. SCAnonibrarian*

          You say that like interviewers can’t be nosy assholes. I know an HR person right now who insists on being at interviews so they can be up on as much gossip as possible. They also are nosy and gossip
          about employee health information. But they frame everything as them being ‘concerned’ or wanting to be ‘legal’ about everything (in cases where that is obviously bullshit if you look it up) so people sometimes find it hard to push back in the moment. I think all the above pushbacks are amazing and might actually shut people like that down for a bit – they don’t want to be obvious about it, so this gives them no real way to continue to nose around.

    5. NickyName*

      “Why, did they list me as a reference? I didn’t even know they were interviewing.”

  6. CatCat*

    “What traits about your parents do you like the least?”

    Yiiiiiikkkkkessssss. Someday, this question will go horribly wrong. It’s inevitable. Omg.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        “That they were also my brother and sister” and then enjoy the silence as they try to figure that out.

      2. Fergus*

        That they were my father and my ex-wife. You might go gross and i am with you, but I knew someone where this was true, but that’s a whole other blog.

    1. Anonicat*

      “They didn’t allow dissent in any way, shape or form, so for now the workplace is the only place where I feel comfortable telling someone they’re full of shit.”

    2. This Daydreamer*

      Well, there were the blind rages, and the constant reminders that he was deeply disappointed in me and that I was ruining his life. Not to mention that if it mattered to me it was automatically worthless to him. Probably the worst was that, between my undiagnosed learning disability and my status as school pariah, I was in trouble every single day and would dread going to school and dread going home from school. *laughs* Ah the memories! Did you know that overdosing on aspirin gives you hallucinations? I was one freaked out twelve year old that night! Oh, before I forget, can I ask what kind of EAP system you have? A friend of mine might also apply and she was wondering.

    3. Temperance*

      I’ll be honest, if someone asked me about my parents, I would probably assume I wasn’t getting the job, so I would say something like “the evangelical Christianity or the abuse”.

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      My real answer is that they’re racist. I don’t know if that would get me hired. Maybe it’s good because I wouldn’t want to work someplace where that’s a bad answer?

    5. RobM*

      Just say “you remember that comedy song ‘I am my own grandpa’? – well in my family that isn’t comedy”.

    6. EddieSherbert*

      I think OP should have just said the truth – that they’re dead. That should have stopped them in their tracks and (bonus) made them feel like an @ss…

      (Might have messed up your chances of getting the job, though, OP. Also, I am sorry about your parents.)

    7. Irene Adler*

      I think I would just start tearing up and mention how very much I miss them. And then be pretty much inconsolable after that. Let them struggle to get anything useful out the interview after that.

    8. Rachel 2 - Electric Boogaloo*

      “The way they acted on national TV when Maury told them that my dad actually IS the father.”

  7. Another orphan*

    #3 Oh, I wish you had actually said “That they are dead.” In the flattest tone possible. I don’t think I could have resisted saying that, even wanting the job.

    1. Lynca*

      My dad’s death is still pretty raw even a few years later. I’d be pretty turned off to the phone interview at that point so I probably would have given them an honest answer.

    2. Stacy*

      Oh, I absolutely would have replied with “that they are dead” and then waited for the interviewer to speak/react to see what would happen next. I would have been rattled by the first part of that line of questioning, and honestly probably wouldn’t have much of a filter at that moment. I definitely would have been thrown off for the rest of the interview too.

    3. Roja*

      Me too. I actually think that’s a brilliant answer–it highlights the absurdity of the question while providing you with a total out for answering that way, because only a jerk could complain that you said it. I probably would have said something like that too on the spot. I’m bad at thinking up answers and my father passed away suddenly a few years back. But regardless, my parents aren’t perfect, but they are/were great parents and doing their best, and I’m not going to air their dirty laundry to a total stranger. I certainly have least favorite parts about my parents but absolutely none of them are appropriate in a work setting, much less an interview.

    4. HR Recruiter*

      I was thinking the same thing reading this. My husband lost both is parents suddenly after different times. I have a knot in my stomach just thinking about his reaction if he’d been asked this question in an interview.
      I usually roll my eyes at the crazy questions some managers ask. But the fact that HR asked this question is just sickening. And embarrassing that someone in my profession would think this is appropriate.

    5. Rachel 2 - Electric Boogaloo*

      My dad just passed away in December. I probably would give the answer “That he recently passed away” and tear up at that question.

  8. CatCat*

    I’ve come to hate office vs. office wellness competitions when it is not clearly voluntary or there’s a lot of pressure when you say no. I did a walk competition once and did not want to do it again. I actually enjoyed the walking, but was not confident in how my data was being stored and used. I was pressured repeatedly by my boss after I did not join again. I just became a broken record declining. She laid off when the competition began probably because she realized she couldn’t really force me to go on the competition website and log miles.

    1. Eplawyer*

      Wellness programs are good if they encourage people to be healthy as that is defined for each person by a qualified medical doctor.

      Wellness competitions are not so good. People get hung up on winning and dont necessarily learn the good habits the programs are supposed to foster.

        1. Yolo*

          I think the program Eplawyer describes hasn’t even been tried or studied yet–every individual striving to achieve wellness goals identified with their own doctor? That would be the holy grail of a wellness program! The problem with such programs (and I think why they don’t stand up to scrutiny) is that they’re so top-down and one-size-fits-all.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Even then though — so not the purview of your employer! At its best, it’s still paternalistic and invasive. Employers really don’t need to meddle in people’s health choices like that, even from a distance.

            1. Yolo*

              Fair! I guess I meant, if there HAS to be a program, and it’s “opt-in”, then it should also have pretty serious individual-level tailoring. Though that is basically just really good preventive healthcare :)

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        My husband is automatically enrolled in one through work with registered dietitians, health coaches, and nurses. As far as I can tell the only thing it does is teach the guys to how to effectively foster an eating disorder, since they all crash diet right before a weigh in and then binge after it’s done.

        I remember the biggest loser competition. The losing team had buy dinner for the winning team which was one of those eating challenges (everything in 2s, 2 ounces of soup, 2 cheeseburgers, 2 lbs of fries, etc.) Yeah… not exactly the picture of health that the city was hoping for.

      2. CatCat*

        That workplace had other wellness offerings that I thought were much better than the competitions. They worked out a deal with a CSA where employees could have a farm box delivered at work. The CSA had many offerings and I thought the “office snack box” was a nice one with fresh fruits that would last for several days unrefrigerated.

        My current workplace brings in health educators for totally optional (in the true sense!) education programs. It’s pretty low key with some flyers posted around and announcements in the employee newsletter, but no one has ever pressured me to attend.

      3. LilySparrow*

        I liked the one that subsided a gym membership and gave us a break on health insurance rates as long as you checked in a certain # of times – I think it was 5x per month, or something.

        No tracking on your activity, or how long you were there. That was years ago. Don’t miss most of that job, but “we will pay you just to go” was very helpful.

      4. Blurgle*

        Wellness competitions are never good.
        One thing I’ve learned over the past year is to interpret the word “wellness” to invariably mean a combination of “quack con artist medicine” and “legal bullying”.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      Ugh….my workgroup did the step challenge thing a few years ago. I did not participate. As annoying as the updates were, it was better than my boss’ original idea which was a Biggest Loser type competition. Several of us shut him down immediately. In his defense, he’s a bit socially awkward and isn’t the best at reading people/situations when they aren’t extrememly blunt. He did ask for feedback after he was shut down and the group settled on walking. He later asked me privately why people didn’t like the Biggest Loser idea and he took that feedback well. No more mention of weight loss since.

    3. EddieSherbert*

      One of the few things ToxicJob did back in the day was their wellness challenges (they had a good health coach). We did a walking challenge but it literally just was “to go take a walk everyday,” went on the honor system, and you didn’t have to record distance. The prizes were lame (like a water bottle one year) for the people who walked the most days, but we celebrated with a (paid for) lunch at the end of the challenge and the winners got acknowledged at the lunch.

      …Of course, we also had people complaining because it was lame and not actually a competition like a steps or weight loss one would have been (sigh)…

    4. Michelle*

      I also hate office wellness competitions. In addition to not wanting to do a weigh-in with coworkers, in my particular office, it’s not a level playing field. Here’s why: for those of us who work in the admin office, we are expected to be at our desks and available as much as possible, but (for example) the security department staff walk the museum (125,000 square feet) in the course of their regular work day, when it’s not their turn to man the security booth. So they clip on their pedometers and do their gallery checks and perimeter checks and rack up the steps. By the end of the day, most of them have taken 10k steps or more. If I want to participate, I have to do it after work and remember to clip pedometer on when I change clothes. The education department lead tours all day so they also get to walk more (at work) than those of us in the admin office.

      Also, as others have mentioned, some staff may struggle with eating disorders, etc. In particular, I have hypothyroidism, which makes it harder for me to reach and maintain a “healthy” weight, and I have a few other chronic conditions that affect my weight. Being pressured to participate in weight competitions, cut the carbs, 10K steps, etc., does not motivate me. It makes me feel like a failure, or it used to. Now, I politely decline to participate and if questioned or pressured, I generally respond that I am following my doctor’s orders and he advises that these competitions are not particularly helpful for people who medical considerations (which he actually did tell me when I talked to him about it after the a year of competitions). Pushed beyond that, I become the ice queen.

    5. LW #2*

      The few times they’ve done The Biggest Loser, one of the admins just keeps an Excel spreadsheet with everyone’s info. She gossips as it is, so I’d rather be rubbed down with bacon and thrown into a pen of ravenous hyenas.

      I do sit out each time, I just hear “LW is not being a team player” or something similar – the worst was when the did it between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’d smugly walk by while munching on a plate of cookies.

      1. Michelle*

        That is definitely NOT the way to run these competitions. If only work could be about work and not about policing the personal decisions of staff members…

        1. LW #2*

          Oh, it becomes very clique-y. Everyone who participates (so everyone but me and maaaaaybe one or two other people) will all eat together. Which leaves me eating by myself. Not always a bad thing because I don’t wish to hear the fiber count in everyone’s lunch. Or have to dodge questions of “Do you know how much sugar/fat/carbs/etc is in that?!” (Why yes. Yes, I do. Certain things keep my migraines at bay thank you for your concern.)

          And my worry is that since it’s sanctioned by HR this time it’ll be even worse. I mean, it was bad enough being sanctioned by Boss and GrandBoss.

          1. borednerd*

            I would also tack on “why are you asking me that?” or something similar to your response. Or maybe just a big long pause and a sense of confusion in your answer.

            If they’re going to make things awkward for you might as well throw some of the awkward back in their direction. If nothing else seeing them try to come up with answer that isn’t insulting, or the confusion at the idea that someone might be knowingly eating something unhealthy could be entertaining.

      2. ket*

        The worst or the best? Haha — I love the image of you walking by with the cookies.

        I think you should suggest another cooking/diet challenge, and say for yourself you’re going high-fat, maybe close to keto. You can come in with bacon every morning and maybe a steak and whiskey at lunch, whatever’s appropriate. When offered a low-fat muffin you can react with horror. Maybe you need to really lean in to this and find the perfect horrifying diet. Hmmm… say you’re intermittent fasting and you need to fit all your calories into your eating window, so order in a whole pizza. There are a lot of possibilities here!

  9. Tinnuvial*

    #4 Alison’s advice is spot on. It could be that the organisation has a gap (most do in this field) and is working to close it. In my research org recently we received an all male panel list from the chair and he was puzzled when we asked him to include a/some women. We didn’t have any women working in the scientific field being interviewed for and the panel were all experts in the field. To him it was tokenism that we were asking him to put a woman on. We explained that female candidate would be looking at this wondering if the org would be a welcoming place for them. We do have lots of senior females (although it’s still 60/40 at top level and we are working on it) so it might be that they don’t have women in your particular area. Nobody in my org would think it was a strange question to ask

    1. Anonamoose*

      I’m a STEM PhD student who’s also started job hunting. Alice is spot on. I like the question, “Are the demographics of the people I’ve met representative of (level of company you’d be hired into as a PhD; comparing to company as a whole isn’t useful here)?” I’ve also straight asked the demographics of the current leadership. Preferably in a more casual conversation with someone who would be your peer, not your boss. (Bonus points if it’s an informational interview before you apply). The questions are because I went to an event that was half recruitment/half interview where the company padded their recruitment team with more women and minorities than was representative of the company as a whole. It seemed great until I realized that the top leadership were all older white men.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        My wife interviewed at a few big law firms after law school. At one point she casually referenced the “work life balance” interviewer to a male friend who was also job hunting, because there was pretty much always one interviewer who was pregnant or recently returned from maternity leave who talked with her about the firm’s work life balance policies and such. The male friend just looked at her blankly – they didn’t do that for male candidates.

        This was in 2012 or so, not 1973.

      2. Super Anon Today*

        Our Employee Resource Groups are present at our hiring fairs for general networking, and they actually have the demographic breakdown of the top level execs at the company. It’s not a perfect representation of the company as a whole and the technical departments are still very white male dominated, but at least we do have that information available and the company is now actively working on “fixing” representation through hiring and promoting.

    2. Anon today*

      I see this often in general, I can’t imagine how much worse it probably is in STEM. We had an incident interviewing in IT that this reminds me of… I forced myself as HR onto a committee of 9 men. Then everyone “just felt more comfortable” with the male finalist but they couldn’t exactly articulate why. He wasn’t the best candidate, and I did prevail. It can be hard to challenge people on unconscious bias.

      Good for LW for bringing it up. Especially make sure HR knows you noticed this. It might help give them leverage in assembling the next panel.

    3. Foxtrot*

      It might matter on what the STEM field is too. My graduating engineering class of 80 only had 4 female students. You kind of get used to it. Then again, at my school Biology had more women and Chemistry was a pretty even split. I just don’t see someone with a Math or Physics degree being able to push on a 40% female office. The issue that needs to be addressed is recruiting high schoolers to the field first.

      1. Lynca*

        In my STEM field, minorities (both women and POC) are 30% of the workforce and climbing. The demographics of the students are also becoming more diverse. But those numbers get much worse when you take out academia as a career paths and focus purely on the other career paths.

        So I don’t think it’s an issue of just recruitment but also how do we retain the people we’re graduating. I know so many graduates that give up on the field just a few years into working outside of academia.

        1. CheeryO*

          Yeah, I believe retaining women in engineering is a problem – there’s a semi-recent study that found that 40% of women either quit engineering or never actually enter the profession after graduating. That’s huge.

          Just personally, my graduating class was actually almost 50/50, yet here I find myself in an office that’s over 75% male. I wish I had asked about it during my interview, because I think the answer would have been on the B.S. side of Allison’s response.

        2. Academic Addie*

          Yes. It’s great to flood the pipeline with qualified women and minorities … until they can’t find jobs because employers rate them as less capable due to sexism and racism. Until sexual harassment and company culture drive them out of their offices, and they’re having to retrain at 35 because their office simply refused to accommodate a woman with children. Until their boss makes it clear that he’ll hire a person of color, but there’s an absolute cap on how high that person will rise in the organization because the white-majority staff won’t take order from a POC. All of these things are barriers people I know faced.

          Recruitment is great, but we all need to stand where we are and see what barriers exist. OP, if this is an academic environment, this is a fine question to ask, especially if you pair it with questions about student welfare and what is done to support URM students in department/college/university.

          1. Lora*

            THANK YOU. Yes.

            I cannot in good conscience tell someone to go into a field where they will spend a non-trivial amount of energy, money and your effing LIFE dealing with crap they wouldn’t deal with in a field less full of bigotry.

            I get it that more women and people of color will help in the long game, but that’s a heck of a sacrifice to make – and not one people should make without informed consent.

            1. Cedrus Libani*

              I get what you’re saying, but where are these magical other fields where no one is bigoted?

              Bigot-wrangling is a fact of life. Might as well do what you want. Frankly, I’d much rather deal with it from a position of power – I’m good at a highly marketable STEM job, so if y’all don’t want to keep your bigots on a leash, there are recruiters lined up around the block.

              1. Sketchee*

                Yes, I often remind other’s to remember: Not everyone wants to be a pioneer.

                If you want pioneers, then give people the information to make that choice for themselves.

                If I walk into a space knowing if I’m the only person of color or gay person, I’d love to know that and not be caught by surprise.

                Different fields do have different demographics and leanings. And even within fields, different organizations have better or worse policies. I’ve been at the companies that actively “bigot wrangle” – as you put it – on a higher level. And then at the ones that expect me to do it.

                I get that you might want to make a certain choice. And we love that you do. Not everyone will and it’s reasonable to consider them.

              2. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

                I man, at the end of the day, it’s an issue that should have never been an issue in the first place. Marginalized people should never have to deal with these roadblocks in the first place. It might be a fact of life but it shouldn’t have to be and I think that’s the problem. Asking marginalized people to be the ones to change things can potentially frame them as self-sacrificing moral saviors of the privileged.

                From that perspective, it’s on people who are more privileged and realize there’s a problem to address and tackle. By that I mean, for example, I don’t think white people should be the purveyors of anti-racism in the workplace, but they should be raising questions of racial disparities and hierarchy ceilings. They should be backing up their coworkers who are POC and complain about microaggressions from others.

                There’s no perfect way to tackle this but I think the more people understand it’s not a “throw minorities into the pool and let them swim” problem, the more people will get that it requires genuine accountability, collaboration, and change.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            This is a great point. In my experience, a lot of it is just blatantly bad behavior. However, because there isn’t a “critical mass”, people assume you’re reading in racism/sexism. And there isn’t a critical mass because there are a handful of people of color and/or women around.

            I think asking big picture questions about the organization’s involvement with cultural and systematic change regarding these issues is important.

          3. SpaceNovice*

            And all it takes is one sexist manager to absolutely ruin your self-confidence and drive you out of the field, too. I almost left because of one guy–and then his new boss corrected his behavior. (Although I didn’t see him do it, but considering the timing, it was definitely him.) I only realized later on fully why he had treated me that way, and I had started the process to talk to HR about him before he stopped. He was still himself–just not a jerk anymore!

            All it takes is one sexist jerk and everyone else looking the other way or not knowing what they’re seeing to ruin someone’s confidence. Doubly so if there’s any sexual harassment involved.

            (You can replace “sexism” with “racism” and get pretty much the same thing. All it needs is one extremely bad instance.)

        3. Cornflower Blue*

          My cousin was in IT and promoted to manager. The guys under her harassed her, from sexual harassment (calling on her phone to say obscene things) to physical (jabbing her with a pen whenever they passed her).

          She quit the company in the end because there was no support to make it stop. And she quit without a job offer, even, so now she’s struggling to find another job.

      2. Roscoe*

        I wanted to say something like that. I was a science major, and it was just realistically skewed very male. If that ratio was pretty standard at schools across the country, well yeah, there are just going to be a bigger pool of guys. Kind of like the opposite of an education program. A typical education program will skew heavily female, so expecting a school to have a 40% male faculty will probably be difficult, unless they are an all boys school. And even then, you may not get the number.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          it was just realistically skewed very male

          It skewed male because of societal conditioning. Same reason education/nursing skew female. We’re moving past those outdated notions of what is considered “men’s work” and “women’s work” and it’s good to ask the questions that LW#4 is asking.

          1. Letter Writer #4*

            Exactly. Also, “skewed male” can be very different from “100% male” which is the situation I’m looking at. It’s 2018 and I strongly feel that these discussions need to be had.

          2. LBK*

            Yeah, it’s a bit absurd to suggest that there’s something biologically intrinsic about men wanting to do science. And it’s particularly ironic that this attitude is so prevalent in STEM fields that tend to pride themselves on being smart and analytical, but can’t seem to take the “there’s just more men” logic even one or two steps farther to examine why that might be.

          3. Someone*

            I think Roscoe means that when there are more males in those subjects starting at school, it’s no wonder that more of them end up in the corresponding jobs.
            My boyfriend studied a VERY male-dominated subject that only has minute traces of women, even at the universities. Most of his colleagues are male, the female ones work in different ares like marketing. Honestly I don’t think that his company would mind employing a woman in his field – only there’s hardly any around.

            It’s a bit of a hen-and-egg problem.

        2. ket*

          But there are companies that do work in STEM that have a lot of women, and they have a lot of women because they hire and promote women. There are companies in STEM that don’t have a lot of women… and there is usually a reason for that. If you’re a woman, do you want to set yourself up for success or failure? Why knowingly go into a company where the last 5 women hired all “mysteriously” left after two years when you could go into a company that’s got a great track record of hiring, retaining, and promoting women?

          There are enough women graduating from STEM programs that you really can look at a company’s track record. Women have been graduating from these programs in significant numbers since the 80s and 90s. If you’re black or Native or Hispanic in the US, it can be harder to look for a similar track record because the absolute numbers of people belonging to those groups and graduating in STEM fields is much lower in most of the US.

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        I agree with you that you can’t just expect to find high percentages of women in some work environments, but disagree that just recruiting more high schoolers would solve it. In a lot of fields women start out at higher percentages earlier in their careers and then switch out of the field at higher rates than men at all levels – high schoolers not continuing in college, college students changing their majors, graduates getting their first jobs, early career women deciding they’re sick of the sexist crap in their workplaces and switching fields, women who have kids getting “mommy tracked,” women not getting promoted at the same rate as men to higher positions, etc.

        I don’t think it’s reasonable to focus on recruiting high schoolers without also acknowledging the problems that make them less likely to stick with the field. This article really struck a chord with me and my experience as a female math major:

    4. Anon One Time*

      In my STEM field R&D department, we used to have 0% women in leadership roles due to a problematic director. He’s since left and now we’re at 20%. Better, but still ground to be made up. You can’t exactly clean house on managers that are doing their jobs well just because the previous director was sexist.

      What I’m getting at is that there might be a new person at top of the department who is trying to turn things around.

      1. Letter Writer #4*

        And honestly, that’s what I’m hoping, but it would hopefully come from a place where everyone in the group wants it and it isn’t being forced upon them.

        1. Anon One Time*

          I hope you find what you’re looking for!

          In our case, the rest of the leadership team had been advocating for more diversity at the leadership levels for years and were happy to see the changes.

      2. another STEM programmer*

        oh man where I used to work was pretty similar. There were no women past a certain, middle-level of leadership. Constant sexual harrassment and comments ragging on “girls”, lots of huffy remarks about a colleague who was out on maternity leave (everyone kept saying “well who knows when so-and-so will come back from vacation” i mean????? mat leave != vacation, people!) and just generally a terrible place to work.

        I’ve heard that some other national labs may be better, but the one I worked at was not a good place. (Unless you’re a dude. Then it was a great place, I guess. And they did have pretty good diversity demographics from a race standpoint – it’s just that it was all men. Very few women, and those of us who were there were constantly looking for a way out.)

    5. Probably Nerdy*

      I was a female ‘diversity hire’ in our science lab and it has been hellish. Half of our female STEM people are now leaving because of the boss. He gets graded in his performance reviews on how diverse his hiring practices are but he definitely wasn’t mentally prepared for intelligent women. During my job interview, I picked up a strong “dudebro good ol’ boy” vibe that was a bit off-putting but I ignored my gut instinct. Shouldn’t have….

      1. Letter Writer #4*

        Ugh, this is totally what I’m afraid of! During my interview, everyone was nice and welcoming, but it still had very strong vibes of male-ness.

      2. sange*

        THIS. I turned down a position recently because of this – one of the senior leadership gave me those vibes. I brought it up to the CEO when they made me the offer, and he admitted (sheepishly) that he is “working on” the culture and they have struggled with sexism in the workplace.

    6. Tamz*

      It would be quite reasonable to ask for a meeting with a woman, so you can discuss the work culture with someone who gets it. Could be another woman at your level, or a senior woman, and it wouldn’t matter if they were in your precise field or not.

      1. Washi*

        I’m not in science, but this seems weird to me, as a woman. Can’t put my finger on why, but this would definitely put me off if a candidate did this!

        1. Roscoe*

          Yeah. I’m a black male, and it would just seem weird to me if someone interviewing at my company wanted to talk to me just because I was black. Like, asking about the diversity of the office is one thing, but I think specifically asking to meet with a certain type of person, especially if they are in a different role, just seems a bit oft putting to me too.

          1. Sue Wilson*

            I think it puts that employee on the spot, because the company will likely want to know what you told them, but it really should be self-explanatory why a person in a marginalized group would want to talk to another person from the same marginalized group in seemingly homogeneous company.

            1. Roscoe*

              Sure, and I guess if it was an informal thing it would be different. Like if they just asked to speak to someone in X role, and I happened to be in the same marginalized group, and it came up, I’d have no problem answering. But if someone just said “This candidate requested speaking to a black employee”, I don’t know that I’d love it. Its kind of reducing me to just one thing.

              1. LBK*

                But the point is that that “one thing” is something you’ll be able to speak to in a way that other people at the company wouldn’t.

                1. Roscoe*

                  I guess the point is I wouldn’t like it, even if its something I can speak to, doesn’t mean that’s how I want to be known. I want to be a good marketing employee, not the black marketing employee. And someone asking to speak to me for the simple fact that I was a black employee wouldn’t be something I’d like. You are welcome to feel different. But they would have a more uphill battle to win me over.

        2. LBK*

          Huh, to each their own – I wouldn’t find it weird if a candidate wanted to speak to me to ask what it was like to be a gay person at my company.

        3. No Tribble At All*

          Lady engineer here. I agree it would be weird to ask to just talk to “any technical woman.” You could try asking about the team in general — who (which people and/or which roles) do you interact with? Especially if your team is partially remote or you’re in a mix of groups. I don’t know if you would be able to ask that at a phone screening or first round interview. You have to be careful not to sound accusatory, which is tricky.

          But by god, does it make it easier when you know you won’t be the only woman. When I started, I was the second woman on a team of about 12. It’s been fine, but I was glad that when they showed me around the office, they said “and Janeway’s the teapot spout engineer, but she isn’t in today.”

          1. LBK*

            I mean, if you ask to speak to a woman on the team and they don’t have any and have to dredge up a woman on some other team to talk to you, isn’t that in and of itself a red flag?

            1. Lady Scientist*

              I do not believe that it a red flag necessarily – I mean, all teams need to hire a woman in order to have a woman on the team… someone is always going to be first.

                1. LBK*

                  Yeah, I mean, of course someone has to be first, but it sets the framework for understanding what your experience might be like if you decide you want to be the first. And, depending how long the team has been around and how many people are on it, it could be pretty striking that they haven’t managed to hire/retain even one woman.

                  If it’s a 3-person team, okay, maybe not that egregious. If it’s a 15-person team? That, in the course of expanding to that many people, couldn’t find one woman who either wanted to join or stay on that team? That would be getting some side eye from me for sure. Not that you need to specifically hire and keep on one woman for every one man, obviously, but you’d think their hiring/management practices would have naturally created a better balance if they weren’t doing something that was keeping women out.

            2. mrs__peel*

              I was thinking of the scene in “Mad Men” where the ad execs grab their one Jewish employee from the mailroom to trot out to a prospective Jewish client…

          2. JustaTech*

            At my husband’s last job (tech startup) I had to keep reminding him that the longer they took to hire their first woman software developer the harder it would be to find one who was willing to be the only woman in the office.
            They eventually managed to hire some women for technical roles, but it was never close to parity.

        4. TootsNYC*

          LinkedIn! Find some way to contact a woman in the company on your own.

          Or, ask to meet one-on-one with a cross-section of people (different levels, different demographics).

    7. Lady Scientist*

      I just wanted to give my own experience as another early-30s STEM PhD (I’m an engineering scientist) who recently went through the hiring process. I specifically asked the exact questions mentioned in Alison’s questions (albeit the organization I now work for is very large – 10,000 people). The hiring manager/my current boss was very accommodating about answering and even tried to introduce me to the one other woman on the team (she was out that day, so I didn’t meet her, but it was nice to know).

      The one thing that I realized is that it’s not always the company’s fault that the demographics are low. For instance, my team would hire more women in a moment, but I literally do not know a single woman who would meet the job requirements. I happened to pick an extremely male-dominated field (welding), even our professional conferences are demographically lopsided. Also, while my department is not very even, the company itself has a lot of programs that support women. There’s a company-wide STEM Women’s resource group, paid maternity leave, breastfeeding resources, etc. Basically sometimes they can show they’re trying and it helps get past the idea of being the only one (or at least it did for me).

      On the other hand, if they try the “we don’t see differences between men and women” card, I noticed that either meant they were ignoring the issue or they were men’s rights types. Good luck!!

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yes! You can have a team of 10 where 8 are men (or other dominant group) and have it be fine, or it can be awful. It’s true for any ratio, of course, but the more skewed it is the more likely it is to be awful. That’s why it’s important to ask the questions that Allison suggested!

      1. SpaceNovice*

        The company trying to make things better makes all the difference, can agree. A friend who’s a welder is still with the company she started at because they took a coworker stalking her seriously and fired him. Her management and coworkers were supportive. No one ever voiced doubts against her.

        A company CAN stop preventable drops in their own ratio and slowly increase them by supporting women within their own structure. They can help with outside initiatives, too. It sounds like your company is doing great.

    8. Technical_Kitty*

      There is actually released numbers on the mine I work for. Like you can look at our annual report and see how many women work in technical positions, are Managers, etc. Maybe that’s a place to look? Our report is called a SEA (Socio-Economic Agreement), which is an agreement made with the people (native bands mostly) living in the area to hire locally, from the remote communities and to strive for gender and ethnic diversity in the work place.

      That being said, I can only think of a couple operations superintendents that are women (out of probably 20-30) and only one operations manager that is a woman out of 10-15.

    9. Woman in tech*

      I kind of love that we’re talking about this on Equal Pay day (congrats women in the US, you just caught up to what men made in 2017? :/ )

  10. GM*

    For LW#3, would it have been okay to answer the question “What traits about your parents do you like the least?” with “None! They’re perfect in every way! They’re my parents after all!”
    I know its snarky but that’s kind of a stupid, almost inappropriate question.

  11. anon for this*

    OP3 “I think it would be that, given the choice, my mother preferred to let my dad have custody so that she could continue to sleep with man that abused us.”

    Or alternatively end the interview. Not ok.

  12. March Madness*

    You’d be doing the world a service if you pointed out that workplace weight loss competions are dangerous for people with eating disorders, overlook people who are trying to gain weight or maintain it rather than lose it, and can promote really unhealthy habits.


    It sounds like such a reckless competition – most diets change your metabolism for the worse. I can’t imagine that especially healthy weight-losing habits are encouraged in such a competitive environment, where ‘quick results’ rather than gradual longterm change are encouraged. Besides, as Allison points out, this emphasizes weight-loss to an unhealthy degree.

    I think there’s never a good reason to police your co-workers eating habits or body shape. This crosses multiple boundaries that should be firmly in place.

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      In addition, there’s also a multitude of reasons why weight loss is hard even for people who do want to lose weight, such as thyroid issues or taking certain medications.

      1. Julia*

        Yeah, if I gain weight from my anti-depressant, being told to lose weight would just stress me out more.

      2. Quoth the Raven*

        Even leaving medical conditions aside, weight loss is something that needs to be done in the right state of mind, willingly, and when the person in question is ready for it, not because it’s a competition or because someone with authority or seniority bullied someone into it. The psychological aspect is just as important, if not more, than the physical one.

        1. Yolo*

          Yes! It’s frustrating that people have to justify their desire not to participate in weight loss culture, whether workplace programs or the other pervasive manifestations. As we saw in yesterday’s comment thread, justifying will lead people to think that they need to evaluate whether your justification is good enough to truly excuse what they see as your incorrect behavior.

          Not participating in weight loss culture is an option, people! Don’t bully or shame others for making that choice!

      3. March Madness*

        Agreed. There are so many factors to consider when it comes to healthy nutrition, and some of these are hard to tackle and are out of people’s control (like having the necessary budget to eat well, or being medically predisposed to weight gain).

        I BET that the guys in OP’s office don’t know a lot about good eating practices. You can eat in a very disciplined manner, and eat VERY little, and still not lose weight because you’re giving your body so few calories that it’s reducing its metabolic activity (which is, in an evolutionary sense, a good thing to do). Your body will also release cortisol (‘the stress hormone’) if you don’t get enough carbs. Some people lose weight when they’re stressed. Other people gain weight when they’re stressed (which is, again, a good thing in an evolutionary sense). I would never trust some guys in the workplace to be knowledgeable enough about these facts to promote healthy nutrition…and even if they did, it’s never their place to meddle with their coworker’s lives! This seems like a fat-shaming workplace culture, and if I worked there I would feel very hurt if anyone tried to police my eating-habits or pressure me into their competition.

        1. A.N. O'Nyme*

          Also, muscle weighs more than fat, so if you work out on top of changing eating habits at some point you might gain weight back from developing muscle.

          1. A Nonny Mouse*

            *pedant hat on*

            Muscle does not weight more than fat. Muscle is more dense than fat, so one pound of muscle is going to be a lot smaller than one pound of fat. One pound is one pound.

            *pedant hat off*

            Sorry, that comparison just bugs me.

            1. A.N. O'Nyme*

              Yeah, I should’ve phrased that better. What I meant to say is that a certain volume of muscle would weigh more than the same volume of fat.

      4. INTP*

        Yes, I have anxiety just thinking about this situation. I have hypothyroidism and my levels still aren’t stabilized. Looking at me, the weight loss obsessives would think I clearly should be participating in the weight loss competition. But the reality is that I’m struggling with everything in life, not just my weight, and my weight is pretty low on the priority list right now. My brain fog is already so bad, if I’m sitting around hungry I basically can’t focus enough to work. If I walk 10k steps in a day, I’ll be exhausted the entire next day like I’ve run a marathon. I need that energy for chores at home. And way back before this, I had an eating disorder, so I shouldn’t be in a competition anyways. But overweight people are already perceived as being full of excuses and not wanting to change so if I said all of this to an office full of weight obsessed people, all they’d hear is “she doesn’t want to work at weight loss.”

        1. Julia*

          I hope you’ll find the right dosis soon! Thyroid issues suck, it’s hard to find doctors who not only take you seriously, but who know what they’re doing and the latest research.

          I guess in a situation like that, it would hopefully be fine to cite health reasons and decline. But I also know enough people – doctors included – who’d just reply “maybe if you lost some weight, your health would be better” ugh.

        2. Bridgette*

          Sympathies. I work at a place that as has these wellness competitions and everyone is all rah-rah about. I talked to my doctor about it and he told me to tell them it’s not really a motivating factor for people with medical considerations. He also told me that if the wellness coach or HR person who got this going had questions or tried to pressure me into competing if I did not want to, to feel free to give them his phone number and he’s be glad to explain it to them.

        3. SpaceNovice*

          If you have Hashimoto’s, make sure that they’re looking at your T3 levels, too. You may also want to get a heater if your office is cold: keeping your body warm uses up a LOT of your thyroid hormones. (And they can’t say no: that’s an allowable accommodation according to the ADAA.) Make sure you don’t sleep too cold; that can use up your stores as well. T3 is used up by exercise, too. And as you said, you need to FEED hypothyroidism; your body needs the help especially.

          If your T3 is low, you’ll likely need to take it 3 times a day: it’s got a short half-life (24 hours or so). I use NP Thyroid in the morning/evening and liothyronine as a T3 booster in the afternoon; I avoid eating an hour before/after and brushing my teeth within two hours of taking a dose (toothpaste effs it up somehow), all under the tongue. My case is extreme as yours was, but it’s manageable now. (Although I will always have a heater, I suspect.) You may even need physical therapy to get your strength back (I did) but make sure not to overdo it (or use up your artificial T3).

          Good luck, INTP! You may not need the above advice, but in case you do: this is the information that quite literally changed my life. It DOES get better.

      5. essEss*

        Agreed. My first thought was that forced weigh-ins are a serious invasion of privacy. What if someone is trying to get pregnant? It is NOT the department’s business. But if she is successful, then they will certainly comment if she starts gaining weight even though it would not be something that she wants to discuss with coworkers at early stages of pregnancy. Or even if someone isn’t overtly trying but ends up pregnant now the department will know about it quickly (or speculate on it) because of weight gain and she will be ‘outed’ to her office even before she might have known about it herself.

        1. Kj*

          And when you are having trouble getting pregnant and are on the thin side, you might be advised to cut back on exercise and eat more fat. I had to do that to conceive.

    2. Triple Anon*

      I think companies are aware of the risks but choose to do this kind of thing anyway because it might save them money on insurance. So it might help to address it from a financial perspective. Suggest something that would lower their medical benefit costs without being intrusive or harmful. I’m not sure what. That’s just something to consider.

    3. Pinky*

      Yeah, an office weight-loss competition would absolutely be my worst nightmare. I’ve always been fat and was put on diets when I was as young as 12/13. Didn’t help me get thin, but did cause me to develop disordered eating habits and terrible self-esteem. I’m so much healthier now that I’ve stopped trying to lose weight, but it took years to get there, and pressure from something like this could seriously dent that progress.

    4. Kj*

      As someone who had an eating disorder and is now pregnant, I can’t imagine my company saying this and it not making me see red. People who have had EDs do not need this. Pregnant women don’t need to lose weight- in fact, you should be gaining weight! Not to mention all the other medical conditions that don’t improve with weight loss or for which weight loss is a problem.

  13. Akcipitrokulo*

    Wellness things can be ok if *genuinely* voluntary. We had a “wellness fair” whee a few meeting rooms had different activities or info sessions (including advice on pensions and financial planning) and lunch was provided. If you wanted to give it a miss, all good… apart from pre-booking for activities with limited spaces, no-one tracked who did ar didn’t come.

    1. Wednesday Mouse*

      Agreed. And “wellness” should absolutely encompass more than just weight, or physical wellbeing. Mental health needs to be part of the discussion too, as well as general financial security, goal setting & celebrating achievements, resilience and flexibility in the workplace..

      Wellness needs to be an office-wide culture that goes on 24/7, not limited to single competitions or drives.

      1. Grad Student*

        My university is doing a 4-week wellness challenge right now where you sign up online and then each week, you receive an email with a list of several challenges related to two of eight areas of health (physical, social, environmental, etc.). You complete the challenge by doing one item from each of the two areas and submitting online at the end of the week that you did it. Everyone who completes a week is entered into a raffle for a small prize. I like this because it encourages well-rounded wellness while letting everyone pick and choose what will contribute to their individual wellness and not requiring people to publicly share with their coworkers.

        1. KMB213*

          I also like that it’s a raffle, so there’s no competition to be the “most well.” If wellness challenges must be done, this is definitely the way to do them.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      We had a wellness fair at work once that was actually pretty good.

      It offered hearing tests, vision tests, lung capacity tests, a lecture on how to check your boobs for lumps and other things like that.

      Right now they’re promoting weight watchers again. With reduced membership fees. Arrgh.

    3. Mike C.*

      These things are still incredibly stupid because there aren’t actual expert giving medical information.

      How about instead the workplace pays for good healthcare plans instead?

      1. INTP*

        Yep, and offers enough flexibility, time off, and reasonable enough workloads for people to actually live healthy lives?

        1. Akcipitrokulo*


          If you must do one that requires participation… some time off to do something for *your* wellness? Have gym equipment if people want it, or go for a walk, or have an hour to yourself in quiet room with book… whatever you know helps you.

        1. Mike C.*

          We’re not supposed to nitpick. These “fairs” are more mostly run by employees giving out overgeneralized and sometimes flawed information.

          1. anon for this one*

            I considered it questioning a sweeping generalization, not nitpicking, but you do you. :-)

            1. Mike C.*

              This isn’t the set of “The Good Wife” – I don’t need to preface everything I write with the phrase, “In my opinion”.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        Healthcare programmes not relevant here… and most people enjoyed part of it. Even just the bit where office stirrer trolled the pensions guy about “alternative” plans…

        It was a bit of fun, totally voluntary and had some good info for people who wanted it.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            This one did work… it was meant to make information available and give people enjoyment. So worked.

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        Healthcare not relevant here… it was good because it was low key, fun stuff with no expectations of taking part, good info and nice food.

        Pressure and competitions are gross.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        How about instead the workplace pays for good healthcare plans instead?

        Yep. And that right there exposes the lie behind the intention of most wellness initiatives. (Although what Akcipitrokulo is describing doesn’t sound bad, as these things go. But the insurance plan question is worth asking for pretty much all the rest.)

        1. mrs__peel*

          Absolutely! Personally, I would be a lot healthier if I didn’t have a $2,000 deductible and could actually afford to go to the doctor…

      5. Victoria, Please*

        I want to push back against the knee-jerk assumption that workplaces are sweatshops. Mine offers good health care, and from there *assumes that people can make choices* regarding their own schedules. We have two gyms and a beautiful campus for walking. The culture of working yourself into the ground — or wasting shitloads of time — and then bee-itching about it is fully within our control as workers, in my workplace. I know they’re not all like this, but let’s acknowledge that some are.

        1. Mike C.*

          It’s not a kneejerk assumption, it’s a long standing trend. Great, you ave a workplace that has everything you want, many of us have places that are cutting back on benefits even as the labor supply shrinks. During the recession, we were all expected to watch coworkers get fired and then take on their jobs for free. I received a decent raise this year, and the entire thing was taken up by increases in my healthcare costs.

          We aren’t “bee-itching”, these are legitimate issues. I don’t need to waste my time congratulating the handful of places where this isn’t happening.

      6. mrs__peel*

        “How about instead the workplace pays for good healthcare plans instead?”

        (furious applause)

  14. U. Peiris*

    #2 This is a total blurring between your personal life and work life. I would cringe at the thought of participating in a weight loss competition with my coworkers. You need to establish strong boundaries of what you’re okay and not okay to do and then enforce them. No one should be forcing anyone to participate.

    Can we also talk about the food shaming that takes place at work? I once brought sweet potatoes to work (my colleagues know I’ve been trying to lose a bit of weight for my upcoming wedding) and had a coworker shame me for eating them – because they apparently cause weight gain?!??

    1. Boy oh boy*

      This would stress me the hell out because a lot of people are SO misinformed about diet/nutrion. They went to the University of Facebook/Instagram and believe that diet soda causes tumours, or you have to eat every hour, or “starvation mode”, or that gluten is the devil etc.

      If I had to listen to this stream of nonsense every day becauseof the competition I would literally have to hold my mouth closed or wear noise cancelling headphones.

    2. Slartibartfast*

      I think there’s a big difference nutritionally between yams and sweet potatoes even though they look the same, but I couldn’t tell you which is the”good” one. But even white potatoes can be healthy, depends on how you cook it and what you serve it with.

    3. Birch*

      Is this the kind of office where people freak out about fat if you eat an avocado, and meanwhile they’re scarfing Lean Cuisines?

    4. Eye of Sauron*

      I had an office manager who would suddenly get very interested in everyone’s food when she would go on a diet.

      Yeah, that got shut down real quick the day I was eating my burger and she was standing in my office doorway. She started to go on about my burger and I held up a finger, swallowed, and while wiping my mouth said “either get your own burger or don’t, either way back off of my lunch. You chose to go on a diet not me”

      She laughed and apologized for being food focused, but that was the last time she commented on my lunch.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      Um, doesn’t all food cause weight gain? That’s the entire point of food. Apparently your coworker doesn’t understand the basics of how weight loss results from burning more calories than you take in, regardless of whether those calories were originally sweet potatoes or lettuce. You could sympathetically offer to draw her a diagram next time she bothers you.

  15. Gaz112*

    OP2 – I would be inclined to refer them to the reply given in the case of Arkell vs Pressdram. (Google it if you don’t know).

  16. Kirsty*

    On comment no 3 I would have been really blunt and just have said ‘my parents are dead so thats a quality I don’t like’. I feel sometimes that people need really blunt, in your face answers like this to truly understand how insensitive questions like this can be. Like asking a woman thats unable to conceive if she’s planning to have children during an interview. You don’t know peoples circumstances.

    1. March Madness*

      Bluntness would be my instinct as well, but in situations like these the OP could really hurt their hiring chances, right? I wouldn’t advise it. The interviewer probably wouldn’t ask such a question again, but might also not advance the OP’s application because they’re embarrassed or consider the OP too combative.

      1. YuliaC*

        Right, I would avoid bluntness as well, even though I would be sorely tempted. But I think it could be safe to say something like “I am sorry, but I find it very difficult to talk about my parents since they died. I’m sure you understand.” That should achieve the same purpose with most interviewers, without burning any bridges.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I think it’s easy in hindsight to come up with an answer like that, but in the moment, when you’re stunned by the question, it’s a lot more difficult.

  17. Loopy*

    Regarding the parents question: not only would I not be comfortable answering this, it would throw me off for the rest of the interview.

    I would probably also BS an answer but then be worrying about it and angry about the question, which would distract me for the rest of the time. It would likely not allow me to show my best professional self and focus on the questions that do matter.

    1. Murphy*

      Yeah, I would not come off well if that question was asked of me. I would be stunned, and wracking my brain for some answer that was appropriate.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I would be thrown off too, which would ruin the interview. And because of that, I would be tempted to put this on Glassdoor. Probably not all interviewers are going to ask that ridiculous a question but it might bring it to the company’s attention that their interviewers need actual training. They’ll almost certainly be losing out on good candidates who get that interviewer because not everyone (and maybe only a few) could give reasonable answers and not be put off.

  18. Glomarization, Esq.*


    OP#2: “My doctor tells me I’m doing OK, so I won’t be doing the competition. Thanks. Good luck with yours!”

    OP#3: Sounds like one of those weird, deeply personal icebreaker questions from the other day. I don’t think I share the same angry response that I’m seeing from some other commenters. Interviews are very artificial, strange situations and sometimes you get some artificial, strange questions. I’d name the problem and Miss-Manners myself away from it without getting dramatic or confrontational. “Oh, well, that’s unexpected. I guess an admirable trait in anybody would be honesty and a good work ethic.”

    OP#4: You are totally the very first woman they’ve ever hired in that workplace. :D Good for them for trying to bring more women in! But if you take the job, maybe put it on your radar that this’ll be a culture shift for a number of the men already there.

    OP#5: Also those e-mails may well just be auto-responders. They’re just “receipts” for you so you know that your application didn’t disappear into the void.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      LOL I forgot to finish OP#1: Definitely don’t waste your energy thinking about whether Cersei is putting one over on the company. Whether her issues are real (or real enough for you) doesn’t matter. Maybe her situation is even worse than her flimsy-feeling excuses indicate. Best to stay out of her business and in your own head- and work-space.

  19. Hiring Mgr*

    Wellness is great, but forced weight loss has no place in a work environment for all the reasons stated..Instead, could you suggest an alternative revolving around mental health (this is just as important as physical health for overall wellness)?

    One thing we’ve done in my office is everyone writes down the top two or three things they’re working on in therapy (individual or group–either is fine), then the other members of the team chime in with their suggetions on how each person can work on their problems. The boss or manager of the group will make the final determination on the course of treatment.

    This works well because it really lets the team get to know each other beyond surface level work interactions, and also teaches empathy since you can get inside your colleagues’ minds and understand what makes them tick

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        It’s a joke, no matter how many times he’s been asked by Alison, hiring manager still thinks he’s funny posting this type of comment.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            I’d say slightly amusing at best, but that’s over shadowed by the massive detail they cause and the fact he’s been asked to stop so many times.

      2. Julia*

        I doubt my telling a co-worker to work on their mean streak would go over well – tempting as it is.

      1. Katniss*

        I’m long past believing that’s accidental. Hiring Mgr leaves off the tags on purpose and it’s getting really old.

        1. Yolo*

          They did it yesterday and I intentionally said thanks, hoping that some positive reinforcement might be good! But they did not respond as I had hoped.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            I did appreciate that! I do sometimes forget, but unfortunately you can’t go back and edit… My bad

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Oh, I’m right there with you. That was more a signal for other people who aren’t familiar and might think the comment was serious.

        3. Hiring Mgr*

          It seems like you can’t win. When I don’t put the tags on i get criticized for that, and then when I forget to put them on, I get grief for that as well. Neveretheless I will try to do better.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Umm… those are the same thing. When you do the same thing for different reasons, you get the same results.

          2. Katniss*

            No one believes that you will try to do better. At this point your schtick makes this a less enjoyable place.

            1. Rat in the Sugar*

              Personally I find Hiring Mgr to be pretty hilarious and her jokes are always very obvious to me, so not less enjoyable for everyone!

              1. Katniss*

                I find the jokes themselves funny, but when she doesn’t make it clear that they are jokes, we have to put up with derailment in every post she shows up in as people take her jokes seriously. And as I said above, I don’t believe she’s actually forgetting to use the tag: I believe this is very much on purpose.

                1. Hiring Mgr*

                  It’s both, sometimes I forget, sometimes I think it’s not necessary b/c what I’m saying couldn’t possibly be misinterpereted, but I’m clearly mistaken there! Also, not that it matters but I’m a he, not a she..

            2. Hiring Mgr*

              I certainly will try to do better, (it’s really not difficult to add /s) and i do sincerely apologize if you find AAM worse b/c of my comments …I think this is a fantastic forum and have introduced it to many people so I’m a huge fan and would never do anything to intentionally harm the site or Alison

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                I personally enjoy your comments, but I’ve been around long enough to know when you’re being serious and when you’re not. Other people who have lives don’t, so the /s is pretty key on your more outrageous remarks.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          But in an online forum, where you can’t judge facial expression or tone of voice, they’re all we have to distinguish people who think differently about a topic from people joking about the topic.

      1. Temperance*

        This person’s comments are all jokes. This isn’t a serious comment. They’re supposed to flag their responses, but they do not.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is a joke. Hiring Mgr, I’ve asked you repeatedly to stop derailing the comment section with jokes that people don’t know are jokes, or to mark them clearly so that they don’t result in a 20+ comment thread of people arguing with you. At this point I’m going to put your comments all on moderation because it’s too derailing (despite often being quite funny).

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Is it ok if i do the “/s” ? It really isn’t my intent to derail, so please reconsider the moderation? Thanks–I really enjoy your work and would hate to think I’m making it worse… Sincere apologies..

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, yeah, but I’ve requested that in the past more than once! I’m going to stick with moderation for now, but I’d be glad to release you from it in a few weeks if it turns out it’s not needed. (Moderation doesn’t mean your comments will never appear; it just means I need to approve them first. I’ll gladly approve the ones with the tag.)

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            I completely understand. It just seems like this forces you to do *extra* work, which makes me feel even worse!

            1. Dee*

              Have you thought of indicating in your username somehow that the responses are satire? It probably wouldn’t cover every situation, but it might help for the times you forget the tag.

            2. TootsNYC*

              Maybe you can make some sort of alert be part of your signature?

              Like: Hiring Manager (warning: sarcasm possible)

              or something like that.

              Then you wouldn’t have to remember to do it

    2. SCAnonibrarian*

      good solid deadpan irony is a gift, but I do wish HM would remember the /s tags because I always get half bowed up and then remember to scroll up and check the name. I don’t mind the sarcasm at all – it’s one of my preferred coping/defusing methods.

    3. London Calling*

      *This works well because it really lets the team get to know each other beyond surface level work interactions, and also teaches empathy since you can get inside your colleagues’ minds and understand what makes them tick*

      I have at least one colleague who I would never, NEVER allow that degree of closeness because of the use that would be made of it. I’ll choose how close I let people get to me, thanks, and the people allowed to do that don’t include the bunch I currently work with. It’s work, not group therapy, and in at least the case I mentioned I have no desire to find out what makes them tick – I want him to do the job he is paid for.

    4. Michaela Westen*

      Oh good, for a minute I thought he worked in a therapist’s office in the twilight zone.

    5. chi type*

      +1 for enjoying Hiring Mgr’s deadpan humor but I can see that it does sometimes derail.
      Sorry people don’t get you, HM!

  20. Rusty Shackelford*

    Tell me the trait you most admire about your parents.

    Well, they don’t ask pointless, intrusive, inappropriate questions.

    1. Earthwalker*

      That’s the sort of thing that would immediately come to my mind ten minutes after the interview was over. I would fail the “thinking on your feet” test.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        It’s a job interview. Obviously we’re putting our (parents’) best foot forward, rather than being brutally honest about our (parents’) shortcomings. :D

    2. MoodyMoody*

      I think more people would answer the other question: what do you like least about your parents?

      They always ask pointless, intrusive, inappropriate questions! (At least that’s what advice columns/blogs tell me!)

  21. INTP*

    OP1: Are you able to tell Cersei that the deadline is a couple of days before you actually need to have the deliverable from her? That way when she procrastinates, has an “emergency,” and gets it done two days later, your schedule hasn’t been thrown off. If she notices somehow you can just tell her that you like to build in some buffer time for each step in case of emergencies.

    1. Irene Adler*

      This is a good approach if the “apprise the boss” method fails to yield any changes to Cersei’s current work habit.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      The problem here is that not everyone may see Ceresi in the same light as you. Especially if she is timely when preparing thing for her team and superiors. They might reasonably pick up on what you’re doing and view the deadlines you request from them as being unnecessarily padded as well.

    3. OP #1*

      I already do this to some extent! We build in batch deliveries and internal reviews before things go out for official approval. But the way we work means that she’s fully aware that these aren’t “real” deadlines so she often ignores them, and then things snowball so we’re running up against the actual date.

  22. Environmental Gone Public Health Gone Back Environmental*

    One of my previous workplaces did wellness really well. It was somewhat competitive, but only with yourself. No one else could see your points. You got points by logging any type of workout (and all workouts got the same points value – a competitive athlete wouldn’t get a bigger bonus than someone just starting out), you got points for steps taken (each level was a certain amount), you got points for regularly visiting the doctor/dentist, you could get points for each family member. These points went towards physical items like a new FitBit etc, and you could log them to apply for a discount on your insurance through the company itself. The insurance was pretty good to begin with, and it was nice to get these little discounts. But no one at work could see any of it. Heck, I don’t even know if the insurance company could see anything but the point total. Plus there was an employee clinic in the building that you could get your generic annual physical (for points!), or if you had an urgent-care level issue, and the clinic was free & walk-in (for you and anyone on your insurance).

    I miss that job, tbh.

  23. McWhadden*

    The thing I admire least about my parents is that they weren’t fabulously wealthy so that I’d never have to work a day in my life. Meaning I wouldn’t have to be in this stupid interview.

  24. Pollygrammer*

    Do workplaces that do these obnoxious, heavy-handed health initiatives get a discount on their health insurance rates or something?

    1. Slartibartfast*

      On my husband’s old insurance, we didn’t get a discount, but we had to pay extra if we didn’t “participate”. Yeah, I had to do this as a spouse, wasn’t even my employer. Even though the exercise part was telling me to do things contraindicated by my doctor but no way to indicate such (critically low vitamin D, I’m supposed to go outside without sunscreen. And fibromyalgia + multiple joint issues, kinda limits working out). So, naturally, I lied on their surveys.

        1. Wrench Turner*

          Beyond the ‘voluntary’ survey was having my bio stats shared with the insurer from my ‘free wellness check’ every year. A wellness check that I was not allowed to even talk about anything that was ‘unwell’ or I would be charged for a regular doctors visit.

    2. W. S. Gilbert*

      My company’s Wellness Program administrator collects my coworkers’ private medical data (I don’t participate) along with other potentially identifying information and sells it. There’s nothing preventing them from selling the data back to my company. The company uses financial pressure to force people to participate. Non participants pay more for our health insurance.

      Workplace “Wellness Programs” have nothing to do with wellness.

      1. I'm A Little TeaPot*

        If you’re in the US, that’s potentially a HIPAA violation, and I’m sure plenty of other countries have equivalent laws.

        1. fposte*

          Interesting point. You can do that under HIPAA but participants have to authorize it. It’s also possible that this gets shoved into boilerplate signing-on-to-the-program stuff and people don’t notice it’s in there.

          1. Wrench Turner*

            That’s exactly what happened at my last job. Participation was “voluntary” but you paid maximum insurance rates if you chose not to. Also if you participated and didn’t show improvement in weight, cholesterol, etc. year/year your rate was kicked up to maximum anyway. Good times.

            1. Oxford Coma*

              How does that work over time? You can’t continue to lose weight and lower your stats forever.

              That reminds me of those school grant initiatives that reward standardized test score improvement–the highest scoring classes/schools have nowhere to go.

        2. W. S. Gilbert*

          It’s structured to be legal under HIPAA. This is why it is done through an administrator (separate company). The separate company is required to abide by HIPAA in their handling of the data. They aggregate and sell anonymized data.

          I don’t trust the administrator’s anonymization process. (If you remove names but retain e.g. office zip code, age, gender, office size, people will still be identifiable.) I don’t trust the administrator’s data security procedures. And I certainly don’t trust my well-intentioned but paternalistic company to not acquire and use that data for their own purposes.

  25. MLB*

    I’ve participated in weight loss competitions at work, but it was completely voluntary and fun. “I don’t want to participate” – repeat as necessary. No explanation is required or needed. Do not engage, and do not elaborate because when you add reasons of why, it gives others reason to keep piling on pressure and having answers for your reasons to try and change your mind.

  26. RVA Cat*

    #2 – Everything Allison said, plus just imagine what a nightmare a Biggest Loser competition would be for a co-worker who’s pregnant but not ready to announce?

    1. Hope*

      Oh, that would suck. One more reason these competitions are a terrible idea.

      On the opposite side of things, I’m a few weeks out from bariatric surgery, and I told my husband that this is the only time in my life I’ve ever wished my company was doing a weight loss challenge, because I would destroy everyone at it.

  27. Emi.*

    Maybe, if you want a wellness event … don’t model it on a reality TV show that’s famous for promoting ill health? Just a suggestion.

    1. LBK*

      I do find it kind of ironic one of the trainers on Biggest Loser had a heart attack recently. Clearly fitness is not the end-all be-all of health.

    2. Annie Moose*

      In addition to this, aren’t the people on the Biggest Loser all at extremely high weights to begin with? The whole shtick is “these people are trying to lose incredibly large amounts of weight!”, not “this person would like to lose five pounds”. So I’m always quite confused how such a competition is supposed to work with people who don’t have remarkably high weights.

      1. Traveling Teacher*

        Yeah, what I’d really like to see (well, not really, but of this type of show…) would be a show that starts with goals defined by a person’s regular care provider(s) and then tracks those goals. Like, maybe one show could be focused on people who are all trying to up their iron counts or have been prescribed learning new exercise routines to (safely) increase core strength after pregnancy/ab surgery, or learning a new sport to improve health…

  28. formerscribe*


    I recognize that I am a fire starter at times, but the audacity of that question bothers me. I’d like the think that, in the moment, I’d realize they were terrible for asking that Q, know they had lost my interest and would actually say “I least admire their ability to still be alive” to call out how ridiculous that question is. How rude of them.

  29. anon4now*

    OP#4- Interesting dilemma to me, but couldn’t the answer simply be less women apply to STEM fields, so there’s more men? If you were applying to a female-dominated occupation, would you be questioning why there’s no or less males?
    Also, “Can you tell me about the demographics of the staff here and how well women are represented?”- this questions kind of irks me. What about minority representation? Gay representation? Religious representation? Disabled representation? Does gender take precedent over this?
    And the real question, does it really matter? If the company is moving forward with hiring you, doesn’t that indicate they don’t have a problem with hiring females? Is the problem not enough females (which tells me maybe this is a society problem and not specifically this company’s hiring procedures)? Not trying to be antagonistic or anything, just genuinely miffed.

      1. March Madness*

        I’m always grateful for that word, but it saves me the trouble of taking the writer seriously.

        1. SCAnonibrarian*

          I’m pretty sure for me that your ‘but’ is actually ‘because’ – ie – i’m grateful when they use that word BECAUSE it saves me the time and trouble of engaging.

      2. Wrench Turner*

        I’ve watched too much Star Trek to not hear the Ferengi “feeemalessss” every time I see it in a context that isn’t a nature documentary.

    1. Letter Writer #4*

      This is such a gross comment. As I stated in my letter, I know that STEM is dominated by males, but it’s not 100% male. My current department is 15 people, 7 of which are females with degrees from Associates to Doctorates. My partner is a male teacher; gender diversity is important to him, too, but he understands that there will be a majority of females at most schools he’ll apply to.
      Male dominated laboratory culture can be very toxic; believe me, I’ve been there. If I’m the first female staffer hired in a while it can mean a couple of things: 1) the underlying, unspoken male-ness of the culture has never been checked which can be discouraging at best or toxic at worst for female employees, 2) they haven’t hired women because they haven’t wanted to, and now they’re being forced to which is not a good situation for me to be walking into. And those are just the main things that have been floating around my brain, I’m sure others could give different examples.
      I’m sooooo sorry you’re “miffed”, but this is a real issue for women in STEM fields. I know women who didn’t go into or left STEM because of toxic male environments. It’s 2018 and these are real discussions that need to be had.

      1. anon4now*

        Toxic companies exist, whether they’re male-dominated or not.
        Obviously, I don’t have experience in “laboratory culture” but it sounds to me from your comment, you’re just assuming you’re the only female who has ever been hired into the staff this company? And you assume this because of a generic “male-dominated toxic STEM culture” that must just exist at any STEM company with a male majority? And this for some reason didn’t affect your candidacy in any way or discourage you? Unless you’re just a token hire? Like, really?
        This comment sounds like you’re angry over a societal thing, not for this particular companies hiring procedures, which is what I thought you were questioning.

        1. March Madness*

          Let’s trust the OP that she knows what a toxic, sexist company culture looks like.

        2. Karen*

          Why the hostility? If you reread her comment, you might notice that she’s not assuming anything but just pointing out possibilities. It’s just like anything else. If you apply to work at an art museum advertised as a general art museum and you specialize in, I don’t know, modern art, and all the art there is Greek sculptures, you are probably going to suspect it’s not just a coincidence and the museum is focused on sculptures. But maybe they used to have a ton of modern art and it’s just temporary so don’t assume! And see, this is something the art museum could tell you when you ask. All that’s happening is that she wants more information on why it is all men she has spoken to.

          1. Karen*

            So she’s asking the equivalent of “Can you tell me about the different kinds of art you show here?”

        3. Letter Writer #4*

          Sigh, I don’t want to discuss this in depth with someone who obviously doesn’t get it or cares to get it, so I’ll leave just a couple more comments.

          I’ve been included as a token female before, so yes, it is a real concern of mine.

          I’m not assuming I’m the only woman who will be hired at this company, but when the entire group I’d be working with is male, it sends off alarm bells for the reasons I’ve mentioned. The only females I encountered during my interview were the HR manager, the receptionist, and 3 entry level hires. Some men have a visceral reaction to women PhDs; I know, because I have experienced it first hand.

          Pervasive toxic male culture in STEM is a REAL THING that I have every right to be concerned with in regard to this job or anything else I do.

          1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

            Ugh – I don’t really want to engage in anon4now’s thread, but just wanted to mention that one specific line here kind of raises my alarm bells…

            You wrote: ” The only females I encountered during my interview were the HR manager, the receptionist, and 3 entry level hires.”

            I’m not in STEM, but I am in a very traditionally good-ole-boys club/male dominated industry. I doubt I’m saying anything new here (or anything that you haven’t thought of yourself) – but I’d also caution you (or anyone else concerned about this sort of thing) to look at what types of roles women are in, in addition to the hard numbers. My last firm loved to tote their percentage of women in the firm, and I totally fell for it. Then I got there and realized, that yeah, sure, their overall numbers were better than other firms I’d seen or researched, but the the only roles that women were in were either HR or support staff.

            So your comment about only seeing women in HR, reception and entry-level roles really pinged for me. I guess the entry level roles could be a good sign that maybe they are moving (hopefully willingly) towards a better culture, but I’d be cautious.

            Another thing to look at (in addition to the number of women overall) is – do they have men in traditionally women-held roles (reception, support staff, HR)? I’m not sure how helpful that is for STEM/lab type places in general, but in my industry (Ok – it’s finance) I’ve found it to be a major bellwether of the overall-firm gender dynamics.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              So your comment about only seeing women in HR, reception and entry-level roles really pinged for me. I guess the entry level roles could be a good sign that maybe they are moving (hopefully willingly) towards a better culture, but I’d be cautious.

              Agreed SO hard. Those are all ‘traditionally female’ roles.

            2. Annie Moose*

              This is a good point. I work as a dev, and while my company does have several women in IT roles, only four of us are actually developers (out of 60+ developers). Most of the other women who work here are actually business analysts. So if you looked at our overall numbers, you’d conclude we had a decent ratio–but if you’re specifically a developer like me, the numbers don’t look nearly as good.

              (I knew this coming in, but took the risk anyway. It’s fine, almost all of the guys I work with are great, but we have no female project managers, no female managers, no female directors, and absolutely no visible attempts to target female developers when hiring. Obviously it’s better than a place that’s overtly sexist, but still. It’s demoralizing.)

              1. Annie Moose*

                Just to add: it really is pretty good that we have as many female BAs as we do, I don’t want to diminish that. But. The lack of female devs is pretty appalling. We can’t lose very many before it’s just the boy’s club.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            FWIW, I think your concerns are quite valid. There are sometimes good reasons why there aren’t a lot of women in a lab or company. Besides the professional issues that come with it, it’s demoralizing and has a huge mental toll for many people. I have multiple friends in STEM or STEM adjacent fields who are mentally recovering because of bad work environment- they’re not even among the worst stories I’ve heard.

            Good luck with wherever you land next.

          3. anon4now*

            No one said male-driven toxic culture doesn’t exist. The point was more about how your prior experiences may be setting the tone for how you operate at future jobs, with or without good reason (maybe this is a good thing and protects you, or maybe it negatively clouds every interaction you will make working with males).
            My other questions meant to ask if you being an educated woman was taking precedence over something like being a gay woman, or a black woman etc. There are so many issues out there for women and not having “enough” women in one particular field (whether’s that 50% representation or whatever makes you feel it’s acceptable) seems insignificant compared to pay disparity, rape, and the real issues real women face (and not microaggressions like using the word ‘female’ as a noun, which educated white women seem to hone in on because…they don’t face other bigger problems that minority women face).
            But I don’t know and don’t care anymore. I personally find you to be rude, especially when I was just expressing genuine curiosity about your situation.

            1. mrs__peel*

              By all means, continue to tell a bunch of women what “real” issues women should be concerned about. That’s not a bad look at all.

        4. Earthwalker*

          If you’ve ever been in a company where the particular toxic nature of the place is gender related, you’d really want to avoid that in the future. (The lower pay, the nasty comments, the harassment, the snickers of “you’re just affirmative action,”… blech.) The fact that a company has few women or has a heavily male skew in management alone is pretty telling. It might just be innocent coincidence, as you say, but the chance that it’s a sexist workplace is high enough that I would rather seek an employer without those signs. Some toxic cultures are hard to identify with just an hour’s interview but this one is easy to spot. After some false steps in my own past I would recommend that any woman ask “What percent of the department/your management/your board is women?” and be suspicious of low numbers or “We don’t track that.”

        5. biobottt*

          Boy did you misread LW 4’s comment.

          “first female hired in a while” is the not the same as “first female hired ever” and the fact that you can’t distinguish between the two says so much about you.

          1. anon4now*

            Did I misread, or is it I can’t distinguish? Why don’t you pick one, instead of gleefully piling on like the rest of the wonderful commentators on here?

        6. mrs__peel*

          “This comment sounds like you’re angry over a societal thing”

          It sounds like you have your own MRA axe to grind.

          Anyhow, why *shouldn’t* women be angry about sexism and how it affects our careers, quality of life, etc…..?

      2. Anon for my Company Today*

        I think you have a very valid question. My company is in a STEM field and has a single demographic (white male) in every management and C-suite position, save one female director.

        I am fortunate that my supervisor recognizes this and has been actively working to provide opportunities for the women on our team. He asked our team about what might be impediments to growth roles – travel impediments (do staff have obligations which might prevent promotional roles requiring frequent or long trips), lack of awareness (does everyone receive the same information about stretch positions or available training), is it a culture problem (well only guys ever get these positions, so why bother trying), and so on. He also recognizes that some people just want to do their job and go home (work to live, not live to work), but training can be offered to keep skills current and keep them interested in their current role. For those staff that frequent travel is an impediment, what other opportunities can he offer? And so on.

        We are getting results. One woman was just promoted into a leadership role and another got a stretch position that she probably wouldn’t tried for until she joined our team. We have a ways to go, especially company-wide, but at least my team can stand out as an example.

      3. Trout 'Waver*

        I want to propose a 3) for your reasons for not hiring female staff for awhile. In my graduate student days, I served as a student interviewer for faculty, so I got some insight into the hiring process. I was in a small department that typically hired a class of 2-3 assistant professors every 3-5 years. They hadn’t hired a woman in several cycles. They took a look into why, and found out that because they weren’t specifically targeting women while many other programs in the country were, they weren’t getting as many qualified women as applicants. And the ones they did get and want to hire were getting many other offers to the point where those women could leverage better start-up packages elsewhere.

        It was only when they specifically targeted hiring women and offered competitive start-up packages to those women that they finally hired qualifed women as assistant professors.

    2. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      No. The answer is not that less women apply to STEM fields. Hope this clears things up for you.

    3. another STEM programmer*

      Hey anon4now, it does matter, a lot. And some of us are reacting to your use of the adjective “female” as a noun, which any women who has spent time on the internet tends to notice is a hallmark of misogynist men. If you are genuinely wanting to learn more, get on google and look at the data – look at how many women are graduating with various STEM degrees, and look at what happens to us at different career stages.

      1. What's with today, today?*

        I had no idea that female was a hallmark of misogynist men. I’m a woman. I’m 37, I spend a lot of time on the internet. When did “female” become offensive?

        1. fposte*

          When it became popular to use it as a noun instead of saying “women” by people who would never have called themselves “males.”

          1. Julia*

            Yeah, this is not about saying “female teacher” – it’s about using “female” as a noun, as if we were animals. “The human female shows the following characteristics, bla” etc.

        2. Katniss*

          It’s generally used as a way to dehumanize women. Notice that usually people who use it say “men” and “females”, as in men are human and women are another species to be examined.

          1. (another) b*

            Yes, definitely. There is an odd correlation there. “Females” is often the indicator.

            Check out the ‘Of Course You Call Them Females’ Facebook group.

        3. Lala*

          Female as an adjective is fine (and frankly, I personally hate the way “woman/women” is frequently used as an adjective instead of “female”), but when someone uses female as a noun, it tends to come off as sexist because of how often it’s used in a demeaning, dismissive way. It’s a way of boiling down someone’s entire identity to a single trait, akin to calling a Chinese person “that Chinese” or what have you. Nothing wrong with the word “Chinese” itself, it’s how it’s used.

    4. Karen*

      It’s not as simple as you make it sound. If you know your field, you often have an idea of a typical range of percentages. A lot of science fields have become significantly less male dominated, and my guess as someone in a related but different field is that women are likely still in the minority but typically more than 10 percent. If you go in and expect 8 of 9 interviewers to be female, that may not be realistic, although there would be good reasons to look for something like that. But if 0 are female, that’s far enough out of the norm to be suspicious. Further, if the company were trying to fix the problem, they likely would have brought this up in the hiring process because they should know that this could scare off female interviewees. The point of interviewing is partly to learn about the company, and you don’t always have all the information so you use what you know and what you see.

      As far as why not asking about all the other categories, I think that’s a red herring. That’s just going to be harder for her to ask if she doesn’t fit in those categories given that she is already an outsider in terms of gender. Gender probably takes precedence for her because she is a woman and because that’s something she noticed seemed off. You can care about multiple things! Maybe if she joins she will get involved in hiring and work on those things. But you only have time for so many questions. For example, if a man with a disability asked about how the company is on that issue, I wouldn’t fault him for not asking about gender! You have to pick your battles sometimes.

      1. LBK*

        Right, you’re trying to gauge what your personal experience will be like there, you’re not taking a general survey of the company. Saying “well don’t you care about anyone else’s representation!?” feels like whataboutism/concern trolling.

    5. LBK*

      Why do you think it is that fewer women apply to be in STEM fields? For that matter, why do you think fewer men apply to female-dominated fields?

      1. Emi.*

        Ooh, ooh, I know, Professor!

        I didn’t apply to any engineering schools because I was sexually harassed in my highschool engineering programs.

    6. Julia*

      This is not a zero sum game. I’m sure the representation of all kinds of minorities matter to OP4, but since she is a woman (not a female, ugh, this isn’t the zoo), representation of female staff is probably the issue that’s most important to her.

      I’m not even sure if asking about gay or religious representation would get any reliable results (I’m guessing the employer doesn’t poll employees on those things?) and while I certainly hope that there are people of color in employment, I’m not sure how I as a white woman would come across asking about that?

      1. Reba*

        Yeah, it’s a strange strategy to try to discredit someone’s intentions because they didn’t also raise ALL THE ISSUES!!1!!!!1

        1. Annie Moose*

          “Why aren’t you showing enough concern about these other groups? Is it because you secretly hate black people/gay people/Christians??? IT’S BECAUSE YOU HATE PEOPLE IN WHEELCHAIRS, ISN’T IT.”

          It’s a classic diversion technique. “Your concerns don’t matter because you aren’t demonstrating sufficient concern about other issues, which are so much more important than your concern anyway, so just shut up like a good little girl and quit whining.”

    7. Lora*

      These questions have all been studied in depth and answered. The Leaking Pipeline has been pondered now for literally decades.

      No, it is not that there just aren’t any qualified women and people of color. Yes it does matter if you are being hired as a token.

      Science, Nature and many other major publishers have all done many studies on this exact issue. I suggest you do some reading on this subject.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yup. We are not obliged to start at a kindergarten level because anon4now hasn’t done any reading on the subject.

    8. J.B.*

      It makes a big difference if you live it. My experience has been even-ish hiring at entry levels and then gradual barriers to promotion. With more experience now I’d rather take a job somewhere that respects me rather than putting up gotcha traps every time I raise a point.

    9. biobottt*

      Gender takes precedence FOR HER because she’s a woman and wants to get a sense of what it will be like to work in a specific place as a woman. Other rare characteristics would take precedence for other people.

      It amuses me that you’re “miffed” that someone cares about how workplace culture affects them personally. It offends you that she cares how she’s treated? Good grief.

  30. Rusty Shackelford*

    #1, how are you handling the changing deadlines? I assume someone is waiting on your work, and you’re having to tell that person that it will be late. I’d consider proactively giving that person a heads up, every single time. “The TPS reports won’t be ready until Friday – we need info from Cersei, but she had a personal emergency and is out of the office today.” It’s true, it’s not unkind or “trying to get her in trouble,” and yet if that person hears it every week, they’re eventually going to notice a pattern that they might not otherwise have seen. Because even if Cersei’s emergencies are completely legitimate, they’re impacting your work and somebody needs to figure out how to address that.

  31. Runner*

    I’m not clear on how these wellness things/incentives work — but I’ve always gotten the impression that not only is one or more of the company’s health insurance providers pushing it hard, but that at least my HR 100 percent does not agree they are out of place at work. I despise how hard insurance pushes every year to disclose all your personal information in exchange for $50 or a Starbucks card, and HR joining in with reminders (do insurance companies also provide incentives to HR departments that get some percentage of new staff signed on?).

    1. Wrench Turner*

      My last job had a “voluntary” wellness program. If you chose not to participate you would pay the maximum health insurance rate, and if you did not show improvement year/year, losing weight, etc. you would pay the maximum.

    2. Atalanta0jess*

      At my work we received personal bonuses for participating (in the form of a reduced deductible) AND an overall workplace bonus if 40% of us participated (in the form of reduced premiums – our coverage was 100% sponsored by the employer, so when we achieved a reduction in premiums they rolled it into everyone’s paychecks as an addition to our COLA increases. It was pretty awesome.

      1. Atalanta0jess*

        Oh and you earned by participating, not by hitting any particular benchmark. So you had to do a little quiz or watch a little training, and go to your doctor (or do the onsite clinic, or have your doc sign a thing saying you didn’t need a visit).

  32. STG*

    #2. I don’t mind weight loss or step challenges at my workplace but they are absolutely voluntary. A single email goes out announcing it along with steps to sign up. Only the participants receive any further information beyond the initial announcement. We also have a really good wellness fair with a lot of good resources every year as well along with one of those Know Your Numbers events. It seems like our wellness group has some sort of event that everyone can enjoy.

    1. Wrench Turner*

      For me I don’t mind as long as it’s 100% voluntary and not tied to my health insurance rates (thank gods I’m gone from that job) or being judged for my ‘lack of participation’ or other rubbish like that.

        1. LW #2*

          That used to be what we did. We had to go to the doctor and if we met certain criteria (blood glucose level , cholesterol, BMI, etc) then we got points. The more points you had, the lower your insurance.

          1. STG*

            Yikes! I’d absolutely be against that system. I did work at a place that had a non-smoking pledge where you received a discount on insurance if you agreed not to smoke for the year but that’s been it.

            1. anon for this one*

              We have a higher deductible if we don’t sign a statement that says either (a) we don’t smoke, or (b) we do smoke but are attempting to quit.

          2. Buckeye*

            “We had to go to the doctor.”

            Did your office cover your copay and give you bonus PTO? Because that is most definitely what I would have requested if my office suggested I go to the doctor.

            1. LW #2*

              The first year I was here, they actually had a company come in and draw your blood so you could do it at the office (if you wanted to).

              It’s steadily declined.

              1. Buckeye*

                Imagine if they put this amount of time and energy into actually improving the work environment or their healthcare plans or bonuses.

            2. Mel*

              My company just has a form for the doctor to sign, asserting you had an appointment, no other information asked or given. Appointment is your yearly physical that is fully covered under ACA regulations (ie, no Copay) and they allow up to two hours of work time to be used for the appointment.
              No form = higher deductible.

        2. Wrench Turner*

          Unfortunately this is exactly what I had at Very Big Corporation job. Now I’m a freelancer and have to buy my own insurance at $1100/mo.

        3. Annie Moose*

          Oh, absolutely!!

          OldJob would give you a small discount on your premiums if you did a checkup (it was through a local hospital, they came right to the office and did basic bloodwork and such), but it was only based on whether or not you did the checkup, not on what your numbers were. And absolutely nobody knew or cared if you went to it, unless you told them.

          1. Kyrielle*

            This for my current job, except a year or two ago even that backfired. The company that came on-site and did the testing was a new one over previous years, using a different test, and the results were concerning for a number of people. Who then went to their doctors and got different, more-expected results.

            They stopped the program.

  33. Laura H*

    #2: this can go awry for in so many ways. For one thing, there are so many factors that affect how weight shows on a person. As a female just under 5 ft, 20 lbs is gonna show on me differently than a guy or gal who’s taller than me!

    I’m not completely back on my usual fitness regimen (which is another hurdle in itself yay physical disability), but I know that one thing is still true- any weight loss is a (to me) bonus, and not the end goal. The goal for me is to be as mobile and functional as possible- to a degree that is going to include some weight fluctuation.

    As I’m at the lowest weight I’ve been at in years, I’d like to maintain it but I don’t watch the scale. It’s still at least a little disheartening.

    Paying attention to your body is so so important. Weight is not the be all end all facet of that…

    I do like the thing someone said upthread about “competing” against yourself- seems a bit less demoralizing.

  34. Wrench Turner*

    I’ve fortunately never been asked something so off the wall, so this is more of a curiosity from me, but…

    “Tell me about your parents” type questions – can you ask your interviewer “Why are you asking me this? What does this have to do with the job or how I’ll do it?” Or is questioning the interviewer out of the question? I know it’s okay to ask about the company, job tasks, etc. but asking about the questions they are asking. How does that work?

    1. Irene Adler*

      Right. I thought the whole interview idea was to ascertain the candidate’s fitness for the position. Hence, questions should be asked accordingly. Not getting how the parents question fits this.
      Wonder how the answers will factor into candidate selection.

  35. Hellanon*

    >>we do The Biggest Loser on our own twice a year

    Proof, if you needed it, that diets don’t accomplish permanent weight loss but that they are pretty good at messing with your metabolism.

  36. Nita*

    #1 – if Cersei’s emergencies tend to coincide with her deadlines, could she really be dealing with anxiety? Maybe her manager could refer her to an EAP, if your company has one? I also like the suggestions for setting the deadlines a few days earlier than they actually are to work around Cersei’s likely absence. It’s a good idea in any case, if possible, because sometimes things don’t go as planned.

    I’m also wondering where Cersei can possibly be getting so much time off! If something happens every week, her PTO balance must be a sad-looking one, and she may be getting some pressure to cut down on at least the more preventable absences due to that. I mean, if her husband’s car was towed and she had to give him a lift, does she have to take a full day off? If she does, that’s a preventable decision.

  37. Karen*

    4, thanks for asking the question! I am in a very similar situation, except it is software engineering so for me the red flag is when I meet zero women in technical or managerial roles instead of one (not trying to one up you, but rather to point out that if I can usually count on meeting at least one woman not in HR in the interview process, you definitely should be able to. Unless you’re in physics, in which case the gender breakdown is similar if not worse). After my on site interview, I asked to speak with a woman on the team and that was seen as a very reasonable request. I imagine if they bristle at something like that, it would be an even bigger red flag. Good luck!

  38. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

    Resident Eating Disorder Recoverer here. Office weight loss plans are freaking awful. First off, I’m going to venture to guess that a dietitian isn’t involved in these suggestions or choices, they encourage extreme and unhealthy behavior, and as Alison pointedness out are potentially dangerous or downright deadly for anyone with or recovering from an eating disorder. Imagine that you’re company has recovering alcoholics and decided to hold regular drinking contests. That’s the level of danger this kind of garbage poses.

    Plus, frankly, weight is no one’s business other than an individual and their personal medical professionals. I’m currently overweight by BMI standards, but I literally always have been. My body carries more muscle than a lot of women from what I can tell. I’m built like my dad. Plus, I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and, if I have a flare, I can pack on pounds crazy fast while I’m waiting to have my meds adjusted. I can’t fix that. But I eat pretty damn well, exercise regularly, and none of my doctors or my dietitian are concerned about it.

    The implication that everyone needs to lose weight is so gross and misinformed. I remember being in a college PE class and having a textbook that, among other things, just asked about my “weight control plan”. It didn’t ask if I NEEDED one; it asked what it was, as if everyone should OBVIOUSLY be busting their asses to control their weight rather than trusting their bodies, looking at overall healthy habits, and treating weight as a symptom rather than a disease (because, really, even if you are overweight for you because of emotional eating or whatever, the problem is the emotional eating…the weight is a symptom).

    Okay. Rant over. This stuff just makes me so frustrated.

    1. Former (UGH) Weight Watchers leader*

      A hundred thousand times yes. Especially this: “The implication that everyone needs to lose weight is so gross and misinformed.” And in the workplace, it’s inappropriate. I’ll take care of my eating and exercise habits on my own, thank you very much.

      Even a step challenge can be ageist and ableist. I worked with a guy who used a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident, and another who had spinal bifida and used canes to walk. Better to let people focus on their actual jobs than promote these kinds of “contests.”

    2. Epiphyta*

      *flames on the side of my face*

      My favorite niece was broadsided with this in her high school freshman PE class; said niece has gained weight due to medication for managing a chronic illness, and is limited by that illness in terms of physical activity and food options. Her mother and her doctor stepped in: “Yeah, we’re on that; if you could put your efforts into helping her find an exercise that won’t set off a flare-up? That would be a much better use of everyone’s time”; what they had to say to the school administration about adolescents presenting plans to lose five pounds in two weeks was rather more pointed.

    3. Traveling Teacher*

      “the problem is the emotional eating…the weight is a symptom”

      So, so much this. Thank you.

  39. Uncle T*

    #3: What I like best about my parents is that they taught me not to ask invasive personal questions when first meeting someone. What I like least is that they raised me to be to polite to tell someone off in an interview and just walk out.

  40. Rusty Shackelford*

    For #3, if they’re going to ask useless, annoying questions, how about giving them some classic bad interview answers?

    What do you like best about your parents?

    What do you like least about your parents?
    They’re perfectionists!

  41. RedRH*

    Do we have an AAM post about terrible interview questions? Because there def should be. OP #3 reminds me of a question still asked at my current workplace (and nobody seems to realize how invasive and strange it is but me???) by the CEO: “what is the worst thing you’ve ever done?”…Pardon?

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Reminds me of Bob Loblaw’s line from Arrested Development – “Why you should you go to jail for a crime someone else…noticed?”

  42. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Oh no, #3:

    What I admire most about my parents: that they taught me German, which is useful and interesting and allows me to make more money at work.

    What I admire least: Hmm, a toss up between them trying to stop my wedding less than 48 hours before it/the rift between us because I’m queer, or the constant micromanaging of food.

  43. Amber Rose*

    #2 sucks. It just sucks. Imagine having a “eat at least a cup of peanuts a day” challenge where half the staff are allergic to nuts. It’s similarly nonsensical. Lots of people out there do not need to lose weight, and some need to gain weight, and nobody needs to feel guilt over their food choices.

    #3 would leave me sorely tempted to answer with the most depressing thing I could think of, like, my single mom dying in childbirth, leaving me to be raised by a series of family members who didn’t want me. Or something. I’ve read lots of drama, I’m sure I could come up with something to leave ’em bawling.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      “eat at least a cup of peanuts a day”

      Curious…what is that and what’s the purpose? I’ve never heard of that. Is it a weightless strategy? I’m actually curious, not being snarky.

      1. Yolo*

        I think this was a hypothetical situation that would be absurd on its face. People have blind spots about weight, yet prescribing blanket weight loss regimens is almost as silly prescribing blanket peanut-eating regimens.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Thanks! I got all excited for a minute there, that I could eat all those peanuts and lose weight. LOL Actually, I missed the part that says, “Imagine having…”

  44. LW #2*

    Thank you, Alison!

    I’ve tried pushing back on Boss and GrandBoss in the past. I just hear “not being team player” or “stop being sensitive” or “if you don’t want to you don’t have to”. (To be fair that last one is technically true as the challenge is “voluntary”….but it’s not really.) So that route is a no-go. I might send an email to HR though to at least reconsider pushing the weight loss program. Someone mentioned a healthy recipes cookbook, and I do like that idea. Plus it’s open to more people.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What route has your pushback in the past taken? If you haven’t already very explicitly said “has the company considered the ways in which these programs can be actively harmful?” I would try that.

      1. LW #2*

        It hasn’t been HR sanctioned in the past, this is the first time. With Boss and GrandBoss it was “I’m not interested” or “I’m healthy, so no”. The last time I did try the “This sends a bad message, I’m really not interested”. The response to that was that because it’s voluntary and everybody had put in their own money if anybody was offended they didn’t have to take part. So I truly have zero faith they’ll be receptive.

        But HR is definitely worth a shot. I may not be impactful this go around (since the email has already been sent and the signups have started), but I can hopefully get them to reconsider for next time.

        1. mandassassin*

          Maybe call attention to a different angle as well? “I’m uncomfortable with the way this event has led my supervisors to comment on my body and health – especially after I’ve indicated that I’m not interested in participating.” This is, basically, two (male) supervisors pushing a (Female? Apologies if I’ve inferred incorrectly.) subordinate to alter [her] body in a particular way, as well as two supervisors pushing a subordinate to manage their health in a certain way. It seems like, framed this way, HR might catch on to some potential problems here.

    2. mf*

      Could you say that you’re actively pursuing your own health goals right now and participating in an office weight loss program would interfere with your progress? (Those health goals can be whatever you want. “Eat five cupcakes a day” totally counts as a goal!)

      1. mf*

        You could also go with the tried and true, “I can’t participate because my doctor has advised against it.” And to anyone who asks why, “I don’t feel comfortable discussing my medical issues.”

  45. IT is not EZ*

    #3… Funny story……. There must be a book out there filled with awkward questions for interviewers. I got this one nearly verbatim during my last job search. I had already gotten weird vibes from this interview (not the questions, but their process and the facility itself was a little out there), so I half-serious replied “The state of their mortality”. When the interviewer inevitably replied with confusion, I went ramrod straight in the chair, fixed them with my thousand-yard, steely-eyed killer stare (former military) and in the coldest voice I could muster replied “My parents are both deceased, and I wish every single day that they weren’t. Next question.”

    The interview ended a few half-hearted questions later. About 3 weeks later I got a call offering the position, but by that time I had already a different one. No regrets.

  46. Bikirl*

    Re #1: The time to ask about the invasive line of questioning might be BEFORE OP is hired, not after. I’d really want some clarification before agreeing to work for this company.

  47. Angela Ziegler*

    Re: 2
    Yeah, it can be hard to encourage weight loss in an office without being pushy or demeaning about it. I was impressed with my office on how they handled it: A once-a-year optional competition that uses a monthly weigh-in, but it’s team based. People join if they want, and find friends or co-workers to create teams. They all have funny and clever names, too! (Waist Management was my favorite.) HR would post the current ‘results’ after each weigh-in, but only posting the percentage of fat lost for each team. There was no pressure to join, just encouragement for those who did. Oh, and there was a good cash prize for the winning teams!

    I think it worked well since my office is very food-obsessed normally (as in, we all love eating and will eat any food) so it was different from the norm, but in a good way.

  48. Bookworm*

    #5: It’s definitely more of a “we’re still in the process/we’re just acknowledging we got your application” or something rather mundane along those lines. I don’t think I’ve ever responded except maybe once or twice when it was via a networking connection or I had already met the HR person in some different setting like a job fair but I don’t think it made a difference in either case.

  49. J.B.*

    A tip for LW4 or others in the same boat. My eyes were really opened when I went to a (state level) industry conference and paid attention to who the women were and which companies they worked for. And it really broke out by company – some companies had entry level female employees there, and others had a mix of entry level and more senior employees. It is worth finding and listening to the more senior female employees. I got a very clear example of someone who was in grad school with me who had hit a wall at one of the more problematic companies.

    (This is likely to be more meaningful at a state level conference than national, most national presenters skew even more strongly male.)

  50. Spcepickle*

    Letter writer 4, I want to give you a big boost of support. As a female civil engineer I absolutely look for companies with women in leadership positions. I have found that companies that recruit and retain women are so much better to work for.

    Also I feel you pain arguing with people who don’t get the need for representation, I just snap at someone yesterday who only ever refers to contractors as male. It is exhausting to constantly be dismissed as not capable of doing something because of my gender.

    I hope the new job turns out well. Find your tribe, keep being awesome.

    1. SpaceNovice*

      Agreeing: companies that recruit/retain women are that way BECAUSE they are better employers, including in understanding how to treat women right. If you’re thinking about women, then you’re usually thinking about other things.

      The constant dismissal is the reason why I’ve stayed away from so many online communities. I’ve been lucky to not encounter it often in my workplaces, but I can definitely tell you other friends of mine experience or have experienced extreme cases. And I had to deal with a boss like that myself until his boss realized it and corrected it (I was too afraid to go to him and didn’t know exactly that was why).

    2. FrontRangeOy*

      The civil engineer in charge of a massive restructuring of the interstate running through our city was recently profiled in the local paper for being originally from our city. Also happens to be female. To the credit of the journalist writing the piece, the focus was on her professional capabilities and hometown connections, not on being female. Had a very nice photo of her on the job site too. My grade school age daughters *may* have gone a bit fangirl-y over the article. <3

  51. Lisa*

    LW #3 – I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that. And I’m very sorry for your loss. I mostly deal with this around Mother’s Day. People ask me if I have plans, and when I say no, they keep asking why. When I eventually say it’s because she’s dead, they act shocked and start sputtering over what to say. It makes me look and feel like a jerk for upsetting them, even though they are the ones being rude. People are insensitive. I truly hope you are able to find a way to cope with being put in these uncomfortable situations. It is not easy. Best of luck to you.

  52. Wintermute*

    #3– I would be so tempted to say something like “Are you interviewing me for a job, or trying to figure out if I’m a replicant?”

  53. Safely Retired*

    #4, workplace demographics: A question worth asking, but if everyone thinks as you do how can the company ever correct the problem?

  54. Liz*

    what I like least about my almost 80 year old mom is that after my dad died and she hooked up with her old high school beau, she started telling me all about her sex life.

  55. MT*

    Re LW 1, it seems like the reason for missing deadlines (absence) is less appropriate to highlight than the simple fact that Cersei isn’t providing the necessary input on time. Mentioning the absences feels passive-aggressive to me. Seems like LW1 could just say that Cersei has been unable to provide the needed input within the deadline window recently, and is there a workaround that LW1’s supervisor would recommend.

  56. Capt. Dunkirk*

    for the parents question, I would hope I’d be quick witted enough to just say “Pass.” as if I were on a quiz game show.

    While that would be a weird response to give in an interview, it might highlight how weird the question was in an interview in the first place.

Comments are closed.