Ask a Manager on Buzzfeed, Ask a Clean Person, and more

I wrote a piece for Buzzfeed about the #1 thing I’ve learned after reading 100,000 work advice emails (this piece is adapted from the intro to my book). You can read it here.

Also, I know there are many fans of Jolie Kerr’s Ask a Clean Person podcast here and I was excited to be on her show this week. We talked about all kinds of office cleaning conundrums, including how to clean the office microwave after someone microwaved socks in it.

And a smattering of other recent stuff you might enjoy:

  • I talked to The Billfold about my new book.
  • I talked to the Boston Globe about whether Tom Brady is a baby.
  • I talked to Vice about whether work parties are really just work.
  • I did a Twitter Q&A with Slate to answer work questions.
  • Refinery29 has an excerpt from my book.
  • And some podcasts: I was on the Rework podcast from Basecamp; the Professional Book Nerds Podcast, where we talked about writing AAM and having so many readers who are librarians; and the Bossed Up podcast, where I answered a a question from someone who’s annoyed that she’s been told she’s too social and on her phone too often.

{ 51 comments… read them below }

    1. Beancounter in Texas*

      Yes! So excited to see Alison’s career taking off with her book launch!

    2. Liz*

      Wow, so busy. So happy for You!

      P.S. I just spoke up at work (to my supervisor when an employee in another dept ghosted and was supposed to help). And now I feel uncomfortable and like I don’t want her to bring it up with him or his supervisor. So it is like the awkwardness jumped a level. I did not expect that!

  1. Let's Talk About Splett*

    I can definitely see why that would the most asked question to workplace advice columnist. The weird part is those who would go overboard and have no trouble complaining about inconsequential things at work probably need this advice the most, but might be the least likely to ask for it.

  2. BRR*

    I immediately guessed the #1 thing and speaking up is also easily what I’ve learned the most from AAM. Thank you for everything and I’m glad to see you have this much visibility!

  3. The OG Anonsie*

    Boy I’m disappointed the Tom Brady one is behind a paywall, because I have no idea what context that statement has and I’m very curious.

    1. Delphine*

      He was recently asked if he feels his bosses (Belichick and Kraft) appreciate him, and he jokingly plead the fifth and then implied that it was always possible to feel more appreciated professionally: “Man, that is a tough question,” Brady continued, per ESPN. “I think everybody in general wants to be appreciated more in their professional life, but there’s a lot of people that appreciate me way more than I ever thought was possible as part of my life. You have different influences in your life and the people I work with, they’re trying to get the best out of me. So they’re trying to treat me in the way they feel is going to get the best out of me, and I’ve got to get the best out of myself.”

      (I can’t access the Globe link, either, so beyond that I’m not sure what the discussion is!)

        1. Jennifer*

          Oh, that Tom Brady article!
          Not that you weren’t good, but I really liked the interview with the dry cleaner. I really related there. Appreciation doesn’t matter at all when you serve for a living/are on that level, you’re just trying to get through the day without someone complaining.

    2. The Ginger Ginger*

      It was behind a sign in for me the first time, but I refreshed the page and was able to read it. So maybe try reloading the page?

    3. Businesslady*

      AAM + criticizing Tom Brady…two of my favorite things have intersected in a way that I never anticipated, and it brings me much joy.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Right??? As a Pittsburgher, I am morally obligated to despise Brady/the Patriots, so this is delightful.

    4. JessB*

      I’ve discovered that if an article is behind a paywall, but I search for it on my mobile in Chrome, it appears kind of through Google- so the link at the top is to a google result, but I can see the whole article, pictures, ads, etc.
      It’s pretty neat! This article was behind a paywall for me too, but I was able to read it with that trick. It also works when you only get a limited number of free articles.

  4. anonforthenomnom*

    The microwaved food thing is so funny – I learned the hard way not to comment on anyone’s lunch after I got sent to HR. I still feel bad, about hurting her feelings, but there was definitely some “punishing me” as a representative of all of the while girls who make fun of her lunch in grammar school.

    I didn’t actually comment on her lunch, just that I knew what she was eating, because I had seen it on the travel channel (young me did not know this was a bad thing to say) and after apologizing profusely, she offered the above explanation, about being super sensitive, because people were mean to her in school.

    I now sit across from the breakroom, can smell everyone’s lunch and have ZERO comments. Socks, shoes, dead animals, I have NO comment.

  5. RB*

    Re the Buzzfeed article: Too often, I think the reason people don’t speak up is because they can already tell that the other person is NOT going to be reasonable about the whole thing. Like they are already a defensive person or a holier-than-thou or some other personality type that doesn’t lend itself to reasonable conversations.

    1. pleaset*

      That may be true. But people, especially people who are secure enough in their jobs to not fear repercussions, should still speak up. Otherwise we’re complicit bad practice, policies etc.

      I am not worried about being fired (for various reasons) and feel it is my duty to speak up about bad stuff that affects me and/or other staff. Even if it won’t change things in the short run, it might contribute to changes in the long run.

    2. Many Emails*

      I agree. Pretty much every time I’ve tried speaking up it has turned out badly for me. Sometimes the other person’s behavior is so egregious I’m incredulous that I’d even have to ask them to stop. Who the hell thinks it’s ok to smack and pop your gum 8 hrs a day in a close office? It makes me upset that the onus is on me to teach someone else basic manners.

      1. RB*

        Oh, that’s awful, how annoying. I’m so sorry for you. I tend to sigh and make exasperated noises occasionally but I’m hoping they’re not all that bad.

    3. Alienor*

      Here’s what’s happened every time I’ve spoken up about a problem in my 20+ year work history:

      1. Awkward conversation.
      2. The other person said they’d do better, or if it was a manager, they said they’d address the [excessive workload/process that didn’t make sense/throwing me under the bus in meetings].
      3. I went away feeling like at least I’d said something about it.
      4. Things either improved briefly and then went back to the way they were, or there was no improvement at all.

      I don’t speak up anymore, because what’s the point? I’d be willing to endure the discomfort of the conversation if I thought any real change would happen because of it, but if I’m just going to end up back at square one anyway, I’ll grit my teeth and endure whatever the issue is.

    4. Jennifer*

      Yeah, I second this. A lot of people are straight up unreasonable and the reason you don’t want to say “please turn down your radio” is because you know they won’t. Which was the case for me on that one, certainly. I had to have my boss ask her to turn it down and then she would go back to blaring it again and again. Since that lady was retiring soon, well…what can you do.

      As for me, frankly, I wish some folks had NOT spoken up and complained to me directly about what I did that bothered them, especially for stuff like say, yawning.

      If you are dealing with someone who you can’t have a reasonable conversation with, you need to just suck it up and deal with the annoying thing.. Lord knows that sometimes is better than poking the angry bear.

    5. Close Bracket*

      Yeah, the whole “speak up” things assumes that the other person involved is a reasonable person who cares about the environment they work in. Sometimes that’s true, but when it’s not, all the non=confrontational language in the world won’t help the conversation.

      1. pleaset*

        “assumes that the other person involved is a reasonable person who cares about the environment they work in”

        Spot on.

        Which suggests a corollary: if you’re in a work environment where your assumption is most people are not reasonable, you’re in a terrible place. If you can, get out.

        I may be speaking from a place of privilege in the job market/life, but speaking out might even help you end up in a better place. If speaking out doesn’t work repeatedly, that a good indicator you’re in a bad place. If speaking out hurts you in that place, that’s an even stronger indicator you’re in a bad place.

        I frankly find a lot of these comments about speaking up being generally useless quite sad.

  6. C in the Hood*

    Re: microwaving socks…my dad (left to his own devices) tried microwaving his socks dry for 40 minutes. He ended up having to buy a new microwave!

    1. Merida Ann*

      I did the opposite once by taking a pair of shorts straight out of the dryer and throwing them in the freezer for a few minutes to cool down before wearing them to band practice in the summer heat, but at least there was no fire risk involved there…

  7. Ama*

    I think you and Jolie might be the two advice columnists I have learned the most from (certainly the two who have given me the most tips I’ve been able to put into direct practice). Very excited to listen to the episode on my commute home today.

  8. Free Meerkats*

    The “wiping stuff on the walls” in the ladies’ room and the thought that a ladies’ room would be cleaner than the mens’ amuses the heck out of me. I used to work for a janitorial service and universally found the ladies’ significantly dirtier than the mens’. If you think pee on the floor is only a male thing, you don’t know any hoverers.

    And as someone who now works in the sewer field (my office is next to a half-billion gallons of partially treated sewage), in the names of all that are holy, STOP FLUSHING APPLICATORS!!!!! And what they apply. Thank you for your time.

    I also have dealt with an office sock microwaver. But everyone around found out and we did end up with a new microwave. That was more than 2 decades ago, and he’s still “the guy who microwaved his socks.”

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Doesn’t the packaging say you can flush the applicator? I use Thinx panties now but I recall reading that cardboard applicators can be flushed.

      1. misspiggy*

        As I understand it, it’s like ‘flushable wipes’ – technically doable in perfect conditions, but a terrible idea in real life, especially if lots of people do it.

        1. Free Meerkats*

          To the marketers, anything that can physically fit through the trap is called “flushable.” A nonwoven fabrics association even devised their own test to prove they break down in the sewer. They don’t and their test is, in my opinion, bogus. They have also fought, tooth and nail, any regulation of labeling.

          Generally, if it isn’t a natural excretion that came out of you and it isn’t toilet tissue, don’t flush it. That applies to facial tissue as well, it doesn’t break down like toilet tissue does. Really.

    2. Close Bracket*

      If half as much effort was put into discouraging people from pouring fat down the drain as was put into discouraging people from flushing tampons, we wouldn’t need to discourage people from flushing tampons.

    3. Annie Moose*

      I am continually amazed that everyone’s mother didn’t teach them to not flush tampons. Come oooooon.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        I think you’d be surprised how many people didn’t have the luxury of using tampons. My mother’s family couldn’t afford them so I can see how she might not have known how to deal.

  9. SoCalHR*

    I too noticed the fact that a lot of the AAM readers are librarians…such an interesting phenomenon.

    1. Liz*

      There is a Facebook group with about 30,000 librarians. That is where I heard about AAM. Also, psych testing, personality testing, for what that is worth, says librarians tend to be conflict avoidant more than most people. And libraries tend to be run by people with no management experience outside libraries. We really need the help.

  10. Nanc*

    There are worse things sock guy could microwave as demonstrated by my college roommate, who I would say is dumb as a box of rocks but that’s insulting rocks . . .

  11. Close Bracket*

    My first response to the microwave was BURN IT WITH FIRE. But you know, soap is a thing, as is bleach, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  12. Fish in the Micro*

    I am (or was?) an unrepentant fish-microwaver at work but one of the new employees put fish sticks in the toaster oven today right before I wanted to use it to heat up my lunch. I finally realized why people hate people who heat up fish in shared microwaves/toaster ovens. Yikes. Can’t say I won’t ever bring tilapia for lunch again but I will say I GET IT.

  13. Aphrodite*

    I had to tune out (turn off the sound) while you talked about the bathroom … uh, stuff. I mean UGH. People really behave like that in a workplace? And I found myself skipping other parts too. Maybe I was raised right (wrong?) but really, it was unbelievable. And gross.

    I have a microwave story. I work at a two-year community college. When I used to be on the main campus, I worked in a building where most people had a private or semi-private office. One office was larger and had three-four interns / work-study students. One day I went to heat up my lunch and a young woman from that particular office was removing her soup which had overheated and spilled onto the turning plate. A lot of it. And she just took her dish and started to walk away. I got angry and said “Aren’t you going to clean your mess up?” She did (reluctantly and only because I called her out on it) but what a rotten witch.

    1. jasmine*

      The other day, I noticed that someone had spilled an entire container of yogurt on the floor in front of the fridge and walked away. (I didn’t catch them in the act. If I did, I’d probably have said something.) Being a good citizen, I decided to clean it up. My boss walked in and noticed me cleaning the floor, so I told him that as a senior software developer, I had a lot of professional experience in cleaning up other people’s messes. :)

  14. Farther and Happier*

    I agree with you Alison about a person who poops in the bathroom but not in the toilet has “other issues going on” the only time I ever was asked to try to stop someone from toilet issues was when I was an RA in college. We had someone going thru their first psychotic break (likely the beginnings of schizophrenia) who would go in the bathroom and shred all the toilet paper. Not only was it a huge mess to have the cleaners attend to, daily. But it meant until someone could go get more paper, no one had access to toilet paper if they needed to use the restroom.

    Also, if you think microwaving socks was bad. The Article in the UK about boiling underwear in the kettles made me queasy.

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