sharing “emotional scars” as an icebreaker, I broke a desk and injured a coworker, and more

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

1. Our trainer wanted us to share “emotional scars” as an icebreaker

I wanted to get you and your reader’s take on an icebreaker I was subjected to recently. For a 9 a.m. Monday morning training last week, the facilitator opened with, “Tell us your name, your team, how long you’ve been with the company, and a ‘scar story’. Pick a scar on your body and tell us how you got it. If you prefer not to talk about a physical scar, you can tell us about an emotional scar.” I am not joking.

As we went around the room, there were lots of blood and guts stories (gross) but people also shared really traumatizing tales, like an infant daughter being diagnosed with leukemia. The whole thing took 30 minutes of a 90-minute session. I was very turned off by the activity in the moment and even more so later after reflecting a bit.

Besides this one being in very bad taste, I find myself turned off by icebreakers in general. They feel forced and never seem to give you a useful introduction to your colleagues. I’m wondering if your readers have ever participated in an icebreaker they think was particularly effective or are these just a reality of office life we need to endure?

Yeah, that’s a horrible icebreaker. People should not be asked to share emotional trauma at work. And no icebreaker should take 30 minutes of a 90-minute session; that’s disrespectful of people’s time. Plus, I’m skeptical that you needed any kind of icebreaker for a short training session like that.

Are icebreakers ever useful? Sure, sometimes, like if you have a group of people who don’t know each other and will need to develop a comfort level with each other pretty quickly. (That doesn’t mean everyone will like them; some people, like me, will hate them across the board. But they can still be useful.) But they should be brief and low-key, and they shouldn’t delve into potentially personal or uncomfortable subjects.

Readers are welcome to chime in with icebreakers they’ve seen actually be effective or ones they especially hated.

2. I sat on a desk and it broke and injured my coworker

I brought one of my colleagues a document to look over and sign. It has to be signed in ink so he needed a physical hard copy. It took time for him to read the document, and I leaned back and rested my hips and palms against his desk while he was reading it. The desk collapsed under my weight. We both went down. He ended up with a broken femur. I was so embarrassed. The head of facilities looked at it and said the desk was meant to hold 100 pounds at most and that I put “over four times that” on it when I “sat” on it.

I didn’t sit on it fully but it’s still embarrassing. I weigh 350 pounds and not over 400 pounds like the head of facilities implied. The government is involved since my colleague was injured at work. He will be off work or working from home for several more weeks until his leg heals. A memo went out reminding people not to sit on desks and mentioned the incident with my colleague and I by name. What happened spread like wildfire and even colleagues who used to work here know about it.

I’m embarrassed every time I go to work. How should I be acting at work? My colleague did not accept when I apologized. I do feel terrible he got hurt.

Your colleague didn’t accept when you apologized? Your colleague is being a jerk. (Note: Commenters have pointed out below how serious a broken femur is, which I didn’t know when I originally wrote this! I retract my assessment of him.)

You didn’t push him down; you leaned on a desk, which is a normal thing to do. It’s awful that he got injured, but accidents happen and this was an accident.

To the extent that you can, please keep that in the forefront of your head. You didn’t set out to injure anyone; you used office furniture in a normal way. It’s embarrassing because it feels tied up with your weight, but you should not be the target of anyone’s blame here. (I’m taking it as a given that you didn’t realize the desk wouldn’t support you. If you had previously broken other desks in this same way, someone could legitimately feel you were being reckless. But that doesn’t sound like the case.)

It might be worth clarifying with someone (the facilities head, your boss, and/or whoever sent the memo around) that you didn’t sit on the desk — that you just leaned on it, and that you’ll be more careful about that in the future. But beyond that, the more you can act normal at work — sympathetic for your colleague’s injury, of course, but otherwise normal — the sooner I think you’ll return to truly feeling normal. I’m sorry people are being insensitive about it.

3. Starting a new job when a chronic illness is flaring up

I’m starting a new job tomorrow. I have a couple of chronic illnesses, and unfortunately one in particular (colitis) is flaring up at the moment. It’s been going on for almost a month and doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of stopping, and I’m probably going to be looking into a different treatment option as what I’ve been using so far doesn’t seem to be improving things.

The effect this has on me is that I struggle to leave the house in the morning, due to needing to be near a toilet. This morning, I was stuck on the loo for close to two hours. It’s pretty embarrassing and not something I want to share with my new workplace (although they do know what illnesses I have, I don’t want to go into details about symptoms). I also suffer from fatigue but that is often manageable with diet and sleep, though I am worried about that having an effect as well.

I sent an email to my new manager last week to let her know, and to ask to start on the later of the two shift options. However, I was a bit too optimistic when I emailed her, and I’m worried that I’m going to be consistently late within my first few weeks. I don’t want to start on a bad note, but I don’t know how long this flare-up is going to last for. I have negotiated a flexible schedule and the ability to work from home occasionally, but I know these won’t be an option until I’m more familiar with the requirements of the job.

Talk to her! Say something like, “I have a chronic illness that’s normally under control but occasionally it flares up — and in some awful timing, it’s flaring up right now. I’m talking with my doctor about different treatment options and trying to get it under control as soon as possible, but meanwhile I wanted to make you aware that it’s happening. The symptoms are most disruptive in the morning, and it can mean that I’m stuck in the house for any additional hour or two until they pass. Is there a way for us to work around that temporarily?”

You can also request an official accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but start with just this conversation and see how that goes.

4. My coworker keeps sending me job postings I don’t want

I work at a small nonprofit organization as a part-time employee while I finish my education (I graduate at the end of the month!). I’m very happy with my job, as the size of my department in the organization allows me to learn skills that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to at my level in a larger company. I’ve worked here for a little under two years, and I plan on staying through the summer before looking for a new job. I’ve been very open about my intention to stay with my organization—I’m being sent as a representative to several summer conferences, which everyone in the office is aware of.

Over the last couple of months, though, I have a coworker who insists on passing along job postings despite my having said several times that I’m not looking. At first, I figured she was just trying to be helpful, but it’s gotten to the point where I’ve hinted several times that I’m very happy in my current position and would like to stay here for a while. Now I’m beginning to feel like she’s trying to push me out of the organization. I’ve heard from other employees that she thinks one of her relatives should have my position instead of me. My boss says she’s perfectly happy with my work and doesn’t want me to leave, but I also am really tired of my coworker insinuating that I don’t belong here. Should I put my foot down and be sharper (at the risk of starting drama in a relatively dramatic office), or should I just deal with it?

You can put your foot down without starting drama — or at least, if drama results, you won’t be the cause.

The next time your coworker sends you a job posting, tell her very directly to stop (which is different from just saying that you’re not looking). For example: “Would you please stop sending me job postings? Thanks.” If this feels too abrupt, you can open with, “Thanks for thinking of me, but..” And if you’d feel more comfortable, you can add on, “They’re not useful to me right now” or “I’m not interested in them right now.” But the key part is the very clear “please stop doing this” language.

If she sends more after that, then you’re dealing with a loon. At that point, you could choose to just ignore her, but if you wanted to address it, it would be fine to say, “I’m confused. I’ve asked you directly to stop sending me job postings but you’re continuing to send them. Why?” … followed by, “I don’t want to receive them, so please do stop. Thanks.”

{ 1,323 comments… read them below }

    1. atalanta0jess*

      There’s some nasty stuff happening below, I hope you’ll intervene if you get a chance.

        1. Atalanta0jess*

          You commented on the one that was sticking in my craw. Thank you!! Fat shaming is the worst.

      1. Atalanta0jess*

        Oops, I see that I missed stood the timing of the comments. So let me rephrase: THANK YOU!!

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I wasn’t once in an event where the “icebreaker” involved identifying which of us were from low-income families (or first-generation higher ed) and then tried to prove our experiences with poverty as if we were in some creepy Dickensian horror-scape. I walked out.

    Maybe I’m melodramatic, but when you try to opt out and someone tries to continue such an overly familiar and inappropriate icebreaker, I think it’s ok to leave.

    1. LouiseM*

      That sounds terrible! What a poorly-thought out plan. The worst icebreaker I’ve seen was one where people had to go around and say if they “folded” or “crumpled” their toilet paper. At first I didn’t even understand the question, so just from that perspective it wasn’t a good icebreaker, but once I did…ick!

      Agreed about walking out. If an icebreaker is taking up a third of a meeting, I’m thinking the meeting is not an appropriate use of my time.

      1. PB*

        Gross. I really don’t want to know anything about anyone’s bathroom habits, and what is that supposed to tell you about them, anyway?

      2. Tafadhali*

        My freshman year roommates (a trio of sophomores) and their boyfriends had a conversation about this the week I moved in and their preferences are still etched in my mind 12 years later because I found the conversation so bizarre. Cannot imagine having it in a work context!

      3. Gaz112*

        Not sure where you are Louise, but there was an actual advertising campaign in the UK for loo rolls based on that very thing…

      4. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I can’t imagine what advantage you get from crumpling up the paper, you have to use so much more of it for the same effect you can have with just a few sheets of nicely folded paper. My significant other crumples the paper and it drives me up the wall, but alas there are somethings that are just very personal and you can’t comment on them.

        1. Specialk9*

          Your significant other’s toilet paper usage habit while wiping their bum drives you up the wall?! What on earth. Like what even. How do you know this? Why do you care at all much less have this irritate you mightily? This is SO WEIRD. So so so so so so weird.

          Also, different people’s poop consistency and bum shape requires different approaches. It’s SO not your business.

          I can’t even express how bizarre I find this.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I will admit I exaggerated how much it bothers me, but it does bother me, I won’t get into how I know I just do. But I will say it is more the amount and it only bother me when I see it, I don’t go around thinking about it 24/7. I agree I am weird completely, and there are things that I do that drive my partner crazy. I like to leave the shower curtain/door open so that I can see no one is hiding behind it waiting to kill me, I irrational, but this drives my partner crazy.

            1. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

              I don’t think it’s THAT weird, Cmdr. I had a partner who used SO much tp. I don’t even know what their method was, crumple or fold. I just know that we went through rolls and rolls and rolls in a matter of days. I could never understand where it all went and it drove me crazy as well.

              1. Autumnheart*

                I think it’s pretty clear where it all goes, and considering the alternative, I’d say that this should be something people need to stop fussing over. TMI but if you have hemorrhoids or some other digestive issue, or if you menstruate, it takes more TP to be effective. Unless you have someone in the house who’s shredding TP and flushing it down the toilet for LOLs, it isn’t a problem that needs policing.

                1. whingedrinking*

                  I recently started living alone for the first time ever, and I find myself wondering if my old roomies were eating the TP or what – it just seems to get used up way more slowly, even considering I’m the only person using it, than it did in the past.
                  Am I going to call up every single one of the people I’ve ever lived with and demand to know what was going on with the toilet paper? Yeah, no. Life’s too short. I’m just going to assume there was *need*, and leave it at that.

                2. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

                  Yeah, I had an ex roommate who went through TP like there was no tomorrow, and the only thing that bugged me was that they constantly complained about the toilet paper we bought (Costco brand, very good quality) because they preferred 1-ply jail TP, but wouldn’t go out and buy it themselves.

                  The next roomie that used lots of TP actually contributed extra to the household goods fund, so we had no issues at all X-D

            2. Not a Morning Person*

              Leaving the shower curtain or door open a little helps to improve air flow and reduce mold growth…once you are out, of course!

            3. smoke tree*

              When I was a kid, I was once at a friend’s house conducting a seance in the bathroom with a Ouija board late at night (as one does) when his sister jumped out of the shower where she had been hiding and screamed at the top of her lungs. I still check behind the shower curtain whenever I enter a bathroom.

        2. Kate 2*

          Okay, I tried to resist, but I had to say: No way! Crumpling uses much less paper than folding, if you don’t crush it into a tight ball. With folding, the sheets get soaked through really quickly, and reach the other side. With crumpling the air pockets slow the liquid absorption rate and prevent the layers closest to the hand (the handle) from getting wet.

          1. Gadget Hackwrench*

            Plus the bumps and ripples of the crumple is far more effective on the back end… flat folded paper would just smear stuff around. oook. *Shudder*

      5. President Porpoise*

        When I was a child, I used to practice origami with my TP. It was weird. I do not do that anymore.

        1. Say What, now?*

          Not the weirdest. And by far one of the least scary things you could be doing in the bathroom so I say go for it.

    2. Loose Seal*

      OMG! That was thought up by someone who hasn’t spent time in poverty. I would have probably ripped their head off. My past is not here for your amusement. (Unless I intend it to be by sharing an amusing anecdote. Not this, though).

    3. Gen*

      I was in a training session once where most of the staff were recent graduates or straight from high school even. The ice breaker was intended to show we -as young people- couldn’t possibly understand the suffering of our clients so they wanted people describe the worst day of their life. The trainer seemed to think young folks haven’t experienced anything. The first person discussed her parents dying in front of her in a car accident, the next talked about losing his young sister in a war zone, at which point the grey faced trainer called a stop to that icebreaker. We’d all lost respect for him by then though so the training didn’t go very well

      1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

        That trainer just fundamentally … argh … what?

        By which I mean, the horrifying emotional fallout aside, that’s also entirely the wrong mindset for training people in that field.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Lesson #1: Don’t ask people a question without being prepared for them to actually answer the question.

        So many people have hair curling, heart-stopping stories, he should have known better than to ask.
        Good for those people for answering so candidly. That needed to go that way.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          This is so true. I had one icebreaker where the question was “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?”

          And I mean, I’m willing to tell you, but it’s a long and difficult story and none of us is going to feel good at the end of it.

          1. bearing*

            I got “What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?” in my very first professional interview, for an internship, when I was a 19-year-old college sophomore.

            I … did not have an impersonal and cheerful answer ready. Did not get the internship.

        2. myswtghst*

          Lesson #1: Don’t ask people a question without being prepared for them to actually answer the question.

          So very important! Even the most innocuous-seeming questions can get weird answers if the participants are determined enough, especially if you ask broad, high-level questions and don’t give examples of what you want.

          I teach classes that often include people from different departments who may not know each other, so we always start with a brief icebreaker in a standard format: name, department, how long you’ve been with the company, and a question which is fun but relevant to the class. In a recent career development class, the question was “when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?”. My answer (I always go first) was a veterinarian, and I mostly got the totally expected and sometimes adorable answers (ballerina, lawyer, firefighter, pirate…). Then someone decided a good answer would be “male stripper”, so I was grateful that there is very little that fazes me anymore and just suggested he not mention that at work.

          1. Radar*

            Yep. I used to be the editor of my company’s interoffice newspaper, many years ago. One time during Mother’s Day season, I was asking fellow coworkers what they thought of during this time of the year as in, “What does Mother’s Day mean to you?” for an article I was writing. One reply I got was “Anger, hatred, disgust, yuck,” Oops. I was young and naive! I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t ask something like that today because as has been said here, you might not want to know the answer to a question like that, no matter how seemingly innocuous it may appear.

      3. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        Wow, what a cluster and what a presumptuous trainer.

        1. Mary Ellen*

          I just had to tell you how much I love your username, Kalros. :-) The thresher maw vs. Reaper is one of my favorite moments in all of Mass Effect.

      4. Kelly L.*

        Oh, wow, he really had no idea, did he? o.O

        Thankfully on the scar one, I have a really innocuous and non-traumatic story I could use as a go-to (thumb, food service, tomato slicing), but how did this one ever seem like a good idea?

      5. Specialk9*

        My acting prof has us do this once, as I dunno, a way of connecting our scenes with our past trauma for emotional resonance. The always smiling and bubbly classmate told about being trapped in a car accident and watching as her friend died in front of her while she couldn’t get to her. It haunts me still.

        The prof called off that exercise, and I really hope he learned a lesson. He was a smarmy drunk creeper, though, so likely not.

        1. whingedrinking*

          My SO was in a theatre class once, and I don’t remember the exact assignment, but it culminated in him telling/re-enacting the story of how, at five years old, he was blinded in his left eye. I wasn’t there, but I’m told it had quite an impact on the class.

      6. Say What, now?*

        It wasn’t thought out but at least they didn’t try to force it once they realized it.

    4. Clare*

      Ugh thats awful! In general i hate all icebreakers, but i have done one that is good (for an icebreaker). Its called “2 truths and a lie”- everyone goes around and says three things about themselves, like “I’m a circus juggler in my free time, i wad born in texas, i like playing golf” but one of the three things has to be untrue. Then everyone else has to guess what the lie is. Its nice because people can choose anything to share so it can be kept impersonal if they want, plus you do actually learn a few things about your coworkers.

      1. No Name Yet*

        Yeah, I’ve always kind of liked ‘2 truths and a lie.’ It can be hard to think of things, but is easy to keep at a light-and-amusing level.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Yes! I think that when my former boss did our variation on it (see my comment below), we were told a few days ahead of the meeting so we could consider our options. I am NOT good at being put on the spot, so that was greatly appreciated.

          1. Penny Lane*

            2 truths and a lie is thoroughly benign, people can and do keep their responses lighthearted, and you don’t need to prep, at all. You should be able to come up with those things on the spot. If you can’t think on your feet quickly enough to have them prepared by the time it comes around to you …

            1. Specialk9*

              Once again, that’s really rude. Not all of us are great at thinking on our feet while in performance mode, but we’re still valuable human beings anyway.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                I’m great at thinking on my feet in work mode (as in, something has gone not-as-expected and I need to quickly figure it out), but I suck at it in performance mode (when other people are looking at me and expecting a performed response). In that scenario, my mind would be super-quick to imagine all manner of ways in which I might embarrass myself, to the point where appropriately innocuous responses would be lost in the flood of anxiety surrounding that. Not from being to slow and dull to think on my feet.

              2. Kate 2*

                That was rude, but honestly just curious, after the task is announced, while other people are talking, you really couldn’t come up with two facts about yourself? A hobby, a favorite color, anything?

                1. zora*

                  No, because I can’t listen and think at the same time. So, I probably could think of facts, but then I’m not listening to any of my coworkers, and doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the ice breaker?? Different people think differently, it really is going to be better for everyone if you give people a heads up for ice breakers like this. I hope you consider that if you are ever in the position of planning an icebreaker in the future.

                2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  Speaking for myself, Yeah, I could come up with something while listening to others. I’d probably freeze up initially if I was supposed to go first, but I’d get warmed up with the example of two or three other people going first.

                3. SarcasticFringehead*

                  I can come up with two facts about myself – it’s coming up with a plausible lie that’s the issue. I can also have a lot of anxiety (like, forget-my-own-name anxiety) in situations like this, so it really helps to have some time to think about it.

                4. Say What, now?*

                  It’s also harder if some of the coworkers know you because you’re doing a meeting where you have seasoned staff meeting new people. You’d have to come up with things that they wouldn’t know.

                5. Chalupa Batman*

                  Zora, I’m glad you mentioned that. This is one of the few icebreakers I don’t hate, but I run into that sometimes, too, and I’d never put words on it. I’m making a mental note that if I ever facilitate this one (which is likely) to plan around it by allowing 30 seconds to think before starting or quickly writing out each set of facts (if the group is small) to give people time to catch up if they were thinking during someone else’s facts.

            2. atalanta0jess*

              Um….what? Why would you say that? What if you’re second in line? What if you’re trying to effing listen to your coworkers and engage with the breaking of the ice instead of trying to think of what you want to say?

              I really appreciate warning too.

          2. Kit Kendrick*

            Good on your boss for the advance warning. My problem with most icebreakers is that they make me feel on the spot and uncomfortable, instead of at ease and connected, which is the intention.

          3. Say What, now?*

            That is nice! So many people have social anxiety so being asked to be witty on the spot is a little unkind. Plus, you don’t just spontaneously blurt out something inappropriate because it’s the first thing that comes to your mind.
            People seem to be onboard with this one so I’m going to keep this on the backburner if I need to use one.

        2. Harper*

          2 Truths and a Lie is my favourite, and I’ve never run into a group where it seemed like anyone is uncomfortable about it.

          Plus, I’m now really good at it because “I’ve been inside a volcano” and “I have pet ants” can be truths :-D

          1. Someone else*

            I’ve been in some pretty uncomfortable 2 truths and a lie, but it’s because one (or more) of the participants chose to say things that were extremely uncomfortable, not because of anything inherent to the exercise itself.

            1. Sharon*

              I was in one once, where one of the bosses told his. I don’t remember the lies but his truth was that he once had sex in a freezer at work. I did NOT need to know that about him. (He was overly proud of it, too.)

          2. Arjay*

            I hope this isn’t “everybody can’t have sandwiches” territory, but I did this icebreaker in a group where some people knew each other better than others. I guessed at the lie and was met with some almost scoffing responses about how “everyone” knew that was true about this person (she sang in a choir). It ended up making me feel left out instead of included.

        3. Anonanonanon*

          That is my go to ice breaker if I have to pick one. I have also seen people use it to share information like dietary restrictions, which can be useful.

        4. Chinook*

          We do a version of this to get women to mingle at talk to someone other than their friends at a social group we lead. Everyone writes down 3 facts about themselves on slips of paper. Then we mix them and redistribute them. Then you have to go around and find the people who wrote them. It worked to start conversations because there were a lot of “That applies to me but I didn’t write it” as well as conversations started when someone shared something unique.

      2. eplawyer*

        Why not “Hi I am so and so I work in Department X, here’s something useful about my job that can help others in the company?” It’s relevant to the job which is what most of these trainings are for.

        I do not get why training icebreakers have to be not job related.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I’m not a huge fan myself, but the idea is to promote emotional closeness so that you can break down barriers in a group. Keeping it work-specific doesn’t help people see their coworkers in a new light / help them feel more well disposed to them. You could probably ask them to share what they like about their job though – that might work.

          1. KarenK*

            I was once asked to share something about myself that the rest of the group didn’t know. I said that I had so many cats that if I got another one, I’d have to get a kennel license (the maximum you can have is six in my town). Everybody shared fun stuff like that.

          2. SarahKay*

            I was thinking you could ask them what their favourite piece of office equipment is. Judging by the comments when Alison asked that a while back, most people have something they can enthuse over.

          3. Say What, now?*

            The share something about your job that you like turned nasty for us when two people decided to air out their feud for everyone. “I like that I’ll retire in x years and won’t have to see Y anymore.” Really, you couldn’t let the new peeps warm their seats before you made this public?

        2. Penny Lane*

          Because that is an introduction. The goal is to break down barriers and have people think of one another as PEOPLE, not work machines. That’s why they call it an icebreaker.

          1. fposte*

            But that assumes that introductions aren’t enough to think of people as people, it assumes that the particular icebreakers are successful in doing that, and it assumes that that’s a useful goal for the workplace. None of that is automatically true.

            1. Say What, now?*

              I do think it’s useful to see your coworkers as people with outside lives so that:
              1) you remember that people can have bad days and that doesn’t make them bad people

              2) they aren’t resources at your disposal. They may stay late for you on occasion but you shouldn’t just assume that they don’t have anything going on.

              3) having understanding for another person just generally increases your desire to have good will toward them. Maybe you’ll be more inclined to pick up their slack when you need to.

              1. fposte*

                I don’t necessarily disagree–it’s just that icebreaker exercises don’t always lead to that, and other things can, so I think icebreakers are often employed because they’re in the armory of the exercise leader rather than because there’s demonstrable benefit.

                And I actually enjoy most of these goofy exercises on a personal level, but the time in something like this means working that much time more in the evening, so I really want some good ROI.

        3. RebeccaNoraBunch*

          I’m a sales trainer, and I always do a quick icebreaker when I first embark on a week of training with new hires. In my case, we’re going to be spending generally 5ish days in a classroom together, and it would be coma-inducingly boring as well as just disingenuous if we didn’t know at least a little bit about each other before diving into product and sales process training.

          Plus, it’s just fun. We throw a ball around and learn about innocuous things like what our favorite ice cream and pizza toppings are. Ironically I’m an introvert so I hate really obnoxious icebreakers – always have – so I make mine very lighthearted and I also share of myself as much as I ask my trainees to. I’ve never gotten any complaints and it helps people see me as a person too and be much more engaged during the sticky, boring, technical training we sometimes have to get through.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I’m a frequent meeting facilitator. There’s definitely a role for ice breakers, but they should be used thoughtfully (as it sounds like you do). IMO they have two purposes, either to get people talking – but you can just do an around the room or small-group introduction for that – or to get groups more comfortable with each other (or both). It doesn’t make sense to do one if you’re not going to be together that long, or don’t need a lot of discussion for your agenda. They make little sense in the case of an hour long training, but even an hour might sense for of a month-long collaboration.

            The problem is that some people just automatically start any meeting with a getting-to-know-you period, whether warranted or not, and just waste time.

      3. Jen*

        Full disclosure, I hate all icebreakers since I only ever seem to do the same rotation of three and I hate the artificiality of it. That’s one that’s high on my list – if I’ve just met you (which was the case the last time I ‘played’ it), how the heck should I know whether you repairing motorcycles or you like maintaining a garden is the lie?

        Also on the list: bingo sheets.

        We did do one recently through my work that I didn’t hate – we all submitted facts about ourselves (on any topic, no restrictions), and then the facilitators picked ten and read them out at the retreat. As a table we were supposed to guess who we thought was the person who submitted the facts. My colleagues apparently thought I fought with a bouncer and maybe went through a punk phase in high school.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          We did one like your last example! My coworkers guessed that I had once taken a class from Allen Ginsburg which…dude, I wish that was true but given when he died it would have made me the world’s coolest 12-year-old ;-)

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Ginsberg. I remember him doing a lecture at my school. He lost about half the audience. I stayed but I just did not get him that much. Every other word was f*** and his content got lost somehow.

        2. Sarah*

          We actually just did one like that, too! I liked it – we were given plenty of time to think about what our fact would be and we actually found out really interesting things about each other. It was the only ice breaker I’ve done that I didn’t hate.

        3. Madame X*

          I don’t hate icebreakers. I hate when they are done poorly. Icebreakers should be light-hearted like the example you gave.

        4. Pebbles*

          Yep, I like the “unexpected fact” one. We had someone who’s building an airplane in his garage, someone who played for a minor league affiliate of our local MLB team, and someone who does stock car racing. Plus the people who guessed correctly got a candy bar prize.

        5. LaSalleUGirl*

          I can’t stand most icebreakers, but I did watch a colleague lead an effective one once for a group of student leaders. She alerted the group ahead of time that we would be opening with an activity that asked them to present an object that was significant/important to them. (We work at a university, so she gave them enough advanced warning that they could get something from home over a scheduled holiday weekend if they wanted to.) She didn’t give any requirements for *how* significant/important it needed to be; it didn’t have to be the MOST important object in their lives, just something that mattered to them.

          During the session itself, she had people go around, introduce themselves, identify/explain their chosen object, and explain why it was important to them. My two favorites of that round were a young woman who brought her prayer rug and a young woman who brought her rosary; those two happen to be best friends and presented one after another, which made that segment even more powerful. I presented my iPod, which is a critical bulwark to maintaining my sanity.

          I liked that people had enough warning to think about how comfortable they were with the group and how self-revealing they wanted to be with their choice. The two women who presented their religious items were returning student leaders, who already had a level of comfort with the staff and some of their fellow leaders. They were willing to divulge a little more about themselves as a result. Other student leaders chose slightly less personal items (a phone, a keychain), but were still able to give us a little bit more insight into who they are through their explanation. No one was put on the spot or made to scramble to find something to share based on what was currently in their bag or on their person.

          That was the best-bonded group of student leaders we’d had in a long time (or since, and think the fact that we stopped doing that activity might be part of why).

          1. Ennigaldi*

            A museum I worked at did this. We all brought an object, talked about it at lunch where we had assigned tables so we had a small group who didn’t all pick to sit together, and then thought of what kind of museum it should be in (museum of lost keys, museum of photos-found-in-books, etc.)

          2. Madison*

            I had a professor do this in an acting class and it was really helpful. I remember one of our classmates from another country brought her camera and explained how she could look back through the pictures she took at home and feel less homesick. By the time she was done talking I was crying. I was only 2 hours from home and was incredibly homesick. She and I got to be close friends during that semester!

      4. Steph*

        I detest that game! I just can’t do lying – i’m no good at it at all. That game stresses me out totally (and I usually love icebreakers!).

        1. LBK*

          Same – it stresses me out and the stress makes it obvious which one is the lie, so it’s not really a game.

          The only icebreaker I’ve ever liked was sharing your favorite place to go on a trip. It wasn’t hard for people to come up with an answer, it wasn’t overly personal and it was still interesting to see the range of places people chose and why.

      5. Jesmlet*

        Until your boss decides at the Christmas party to do one involving the mile high club… true story

        As long as you have reasonable people who will keep it appropriate, this is the most tolerable ice breaker IMO

      6. pomme de terre*

        I will be the contrarian and say I don’t like two truths and a lie. It gets people to share interesting stories, but it’s so weird to encourage people to lie as a way of getting to know each other. It feels manipulative and confusing to me.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Plus then I remember weird, vague things about people, some of which are made up, but a year later I can’t remember which ones! It’s not good for people with bad memories like me.

          1. biobottt*

            Right? I met one of my good friends through a group in college that did the 2 truths and a lie icebreaker. One of her truths was that people often thought she was called Name A, but actually she was called Name B. Now she’s one of my best friends, but for the first year I knew her I could never remember whether Name A or Name B was her real name.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              “Someone in this group was in the circus, or wait, maybe they WEREN’T in the circus?” … super helpful :P

              1. pomme de terre*

                2 Truths and a Lie also sets people up for this faux pas as well: “Well, the lie MUST BE that you collect chocolate teapots because that’s SO RIDICULOUS it must be fake…oh, you have actually dedicated your life to chocolate teapots, oh.”

      7. Facepalm*

        I was part of a group that had to spend 10 days together and we did that icebreaker. It got complicated because some people decided they’d tell three lies or three truths. But the best was a lie one of the guys told– that he was a child actor who played the character “Tum Tum” in the 90s movie Three Ninjas. It was so random and specific that most people chose that as the truth and everyone had a good laugh when they found out it was one of the lies. But it backfired because one member of the group refused to believe it was a lie and followed him around hopefully for the duration of the trip. It was hilarious.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          My general reaction to “Let’s go around the room and…” is “Let’s not”, but that’s never an option.

          One trainer had us all give our first impressions of Philadelphia. The guy who was born here didn’t have much to say…

      8. RJGM*

        I like two truths and a lie, but you have to be very clear in the instructions… my (very large) department did it in one of our meetings since we had a lot of new people, and one person misunderstood and thought we were supposed to pick work-related truths/lie. Most people’s were fun facts about themselves, but hers were like, “I’m passionate and hardworking. I love handling [our problem client]. I’ve worked here for eight years.” I felt so much secondhand embarrassment for her :(

      9. RobM*

        With #1 Any trainer who tried to get me to take part in that kind of “share your scars” thing would be told “your training session this morning is now one of my ‘scars’, which is why I’m leaving it” on my way out the door to speak to HR about what I will and will not find acceptable in future training sessions.

        I have “scars”. I don’t want to relive them and I’m sure no one would want to listen.

        As for “two truths and a lie” perhaps it’s because I’m now salty about the whole concept of ‘icebreakers’ but my three would be “I feel this patronises us all”, “I don’t want to be here anymore” and “I do want to be here”.

        I am warm and fluffy normally, honest, I just have an incredibly low tolereance for what I see as patronising nonsense.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Strangely, the evidence of icebreakers is that they do work to promote group cohesion even if everybody hates them. So, enjoyment is not really necessary for success :P

          1. Tau*

            A known, tried-and-true method of promoting group cohesion is to give them a common enemy…

      10. Fiennes*

        A then-new manager of mine once did a variant of this—passed out slips of paper and told us each to write down one “fun fact” about ourselves they thought no one at the office knew. Then he collected the papers, read out the facts, and tried to guess who had written what. The rest of us had worked together for years—but we got everybody wrong! There was a lot of laughter and some genuine bonding in what was all too often a very tense environment.

        Of course, you can see ways this could go wrong—but the power over what to share was totally with us, not the manager, so any issues would’ve been about us being inappropriate, not him forcing us into anything.

      11. ScienceLady*

        The only one that I like to use is asking what each person’s first record/tape/CD purchase was to allow for all ages to participate. PS – tape, Hanson’s “Mmmmbop”, followed closely by Ace of Base “I Saw the Sign”…Grammy winners for sure!

      12. myswtghst*

        As with any icebreaker, I think 2 truths and a lie (or any other variation on the theme) benefits from having an experienced facilitator who does a good job introducing and managing the activity. I’ve seen it go really well in many instances, but I’ve also seen the occasional group fundamentally misunderstand the expectation to keep it lighthearted and work-appropriate, which can get into some weird territory pretty quickly.

        At my last job when we ran it with new hires, we gave them a handout to write their statements down on, and we gave them some time after introducing the activity to come up with their statements. We also made sure we gave clear guidelines and shared examples of the types of statements we were looking for, so people weren’t starting from nothing.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah good point, I think you should SAY “keep it lighthearted” so people don’t embarrass themselves. And also … don’t pick something clearly NOT positive, like scars ….

      13. Typhon Worker Bee*

        I like “two truths and a lie” (NO-ONE guessed that “I won a poker tournament in Vegas” was actually true, LOL).

        We also did a fun one where we stood in a circle, one person was given the end of a ball of wool to hold, and threw the rest of the ball to someone they shared some kind of work connection with. That person held onto the strand and threw the ball to someone else they shared a different connection with. Things like “Glen and I are both involved in the sorghum project”, “Abraham and I both use the MacHete software a lot”, “Andrea and I attended that target setting seminar together last week”. By the time you reach the end of the ball of wool, you end up with a giant interconnected web. I guess this wouldn’t work for some teams, depending on how projects are structured, but it worked really well with our group.

    5. Newt*

      As someone who has both a whole bunch of physical scars and some past emotional traumas, I would not only have walked out of OP1’s icebreaker session but also made a complaint.

      Things like this are extremely personal and I can count the number of people I’ve spoken to about them in any kind of detail on the fingers of one hand. You do not get to dictate to people you’ve just met that they let out their demons for you. Whoever picked this icebreaker needs a serious talking to.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I hope OP makes a complaint, if she hasn’t already. That icebreaker is beyond appalling. And aside from the appalling nature of it, why would the trainer think that getting the room very very very depressed would be a good thing for a training session? (That goes for these other negative and depressing icebreakers folks have listed here, too.)

      2. alison*

        Agreed. What if someone had a very obvious scar that they didn’t want to talk about (I’m thinking of Tina Fey, who has a pretty obvious scar that she has said she doesn’t talk about because it resulted from an awful incident in her childhood). I imagine people with large, obvious scars would rather not draw attention to it because they worry it’s the first thing people notice about them (rather than their personality, talent, etc.). I’m sure some don’t mind but the risk of making someone feel ashamed or embarrassed is just not worth it.

    6. rosiebyanyothername*

      As a “teambuilder” in college, we were asked to raise our hands if we had ever experienced sexual violence. Who would ever think something like that is a good idea??? Even as an “opportunity to learn” or whatever.

      Just stick to sharing a fun fact about yourself.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        The only situation in which that might be remotely acceptable would be a seminar on sexual violence and even then it’s super dicey.

        1. Rhoda*

          A form of that was done on Law & Order SVU, but I like the way it was handled. Benson was giving a lecture on the prevalence of sexual abuse. Everyone was told to close their eyes and then raise their hand if:
          They had experienced sexual abuse
          If they had ever had a date pressure them into anything
          If they had a friend someone who had experienced sexual abuse
          If they had a relative etc. etc.
          At the end they were told to open their eyes and look around. The point was to illustrate the prevalence, and everyone’s anonymity was preserved.

          At the end they were asked to open their eyes. The purpose

          1. fposte*

            I know it’s just fictional, but I don’t like this one. People are raising their hands on the presumption that eyes are closed. It’s a dirty trick to then make that visible.

            1. RabbitRabbit*

              But since everyone keeps their hand up, it could just be that everyone has their hand up because they have a friend or relative who experienced it. They’re not necessarily outing themselves.

              1. fposte*

                Then don’t start by asking people to close their eyes. People should know who’s going to be seeing what they’re volunteering.

                1. Someone else*

                  The only time I experienced a thing like this, the person doing the questioning had eyes open the whole time and kept asking variations until literally everyone in the room had hands up, and then did the “open your eyes”. I don’t know if that makes it better or worse…

                2. tinyhipsterboy*

                  If you don’t have them close their eyes, it ends up more invasive, though. Closing their eyes at the beginning means that nobody knows if people have been abused or know someone who has, where keeping your eyes open from the beginning then lets you know exactly who has been abused and who hasn’t but knows people

                3. fposte*

                  @tiny–that’s a good logical point, but why not just ask people if they know anybody who’s been sexually assaulted, eyes open, from the get go rather than asking them to stipulate what kind of knowledge? I think the reason L&O did the way they did is because the TV viewer got the visual of the different people raising their hands at different times; in real life, that provides no participant advantage.

            2. Kelly L.*

              This. I went to a church that did that. They’d tell everybody to bow their heads and close their eyes, and then raise their hands if they needed certain things spiritually, and then sometimes there’d be a “gotcha” everybody opening their eyes at the end. Gross.

            3. RJGM*

              Agree. I haven’t watched the show, so when I first read the description, I thought it was going to end with the organizer saying, like, “in this room we had x% of people raise their hands” and then extrapolating to broader statistics. Still wouldn’t be great, since the organizer presumably has their eyes open, but better than (as Kelly put it) the “gotcha” at the end.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        That is horrifying. I did attend a program on body dysmorphia and eating disorders where we were asked to raise our hands if we had an eating disorder or knew someone with an eating disorder. That was dicey but at least passably related, and I still think it was kind of poorly facilitated. Sexual violence? Seriously?

    7. Traffic_Spiral*

      My response to the LW’s icebreaker would have been “Hi, my name is Traffic, and I’d like to talk about the emotional scarring of having to go through this icebreaker. It sucks.”

    8. The Other Dawn*

      I wouldn’t say I’ve encountered any terrible ice breakers, but there was one that was just weird and out of place. It was a group training session for a new feature of a software platform we were already using. It was one week long and all the people in attendance–about six of us–had worked together for a few years at that point. It was a tiny bank so we all knew each other pretty well. The people from the software company that came in to do the training (I think there were two or three of them) decided to do an ice breaker where we each say a little about ourselves, what we do at the company, and something interesting about us. It was just weird because we’d all worked closely together for a long time.

      There was one that I thought was very good, although I hate ice breakers in general. It was when my former bank first started. The new bank merged people from two different banks into three branches that were quite far apart geographically, so we really only knew the people in our own branch. They had an evening event and as a way to break the ice we had to write three facts about ourselves, each on a little piece of paper. Those papers then went into a bowl and we drew three at random. We then walked around the room during cocktail hour and tried to find the person that matched the facts on the pieces of paper. The first person to match all three won a prize. It was actually quite fun and a good conversation starter, since many of the facts could never be guessed just by looking at someone.

      1. Minerva McGonagall*

        And if the point of the ice breaker is for the consultants to get to know you, rather than for you get to know each other, all the more reason to make it professional. How long have you worked here / in this industry? Stuff like that.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          That is odd. That’s not usually the point of an icebreaker – the facilitator could have asked for a short bio or a couple quick questions to be emailed in advance, if they really wanted that. It’s also poor form for the facilitator to take so much time out of the training for this purpose. Usually, the point of an icebreaker is that you’re hoping to encourage a lot of conversation between participants so you need to get people talking right away, in a low-stakes way, and build up a sense of camaraderie in the room. One theory is to put people slightly (slightly!) out of their comfort zone so that they will be bonded by the experience – as in team-building exercises or in asking everyone to do something silly, or by revealing something reasonably intimate (but not this person or traumatic!). I’m not a huge fan of this technique myself.

      2. Serin*

        Yeah, I’ve experienced the “facts about me” icebreaker and it worked pretty well. I still remember that one of the elderly women involved had been a roller skating flower girl in a wedding on wheels.

        The only drawback was that there was a lot of “I’m a big Cardinals fan” and “I’m married and have two children.” But given the choice between boring facts offered freely and interesting facts dragged out of people against their will, I’ll take the boring ones.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah people will insist on giving the most boring “stories” about themselves, which is why facilitators try to narrow the scope, but it’s easy to go awry there. People can have intense negative experiences with the most anodyne things (although “scars” was a predictable problem).

        2. MerelyMe*

          I work for a dental school and every year at first year orientation, we’re asked to introduce ourselves and include a “fun fact”. Mine, so far, has been “I have never had a filling”, and it’s fun to spring that on dental students and listen to everybody go “Oooh!”

        3. RJGM*

          Fully agree re: boring facts.

          Although it’s possible to present “boring” facts in a fun way — in my two-truths-and-a-lie game mentioned above, one coworker said something along the lines of, “I’m a newlywed, and have been for 12 years.” The whole room said “awwwww” at that one. <3

      3. Sara without an H*

        While I agree that icebreakers are generally pointless, I admit I haven’t had to endure any that are as awful as the kind being described in this thread. One I actually enjoyed was done by an outside trainer who asked us to (very) briefly describe our first jobs. Most people had some combination of paper routes/food service/retail, but our dean described having picked cotton as a boy in rural Georgia. That job inspired him to do something else with his life.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          First jobs could be good. But there’s almost always a way for it to go wrong for somebody, when you try to narrow it down (because there’s usually a buried assumption behind what you picked); for example somebody whose parents were wealthy may not have ever had a job before this one, and now they’re feeling wrong footed. Somebody who grew up in poverty might have had some traumatic job at thirteen like working at a slaughterhouse, or something. I’ve been astonished how quickly things go off track around even the most benign seeming prompts … you’d think people would just improvise or lie if they needed to, but as LW’s example, it makes people uncomfortable to do that. I think the best ones are probably more broadly open ended, like, “share a fun fact about yourself that nobody would guess” or “share what you like best about your job” or something.

          1. Sara without an H*

            You’re right in that most icebreakers seem to be based on some assumptions about the audience — that they share a certain social class, for example. And that may not be true. (Awful examples appear upstream.)

            I think, if you must have some sort of warm up for a group, that it would better and more constructive to make it work related, something like, “Please introduce yourself and tell us what you hope to get from today’s session.”

    9. LBG*

      I have a scar on my middle finger from a car accident. I’d be very tempted to show it to them.

      1. Name Required*

        I also have a scar on my middle finger from a knife slipping while taking the seed out of the avocado. To show it off at its greatest view, I have to pull both fingers on either side down with my thumb while stretching out the middle finger. It is a pretty intense scar that I should have gotten stitches for. And this is no joke. And yes, this is probably the scar I’d show the room.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It was a very bad effort to try to illustrate invisible privilege regarding class background (i.e., that your income is not the only economic limiter). It’s just not appropriate to use one group of students as zoo animals to be gawked at by more affluent or SES-privileged students.

    10. Nita*

      Huh. That’s pretty awful too. Icebreakers should really not exist. There’s nothing to be gained by forcing people to expose deeply personal things to a room of almost-strangers.

      My office does icebreakers very rarely at staff meetings to introduce the department to new hires, but they stick to very light topics like “how long have you been here,” “where do you live,” or “name a place you’d like to go one day.” I think my favorite was “describe the coolest job you’ve worked” – there were some really fun and unexpected ones.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I don’t think they shouldn’t exist at all – they are occasionally valuable if people aren’t talking – but yes, they should always be lighthearted and give people an easy way to share something they don’t mind sharing. The more directed you try to be, the more likely you’re going to stumble into bad territory.

    11. Mockingjay*

      Enough of icebreakers and feelings at work!

      A few years ago, I posted about an upcoming team building exercise at ExToxicJob. Wasn’t thrilled about it. Here’s what happened:

      And the followup, during which I sacrificed one of my few precious leave days:

      Current Job, as good as it is, includes icebreakers in our biweekly team meetings. You have to describe a Personal Best and a Professional Best since the last meeting. I use movies as the Personal Best, whether I have actually seen one. (insert eyeroll)

      1. Minerva McGonagall*

        Did you know there’s a movie called Personal Best? Would be a convenient way to out myself if I hadn’t already.

    12. ArtK*

      A corporate version of Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch?

      “You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o’clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen hours a day week in-week out. When we got home, our Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!”

      1. Anonicat*

        We were evicted from our hole in the ground. We had to go and live in a lake.

        (A fun fact I can use in an icebreaker: I’ve typed those sentences often enough that my predictive text now suggests them once I’ve typed We were.)

    13. Lola*

      One of my (terrible) theatre professors at university was really into “raising awareness” of mental illness, so he had us sit on a circle and describe how our experiences with mental illness (our own, or someone else’s) made us feel. I loathed that man.

    14. Jane*

      Worst ice breaker was “OK, let’s go around this table and tell each other what we like and don’t like about each other.” – and we literally had to do that. And this was a team building exercise when we already didn’t get along. This was not a successful little ice breaker.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yikes, that sucks. What a fail. I wonder if that’s some really avant-guard technique you’re supposed to use when things are really already terrible, but … seems likely to backfire.

    15. Temperance*

      Wow, that’s so inappropriate! I am a first-generation college graduate, and that’s my information to share.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah. It got real dark real fast when they started asking us if our parents were ever married, were divorced, if we lived in multi-generational homes, if we rented or owned our homes and what kind of homes we had (houses v. apartments v. projects v. mobile home v. foster care v. homeless, etc.), if we’d attended failing schools, if any family members were (or had been) incarcerated, if we’d received public assistance or other need-based support, etc. I’m proud of where I come from, but I’m not telling a bunch of strangers–especially ones who identify as high-SES–about my childhood experiences with poverty or my family life.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Huh, this sounds a lot like the “privilege walk” exercise, but that’s a group social justice demonstration and it’s not something you spring on people without explanation! It’s definitely not just an “icebreaker.”

    16. Kelly*

      At my first department meeting of the new school year, our department manager asked us to share the best and worst parts of our summer; actually, we had to share it with another person, and then that person reported it out to the group. I was honest about my worst thing – I was diagnosed with alopecia areata over the summer, which makes chunks of your hair fall out. I hadn’t told anyone outside of my family until that point and it was kind of a big deal to say it. Of course, everyone else punted on the worst part of their summer (it ended, I can’t think of anything, etc.), and at that point, it was too late to stop my partner, so I just had to sit there and listen while she described it (kind of inaccurately). And then no one really seemed to care. It was AWFUL.

    17. LDP*

      I’ve never had to do an icebreaker in a professional setting, but I did more than my fair share in college. My least favorite is one called “Train Wreck”. Everyone stands in a circle, and one person is in the middle. The person in the center has to say a fun fact, like their favorite color or something along those lines. So, let’s say I’m in the center. “Hi, I’m LDP, and my favorite color is pink!” Then anyone in the circle who also has pink as a favorite color has to run across the circle to another spot. Whoever is left without a spot is in the middle. It’s fun for one or two rounds, but people cheat, and it ends up usually being the same few people in the middle. It can also get uncomfortable if you don’t have a lot in common with the rest of the group. (There’s nothing like seeing someone get offended that no one else has the same favorite movie/musical artist/tv show as them).

      1. nym*

        We used to do that at girl scout camp, but it was articles of clothing – “I’m wearing blue jeans!” or “I have red on!”

        Worked great with seven-year-olds. In my office? it would be horrifying.

    18. Totally Minnie*

      My go-to ice breaker is “tell us about an interesting book/movie/magazine article/piece of music you’ve experienced recently.” People can make it as personal or innocuous as they want, and we all get recommendations for new fun stuff to enjoy.

  2. Mike C.*

    What kind of bullsh!t desk can only hold 100 lbs of weight before completely collapsing? Either your office is buying doll furniture or they’re lying.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously, these could not be real office desks (I’m thinking multiuse tables?). If I put two law books and a computer on a desk like the one at OP’s office, it would have broken by now.

      Also, how does a rinky dink desk break someone’s femur??

      1. Indoor Cat*

        The femur breaking has got me pausing. Like, unless the coworker is being somehow…like, not lying, but exaggerating, and it was really their knee that broke and their femur was bruised or something. A human femur is stronger than concrete, so a blow that cracks a femur is something that’d be forceful enough to crack sidewalk pavement; usually femurs are broken in car accidents or an accident with heavy machinery. Or a bullet. Even if a 350 lb person fell directly from the ceiling onto my lap, my femurs wouldn’t break, although there’d definitely be serious capillary damage.

        Assuming it’s some kind of worker’s comp scam is ungenerous, I know, and I’m probably overly cynical. But…the coworker didn’t accept the apology, which is something a lawyer told me to do once if I was ever in a serious car accident (neither apologize to or accept an apology from the other driver). And a flimsy desk (seriously flimsy! Just because a big dude leaned on it?) breaking a femur? Hrmmm.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I wondered about that too. I looked up femurs because I realized I didn’t know exactly what bone it was (is that shameful to admit?) and the very first thing I read was that it takes a significant amount of force to break it. Who knows, but I wondered if it was possible that it got exaggerated by colleagues in the re-telling.

          1. LouiseM*

            Yes, perhaps this is a case of telephone. If you’re not a medical professional, a lot of these words sound like mumbojumbo and are easily confused. OR perhaps this coworker is lying for some reason. Either way, this didn’t happen as stated!

            1. A.*

              Yes but even if the coworker is lying (which we have no reason to believe the coworker is lying), the employers believe him. OP second guessing the severity of the injury would have a negative impact on his job. It’s bad enough if you are named in a memo as the cause of this injury, but imagine going around questioning the legitimacy of the coworker’s injury. Not a good look. OP apologized and he should avoid talking about it moving forward.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                I don’t think anyone was suggesting that the OP should question the validity of his injury. The questions were more about trying to suss out if the OP had somehow been misinformed of the severity through the office grapevine. Which does not appear to be the case, as the OP has clarified.

                1. A.*

                  Yes but my point was more it does not matter if the OP was misinformed about the severity. The guy was injured and is missing work as a result. It does not matter if it was his femur or his kneecap. He was still injured enough to cause him to miss work. It doesn’t help the OP to speculate and the OP has chimed in to request people stop speculating.

            2. Jam Today*

              Breaking a femur, or not, is a demonstrable injury. Femur breaks are extremely serious (and if the artery is nicked or an embolus forms [common secondary condition] can become fatal very quickly, ) and recovery can be long difficult. You know right away if someone has broken their femur, both in the moment it happens and in the post-injury presentation.

            3. Autumnheart*

              Well, picture how you sit at a desk. Your femurs are supported in part by your chair but your knees are probably in space. The edge of the desktop is probably right over the midpoint of your femurs (unless you’re sitting right up against the desk which most people don’t). Dude leans against the desk, which collapses, and then 350 lbs of person plus 50 lbs of desk crap falls on top of it…that seems like more than enough leverage to break a femur.


              1. Typhon Worker Bee*

                Yeah, it’s not just the force – it’s the angle, your bone density, other medical conditions, and all kinds of other things. Maybe the LW landed partially on top of the injured coworker and they went down onto the floor together in an awkward position, e.g. with the coworker’s knee bent under them or under the chair or something like that.

                I know someone who broke her leg (lower leg, not sure which bone) just putting her foot down a bit harder than usual while coming to an emergency stop on her bike – she was completely healthy, very fit actually and only in her 40s, but she said as soon as she put her foot down she felt the bone break. Another friend broke her femur in a really minor fall when she was in her mid 20s – turned out she had a benign fibrous tumour in the bone that had weakened it. She had a limp for years after that.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Yeah some people have weaker bones due to calcium issues. My mom broke her femur from a relatively minor fall, due to calcium deficiencies.

          2. Engineer Girl*

            If someone has broken their femur you always know it. Either they are screaming in pain or passed out from it. It’s a huge deal.

            The leg muscles are so strong that they will try to collapse the broken femur. You need traction to relieve the injury.

            1. Artemesia*

              It is a potentially lethal injury; an embolism is a real risk. It is a big deal if it really happened and seems rather unlikely in this scenario unless the injured person is elderly or somehow has weak bones. My father broke his femur in a fall, but he was nearly 80.

              1. Gen*

                I know someone who broke both femurs on a bounce house but they were 12 so I guess the bone was still growing or something to make it weaker? It was a months long recovery though

            2. Bagpuss*

              I broke my femur when I was younger. I only fell about 2 feet. And I wasn’t either frail or elderly at the time!
              For what it’s worth, I wasn’t either screaming in pain or passed out when it happened – the pain didn’t kick in until the ambulance was there and they tried to move me, which was about 20 minutes after the injury. (and it was a pretty severe break – seeing the x-rays later was quite scary…)
              I ended up spending over a month in hospital and then several weeks in a cast
              In my case, I think the reason it broke was to do with the the angles involved, which effectively put a lot of leverage on my leg. I imagine you could end up with something similar if his leg was caught between 2 parts of a metal desk frame, for instance, as while femurs are strong, they probably aren’t as strong s a steel bar!

              Or it could be that someone at OPs workplace is not familiar with anatomy and he actually broke his tibia or fibula. However, the fact that he had to take so much time of work might be more consistent with a break to the femur , since it potentially means you need a hip-to-ankle cast and/or to be able to keep the leg elevated, both of which would be much harder to accommodate with a commute and at work, than if it was a lower leg break.

              That said, it doesn’t sound as though OP did anything wrong, she and her coworker were both very unlucky that the desk broken, and that he was injured.

              1. NYC Weez*

                Our friend broke a femur bowling, and literally did almost nothing to cause the injury. She brushed her leg slightly with the ball and ended up lying in the ground in pain. FWIW, although they were concerned that she had weak bones bc she was in her 30’s, nothing showed up in any of the tests they ran. She stopped telling people about it bc no one believed her when she described what had happened.

              2. CityMouse*

                My Dad broke his playing hockey. I don’t 100% have the details but it had something to do with a pileup of kids.

              3. Harper*

                I think maybe people at OP’s workplace are using the term “femur” interchangeably with tibia/fibula. It’s a leg bone, so hey! :D

              4. SparklingStars*

                My mom broke her femur several years ago simply by walking across the room at work. It turned out that the medication she had been taking to treat her osteoporosis had the side effect of making your femur extremely brittle if you took it for too long. Now she has a metal bar in her leg, and she’s on a different medication. The one good part of this story is that since it happened at work, worker’s comp paid for pretty much everything.

                1. MM*

                  An osteoporosis medication that has the side effect of weakening bones seems like maybe it should be taken off the market.

              5. Temperance*

                I know someone who broke her femur and walked around on it for several days before going to the ER. Injuries can be weird.

                1. Witty Nickname*

                  My mom broke hers and didn’t realize something was seriously wrong for two months. When I moved across the country, I actually went to say goodbye to her at her doctor’s office where she was finally having it looked at. She ended up having surgery and pins put in and having to be off it for months.

              6. Cass the Northern Lass*

                I’m an alpine ski racing coach and one of my athletes several years ago had an accident and broke his femur when he collided with a tree. I can still remember his screams before he passed out. The ski patrol was awesome – kept both of us calm and did an excellent job of stabilizing his injury. It definitely helped that one of the responding patrollers was a pediatrician for his day job.

              7. Wendy Darling*

                I think sometimes you have epic bad luck and land JUST wrong — like if anything had been an inch different you would have been okay but you apparently hit it at the magic angle and boom, broke leg.

                My friend’s kitten jumped off the couch and broke its leg once. It had jumped off the couch 20 times before but apparently this time it landed bad and bam.

            3. Violet*

              It can be quite painful, but sometimes the body has a wonderful way of protecting itself from pain for the first few minutes. I didn’t realize I’d broken my femur until I looked down and saw my misshapen leg. I didn’t feel a thing as I was pulled from the car, rode to the hospital, and waited several minutes to be wheeled to x-ray. The pain kicked in as they rolled me along what felt like the world’s bumpiest floor to the x-ray room. I’m sure it would have shown in my voice if I’d tried to talk, but I just rode along in painful silence. But I do admit to screaming on the inside.

          3. nutella fitzgerald*

            Literally the only two things I know about human anatomy are that the groin is a weak point and femurs are incredibly strong. Something isn’t adding up.

            1. sunny-dee*

              A lot of people are saying that, but, as someone pointed out, it seems like a very probable injury. You have a relatively narrow desktop and someone sitting in a chair. The desktop would fall right on the middle of the thighs, at the midpoint of the femur. Add in the force from fall, the added weight from the OP, and the small surface area of the edge of the desk, and you could easily get a broken femur. It would be comparable to getting a broken leg from getting hit by a baseball bat that someone swung really hard — it’s not a guarantee, but it’s certainly not impossible.

          4. Human*

            Usually when people have a hip fracture, it’s part of the femur that breaks, not the pelvis. Hip fractures are not uncommon in senior citizens and usually happen as a result of a (normal) fall.

            This kind of skepticism from multiple AAM commenters is really not warranted for someone who is most likely older and frail and suffering from a fairly common injury. Aren’t two of the site rules that we be kind and take the LW at their word?

            1. Perse's Mom*

              There is nothing at all in the letter to indicate the injured coworker is older or frail.

              Nobody is questioning the LW’s word; commenters seem to be questioning the injured coworker’s claim.

              1. Jam Today*

                Unless they’re the treating physician, they have no foundation to be doing that either.

            2. Loose Seal*

              It’s not that they aren’t taking the OP at her word. They are thinking the story has been exaggerated somewhat from the injured co-worker’s telling of the tale.

              1. JamieS*

                There’s absolutely no basis to think the coworker is lying and it’s incredibly unkind for people to jump to that conclusion. Quite frankly I’m getting the distinct impression people are trying to go out of their way to make the coworker out as the bad guy.

                Nobody here knows how strong the coworker’s bones are, nobody here knows the exact amount of force that was put on the coworker’s femur, the angle of the point of impact, etc., presumably nobody here is a medical professional with the co-worker as a patient (and if you were you probably wouldn’t know for sure), and OP stated the coworker broke their femur which I’m going to presume absent other details is something OP would know.

                This isn’t a coworker exaggerating the size of the fish he caught and tossed back or something else a person can easily exaggerate. This is a very serious injury that would have some sort of documentation (x-rays, doctors report, etc.) and if nothing else is something I’d think a person would be able to see. The coworker can’t really just make it up.

                1. Colette*

                  Agreed. My aunt broke her femur two weeks ago by slipping on some ice. My colleague cracked her femur in a mud run. It happens.

                  And if by some chance the coworker were lying, it wouldn’t affect what the op should do.

                2. What's with today, today?*

                  Exactly. Maybe coworker has osteoporosis, had already suffered a broken femur making it weak, maybe the coworker has a chronic disease requiring bone weakening steroids.

                3. Dust Bunny*

                  Yeah, this. I know plenty of people who have broken bones in unlikely-sounding accidents. Sometimes a blow simply lands just right (well, wrong).

                4. Tuxedo Cat*

                  Yeah. I had a normal fall and broke my front tooth. I was young and healthy, and few people believed that a young, healthy person needed a fake tooth. Sometimes, things happen.

                5. Anion*

                  I’m confused how he’s a jerk for not accepting an apology, but the chick whose arm was broken by her terrified-of-birds coworker was perfectly justified and right not to accept *his* apology.

                6. Bleeborp*

                  All good points but I am glad there is discussion about it because it’s interesting. I, like Alison, did not know which bone the femur even was so seeing a discussion like this is why I read this site! It’s very fascinating how so many people can be like “oh the femur is too strong for that!” and so many people can be like “I looked at a femur funny and it broke!” and everything in between. I just enjoy how almost any topic discussed here you’re going to see a lot perspectives! Obviously no one should go out of their way to drag the poor guy who clearly was seriously injured but he’s not actually being hurt by harmless speculation of strangers.

          5. MommyMD*

            Bone trauma can be a complicated series of events and a perfect storm can result. It’s not cut and dry. The colleague fell from a sitting position onto a hard surface, may have twisted, and a significant amount of weight/force may have hit the bone just right to cause a fracture.

            1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

              This is what I was thinking. My brother recently had a horrible leg injury in a way that sounds very dumb/unlikely, but was forceful enough to do serious damage to his distal femur. It’s not like a breaking desk falling on the leg of someone sitting at it would have the same effect as something heavy falling straight down on it with an even distribution of weight.

              Something about this line of questioning is leaving a really bad taste in my mouth, too. OP did anything wrong – the broken desk is an unfortunate freak accident – but treating the injured co-worker with suspicion is extremely weird to me.

              1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

                eek, phrasing – OP did *nothing* wrong – my brain was saying “didn’t do anything wrong” and “did nothing wrong” at the same time and my fingers didn’t commit to either choice of phrase

          6. CityMouse*

            Yeah that stood out for me too. My Dad broke his femur as a kid and it required an extensive hospital stay and surgery. He always had trouble with the leg and has had two other surgeries. Of course, technology has improved since then but he was seriously in the hospital for two months and a cast for 6. It is a really, really serious injury. I wouldn’t fault the coworker for not immediately accepting an apology as there may be some legal issues and they would be in a significant amount of pain and facing a long and painful recovery.

          7. Not So NewReader*

            The coworker could have problems with calcium loss which would mean that bones were willing to break more easily.
            Or her leg could have been pushed off to a weird angle and the physics was such that it forced the bone to break. I am thinking a cleaver type of action.
            Or it could be that her leg got caught under the desk with too much weight from the desk crashing down on the leg. It wasn’t just the weight of the desk but also the downward force of the fall.

            A sad case recently of a young man who was killed by a theater seat, when he reached down for something. Sometimes the physics of ordinary things is just in a particular manner and the force is lethal.

            There are some manufacturers out there who are making very cheap office furniture. Unless the furniture is treated with extreme care it will have a hard time holding up to daily use. We ordered a top component for our desks. The manufacturer never said anything about screwing it in place. You know what happened next. People leaned against this component and pushed it toward our laps.
            We got the top pieces screwed into place with oh-so-many screws. Those top pieces don’t move now!

            1. Ella*

              I had to google the “young man killed by a theater seat,” because it sounded so god-awful horrible, and it IS horrible, but (assuming I found the right incident and there aren’t multiple theater-seat-related deaths out there this month) it looks like the stress of being trapped caused a heart attack and he died about a week later. The theater seat didn’t…crush him, or smother him, or anything like that.

          8. PhyllisB*

            Actually, it’s easier to break a femur than we realize. My 7 year-old grand-son recently had his femur broken. He was running a relay race at school and stumbled. Before he could get up another (larger) boy crashed into him and knocked him to the ground in a way that caused it to break. My first reaction was like yours. How could that be possible? I seriously thought his bones must be weak. His doctors assured us this was not unusual and that nothing was wrong with his bones. I have since heard of others who broke their femur in ways we would think not possible. So yes, a direct forceful hit could cause an injury like this.

            1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

              Yes! I commented below – I had a classmate who broke his femur just by (literally) running into another classmate. It was a leverage thing – the position in which the fell.

          9. Jesca*

            Yeah the only people I know who have ever broken a femur were walking and got hit by cars! Now the employee may have a fragile bone issue like my uncle (Vietnam war spies in the air force apparently changed altitude rapidly a lot!), but unless that is the case their femur did not break from the weight and force of something like that! I rarely ever speak in definites, but this time? I am definitely calling bull shit on this!

          10. Anonanonanon*

            My guess is that there were complicating medical issues that made his bones easier to break.

          11. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

            Just chiming in to say – I understand that it takes a lot of force to break a femur, and it does seem kind of unlikely given the circumstances… But weird/freak accidents happen.

            When I was in grade school two classmates ran into each other, and somehow one of the boys broke his femur (I actually saw it happen – they just hit hard then went down on pavement). From what I understand it was more the position they fell in – some sort of awkward leverage type situation created the necessary. I remember it was his femur specifically because our school made a big deal about it – we took a field trip to visit the boy in the hospital (he was in traction for awhile) and wrapped it into some basic anatomy lessons. Which is kind of weird reaction by the school, but this was the 90’s and it was a tiny private school *shrug*

            1. Goosela*

              Yeah, I agree with you. I’m actually astonished by the number of people calling bullshit on the injured coworker. Freak accidents do happen. Things sometimes align just right to cause serious injury.

              I played field hockey from age 10 to age 22. Never got hurt, though I saw countless concussions, split skulls, and knocked out teeth.

              I avoided sports-related injuries…but freak accidents? I seem to attract them- I broke three fingers once catching a NERF football. Nowhere near as serious as breaking a femur due to a desk collapse…but still pretty darn absurd.

              A sconce once fell on my head while I was picking up dog poop. Got a concussion, some stitches, and a nasty knot from that…thankful it hit a wall first on its way down or else it may have killed me.

              Also gave myself a black eye opening a bag of pretzels…but I take full responsibility for that one.

          12. WinterCanStopNowPlease*

            One of our top performers broke her femur a few months back just by turning her body in a weird way. The doctors have no idea how it happened without breaking her knees instead. They found no underlying conditions. She had surgery and was off work for months. She worked from home, but it’s been a life-chancing injury for sure.

        2. okie dokie*

          It could happen – if he was on the opposite side of the desk leaning and the legs on the opposite side collapsed it would drive the edge of the desk into the leg – and with 350 lbs behind it it could easily break the femur.

          1. MommyMD*

            Yes okie. Very feasible. It bugs me that the injured party is being accused of malingering. It could happen with less force in this scenario.

          2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            I sit with my legs fully extended resting on an upside down garbage can under my desk. I imagine (now) if my desk goes down, my legs will snap like the ice blocks in Karate Kid 3.

          3. Dust Bunny*

            This exactly: A fairly considerable amount of weight focused on a narrow point of impact could totally cause serious injury.

        3. Engineer Girl*

          Actually it’s all about angles. My cube mate broke his femur when he went over the handlebars of his bike. I had the same accident and only broke my hand. We landed differently.

          Femur breaks are extremely serious. You have to be under traction until it heals. There’s a possibility of severing arteries. And there is always physical therapy for it. Scary stuff.

          But a femur break from a collapsing desk is a freak accident. And I think the facilities guy is trying to blame the OP because he ordered a desk that couldn’t handle normal office use.

          1. Indoor Cat*

            Oh, whoa. I didn’t know that could happen. That’s pretty intense.

            For the record, IANAD, so, I just knew about the femur-concrete thing from pop culture. It makes sense that a very precise hit, like a lot of mass hitting a small area would have greater force, it’s just an unusual visual.

            1. Wintermute*

              yeah, a femur break is a **big deal**, there’s several potential life-threatening complications and it requires weeks of immobilization in a hip-to-foot cast under traction. You look like you’re from a cartoon, with your limb suspended in the air and plaster all over.

              But as others have said, very possible in just a complete freak accident, serious Final Destination stuff, where a table edge has weight applied just right to get enough leverage to concentrate the force along a certain line in the bone, etc.

          2. Not Australian*

            “I think the facilities guy is trying to blame the OP because he ordered a desk that couldn’t handle normal office use.”

            Ding ding ding, we have a winner! And in fact both the OP and her colleague could have a claim against the employer arising from this accident, so clearly the facilities manager is doing his best to deflect the blame to try to avoid that. OP could do a lot worse than to consult a lawyer. (Assuming you’re not in a union, OP; if you were, they would be the starting-point.)

              1. Specialk9*

                I really appreciate the anger at the facilities guy and at the quality of the desk. What kind of person loudly and publicly fat shames someone who already feels awful? Oh, hey, how about someone who bought cheap furniture and is trying to deflect blame? It’s pretty ugly.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Yeah, I get that OP might not be the first person you choose to stand on a desk to reach something stuck to the ceiling. But I view standing on a desk as a rare but normal thing that would happen in normal use.

              1. Yorick*

                Yeah, this must have been a really poor desk. I’m almost as heavy as OP describes and I routinely lean on my desk in a similar way. I lean on it more heavily than that when I clean the space behind my monitor. I stood on a previous office desk before with no problem.

              2. Elizabeth H.*

                I would not think twice about standing on my desk if I needed to reach something on the ceiling. I’m only about 120 lbs but I feel like it wouldn’t give my pause if one of our tall, male IT people were standing on it either. Like, it’s a desk. Not crazy to expect it to be a stable piece of furniture.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  Okay, I do recall a parenting story in which the furniture salesman foolishly told the mom of 10 that a dozen children could dance on this table and it would be fine, where 1 of the 10 children could hear, and the children believed him and got some friends and tried it. But that’s an extreme case.

                2. Cercis*

                  Falling Diphthong – that’s either Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, or an Erma Bombeck. Potentially could be Theresa Bloomingdale (“I Should Have Seen it Coming When the Rabbit Died”) but seems like something from Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. (Why yes, I read a lot of humorous parenting books – why do you ask?)

              3. CmdrShepard4ever*

                I will admit I have leaned on and stood on desks before. But standing on a desk is not normal use that is not what it is designed for or meant to be used. Desk manufacturers would not have to account for that. Currently I have what I believe is a solid wood desk that I believe I could stand on if I wanted to, but I have also worked with cheaper particle board type wood desks that can hold a computer, books and other equipment just fine but that I would not stand on or lean on because it could break.

                I think this is just an unfortunate accident with no real blame to go around. It is understandable and reasonable for the OP to have leaned on the desk. It was reasonable for the person who ordered the desk to think 100 lb weight limit to be more than enough, I would be shocked if everything on my desk right now went over 50 lbs.

                1. VermiciousKnit*

                  As a former interior designer, no. While a home office desk might be that flimsy, absolutely no desk manufactured and approved for commercial use would have a weight limit so low. It is known that desks sometimes have people standing on them, or they must hold a large number of books and materials. A desk with a 100-lb weight limit was a residential-use desk and inappropriate for an office, full stop.

                2. Anjay*

                  I’m pretty sure I remember an actual case from Torts class on this – it was about chairs, not desks, but IIRC the court ruled that standing on chairs is a foreseeable use of those products, and so making chairs which can’t stand up to the foreseeable use opens you up to liability. Standing on desks isn’t the first thing you’d use them for, but it is a foreseeable use. 100 pounds is a ridiculous weight limit.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              I’ve never heard of facilities management actually making the decisions on purchasing furniture, though, so I rather suspect they’re getting pressure from somebody higher up.

              1. Luna*

                Yes, usually someone else is deciding this. I don’t think we would be doing the OP any favors by telling her she should start pointing fingers at other people or hiring lawyers.

                1. Specialk9*

                  I don’t know about others, not personally I wasn’t suggesting lawyers, just pointing out that guy was deeply unkind, and in a way that sounds like he feels guilty and is trying to blame shift. So in other words, OP shouldn’t take on the guilt he’s trying to heap on their head.

              2. else*

                Yeah, at my previous job, an office manager with a lot of seniority got to choose all of the new furniture because she wanted to and had a lot of personal capital, without any consideration of what people actually wanted to do with it or what facilities thought would work best for cleaning and so forth. We ended up with too many uncomfortable chairs, not enough tables, none of the new tech furniture we had wanted, and facilities had to create all kinds of new holes in new furniture in order to get them to take wires the way we needed. Furniture decisions aren’t necessarily made by people who have anything to do with either the care or use of that furniture.

            3. Anonanonanon*

              A desk that can only hold 100 lbs is way too flimsy. Leaning on a desk is such a normal thing to do! If their desks really are that crappy, they should be replacing them, not sending memos.

            4. Hey Nonnie*

              Yeah, I’m pretty boggled at the 100 pounds claim. My desk at work holds two monitors, which are probably 40 pounds each. Add in the monitor risers, phone, keyboard, etc. and it would probably only take a decent-sized textbook to go over 100 pounds. So that seems like an unreasonably low weight rating for everyday office use.

              1. Autumnheart*

                You’d have to be using old CRT monitors for them to be 40 lbs each. That’s how much a 55″ LCD TV weighs. A typical 27″ LCD monitor weighs 18 lbs.

                1. Hey Nonnie*

                  One of them is an all-in-one and is much heavier than the other, so perhaps 40ish pounds plus 25-30 for the other one.

                  They’re also quite big. I never measured them but at a guess more than 35″.

                  The monitor risers came later, so I had to lift these suckers from the desk onto the risers, and they are heavy.

                2. Autumnheart*

                  Again, the only way a monitor or an all-in-one could approach that weight is if it had a CRT monitor (tube screen). There has not been a computer or monitor built in the last 15 years that came anywhere close to 30 lbs, much less 40. I know that for a fact.

                  So in that respect, a 100 lb rating for an office desk seems pretty light (certainly the desks at my office can hold more weight than that—people have stood on them without any sign of instability) but not obscenely so.

                3. Hey Nonnie*

                  By all means double down on discounting my personal experience so you can prove to the internetz how right you are. Whatever you say, dear.

                  Regardless, office desks often need to support substantial weight in computers, reams of paper, binders, files, etc.; so a 100-pound weight rating is very low for practical, usable office furniture. Generally if someone has to worry that bumping into a desk with your hip is going to cause it to collapse, that’s a bad thing.

              2. Ozma the Grouch*

                Yeah, it strikes me as obscene that a table/desk is rated as holding less weight than a chair, to the point that an “average” adult (google says that the average worldwide adult weight is 137lbs) couldn’t even safely lean/stand on this desk. From what I can tell these tables were meant for children’s play rooms, not offices.

              1. 2nd shift*

                As a small part of my job I manage a group of “facilities guys”. Let’s just say there’s a reason why they end up in facilities instead of a job that takes a lot more mental capacity to perform. They are certainly not qualified (nor could they do the math involved) to determine how much weight a desk can hold. A person with those abilities usually ends up on a different career path.

                1. Specialk9*

                  I work closely with Facilities in my work, and find them to be smart and capable, and very responsible. Just so you know that’s not a universal.

          3. CityMouse*

            The coworker.may be upset and lashing out, but they are seriously, seriously injured. They should not be made out as the bad guy for still being upset at OP.

            1. Specialk9*

              Yeah, I don’t like that the broken leg guy is blaming the co-worker, but I get that he’s in pain and may settle down later. It’s everyone else who’s being awful that I am angry at for bullying this OP.

            2. Sara*

              I’ve broken my femur by slipping on a wet floor, and you’re pretty much speechless due to shock. You are also trying not to throw up. And then you get to spend a good chunk in the hospital, likely with emergency surgery and living on pain meds, peeing in a tray and unable care for yourself. The person isn’t being rude by not accepting OP’s apology, they are trying to live with a fairly traumatic experience and get through it. One day you can really chat it out, but for now, send some flowers and deliver their favourite hot drink to them as a start!

        4. OP 2*

          His femur is most definitely broken. I’m not sure how someone could lie about a broken bone and took paramedics and doctors and the government. I don’t know why I’m not being believed here. I don’t have proof to give. I didn’t think I would be questioned be sure of the policy to believe those who wrote in. Sorry Alison and others don’t believe me

          1. Kathletta*

            I don’t know why people aren’t believing you and turning your question into something it isn’t (about some kind of scam).

            I’m sorry this is happening to you OP! I agree with Alison that if you just act normal then everyone else will as well. It’s just an accident after all!

          2. Human*

            I second you and don’t understand why people are reacting with such skepticism. The Wikipedia page for hip fracture even says that the most common cause is an elderly person sustaining a low-energy fall. It also says that there’s a 20% chance of mortality within a year after a hip fracture, so I really feel bad for the guy. He’s going through something incredibly challenging and scary; it’s quite understandable if he doesn’t feel up for accepting an apology.

          3. Indoor Cat*

            Sorry OP2. I didn’t mean to imply that you were lying, just that your co-worker was. I thought maybe they were trying to pull one over on you somehow.

            But, I take it back. I can see how this can happen in a case where nobody is lying, and I shouldn’t have assumed that your coworker is someone of poor character. I apologize.

          4. EMW*

            I don’t think anyone isn’t believing you. Just pointing out that it’s possible work or your coworker had exaggerated the injury since an injury to the femur is very severe.

            The whole situation is very unfortunate and your workplace is treating you horrible.

          5. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh my goodness, no — I don’t think anyone meant to imply they didn’t believe you! I think people were just wondering if there had been a miscommunication when the injury got reported, or even if your coworker might have exaggerated the situation. No one is doubting you!

            It’s not helpful speculation anyway, and I can see why it’s frustrating to you as the person who knows what happened, so I’ll ask everyone that we leave that part of the discussion here and focus on advice for you.

          6. MommyMD*

            I don’t know why it’s being questioned either OP. I feel very bad for you in all of this. It will take time but it will blow over.

          7. Wintermute*

            For what it’s worth I think people are going “what? that? that’s unlikely!” because it is… the femur, ounce for ounce, is stronger than concrete, a cube the size of a casino die could hold a semi truck. What happened to you is some seriously bad luck.

            And that just underscores Alison’s point I think: you suffered extraordinary bad luck and your co-worker suffered even worse bad luck. Leaning on a desk does not normally result in someone breaking the strongest bone in the human body, people lean on desks every day, I’ve leaned on at least two I recall today, most of my co-workers have leaned on a desk today, so far the number of femurs broken remains thankfully zero.

            The severity of the injury just goes to strengthen the point that this was a freak occurance and no one could have seen or predicted, If you go around your whole life in fear of accidents this unlikely you’d never move a piano again.

            1. Specialk9*

              Yeah exactly. OP, we’re VERY SYMPATHETIC to you. Any questioning is not of you or your account, but on your behalf, because we’re angry at how your work has treated you (and because something sounds fishy in the way they’re publicly heaping blame on your head). It’s a very sympathetic (to you) skepticism of how trustworthy the people at work are in what they say.

          8. CityMouse*

            My actual advice: keep your head down for a while, be kind and sympathetic, but avoid talking about it as much as possible. There may be legal issues and you should avoid making any part of this gossip. I don’t think trying to publicly defend yourself is a good idea because it can backfire easily. Be kind, hope it blows over. If it doesn’t, consider job searching as this was a big and traumatic enough event that it may be hard to avoid the associtation. I wish I had better or more pleasant advice, but I don’t.

            1. Luna*

              +1. Act as normal as possible; don’t bring it up and if people try to ask you about it keep any responses short, generic and sympathetic (“yes it was a terrible accident, horrible that coworker got hurt so badly, hope he recovers soon” kind of stuff). Don’t try to point fingers at facilities or the desk manufacturer, and don’t accuse your coworker of being a jerk for not accepting your apology. I know human nature is to want people to not be mad at us, but that doesn’t mean anyone is obligated to accept an apology, as uncomfortable as that might make us. You didn’t do this on purpose so you don’t have to go around beating yourself up but your coworker is very badly injured and has a right to his own emotions while he deals with this.

              1. Specialk9*

                Great advice!

                Also, think of anxiety reducing methods, because when though you should not have to take on guilt for this, it’s fairly human to do so anyway.

                I recommend:
                *Chamomile tea (if you don’t like the flavor, add another bag of a flavor you prefer, like mint or berry)
                *One of those rice- or oatmeal- filled socks that get warm in the microwave (for shoulders or belly or back)
                *A stress reducing essential oil roller (I like chamomile, melissa, and neroli oils) at your pulse points. (Essential oils can be less difficult for some people fragrance allergies – this is true for me – but they can still bug some people, so ask.)

          9. Yetanotherjennifer*

            OP, I think the people who are expressing doubt about your story feel a strong sense of empathy with you and are hoping to mitigate the awfulness for you. They are doubting the situation, not you, and only in the hopes of being able to say, “See OP, it’s not so bad, Coworker’s femur couldn’t have possibly broken.”

            I can tell you feel terrible about the situation, but you are also entitled to some righteous indignation. Your coworker and facilities manager are being jerks. Freak accidents happen and can happen to anyone.

            1. Colette*

              The facilities manager is deflecting blame. If you want to call her a jerk, that’s up to you. But the co-worker had a broken femur and is entitled to handle it however he wants. Unless this happened years ago, he’s probably still in a lot of pain and not back to his normal life, and accepting an apology/reassuring the OP is not his first priority. It wasn’t the OP’s fault – she used furniture in a normal way, she wasn’t trying to injure anyone – but the co-worker took the brunt of the accident and ended up with a life-threatening injury. He’s allowed to be angry about that.

            2. Luna*

              I completely disagree. While OP’s name should not have been mentioned in that email, I don’t think she is entitled to righteous indignation of any kind and acting that way will only make her look bad. I don’t understand why people think the facilities manager is to blame for the desk breaking- I doubt they are the ones in control of what gets ordered and how much money is spent on furniture, and they certainly didn’t manufacture the desk. I have no idea whether 100lbs is a standard amount for office desks to be able to hold but if it is then how would facilities control that?
              OP, this situation sucks but you will only make it worse for yourself if you try to blame others for what happened.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                Where I work facilities management IS in control of what gets ordered and the furniture regulations, that seems like the norm/default to me. I think most people are pointing out that 100 lb maximum weight is very flimsy for office furniture.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  Since you worked in facilities management I will defer to your expertise, but I don’t think 100 lbs is flimsy, I think that would reasonable support everything you would need on a desk. Right now I have a desktop, 2 monitors, desk lamp, phone, and various office supplies (pens, stapler, tape) and papers on my desk and I would be shocked if all that was more than 50 lbs. I agree leaning on a desk is a think that is commonly done, but that does not make it right or mean that office have to order furniture with that use in mind. People commonly speed 5/10 mph over the limit, jaywalk, or lots of other things, but it is still against the law.

                2. Luna*

                  But that isn’t the case everywhere so we shouldn’t be assuming it is in OP’s company without having that information. I’ve never worked anywhere that had facilities in control of ordering.

                3. Fiennes*

                  I disagree, CmdrShepard. A desk that isn’t for small children should absolutely be able to withstand more than 100 pounds. Put a desktop and printer on there, and you’re well on your way. Besides, yes, the desks should stand up to things that aren’t ordinary day to day but will, in the fullness of office life, inevitably happen. What if someone stumbles nearby and catches their fall on your desk? Do you think it’s AOK that it would come crashing down on you?

                  People lean. People stumble. People carry heavy things and put them down in the wrong place. IT HAPPENS. Anything—office equipment or otherwise—that is designed to only hold up under ideal conditions is by definition unreliable junk.

                4. fposte*

                  @Fiennes–in fact, now that I think about it, it’s pretty common for somebody to lean on the desk when they’re standing up from the desk chair or to push against the desk to push the chair back.

                5. zora*

                  Agreeing with fposte. I have put my full weight on my desk when reaching to access the wall above my desk. A regular office desk should definitely be able to hold more than 100lbs, that is not much at all!

                6. Anion*

                  Yes, but I don’t think standard office desks are ever designed to hold over 400lbs. of weight, figuring all the stuff that would have been on the desk before OP leaned on it. Whether the desk was designed to hold 100 or 200 lbs., it’s still extremely doubtful that it would be designed to hold over 300.

                7. Clare*

                  I posted about this downthread, but we might also be misunderstanding the 100 lb limit comment made by the facilities manager. 100 lbs spread out over the whole surface area is different than 100 lbs of weight and pressure on one spot. It might be that the desks can hold more than 100 lbs over the whole desk, but not 100+ lbs all concentrated in one spot on the surface.

                8. Genny*

                  OP has mentioned the government being involved, which makes me think she works in a government facility. If that’s the case and if she works in a federal facility, there are a ton of rules about how much you can spend, what kind of furniture you can buy, etc. Facilities may do the procurement, but they have very strict bounds in which they can operate.

                9. JamieS*

                  100 pounds is arguably flimsy but OP didn’t put 100 pounds on the desk so that seems like a moot and irrelevant point to me. The desk collapsed under close to 400 pounds (including the other stuff on the desk) and I wouldn’t consider an office desk to be flimsy because it can’t withstand that.

              2. Arjay*

                If the facilities guy has nothing to do with the furniture, then maybe he shouldn’t be making declarations about how much the desk can support, how much weight the OP put on it, or how the OP leaned/sat against it when he didn’t see it happen.

            3. Blue Eagle*

              Obviously you have never had a broken bone. Let me tell you it is no fun to be in a cast, have traction, have a plate inserted next to the bone to assist in the healing process. And then once it is healed you have to go through all the physical therapy.

              For me, it wouldn’t matter if the person did it on purpose or it was an accident, I would not accept their apology as though I should just go on as nothing has happened – – – because it was a MAJOR thing for me to go through but they can easily put it behind them as there is no further physical trauma for them.

              Whether it is a femur or a tibia or a knee, whether the the bone is broken in half or just partially broken – regardless of what the actual injury is, the fact is that the victim sustained a major injury that will require major recovery and will be a major inconvenience. And so many of you commenters just expect the poor victim to absolve the LW just like that. What about the poor victim! Where is the call for the LW to do something to make the victim whole! The victim is NOT a jerk, but someone who has to endure a major disruption to their life.

              p.s. this is a call-out to the commenters and not to the LW who has never referred to the victim as a jerk or said anything negative about the victim.

              1. Gorgo*

                What exactly ~is~ accepting an apology to you?

                Saying “I know you didn’t do this on purpose” isn’t the same as saying “this doesn’t suck” or “you weren’t the cause.”

                You would communicate that you knew something was an accident but wouldn’t forgive it? That’s just cruel.

              2. Anna*

                I don’t think forgiving someone is the same as going on as if nothing happened. But not forgiving them implies (especially in this case) it was malicious. I feel like a lot of people on here like to hold grudges just for the sake of knowing they were the wronged party. Maybe now isn’t the time for the coworker to forgive, but I would be hard-pressed to see the benefit of not acknowledging that it was an accident and forgiving OP’s role in it. What could the coworker possibly get out of not forgiving the OP?

                1. myswtghst*

                  “But not forgiving them implies (especially in this case) it was malicious.”

                  Not necessarily. It could imply that the coworker is still in a lot of pain and figuring out how to deal with the situation, or that they interpreted advice from a lawyer or union rep to mean they should not to accept an apology from *anyone* at work in case it would impact a worker’s comp claim, or, if the apology was via text/email, it could imply the coworker just hasn’t gotten around to responding yet because they’re busy with their own recovery.

                  In this situation, I think it’s best for OP to give their coworker the benefit of the doubt, as well as some time and space to heal, and to be as kind as possible if and when they have to work together again. Assuming the worst isn’t going to help OP, and shaming the coworker who is dealing with a serious injury isn’t helping anyone.

              3. Delphine*

                The LW didn’t do anything that requires absolving. She isn’t required to do anything to make the victim “whole”. She didn’t lean on the desk and know it would break and hurt her coworker.

          10. Nita*

            I’m sorry about all the skepticism, it’s pretty ridiculous. Also, sorry this happened to you both. It was definitely a freak accident, and if that desk could really hold only 100 pounds it was completely inappropriate and unsafe for an office. Most adults weigh over 100 pounds, and most adults think nothing of leaning on desks because normal desks don’t collapse when they do that. If anything, this is facilities’ fault – either they bought really bad furniture, or they didn’t assemble it properly. Even strong furniture can collapse spectacularly when the screws that should hold it together are loose or missing. I also think the memo that called you and the injured coworker out by name was really inappropriate – it seems like publicly shaming you for this.

            1. Alton*

              Plus, I doubt the OP was putting her entire weight on the desk. There’s a difference between sitting on something and leaning on it while some of your weight is still distributed on the floor.

              1. Positive Reframer*

                True but leaning at an angle against it could with less weight could be more likely to cause it to break than sitting or standing directly on it with all your weight. Desks would be designed to handle downward pressure from weight but maybe not as much the more uneven and levered pressure of leaning against it.

                If the issue is with the desks then the company is likely going to explore the option of trying to hold them liable in whole or in part. In the mean time, its not like they are going to come in overnight and replace all the desks, so to avoid further issues they have to address it somehow to help cover themselves.

            2. myswtghst*

              Agreed on all counts. This really sounds like an unfortunate accident that caused harm to both OP and their coworker, which their workplace is now making that much worse by calling out people by name in the memo.

          11. Temperance*

            I’m sorry that you went through this, that your coworker ended up with a serious injury, and that some people might be doubting you. I think that it’s more of a case of thinking that your injured colleague is exaggerating things, for some reason … but that’s also not okay.

          12. else*

            I think people are doing the thing where they try so hard to figure out why something bad that happened is unlikely to happen to THEM that they are coming across as doubting your account. Normal but irritating thing for people to do, and I don’t think that they actually doubt you at all.

        5. MommyMD*

          I’ve seen and treated many femur fractures over the years and this scenario is not inconsistent with causing one. It depends on the fall, the angle, the weight, the patient’s underlying bone structure and any underlying problems. I wouldn’t be so fast to dismiss it or minimize it. JMO.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            My boss fell, she landed in a sitting position. She broke her back. It’s the physics of the fall plus the person’s over all health.

            Later, I made the same fall in front of her, and she was beside herself. My fall was different. I kept my body upward and forward a little bit AND I landed on a wood floor. She landed on concrete. I was fine.

            1. PhyllisB*

              Ugh!! Years ago I slipped on wet carport, fell in a sitting position and it broke my tailbone. I had three children by natural childbirth and this hurt more than all that pain together. It was two years before I could sit or stand comfortably. As a side-note a couple of years ago I had an x-ray done (can’t remember why now) that showed the pelvic region. My doctor was puzzled why the pelvis was out of line. I said probably from breaking my tail-bone years ago. He asked me why I didn’t come to him at the time of injury. I asked him what was he going to do about it? Put my butt in a sling? After he quit laughing he acknowledged there was nothing he could have done.

        6. Slartibartfast*

          Brute force isn’t the only factor at play when it comes to bones breaking, though. There’s a lot of dynamic motion, twisting and whatnot, as the desk is collapsing, and if that motion gets concentrated in a small area, then it’s totally plausible. The front edge of the desk perpendicular to the thigh, if the desktop wasn’t flat to the coworker’s lap at the time of impact, for example, could create a large amount of force on a small enough area to break a bone. Particularly if the leg is trapped with one end in a chair and the other with nothing supporting it. There’s also different types of fracture, which would take far too long to get into here. But for what it’s worth, as someone from a medical background, this accident resulting in a broken femur seems easily possible.

        7. I Love Thrawn*

          A few weeks ago, my 75 year old ex co worker (maint. guy) broke his femur right in front of me. I was holding the door for him, he somehow got twisted up in his cane and/or his leg weakened, and he went down, and then fell backwards on to the concrete walk. In the process he broke his femur. He was probably about 180. Nothing fell on him, just his own body weight, I guess.

        8. theanagrace*

          Fun Fact of the Day! In Canada saying sorry is such a common vocal tic that it isn’t considered an admission of guilt, but an expression of sympathy. So in Canada after a car accident you can say sorry and still not assume fault.

            1. Morticia*

              For us it’s normal. The joke is that one day we’ll take over the world, and then everyone will be sorry. ;)

          1. Specialk9*

            I believe that’s actually true in the US too. Lawyers have posted that in threads here before. “I’m sorry” is such a common utterance and means so many things other than “I admit to full and complete responsibility for this situation”.

        9. JAnon*

          Agreed! I know one person who broke a femur, and they were driving and slammed into a wall, so their leg compressed at speed. A desk falling should not break a femur. Not to mention that a desk should hold more than 100 lbs. With a computer, standing desk, and other things on mine,it would have collapsed already if that was the case!

        10. PNW Flowers*

          You’re not this person’s MD, so you really can’t say they didn’t break their femur. People have all kinds of conditions that may weaken their bones, or it got caught at just the right angle, etc. You don’t really get to declare there is no way their femur is broken. People break their femurs from ground level falls FREQUENTLY. It’s a big deal. Also, its certainly possible the coworker fell on the employee. 350 lbs would certainly break most/a lot of bones.

            1. PNW Flowers*

              Nope, speaking to all the commentators like Princess CBH who think they somehow know all there is to know re: fractures. Hint- they don’t.

              1. Specialk9*

                She’s already said that wasn’t her intent, she was pointing out it was a freak accident.

        11. Kate 2*

          But is a human femur that strong in all ways? Or is it like an egg, strong one way, easy to break when pressure is applied a very particular way?

          Gotta say I find it entirely believable that 350 pounds plus desk plus computer landing on top of someone’s legs would break one of them! Maybe this person had their legs (femurs) crossed and the one broke the other with all the weight behind it?

          1. Anion*

            Yes, I’m not getting the idea that roughly 400 lbs. weight (or more, if the desk weighs thirty pounds or so and has a computer and books and such on it, it could easily be 100 lbs. on its own) is not enough to break a human bone. If that’s not enough, then jeez, what does it take? I’ve seen people who weigh roughly what the OP weighs break their own legs or ankles just by tripping over stuff, and nobody tells them it’s not enough weight to break the bone.

            Nancy Kerrigan’s knee was jacked up from being hit by nowhere near that amount of weight/pressure. So why the disbelief?

        12. JustaTech*

          I went to camp one year in high school with a guy who had broken his femur playing basketball (just fell wrong), so it is possible, but very unusual.

        13. Totally Minnie*

          I have a friend with a bone disease. He’s broken both of his femurs over the course of his life so far. Maybe the coworker with the broken leg is in a similar positon.

        14. Safetykats*

          Okay – from an engineering perspective what needs to be understood here is the difference between a distributed load and a non-distributed load, and the difference between an accelerated impact and a non-accelerated load. Your desk might be rated for over 100lbs if distributed load – but less than that amount, applied as a side-load in a manner that causes torque to a sing,e support might easily collapse it. Your femur is a strong bone, but an accelerated impact to a single point on the bone – as might be caused by a sudden collapse of a desk, and impact of the weight of the desk and everything on it concentrated on a single point on the bone, with the leg in a horizontal position and constrained by the lower leg (and floor) on one and and the chair on the other… the femur is a strong bone, but the physics is against you. Really, there is simply no way to say this couldn’t happen.

          The lesson about the desk is simply that all furniture should be used only for it’s intended purpose. Chairs are for sitting in, not standing in. Desks are for sitting at, not sitting or leaning on. Bookcases are for holding books, not using as ladders. Bureaus are for holding clothes, not televisions (and that particular misuse us still killing children at a horrible rate). You simply cannot blame the furniture for failing when it’s been used outside its design basis.

      2. Greg M.*

        actually I can picture that, because well they were leaning and suddenly what they were leaning on gave way so the probably fell with it driving a solid piece of particle board into the person’s leg.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I apologize if I gave the impression that a desk can’t break a femur—of course it can! I was more trying to convey that it sounds like a freak accident (albeit a very serious and dangerous one), not an injury that OP could have foreseen or prevented prior to leaning on the desk.

      3. Valegro*

        A client of mine fell out of his wooden desk chair and broke his femur on the leg of the base. He wasn’t elderly. It can happen.

      4. BananaRama*

        At my work we had a woman knock the desk when she was putting away her purse and the whole thing, monitors and all, fell on her. She had a severe concussion and something happened to a disk in her upper back. Facilities said a screw must have been loose for the desk to collapse like that. She was on worker’s comp for a significant period of time.

        Sometimes it’s all about hitting things at precisely the right/wrong angle to cause maximum damage.

        1. Nita*

          Yeah. Freak accidents happen. A coworker of mine was talking to someone behind me, and leaning on the bookcase that separated our cubicles. Somehow the entire bookcase tipped over and fell on me. I didn’t see it coming of course, and the only reason it didn’t smash my head in was that the back of my chair stopped it. I ended up with a nasty bruise on the back of my neck, but luckily that was all. He was really shaken and texted me after I went home to make sure I wasn’t getting worse. I’d like to think that even if I’d gotten hurt more seriously, I would still have been understanding that it was an accident – but who knows, people think differently when they’re looking at a long recovery that puts them out of work and possibly in financial trouble…

          I don’t know how this happened – he’s not that burly, he wasn’t leaning on it hard, and no one had noticed it being unstable before – my best guess is that the way I’d loaded it with books made it easier to tip. I took the heaviest books off the bottom shelf after that and thankfully, it never fell again.

      1. LS*

        I’m also a heavy person and check weight limits, and a lot of furniture has ridiculously low weight limits, presumably to avoid lawsuits. Most toilet seats, for example, are only guaranteed to 45kg/99lb. Most desk chairs to 45kg/120lb. Just because that’s the official tested limit doesn’t mean that it will actually only hold 100lb. It’s ridiculous to blame OP #2 for it, but this is an actual nightmare of mine, and the same for a lot of fat people, I suspect.

        1. Tardigrade*

          Most desk chairs to 45kg/120lb.

          Wait, this is less than the average weight of people. What?!

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Ugh, tell me about it. Every so many years my friends get treated to my angry ranting while I search for a new desk chair for my home.

          (My most recent chair has lasted admirably — which it damn well should, for the price I paid! But I’ve also had to have movers get it when changing homes, because it’s extraordinarily heavy for a standard rolly desk chair.)

        3. Mockingjay*

          I just tried to look up weight capacities for office desks. I couldn’t find any listed by retailers or manufacturers, or in standards (ANSI, etc.). I did find lots of people asking the same question.

          You’d think that load weight would be calculated and listed somewhere for office furniture.

          1. One legged stray cat*

            I looked up the cheap desks in Ikea. Some are indeed only rated for 150 lbs and only with the weight evenly distributed and not at one point. Seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Standing/sitting desks are the worse. A lot are just rated for 40lbs or so. Most desks though are rated for 300 lbs.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I got a secondhand Ikea loft bed when my son was in fourth grade or so. I looked up the assembly instructions online and saw that the bed was rated for 125 lbs. My fourth-grader weighed about 75 pounds at the time, and that’s just the weight of someone standing still; it doesn’t account for climbing up and down the ladder, tossing and turning in the middle of the night, etc. I ended up not using that bed because I didn’t want my child climbing up some flimsy contraption.

              Tl;dr furniture shouldn’t be so flimsy, and people’s standing-still weight isn’t the maximum stress they put on furniture.

        4. Former Retail Manager*

          I have recently been shopping for a new bed frame, a metal one, and I was astonished to see what I would consider very low weight limits on a metal bed frame that itself weighs 300 pounds, but cannot hold more than 425? That seems off to me. My husband and I combined are right around 500. I had no idea about desk chairs and hadn’t considered the lawsuit angle. Thanks for sharing. The struggle is indeed real.

        5. Amelia*

          120? That’s crazy. What percentage of adults weigh under 120? I wouldn’t get more than 20%.
          A quick google search says the average weight of an American is 178lbs.

          1. Ozma the Grouch*

            The worldwide average adult weight is 137 (also according to google). So even when you go global 120lbs is too low.

        6. Cornflower Blue*

          I once had a desk chair break under me within 2 months of purchase. I grew up small (under 50kg until my twenties/stuff happened) so I was not prepared for how drastically different my world would be when my weight doubled. My friend, who’s been a bigger girl all her life, told me that I cannot sit cross-legged on desk chairs like I used to because they are not made to take weight like ours.

          It’s a constant fear of mine that my office chair will break and now I’m going to add ‘accidentally injuring coworker’ to said fear. And definitely NOT lean on anyone’s desk.

          Poor LW, I hope the coworker calms down soon and the furnishing dude pulls his head out of the sand. Blaming her weight for the furniture being shoddy is just cruel.

    2. paul*

      They could be buying that RTA stuff and putting it together wrong. About the only possibility I can think of.

      I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ve got north of 100 lbs of crap on my desk at my office and it’s like…third hand (but might be a decent brand) between my monitors, tower, tons of books, a couple of file boxes, and assorted office supplies.

      1. All. Is. On.*

        A former co-worker and I used to have desks facing each other with no divider, and one summer she got really into feng shui and talked me into splitting the cost of a fish tank and goldfish to ‘nurture the workspace’. She left shortly after and now four years later I’m stuck with a 45 lb fish tank I have to clean every other week. It just occurred to me what a nightmare it would be if the desk broke!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Sigh. I remember waiting for the fish to die so we could retire the tank. Stubborn little buggers.

          1. Oxford Coma*

            This is why you never get live bearers. I am stuck forever unless I want to start euthanizing fish, which I only do in cases of severe illness or injury. The fry are too small and too fast to catch!

    3. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Yeah, this.

      Over here the facility management people regularly STAND on the desks when repairing over head lights.

      And one of them is a big burly two meters tall block of solid muscle. His biceps is bigger than my thigh! And our desks don’t break under his weight!

      Are those desks made of cardboard?

      1. Gatomon*

        Exactly! Are these the kind of office furniture you might find at a big box store? I’ve had that particle board furniture literally disintegrate with a bit of force applied in the right direction (but even then it takes years for it to get to that point).

      2. Mustache Cat*

        big burly two meters tall block of solid muscle. His biceps is bigger than my thigh

        Sooooo….can anyone call maintenance or…..?

      3. Not So NewReader*

        In retail, companies have policies not to stand on crates and other questionable items. However, people still do it all the time. If they get injured the response is, “You were told not to do that.”

        1. Someone else*

          That’s exactly what I was thinking. And I KNOW I’ve put a couple of those boxes on a desk at one time for one reason or another. 100lbs is an absurdly low limit for a desk in this century.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        No joke–I work in a library and, except for one ridiculous and much-hated set of tables, everything we his this workplace using, fourth-hand IKEA??

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Ugh, website is being weird today . . . except for that one set of tables, everything we have is built like a brick [out]house, because books are heavy and institutional furniture takes a beating. What is this place using, fourth-hand IKEA??

    4. JamieS*

      I’ve seen desks that I seriously doubt would hold a normal sized adult’s weight. It’s pretty obvious just from looking at them though which makes me wonder what the desk looked like because either OP’s office is full of it or it should have been obvious people shouldn’t be leaning on them.

    5. PB*

      I completely agree! A couple years ago, when we were getting our carpets cleaned, I stacked all the rest of my office furniture on top of my desk, including a couple carts of books. The desk didn’t so much as creak.

    6. Kittymommy*

      Quite frankly, no matter who was leaning on the desk, facilities bought a crappy piece of furniture. I’m trying to think of a work desk that only holds 100 lbs. While would think that’s a good purchase??? How about instead of sending out an email “warning” everyone about the incident (and imo, trying to body shame people) the workplace stop taking the cheap route and get actual office furniture.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


        Honestly, buying desks that collapse when someone leans on them is pretty shockingly negligent. Your furniture should be able to stand up to normal expected use, and leaning on a desk is pretty damn normal!

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Normal use is not the same as intended use under the law. It is like smoke shops that sell tobacco pipes and other tobacco accessories they can get away with it because their intended use is for tobacco, I think everyone knows that is not what they are normally used for. Most smoke shops if you mention you want to use it for pot will refuse to sell it to you because at that point I believe it becomes illegal.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            I’m… I’m not sure that selling bongs under the excuse they’re going to be used for tobacco is all that comparable to understanding that sometimes people lean on surfaces like desks and that should be planned for.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              You are right, what I was trying to say is the employer is not legally required to order equipment for uses other than what they are intended for. Yes ordering sturdy desks is better but you can’t say they are legally liable for only ordering desks that are meant for being used as desks and not as stools for standing or leaning. If the employer required someone to change an overhead light and refused to order ladders or step stools and told people just stand on your desk or chair to change the light and it broke then they could be held responsible. But just because a lot of people use something a certain way that it was not designed or intended for does not make it right.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                I mean, I feel like “a person might lean some portion of their weight on this” is a pretty normal expectation for a desk. Think about a manager leaning over someone’s shoulder and putting a hand down on the desk surface for balance! Beyond that, “this might at some point have to hold more than 100 pounds” is also an extremely normal expectation. My tower and two monitors are both on my desk — I’m not sure that they outright weigh more than 100lbs, but they’re probably taking up a significant chunk of that (the monitor stand is also quite heavy, probably to keep the monitors balanced).

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I agree, I lean on desks before, I have even sat on them putting my full weight on it. I don’t disagree that it is normal defined as “a lot of people do it.” A coworker once had a desk that was the particle board type that was pretty old some of the joints were kind of worn out a bit, when ever I would come over at first the coworker would tell me not to lean on the desk, even after a while I would forget and start to put a hand on the desk while looking at something and they would remind me not to do that. I agree companies should purchase sturdy solid wood desks, but legally they are not required to and can purchase flimsy desks as long as they don’t require people to put things on their desk that go over the weight limit.
                  I think Countess you are talking about things from a common sense perspective and I am talking about them from a legal meeting minimum standards perspective.

                2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  Ugh I apologize today my mind is not working correctly and all my post are full of typos and incoherent mixing of phrases. I have never been the best with grammar but today is worse than usual.

                3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  I get what you’re saying, but I think in terms of workplace safety the office has to think about reasonable use, not just ideal use.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Countess, you’re right. If someone was evaluating this for negligence, they wouldn’t look exclusively at what the intended use is—they’d look at what a reasonable person would expect to be able to use their desk for and whether the company had disclaimed any of those expected uses. I don’t know that the company is liable for buying desks with inadequate load support, but they certainly share some of the responsibility for the injury.

                  Thankfully, the liability part doesn’t really matter because this gets swept up under workers’ comp.

    7. tink*

      Right? I’ve got foldable card tables that can handle weight better than that. And every actual desk I can think of (even children’s desks) can hold over 100lbs of weight without collapsing.

    8. Wendy Darling*

      At my previous workplace it was not unknown for people to stand on desks to reach things on rare occasions. I can’t imagine anything but the cheapest, flimsiest desk collapsing because someone perched on the edge!

    9. biff welly*

      I came here to say just that. My desk itself weighs a couple hundred pounds probably and its not even fancy or anything, just standard issue office furniture.

    10. ket*

      This actually was a huge deal when I was looking for a desk a year ago. I looked & looked and many of the desks I found were rated for 80 pounds, maybe even 100 pounds. That’s ludicrous. What if I lean on it, I actually thought to myself? I want a sturdy desk!! I ended up buying a secondhand desk that was originally over $700 because I could not find *anything* for less than $700 new that would support more than 120 lbs. I also drew out plans for building my own, but instead found this steel & glass thing through Craigslist.

    11. Safetykats*

      Actually, most office desks are rated to hold surprisingly little weight. We had a desk collapse at my last company from the weight of a good-sized plant that an employee placed on the desk because the carpets were being cleaned that night. I’m guessing the plant (and pot and dirt) probably weighed 50 lbs at the most. The desk simply wasn’t designed to hold that much weight all on one end – and in addition to being overloaded it was unbalanced. Facilities told us they weren’t surprised.

  3. ElleKat*

    I just want to send good vibes to OP2. A desk doesn’t support more than 100 pounds? I daresay MOST ADULTS weigh more than 100 pounds, so I feel this could have happened to anyone. Maybe instead of taunting “fatty fatty two by four” the facilities manager should get some furniture that’s actually safe to use. So sorry, OP2, that sounds mortifying and I hope you don’t have to work with these people long.

    1. LouiseM*

      Said the same thing downthread before seeing your comment…absolutely, the facilities manager is at fault here! Reprehensible.

      1. Clare*

        Im not sure the facilities manager can be blamed, at my company facilities orders what we ask them to since the costs are being paid by the department or company. So we dont know who made the decision to order these desks at OP’s company.

    2. Kathletta*

      Completely agree, 100 pounds is so low!! How can they even be used normally with such a low weight limit!?

    3. Ruth (UK)*

      I am an underweight (my BMI is lower than 18.5) adult who still is over 100 pounds so I could have broken that desk. So as you say, it’s a desk that would not support the weight of almost any adult. I also think that considering how op just leaned on it, not proper sat, it was probably a matter of time before one of these overly flimsy desks fell down and hurt someone. The fact that it hurt someone so much on this occasion is just chance.

      1. Wintermute*

        I daresay that almost every adult who is not severely, dangerously underweight is over 100lb. 90 pounds is considered the line between the low end of normal and the upper end of clinically low body weight for a female 4’10” tall.

        1. Rebecca in Dallas*

          That’s extreme and body-shaming. I’m a very healthy adult who is just over 100 lbs.

        2. Nita*

          It could be build, too. I’m 5’2″ and ever since I hit my adult weight, I’ve hovered between 95 and 100 pounds. At one point I tried eating much more than I normally would, in hopes that I’d gain some extra weight and it would give me curves :) Nope. I just can’t gain any more – this seems to be my healthy weight even though my BMI is just below the “underweight” cutoff. It’s massively annoying, because I cannot donate blood (you have to be over 100 lb) and have a hard time finding clothes outside of “petite” departments in stores, but I can’t do a whole lot about it. The only time I clear 100 easily is when I’m pregnant, but even then I have trouble putting on the recommended 30 pounds.

          1. T3k*

            Just a side note: it’s actually 110lbs. minimum to donate (found out when my college was running it’s annual blood drive and realized I couldn’t because I was below the weight requirement).

    4. Excel Slayer*

      I’ve only weighed under 100 pounds once in my life, and that’s when I was severely underweight.

    5. Nonnon*

      I looked up what 100lbs is in metric: it’s about 45kg. Or far smaller than the average human. (In dog terms, that’s just over the size of a Giant Schnauzer.)

      I guess it’s sensible to issue a thing saying “don’t lean on the desks”, but at some point it’s going to happen again, because people lean. Also, I’m pretty sure that a desktop computer and a few large files would cause strain on desks like that.

    6. Confused*

      Or maybe adults should not sit on desks? I’m not slim (obese medically actually) and I wouldn’t sit on a desk. I’ve broken flimsy chairs. People keep dancing around this but OP is morbidly obese! He/she has been upfront about that and should know better than to sit on a desk!

      OP, your coworker will eventually forgive you but I would imagine that broken femur is painful, with a long recovery and lots of medical bills. It was an accident, but I can see why he is upset with you. He should be out on recovery for a while – perhaps send something nice with an apology note to his home. There is nothing more you can do.

        1. Confused*

          I’m not telling OP what to do with his or her weight. No adult at any weight should sit on a coworker’s desk. He/she says she “didn’t sit fully” but “rested hips/palms” on the desk. They shouldn’t sit on a desk at any size, but especially not at 350 lbs. I don’t see how that’s fat-shaming. I haven’t told OP to lose weight, change their body, or do anything besides reiterate the point that they shouldn’t do that again.

          1. Specialk9*

            You wrote several times that they are morbidly obese and shouldn’t have leaned on the desk. It’s impossible not to read that as blaming them for the whole thing because of their weight.

            1. Confused*

              I mean, this is true. The “100 lbs” things from facilities is probably a lie, since is is rude and probably illegal to say “If you are obese, do not lean on a desk.” Saying 100 lbs ensures that 99% of adults won’t be at or below this weight and the company is free from liability. Everyone here is being willfully ignorant when they act like OP’s weight had nothing to do with this. If OP was tall and knocked something over by not being careful, my response would be the same.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I didn’t realize there’s another Harper here! I hope I didn’t cause any confusion. I’m modifying my name accordingly.

        2. Confused*

          The letter says OP “didn’t sit fully.” The comments here are being more charitable than OP him/herself. The letter indicates that they did put their weight on the desk even if they didn’t plop down on it.

          1. fposte*

            Nobody’s saying her weight wasn’t on the desk–obviously it was. But it seems pretty clear she’s differentiating between leaning, with her feet still on the ground but her hips and hands on the desk, and sitting, where your feet no longer carry weight. We can’t know how much weight the desk was bearing at that point and it probably wasn’t a constant anyway, because it depends on position, force, etc.

            I don’t know how much it ultimately matters anyway, but it seems pretty clear that yes, she put weight on it, but no, she didn’t sit on it.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Or maybe you should actually try reading the OP’s letter. They did not sit on the desk.

        1. Confused*

          Maybe you should try it yourself. They said they “didn’t sit fully” but rested their “hips and palms” on the desk. To me, that indicates that he/she may have sat a little too far on it, but didn’t just plop down on it.

          1. Mishsmom*

            Maybe you should try backing off once you were told you are fat shaming. You don’t have to understand why it is – just that it is. Insisting on your POV after being told over and over by others that it is insulting (and wrong) is just a shitty thing to do. I’m sure AAM is going to not print this. But I had to say it.

            1. Confused*

              I haven’t said that OP needs to lose weight or change her body in any way. You are reading into this and possibly projecting. No adult, be they 100 or 400 lbs, should lean or sit on someone else’s desk, and especially not hard enough to break.

              OP is morbidly obese, as a medical term (unless OP is Shaq). I am not saying OP is ugly, or a bad employee, or anything negative about them whatsoever, I am merely stating a fact. I am not saying that OP needs to change their weight or apologize for being a larger person. The fact is, they are a larger person. More weight on a desk – more means to break it. I think the fact that they were named and shamed by the facilities manager is unprofessional and extremely rude, as it simply could have been stated “Employees should not sit on or lean on desks, as they are not designed to support that.” But all of this refusal to say that OP is a larger person is ridiculous. They have said so themselves in the letter! They clearly would not include that fact if it wasn’t relevant.

              And you’ll see I commented earlier, that all OP should do to smooth things over is apologize, maybe send a nice card or something small to the injured party, and move on. All this being offended over OP being large is a little ridiculous.

            2. Round and realistic*

              As a fat person, what you are doing is more of an insult than someone simply stating a fact, especially since the OP willingly told us that in the letter. Why on earth would you think a fat individual would be so thin-skinned that he wouldn’t be able to hear simple fact? Being fat does not make you weak, despite what you insinuate with your overprotective comment.

      2. Levy Tate*

        OP is being fat shamed by their coworkers, can we not do it here too? The OP is aware of their weight.

        They didn’t sit on the desk. They leaned on it. The desk can only handle 100 lbs which is much less than what most average adults weigh. I don’t think the OP did anything so out of the norm, even given his/her weight, that (s)he deserve to be treated with the level of scorn they’re receiving.

        I get why the coworker isn’t keen to forgive the OP. Accident or not, I know I’ve been angry when someone injured me. I was reluctant to accept an apology until I felt better. Perhaps the injured party will be more apt to accept an a sincere apology at a later point.

        The head of facilities, however, is being horrible. “More than four times…” was mean spirited and specifically meant to humiliate the OP. It was uncalled for.

        1. Anna*

          This is what I think. The coworker needs some time to heal a little and get through the pain and discomfort. All the OP can do is be genuine in their apology and hopefully the coworker will realize it was an accident and forgive the OP for their role in it.

        2. Em*

          Very mean spirited. And mean spirited and unnecessary to name OP in the memo telling people not to lean on the flimsy desks.
          Injury aside, I think it would be embarrassing for most people to lean on a desk and have it collapse. OPs weight aside as well, I think many people would feel shamed if this happened and a memo went around saying don’t lean on the desks and break them like EM did. There is definitely an added element of fat shaming going on in the facility manager’s response.
          OP, you have my complete sympathy. You are taking the brunt of the blame for the faulty equipment and the freak accident. I think you’ve gotten good advice to proceed normally — if those desks collapse at 100 pounds, then it was an accident that could have happened to anyone in your office. If it were me and I had some co-workers I was fairly friendly and comfortable with, I might also mention to them that I felt like the facilities manager was trying to shame me. Also, if someone did mention sitting on the desk, I would probably correct them and say that of course I wasn’t sitting on it.
          The office story shouldn’t be about op sitting on a desk and breaking it; it should be about the poor quality office furniture failing under normal usage.

    7. Justme, The OG*

      I know tweens that weigh that much. A desk for an adult that wouldn’t support 100 lbs is unfathomable to me.

    8. Bea*

      Exactly. Your desk should be at very least as sturdy as a chair, this cheap balsa wood bullshht is outrageous!!

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, this is really not your fault. First, your coworker refusing to accept your apology is a jerk. Second, your facilities person is an ass (also, what proper office desks only support 100 lbs of weight? Most adults would overload a desk like that). Third, whoever distributed a memo attempting to name and shame you is also a jerk.

    Assuming this hasn’t happened at work before (and based on your experience and reaction, I don’t think it has), the only person who isn’t behaving like a jerk is you. Was this experience awful? Absolutely. Should you be treated unkindly and embarrassed further for it? No. This sounds like it was just bad luck, and now you know that the desks are lightweight. Keep your head up; I’m sorry you’re going through this.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have spent a lot of time in the front of classrooms — high school and college — and I have leaned on every desk in them and sat on a fair number. This is very typical in treatment of desks. Yes when you are heavy you do need to be extra careful about putting stress on furniture especially in ways that are not its primary purpose — but leaning on a desk or even sitting on it, is a pretty normal thing and it seems pretty clear that the desk was the problem here.

      It sounds like this story is being embelished and that you are being publicly shamed, partly as CYA on their part. I hope you can get some support in the workplace. Yes — a really terrible injury — a broken femur is terrible — but also really poor facilities maintenance. Sorry you have to deal.

    2. Jess*

      Oh wow, it’s a *broken femur* and the co-worker would certainly have been told explicitly OP2 is at fault if the company is throwing OP2 so much blame in general office communications. In those circumstances I do know if I’d accept an apology either. Can’t believe how little sympathy there is to a person who is probably in traction right now.

      1. MommyMD*

        I agree the empathy is lacking. I don’t think he’s being a jerk per se. I think he’s in pain, astonished that he was so severely injured while sitting at his desk, and needs some time to come around. It’s a long recovery.

      2. Myrin*

        The thing is, while the company might be able to shape the narrative for everyone who didn’t witness the incident, the injured coworker was there. He knows that he was sitting at his desk and OP was leaning against it, not sitting on it or crawling on it or jumping on it, so no matter what the company tells him, he should be able to discern that OP behaved completely normally and office-appropriately with regards to his desk.

        I’m pretty sure that the “jerk” comments stem from that and, to a lesser degree, from the fact that OP apologised and is clearly embarrassed and feels terrible that he got hurt. Of course, apologies and feeling horrible don’t necessitate someone being forgiven in general but really, this is a case whose outcome OP couldn’t have predicted in any way and which could have happend to literally anyone apart from someone very, very light; not accepting an apology in this case means that the coworker thinks this was OP’s fault in any way and, well, that is indeed a jerk move in this scenario.

        All that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel compassion towards colleague’s injury, though. He’s probably distressed and in pain and constantly being reminded of this strange and painful accident happening to him. It’s also entirely possible that his non-acceptance of the apology is caused by all that stress and pain and he’ll be able to come around and see the situation more clearly once he’s feeling better.

        1. Colette*

          A lot of that depends on the situation. Did the OP apologize while he’s lying injured on the floor? He would have been in a lot of pain, and accepting an apology would not be his top priority. (Were his medical bills covered? What major life events did he miss? What impact did the injury have on his live overall? Is he usually easy to get along with? Does he always see himself as a victim?)

          Maybe he’s a jerk, but he’s not required to prioritize the OP’s feelings about the situation over his own.

          1. Myrin*

            Oh, absolutely! Something about “My colleague did not accept when I apologized.” makes me think that this was a more “formal” apology that happened later and not in the moment, but obviously I don’t know that.

            I’m somewhat going back and forth on this in my head.
            On the one hand (and as I said above), I’m firmly of the mind that just because someone apologised for something, even sincerely and earnestly, doesn’t mean you have to forgive them. It’s okay to be apologised to and still decide that you can’t forgive what this person did. On the other hand, I’m not sure “forgiveness” is the key in a situation like this one here; I view the acceptance of an apology in such a case more as a “I acknowledge and realise that this was not something you did intentionally”, not as a “I don’t have weird and changed feelings towards you now that you were involved in something so traumatising for me”.

            (Ultimately, I’m not quite sure if it matters in the end. It matters with regards to whether some people on an internet forum think of him as a jerk or not, but OP’s question seems to boil down to “How should I be acting at work?” which doesn’t really have a lot to do with the jerk verbiage.)

        2. Nita*

          The coworker may not really know whether OP sat on the desk or not. They were probably looking down at the papers, not at OP, and suddenly there’s a crash and the desk falls on them and they’re on the floor with a broken leg. It would be understandable if they were confused about how it all happened.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Absolutely this. A femur injury is awful, severe, and very dangerous. I don’t blame the coworker for being upset, in pain, and distressed. I can’t imagine what he’s going through. But if OP has apologized, especially after the coworker returned to the office, then the bare minimum is to accept the apology. It doesn’t mean the coworker has forgiven OP or is ok with what happened or is a horrible person, but there has to be some level of graciousness when awful incidents like this occur. If OP had been cavalier or had failed to apologize, I would feel very differently.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think the co-worker is back in the office yet, or is expected to be soon.

            I’m a big fan of accepting apologies, but I also don’t think it’s de rigueur. I don’t think you make a thing out of not accepting it, but I can think of plenty of situations where I just wouldn’t be able to put down my rage for a minute to soothe somebody else, even if the disaster wasn’t their fault. I understand, for instance, if you’re the spouse or parent of somebody who, say, drove drunk and killed themselves and their passenger, that the passenger’s family might not be up for accepting an apology, even if they don’t hold it against the driver’s family.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Sure. The timing and context matter. Maybe I was overly harsh to call the coworker a jerk. If everything happened as OP described, I think it’s uncharitable to refuse an apology after time has passed. But it’s still the injured person’s prerogative to determine how to treat an apology after experiencing such an awful injury.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I had the impression that OP apologized in the moment. In times of crisis, OP, sometimes my hearing goes away. Not in the traditional sense, I still hear sounds around me but I don’t comprehend or absorb what those sounds are or what they mean. Panic/pain does this to a lot of people.
              I remember a car accident where the other driver came over to talk to me and both of us kept repeating ourselves. She was clearly a very nice person with good intentions But we both kept saying the same things: “are you alright”; “yes, are you alright?” ; “yes, are you alright?” and on and on. We kind of smiled at our own panic/foolish behavior with the repetitions. Eh, this is what happens in crisis.

              It would have been good if your coworker could have said something to make you feel off the hook fo this one but they didn’t. I think the biggest problem is how your company is handling every part of this story.

        4. Little Bean*

          Is it possible that the injured coworker was advised by a lawyer not to accept an apology until the worker’s comp issue has been settled?

      3. EditorInChief*

        This has my blood boiling. I cannot believe that people are painting the co-worker as a lying villain here, and that he’s a “jerk” for not accepting her apology. I wouldn’t accept her apology either. Depending on the severity, that can be a life altering physical injury. We don’t know the victim’s personal circumstances. In my situation I care for a senior family member who I need to be able to help lift out of bed, and I play a sport regularly at an international competitive level, neither of which I would be able to do with such an injury and recovery time.

        1. CityMouse*

          Seconding this. Coworker is horribly injured. My Dad has suffered from pain his entire life from femur and has had surgeries decades later. Please do not pile on coworker for not performing to your expectations. They are seriously hurt. Tbey are allowed to be upset and not tell OP that it is okay for a while. A long while.

        2. Mookie*

          The co-worker is free to accept the LW’s apology or not, but what the LW did is not unreasonable and the person responsible is whoever knowingly provided shoddy equipment to this office. That this is a public / civil service job certainly explains some things, but the negligence belongs neither to the LW or her injured colleague. This needs to be nipped in the bud now, and the problem is not that someone weighs 350 lbs and behaves like a normal human being (leaning against something). This was a disaster waiting in the wings to arrive on stage. The LW’s weight is a red herring, given that most adults exceed the incredibly low capacity of 100 lbs.

          1. Confused*

            Honestly, it is a little unreasonable! I don’t know what exactly OP was doing, but if she was SITTING on a desk, she should know not to do that at 350 lbs! I’m not thin either, but like it or not, 350 lbs is an incredibly high weight! If she leaned a little too hard and the desk just snapped, then I could be more sympathetic, but I don’t think it would break unless she was putting all her weight on it.

            1. Justme, The OG*

              Do not shame OP #2 for their weight. Your third sentence does just that, and it is rude and uncalled for.

              1. EmilyAnn*

                I am very familiar with the concept of how ineffective weight shaming is. I was for most of my life and continued to get bigger. When my health became a burden on others I made better choices and shame wasn’t the driving factor. Self love was. However, at the end of the day, nobody is healthy at 350 lbs. Breaking a desk that causes a severe injury to another person because of the writer’s decision to not take care of their health should be a wake up call. The writers poor health choices have now affected someone else in a very direct way. I agree with Allison’s advice to a T. This person shouldn’t be externally hung out to dry for poor furniture, but it’s also time to take a hard look in the mirror and see what actions the writer can take to not be burden on others in the future due to their poor health.

                1. fposte*

                  This is inappropriate. We are not here to crowdsource the OP’s body and health, and advice on it unsolicited is rude. It also will not fix the situation the OP is facing, and it doesn’t solve the fact that a desk that is only equipped to hold 100 lbs. is insufficient for its task.

                2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  I find it incredibly ironic that you’re talking about how you understand the ineffectiveness of weight shaming and then doing it anyway.

                  The OP’s health is not relevant to this discussion. People have weights. Even if the OP woke up that morning and went HEY I’M GOING TO GET MY WEIGHT DOWN, they still weigh what they weigh.

                3. Justme, The OG*

                  The desk would have broken if someone smaller had leaned on it. The OP’s weight is not germane to the discussion. Leave it alone.

                4. Princess Loopy*

                  This comment, despite professing to understand how ineffective weight shaming is, is full of weight shaming.

                  If the desk won’t support 100 pounds, then NO ONE, “healthy” or not, in my office could have leaned on the desk. And I see people leaning on desks all the time. It’s a normal thing to do.

                  It was a freak accident and, according to the specs given, could have happened to just about anybody.

                5. Seriously?*

                  Your advice is mean and unhelpful. You do not know anything about the letter writer’s health. Leave that between them and their doctor. This was a freak accident with a flimsy piece of furniture.

                6. tusky*

                  Weight does not equal health. Health does not equal worth. EmilyAnn, I am sorry that you ever felt you were a burden on others because of your health; nobody should have to feel this way. We all exist as bodies in varying states of health (which can be measured in myriad ways) and no one is a ‘burden’ just for existing.

                7. RUKiddingMe*

                  You are assuming a lot about the OP’s health choices, or as I read between the lines, her choice to …eat, at all apparently. If you truly knew much about weight you would know for a fact that it isn’t always (or according to ongoing research necessarily ever really) about ‘choice’ either health or eating/food choices. There are myriad reasons a person could be 350 pounds and ‘health choices’ is just one of many, many, many reasons. Oh and btw, you are body shaming. Shame on you.

              2. Confused*

                350 lbs is a high weight for an adult human being. 100 lbs is a low weight for an adult human being. Those are just facts, and people keep stating the second one repeatedly in this thread. I haven’t called OP any names or insults, or told them to change their body in any way.

              3. Confused*

                350 lbs is a high weight for a human being. 100 lbs is a low weight for a human being. It is only shaming if you believe that is it shameful to have a high weight.

            2. yup*

              Glad I am not the only one who saw it this way! The facilities manager handled this horribly, but I’m appalled at the treatment of the injured coworker on this thread and this idea that the OP bears no responsibility here.

              Yes, the desk should be able to support more than 100 pounds, but how much weight would be enough?! 300, 500, 1,000? There is no limit to how much people weigh these days and the desk companies cannot cater to each and every body type in case someone might lean on a desk, which is not what a desk is intended for!

              1. Tardigrade*

                Yet I think people can express sympathy for an injured person and still not continue bringing up OP’s weight.

              2. Princess Loopy*

                Have you ever leaned on a desk? (I have.) Do you weigh over 100 pounds? (I do.) Both of us would have broken the desk.

                While being leaned on is not a stated function of desk, it’s something that happens ALL THE TIME, to the point where it’s not an unreasonable expectation that a person could put their partially-supported body weight on a piece of office furniture. Everyone who is suggesting that the OP is to blame for an accident that didn’t have much to do with how much they weighed (the desk only supports 100 pounds!) is fat shaming.

                What happened was truly horrible for the coworker. Accidents are horrible sometimes. While it feels good to have someone or something to blame, sometimes shit really does just happen.

                1. Anion*

                  Yes, leaning on a desk is something that happens ALL THE TIME, so do you really think it’s never happened in LW’s office? Or do you think it has, and nobody else there broke a desk when they leaned on it because the desks can actually handle a bit more than 100lbs.?

              3. tusky*

                “There is no limit to how much people weigh these days…and companies cannot cater to each every body type” [citation needed]. This is a slippery slope fallacy and not an excuse to avoid providing/maintaining facilities that accommodate a range of bodies. Most companies can (and do!) cater to people of different sizes (even if they do not always cater well to people of larger sizes).

              4. PersephoneUnderground*

                Really? Slippery slope on desk capacity? Oh no, they might have to make a desk sturdy enough to withstand normal use by most people which includes leaning! This is really thinly veiled fat shaming- please don’t be facetious. “There is no limit to how much people weigh these days and the desk companies cannot cater to each and every body type ” I mean really? Poor desk companies?

              5. Anion*

                Well, and are we really to believe that *no one* in this office has *ever* leaned on a desk until LW did it? Clearly the desks have been able to stand up just fine to normal use, and normal casual leaning, before. To say definitively that the desk would have broken even if someone weighing 110lbs. leaned on it is just ridiculous. The only way to know that for sure would be to ask if anyone else in that office has ever leaned or sat on a desk, which is ridiculous. Let’s not try to absolve the OP of responsibility by insisting that the desk would have broken if a bird landed on it.

                (And again, I doubt the facilities guy had the spec sheet in front of him, so taking “100 pounds” as gospel is a little ridiculous as well.)

                1. Totally Minnie*

                  Maybe this desk was old. Maybe a screw had fallen out. Maybe one of a thousand other things occurred and OP2 and their coworker were in a freak Murphy’s Law type scenario where all the less than ideal things lined up in a row and calamity ensued. There are a million reasons why this desk might have collapsed when others hadn’t, and they have nothing to do with the weight of the person who leaned on it.

                2. Princess Loopy*

                  You’re almost certainly right, that people have leaned on desks. Maybe even that desk. And the weight of the lean-er may have impacted the desk breaking.

                  But it’s also well and truly possible that a lighter person leaning on the desk in the same way, in the same spot, could have broken it. It could have been a flaw in the structure of the desk. It could have been a piece of furniture truly not up to the normal demands put on it.

                  I think it’s fundamentally unkind to suggest that the LW is at fault for what happened because of their weight, and that’s what I’m reacting to and trying to illustrate. It really could have happened to a thinner person. To suggest that the LW “take responsibility” for having what you consider a too-big body is cruel. And yes, I think they should be absolved of responsibility, not because a bird would have broken the desk, but because it was an accident.

                  Let’s not try to make the OP take total responsibility for an accident just because they weigh more than you think they should.

              6. RUKiddingMe*

                Someone with better math/engineering skills than me please chime in, but as I understand it if OP only leaned on the desk then she didn’t put all of her actual 350 pound weight on it.

                Ergo, it seems to me that someone could calculate the actual weight based on the pressure of leaning (or something like that?) to assess if she really did exceed the weight limit. I mean in reality how many times do any of us lean on an object and put our entire weight on it?

                As I said I have zero engineering skills and I don’t ‘do’ math unless I have to, so I might be totally off base her.

              1. Eye of Sauron*

                The OP might have been better off if she had. I’ve seen a lot of shoddy cube/desk construction/design where the pieces aren’t actually anchored to anything either, instead the natural weight of the pieces hold it in place. Leaning on it with the weight described could certainly cause ‘tippage’ and the desk to collapse. Whereas sitting would have distributed the weight.

            3. Jesmlet*

              I’m normally against piling on but I disagree so strongly with your comment that I have to. If the desk only supports 100 lbs then the vast majority of adults could’ve caused the same exact accident. OP’s weight is irrelevant. OP describes it as leaning, we should believe that it was leaning. If anyone is to blame, it’s the person who ordered the flimsy office furniture.

            4. Falling Diphthong*

              It is physically difficult to hop up and sit on a desk unless you are spry and easily can lift your entire weight on your arms–desks are taller than chairs. I don’t know why we have opened a sidethread to ignore the OP’s use of leaned and put in the physically unlikely sat–but it is very silly.

            5. Mb13*

              I completely agree. In what world should the co-worker forgive her if he doesn’t want to. She seriously injured him. It might have not been on purpose but she was neglectent about her wight. We all have to be aware of out bodies, especially if we can easily injure someone.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                So there was an accident but because the coworker is 350 pounds (you are assuming she is ‘negligent’ you don’t know this) she doesn’t deserve to have the coworker accept her apology for the accident?

                I mean sure no one has to accept any apology. It’s not the law or anything, but most of us, if we are injured, even a broken femur (which I do know how serious that is) would accept an apology sincerely given for an injury unintended.

                Unless of course we see it as “all OP’s fault because…fat.”

        3. Katniss*

          I mean really you wouldn’t need to accept her apology because she’s not at fault. She didn’t do anything wrong.

          1. CityMouse*

            I mean though, in the moment, are you going to be okay with someone who hurt you eveb if they didn’t mean to?

            As a teenager, I used to volunteer at a camp for kids with mental disabilities. I once got punched hard in the face by a kid. It wasn’t the kid’s fault, he didn’t know what he was doing, but the pain and shock was still very real. That kind of pain causes an immediate anger response. I did what I was trained to do, and just immediately walked away and let another staff member handle it. If someone had chased me down and apologized right then, I probably would have been a “jerk” too. Pain is irrational. It clouds your brain out. Fight or flight is exaggerated.

            Coworker was hurt a lot worse, possibly in a life threatening manner. Asking someone to be forgiving and go “it wasn’t your fault” in that situation? Not rational.

            1. Tuxedo Cat*

              If the OP included the detail about weighing ~ 350 vs. 400 lbs in the apology or the coworker heard about that from someone else, he might have been less inclined to accept. It would feel like deflecting blame regardless of what the OP intended.

          2. EditorInChief*

            I guess I have a different set of boundaries. When I go to a colleague’s desk I ask if I can approach or if I can stand along side and look at their screen, or whatever. I don’t touch their desk or anything on it, and wouldn’t think of leaning on their workspace. I consider than a crossing of personal boundaries. Maybe because I live in Manhattan where personal space is at a premium I’m hyper aware of other people’s space.

            1. fposte*

              I’m like you, and I also wouldn’t pick up the stuff on people’s desks. But I still don’t think it’s unreasonable to lean on a desk, and it’s certainly not unreasonable to expect it to stay upright.

            2. Anonymeece*

              Eh, I’m pretty close with all my coworkers, so depending on how close she was to this one, it would be completely normal. I regularly go in and hang out in a coworker’s office, lean on her desk, pick up stress balls from her desk to fiddle with… and she does the same in mine. I don’t think we can extrapolate anything useful about whether or not OP was crossing any boundaries with the given context.

        4. Jesmlet*

          Is he obligated to accept the apology? Of course not. But at the end of the day it was clearly an accident that OP feels terrible about and the least he can do is acknowledge that.

          1. smoke tree*

            I think it’s understandable that soon after such an awful injury, most people might not be in a position to really consider the situation rationally. Sometimes it’s easier to put the blame on another person than the cold machinations of the universe.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Yep, people will continue to be people. If I am laying on the floor saying, “some is wrong with my leg, something is wrong with my leg…” Probably the only sentences I would hear would be the sentences containing the word “ambulance”.

          2. Kate 2*

            Or the least he can do is spend 6 months or so recovering from a life-changing accident that he may never fully recover from, that may permanently disable him.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I don’t think it’s that crucial that he acknowledge it wasn’t intentional. It’s nice for the OP if he does, but he really does have bigger fish to fry right now.

        5. A.*

          Yes! This exactly. We had a nurse make a mistake that could have killed my mother and cause her great pain and discomfort. She apologized and we did not accept her apology either. We actually asked she not be allowed to treat my mother for the remaining of her stay int he hospital. We are not jerks for not accepting the nurse’s apology. Nor are we under any obligation to accept her apology. The nurse should just be happy we did not go after her formally. The OP’s coworker is under no obligation to accept the apology. And it doesn’t seem like anyone is coming after the OP to cover the costs of his medical bills. We don’t even know if the injured coworker has enough sick leave to cover his time off of work or if the company fully covered all his medical expenses. I understand erring on the side of the OP, but the commenters rush to villainize the coworker is strange.

          1. Natalie*

            This would almost certainly be a workers comp claim, so the company’s WC insurance covers his bills, lost wages, etc.

            1. A.*

              Yes but does workers comp cover grocery runs, child care issues arising from the injury? Even something as simple as who is now going to walk the dogs? I have so many responsibilities outside of work, if I ever was rendered immobile I would be freaking out. The last thing on my mind would be accepting an apology. Now if it happened to me, and the OP offers to have groceries deliveries, walk my dogs, or offers some other form of assistance during my recovery period, then I would be much more willing to accept an apology. But a sorry with no action behind it doesn’t do much for anyone.

            2. WillyNilly*

              I live in an apartment building built in the 1950s, before ADA. My door is not wide enough for a wheelchair, plus there are some tight turns in the apartment. I own it, and live in it with my spouse and 3 kids, so moving would not be a small undertaking. A broken femur would be… I mean I don’t honestly know what I would do. Every, seriously EVERY aspect of my life would necessate immediate change (what I eat as I am the family’s primary cook, what I wear, how & where I socialize, my sleeping and bathing routines, my hobbies and passions, my job, how labor is divided within my family, etc).
              No amount of worker’s comp could come near compensating the costs of a broken femur.

          2. Anna*

            But even in your example, it doesn’t have to be yes/no. You can accept an apology and still ask that this particular nurse not treat your mother. That’s not crazy. To me, accepting an apology isn’t a blank slate. I think the coworker will have to do a lot more work of keeping a grudge in this particular case than acknowledging this was an accident and forgiving the OP’s role in it. And that doesn’t have to be right away.

            1. A.*

              Yes I agree. He does not have to actively hold a grudge. But he is not a jerk for not accepting the apology when offered in the moment it was offered. This is not a knock on the OP. It is more an observation of the other commenters who are rushing to make the coworker a “jerk” or the bad guy in this situation.

            2. Kate 2*

              Who says he is keeping a grudge? And why on earth would you think not forgiving someone for causing you harm, accidentally or not, is “keeping a grudge”? I have people in my life who did immense harm to me. When I have to I interact with them civilly, but I have never forgiven them. I don’t think about them all the time, I’m not losing sleep over it, and I haven’t turned into Gollum! Where does this myth come from???

            1. A.*

              So what are the circumstances when it is ok to not accept an apology and the circumstances when it is not ok? Because the nurse and the OP both caused injuries while on the job. So how is it completely different?

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                It’s completely different because OP’s actions are within the band of reasonable workplace behaviors that should not cause such a severe injury (but can), whereas your mother’s nurse did something specific that was a mistake within the scope of her job as a highly-trained professional—likely related to the delivery of medical care and the nurse’s competence, not simply leaning against your mother’s furniture. That’s a pretty significant difference.

                1. A.*

                  Then the OP should not have apologized. If it was perfectly reasonable behavior and a freak accident, then there is no reason so apologize. But whatever the circumstance, the coworker is not a jerk for not accepting the apology.

                2. A.*

                  Thank you Kate 2. The nesting is off for some reason. They were both unintentional mistakes that caused harm. My point wasn’t to get bogged down in highly training professionals administering care vs. office jobs vs. office equipment. It was an example of why a person may not accept an apology after an unintentional mistake (whether caused by incompetency or freak accident) that causes significant harm to someone else.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Are we seriously going to pretend all intentional mistakes are the same?

                  Op apologizing doesn’t prove or disprove fault. We’ve had many long discussions about the non-blame-related role that apologies play in human interactions.

        6. Solidus Pilcrow*

          Yeah, I’m amazed at the contrast in opinion between this letter and the bird phobia letter where the injured party didn’t accept the apology either. No on called the bird phobia coworker a jerk, but we’re calling this guy one.

          In other letters, the commenters extolled that the injured party does not need to accept an apology for being wronged/injured (the one where a letter writer blabbed that a coworker was in a mental hospital comes to mind), but we’re pillorying this guy. Why?

          1. A.*

            Right. And if it were the injured coworker to write in, everyone would be rushing to tell him he does not have to accept the apology until he is ready.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            That was different, imo, because the apology was insincere and only delivered after being forced to do so. I think a heartfelt and good-faith apology, delivered in the moment (where I don’t expect the injured party to accept it) and post-treatment, merits a little bit of graciousness on the part of the injured coworker.

            1. Kate 2*

              But the coworker is really going to be in treatment for six months, and depending on the break and complications, may suffer the effects permanently.

            2. myswtghst*

              While I get where you’re coming from, unless I’ve missed something in the comments (which is entirely possible given how many there are!), I don’t think we have the context of the apology to judge if coworker is being a jerk. We don’t know if it was said in-the-moment as the coworker was being loaded into an ambulance, or if it was sent via text/email while coworker is in the hospital in recovery (and may not be responding to texts/emails from work), or if coworker was advised by someone (lawyer, union rep, family member) not to accept an apology from anyone for fear of it impacting a worker’s comp claim/lawsuit.

              I don’t think OP should spend time beating themself up for this – it was pretty clearly an unfortunate accident only made worse by the terrible shame&blame memo – but I also don’t think we need to paint the coworker as a “jerk” when we don’t know his circumstances, or the circumstances of the apology.

            3. Solidus Pilcrow*

              Eh, if someone breaks my leg, even by accident and through no negligence on their part, I think I would reserve the right to not have to accept their apology. My leg is still broken, I’ll still have months of rehab, I’ll have a large medical bill, I may have a limp/pain for the rest of my life. “Sorry” doesn’t fix any of that.

              Accepting the apology may give the coworker bonus points for being extra gracious, but I don’t think not accepting it should put them in the negative/make them a petty jerk, either.

            1. Anion*

              They did. And there was no indication at all that the bird guy’s apology was insincere and only grudgingly offered, either; he tried to apologize numerous times, if I recall correctly.

        7. Anion*

          Yes. Again, the coworker whose arm was broken by the bird-fearing guy was totally justified in not accepting his apologies, but this guy whose femur was snapped is some kind of jerk for not accepting the LW’s apology? How does that work? At least the bird-fearing guy readily acknowledged that he had a problem and that his problem caused the situation, and he was trying to do something about it, not just making excuses and trying to blame everyone else. And the broken-arm woman was insisting bird-guy get fired because of his phobia, whereas all this poor man has done is not accept an apology; he hasn’t been calling his manager and telling them OP must go if he’s going to come back to work. So it’s cool for her to be that vindictive and try to get people fired, and everyone supports her in that, but this guy is a villain, really?

          This is not the facility manager’s fault for assuming that a desk that holds a normal amount of weight would suffice (especially since all the other desks are and have been fine up until now). It’s not the desk manufacturer’s fault for assuming that a desk wouldn’t be asked to hold over 400 pounds, 350 of that at an angle so the pressure is heavily on one part of the desk rather than evenly distributed over the entire top. It’s not the co-worker’s fault for being upset that his life has been seriously impacted, possibly forever, by someone else’s choices, and it’s not the fault of the entire workplace for knowing what happened.

          I’m not saying it’s necessarily the OP’s fault for leaning, either–this was clearly an accident and she clearly had no idea the desk might break like that–but the excuses and whining and desperation to blame other people is not sitting well with me, and neither is her outrage that people have pointed out that desks are not designed to carry that much weight/that her very high weight is what made the desk break. (I also doubt the facilities manager was reading “100 pounds” off the desk’s spec sheet when he made that comment; it seems to me it was probably just a generalization.) I’m sorry, OP, I’m sure this was extremely embarrassing for you, and it probably still is, and I believe you feel awful about it. But blaming other people isn’t going to help, it’s not going to mitigate the facts, and it’s not going to absolve you of the need to take responsibility. Perhaps you can turn that embarrassment into a positive and make some changes in your life; honestly, if I was your injured co-worker, seeing you do that would make all the difference for me.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            The man with the bird-phobia physically pushed his coworker in front of a car. OP2 simply leaned against a nearby surface they assumed was sturdy. That’s the difference in my mind.

            And you know what, this incident is still fresh and the coworker is still in pain and dealing with the fallout, so if he’s not ready to accept an apology I think that’s completely understandable. I do hope that someday he arrives at a place where he’s able to say “I know you didn’t mean for this to happen.”

            And Anion, I would appreciate it if you would stop saying things like “her very high weight.” The OP knows how much they weigh. They don’t need people in the comments section bringing it up again and again.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            Unfortunately, there actually WERE a lot of victim-blaming comments on the bird letter, and a lot of crap about how it was “ableist” for Liz to be uncomfortable working with a man who had *pushed her in front of a car.*

            What this facilities guy did was cruel, but I can’t blame the coworker with the broken femur for not being in a place to manage OP2’s feelings, any more than I can blame Liz for being angry. (I think I said that if i were in her place I’d have not only done the same but also sought to press criminal charges. I’d also have been skeptical of the bird phobia as an explanation and suspected it was a BS cover for a deliberate violent attack, because I know that if something that awful happened to me i would assume the worst. Also, there are a lot more men who are violent toward women than men with such an extreme phobia of birds.)

        8. BananaPants*

          I can’t believe that so many are calling the coworker a jerk! A femur fracture can be life-threatening, and is at the very least painful and life-altering while it heals and the person rehabs from the injury. The coworker has to spend months on crutches or in a wheelchair, with corresponding impact to their personal/social life (especially challenging if they have any caregiving responsibilities at home). This is likely a worker’s comp situation, so the coworker may not even be able to select their own doctor to treat the injury.

          Like, if this happened to me today? My kid’s lacrosse team would have no coach for the season, I’d be unable to volunteer with Girl Scouts, we’d need to buy a large ramp just to get me in and out of our house, we’d have potentially 5 figures worth of medical bills, I’d only be getting 60% of my normal salary while on short term disability, and most significantly my husband would have to take unpaid FMLA or quit his job entirely to care for me and our children until I regained some mobility. I wouldn’t be accepting an apology right away either! I’d be keeping all of my options open re: possible legal action, and I just don’t think I’d be in a forgiving mood immediately after such a significant injury.

          The employer was wrong to use names when they published something about the accident, though. My employer does report on workplace injuries, but the person hurt and others present are NEVER named – often we know who it was anyways, but there’s at least a pretense of privacy.

          1. EditorInChief*

            Yes. This is exactly it. Workers comp is one thing, but who is going to take/pick up my kids from school, activities etc., help my elderly mom with her daily routine, walk my dog, etc. OP’s apology of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ whatcha gonna do means nothing.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t think that’s fair–for one thing, we don’t know what she said in the apology but I bet that wasn’t it, and another, it seems like you’re deeming her apology insufficient while simultaneously saying an apology doesn’t matter.

              1. EditorInChief*

                Clumsy wording. I don’t think it’s insufficient, I think it’s meaningless because a couple of apologetic words from OP to make herself feel better isn’t going to pick up my kids from school or help out my mom.

                1. fposte*

                  And I think there you may be accurately capturing the feelings of broken femur guy. I’m genuinely curious, since I’m finding the apology thing interesting–do you think that means you wouldn’t accept an apology, or just that you don’t much care whether you get one or not because it doesn’t help?

                2. EditorInChief*

                  Sorry fposte, since I can’t nest a comment under your question below. I wouldn’t care whether I received one or not because it doesn’t help my situation, and I frankly wouldn’t care about making OP feel better. If it was me when I returned to work I would act normally, and if people want to discuss the situation I would say something like that’s all in the past, nothing more to discuss. I would be civil to OP, but if she tried to bring it up to me I would tell her I did not wish to ever discuss the topic with her again.

                3. fposte*

                  @Editor–it runs out of nesting at a certain point. I just reply under the last possible one and do the @ to identify who I’m talking to. And thanks for the answer–I think it’s a really challenging situation to negotiate for the victim and there are different ways to see it.

          2. A.*

            Editor- I completely agree. I’m not going to try to get you fired or be hostile to you at work. But I will not be interested in discussing or telling you I forgive you. Words really didn’t help me during my recovery so you can keep them.

      4. Pickaduck*

        Absolutely! Calling the injured party at jerk is very harsh. Not sure I could accept the apology right in the aftermath.

        1. Nox*

          A person is never obligated to accept an apology for physical or emotional trauma. Accident or not. I am highly displeased that the advice is advocating to victim blame the injured party by calling him a jerk. The man was seriously injured in an accident and the response should be edited to remove the name calling out of it.

          1. Boo Berry*

            This all around. I’m extremely grossed out right now by so many of the comments and from Alison herself trying to call out the injured coworker for not shrugging off a massive injury like this. All while he’s probably in traction and processing an injury that might have far reaching consequences for him after it heals.

            I feel mortified for the OP and I’m sure she’s feeling awful about everything and feels genuine remorse and is likely suffering in her own way from a company that was willing to throw her under the bus like they have and the fact stuff like this becomes part of Office lore very easily.

            But seriously, no one is obligated to accept an apology, especially when they’re in the thick of being in pain and being told what kind of physical therapy will be required for this kind of injury. It’s a long term and far reaching blow. I get his resistance. I’m shocked so many are so openly hostile towards someone like this. It does the victim or OP absolutely no good and it’s showing a very ugly side to this community.

            1. Eye of Sauron*


              I get it, the OP is sympathetic. We all get that she didn’t intend to harm the coworker. But at the end of the day her actions contributed in a significant way to the injury. I feel like we’ve forgotten how to say “Yes I understand that you didn’t mean this, but that doesn’t lesson the impact on the other party and the role you played in it”.

              1. Autumnheart*

                Yes, and we’ve had letters where a person caused significant issues for a coworker even though their intent was not malicious. The guy whose bird phobia made him push his coworker into a car. The hypochondriac who would catastrophize about having certain illnesses that he didn’t actually have, alienating and stressing his coworkers who really did have those illnesses. The woman who triggered an investigation on a coworker so that she would have a reason to get out of an abusive relationship.

                All of those people were dealing with Stuff but they still caused significant damage to their coworkers. Yes, we should feel compassion for people dealing with Stuff, but they still bear all the responsibility for the damage they cause others as a result of their Stuff. The people who suffered as a result are not responsible for lightening the consequences for the responsible party. If one consequence is that your injured coworker considers you persona non grata and your reputation in the company suffers, well….you know….that may be a signal that you need to work harder on your Stuff. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person who meant to cause harm, but you DID cause harm.

                1. Delphine*

                  I don’t think your examples are comparable to this situation. If a person who is injured by a desk that fell on them decides to punish you for it by damaging your reputation, they aren’t acting reasonably. But a person who is injured because you pushed them in front of a car is acting reasonably when they hold you somewhat responsible. One is an action no one could have predicted would result in an injury. The other an action that everyone knows can result in an injury.

            2. SoCalHR*

              But it was still an *accident* by OP, and not even a reckless accident (i.e. flagrantly goofing off and caused harm), so it is sad that the co-worker hasn’t been able to (yet?) see this. I guess “jerk” may be a little strong, but OP doesn’t really deserve the wrath for this incident, which they are getting from all sides.

            3. Glomarization, Esq.*

              The update still suggests that the co-worker would have an obligation to apologize if the injury weren’t so serious. I really disagree with that proposition. Whether the co-worker suffered an injured leg, a broken fingernail, or hurt feelings, they have no duty to forgive the person who injured them or accept their apology. That’s rough for the person who inflicted the injury unintentionally, but that’s how the cards fall sometimes.

            4. SoCalHR*

              Glomarization, Esq. – a “duty to forgive” is perhaps a bit extreme. But what a sad world we would live in if we don’t encourage forgiveness in general and at minimum when people harm us UNINTENTIONALLY. Forgiveness is better for BOTH parties.

            5. Glomarization, Esq.*

              Forgiveness and accepting apologies is great, but man I’m not gonna tell someone what they should feel in their heart, whether they should accept an apology, or what they should say to anyone. There are 7 billion different reasons in the world why someone might find it easier or harder to accept an apology, and sometimes a perceived very small injury like a broken fingernail is legit hard to get over.

      5. Typhon Worker Bee*

        Right, and when was the apology offered? While the coworker was writhing in pain on the ground, while they were in hospital all drugged up on painkillers, or when they were starting to feel better? These things matter…

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Co-worker is under absolutely no obligation to accept an apology. Broken femur or broken fingernail, co-worker can handle their well-being in any way they see fit. I’m really, really not a fan of the initial advice and the agreement among much of the commentariat that the co-worker “must” make any movement at all towards the letter writer.

      I think if we had a letter that said, “My co-worker accidentally broke my shabby desk, and it ended up breaking my leg [or: my fingernail]. I’m very upset/saddened/shocked/in pain, and now the co-worker is upset that I won’t accept her apology,” would we call that letter-writer a “jerk” for not forgiving the co-worker?

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        Sadly I think we would.

        In my humble opinion, an apology should be given free and clear of any expectation of acceptance. If there is a conditional upon acceptance apology, then it’s probably only offered to make the the apologizer feel better and has little to do with the apologizee.

        The only true apology is one with no expectation of acceptance.

        1. serenity*

          This is a very un-nuanced view of the role apologies play, especially in a work setting, and it feels pedantic and easy to say from the comfort of one’s keyboard.

          If an apology is felt to be insincere, I can see why someone would be unwilling to accept it. But if an innocent accident is being interpreted as deliberate or malicious, and the response is to shun an apology, what is your reasoning for that? Is that a healthy way for colleagues who will continue to work together to interact?

          If you sincerely apologized to someone, and they chose not to accept it for any numbers of reasons, I really doubt you would express the thoughts you wrote here.

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            Actually, it has happened to me. And I had to admit to myself there are just some things that good intentions can’t fix. Sure it would have made me feel better if they had accepted. But the lack of acceptance didn’t mean I was any less sorry.

            At that point I knew that I was sincere in my apology and that was the best I could do.

            1. Glomarization, Esq.*

              I’ve been (have put myself) in a similar situation. I did something hurtfully bone-headed, I apologized, and — wonder of wonders — the person I hurt didn’t accept my apology.

              Doesn’t make that person a jerk. I was the jerk who hurt them. You live enough years on this planet, you end up not getting apology-closure on everything that happens between you and other people. It just happens.

        2. Anion*

          And despite the assumptions being made here, we have no evidence that the apology actually was a plain, sincere, “I’m sorry I did that.” Given the OP’s desire to blame other people for the accident and anger about an extra fifty pounds being added to her weight in a casual comment, I get a very “I’m sorry but the facilities guy and the desk manufacturers are to blame and also I don’t weigh that much, how dare you say I weigh 400 pounds when actually it’s more like 350, so my weight can’t possibly be the reason,” feeling, and if that was the apology I was offered I wouldn’t be accepting it, either.

          The OP can’t even accept blame here, anonymously, without making excuses and trying to deflect and hold others responsible–I’m surprised she’s not blaming the injured co-worker for not getting out of the way fast enough, frankly. So why are people so sure her apology in real life was heartfelt and sincere?

            1. Anion*

              The “problem?” What “problem” is that?

              Her actions directly caused the co-worker’s broken leg. If she had not “leaned on” the desk, it would not have broken, and the co-worker’s leg would not be broken, either. Yes, I believe she has blame to accept, since the accident is the direct result of her actions. It is not a “problem” that I view it that way; in fact, the LW herself clearly thinks there is blame to be had here, she just thinks that blame should belong to a bunch of other people who failed to plan for the idea that someone who weighs 350 pounds might one day want to lean on a desk, and not with the 350-pound person who did the leaning. That’s not taking responsibility, it’s trying to shift blame onto other people, and it is why I doubt the sincerity of her apology.

              That doesn’t mean I think she did it on purpose, and it doesn’t mean I think it was malicious or that she intended to harm anyone. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe she feels awful about it (I do, and have said so more than once). But the fact that it was an accident doesn’t absolve her of blame, any more than I would be absolved of blame if I swerved to avoid a child in the road and ended up smashing someone’s fence. Did I do it on purpose? No. Did I deliberately try to break their fence? No. Even the fact that I swerved for a good reason, and it would have been worse if I hadn’t, still does not mean I am not to blame for smashing the fence. It may mitigate it somewhat, but I am still responsible for it, because I did it.

          1. myswtghst*

            You’re making a lot of assumptions yourself. As far as we know, the OP is trying to give Alison (& us) a full picture of everything they’re dealing with – an unfortunate accident, that based on the information provided by facilities could have happened to just about any average-sized adult, which has now been exacerbated by an incredibly inappropriate blame&shame memo that included inaccurate information. I think it’s a bit of a reach to automatically assume OP’s apology to their coworker included any (or all) of the same content, especially since OP is writing to Alison after the apology was made.

            I am a fat person. As long as I have been a fat person, I have been made to feel as if I need to legitimize myself and my opinions by making it clear that I’m a good fat person, a healthy fat person, that I’m not really that fat, and so on. As a result, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that when approaching a mostly anonymous/unknown audience, OP felt the need to be really clear that they don’t actually weigh 400 lbs, and that they didn’t actually sit on the desk, because it’s pretty easy to anticipate all the comments that will tell you that it’s your fault regardless because you’re fat.

            We honestly don’t know enough about the apology or the “refusal to accept the apology” to lay judgment on OP or the coworker. I’m a fan of giving the benefit of the doubt on both sides – that OP’s apology was sincere but wasn’t something coworker was willing or able to accept just yet for whatever reason – but I don’t think we even need to go that far to provide useful advice. (And telling fat people that we’re fat is never useful advice, nor is it new information to us, for the record.)

            1. Anion*

              I agree that we don’t know enough about the apology to lay judgment; that’s exactly my point. People here are saying with absolute certainty that the apology was sincere and heartfelt, and I’m simply saying that based on what I see from the LW here, I don’t agree with that assumption. And even if I was seeing something different, we *still* don’t know that it was sincere and heartfelt.

              The LW’s desire to blame others is a problem for me. I seriously, seriously doubt the facilities manager was reading off a spec sheet when he made his comment about the desk being rated to hold 100 pounds–it sounds like a general comment tossed out in the aftermath of a terrible situation to me–so I don’t get why people are taking that as gospel, especially since for that to be the case it would have to mean that no one else in that office has ever leaned on one of the desks. What’s more likely: that the facilities mgr. spoke in generalities, or that no one has ever leaned on a desk in that office before? Seriously think about that for a second. The LW is grabbing that sentence like a lifeline that absolves her of responsibility, and I don’t buy it, and I think it says something about her. (And quite frankly, the difference between 350 and 400 pounds is negligible. 350 pounds is still–and I’m trying to say this in as non-shaming a way as possible, because I am not trying to “shame” anyone–dangerously obese, unless the LW is also over six feet tall. Quibbling about 50 pounds when one’s weight has broken both a desk and a co-worker’s leg looks to me like trying to deny responsibility or pretend it wasn’t the LW’s fault: oh, it was the faulty desk, I’m not really so big that I broke it, it would have collapsed if a mouse scampered across it.)

              I’m sorry you’ve been made to feel that you are somehow not a legitimate person because you are fat. That’s awful and it must feel awful. I don’t care if you’re “a good fat person,” (I don’t really get the difference between a “good fat person” and a “bad fat person,” though; people are either good people or bad people, aren’t they?) and exactly how fat you may be doesn’t matter to me. But it also doesn’t change my view of the OP’s attempts to claim that 50 pounds is what makes all the difference, and–again–the fact that she is doing so is (in my opinion, and in fact in your own words) an attempt to absolve herself of responsibility. This *is* her fault. That doesn’t mean she meant to do it or that she’s a bad person, but if *I* leaned my 110 pounds on a desk and it broke and broke my co-worker’s leg, it would be *my* fault that the desk broke, period. She leaned on the desk. She broke the desk. That is her fault. It was an accident, yes, but it was an accident that *was her fault.* I can accept that it would be my fault. She cannot accept that this was her fault. That is why I am not sure her apology was sincere, and that is why I have my doubts about her.

              1. myswtghst*

                If we don’t know enough about the apology, why assume the letter writer was insincere? What purpose does it serve, other than to make the letter writer feel bad? You could just as easily encourage the letter writer to re-examine how and when they apologized to see if that might impact the coworker’s response, and still stick with Alison’s request that we be kind to letter writers here.

                I guess I’m just confused, because I am not reading the letter at all the way you are. I don’t see a desire to blame others, I see a desire to understand how and why this happened, and an OP who is truly distraught about the situation. I see something that was genuinely an accident, because OP did not intentionally hurt the coworker, and unless the office uses children’s desks from IKEA and the OP has never once leaned on a desk in the office before, they did not do anything that a rational person would qualify as reckless endangerment – they did something most of us do several times a day without thinking much about it.

                While I appreciate what you’re trying to do, I’m not interested in your apologies. My statements about how fat people are made to feel they need to legitimize themselves was not, in any way, about how *you* interact with fat people. It was about how society in general treats us, and as a result, why I think the OP’s justifications are perfectly understandable and don’t point to a desire to blame others, but to a desire to show us they aren’t a reckless terrible person who intentionally endangered a coworker. How *you* feel about fat people isn’t relevant here, but how society at large treats us is, because it shapes how we respond to the world. When you’re made to constantly defend yourself, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you might sound a little defensive sometimes.

                1. Blue*

                  I like your comments, myswtghst. Of course OP shouldn’t have to be defensive about her weight, and *of course she is*.

      2. Gorgo*

        Accepting an apology isn’t the same as absolving someone of fault! It can be as simple as absolving someone of intention.

        “I’m so sorry!”

        “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”

        That’s accepting an apology. It doesn’t mean apologizer isn’t responsible, or even that injured party isn’t angry.

      3. Delphine*

        I think we’d tell the letter writer that they are under no obligation to accept someone’s apology, but it would be the right move considering the coworker did not break the desk on purpose, did not know the desk would break, and did not know someone’s leg would break when she did something very normal–leaned a bit on a desk.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s where I’d land. Now I can see a situation where the act of making the apology was really part of a demand for recognition and absolution (the woman whose anxiety led her to chase a co-worker down in her home comes to mind), in which case I can understand stopping all communication, period. But I don’t think this is like that, and I don’t see much to be gained here from not accepting the apology. In fact, if you stay really tweaked about it, there’s a risk of sympathy turning against you, especially if there are other desk collapses that make it clear that it’s just something these desks do.

          1. Blue*

            I mean, I think a lot of this is down to the fact that people have very different ideas about what an apology is, what you expect from an apology and what accepting or not accepting an apology means. For me personally, it wouldn’t even occur to me to be angry at OP. It doesn’t have anything to do with how severe the injury was or what impact it had on my life – she didn’t intend any harm and obviously feels awful. To me, an apology in that scenario literally just means ”Oh no, my actions have caused you harm! I didn’t want that to happen, I acknowledge that it has, and I care about that.” And accepting it means. ”I realise that you didn’t intend to cause me harm.” That’s it. Obviously for a lot of people it’s a lot more complex.

  5. TCO*

    I once participated in an icebreaker that was “tell us about your childhood pet.” It devolved into a lot of sad stories about those pets passing away. Fortunately our group managed to find the dark humor in the situation and the leader swore off that particular icebreaker for good once he realized how easily it could go off the rails.

      1. Mookie*

        Yeah, I suppose if you squint, this could be a bonding exercise, in that almost everyone who lives long enough is eventually an orphan. Is that a factoid likely to bring co-workers closer together, though?

        I’ve had a few decent work-relevant icebreakers. The one nearest to the forefront of my mind was describing a colleague or boss we admired, envied, and would like to emulate. It was pretty illuminating, because we learned (a) what our peers were looking for in a collaborator and (b) what kind of person they wanted to be but theretofore lacked the ability to achieve, so we would help each other along in the process. I almost think it’s less about the subject of the ice-breaker and more about the mediators leading the discussion, highlighting what matters and what functional knowledge we can take away from the meeting. This is particularly useful for departments / bureaus / shifts all hired on at the same time, but done right it’s a pretty diplomatic and collegial way of introducing a few new faces, as well, by taking the pressure and spotlight off them and giving everyone a chance to introduce themselves on equal standing.

      2. Jessen*

        I have a very dark sense of humor – I would be tempted to start counting on my fingers how many pets died when I was a kid. Of course, we had hamsters, but no need to mention that up front…

        Ok, I wouldn’t actually do that, but still.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          haha… mine would be something like. “I raised gerbils… let me tell you about Teddy the First…long time later… And then we got Teddy the Thirteenth”

            1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

              We had a succession of cockatiels named “Larry” (regardless of sex).

      3. Clorinda*

        That’s absolutely inevitable. When you ask a group of people in their 20s and 30s about childhood pets, almost all the pets are bound to be dead, except maybe the parrots and elephants. It’s like asking a roomful of 50-somethings about their grandparents.

    1. Lance*

      To his credit, at least that one could reasonably be construed as positive. Scars are… anything but.

    2. Emi.*

      I once had to hear that a classmate had “made out with a hamster,” though. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed in icebreakers of any type.

        1. Emi.*

          He was kissing it on the face and it opened its mouth and licked his tongue.

          We were … not surprised that he didn’t really know what making out entails.

  6. phira*

    OP3: I also have colitis! It’s the woooooooorst, and I am so sorry you’re dealing with it. It’s also so stressful to deal with and explain at new jobs. I think Alison’s advice is good, and it’s similar to how I’ve handled it (although I’ve never begun a new job while flaring). Definitely emphasize that it is worse in the morning, and that it can make it impossible to leave the house because you need to be near a bathroom. I’ve had some bosses and coworkers not really understand that colitis is not just having bad symptoms *when* you go to the bathroom, but having to constantly return to the bathroom over and over, and often unpredictably, which can be really disruptive when it comes to being productive.

    I hope you can find a new treatment that works for you!

    1. Ifeelyourpain*

      I once had a flare up when I was unemployed and interviewing and it was really difficult. I remember feeling really sick right before a big interview once and I was so embarrassed. It was mostly under control by the time I got a job (not that one) but I was still so freaked out I would have an episode when someone was training me. I did not want to be the person disappearing to the bathroom for a long long time when people would most notice it. The best thing I can offer is to make sure you are doing everything you can be to bring your stress levels down. I’ve found stress has a huge effect on my colitis and going through a flair up is a cycle that feeds itself making yourself more and more stressed out and more and more sick – then starting a new job is stressful in itself. So be sure to take extra care of yourself however you can. And – you have probably heard this somewhere before – but the squatty potty was a huge help for me. There are even some similar things you can find on Amazon you can travel with that you could bring to work. Easy to carry in the bathroom if you are a girl with a purse – no idea how a dude would do it. But it really made my ‘episodes’ much faster and less painful and helped me cope at work.

    2. SineNomine*

      Honestly, I am impressed you guys are able to work at all during a flare. I’ve been unemployed for a long time from a severe case of UC where I felt I couldn’t leave the house almost ever. 15+ times a day, untreated by medication. I can’t imagine how stressful that would be going in to work, much less a new job…

  7. LouiseM*

    OP#2, I am so sorry! That’s absurd that your coworker won’t accept your apology. I would be mortified too, but I think Allison’s advice to act as normally as possible is the right way to go.

    That said…honestly, I don’t really buy that the desk could only support 100lbs. Even if the weight limit is 100lbs, they’re talking about the amount of computer equipment that can be on the desk all the time–the engineers know that there will sometimes be other stressors acting on the furniture. My theory? The piece was old or otherwise defective and really should have been replaced sooner, and so the facilities manager was doing a CYA by deflecting the blame onto you. It’s really crappy, but happens all the time. So sorry, I hope you feel better about this soon.

    1. Observer*

      I was thinking much the same thing. It’s true that a lot of computers are not that heave anymore, but add a printer and a few manuals and you’ve got quite a bit of weight right there. And, people leaning on desks is sooo normal that any decent desk meant to be used should be able to handle that. Even the cheap particle board junk.

      1. Mary*

        Yes I would blame the desk as being defective. Even a light weight person leaning over a desk with both hands on it to look for something behind it would exert 100 lb of pressure on the desk easily. I had an issue in my work where a colleague sat on a chair. The chair collapsed under her causing her to damage her neck and shoulder (she grabbed for the table on the way down). Now she was by far the lightest person in the department at the time. But the chairs were the cheapest they could get at the time and were very poor quality. I threw them all out and purchased proper chairs. If I or my other two colleagues at the time had sat in that chair and broken it we would have blamed our weight, but the root cause was our boss was a cheap skate and went for cheap products.

        1. Irene Adler*

          Or perhaps the assembly of the desk was not done correctly. AND the desk wasn’t the best quality either.

  8. Mr Grinch*

    #2 If a desk breaks when somebody just leans on it, it’s a crappy desk. You don’t need to be embarrassed that your office has bad furniture.

    1. High Score*

      No kidding! I often SIT my huge self ON desks bc I have coworkers I need info from and unless I sit on their desks and wait, using my legs to lock them in their cube, they won’t fork it over. That’s right, I have to literally trap rude coworkers in so that they will give the information they’re being paid to dispense that will take less than 5 minutes of their time. Good thing we have sturdy desks and cube walls or nothing would get done.
      Yes, I try email first, then calls, then a nice visit and then I have to resort to desk sitting.

        1. Observer*

          I’m with fposte. It doesn’t matter that they should be giving you the information. That’s really out of line and totally not an appropriate way to handle the situation.

      1. Environmental Gone Public Health Gone Back Environmental*

        ……I can’t say I’d opt for *refusing to let someone leave their cube* over, I don’t know, involving their manager if it’s really this big of an issue?

        You have no idea how physically blocking someone in could affect that person. I get very, very, very anxious and phobic if someone does that to me because of some past life traumas. If someone forcibly does that for anything more than a couple minutes, I would be close to a panic attack, *especially* if they’re coming off aggressively.

        1. Observer*

          You what? I don’t have the kind of baggage, thank G-d. But I’d STILL freak out if someone ever did that to me.

            1. Jules the Third*

              I think it’s a nesting error, and the ‘You what?” is to High Score.

              Who should not be blocking people’s exits. Really, there are grown-up ways to deal with that.

            2. Observer*

              No, it’s a typo. I meant to write “You know what? It’t doesn’t matter.” Sorry about that!

              The point being that even without your background, this would be pretty upsetting to a lot of people and with good reason!

              1. Environmental Gone Public Health Gone Back Environmental*

                Ahh, that makes more sense. I had figured I had a typo and then couldn’t find it! I only included my background because I also don’t like people standing too close to me, and it seems to confuse people that I’ll (unobtrusively) back away a bit until I explain I have a pretty big personal bubble. (Not that anyone should need to explain anything like that, but I do find that sometimes I need to.)

        2. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

          My office implemented an entire new safety procedure including signalling lights and emergency training with an OHAS officer after I was blocked in my office by someone in similar circumstances, and she was tiny.

          Electing to use your girth to trap someone in their cube because they aren’t as responsive to your requests as you’d like them to be seems like a really bad idea.

        3. Anion*

          Yes, me too. If you’ve ever been held like that in a genuinely scary, genuinely thought-you-might-die situation, even the faintest whiff of it happening again can be enough. No one should be exposed to that sort of situation at work.

      2. Namelesscommentator*

        Please don’t sit on coworkers’ desks and trap them with your body.

        That’s … incredibly disturbing. Your coworkers are not the rude ones here.

      3. dawbs*

        It’s not that I don’t understand the reason behind what you’re doing. It’s not that I don’t get it. I am good at putting myself in people’s path myself. But there’s a difference between putting yousrelf in people’s paths and trapping them, and it sounds like you’re doing the latter and that’s really not OK to do to people.

      4. Anion*

        If you did that to me, I would start screaming. Then hitting. Then using weapons. Then filing outraged complaints with HR and anyone else who would listen. I freak out if I feel trapped, and I don’t care if it’s at work or not; you do not get to physically trap me at my desk like that.

        1. Environmental Gone Public Health Gone Back Environmental*

          In college, there was a young guy who thought it was funny to pick up small people (99% of the time, women) and thought it would be funny to randomly run up behind me and attempt to pick me up. I kinda felt bad after giving him a bloody nose/sore nether regions in a state of pure panic of someone suddenly in my personal space, touching me, and preventing me from getting away. But hey, he never once did that again to anyone- for which I had a couple girls come up and thank me!

      5. Legal Beagle*

        Yeah, don’t do that. It’s creepy and threatening. You are physically intimidating a coworker and restricting their freedom of movement. Does that actually sound ok to you?

  9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, as Alison notes, ask her frankly to stop emailing you job notices. It sounds like you’re trying to get her to pick up on hints/cues—that approach let’s her pretend she’s not picking them up. Be direct; it’s not rude, and it makes it harder for her to keep engaging in unwanted behavior without looking like a jerk.

    1. LKW*

      Agreed. I love the directness of the script where you note your request, her refusal to stop and then “What’s up with that?” because it puts a big old spotlight on her. I am not overly confrontational but I do like seeing people squirm when it’s justified.

      Sometimes making people uncomfortable is a great way to drive home a point; people continue being crappy until that spotlight is on them. She will get defensive and she may get mad. That’s on her. Not you. You made a request. She ignored it. You are asking her why she ignored it and now she has to justify it or just stop. She crossed the line because you didn’t make it uncomfortable to do so – now you’re making it uncomfortable for her to continue crossing the line. She won’t cross the line. She’ll also know not to cross lines you set.

    2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I also wonder if the OP can just delete the emails without responding? And if the coworker brings it up, she can say something like “Oh I’ve been deleting those since I’m not looking for a new job. Thanks for your efforts but you really don’t need to spend time looking at jobs on behalf, I’m perfectly happy here!”

      1. Yorick*

        That sounds like what she’s been doing so far. Now she needs to more directly tell her to stop.

        1. #4 OP*

          I am definitely looking forward to standing up for myself a little bit and making her realize how uncomfortable she’s making me. Part of my issue is that I’m used to being a student and having to take a lot of flak without complaining, so I think it’ll be a great opportunity for me to learn to be an equal employee and coworker.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            The good news it that you don’t really have to tell her she’s upsetting you or anything else. Just tell her to stop. It can be delivered cheerily (but directly) the first time, and then if she keeps doing it, you can allow a little annoyance into your voice (along with a puzzled, “why would you do that?” look). Making people explain their discomfiting behavior can be really effective for getting them to stop.

          2. LiveAndLetDie*

            I would be extremely clear with her next time it happens. Something like “I have asked you before to stop sending me these and you have ignored me. I am asking you one last time to stop.” If she doesn’t stop, I would take it to your boss and lay it all out, because it sounds like she’s targeting you, and if she doesn’t stop when you’ve asked repeatedly (and firmly) then it’s harassment. You should be able to do your job without this nuisance and your boss should also want this for you!

      2. AnonAndOn*

        I feel that being direct from the jump is the best way to approach this. Deleting the e-mails and waiting to tell her to stop is not as direct as telling her to stop sending them.

        1. Seriously?*

          True, but if she keeps sending them after being told directly to stop it will be the only option left.

  10. EMW*

    I typically don’t like icebreakers, but I do like two truths and a lie. You mention three things about yourself, one of which is false. People try to guess which one is false before you reveal the answer. I’ve actually learned really interesting things about colleagues, and the added bonus that the person has a lot of control over the information that they share.

    1. RestlessRenegade*

      I think that would be a great ice-breaker. You’d get to learn about your colleagues but get to choose what to tell them.

      I kind of wish someone would pull the “explain your scars” ice-breaker on me. I have exactly one visible scar, and I guarantee my explanation would make the organizer think twice about doing that again. (“Bondage.”)

    2. All Hail Queen Sally*

      OMG–I went through this same ice breaker once in a college class and one girl stated that she was a convicted felon. Of course, we all knew that was the lie. Nope. Turned out to be one of her truths!

    3. babblemouth*

      I came here to mention this one. It allows people to filter exactly what kind of information they’re happy to share about themselves, and it gives people a chance to be a bit funny and creative in their lies. The exercise takes just 5 minutes (especially if you get people to do it in small groups).

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I was going to mention this one too.

      Though I will say it is helpful if you give folks notice to prepare for it since it can be difficult to think of things on the spot.

    5. Susan K*

      Sorry, but I hate two truths and a lie. I feel like there’s so much pressure to come up with “good” ones so it’s hard to guess the lie. I would much rather answer a simple, straightforward question. I think the simpler the question, the more likely people are to actually listen to the responses rather than get distracted by thinking about what they’re going to say.

    6. Alice*

      Another good one – telling a story or fact related to your name. What does it mean, who chose it for you, what your favorite nickname is, etc. People usually listen because it helps them learn the names of the other people in the group!

      1. Lefty*

        I’m saving this one for future use! Like you said, it might help us learn others’ names- and it feels like it could be as personal or impersonal as the person prefers! “My mother read it in a book and liked it.” “I’m the 6th grandchild to carry his name.” “Everyone tends to mispronounce it as ________ instead, it’s really ________!”

        1. Penny Lane*

          A dozen “my mother really liked it” stories aren’t telling though. And it tells you nothing about the person. Of course their parents liked the name.

          1. Jotpe*

            But it’s harmless. The worst case scenario is the ice breaker takes 2 minutes, it’s slightly dull, no one shares anything uncomfortable, and the training can go on. That’s not too bad.

      2. Alex the Alchemist*

        We did this one at my old job and it was really cool because some people had awesome stories related to their name, while others didn’t know too much about their name and looked up their name meanings for the first time.

      3. Jessen*

        The only thing that comes to mind is it might be an issue for people who aren’t going by their birth name and don’t want to mention that? I have a friend who’s a passing trans lady and she says name-based stuff can be really hard because she doesn’t want to out herself.

        1. Jotpe*

          I had a TA in college who did this on the first day and I always thought it was an ok one. It can be a good opportunity for students to share important information (eg pronunciation), and it’s fairly easy for people to choose their limits:
          “I’m on the roll as Thihan but I prefer to be called Catherine”
          “My name is Catherine and I chose it for myself when my family came to Canada”
          “My name is Catherine and I like that that’s also a character in my favorite book”
          “My name is Catherine, and I really hate when people shorten it to Cathy or Katie”
          “My name is Catherine with a C”
          “My name is Catherine and I don’t really have a story”

          The trick is to really stress that people don’t have to share anything they don’t want to, and the leader can’t go pressing on answers like “I dunno”.

          1. Fiennes*

            Exactly. “My name is Roxanne and I HATE the song “Roxanne,’” etc. Or someone who has chosen a new name for themselves can—if so inclined—explain why, or offer up some other tidbit like, “Every barista seems to think ‘Darla’ is actually ‘Carla,’” etc.

        2. Natalie*

          There’s nothing in the prompt demanding the anecdote be about their legal name or birth name though? You can share the meaning of your name without disclosing that you’re the one that picked it out.

          1. Jessen*

            Fair enough – I was seeing the things like “who picked it out” being something that would be expected to provide an answer.

      4. Thing1*

        Oh, that one does sound good! What I usually use on the first day of class with my students (college-aged) is to share something related to the class (what’s your favorite thing about plants?) and then one pop-culture thing they’re into at the moment. Movie, TV show, book, music, video game, whatever. It works pretty well, because it’s a little more focused than just “a fun fact”, but broad enough that pretty much everyone can come up with something they’re ok with sharing, and you get a little bit of personality without having to share something uncomfortable. Especially since most people have multiple things they could answer–if someone didn’t want to say that they watched anime, for example, they probably have another movie/book/band that they could mention instead.

      5. Kyrielle*

        Annnnd…I would resort to saying “I don’t know” (or looking up its meaning and mentioning that, but I truly don’t know if it has one or what that meaning is). My name is common, familiar, and has no nickname forms – and how it was chosen involves some references to sad family history, which I *really* would not wish to discuss with coworkers.

        1. Not a Mere Device*

          “Lots of people misspell it” or “It’s Michele with one L” aren’t terribly intereesting, but they’ll do as facts about a name, if you don’t want to be personal. Or “there were three other Jennies in my kindergarten class,” if the name is one of the really common ones. “It doesn’t mean anything, my parents just liked the way it sounded” would work here. (Most names that have been around a while “mean something” in the sense that they could be translated from another language, but most people who name a boy Mark aren’t thinking of Mars.)

      6. nym*

        Except… I don’t know where my name came from. My parents haven’t ever said, just deflect the question. It’s not a family name, and it’s not from our ethnic heritage either, and it’s a very unusual name.

        I choose to believe it’s a dirty story they’re embarrassed to tell. More likely, they opened a baby name book to a random page, closed their eyes, and put a finger down.

    7. Glomarization, Esq.*

      This is a really, really fun and flexible icebreaker that I’ve used several times when I lead a group. If people need a prompt, I suggest “give us two jobs that you have held, and one that you never did.”

      The worst icebreaker I ever experienced was “tell us something about an ancestor you really admire, like your great-grandmother who was a suffragette.” It quickly went from “my granddad who was president of his college” to “my Mayflower ancestor who did x and y.” Then it came to a screeching halt with, “Well, I was adopted, so I don’t know any of my ancestors, so I’m going to have to ask to decline to answer.”

      1. Penny Lane*

        Oh good lord. Most people would understand they didn’t need to be so pedantically literal. They could have used a relative in their adopted family.

        1. Observer*

          Sure. But if this was something that people didn’t have any warning about, there could be a lot of reasons why that person might not have been able to come up with something in the moment. For instance, it’s not uncommon for adoptees to have issues around the fact of their adoption, the circumstances of their adoption, or the lack of knowledge about their bio family.

          Obviously that’s not true of all adoptees, but it’s common enough that I can’t say I’m shocked by this response.

        2. Glomarization, Esq.*

          Well, I mean, both my parents are immigrants to the U.S., so as a first-generation American I also come from a family with no Mayflower ancestors, no suffragettes, no WWII heroes, or anything similar. The exercise ended up being a contest as to whose family had the “best” American ancestors. I ended up stuttering something like, “My family is dirt farmers on one side and, uh, dirt farmers on the other, and even after they immigrated to the States they never got really involved with politics, so, uh, who’s next in line here?” I’ll take my acquaintance at her word that the question was really disconcerting for her. It’s not an icebreaker if you’re drilling into people’s history on a really personal level.

          1. YuliaC*

            Yeah. It can also be super disconcerting when after someone talking about Mayflower ancestors, the next person has to say that her ancestors were brought here on another ship in chains…

          1. KarenK*

            This was in response to Penny Lane’s comment above, not in response to any of the other responses to that same comment.

        3. tangerineRose*

          It could be tough, in a meeting with people you don’t know, when you’re trying to act professional, to come up with ancestors to talk about when you don’t know who your biological ancestors are. And what if you don’t know much about your family tree? If I had to answer this, I think I’d talk about my grandma, who went back to college after her kids were in school.

      2. LBK*

        Yikes. Wonder how this would’ve gone if someone in the group was descended from slaves – not that no descendant of slaves has ever amounted to anything, obviously, but seems really ignorant of people for whom looking back through family history is not a fun trip or one they can even trace back that far.

        1. EmilyAnn*

          This reminds me of the boss who wants us all to bring in liquors that were from our ancestral countries for an office gift exchange. He really liked talking about his Irish ancestors. Two of the black people in our office were immigrants from Africa, so they had their kind of alcohol, but I immediately shut this idea down when thinking of the African Americans in the office. How are they supposed to know where there ancestors are from in Africa without a DNA test? Also, why would we have an alcohol themed gift exchange? I have no idea what people’s histories are with alcohol.

    8. The Cosmic Avenger*

      The one memorable (in a good way) icebreaker we did was a variation on this. Everyone wrote down one fact about themselves that no one at work knew, and of course you could choose whatever you wanted, so people usually chose achievements that were not work-related. And just like two truths and a lie, you could also choose something more trivial if you wanted to be more private. I learned that one coworker had an MFA and a painting studio at home, which was a really interesting surprise that I still remember almost 10 years later. We had someone read them aloud, then we would guess who it was until we got it right, but as a close-knit group who had worked together for a long time we didn’t really have to worry about making it awkward. If I were to do this with a new group of coworkers, I would ask everyone to make their guesses silently (in their heads or on paper) as I read them, then reveal them all at the end. The guessing could probably lead to some hurt feelings or misunderstandings if the group doesn’t already trust each other at least a little.

    9. Anne Shirley*

      I was an RA in college (a situation where icebreakers are appropriate and frequently used) and in our training each year we were advised by more senior staff to NEVER use two truths and a lie! It takes forever, and everyone spends the time trying to come up with something good rather than listening and engaging with the person. Then again, it still beats “explain your scar”!

      1. Positive Reframer*

        In that case you could use the version where everyone writes them down on an index card, that way at least the majority of people have done their thinking at the same time. Its almost more fun when all of the facts are super normal rather than the most amazing facts about your life.

    10. Anonymous Ampersand*

      I’ve not seen it as an icebreaker, but how about something like “what’s your favourite book/film”, or even “name a book/film that you own that you don’t think anyone else will”?

      1. KarenK*

        We used to do “What’s on your iPod?” at regular staff meetings. Everyone would submit a list of 10 songs, and each month, we’d take a different list of songs, and try to guess whose list it was. Kind of fun, finding out who the rap and heavy metal fans were among a group of doctors and other medical professionals.

    11. Aphrodite*

      Hmm, if I said “bondage, convicted felon, eats children for breakfast.” I wonder how my colleagues would treat me after that day. And what they’d choose as the lie.

      *wanders off, pondering the answer–and the possibility of using it if I ever get the opportunity*

  11. LouiseM*

    In my opinion, the most effective icebreakers are the ones that clearly relate to the topic of the workshop. For example, if the workshop is about finding books in the library catalog (can you tell I’m on a college campus and see posters for this every day?), the icebreaker could be for everyone to share the last topic they researched online for a class project. The point is just to get people talking so that nobody feels awkward being the first to speak, not to “bond” by sharing personal details!

    1. Engineer Girl*

      This. I’ve actually done the favorite scar icebreaker. It was for a Wilderness Medicine class. Since it was outdoorsy people we all had scars.

      The person in OP#1 story was way off base. Emotional scar stories? Where is that ever appropriate but in therapy?

      1. Harper*

        I was thinking that I could see outdoorsy/adventurous/extreme sports type people having better luck with the scar one. In that context, I can see how it could work. In mundane workplaces? Eh, no.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*


      I have to do regular first aid courses because I’m a first responder at work.

      Typical ice breaker at those courses:

      State name, what you do for a living, what you hope to get out of the course, how long have you been doing fist aid, have you ever been in a fist aid situation/called emergency services.

      1. LouiseM*

        Exactly. If I have a choice, the ice breaker is: Name, pronouns, departmental affiliation, why you wanted to come to the workshop. If I have to add a “fun” icebreaker it’s like what I described above.

        1. Evergreen*

          Yes, i’m big fan of ‘what are you hoping to get out of the workshop’ because it also gives me (as the trainer) some context on which topics to focus on

          1. LBK*

            What do you define as a icebreaker if not a small piece of information to allow you to get to know someone?

            1. smoke tree*

              I feel like “icebreaker” can be used to describe a brief get-to-know-each-other exercise or something that artificially tries to create a sense of deeper intimacy in a short time, which I think is what these overly personal questions are going for–I really question how possible the latter is, or how appropriate is it for work, particularly with the “everyone share something personal about yourself” format.

      2. Antilles*

        That sort of ’30 second self-introduction’ is all the icebreaker you really need for most workshops and training courses. We’re here for a couple days at most (often less), with a specific agenda of topics that the instructor is going to be doing most of the talking – there’s no real reason to have some detailed icebreaker.
        I’ve done a bunch of first aid/first responder training courses over the course of my life (last count I think I’m up to 6…and I’m actually overdue) and that’s pretty much the exact ‘icebreaker’ they’ve done every single time and it’s consistently worked just fine.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep. I don’t even really like those–I’ve said before that I’ve developed a knee-jerk reaction to the phrase “go around the room and”–but for most things, there doesn’t really even need to be ice broken.

      3. nonymous*

        When I took a CERT class one of the icebreaker questions was favorite candy. And then the instructors made a mixed tub of fun sized favorites to put on the conference table each week! Totally superficial but definitely some visceral bonding in the moment.

    3. RaccoonLady*

      This past summer I was at a wedding of a distant relative who didn’t have a lot of family in the country. The couple sat me with some bridesmaids and a few other people who didn’t know many people, and they gave us very generic ice breaker type things as part of the place setting to go around and ask. That situation those worked well because we just wanted to make polite conversation with strangers.
      In a workplace setting, I think the ice breaker should either be related to the topic (like you said) or something very generic and open ended. Like, what is a hobby you have or something interesting about yourself. But I agree it’s better to stick to something related to the topic. I’m in the veterinary profession so a common ice breaker would be what pets you have or an interesting case you’ve seen (with any identifying details withheld of course).

    4. laylaaaaaaaah*

      When I taught ESOL, I used to do ‘name, course, favourite word (in English/mother tongue/something else)’. That usually went down pretty well- anyone who wanted to share something detailed could, and if not, you could just say “I like [word] because it sounds good.”

    5. TrixieBelden*

      Yes to this! I work in education (specifically water/stormwater related) and we always do a “what is your favorite water place” icebreaker. Works a charm and no one feels strange about sharing this type of information!

    6. Anonymeece*

      Ha! We do something similar in our academic library. With faculty, we ask, “When was the last time you went to the library and what for?” (Granted, we do have some contrarian faculty members who give snarky answers, but as our library does IDs for employees/students, tutoring, etc., most of the faculty have wandered up here once or twice). It works great in order to illustrate things we do that some faculty didn’t know about, too. One person would say, “Oh, I went to talk to X about making a research guide for my class,” and other faculty members ask, “Wait, what’s a research guide?”.

      Voila, the faculty learn other departments’ faculty and what they teach, faculty learn more about what we can do for them, and no one’s forced to share awkward emotional scarring. Unless one of our librarians was really mean, I guess.

    7. myswtghst*

      This is how I structure my ice breakers. They’re meant to be quick, to introduce everyone in the group to each other, and to get everyone thinking about the topic we’re about to spend the next few hours covering. If anyone has to really think about it for more than a few minutes or I’ve made people uncomfortable, I’m not doing my job as a facilitator.

  12. LouiseM*

    OP#4, if your hints haven’t worked, you can always try saying that you don’t want to appear to be job searching. I’d say something like, “It’s so nice of you to keep sending me these, but I’m really not looking to leave. And honestly, I’d hate for Boss to happen to walk by as I’m looking at a job ad. It could give her the wrong impression!”

    1. LouiseM*

      Also, OP, I really understand your reluctance at putting your foot down. You sound a lot like me when I was finishing school too. I may be projecting, but I’m the type of person who gets along with everybody and hates to feel like I’ve been even slightly rude to someone I like–sound familiar? But actually, if that’s your personality too then chances are you’ve built up enough goodwill with your coworker that asking her to stop sending you these postings won’t sound rude with the force of your personality behind it! Good luck!

    2. Lily*

      This might backfire if there’s any chance the coworker is trying to push her out as it is implied in the letter.

    3. MLB*

      I disagree. She needs to stop dancing around it and be direct. Clearly hints are not working. For those type of people, you just need to tell them to knock it off (in a professional way of course). It’s no different than making excuses for something you don’t want to do when you just need to say no. Making excuses just gives them more reason to find a way to get you to say yes. And in this situation, saying anything other than “stop sending them to me” is a reason for her to keep doing it. She may not listen, but being direct is the way to go.

      1. Penny Lane*

        OP. What is it that made you reluctant to do the obvious direct “please don’t send these to me anymore”? Are you excessively worried about hurting people’s feelings? How well does this pattern work for you in general, and why would it be a problem if she felt some chagrin at the moment?

        1. NotThatGardner*

          i think this is pretty harsh, though, and not being helpful to the OP with the issue at hand.

          1. Lauren*

            We should be encouraging OPs to speak up for themselves in general. I’ve been guilty of commenting like penny lane, which I feel bad about. It’s very difficult to speak up when the work dynamics could backfire. Bosses favorite, boss could retaliate, a lot of stuff happens that are subtle and most people don’t want to bring up anything that could hurt them later in performance reviews (either overtly or just a shift in perception that changes everything) so lots of people stay quiet.

        2. Anonymeece*

          I come from a culture that is a lot more “dance around the subject”. Being this direct all the time, and starting out this direct, would come across very badly and probably ostracize you from everyone. There are valid reasons why some people do not feel comfortable doing this – from the way they were raised, the culture they’re in, underlying anxiety issues, etc.

          In this case, she’s tried gentle hinting, so being direct is appropriate at this time, but asking why she didn’t at first is not helpful.

        3. #4 OP*

          Hi Penny (: I’m more than happy to be firm when I need to be, but I’m also new to this organization while she has been there for many years. I want to make sure that I don’t ruin my connections (especially in a small office) and make her think I’m angry about her sending me posts. I’m certainly not mad, just a little hurt.

    4. #4 OP*

      That’s a great idea, Louise! I hadn’t even considered what my boss would think– aack. Thanks for the idea (:

  13. Artemesia*

    I have done a lot of short and sometimes multi day or week workshops or training programs and you really do need to start them with some sort of ice breaking activity so people can begin to work together. This is especially important in longer programs, but it can help facilitate a shorter one like this one if it is to be actively engaging.

    BUT most people are annoyed by activities that don’t seem to relate to the objectives of the program or are deeply personal and they tend to waste precious time. Ideally an opening activity will connect to the subject matter and goals of the program and help orient the group to the program. You can draw on their experience without making it intrusive e.g. I have asked people to think of a ‘disaster in the workplace’ i.e. a time where they saw someone make a mistake that cost productivity or otherwise affected the organization in a negative way. We then began to identify potential interventions to fix the disaster and explore whether they were training solutions or other types of solutions. The participants liked sharing their experiences, they didn’t have to admit of any failing on their own part although some did, and it helped outline the purpose of the rest of the program on training interventions.

    1. Ceiswyn*

      A conference I was at added random cute symbols to people’s name badges based on the professional interests they’d listed when they signed up. At the end, there was a prize for the person who correctly identified the meanings of the most symbols.

      So instead of a stilted ‘icebreaker’ activity, people were provided with an actual personal motive to go around talking to each other. Puzzle-solving groups formed. People felt an instant kinship with others who had the same rare symbol. The ice was thoroughly broken.

      Plus, I won the biggest selection box of high-end chocolates I have ever seen in my life. So there’s that :)

    2. Susan Sto Helit*

      If you’re in an environment where everyone can move around, you can do a 10 minute icebreaker with a bingo-style sheet with various people to find. You can either have a basic one ‘someone who is an older sibling’, ‘someone who was born in another country’, ‘someone who was on a sports team at school’, or one more tailored to either the industry you’re in, or the people you know are attending the course (someone with x qualification, someone who has won x award). Give a prize for whoever can get the most names in the time allowed, with the caveat that you can only use each person once.

      1. Susan Sto Helit*

        Oh, also, this was a good one for a social environment gathering – my mom once organized a party for my dad at which the icebreaker for the guests (a lot of who didn’t know each other) was a quiz all about my dad. The idea was that most of the guests would know the answer to at least one of the (multiple choice) questions (they were things like ‘which of these vehicles did he own at university?), and by working your way around the party and speaking to various guests you’d be able to trade answers until you had the full set.

    3. Pebbles*

      We had a small group icebreaker where we had to figure out how best to survive a zombie apocalypse given certain starting factors and then present our solution to the larger group in a few sentences. At the end, everyone voted on the best solution (meaning who would have survived the longest). Took about 15 minutes total and was super fun!

      1. smoke tree*

        I find this kind of group activity way more effective for actually breaking the ice and getting people to talk to each other than awkward “everyone share a personal anecdote” activities.

  14. Thursday Next*

    OP #2, I’m especially appalled on your behalf that the office memo named you as a “desk breaker.” (Utter BS, by the way—who outfits their office with desks that would collapse under the weight of a PC and a compact edition of the OED?) I don’t know what they were hoping to accomplish by shaming you like that; it seems like an immature and unproductive workplace strategy.

    1. Wintermute*

      appropriate times to call someone “desk-breaker”:

      1– You’re a comic book writer, it’s 3am, your deadline is 8:00 and you have crippling writer’s block as to what to name your newest supervillian.


        1. Positive Reframer*

          Also is there a go-cart version of monster trucks? I could totally seeing it being a monster truck driver name in that arena.

    2. Mookie*

      Sounds like buck-passing, as Engineer Girl posits above. It’s such a dirty, petty move, to try to blame someone for malfunctioning or shoddy equipment, and completely verboten where labor is unionized for precisely this reason.

    3. M*

      I was horrified by this as well. It may be an appropriate response for your employer to send a friendly reminder not to sit on desks (although given that you didn’t even sit on the desk, and it seems like this was a freak accident that could happen to almost anyone). It is entirely inappropriate for the company to name you both by name, or attempt to shame you in any way. While I certainly feel sorry for the co-worker who was injured, I am also appalled on your behalf.

      1. SarahKay*

        Agreed. This is an awful situation for both OP and the co-worker, and you both have my sympathy. Leaning on desks is *such* a natural and common thing; I have a spare chair behind me that visitors can sit on, and they still lean on the desk…as do I, when visiting them.
        I’m also horrified by the company naming both of you when it sent out the memo.
        No good advice, sorry, but all my sympathy – I hope it blows over soon.

  15. Espeon*

    OP2: I’m sorry your workplace are being unkind to you, it was an accident and they’ve lacked some sensitivity/professionalism here.

    I don’t think it’s fair to categorise the injured coworker as a ‘jerk’ for not being up for accepting an apology at this point though. If it were me, while I’d understand it was an accident (and that my office had potentially flimsy desks?!), I’d also be very upset and worried about the situation (healing properly etc)… I wouldn’t necessarily be in a good place to genuinely, properly accept an apology from anyone – coworker or workplace – for a while. Give it time.

    1. Thursday Next*

      +1 to the wisdom of the second paragraph. If the injury is recent, it may still be quite painful, and your colleague is also trying to sort out how their daily life will work under new and difficult (albeit temporary) conditions. It’s natural to have strong feelings about someone who hurt you, even if it was an accident. Try not to press your colleague now: give them time to get their bearings.

    2. LouiseM*

      What a great point. It would be a jerk move if the coworker had a grudge six months later, but it could be that he’s just grappling with the shock. I’d be much more upset with the person who sent the memo.

      1. steve*

        also the one injured might have a different view of the whole thing. Different people see the same thing differently sometimes.

      2. Fiennes*


        Once the worst pain has faded, I fully expect the coworker to redirect that ire at whoever ordered office furniture from “Cardboard for Pixies Warehouse.”

    3. Lissa*

      Yeah, I think it depends on what exactly the coworker did to not accept the apology. I mean, a broken femur is pretty serious, so I’d give a bit of leeway for non-ideal reactions to a point. So long as he’s not demanding you be fired over an accident, or making your work day way harder on a regular basis I’d just give him some space for now.

      I personally am one who would far rather be accidentally injured than accidentally injure someone else (and yes I’ve been in both positions!) so I really feel for you here, OP. I’m sorry that happened.

    4. Tyche*

      We should not forget that a broken femur is a huge deal. It a serious and dangerous accident that could leave chronic paint and/or walking problems. So he is maybe still too shocked to properly accept your apology, maybe he is waiting for a prognosis, maybe he is still angry.

      Just because it was an accident, it doesn’t mean he can’t be angry or hurt.

      1. Thlayli*

        This. A broken femur is a life threatening injury. Lots of people who die in car crashes actually die from a broken femur. It’s extremely unkind to call someone a jerk because they won’t accept the apology of someone who gave them a life threatening injury. Perhaps he will be able to accept it when he’s healed. But he absolutely does not have to accept the apology now, while he’s still seriously injured and probably in significant pain.

        Yeah there are other things that contributed to the injury (cheap/badly made furniture for example), but the primary cause was the OP putting their weight on/against the desk. I wouldn’t accept the apology either, but I probably would in a year or two.

        OP, I think you need to forget about being forgiven, and just focus on keeping your head down and doing your job, until enough time has passed that people start to forget about it and start to reflect on the other aspects, like how poor the desk is.

        1. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

          >Lots of people who die in car crashes actually die from a broken femur.

          Human biology vexes and confuses me.

          1. Flower*

            In addition to what MommyMD said, the femoral artery runs close along the femur (not right up against it but not far). Useful in most cases, in that it’s deep in the leg so not easily cut, bad in that a broken femur has spiky bits of bone and can cut the artery causing internal bleeding of a major artery if it catches it the wrong way.

          2. Jam Today*

            If your femoral artery is cut via a bad break, you can bleed to death in about a minute and a half.

          1. pandop*

            My Mum broke her femur over 2 years ago, and is still having complications from it. Apparently it would have been ‘better’ (ie easier recovery etc) if her hip had broken instead, but she had already had that replaced!

          2. President Porpoise*

            :( My grandmother (92) just broke her hip again, so this makes me a bit sad. But I think my whole family is braced for her to pass on in the next year or two.

        1. Polar Bear Hug*

          But I broke my wrist (radius) in a fall six months ago, and though it’s a milder injury I am still in physiotherapy and struggling with some of my daily activities. If I were this coworker, knowing what I know now about bone healing and realizing I was facing it again, I wouldn’t be in a very forgiving mood either especially right away. It’s not the LW’s fault, at all, but it’s not the coworker’s either and he’s the one off work and in pain. Calling him a jerk is unfair.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I had a bad injury a few years back and couldn’t walk for close to a year. I still can’t imagine refusing to accept an apology if it had been an accident. I agree I was wrong about “jerk” in this case because of what people are saying about femurs, but with routine injuries, I do think it would be jerky to refuse to accept an apology from someone who clearly felt awful about causing an accident.

            1. Hmmm*

              I’ve also had very severe injuries and not held it against the people involved… Considering all OP did was lean on a desk, I’d definitely have accepted an apology, regardless of how terrible my situation is.. But apparently that’s unusual. I think I’d they don’t accept one in time they’re a jerk, but now just perhaps not great under injury.

            2. Elizabeth H.*

              I feel the same way. If someone clearly felt awful about causing an accident, especially such a freak accident, I can’t imagine refusing the apology. It’s just the polite thing to do, especially if you are continuing to work with the person.

            3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              I agree. Accidents are, by definition… accidents. I can’t imagine refusing a genuine apology for an accident, even one that was devastating to me.

              1. CMart*

                On the one hand, I really can’t fathom not accepting someone’s apology for something that was essentially a freak accident. If this exact situation happened to me I would be angry at the universe, perhaps angry at my company for supplying dangerous equipment, and maybe initially angry at my coworker (“if they hadn’t leaned on my desk this never would have happened to me!”). But given a little time to think about it, the initial anger at my desk-leaning coworker would fade. Everyone leans on desks, there’s no reason to be angry with THEM, plus they’re really, really sorry.

                On the other hand–what if I didn’t perceive this as a genuine freak accident? If I thought my coworker sat heavily on my desk (which can be done by a person at any size–anyone ever lived underneath a toddler? Their tiny 25lb steps shake entire apartment buildings) in an act of carelessness I would be angry, and I’m not sure I’d accept an apology. They should have known better. If they then apologized with “I was just leaning on it, I didn’t know! I’m so, so sorry!” I might get angrier that they were trying to minimize their actions.

                I believe OP2 when they say they simply leaned. But maybe their coworker has a different memory of what happened–our memories are fallible.

                Personally, I’m still nursing a grudge against a college classmate who totaled my car and sent me to the hospital when she made a left turn in front of me. She was 100% at fault and 100% sorry. It was “an accident”, in that of course she didn’t mean to do that! She totaled her own car and was hurt as well. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t angry that she wasn’t paying better attention, or that she misjudged her ability to turn before I passed, or whatever. That accident should never have happened, regardless of how sorry she was or how much or little she intended it to happen.

            4. What's with today, today?*

              My friend broke her femur in a car accident in August of 2012. They nearly amputated her leg. She’s had 9 surgeries and doesn’t walk well any longer. She can’t stand for long periods, which ended her career as an elementary school teacher. She can’t run after her toddler at the park. You still don’t seem to get that this is a FOREVER injury that will affect the co-worker every day for the rest of that person’s life.

              1. What's with today, today?*

                Why is co-worker a jerk for not wanting to accept an apology for something that will affect them every day, accident or not?

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  I don’t think he’s a jerk, but I do think it’s antisocial to refuse to accept a genuine apology, for an accident in particular.

              2. Fiennes*

                So if the injury is bad enough you can blame anyone you want, whether or not they were acting deliberately or even actually at fault? What is the level of pain where you’re allowed to condemn whomever you like in perpetuity?

                1. sunny-dee*

                  Two things:

                  1. We don’t know what “don’t accept the apology” actually means. It could mean that the coworker shouted obscenities and had the OP escorted out of her hospital room, or it could simply mean that she huffed and said “whatever” or said “thanks” but looked cranky.

                  2. The OP isn’t some random person the coworker just decided on a whim to blame. The OP actually did a careless action — and incredibly minor careless action and this result was totally not foreseeable. But still, the OP did a careless action that caused grave and serious injury to the coworker. If a dismissive attitude is coming through, I wouldn’t accept an apology either. “Oh, I’m glad you don’t think you did anything to cause this, and you hope I understand … whatever.”

                2. a1*

                  How is leaning on a desk careless? I’d say millions of people do it every day, whether to help themselves up out of the chair, or to reach something, or to talk to someone, or to steady themselves, and so on. It’s far from careless and to describe it as such is disingenuous, imo. It’s not like she was running with scissors or playing frisbee inside.

              3. EditorInChief*

                This exactly. The woman who broke the desk gets to go on with her life uninterrupted while the poor coworker and his family have their lives up ended, PLUS people here think he’s supposed to accept her apology for causing this just to make her feel better? This is ridiculous.

                1. Stardust*

                  I hope this doesn’t come across as condescending, but seeing how this is clearly a very emotional topic for you, you may want to take a break from the comments.

                2. Delphine*

                  She didn’t do anything wrong, she doesn’t need to be held responsible for what was either a freak accident or a result of the company’s negligence in providing sturdy office furniture. Why should she not get to go on with her life uninterrupted?

                3. Lissa*

                  What should happen to someone who has an accident (assuming true accident, not carelessness) that causes another person a major injury other than their life going on uninterrupted, after apologizing?

                4. EditorInChief*

                  Oh nothing should *happen* to her. She needs to stop whining about how she apologized and he won’t accept her apology. He and his family are dealing with concerns related to a major life change; he is under no obligation to have any conversation with her at all. I think she’s being very self-centered. She accepts zero responsibility for parking herself against co-worker’s desk and causing the desk and herself to fall on top of the co-worker.

                5. Em*

                  My read was that OP mentioned that co-worker did not accept the apology as information about the situation in the office. I don’t think OP was complaining that the co-worker didn’t accept the apology or asking how to make the co-worker accept the apology. OP asked how to behave in that situation, and the fact that the co-worker did not accept the apology is pertinent – it means OP has to figure out how to act around the co-worker as well, which will probably be different than if the co-worker had accepted the apology, and I think it puts limits on what OP can do around the rest of the office (e.g. I wouldn’t advise OP in these circumstances to ask co-worker to tell everyone else that they’ve worked it out and put it behind them).

                  This letter has inspired some insanely passionate responses in ways that I think miss the point of why the OP wrote in. E.g. the whole line of comments about whether co-worker is/is not a jerk for not accepting the apology. Or all the comments about sturdy furniture/leaning vs sitting/heavy people. Very few comments actually answer the OPs question about how to act in the office after accidentally injuring a co-worker.

    5. Human*

      Agree that Alison’s characterization of the injured coworker is quite unkind. A broken femur is a big deal! If it was a hip fracture (which involves breaking the femur), that’s a 20% chance of dying within a year if Wikipedia is accurate. How would you feel if not only are you suddenly unable to walk, use the bathroom independently, but you now have a 1/5 chance of dying soon? LW is probably the easiest person for the injured person to blame.

      1. Kathletta*

        That’s true – there are people upthread calling this guy a scammer etc but it is a really serious injury and must be so scary! I don’t think he’s a jerk for not coming around straight away, especially if he’s still waiting on tests etc.

      2. fposte*

        The 20% is strongly influenced by how many people suffering that injury are elderly and already in poorer health, though; it’s not an across-the-board prognosis.

        1. Thlayli*

          True, but there’s no reason to believe he’s not elderly either. Also, a broken femur can have long lasting health implications even if you are young and fit.

          1. fposte*

            I’m not saying it’s not serious; I’m just saying he doesn’t have a 20% chance of dying. And yes, there is plenty of reason to believe he’s not elderly, because it’s demographically unlikely that he’s over 70 and 1) in an office and 2) in this post without his age being mentioned.

          2. PhyllisB*

            True. My grand-son had his accident right before Thanksgiving and just had the rods removed two weeks ago. I don’t why, but they didn’t put a cast on, he had what looked like a huge ace bandage all way up his leg. He had to use a walker and when he went back to school he used a wheelchair during school hours. He is totally recovered now, but the doctor told him no jumping or bouncing for the next three months. I guess children just heal quicker than adults.

    6. Mad Baggins*

      So true. A friend was careless and accidentally damaged my teapot handle. I knew it was a quick, cheap fix, and I knew it was an accident and she had no way of knowing my teapot was there. But for a few moments I was still mad that she did it. Once it was fixed I was able to cool down and it’s water under the bridge. The coworker might feel the same way and may need some time to heal–physically and psychologically.

    7. Sylvan*

      I agree. (And I should have read the comments before posting my own – I could have just given this a +1!)

    8. AcademiaNut*

      Yeah, given the seriousness of a broken femur – surgery, 4-6 month recovery time, physical therapy, possibility of complications – not to mention an extended period off work (possibly without pay) and medical costs, I wouldn’t judge them too harshly for not graciously accepting an apology when they’re still on medical leave.

      The employers, however, are being jerks.

    9. all aboard the anon train*

      I agree. I’m a little surprised at how harsh people are being to the coworker. Like others have said, if it’s a recent injury, he might still be really rattled. I think most of us have unfairly blamed someone in the heat of the moment for an accident, but realized it’s not their fault after the fact.

      And I’d like to know what not accepting an apology means in this case. Did the coworker yell at the OP? Did they threaten to sue them? Did they get very angry? Or did they just hear the apology and not say anything? There’s a big difference, and I could understand the coworker doing something like the latter immediately after the incident.

      1. Kelly L.*

        And I think it makes a difference whether OP tried to apologize right then (which I’m sure she did, because most people would) or whether she also tried to apologize later when the metaphorical smoke had cleared, as in days or weeks later. Right in the moment, even though apologizing was the right thing to do, co-worker probably couldn’t really even process the apology. IMO it’s different if he couldn’t manage even a “I know it was an accident, OP” weeks after the fact; obviously he’s still in pain, but I think he’d be more rational then.

    10. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      This is really important (and not just because the coworker is being inexplicably shat on in the comments because some people either don’t quite get or outright doubt that he’s suffering a severe and debilitating injury). OP2, your coworker’s refusal to accept your apology is almost certainly more about *the situation* than it is about *you.* It sure doesn’t help when your company has named and shamed you and you’re feeling humiliated. But unlike whatever moron made the decision to put you on blast to the entire company, your coworker is going through an extremely tough time and is probably not in a state of mind to be gracious and understanding. You did the right thing by apologizing right away, but a human face makes for an easier target for anger than nebulous circumstance, and you are unfortunately the “face” of this accident. It really was not your fault and your coworker, in time, should realize that and accept your apology. If not, then yep, he’s a jerk. But for now, the situation is generally fucked and emotions are running high, and your coworker’s refusal to accept your apology right now is not likely to be his final word on the matter.

    11. INeedANap*

      I completely agree. I’m shocked at the people calling the injured party a jerk for their reaction and I was really disappointed to read that in Alison’s response. I’m not blaming OP, I understand completely that OP is not at fault here, but this is a serious, painful, potentially life-altering injury and people are expecting Coworker to somehow be gracious?

      It is not up to Coworker to be the bigger person here; Coworker is injured badly, in pain, and is going to be facing the consequences of this for a long time. I can’t believe some comments aren’t cutting Coworker some slack here.

      While I feel bad for OP, OP was embarrassed while Coworker went to the hospital. OP’s feelings are hurt, while Coworker may face physical consequences from this injury for the rest of their life. And yet somehow Coworker isn’t being sensitive enough to OP’s feelings?

    12. The Original K.*

      Agreed. If my leg were broken, I would be more focused on that than on the apology. I wouldn’t have the bandwidth to focus on both, at least right away, and I wouldn’t prioritize the apology. Soothing the OP’s hurt feelings wouldn’t come before my dealing with everything that goes along with my broken femur.

  16. Emmie*

    2: I understand why the other person would be angry. He is off work, hurting, probably getting surgery, unable to do basic tasks, and may be getting only a fraction of his pay. This person’s anger is misdirected at you. He would be angry at the company for its failure to buy desks that do not hold a human. The facilities person is deflecting the problem towards you. This isn’t your fault. As other’s pointed out, desks should hold more than a child. Your organization should not have named you. It should have warned employees that they shouldn’t lean on desks. If people discuss this around you, it’s okay to tell them that you were only leaning on the desk, it was humiliating, and you need them to stop the accident reminders. If it continues, you should discuss it with your manager.

    1. MommyMD*

      It’s a true accident and not OPs fault, but I think when you are heavier than average you do have to put extra thought into the stability of furniture. I do think her employer is a jack for handling it this way, but I can see the injured party maybe thinking she was somewhat careless. It’s a shame it happened because both parties are suffering. She should not have been named in the memo. That’s just mean.

      1. CityMouse*

        It also depends put how you move. It takes more effort to control your sitting so I have seen some people just kind of drop into chairs or similar, and that increases the amount of force you put on something. To be clear, this is not what I am saying happened here, but it is on everyone, regardless of size, to be aware of how they exert their bodies.

        1. CMart*

          Yes–being aware of how your body is impacting the world around you is a task for all humans of every size.

          My husband is constantly exclaiming “HOW is she so LOUD?!” in reference to our 15 month old who thunders around our home, shaking the photos off the wall as she stomps around with all the might of her 20lbs. It’s because she’s putting her entire body weight behind each step–she hasn’t REALLY learned to walk yet–just throw herself forward and the legs catch her.

          I had a wicker papasan chair that I brought with me to college. I’d had it since I was 10 years old and it was essentially still in perfect condition. I had to throw it away after a semester of my friends drunkenly throwing their bodies into it and stressing the joints until it fell apart.

      2. dr_silverware*

        I don’t think that’s a super helpful suggestion to OP. I promise that OP does already move through the world putting extra thought into the stability of furniture; it’s part of the emotional tension of being heavy. Which is why the desk breaking is so extra startling—they’d already made the judgment that it was stable.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        As has been extensively pointed out, the same thing could have happened even when a person of average weight leaned against it. There is no reason to shame the OP or for anyone to blame her for the accident.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Uh, no, it really couldn’t have. Even if the desk broke, it wouldn’t have broken with the same force for the simple reason that the OP is the size of, like, 2.5 people. If 2-3 people had leaned on it, then, yeah, the same thing could have happened. But, no, this isn’t something that could just happen to “anybody,” and for all the comments people are making about it being unkind to point out the OP’s weight, it’s not helpful to say completely untrue things to try to ignore it.

      4. Tobias Funke*

        Fat people are constantly aware of our bodies and furniture and stability of things.

    2. Clare*

      To be fair desks are not meant to hold humans. Thats not what they are designed for. I agree that sitting or leaning on them is a natural thing to do, but i dont think we can jump to the conclusion that the desks were defective or shoddy.

      1. Mike C.*

        This is simply ridiculous. 100 lbs is an incredibly low standard to build a desk to and leaning/sitting on a desk is perfectly normal and common behavior.

        There is no reason to defend the quality of this furniture.

        1. Clare*

          Most regular office workers don’t have 100 lbs worth of stuff on their desks, and even if they do having several smaller objects spread out over the desk is different than 1 larger object putting pressure all in one spot. And yes, as I said above while it is normal for people to sit or lean on desks that doesn’t mean you are supposed to do that. Desks are not made for people to sit on them.

          1. Observer*

            That’s actually not true. Many office workers have a computer and printer on their desks, plus a couple of books or binders. At that point, you’re often very close to 100 lb, which would mean that putting anything else on your desk, or leaning on he desk as you look at something spread out on it – a very normal use of a desk – would routinely create problems.

            1. Clare*

              If you have your own personal printer on your desk, then you are either pretty high up the food chain or work in an unusually swanky office.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                I had a printer and two monitors on my desk when I was a program coordinator making 39k a year. I don’t think it means anything at all.

              2. Emi.*

                I work for a government office where we’re not even allowed to buy dish soap for the kitchenette and I have my own printer.

              3. Observer*

                In fact, it’s often the cheaper places that do this – it costs less up front to get individual smaller printers that good quality shared printers.

                There are other reasons to have individual printers as well.

              4. Stargirl*

                Clare, I respectfully want to say that some of your office perceptions are inaccurate. I make under $32k a year and am fairly low down on the totem pole at my job, so I haven’t earned a swanky office yet. I have a printer, phone, three monitors, 8 trays filled with supplies, and other random office junk all on my desk. It’s pretty reasonable to conclude OP’s coworker’s desk may be shoddy. My managers/ coworkers regularly sit or lean on my desk while talking with me. They are all men who are on the heavy side. My desk is over 20 years old so it has been through some wear, but has held everyone and everything up without issue. If a desk can’t handle just being leaned on by a grown adult, it’s probable something is wrong with the desk. They have indeed been built to handle quite a bit of weight so I think it would actually be unhelpful to just assume something ISN’T wrong with it. Either way, I hope this story ends well for all involved.

              5. Anonymeece*

                Another coordinator here making >$50K, and I have my own printer and two monitors.

      2. Millennial Lawyer*

        The facilities manager said they only hold 100 pounds. I work in a government office – if our desks only held 100 pounds *whew* there would be a lot of problems.

        1. Bacon Pancakes*

          I work in (state) government too, and when I read this I thought “Damn, my desk probably has 100# of paperwork on it now!”

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I have a junky old desk at home that I bought from the thrift store. It currently has 5 boxes of books on it, plus miscellaneous other moving-related boxes. I would be very surprised if that weight was less than 100 pounds. And it’s fine! Because desks are meant to hold things.

        I’ve also sat on that desk — fully sat, as in my entire not-that-off-from-the-OP’s weight on the desk — and aside from some creaking, it’s been fine.

        A desk that collapses when someone leans on it is a piece of crap, full stop.

      4. tangerineRose*

        Since people tend to lean against or sometimes sit on desks, then it makes sense that desks should be built to take this.

  17. ENFP in Texas*

    I suppose saying “I found being asked to share details about a physical or emotional scar to be emotionally scarring” would have been snarky? ;)

    Recently held a forum with customers, and went around the room and had an ice breaker. Ours was name, company, title, and one thing we were looking to take away from the forum. That actually worked really well, because even as we went around the table, the attendees were finding that they had things in common and it was promoting dialogue and conversation.

    1. Indoor Cat*

      Ooh, “what are you looking to take away from the forum?” is perfect. I might have to steal that one.

      1. SarahKay*

        Ummm…yes, so long as you’re reasonably sure everyone *chose* to be there. I’ve had that ice-breaker for a conference I was ordered to attend at pretty much no notice and with no information on what it was about. I was just very glad I wasn’t the first person asked, because I really had no idea what it was about.

        1. Specialk9*

          I feel like this is a vanishingly rare situation, that someone went to all the trouble of getting to a conference, without any clue what it’s about.

          Unless maybe one’s offices are collocated with a number of free conferences and a last minute ‘go now’ order would be feasible.

    2. Summer*

      Ours was name, company, title, and one thing we were looking to take away from the forum.

      That’s a classic approach, simple but effective. Icebreakers don’t need to be a big deal and they should be adjusted to the occasion, like you did. There’s usually little if any harm in icebreakers if you keep the level of appropriate information in mind, and most of the time, the group benefits from it. (Like Tuckman said: group dynamics evolve from forming to storming to norming to performing).

    3. Bagpuss*

      That was my first thought, too, ENFP
      OP#1, do you have any way of offering feedback to or about the trainer? There are so many ways that particular ice-breaker can go wrong, (I know at least one person who is very squeamish and liable to faint or throw up if subjected to graphic blood-and-guts descriptions, for instance) quite apart from the inappropriateness of people being asked to share personal details about emotional scars.
      I think in most business contexts, the ice-breaker simply needs to be a round of introductions – who you are, where you are from (i.e. organisation/department)
      For a course or training session, the question about what you hope to get out of the session / why you chose to attend can be a good one as it is relevant and gives feedback, but I think mostly only works in small groups otherwise it can get very repetitive (i was once on a course where the trainer asked why people were there, which kind of backfired because the answer was “because this is a compulsory course”. )

      1. Penny Lane*

        I would absolutely offer feedback to the trainer that the scar icebreaker was inappropriate.

    4. Observer*

      Snort. Very snarky – but totally appropriate. It was also my first thought.

      I don’t think I would have he guts to do it myself, but I would totally appreciate someone who did.

    5. Fiennes*

      It depends on the use of the icebreaker. If you’re primarily just warming up people for a presentation, this is fine—but if you actually want to spur conversation/connections/remembering each other, this would be way too generic.

  18. Sam*

    “Scar stories” is my least favorite ice breaker. I don’t really scar, so I have no good stories, and I’m also super squeamish and don’t want to hear about the gash in your leg. I also had an awkward ice breaker where two people in the group were close friends and the ice breaker was “share something no one else knows.” Uh… if my friends don’t know, it’s either personal or boring. I went with boring for that one.

    Some of the better ice breakers are directly related to the event and sharing an intention, ie what they hope to get out of a seminar or a challenge they’re trying to get through in a project. Creative? No. Useful? Absolutely.

    And when in doubt… “you’re at the airport and your flight is delayed by three hours. But they gave you a $25 voucher you can spend anywhere in the airport. How do you use it?”

    1. LAM*

      I dislike the scar icebreaker for the opposite reason. I scar really easily. I joke that if you look at my skin funny it’ll leave a mark. I’ve had some really prominent scars that occurred for not impressive reasons. For about a year I had a pretty narly looking scar on my shin that was caused by… shaving.

      (I forgot I just changed my razor and applied a little too much pressure. Did it bleed? Eh. Not really. Did it look like a scar that had a story? Absolutely.)

      1. Bryce*

        I had one of those once, razor caught wrong and I had a nice long scar up my cheek for a week or so. Looked like I was a Bond villain or something.

      2. Hornswoggler*

        “I slipped through a rift in the space-time continuum and was mauled by a velociraptor.”

      3. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

        Truth! I have a 1″+ scar just above my left knee that looks like I was stabbed or something. How’d I get it? The edge of my thumbnail scraped it when I was pulling my pants down to sit on the toilet. :x

      4. Gorgo*

        I would choose my tiniest scar and then tell the most boring, long-winded story I could.

        “It’s from a pin. Not a safety pin, but a sewing pin. The kind that has a little bit of colorful plastic at the top. I don’t remember what color it was. Maybe it was green? Anyway, I had just taken the pin out of my pincushion, which looked like a hedgehog…”

        Grandpa Simpson style.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      In an all-Directorate meeting, we had to pair up with someone we didn’t usually talk to, and the icebreaker was “what did you do at the weekend?” which the other would relate. There was the excruciatingly dull moment when 60-odd people went round in the circle relaying each other’s dull stories, only brightened by the two mates who had paired up – “this is Tom – this weekend he had sex”.

    3. Parenthetically*

      “you’re at the airport and your flight is delayed by three hours. But they gave you a $25 voucher you can spend anywhere in the airport. How do you use it?”

      I buy a bottle of water and a dismal little sandwich and sigh sadly at my twelve cents change. ;)

      I cannot imagine subjecting a group of strangers to my scar stories. Some of them are hilarious, but by far my most significant one is from a terrifying emergency c-section and you know what? I don’t want to talk about that at an effing work meeting.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      The scar icebreaker would’ve been perfect for me, because I have the easiest out on that one. I was 9 and was home by myself after school and decided to teach myself how to slice bread. Sliced my middle finger instead. Still have the scar. Heck, I could tell the story and then show everyone my middle finger as proof! wouldn’t that be the absolute perfection of an icebreaker answer?

      But I’m the lucky exception, and this ice breaker is the absolute worst and needs to never be used by anyone again.

      I’ve seen a few good ones. Your favorite band or your favorite movie always go over well. My favorite one was “what was your favorite subject in school, and are you still using it now?” I’m an immigrant in the US… when my turn came, I said “English”, thanked the facilitator for giving me an easy question, and that was it. My coworkers probably didn’t learn much about me from that one, but oh well. I did learn a few interesting facts about some of the other coworkers, who’d liked unexpected things in school like biology, art etc and some were still using them now – doing art and so on.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Love the middle finger idea.
        I can’t help but imagine Forrest Gump at this icebreaker….

  19. Annie Mouse*

    Icebreaker wise I like two truths and a lie, it’s quick, you control what information is shared and you can learn some interesting facts about people.
    The other one I liked was when my class had to introduce ourselves (for the umpteenth time to each other but the first time to the tutor who would be our full time tutor from then on) and say what our favourite crisps (chips) were. There were some interesting choices, so discussion about types of crisps that we’d forgotten about and it made the repeated introductions far less boring. And took very little extra time.
    Much better than the lecturer who wanted to know what we thought of a politician who had been in the news lately. We were less than a week from our major exams and so half the class hadn’t had time to see the news and had no idea what had happened!!

    1. pandop*

      We had something similar at an ‘away day’ for a team that had recently been reconfigured. We all submitted our favourite dessert in advance, and then had to match the people up with their choices – by asking them. Simple and effective, you spoke to everyone, and found out something about them that you might have in common ‘oh you’re the other creme brulee’. It worked well for a team where people were you vaguely knew everyone, but not always very well

    2. curly sue*

      Oh, I like that one about the crisps! I teach a couple of classes where 90% of the group move as a cohort and have for at least two years, but there’re always a few new students taking electives who aren’t part of the main program. It’s tricky trying to balance the ‘don’t isolate the new guys’ introductions with ‘not boring the crowd who practically all live together already.’

    3. Parenthetically*

      Yeah I love simple little ones. Favorite cafe you’ve ever visited/city you’ve ever been to/cookie/type of flower/thing to do on a rainy day, something you made you’re really proud of, a show/book/podcast you’re excited about right now and why.

      I just did a quick search for “simple icebreakers” and honestly someone needs to track down the people who are writing those articles and smack them upside the head. What adult wants to be forced to do a “stupid human trick,” or mime what they did last night, or hum a song, or do “name aerobics” with an action for every person’s name, in front of colleagues or strangers?! EGADS.

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        I’ve been in a group where we had to share our favorite pizza restaurant and it’s a good one because people are VERY passionate about what kind of pizza they like!

    4. non*

      My favorite icebreaker was a fun, silly one where we all did a quiz/guessing game about our coworkers. Basically, everyone did a short survey a few days in advance and then we all guessed on questions like “Which coworker’s favorite color is blue?” or “Which coworker secretly loves country music?” It was short, fun, and it actually broke the ice between everyone which is the whole point!

      Meeting organizers sometimes forget that an icebreaker is meant to be enjoyable, not to force everyone into uncomfortable situations.

  20. LouiseM*

    While we’re talking about ice breakers, I want to put in a plug for encouraging people to share pronouns while doing introductions. For those unfamiliar, the facilitator models it anyway. So it would go something like: “Before we get started, I’d like to know a bit about everyone. Can everyone say their name, what pronouns we should use to refer to them, and their department? I’ll go first. My name is Louise, you can use the pronouns “she, hers, and hers” to refer to me, and my department is Unicorn Horn Sharpening.” I like to do this at every meeting even if I know all the people there and their preferred pronouns–it normalizes the practice for people who aren’t used to it. (That’s also why I use the cumbersome “you can use…to refer to me” because a lot of people don’t understand “my pronouns are”)

    1. all aboard the anon train*

      I’m of two minds on this. It’s great in theory, but outside of LGBTQA+ environments, it also runs the risk of making someone feel like they need to out themselves when they may not be comfortable doing so. And it’s not safe to use this icebreaker in all situations.

      I do a lot of work with LGBTQA+ advocacy and support groups and this is an issue that has come up a lot recently, and several people have stated that even if they use gender neutral pronouns, they sometimes feel uncomfortable being asked directly to state them in non-LGBTQA+ only spaces. It’s the same way I don’t mind sharing info about my sexuality in LGBTQA+ spaces, but I’d be really uncomfortable if I had to state my sexuality in a work meeting as an icebreaker (I know this is less likely to come up, but it’s the best comparison I can think of).

      YMMV on this, and like I said, I do think it’s good to attempt to normalize the practice, but I also think you have to be very careful with it in non-LGBTQA+ settings. And I hate that we have to be careful, but unfortunately that’s the way the world is.

      1. TL -*

        Yeah, I also think that outside of an LGBTQA+ setting it would be a little more tricky. I agree that not everyone would be outed in every situation, or might feel pressure to give their preferred pronouns when that’s not what they wanted in that particular setting.
        But it’s also increased cognitive load in a hugely cognitively demanding setting (versus one on one or small social group, where I would be able to focus on you and specifically associate pronouns with face and person for a set amount of time with very little distractions) And if I couldn’t pronoun someone correctly (because my memory is that bad), I might be hesitant to talk about them at all, out of fear of harming them, which if I want to sing your praises after a discussion, might be harder (in a setting where I wouldn’t expect people to correct me and/or step in if I was struggling to pronoun someone correctly.) That being sad, I wouldn’t be upset or frustrated by anyone who introduced themselves that way; I’d just be frustrated with myself for my shabby memory.

        The other thing is a lot of people haven’t thought about this and it might be a bit much to spring it at an icebreaker with no warning – people might feel more awkward afterwards instead of less or get caught up thinking about pronouns instead of the topic.
        Personally, I just don’t care how you refer to me, pronoun-wise, so if someone asks me to fill it in a form (I’ve never been asked in person) I just leave it blank. I think if you asked, I would just shrug and say whatever’s easiest for you. I’m a cis woman, so I realize there’s a whole crapton of privilege there but asking people to unpack their privilege is a lot to do in an icebreaker for an (unrelated) topic. It’s a big shift in social norms and asking people to think how they identify and why (if they’ve never thought about it before) is super reasonable so is being aware of how much you’re asking of them and when.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          I was just going to ask, doesn’t it make things harder to remember? If I’m being introduced to 12 other people in an icebreaker in a 2 hour session, I’m not going to remember the names/workplaces of more than a handful, especially not if we’re not interacting personally, but diving into a training session. I wouldn’t avoid talking to/about someone, but I’d be worried about getting things wrong, just like I worry about getting names wrong in non-name-tagged environments.

          1. Thlayli*

            I would have zero chance of remembering 10 names, let alone 10 names and 30 pronouns!

            This might be a good idea in, say a non-profit focused on trans rights advocacy. But it would be really weird in the majority of workplaces.

            Looking at Wikipedia it seems more than 99% of the population identify as cisgender. Add in the fact that icebreakers are not really useful for a huge training session of over 100 people, and statistically the vast vast majority of icebreaking is going to be done in a room with 100% cisgender people. Imagine going around the room with 30 cisgender people all listing their pronouns. It would be a farce and would just make a joke of the whole pronoun issue, so I think it would be very counterproductive.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              And of the who aren’t cis, a very large number identify as one gender, just not the one they were born into.

            2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              There’s value in reminding people that they shouldn’t make assumptions about what pronouns to use.

              1. LouiseM*

                Thanks Victoria! People take these lessons out of the workshop.

                Also, nobody should assume that the only place they will encounter trans people is at some sort of LGBTQ meeting. It’s not like the only thing trans people do is go to activist groups.

              2. Iris Eyes*

                (This is meant to be thought provoking not antagonistic)

                I would like to ask you why you think it is reasonable to not make such an assumption about others? That is the way that the human brain is programmed to work, we categorize things we judge our present experiences based on past ones. Why would you assume that it’s even possible for people not to make assumptions like that?

                Granted, if your assumptions are false you should be quick and ready to change them as soon as the issue comes up.

            3. theletter*

              I’ve been in a couple of situations where having people specify preferred gender pronouns would have made things a lot less awkward for everyone. I think going around and having everyone say it just makes it easy for the one person who might be transitioning or prefers ‘they/them’ to let everyone know what they prefer. And usually, for that one person, everyone remembers, or at least tries to remember, and it makes a huge difference for that participant, plus anybody else who’s awkwardly wondering how that person identifies because most people want to be polite.

              Then we all do it so that’s equal and it’s not awkward and it only takes a hot second to say ‘she/her’ along with everything else.

          2. Squeeble*

            This is one reason I dislike icebreakers–if we’re asked to go around and share, like, 4 things, I spend a lot of time making a list in my head of what I’m supposed to say and pay no attention to what everyone else is saying. It defeats the entire purpose.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Yeah, “let’s unpack our privilege” is not a great ice breaker in most contexts. Not unless it’s the focus of the meeting, rather than “how to use the new phone system.”

          1. LouiseM*

            Okay, don’t want to derail, but the point of sharing pronouns is not “let’s unpack our privilege.” It’s actually to avoid exactly the kind of awkward situation that people write in to AAM about, where in a meeting you keep referring to your coworker as “she” but actually the coworker uses “he” pronouns. If someone hasn’t already written in “Help! I accidentally misgendered my coworker” or the reverse then it’s only a matter of time.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                Eh, it’s not universally good or bad. Some trans folks and organizations serving trans folks ask people to declare their pronouns, others invite them to do so, and others don’t do it at all.

                1. Observer*

                  I’m talking specifically about asking each person to state their pronouns in this type of setting.

                2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  Yes, me too. There is not agreement (in the trans community or trans orgs) about how and whether to use this practice.

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              I mean, if someone who does use a gender neutral pronoun wants to bring it up during the introductions, I think that’s totally their call. But people shouldn’t be forced to do that if they don’t want to share that pronoun in a meeting or haven’t brought it up at work before.

              I don’t think this is so much about unpacking privilege so much as protecting people in the LGBTQA+ community from feeling like they have to state their identity in a meeting or non-LGBTQA+ environment. There’s a level of discomfort that happens in these situations where people who aren’t vocal about their pronouns or sexuality at work feel like they can’t lie when they’re asked directly about it because that may be closeting themselves (you can be out but not want to discuss it at work), but there also the worry that bringing it up will derail the conversation or cause other issues.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                Totally. Most places I work with these days tend to invite people to share their pronouns if they wish.