I like talking crap about my coworkers on chat at work — will my manager find out?

A reader writes:

I enjoy gossiping and talking crap about all my coworkers on chat at work. Should I assume my manager has access to these chats? Are managers able to read their employees chats and/or emails? I should probably just stop talking so much crap, but you know … it’s fun.

Yes, assume your manager could read those chats someday. Most managers aren’t reading them as a matter of course (that would be invasive and a terrible use of their time), but they typically have the ability to access them if they need to (or your I.T. people do and could report back), and there are a bunch of non-nefarious situations that could come up where they might do that. For example, you could be doing great work and under no suspicion at all, but the coworker who you’re talking to might get looked at for a reason that has nothing to do with you — and then they’re going to see your messages to her too. Or you’re out one day, your manager needs something from your computer, and comes across those emails. Or your coworker leaves, and your manager or someone else inherits her login and comes across those old crap-talking messages. (Inheriting logins is not a best-practice way to do job transitions, but lots of small employers do still do it that way.)

In general, assume that whatever you’re doing on your work computer or on your employer’s network could be seen by your employer at some point.

Also, for what it’s worth, talking crap might be satisfying in the moment, but over time it tends to make you less happy at work. It also tends to build a reputation that you probably don’t want. You might figure that anyone you’d be talking crap with isn’t the type to care — but one of those crap-talking people could be promoted above you at some point and have some insights into your work habits you’d rather they not have or, for example, see you as not cut out for leadership roles … or might be less comfortable with certain remarks you’ve made than you realize … or lots of other repercussions that can be hard to predict in the moment.

There are lots of other fun ways to spend time that won’t bite you like this one will.

{ 394 comments… read them below }

  1. MidwestAdmin*

    Is this person talking crap about their coworkers to people outside the company? I think the answer would be a little different in those circumstances.

    1. H.C.*

      Well even so, it seems the LW is doing it on a work computer, which is the employer’s property and is subject to being monitored & flagged, if needed.

      1. Michael*

        Thanks for answering my question! Agreed there are better ways to spend my time with a much lower risk/reward ratio. Luckily I was able to leave that team and now I find myself with a lot less crap to talk and more time on my hands. I guess I can fill that time with actual work.. or maybe I can learn a language. Definitely never thought of getting caught up in an investigation into someone else’s behavior. Thanks again!

        @Midwest Nah, not externally.

        1. epi*

          Glad you got out!

          Terrible jobs can mess with your sense of what is OK to do at work, how important it is, and your will to act right even when it comes to stuff that is obviously a terrible idea on paper. If you are self aware enough to realize that job was making you unhappy, and that you shouldn’t carry this habit forward at your next job, then you will probably be fine.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Glad you’re happier now but I wanted to point out that “talking crap” is both immature and unprofessional. Sure an occasional off hand remark, but trash talking coworkers on the regular? As a boss I’d probably fire you to be honest.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, I’m focused on how she’s doing this a) in writing, b) in places other people are both allowed to check and might have all sorts of legitimate business reasons to check. (I’m not a fan of the “But snooping!!!! Worse than all other things!!!!” defense, but she doesn’t even have that fig leaf here.)

        If you can’t say something nice, think a bunch of times before doing it in a recorded format. (This past week I was dealing with how to communicate to someone that the problem I was about to alert them to in Fergus’s work should not be sent only to Fergus, because Fergus is clueless and will probably insist there is no problem. But I didn’t want to put that reasoning in any email that might go to Fergus, or to someone who knows Fergus and doesn’t know me.)

        1. nonymous*

          Regarding the looping in others, I usually frame it as “I’m asking for extra XXX, but don’t want to step on boss’ toes for taking up your time”. That way even if Fergus thinks there is no problem, I can sell it as extra work because I am high-maintenance. And if everyone ignores me, there is documentation I escalated.

    2. zora*

      I don’t think the answer is different for the reason that you are still doing it on chat on your work computer, and it can still come back to bite you.

      And here’s an additional reason not to do it that Alison didn’t mention: You could accidentally send a message to the wrong person and it will make things really awful.

      I was really frustrated with a coworker and was in the habit of venting to a friend over chat who didn’t work for our company, or even in the same industry. But it was the same chat program we used to communicate within the company. As you’ve probably gathered at this point, I sent an angry, shittalking message directly to the person I was angry about. And once it was sent there was no getting it back. It made things super awkward with her, and we had to work very closely together. Plus, she told a lot of people about what happened, and it really hurt my reputation within the industry. I realized it was a dysfunctional situation anyway, and pretty shortly got out of that company and that industry, but I still get a knot in my stomach when I think about that situation.

      If you have to do any venting about work, coworkers, any thing work related, be EXTREMELY careful about where you are doing it and whether those messages could ever, even accidentally, get back to the people you are talking about, or to your manager.

      1. Gatomon*

        +1 It’s a terrible habit to get in to. I used to work somewhere where it was pretty common to have email threads between office buddies complaining about certain people/things. (We had no chat program.) I’d be lying if I said I didn’t participate, but I’m older and wiser and at a much better company now.

        I had a coworker hit reply to an email venting about a particular person to me. The email was sent to a distribution list and CC’d a higher up. Unfortunately when my coworker hit reply, the distro was removed but the CC remained, so both I and the higher up got a copy of the vent about this someone. The subject of the vent didn’t get a copy of the email, but the higher up did and my coworker was disciplined. I felt bad for them, and it made me start triple checking who I was sending emails to, no matter what the content was.

      2. Jun Aruwba*

        I once was doing some mild trash-talking of my then-boss (the ED of the org) on chat with another employee, and yep, I sure did send that chat to the ED instead. It ended up being more on the funny side and less on the terrible side, by PURE CHANCE, but it was still terrifying. You always think it won’t happen to you, but it can.

      3. Cactus*

        Yeah, I used to work in a pretty toxic place where everyone gossiped about everyone all the time, many people were constantly trying to make others look bad, and I constantly felt like I couldn’t trust anyone to be straightforward and consistent. It was terrible. I’ve never worked at a place with such a horrible culture since then, but I would say that I still haven’t totally unlearned the maladaptive work habits learned there. I am still paranoid as heck. I still question whether I’m being tricked into “screwing up” by a boss who’s out to get me. I still wonder if my coworkers secretly hate me and are talking crap about me.

  2. Hills to Die on*

    Yes to inheriting logins. I still get emails for Halls to Die on and phone calls for Hills to Dine on. No, they don’t work here (yes, I have a very ordinary first and last name. There are thousands of people out there who have it).

    Speaking as someone who just got done venting about one coworker to another, I agree that this is good advice. I will be the one to say that if you are going to do it, say it in person for this exact reason. Or so that you don’t accidentally talk about a person TO them by mistake. Better to not do it at all, but if you have to, it should not be in writing. I’ve seen that on this blog and unfortunately have also done it. Not good at all.

      1. Doc in a Box*

        Yup. Or as one of my supervisors once put it “Never write down anything you wouldn’t want read aloud in court.”

        1. One for the road*

          Dance like no one is watching; email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          As the person who gets to sort through all those emails, YES, YES, AND YES. Good lord people put stupid things in email. And IM. And text messages. And about a bazillion other mediums and apps that can be collected and used as part of a litigation. Our work chat program stores the conversations in plain text in a particular location, and IS can pull them as needed.

          They can also be seen in the ordinary course of business. One of my folks asked me to come help them with something that was giving them trouble and invited me over to their desk to look at it… where a chat window displayed a full conversation packed with petty, crappy comments about a coworker. It didn’t reflect well on them or the other three people involved in the chat, and I expressed disappointment and set the expectation that they were not to use company time or resources to disparage their coworkers. I did not add that I don’t pay people to engage in middle school clique behavior, but I thought it really loudly.

    1. Mickey Q*

      I had a friend do the classic write an email complaining about the boss and then send the email to the boss. She was immediately terminated. That is why I don’t fill in the TO: field until I’m sure who should get it.

      1. A Reader*


        On another note, I wouldn’t want to share crap-talking emails with colleagues, no matter how much I think they will agree with me. You just don’t want to put that kind of stuff in writing, no matter how fun it is in the moment to vent about the job/boss/colleagues.

        1. Ozma the Grouch*

          Agreed, I once got into some hot water because I was accidentally CC’d on a thread where some co-workers were gossiping. I just ignored the emails and deleted them, not really thinking much about it at the time. I wasn’t friends with this group but my initials were close enough to one of the regulars that they didn’t notice I had been included. There was an audit, and that thread and a whole bunch of others were discovered. We all got called in to be talked to. After some frustration on my part I pointed out that I had never once responded to the thread at any point in time. If I had realized what a big deal it was going to be, I would have acted differently. Maybe sent a reply all and asked to be removed? But I still don’t think it was was my place to tell people how to behave in an office. HR let me off with a stern warning. I believe a couple people were placed on PIPs. It wasn’t a fun time, the whole office morale completely shifted after the incident.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Man, it really sucks that you got in trouble for something you had absolutely nothing to do with! What did HR expect you to do anyway–tattle on your coworkers when you got the first email from that group? Seriously, I’m having a hard ime figuring out what your supposed “offense” even was. None of us can control who sends email TO us or what it contains. HR should have better things to spend their time on than reprimanding someone for being the unwitting recipient of objectionable email!

            1. A. Schuyler*

              Actually, tattling is exactly what I would have done. I definitely wouldn’t attribute it to the individual, and maybe I wouldn’t speak directly to their manager, but if there was something actionable in there I would certainly take it to someone with the authority to do something.

              1. Ozma the Grouch*

                That is much easier said than done. The power dynamics back then of me vs the gossipers was not in my favor. I could very well have lost my job for stirring trouble, or creating a hostile work environment, or some other such nonsense. They were the “mean girls” at the company. And they were all higher up the food chain than me. While the gossip I witnessed wasn’t nothing, it was nothing worse than anything I’ve witnessed at other organization before or since. It was just that they were stupid enough to do it in writing and one of them worked in the finance department. If there had never been an audit, nothing would have ever come of it. They didn’t get in trouble until their behavior reflected poorly on the company itself.

      2. Anonymosity*

        What I used to do at OldExjob was type crap into a Notepad document on my flash drive. Nobody had access to it, and it wasn’t going to accidentally get sent to anyone because it wasn’t an email or IM. I could bitch to my heart’s content, and if anyone walked by me, I looked like I was actually working, haha.

      3. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

        One of our summer students was terminated under similar circumstances. She didn’t have enough work to do and starting writing snarky mean emails about her supervisor to another friend. The boss found them when he was looking through deleted emails for one he still needed, (Another reason she mocked him was because of things like that). He was actually very kind when he fired her and told her to look upon it as a learning experience.

    2. Takver*

      “Don’t think it.
      If you think it, don’t say it.
      If you say it, don’t write it down.
      If you write it down…don’t be surprised.”

    3. ArtsNerd*

      And if you’re doing it in person, you still need to be discreet and careful of who might overhear you.

      Once a friend was venting about the dysfunction at her internship, at a bar far removed from her place of employment. Out of an abundance of caution, she used euphemisms and false names and didn’t state the name of her employer directly. She felt a bit silly about it, but then the woman next to us stood up and made mention to her companion of something she needed to do as a board member… of my friend’s employer. Our jaws dropped.

      Now I steadfastly refuse shit about any local organization or the people related to it in public unless I’m willing to similarly anonymize or just straight up burn that bridge. Even major cities turn into pret-ty small towns when it comes to this stuff.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        *refuse to talk shit. And I know a good mountain of dirt on a great many workplaces (see: small town.)

      2. TrainerGirl*

        I’m with you on the anonymizing. A friend of mine I used to work with and I did talk some crap about our managers on IM, but we NEVER used names. We made up nicknames for them that only we knew, and they weren’t related to their actual names at all. Not smart that we used IM to do it, but our group was so toxic that there were too many other issues for IM’s to be be saearched.

      3. Cactus*

        Yep. I have always used weird nicknames when discussing coworkers with my husband. Some are based on TV shows and celebrities (there was one former coworker who I always called Dudley Do-Right), others make zero sense to anyone else (Greasy Laughter). And it’s just for that reason–I NEVER know who is listening.

  3. Roscoe*

    I always just assume my managers can see it. At the same time, while what I would say may not be the most professional thing, it isn’t really awful either. Like its not personal attacks, just complaining about how Jane never does X thing correctly

  4. InfoSec SemiPro*

    As a member of the security profession, I implore you to never, ever put anything into any computer system operated by your work that you wouldn’t want as a direct quote in a national publication followed by “said a representative of Llamas, Inc”

    Work systems, even chat systems, even private messages in those chats, are subject to legal discovery, available to your management and other staff, might be shared with third parties (Slack, I’m looking at you), those third parties may also be subject to legal discovery, may not be terribly secure anyway… the list is long. The horror and embarrassment may not strike, but if they do, it will also be long.

    Talk crap on your own time to your own people on systems you own. Please?

    1. Hard Agree*

      Yes! As an entry level attorney, I spent about two years reading emails and chat transcripts that had only the most tangential relevance to our lawsuits, but someone had to read them to figure that out. I found out about everything from so-and-so prefers tuna salad sandwiches, to people in middle management having an affair with each other on company time. Seriously: dance like nobody’s watching, email like it will be read back at a deposition.

      1. Luna*

        “dance like nobody’s watching, email like it will be read back at a deposition”

        This is quite possibly the best line I have ever read.

      2. Red Reader*

        I moonlighted at an electronic evidence discovery firm for a little while, doing document processing. The emails. The pictures. THE VIDEOS. :P

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Wow, that sounds like an interesting job. I’m sure a lot of it is routine, but at least some of it sounds like it would be fascinating.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            It’s only interesting until about the fifth time you have to put an “adult content” in the database or have an uncomfortable conversation with the people you’re turning documents over to about how to handle potentially relevant porn.

            I have seen it ALL. The hand-delivered hard drive where the attorney warned us not to have anyone squeamish handle it; the porn (oh, my god, the porn – on work computers!!!); the personal emails/Amazon orders/medical info; and the shit we had to turn over to the FBI.

            Your work computer is not your personal computer. Learn it, live it, love it.

            1. MattKnifeNinja*

              I’ve never could never understand the need for porn on a work computer. How big does the image have to be? Can’t people view that stuff on their own smart phone?

              Or the sub geniuses who have a terabyte of illegal, unsavory porn on their work computer. WHY? Then they are SHOCKED when they get busted.

              I don’t get humans sometimes.

              1. Dzhymm*

                Back in the day when Internet access meant connecting to AOL over a 56K modem, sometimes the only place you could get sufficient bandwidth for viewing porn *was* at work. Some people may have gotten into the habit of surfing porn at work this way. Others may do it to keep the spouse from finding out, I dunno…

      3. David Sedaris is my Spirit Animal*

        Totally agree with Hard Agree! My husband is a contract attorney for “discovery”. He spends all day looking at company documents to see if any contain information relevant to the specific case to which he’s assigned. He doesn’t discuss details with me, but generally he’s mentioned he’s seen tons of electronic greeting cards and discussion of personal matters, including financial information. He even once reviewed a document where his own name appeared. It was in a record for a company he had worked at over 10 years previous.

    2. Alton*

      Agreed, though I would clarify it further that you shouldn’t write anything that you would be really uncomfortable with or that would reflect poorly on you/the workplace. It can be normal to be more casual and laid-back in communications with co-workers than you would be in external communication or an official statement, but if what you’re saying looks bad or unprofessional even in context, or the content is offensive, that’s an issue.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      And even without the possibility of legal discovery, if you do it on my network, I have a log of it, and I have to look through those logs from time to time to keep things working. (I had that conversation with a management level coworker once. Two weeks later, I spent a couple of hours surfing porn web site, documenting what he’d been up to (pun intended) while (he thought) nobody was looking. 45 pages of proxy logs. In a small font. And sheesh, dude, did you *have* to print it out?.)

      Around here, we tend to talk crap about each other, but to quote a friend, “I’d never insult you behind your back. I’d rather do it to your face, so I can see the reaction.” We’re a rough and tumble bunch, though, and have worked together for years, so we follow rule #1: Know. Your. Audience.

    4. Roscoe*

      So as an aside to that. If I’m on gchat on my work computer, but I’m logged into my personal gmail. Can those be searched as well? If so, is it just the messages I send from my work computer, or is it any conversation that was had on there, even if some was from my phone?

      1. Karyn*

        My understanding of the law here is that generally, employers can monitor ANYTHING you do on their equipment. For example, even if they aren’t monitoring your actual gchat, if they have a keystroke logger, they could see what you’re typing without having to do that.

        1. Roscoe*

          Yeah, and I get that part. Its just, like sometimes I’ll start a conversation through the gChat app on my phone, in my personal account. While at work, I may continue that coversation. I may have, on my phone said some not great things about a boss or something, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that sitting at my desk. I just think it would be bad if since I technically accessed that conversation on my work computer that they could read the entire thing.

          1. Karyn*

            In THAT case, I do not believe they can legally access your Gmail on a daily basis simply because you once used it on your work computer. If, for instance, they use monitoring software that can remotely see what you’re doing (and I know law firms that do this), and you’re in your gmail, THEN they could go in. But logging into your Gmail at 9pm when you only used your Gmail on their computer once, a year ago, would probably not hold up.

          2. mrs_helm*

            Don’t cross the streams. Don’t access personal stuff on a work computer, or do work from your personal device. Once you do, everything on that device is legally “discoverable”.

            Also, even if your employer expressly IS NOT logging something, that doesn’t mean some coworker isn’t screenshotting it for their own amusement. DO NOT PUT IN WRITING ANYWHERE what you don’t want on the front page.

          3. Kyrielle*

            If they are logging the network and that data comes across to your work computer – to fill in the chat history for you to see – then it will in theory be available to them also.

      2. Amber T*

        It depends on who’s doing the investigating and for what reason. Legally, it’s all sorts of shades of gray, erring on the “eh, probably not” side. My company has a rule that says you can’t send business stuff through your personal communications, so if you were suspected of doing that, it would be a violation, we would probably limit your access (and probably everyone’s) access to personal communication like gchat through business computers, we would probably ask you to show what you’ve been funneling through personal communications, or if it was serious enough, you’d be terminated. If the SEC came in and found something super serious, they’d have to go through proper legal channels… but we’re talking mega insider trading or something that would result in huge fines and probably jail time, not something the lines of bitching about your coworkers.

        But if you have a rogue IT/compliance/legal/HR person? Sure! They could leak stuff to other people if they felt like being asshats.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Oh, and all your text messages are stored in a single database-esque file, so we can’t separate your work from personal stuff until AFTER it’s been collected and processed. Which is why I once got to read a guy’s texts to both his wife AND girlfriend while looking for the harassing ones he sent to a subordinate.

      3. Specialk9*

        Don’t log onto personal email or chat at work. You have already, so change your password.

        Usually work can only read what you actually access and send on their network, but if they capture your email and password, you’re then relying on the honor of random people not to log on and look around, and not all people are honorable.

        I know someone who stayed logged on to her personal email in her office, with the browser remembering the password. Someone who wanted her fired went in, looked through her files, printed out emails criticizing board members, and sent a copy to each board member.

        Also, get a password keeper like LastPass or 1Password, and keep everything in there. No more reusing passwords or easy to hack passwords.

        1. nym*

          My IT security warning that pops up every time you turn the computer on says “this device, any network it is connected to, and any other devices connected to any network this device has been connected to.”

          I got a loooooot of raised eyebrows when I started pointing that out to my work friends and suggesting they actually think about the level of access Big Brother could have into their lives if he looked and maybe be judicious about things like teleworking from the same computer they use for personal stuff.

    5. pleaset*

      ” I implore you to never, ever put anything into any computer system operated by your work that you wouldn’t want as a direct quote in a national publication followed by “said a representative of Llamas, Inc””

      “email like it will be read back at a deposition.”

      These are extreme: the result would be we couldn’t speak frankly in email about sensitive and important issues. We couldn’t go harsh assessments of partners or frank concerns about the competitive environment. We couldn’t go scenario planning.

      I’m not comfortable saying in a national publication “X is really letting us down. Let’s keep on their good side because they offer some value, but find another partner as soon as we can, then let them off easy” because X might cut us off before we’re ready. We’d be screwed. But I’m not about to make that some voice/phone only communication. Don’t have time for that.

      We should be assessing, even in a loose way, risk versus reward. My organization has never, as far as a I know, been subject to legal discovery. Perhaps our service providers could be. But the odds are too low for us to censor ourselves by your standard. Just because there is legal/reputational risk that risk doesn’t trump everything else.

      We’ve got staff around the glove and are going to communicate digitally and bluntly at times.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        The origin of “email like it will be read back at a deposition” was in actual fact a situation in which harsh assessments of partners really bit them once the emails went beyond their intended internal audience.

      2. So social*

        To offer a different perspective: I work for a tech company with about 5k employees. We get a company wide litigation notice at least once a month. It means that all communication regarding the subject in the ligitation will be shared with the litigating party. They ask for voluntary input from everyone who has relevant info and documents but I think it’s pretty likely they do a full company database search of everything related to whatever.

        Also several people were fired for being implicated in dealing drugs at work after someone reported them. They found out via their chat logs. :)

    6. deep6*

      Yes! Especially the “legal discovery” part if LW works for a financial consulting firm, an accounting firm or an investment manager. You better believe the SEC goes through chats/emails.

    7. ArtsNerd*

      +100000000000. There’s definitely discoverable stuff on our Slack that will almost certainly show up in a lawsuit my employer is currently a part of. I made a channel for the lawsuit, just to keep track of publicly available or exceedingly banal updates (press coverage, motion to dismiss deadlines, etc.) and my boss shut it down within seconds. Which is fair.

  5. a good mouse*

    I always wonder what answer people are expecting with questions like this – “Yes, not knowing your company setup I can assure you this will never come back to bite you, talk crap all you like!”

    In more constructive feedback, I agree with Alison that talking crap in the long run will make you less happy at work, because you’ll always be focusing on the negatives. That’s a great way to turn “Wow, that’s kind of annoying when Fergus does X” to “FLAMES, FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE!”

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Honestly, the email sounds to me like the OP knew the answer they were going to get, but wanted to get some “official” confirmation on it. I’ve done this sometimes when I needed an extra kick in the butt to do something I already knew I needed to do.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah. “I really don’t want to do this but think I likely need to, but is there any chance I don’t? Pretty please?”

    2. MLB*

      Let the LW send a complaint to the person she’s complaining about once and she’ll stop. I’ve mixed up IMs when I’m chatting with multiple people before..no matter how careful you are it’s very easy to do. And I always make sure to set my Skype to “Do Not Disturb” when I’m sharing my screen in meetings just in case someone else IMs me about someone on the call.

  6. CowardHomment*

    Recreational complaining.
    Not a good idea to do at work, not a good idea to do in print.

    LW: If you are going to complain about people, try this simple rule. Don’t complain about anything you haven’t discussed with the instigator. (ie Fergus clips his toenails in the breakroom. Have you complained to Fergus and it is still ongoing? Complain away. Boss keeps giving best assignments to suck up coworker – have you discussed with Boss? And did Boss ignore you? Complain away.)

    Otherwise, your complaints do nothing to resolve whatever the issue is. Its like wanting to complain about the large tack on your chair – BUT YOU CONTINUE TO SIT ON IT. After a while it just marks you as an annoying whiner who should MOVE ALREADY.

  7. Bea*

    My rule is to only vent to family and friends. The next thing you know is when Jane, the lady you talk sht to about Brenda befriends Brenda and all hell breaks loose. Suddenly you’re the one being talked about and they don’t like you so they scheme to have you fired, etc.

    Y’all are acting like Mean Girls by putting sht talk in writing and playing with fire using company resources to play that game.

    I’ve had so many people flip and turn on each other, I’m not about that mess.

    1. Inspector Spacetime*


      I follow the same rules with gossip, not that I do all that much of it. Talk about coworkers to friends, talk about friends to family, talk about family to coworkers, but never cross the streams and talk about someone who the other person knows.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      This is why I’m cautious at work. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had someone who seemed friendly turn and start trying to hurt me.
      There’s at least one in every workplace!

    3. Marillenbaum*

      FACTS. I am a firm believer in having a Cone of Silence–as it is, to the extent I discuss/kvetch about coworkers, it’s strictly using pseudonyms. This is twofold: I work with sensitive information and don’t want to put myself in a dicey position, and in the event that a non-work friend knows a work friend and I’m not aware of it, I wouldn’t want to put them in a dicey position by trashing someone they care about. I’ve been in that position and it’s not fun.

    4. Flash Bristow*

      Totally. I have a good friend who in many ways isn’t an obvious fit with me, but once a week he comes over, we have a beer, chew the fat, and know that we can rant to someone in a totally different circle. No conflict of interest, no chance of accidentally letting it slip to an involved party (no overlap) and it’s very therapeutic both to rant, and to get the other person’s perspective.

      Find a friend like that. Make a regular rant date, even. But don’t bitch with people in the same circle by whatever method. You never know when it’ll come back on you. And a proper sit down and destress session can help a lot more than sporadic snarks all day.

  8. Avacado*

    As a manager in the gov, academia, and private sector – I have never had and doubt I ever will have the ability to read your chats.

    IT can. If you have issues or did something that may violate policy, I’m sure its possible. As a general run of the mill manager. Nope.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      Depends though on what sort of system you have going on. All my IM chats were saved automatically to my email, so when I left my (gov’t) position, my manager was given access to my email to make sure all relevant project information got transferred, and he could have easily gotten access to chats at that point as well.

    2. A Nickname for AAM*

      Also, check your employee handbook.

      My employee handbook at my last job had a clause that said, “Please assume all things done on (employer) computers and employee software can be tracked. However, it is a violation of IT policy to read someone’s emails or internet history for curiosity’s sake, without a legitimate business interest.”

    3. LQ*

      As someone in government managers have access (when they request it) but also? There’s a lot of it, most of it, that could be subject to public FOIA or foia like requests, in addition to legal subpoena. If it exists and it’s government, you should assume it’s going to end up on the news. It’s all public.

      1. Former editor*

        Ohhh … this reminds me of the time in my newspaper job that a public official sent me an email and I wrote back to him telling him to submit his comments as a letter to the editor. A lady FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requested his emails and then saw me at a meeting and said she had seen one of my emails. Even though I had done nothing wrong, I felt violated.

    4. Specialk9*

      Everything govt can be FOIAed (except classified, and arguably sensitive).

      Private sector are you kidding? One of my bosses was the guy who did those email/chat discoveries. Most companies (and most govt) have keyword searches that alert IT to go check out what you’re doing.

      I don’t know about academia, but I’d think something similar, but academia…

    5. Kittymommy*

      Late to the party but where I work, also government, all of our communication: chats, emails, texts, etc. are not only accessible via IT at anytime, they’re also subject to public record. You want to request? It’s yours. Don’t say anything you’re not cool with winding up in the paper or on Facebook somewhere.

    6. Girl friday*

      I love this. Would you want to, is my question? Maybe for safety, but you would need the wisdom of a priest.

  9. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Also…. what kind of crap are we talking? “Fergus drives me nuts when he blames everyone else for not being able to get the llama report in” is very different than “Did you see the dress Jane wore??? What was she thinking. She’s too fat for that.”

    Both are bad, yes. But if it’s the latter, it needs to stop. Yesterday.

    1. Curious Cat*

      Agreed. If it’s like the latter those are hurtful & unnecessary comments. Makes me think of middle school. I like to think all my coworkers know how to be respectful adults. (And if you really just need to complain about someone to get it off your chest, just make them to your close friends/family OUTSIDE work).

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*


        I email my mom.

        From my personal phone.

        At lunch.

        And I have NEVER bullied someone in those. There is no need. Plus, I think you start to radiate that vibe. It’s just not good.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        Yes. I will occasionally text my sister from the bathroom about annoying coworkers. The odds of IT requesting the records of my texts to my sister on my personal phone are fairly nonexistent.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          not to mention, they’d have no right to see them, because it’s your personal phone.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. If there is relevant (or potentially relevant) material that is subject to an investigation or lawsuit, your employer can and will collect personal devices. My team does this frequently, and, if you use it for work-related communications *at all* (or, say, you were harassing someone at work and the personal conversations you had about that person with a sibling may be relevant), you can be compelled to let someone image it for processing, review, and possible production. And we cannot collect only work-related texts because of the way these sorts of apps tend to store their data. Oh, and we can collect iCloud and other device backups if you “accidentally” lose or wipe your phone. You’d be amazed at how many people have phone accidents once required to turn it over.

    2. pleaset*

      I’m not even sure the first once is bad if done from time to time. Work shouldn’t be all happy talk.

      “Once again, X got his reports in late. Such a drag that we’ll have to do clean up again with the forecasts based on amended date. I know, I know, nothing we can so. Sigh.”

      I think that’s fine venting – especially if your own manager is part of it and you trust her. Not so much you’re all sucked into a cycle of negativity, but a bit, sure. What’s IT going to do – out us for complaining about another person being late? Bring it on.

      “OMG, did you see what Y was wearing. So tacky. And that beard? He really needs to get a clue”

      That’s terrible.

      1. Specialk9*

        Not everything has to be roses, sometimes coworkers SUCK and paint canvases and do puzzles at work while making others do their work… but a healthy sense of paranoia would caution against putting that into print in anything less than careful professional terms. Vent verbally instead.

        1. Mad Baggins*


          OP, does your bar not have happy hour? If you MUST vent to coworkers, why not go to happy hour and do a gentle roast, as in, “Fergus got the llama grooming reports late in again, ugh what a drag. I bet he was swamped with angry llama owners/he’s so fast with a llama comb, I wonder what gnomes took over his desk to slow him down.”

          Best/usual case scenario, nothing leaves the bar and everyone feels better. Worst case scenario, you’ve not really said anything malicious.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I would classify the first example as venting, which is normally an appropriate as long as it stays out of the Pit of Despair; the second as trash-talking, which I think should fall off someone’s list of fun things to do mid-high school, at the latest.

        My boss and I exchange venty emails all the time, most of which are blunter versions of conversations actually had with the person irritating the shit out of us. I have a peer who cannot get stuff done, so my boss gets the direct but polite email sent to the offender with the snarky commentary. (She has a no bitching unless you’ve done something about it rule, mostly.)

  10. mark132*

    There is nothing like that sinking feeling in your stomach when you hit send and realize it was reply to all. And even if it isn’t reply to all, it’s all so easy to forward to everyone. I still remember some guys “screed” about me that wasn’t sent to me yet still got forwarded to me.

    1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

      Oh…how well I remember the day when someone hit reply all with a snarky comment about a low level manager. The comment, which went along the lines of “maybe she can run for the job of the Governor’s wife”, was seen by everyone including the CEO – who was running for Governor. She was fired almost as soon as the email was sent. The woman who sat next to her said that the moment she’d sent it she realized what she’d done and started packing up her desk. Anytime I think about writing something mean about a coworker or client I think about her.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Our former boss got fired from his previous job for accidentally emailing this about his competitor for the top job at Newsweek Magazine (back when it was still popular): “If only her brains were as big as her t*ts”. He sent it to a bunch of people by mistake, including the woman’s husband. Oops! The worst part (for me) was that my company hired him as our top boss after Newsweek dumped him. He sucked and made two similar email mistakes with us as well (not nearly as mean, but very embarrassing for him because he was bragging to his wife about how certain famous reporters were “kissing his butt” and accidentally sent it to everyone at the company).

    2. Squeeble*

      This was my first thought–even if OP’s boss never searches their IM history, OP has a very high chance of sending a snarky message to the wrong person, which has every possibility of blowing up.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Yeah, I never thought this type of thing would happen to me. I’m careful!

        Until I did it myself. (In my personal life, not professionally, thankfully).

        Prior to that I always thought that people who made these mistakes either did it “accidentally on purpose” or were just careless in general.

        Now I know better.

    3. Becky*

      Oh there was a funny moment a few months ago when one guy in my department hit reply-all on an email–he’s the head of all of our developers.

      I once remembered to take the clients out of the To field in an email, but forgot to remove them from the CC field. I didn’t say anything terrible, but I did say “I have no idea how they managed to get this to error in this way.”

  11. Karyn*

    When I was at my last job, before the layoffs happened, pretty much every secretary was saying less than pleasant things about the company – myself included, sadly enough. I knew from our IT guy that our chat logs weren’t saved anywhere in the system (I asked him long before, when I was trying to get back a chat with my manager that I’d accidentally closed, and he told me there’s no way to get it), but you can bet I was nervous that somewhere, I’d sent someone an email that could be traced back. As far as I’m aware, I never did, but I really wish I’d not even had to worry about it. Everyone vents from time to time, but it really should be done quietly, and frankly, I’d vent to someone who *doesn’t* work there, like your best friend or your partner.

  12. merry*

    I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but I’m curious what platform they’re using to chat on. If it’s on Facebook or other social media, why would an employer have access to one’s personal Facebook page?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      If they are chatting on FB via their work computers, on the company network, the company may have access.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      The platform is irrelevant. What’s relevant is whether they’re doing it at work and/or on a work computer.

      But even if they’re doing it on their own time, there could be a situation where their personal social media records are subpoenaed. Rule of thumb: don’t put anything on the internet that you don’t want to hear read back to you in court.

    3. zora*

      Most people say “on chat” to refer to something like Skype or Slack, where they are instant messaging with coworkers on an internal system. In my office, we use Skype, so all of the conversations are archived within Outlook and therefore easily accessible by IT if they wanted to.

      However, even if you are chatting on Facebook on your work computer, that information is going through your company’s network to get to the internet, so they still have access to that information.

  13. Curious Cat*

    3 people were just fired from my office last week for what they were saying on company IM. Unsure if they were talking crap about the company, a coworker, or what, but everyone now knows they’re gone because of their IMs (it was 4 people in a group IM, but one went to IT to tell them what was being said by the other 3).

    Not that my teammates and I talk crap, but we always use an outside IM (like gmail) for our day-to-day conversations. The only time we use a company IM is if we’re really saying basic things like, “Hey, did you get that XYZ document the other day?”

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        A mole… or maybe someone who is deeply uncomfortable with the conversation in which they’re being included and take it to their manager. The last round of people I know that were disciplined for shitty behavior erroneously included their trash talk was welcome by someone else – turns out it wasn’t AND that person was upset that they were perceived as someone who’d want to participate AND the group ignored request to be dropped from the chat. When it started impacting the team dynamic and productivity, they had a one-on-one with the manager.

    1. Monica*

      Exactly that’s what can happen – someone snitches. I remember one thing that was always said by managers at work – don’t write anything that you wouldn’t reveal in a team meeting or a public forum.
      I was one of these IM talking crap individuals for many years and a few years ago stopped because I realised I needed to stop being so immature and obnoxious in the workplace. If I have some silly gripe I only vent to two people outside of work (family members) who have no connection whatsoever to my workplace. You have to let off steam but I definitely would not do it on the IM chat or even on a private Facebook page where friends from work can see.

    2. chatty*

      I used to work at a place where a whole team was fired for inappropriate use of their team chatroom. A bunch of (lawyers? hr?) people from HQ showed up one day and called each team member into a grilling where they went through an inches-thick printout of a year’s worth of chatroom logs.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Oh wow… that must have been some history to warrant the team all being fired.

    3. Logan*

      There are plenty of news articles which mention how Facebook groups filled with sexism, racism, etc are made public, and a pile of people lose their jobs / reputations. If it happens in those large-scale contexts, I’m sure it happens at a smaller scale as well.

    4. essEss*

      If that “outside I/M” is going through the company servers (i.e.- you’re using it installed on a company computer or using the company wifi) instead of using it on your personal phone using your own data plan, it can still be accessed.

      1. Workerbee*

        Yes. My husband’s department was warned at his work that there has been “too much” use of gmail/chat/other non-work programs. Somebody was watching!

        1. Curious Cat*

          Interesting! I wasn’t aware of that. We’re not trash-talking anyway, it’s just used for our day-to-day conversations (sharing funny articles, talking about our weekends, etc.), but good to know regardless.

  14. Hermione Granger*

    I know this wasn’t the bulk of the point of his response, but I’m interested in hearing more about the best way to handle transitions. We generally don’t inherit logins at my company but there is one past employee whose email inbox we still need to reference in order to see past correspondence with contractors. (A lot of “well, she told me xyz” is easy to solve by finding the actual exchange in writing.) What is a cleaner method for this?

    1. LSP*

      Always have additional members of the team copied on client emails from the start. If something is one-on-one, you’ll never get out of that cycle, but my making sure there are always extra eyes on it by other relevant team members, it’s much easier to track down.

      1. StressedButOkay*

        At my work. when we have a coworker leave, their supervisor has IT transition the email account to them. So they then have full access to the entire history of the email for searching but also have access to it if/when someone emails xyz@llamas.inc thinking they’re still there.

        I don’t think it’s hard to do – we use Outlook – you just need to have a policy in place to have IT do that when someone leaves. It’s been a life saver when trying to find vital pieces of information that one person might have had in one email!

    2. StressedButOkay*

      At my work. when we have a coworker leave, their supervisor has IT transition the email account to them. So they then have full access to the entire history of the email for searching but also have access to it if/when someone emails xyz@llamas.inc thinking they’re still there.

      I don’t think it’s hard to do – we use Outlook – you just need to have a policy in place to have IT do that when someone leaves. It’s been a life saver when trying to find vital pieces of information that one person might have had in one email!

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        That’s what happens in my company too. Employee leaves, manager gets log in credentials to employee’s laptop, and email set up to forward to manager for 90 days (or something like that not sure if it’s a rule or the email account is transferred or how they do it).

        I’m not sure that most managers do this, but in the team I last worked on, the employees received POs from customers via email. Would not be good for a PO to be sitting in an inbox that nobody had access to.

    3. Marzipan*

      It can be worth setting up genetic emails for certain functions or teams – ‘handles@chocolate-teapots.org’, or whatever – and putting that sort of stuff through them rather than to the individual’s account, if there are particular roles where this comes up a lot.

    4. Logan*

      We have a database / shared folder where we store files for projects, and this includes key emails. I have to admit that the emails are a new thing, and probably aren’t filed as accurately as they should be, but on my more recent projects I have gone through my emails and placed some of them in there.

      Is there a place where you stores electronic files? If so, why not add emails to them?

    5. Bea*

      Shared mailboxes. I have access to mine, former persons, genetic box 1 (think ap@ and ar@), server account and general mailbox used as our public facing account. So when Ginger leaves, her account is hooked onto whomever may need access. The CEO has all the accounts accessible but only bothers with them when necessary, like when hiring he’ll access the HR account to check on weekend submissions etc. You shouldn’t need to log out and log into Former Employees account, it should be available right on your Outlook or whatever email client used.

    6. the gold digger*

      At my previous job, IT archived my predecessor’s email and gave me the entire file. That’s how I figured out he did absolutely nothing. I went through a year’s worth of emails and was able to close six new accounts in only a few months. He just hadn’t followed up. I don’t know what he did all day.

    7. Becky*

      We don’t inherit logins at my work, but when someone leaves the company any further emails to them get sent to Customer Support to handle. After one guy left it became apparent he was using his work email for a lot of personal things. Nothing risque, but still thing I would never use my work email for.

  15. Former Border's Refugee*

    Also keep in mind that your chat longs and dishy emails could be discoverable in the event of a lawsuit. And there could be a crew of bored-out-their-minds document review attorneys reading all your gossip (we always remember how many requests for a divorce over company email we’ve seen).


    (So far.)

    1. LeRainDrop*

      Also seen — naughty photos and videos, discriminatory remarks, jokes that later undermine a person’s credibility or impute some knowledge/admission to the company, statements that cause the employer to no longer trust your judgment, etc.

    2. Anon for this*

      At a previous job, all records (files, emails, etc.) related to a particular client were required as part of a response to a lawsuit.

      Just my files was over 1 GB, so I’m sure they had a grand old time.

      A senior coworker not in my group reached out to me to ask why I saved chat logs, because his negative remark about the client had been found in one of those chat logs. Which, yes, it was there – so were the details and information relevant to my job. Rather than risk losing something or forgetting it, of course I was logging, since it was being used to convey data I needed to do my job.

      But I don’t think he wanted some of those remarks found.

      After that I turned off logging, and copied/pasted stuff. A bit of time lost, and always the risk of leaving out something that would matter later tho.

      1. Karyn*

        It’s not *quite* the same, but along the lines of your story:

        At Old Job, occasionally a client would request that we send them the physical file we kept in addition to our electronic copy. As most attorneys didn’t like working out of physical files anyway and we were only hanging onto most of them to avoid the horrible task of shipping them off to storage, we were always happy to oblige. The thing is, though, we were supposed to go through and “scrub” the physical file of duplicate paperwork, old invoices, and all internal emails (in other words, copies of emails between people in our office that may have been printed and put in the file – emails between our people and the client were kept).

        Unfortunately, one day, a client requested a file and the task of scrubbing it was given to a less-than-careful clerk, who didn’t get the proverbial memo about said scrubbing. She just shipped the file off via FedEx. When the partner in charge of the client found out, he panicked – because there were definitely some old emails in there between him (many years earlier as a young associate) and the then-partner on the client, bitching about said client. We actually had to pay a ton of money to get FedEx to recall the shipment and send it back to us.

        So, again, more horrifying ways that this crap can come back to haunt you, even YEARS down the road.

        1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

          I remember a summer job organizing legal files. Now and then a sentence would catch my eye and I’d skim a file. Lawyers write everything down, it was eye opening.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        My boss likes to give directions by text, and it’s similar. I make screen shots and email them to myself. Trying to determine what to save can be challenging. I generally err on the side of caution – If I never need them, all the better!
        It takes some time – the first time I did, it took an hour. But he insists on communicating by text, so this is what I have to do to protect myself.

  16. BRR*

    Or it could be like my former coworker who accidentally sent a complaint about Fergus to Fergus

    1. EddieSherbert*

      *awkward hand raising while cringing*

      I did this. It was like 10 years ago and I still feel horribly embarrassed remembering it. Learned that one the hard way.

      It was almost worse that Fergus was super nice about ti and just excepted my BS excuse/lie (oh my gosh, I didn’t even apologize! I BS’ed! OMG. Young Eddie, no!!!)

    2. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

      Ex-boss did this. She was a chronic smack talker, and one time she replied to the wrong person, complaining about that person. Seeing the horror on her face was something else.

      1. Didi*

        I knew someone that did that and too and it was such a web to untangle having to apologise to her boss.

    3. Jessie*

      Yep – made that mistake once!
      I was emailing my coworker, about our boss. We were all working in 1 big open room, and luckily, he was away from his desk, computer unlocked – in a meeting with the big boss (and I could see into the room they were in). I panicked, whispered to coworker what happened. She calmly got up, went to his computer, deleted the email, went to the deleted folder, and deleted it from there, and sat back down at her desk. She saved my life! (Or, at least my job!)

    4. zora*

      I did that. And it went badly. I will forever be super careful about what I say about any coworkers in writing.

  17. Engineer Girl*

    Oh. My. Goodness.

    You think it’s “fun” to put people down? Especially behind their backs?

    Why in the world is it “fun” to destroy people’s reputation? Do you really think it’s OK to harm another human? And don’t you dare use the “excuse” that it doesn’t harm others.

    If I were your manager and I found this out I would be doing everything in my power to get you off my team.

    This is the sort of thing that tears teams apart, creates miscommunication, and creates a toxic work place. It drives away high performers.

    1. I used to date a bridge troll once*

      This. So much this. I’m on the receiving end of this, and let me tell you… it is not fun.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*


      For people who do like to do that, I have only one expression to give them – in the words of the immortal William Shatner on SNL –

      “GET A LIFE”

      1. London Calling*

        For one thing, you need to define ‘deserve.’ Next, you need to explain who made you the person to decide they are worthy of retribution and to dish it out – bearing in mind that if you have some arbitrary self-imposed rule about what someone deserves, then you can be sure someone, somewhere has the same thought about you.

        1. Liane*

          This is what the Biblical quote, “judge not, lest ye be judged” is about. It is not so much a command, “Don’t judge others!” as it is a warning that “Judging opens you up to being judged–& judged exactly as harshly or kindly as you have been judging.”

          As for the venting, my Dad’s old advice still holds up, “Talk about it down at The Big Gate”–which means, he explained, somewhere it won’t be heard by either the person you were talking about or someone who can and will hold you accountable.”

          1. London Calling*

            Indeed, and the words ‘Judge not,’ were in my head as I was typing my reply.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Then that someone is probably not a nice person and will eventually end up as the subject of a letter to Alison. ;)

      2. Engineer Girl*

        NO ONE deserves it. If you have a problem with someone, you go talk to them about it. That’s what adults do anyway.

        If after talking to someone they refuse do so anything you can either escalate, ignore, reduce contact, or leave.

        Retaliation is for flaming jerks.

        1. Gerry*

          You have said this beautifully and no one deserves to be ridiculed behind their back at work.

          1. Courageous cat*

            Oooh, damn, I don’t know. In theory I feel this way too, but after some of the letters I’ve read on here… I think there are some people who definitely don’t *not* deserve it, if that makes sense. There are many people’s abysmal coworkers and bosses I’ve read about that I wouldn’t be terribly sad about them getting shit-talked about.

            And in general (not just to you) I think a lot of people here are talking a lot about how horrible it is but I think it’s unlikely that so many of us have never talked a little shit about coworkers before, even if it’s relatively mild. It’s not really a whole lot different from simply venting.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I read something on Dr Nerdlove last week that really resonated: Someone contrasted her own former dismissive attitude about low-brow topics or people to that of her thesis advisor, who could enter the same situations with the same people and find something interesting. And she realized her thesis advisor, who was even smarter than herself, was also getting a lot more joy out of life. And more fun to be around. And found tons of new tangents to explore professionally because she didn’t instinctively dismiss things as being below her interest before they finished saying hi.

        You don’t have to like everything, but sneering condescension isn’t a pleasant look. And it doesn’t vanish off you after a nice long wallow.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yep, talking trash or gossiping sucks the joy out of life. There’s some sad folks out there who keep gossiping and keep hoping to have a happier life. No. That doesn’t go that way many times.

      4. A Nickname for AAM*

        Because there is a difference between having a professional discussion about a valid problem and gossiping.

        “John Manager often stares at my breasts and winks at me, and refuses to provide me with information for Deadline on the Teapot Account,” vs. “John is a jerk and I bet he has a small dingdong and his wife is a floozy.”

        “Jane Employee seems to be unstable these days, I have seen her burst into tears three times this week and throw her keys against the wall out of frustration,” vs. “Jane Employee is a crazy biotch stay away when she’s on her period!”

        Sometimes people “deserve” the former. No one deserves the latter.

    3. Joielle*

      I dunno, I don’t think it’s necessarily as extreme as all that. We don’t really use IM at my office, but I do have a trusted coworker to whom I will sometimes spend a couple of minutes venting about whatever insane thing someone did on a particular day, and she commiserates, and then we get on with it. And vice versa. Nobody’s reputations are being destroyed. Nothing that would get us fired if the boss overheard it, just a little sanity check in the middle of the day, once in a while. I don’t think anyone is a terrible person for getting frustrated at work now and then.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        People can get frustrated without running others down.
        As far as no one’s reputations getting destroyed, does your opinion of the person who did Crazy Thing remain unchanged? If yes, then you are an unusual person. Most people can only listen to a few Crazy Thing stories and they start thinking less and less of the subject involved in the story.

        1. Joielle*

          I mean, yes? Because it’s not the same person every time?

          I genuinely love my job and my coworkers, but sometimes you just have to go “WHY can’t so-and-so ask their tangential, meandering question AFTER the meeting so I can go to lunch on time??” Then my trusted coworker can say “I know! Next time I’m bringing a snack!” And then we can laugh and forget about it. If I tried to keep it all in, I’d just dwell and get more irritated and never let things go. Maybe you’re a better person and can just shove it all down the memory hole and still feel good about your coworkers.

          I firmly believe that all of us, every single one, is completely irritating at least a few times a week. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect my coworkers, it’s just that we spend 50 to 80 hours per week together, and we’re all human.

      2. Courageous cat*

        Agreed. I think a lot of commenters are picturing something a lot worse than what is likely a pretty nuanced and mild thing, and could definitely be rephrased as “venting” in many contexts. I think people are picturing something more along the lines of “bullying” and “insulting” and, while it’s certainly possible, I don’t think it’s necessarily true or likely.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          It’s highly corrosive, even in small things. It starts to reduce respect. From there it impacts how you interact with the person, how you view their work, listen to their opinion, act on their suggestions.

          If something bothers you, go talk to that person (and no anonymous notes). Talking actually let’s you work together for the solution and strengthens your relationship.

        2. Catherine*

          The thing is, LW has not provided details about their behavior. Talking crap could be “ugh Jimothy was late AGAIN” or it could be something actually cruel. Unfortunately, the lack of details makes me think LW is deliberately minimizing how badly they’re behaving (which is, admittedly, my own bias creeping in!).

    4. One legged stray cat*

      Thank you! I’m glad someone called out this. I was in an office where people thought that gossiping was a fun hobby, and being in the office with them was humiliating and degrading. It is funny how people think that somehow they are secretive enough to make the practice harmless. It never is and it is torture for everyone else.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Some people derive energy from gossiping. It would be more to the point to figure out why their energy levels are low.
        But yes, all that grammar school behavior drives the good employees right out the door.

    5. Mianaai*

      This, so so much. I’ve been on the receiving end of this sort of petty stuff for the better part of a year – I found out about the shit-talking from being friends with one of the people the complaint-ringleader complains to, and honestly it’s really hurtful. I’m really grateful to that friend for telling me what’s up and for defending me, since the complainers have never been anything other than winningly nice to my face.

      Not to mention, the complaints are nothing but petty. I work separately from all these people (an academia-like environment), so they’re complaining solely about social interactions like me being “antisocial” and “awkward” and have made me out to be some sort of villain because I like to eat lunch later than them and read a book, because I have different hobbies than them, etc. It’s exhausting and has poisoned my opinions of the main complainer both socially and professionally.

    6. EditorInChief*

      2 OldJobs ago my company became involved in an employment lawsuit with a terminated employee, and one of the things the lawyers asked for were Slack chats.

      We had a chat crap talker who wouldn’t shut up. No one was safe from their nonsense. It sapped morale, was mentally exhausting and wasted time having to read through the stupidity to see if there was actual work that needed to be addressed.

      Even though Crap Talker had nothing to do with the lawsuit our manager was ordered to look through all of our chat communications for specific topics of conversation related to terminated employee between certain dates…and guess what they found? The crap talker chats. They were placed on a PIP which included a ban on using Slack, and ended up being terminated at the end of the PIP.

      Until they were gone I didn’t realize how much the constant put downs, even when not directed at me, affected how I felt about my job.

  18. Detective Amy Santiago*

    For example, you could be doing great work and under no suspicion at all, but the coworker who you’re talking to might get looked at for a reason that has nothing to do with you — and then they’re going to see your messages to her too.

    This happened to one of my colleagues. She had traded emails trash talking her manager with a teammate. For some reason, there was an investigation into teammate and their emails were brought to the attention of HR. They were both terminated.

    If you must talk crap, text. With your non-work phone.

      1. MattKnifeNinja*

        Oh good times.

        I remember that tire fire.

        Which snapped me straight never to use work tech for nothing else but work.

    1. Observer*

      This kind of thing happens all the time. I’m thinking of a couple of high profile court cases in my area where the folks in court were not the original targets of an investigation, but were caught up in a different mess.

      1. LCL*

        Oh my God! We had heard on the left coast something about corruption in his administration, but didn’t know it was this bad. That was an entertaining read. When I am at home I will google to see if Tamara Greene’s family every received any justice.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            He bankrupted Detroit. The persons that paid the biggest price were the Detroit city workers that no longer have viable pensions.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It looks like they haven’t even id’ed her killer yet. But I could have missed something there. I wonder if her bf was in on it.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        How did he keep so many lies and scams straight in his head?
        This guy has more energy than any ten people combined.

        I’d bet my last donut that he is still busy “directing traffic” from his prison cell.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          He originally was only to serve a few years sentence. It was the text messages that blew the whole thing open.

    2. SpaceNovice*

      For a second, I thought this said “I like talking crap WITH my coworkers”. Which is fine when you both mutually enjoy mock insulting people you’re friendly with. That can be fun for both parties (only when you both enjoy it, naturally).

      This is fun for only you in the end. And only until someone finds out. Which they will. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between someone that has a problem with one person and someone that IS the problem.

      OP, I would take a good, hard look on why you feel like you need to be so unkind to everyone and fix it. You’ll be far happier than you are now if you do. It’s not a fun way to live, and you’re going to hurt people in the long run.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Hmm, yeah, this does have lots of room for “Jane and I love talking shit about our coworkers” when Jane is sitting there hmming “Mmm. Hmm. Well. Isn’t that a that.”

    3. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

      Even texts are discoverable by counsel. Even on your private phone. It can aaaallll be subpoenaed.

  19. Js*

    yes, assume it will come out, for many reasons. my husband does IT. one person at his company had a set of account cendentials compromised, so he was tasked with going through every log item of every computer of everyone on the whole team as part of their forensic analysis. and that’s just one random circumstance.

    1. Js*

      and i should add, becuase this was the real point, everyone on that team has now been terminated because of other breaches found on their computers, even though the whole thing started due to someone else’s mistake.

        1. Js*

          it got even worse, and it’s still goinng downhill. law enforcement is involved now because of certain sites and pictures the first idiot was looking at, also not related to the original breach.

  20. Tata*

    save the crap talk for after work with trusted friend that doesn’t work for same company. It’s very unprofessional and eventually, someone will say something. You’ll look like the crap person and I wouldn’t want to work for someone that said something about me. I get it, work can be crappy….but don’t do it.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’m okay with that. We’re all human. That means we all get annoyed and we all annoy other people. I know that the same friends I occasionally vent to about a mutual friend likely vent about me as well.

      1. alana*

        I think gossip/venting is something that friend groups have vastly different standards for. I process stuff by talking through it and so do a lot of my friends, and sometimes the thing one of us is processing is “I am really annoyed at how Katherine is late to everything, let’s talk about it” or “I can’t believe Jane is sleeping with that married dude again, let’s talk about it.” I am at peace with the fact that this also means somewhere without me, there’s a conversation about “Ugh, Alana makes every conversation about herself,” and, while I wouldn’t want to overhear it, it’s fine! We all know it comes from a place of love and understanding. But I know in some groups of friends this would be seen as horrifying and dysfunctional and Mean Girls-ish.

        1. Lissa*

          Yup same. I legitimately believe that the majority of people have at one point, by someone’s definition “talked crap”. I think it’s a spectrum, not a hard line issue. I mean I am sure there are those people who really never have, but they are the shining exception there. I think it doesn’t do to get too horror-stricken by the fact that this happens – it’s more about amount, intent, etc.

          But, yeah, doing it at work adds several extra layers. So does technology tbh.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        Honestly, same. I try to be decent to people, but I’m not 100% a peach 100% of the time, and someone will probably get pissed and say stuff about me. Fair enough. It’s the way of the world.

  21. LSP*

    When I was being trained for my job with a state agency, one piece of advice that really stuck with me was, “Assume that every email you write will be read by the Commissioner.”

    Since then, I assume that my boss will see everything I put in writing (even though I know she doesn’t have either the time nor the inclination to look at my emails), because it helps ensure I always put forth my most professional tone, whether it’s something going out to my coworkers or a client.

    1. Observer*

      Also, you never know who is going to forward what to whom. So being on your best behavior in email and chat is always a good idea.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yup. Learned that the hard way with a coworker who hated many people, but I was the only one on that contract at that time so I got her sneaky undermining full bore.

  22. Storie*

    This is Working as an Adult 101–a hard no.
    I once had an HR manager who was cuckoo into everyone’s business, and she absolutely read everyone’s private chats (as well as went through their trash at the end of the night!). This was revealed when one employee was caught stealing a rough cut of a movie we were working on, and she had the chats with him bragging to a friend–as well as nicely edited together footage from three cameras showing him taking it, all the way out to the garage. That was a legit use of her power. But that’s also when I realized she had time on her hands to just scroll through what everyone was saying. Many had been talking about her! Especially don’t talk crap about IT or HR. Nope in general, though.

  23. Observer*

    OP, I’m guessing that you are young and inexperienced. “I know I should stop doing X, but it’s fun” is a fairly immature thing to say when the stakes are this high. So is “I’m bored”, which sounds like your justification, based on your in-discussion comment.

    1. fposte*

      I agree, but I think it can be a really persistent habit that’s hard to break, so that knowing you shouldn’t, as with so many rewarding bad habits, isn’t always enough, especially if other people are doing it and you can’t get away from it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Any habit starts because of the need to fill a void. Find that void, fix it and see where that puts you in relationship to the habit. It would not surprise me to find out that OP thought the job was boring, there wasn’t enough to do. Some people develop bad work habits because they believe they are not paid enough, and many times they are correct about the pay. Some people just copy what others around them are doing because it helps them fit in, or seems to be the thing to do. It could be a combo of these things.

    2. Decima Dewey*

      As others have said, assume boss will see it. Sooner or later someone will forward a message, you’ll forget to lock your computer when you leave your desk, or you won’t minimize a screen in time, etc.

  24. Matilda Jefferies*

    What everyone else said. And also, do you know for sure what your coworkers are doing with their end of the chats? Are you sure they’re not sending them to other people as a way of talking crap about you? No really, are you SURE? Would you bet your job on it?

    I mean, you probably trust these people, or you wouldn’t be talking crap with them. But at the end of the day, you have no way of knowing that the mean thing you just said about Jane hasn’t been forwarded to Jane – or that it hasn’t been forwarded to Jane’s BFF, or to your boss, or to PeopleTalkingCrapAboutTheirCoworkers.com. You just don’t know. Once it’s out of your hands and in someone else’s chat window, you have absolutely no control over what happens to it.

    1. Ali*

      And even if you have it set so chats are not saved, they probably are somewhere in the system but also someone can screenshot them and then they can di what they like.

  25. Michael*

    Yeah agree. LSP. I guess I should clarify that the kind of “gossip/crap” I’m talking is extraordinarily lame and low-key. For example, you’re in a meeting and chatting with someone in the same meeting about Joe who is also in the meeting and looks like he’s so bored he might fall out of his chair and injure himself. I wouldn’t be devastated if that was on the cover the New York Times, but just wondering if my manager is spending his/her nights scrolling through my chats. If they are… the depth of my pity for them is beyond comprehension.

    1. Observer*

      They don’t need to be for this to come back to haunt you. As Alison said, and there are TONS of examples here, your chats could come up in other contexts.

      And to be honest, while you would not look like a monster if this stuff came out, it wold NOT make you look good.

    2. Amber Rose*

      You’re still opening yourself up to the world’s most awkward conversation about professional behavior vs playground behavior if anyone does read them.

      That kind of low-key stuff should be spoken, not written. Even if it’s just small stuff, its uncomfortable for people to think you’re actually documenting their actions.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      I had a coworker previously that took a picture of another coworker who fell asleep in a long, drawn-out presentation that was presented totally in the dark. She sent it around to the office to gossip.

      She very nearly got fired over that. She was very closely watched for a very, very long time. It doesn’t really matter if it’s “lame” or “low-key”. You’re still spending your time talking ill of others, which doesn’t make you look good in any context. It may not make you look like a monster, but it’s definitely not something you want attributed to your reputation or professional image.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          Plus, the poor guy was one of our 24/7 on call staff members, who had been out most of the night on an emergency call. Not that it’s not incredibly uncalled for to do it to anyone, but seriously? He’d been up for like 36 hours, give him a break!

          It really diminished my respect for her after that whole fiasco.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Where I work no one is at work longer than ~30 hours and to be required to go to a presentation? That’s just cruel. Give him the slides and let him get some sleep!

      1. Bea*

        Good! It harms the morale and tone of an office when someone is allowed to treat others so disrespectfully.

    4. fposte*

      I get that it’s lame and low-key, but it’s still not good for you as well as your workplace. When people talk about “bad work habits,” this is the kind of thing they mean: you’re scratching the “let’s do something more fun than work at the workplace” itch and getting a community thrill from doing it with somebody. And think about how much it depends on being something negative being said–it’s not nearly as fun if it’s “Jane is totally crushing it with this presentation!” or “I wish I knew where Michael got his suits.” The fun is the subversion of the employer’s power; it’s a kind of mild rebellion. And on the one hand it’s understandable that you have that impulse in a bad or boring workplace, but on the other it’s understandable that mild rebellion and subversion isn’t exactly ace employee behavior.

      1. LQ*

        Sort of side note, this comment made me realize how much of the “gossip” I do is actually of the “Jane is totally crushing it.” or “You really need to talk with this person, they are awesome and you should get to know them and they’ll be able to help you out.” and “Michael is just the best, seriously the best.” I do a not unreasonable chunk of that. And a lot of the stuff that is people complaining either I (or when it’s me complaining as I did earlier, in person) ends up getting turned around to, yeah, but they have a lot of great things, and we all have bad days, so lets just assume this is a bad day, or how can you address this with them directly (or indirectly as is often the case around here).

        1. fposte*

          There was a post here some time ago about “positive gossip”–it sounds like that’s what you do! I am not as good as you at that, but I try to be better.

          1. LQ*

            I’m far from perfect, but I try to make sure I do at least one of these a day. And sometimes it’s an easy one. Just sticking my head into someone’s office and telling them how great a person did on a call I happened to hear, or how helpful someone was, or just a general “Michael is just the best.” This one I actually said a few hours ago to a coworker. He really is the best.

    5. Totally Minnie*

      This may seem low stakes to you, but imagine the nightmare scenario where this does get around in a public way. The next time you apply for a job or ask someone out and they google you, is this what you want them to know about you?

      1. Storie*

        Also–another issue with this is how you are using company time. While you aren’t giving away state secrets or being as malicious as possible, they could use time-wasting as a ding.

    6. Kat*

      Why aren’t you all working? Why aren’t you paying attention in meetings? Even if they’re boring, I’d never get away with chatting to someone else during a meeting. I guess all companies are different but whenever I read this I imagine trying to do it at my work and… no. Apart from anything else I’d be embarrassed.

    7. Phoenix Programmer*

      Another thing to remember is that the chat log often gets auto saved as a conversation in the email folder. A fun trash talker today can turn into a disgruntled narc tomorrow who forwards emails of the convocation to your boss. I have seen this happen So. Many. Times.

  26. Washingtonian AF*

    Two of my colleagues brought me into their inner circle during a stressful time with a high profile project. I was privy to everything they think & say about the rest of our team.

    Fast forward 6 months…

    These same 2 are now spiralling downward in a freefall of whomp whomp whomp thinking. I like them as people but it feels like they have to pick apart every idea, action, and email of others. They still have closed-door meetings and I no longer want any part of them. I’m exceedingly cautious about what I say to and around them, because who knows what they’ll do with it.

    tl:dr Talking crap will earn you a rep you do not want. Grow up.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      The reputation you get from this can have a definite impact on the future of your career, too. If you become known as the person who gossips, you don’t get included in high level conversations. You don’t get trusted with the kinds of projects that can help you progress into a promotion.

      1. alana*

        This this this this. I have a workplace rep as a (mostly benign) gossip, a vestige of us being a smaller company where everybody knew everything, and it is VERY hard to overcome, in part because demonstrating that you’ve quit doing it is the essence of trying to prove a negative.

  27. Orphan Brown*

    Just stop! Don’t end up like me! I was one of those people who talked crap about the company and one of my bosses via chat on a work computer. The IT person was looking at my computer for some reason and then ratted me out. My coworker and I both got fired and the incident stayed with me for years. They really tore into my character when they fired me. I still sometimes get scared and shaken up if I run into someone from that workplace as I’m still in the same industry. My boss was awful, don’t get me wrong. But I am 100% completely at fault and regret it completely.

    Talking crap is fun, and helps you blow off steam, and sometimes gets you through a tough day or week. But take the advice of my other boss, the one I didn’t talk crap about. He said, we all like to blow off steam. But do it in person where it can’t be documented, and make sure you can hold your head up high after you do it, if the person who you were talking about were to hear you say what you were saying. Any future complaining I’ve done has, as a result, been more balanced and empathetic to all parties involved.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      So they didn’t tear into your character so much as expose the horrid parts about it.

      The good news is that trauma like this can be character changing for the positive. This will bring benefits and happiness to the rest of your life going forward.

      1. ExcelJedi*

        That feels uncalled for.

        Orphan Brown was explaining how they learned from an experience, and how much they regret it now. They were talking about developing fair-mindedness and empathy. Sniping about them having “horrid parts of their character” after that sounds uncharitable and mean-spirited.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Yes. They learned from their experience and got rid of the horrid parts. That’s called personal growth, and it is to be celebrated.

          How is that mean spirited?

          1. ExcelJedi*

            I don’t know how you meant it, but that comment came off as kicking someone while they were down.

            The first paragraph just reiterated to them that they used to have a personal flaw, in much harsher language than they used, and after they admitted to having those issues once. The second condescendingly told them that they could change. None of it pointed toward celebration or acknowledgement that they had changed.

            I’m going to let this go, though, because I don’t want this to be a tangent.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              So you chose to chastise me instead of seeking clarification even though you didn’t know how I meant it?

              1. zora*

                Now you are deliberately being obtuse to ExcelJedi.
                ExcelJedi said “That feels uncalled for”. That is not chastising, that is telling you how your comment came across. This has come up before, so you shouldn’t be surprised people think you are being harsh. You could also try accepting the interpretation and moving on, instead of doubling down.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  Maybe because I’m getting sick and tired of needing to walk on eggshells on this board.
                  We used to have some great discussions where people could express a variety of opinions. In the last year and a half there has been a rise of hypersensitivity, willingness to take offense, word policing, and a basic lack of understanding that someone can be informed, intelligent, and have a different opinion.
                  And it’s always the same people getting offended.
                  It really sabotages discussion.

                2. Mad Baggins*

                  I personally like that people like Orphan feel they can be vulnerable about past mistakes. If commentors respond to that vulnerability with “yeah you were a crap person, glad you’ve moved past that” that’s pretty antagonistic and we won’t get that honesty. People won’t express their opinions and experiences if they feel like they’re going to be attacked.

                3. Jo*

                  EngineerGirl, or maybe it’s that people have just gotten more comfortable with the idea of speaking up against the not-too-great things you have been known to say here from time to time.

                  They weren’t not offended before. They just weren’t telling you, because of your tendency to get defensive, dig your heels in, and double down. I am a longtime reader/lurker who has seen many, many, many of your comments and really cannot recall a single time where you were called out on something and you admitted that maybe, just maybe, your take on it was wrong, or you apologized. It’s always the other person who is at fault for getting offended – never you for causing offense. And based on other reactions here, I’m clearly not alone in this observation.

                  You may be “sick and tired” of walking on eggshells, but I’d bet that many readers here have been “sick and tired” of stuff you’ve said for years. They let it slide for a long time. They’re not anymore. It may be worth just considering, for a second, whether or not their complaints have some merit, and that it’s not Everyone Else Who Has A Problem.

                  You likely won’t be receptive to this feedback, but I’d encourage you to marinate on it nonetheless.

                4. Engineer Girl*

                  Hmm. I recall multiple times I said I was wrong, including on occasion apologizing to Alison.

                  It would also help me “marinate” by being specific on the “not too great things”. Otherwise I can’t take action on them.

                5. Mad Baggins*

                  @Engineer Girl
                  Since you asked for specific examples:
                  -your response made the commenter feel attacked. Another commenter was able to express the same opinion in gentler terms (https://www.askamanager.org/2018/06/why-do-so-many-adults-want-to-leave-anonymous-notes-for-their-coworkers.html#comment-2040509)
                  -your comment made someone respond “Wow. This is one of the meanest comments I’ve seen on here” (https://www.askamanager.org/2018/06/why-do-so-many-adults-want-to-leave-anonymous-notes-for-their-coworkers.html#comment-2040496)
                  -your comment above “So they didn’t tear into your character so much as expose the horrid parts about it.”
                  -your other comment here that the multiple people who say you come across harsh are “hypersensitive”

                  I think you often leave very thoughtful and entertaining comments but sometimes you come across unnecessarily harsh and charitable towards other commenters. I have been and am trying very hard to give you the benefit of the doubt and I hope you can extend the same to others here.

                6. Engineer Girl*

                  So saying “You are an adult. You have the ability to change what doesn’t work.” is “one of the meanest comments I’ve seen on here”. Yikes.

                  I admit I’m boggled that this is considered “mean”. I don’t get it. I mean it.

                  You either change what doesn’t work or you spend a miserable life of wallowing in victimhood. There is no one else to rescue you but you.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          If there is anyone here who does NOT have a part of themselves that they are less than pleased with, please raise your hand. I think all of us have regrets and learning experiences in life.

          How many times on this forum have we seen a question start out with, “Am I a terrible person?” It’s pretty normal to expect people to have parts of themselves that they feel are “less than” to some degree.

          And getting chopped for it, does make one feel like raw or naked. That can be quite an experience, something we remember until our final day.

          I do agree with EG, that we can take 3 steps back in order to go 5 steps forward. We can come out of these things a bigger and better person for the experience. I hope we don’t lose that thought here, because it is important. It’s important for people who have ever had an Orphan Brown Type Experience or an OP Type Experience. (meaning: most of us) There is a life beyond Embarrassing Event and that is a good thing.

          Yes, EG, we move on to something better than we ever imagined. That is true.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            And we know this from our own personal experiences.
            We all have those shame areas. That’s a great incentive to do better in the future.
            Even better when we can say “I’m not that person anymore. Thank Goodness!”

      2. Louise*

        Wow that is really harsh and really uncalled for.

        Orphan Brown, it sounds like you made a mistake and learned from it. That does not make you horrid.

      3. Specialk9*

        Ouch. Orphan Brown was sharing an embarrassing story that taught them a hard but valuable lesson. That kind of honesty is admirable and I’m glad to have read it. Saying they have a horrid character is pretty mean.

      4. Orphan Brown*

        Well EG, now you sound like one of the people who fired me, because it sounds like you think there are parts of me that are so horrid I’m just scummy all around.

        The things I expressed were inappropriate and wrong to say, in that medium and especially to a coworker. But they were true. My boss wasn’t a good boss, the company had some flaws it needed to work out. The powers that be were right to call me out for it, and I don’t fault them for tearing into me. It just hurt so much and I mention it because that was a consequence of my actions. And some of the things they said about my character to my face were not true. It took me a long time to sort through it all and to realize that I’m not a shit person and to take ownership for the things I did wrong and to let go of the things that weren’t true.

        The way I try to move forward is to not engage in that kind of behavior in the workplace anymore. I’ve been trying to do right by colleagues. A direct report told me he valued my empathy in a situation where people were taking sides, and that I seemed level headed and looking out for all involved. That is a win in my book.

        Thank you all for jumping in.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Well there were PARTS that were horrid and you got rid of them. You did well. It’s made you a lot more empathetic and people even noticed. That’s a huge change.

          BTW, there are no shit people. Only horrid actions. Your leadership should have condemned the actions – not you.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            What people are taking issue with her (understandably, in my opinion) is that there’s nothing to indicate “horridness” in this Orphan Brown because we don’t have those details. That characterization is jumping to a really ungenerous conclusion about another commenter without actual basis for it, and I ask that people not to do that here.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              I should also have said that I apologize. I should not have extrapolated horridness on the behavior, especially since it was absent any details. That was wrong.

              So specifically to Orphan Brown – my apologies.

  28. Amber Rose*

    Maybe get a job with people you don’t feel so negative towards. The crap talk only feels fun because you’re dehumanizing your coworkers and avoiding facing your problems. It makes you a bully, and someone who desperately needs to grow up.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      “Maybe get a job with people you don’t feel so negative towards.”
      This is easy to say, very hard to do.
      I never had a job where there wasn’t at least one jerk, or chauvinist, or idiot, or monster, or jackhole trying to make me miserable. Whether they are actively trying to hurt their colleagues, or are just a basket case of issues, the effect is the same – hurting and interfering with the people around them.
      The only job where I haven’t had to deal with someone who was actively destructive is the one I have now. I’ve been here 6 years. I’m in my mid-50’s and worked since I was 16.
      There are destructive people here, but I only see them once or twice a year… thank God.
      I dreamed of a job where no one was giving me hell! I’m sure many do.

  29. epi*

    I used to have a vent friend at an older, much worse job. For boring reasons, I really did know I could trust her. There were times it was really helpful to talk to someone who got how toxic the job was, and other days where it really crossed over into not being a great use of my time and even making me feel worse.

    I think this is one of those things that is obviously a terrible idea, but that many people have done at least a little at some point. Use your judgment about your own workplace. Only you know if it has more of a “nosy small town” dysfunction or “giant soulless bureaucracy” type dysfunction, and whether your specific work habits (e.g. working out in the open, also having to IM the people you are trash talking) put you at risk of getting caught.

    I got away with all my IM trash talking and left with a great reputation (or as great as you can have with the nutjobs I worked for). But it definitely reinforced a bad habit of spending too much time on personal conversations at work. My old bosses deserved that. My next ones did not!

  30. Environmental Compliance*

    When I was gov’t, everything I did had the ability to be sent off in a public information records request. Any email. And the chats got autosent to my email.

    One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten – don’t put anything into writing that you wouldn’t be okay with having in a newspaper article sent to your grandma.

    Also, stop talking crap about people. That’s a habit that should stop in middle school. It’s immature & inappropriate at best, and downright cruel at worst. This isn’t a harmless way to have fun, it’s unnecessary & potentially dangerous. Think real hard about the people you’re gossiping/talking crap with – if they’re so willing to talk about others behind their back, do you think it would be too far of a stretch for it to happen behind your back too? Is that behavior really something you want tied to your reputation? Do you think, if people are aware that you are one of the Office Gossipers/Trash Talkers, that they will want to include you in work or otherwise involve you? Or do you think that knowing you are one of the Office Gossipers/Trash Talkers will color their perceptions of you in a negative fashion, since you are directly involved in spreading toxicity in the workplace?

    It’d be a really good idea to cut out this habit before it comes back to take a giant chomp out of your a$$.

  31. Nita*

    Just something to think about, the person you’re chatting about may be getting the highlight reel of your chat log from the person you’re talking to. People who like gossip and drama aren’t going to limit their over-sharing to talking with you.

  32. BillieB*

    I’ve been bitten by this before. Early in my career, in an entry level position, I engaged in the chat trash-talk. Back in the days of AOL AIM when chats would pop up unexpectedly in front of all other running applications. I was training coworker at my desk when another coworker sent a IM making fun of her. If you have any shred of decency, witnessing a person react live to being trolled will cure you of talking trash again. Also, trash-talkers have a habit of turning on each other. Engage and it will eventually turn on you. You’ll know it when they aren’t talking to you anymore.

  33. AnitaJ*

    Are we talking GChat, or are we talking Jabber/some other kind of work-specific chat?

  34. Accidental Misdirect*

    It is so easy to be thinking about someone, go to your IM program to complain to someone else, and pick their name out of the list. This has happened to me from both sides, and even if you recover, it’s never a good scene. I’m now supervising someone who, three years ago, messaged me, “Accidental is SO LOUD.” I think it’s hilarious and don’t hold it against him (or even think of it much), but if I were a less forgiving person or if his complaint had been more unpleasant, this could be a really bad situation for him.

      1. Accidental Misdirect*

        I think I said “Oh yes?”
        Him: Crap, I’m sorry
        Me: Would you like to move? There are empty desks down the way
        Him: No, I’m good, thank you

        Honestly, it was funny having him on the spot, but I didn’t drag it out beyond that. He’s a good coworker and we’ve always worked well together.

  35. Glomarization, Esq.*

    Chats are fleeting, but screenshots are forever. Quit chatting and get back to work.

  36. Marzipan*

    I have known people get into a fair bit of trouble at work for doing exactly this, so I’d definitely caution the OP to knock it off.

  37. Xarcady*

    Some companies can scan emails (I’m not sure about chat, though) for certain key words. Which is how a group of young men at a company were fired. They had been emailing each other, joking around about planting a bomb and blowing up a building or the head of the company.

    When you read the emails all together, it’s fairly clear they were just kidding around. But something in the emails was caught by the scanning software and after an investigation, all the involved parties were fired.

    It’s best to keep work email and chat for work purposes. If anyone ever looks at mine, it’s all about work, with the occasional “want to get lunch today?” message. They’d be bored to tears.

  38. Lady Boss*

    Our company was on gmail and when an employee left all of her gchats and emails loaded into my account. I saw things no manager should ever see and it irreparably tainted my view of this person.

  39. Hiring Mgr*

    Do you mean talking crap like good natured teasing (“Hey Jim, nice job picking the Cavs to beat Golden State..Ha!) or actually insulting people.? The former, maybe not such a big deal, but the latter–come on, are you five years old?

  40. Scubacat*

    Assume that your manager reads every conversation. Maybe they actually do have that ability. Maybe a coworker will go mad scientist and show the conversation to the manager. Does this possibility change what you write? Another question to ask is if the topic of conversation puts your job at risk or otherwise gives you an unprofessional reputation. *voice of doom* Don’t document the method of your own downfall.

  41. Plague of frogs*

    Good heavens, OP. Just surf the internet on company time like a normal person.

    1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      Or see how long you and your coworkers can have a conversation using only cat memes

  42. DCompliance*

    People think “chats” can’t be saved or recorded. I have seen people print out IMs and show them to people. I have seen people screenshot or snip them and save them. Be careful!

    1. SpaceNovice*

      And programs like Slack allow you to search old chats for keywords or mentions, even!

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Skype/Outlook allows you to save your chat history, and have it saved in your email/inbox.

      Makes it very easy to forward a conversation to others!

  43. anon for this*

    I am very paranoid and generally adopt the assumption that anything I put into writing could be potentially read or forwarded to anyone. So my work emails and chats are extra boring, and even in personal texts I try not to say anything that I wouldn’t want to get back to the person.

    However, I did once work in an office where inter-office chat gossip blew up rather spectacularly, resulting in threats, blackmail and multiple firings. Made for a pretty tense atmosphere for a while after.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I think this is a great philosophy, and I also try to follow it.

      ….but I literally learned this the hard way by messaging something nasty to the wrong person at my first job. That was 10 years ago and I still cringe remembering that one…

      1. anon for this*

        I was fortunate to learn it in a lower-stakes way, when my boss accidentally forwarded a slightly undiplomatically worded email of mine to a client. It was only mildly embarrassing, but it made me realize how easy it is for emails to go astray.

  44. annejumps*

    “Most managers aren’t reading them as a matter of course (that would be invasive and a terrible use of their time)”
    Heh. My first job out of college was at a very toxic company. They went out of their way to psychologically terrorize people rather than do things efficiently, with the mastermind being the president of the company. I’d been criticizing these practices in email with some others, and one day was called to HR to find that the president had printed all of our emails out, and I was being fired for insubordation. I only wish I’d quit first!

    1. A Nickname for AAM*

      I worked for a company with a toxic boss, and she would do exactly this.

      She would read everyone’s emails for any line that was critical of her, the company, or anything that showed dissention or potential disloyalty. Ex: “Corporate has decided that we should juggle the porcelain teapots as part of the quality control inspection. I know many of us are concerned about teapots breaking during the juggling portion of the inspection, and this is valid, but this is the policy from corporate so let’s do our best to make it work!” would be something she interpreted as disloyal or critical of her.

      She actually would get mad if people were the recipient of a harassing email, ex: Malcom came and asked Jane about llama-taming lessons, and after helping Malcom sign up, Jane said “Great, here’s my card if you have any more questions!” and then Malcom sent Jane a filthy, explicit email listing all the things he’d like to do to her and asking her out to dinner.

      This boss also expected everyone to know her birthday and lavish her with expensive gifts that were well above their pay level (bouquets of roses, expensive chocolates, designer purses), so she definitely had issues.

      1. Specialk9*

        Was she mad at Malcolm for sending a filthy email, or Jane for having it sent to her?

        1. A Nickname for AAM*

          She would be angry at the recipient, as “Jane must have done something to elicit that response in the first place.”

          She also used to punish people for speaking to HR, so had Jane called HR to complain about the filthy email, she would have dealt with 3 months’ harassment and retaliation from Toxic Boss. (It was usually 3 months because that’s how long it typically took for someone else to do something to arouse Toxic Boss’s ire and become the subject of her scorn.)

  45. Karyn*

    So, this is an extreme example of how using company email for personal purposes can get you in trouble, but I think it’s probably something people like OP should read, because it shows exactly the kind of situation others have described – being monitored for one thing and then having something else come bite you in the ass.


    (Hopefully that link works – it’s to a PDF document of an Ohio Supreme Court bar admissions opinion).

    1. Specialk9*

      That’s wild. Having just read about that Detroit mayor, it’s hard to get too het up about her trying to get out of her lease by being shady.

  46. EddieSherbert*

    As someone who used to do this…

    I accidentally messaged something less than kind to the WRONG PERSON. I had to awkwardly scramble to cover it and talk to the person I sent it to who OBVIOUSLY knew I was lying/covering my butt… It was so bad. I’m cringing just thinking about it. Learned that lesson the hard way.

  47. MariaTeapot*

    I shared this article with an online friend, whose response was, “I prefer talking about people to their face.” /shrug

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I worked in one place that was so toxic. I made it my habit never to say anything I had not already said to the person’s face. I learned a few things. One is that it’s amazing how much you can tell people if your put your heart and mind into figuring out what to say. Another thing is that it’s amazing how much you can just give up/forget on if you cannot find those words. And last, for the most part people are great, you give them half a chance and they will work with you.

    2. Girl friday*

      Yes, and also being someone I would want to work with myself helps. I have seen many things, though. Sometimes people have no higher level to lift their behavior to-that’s their best. Shut it down, receptively; model better, expressively.

  48. You don't know me*

    Or the person you are talking to is screenshot-ing the conversations and sharing them with others. People you think are your friends might not be as trustworthy as you though.

  49. chimichanga*

    So OP are you straight out talking about specific things and naming people, or does everyone have a code name. Either way gossiping about them is going to turn out bad for you especially since there is a trail that someone can print off. We call our main boss Big Bird, she is tall and wears an unreasonable amount yellow 2 piece suits (like 3 a week). Big Bird is the office Nazi, sending out warnings for being slightly out of dress code, talking for too long, and spending too much on company paid lunches. Throughout the office we IM when Big Bird is in a mood, or is on a personal day. But never disparaging stuff about her work (or lack there of since she is spending her time being the office nazi). Are you all just being mean or is someone getting something out of this.

    1. Karyn*

      That just makes me think of CJ Cragg from The West Wing, and all the characters making fun of her because she’s tall – that episode where she ended up sitting next to Big Bird awkwardly for a few minutes is GOLD.

      That said, at my old job, there was one partner who was known for being, uh, scary. I actually thought he was the nicest guy ever, but he had a reputation for being a hardass, so when he walked by your desk, you better be working hard. When he would come up to our floor, the first person who saw him would send an email to all the other secretaries: “CODE RED!” We also had nicknames for some of the other partners who would terrorize us – “Brisket,” “Blazer,” and “Mr. Coffee” were some others. Nothing disparaging, but enough that no one would really be able to figure out who was who.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I had a crush on one of the managers at an old workplace. One of my coworkers knew and we had a stupid code name for him. I can’t even remember what it was. (And, no, I wasn’t a teenager.)

        1. Karyn*

          That’s exactly where “Brisket” came from. Anytime my coworker who knew the nickname (and she was the only one) saw him on our floor, she’d IM me: “Want some brisket?” Cracked me up.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      We used code names if we (small group of work friends) were discussing non-work stuff on IM that might otherwise be embarrassing if it got out. Usually harmless stuff like office crushes but occasionally some venting about a few select coworkers. Nothing cruel though, or at least I don’t consider occasionally pointing out incompetence in blowhards or warning about borderline harassing behavior by a particular individual to be cruel.

  50. Safetykats*

    OP, you should seriously ask yourself what you think you’re getting out of this, because it’s a really bad habit that eventually put you in a bad spot. There’s absolutely a sort of “mean girl” culture that looks cool in a high school kind of way, but most of us understand by the time we are working full time that people talk sh*t about other people for one main reason – because they don’t know any other way to feel better about themselves. You might feel like you have a sympathetic ear somewhere at work, but I guarantee you whoever it is can’t be trusted. And you know what? They know you can’t be trusted either. They are probably convinced you are talking he same smack about them as soon as their back is turned.

    This kind of thing eventually all falls apart – not normally because of IT or security issues – but because the instigator goes a little too far, and the other folks involved decide they have a duty to report it – either formally to management or HR, or informally to the coworkers being talked about behind their backs. At that point, how much trouble you’re in depends on whether you were actually engaging in something that could be defined as hate speech or bullying – and yes, encouraging mobbing is bullying and is often treated exactly the same way. That kind of behavior will get you fired. If you were just really mean to good people who didn’t deserve it, you’re more likely to end up as the person at work nobody likes, and that reputation will get around.

  51. Is nothing private?*

    Late to the party, but….worked at a church, and we “officed” at home for a time. When my work computer got moved back to central location one of the pastors looked through all my past history. Somehow found Fb login information stored in an old IE browser cache (For the record, I hadn’t used IE in 4-5 years–I didn’t even think the computer was that old). I was responsible for the church’s Fb, but somehow he was able to get into my private account. Scrolled through all of my old stuff, including IMs (it wasn’t called Messenger back then) and found my chat with a different pastor that was at least 3 years old–he shared it with people he shouldn’t have, and feelings got hurt. I had already quit, but I had to explain myself (as did the other party, who still worked there). I stood by what I said–it was raw and honest–a bit of cynicism and sarcasm, but not gossip. Found out he also tried to access my private email account as well as other stuff. FWIW, the church, under his leadership, split shortly thereafter and I’m pretty sure it’s still struggling. SMH

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Is it weird that a pastor put in that much work “breaking into” your Facebook….? I feel like that makes it extra weird….

    2. Marillenbaum*

      Ew! Of all the gross, Pharasaical nonsense (because you know he justified this to himself somehow)…may he never lead another congregation.

  52. NCKat*

    Many years ago I worked for a company in a department where one employee talked about everyone else – it was horrible mean talk that was poisonous. It got to the point where I was afraid to come in to work because there they’d be gossiping about everyone – when you left the room, you could be sure he’d start in on you.

    Please don’t be that person, OP.

  53. Notme*

    Stop doing this. Someone in my last job who resigned had been having rude shit-talking email exchanges with a c-suite level exec and the c-level exec was fired when these came to light. Turns out the person who was picking up the work for the person who left needed to access her emails and saw these conversations and brought them to the attention of HER boss, another top level exec who was the person being talked about. This made it to the attention of the CEO and the remaining exec was walked out the door.

  54. JanetInSC*

    It’s not only mean and disruptive (who is receiving these chats? is it a clique?) but also terribly dumb. If you must vent about someone, use text on your personal cell phone.

  55. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

    I think the advice about ‘talking smack at work makes you more unhappy’ is very true.
    I wish I had heard this when I was at my first company. I got promoted into a new Dept. The boss was a complete ass. He had mostly women on his team and he made no pretense of liking it. He actually told a few of us “daddy didn’t pay for my tuition. I had to work for it”
    I was pretty ballsy for a 23 yr old and told him my daddy didn’t pay – I worked for it too.

    The whole team complained about him nonstop. Granted, he was the worst boss I’ve ever had – micro managed, always tense ( I used to joke they one day he was going to light 2 cigarettes to go with his 2 cups of coffee) handed out assignments piecemeal, zero feedback – but our bitching didn’t solve anything.

    Looking back, I can see that it was unproductive and set the tone for the day, every day. I was young and green but my coworkers weren’t. I often think I talked myself into hating that job more than I needed to.

    LW, try your hardest to break the habit. It may be fun in the moment but I’ll bet you are taking home some negative energy when you leave for the day.

    And yes, it’s going to get read, and by somebody you don’t want to see it.

  56. SusieQ*

    Had 2 coworkers get fired this way— they had been exchanging apparently naughty chat messages back and forth involving ‘unprofessional’ subject matter (not sure cause we never got the full details, but think it was porn related- was 2 females btw) When one of their computers wouldn’t boot up they handed it over to IT and bam, messages were found and both people were fired- and one was the bosses daughter. Not worth the risk!

    1. Specialk9*

      Didn’t we get a letter about a manager who ran over his work laptop with his car and then threw it into the lake, rather than return it?

  57. Startup HR*

    A former colleague and I were talking about how one of his first projects at an old company was to go through the company’s chat app (Slack) and 1) look for and report any horribly racist, sexist, etc comments. Then discipline the employees as necessary. 2) He deleted any comments that could in any way be questionable. Always assume that someone will look.

  58. Barney Stinson*

    Not sure if this has been mentioned, but ya gotta be careful with your company IM. The one we use has the ability to link someone in by typing their name (kinda like an autofill on an email address, another way to screw up electronic communications). I have seen people burned by gossiping about Person C, not realizing that they just linked Person C into the chat.

    There are so many ways for what you’re doing to blow you up, there is no benefit big enough to justify the risk.

  59. Dame Judi Brunch*

    Stop trash talking. No good can come of it.
    It’s also very immature. I don’t care if you think someone deserves it, that’s not your call.
    Find a better way to cope with annoyances.

  60. Earthwalker*

    I saw 13 people fired all at once over something like this. There was probably some sort of issue with one person, and when they had IT investigate that person’s online habits, they found and fired the whole group. You don’t have to be the central focus of the problem to get in trouble.

  61. Wine-y Not Whiny*

    “over time it tends to make you less happy at work. It also tends to build a reputation that you probably don’t want.”

    Very true! I deal with some – but especially one – coworker with many gripes & criticisms, and I try to discourage them from cornering me with these complaints. They are obviously unhappy at work, and I find myself becoming more unhappy too, even when things are honestly not all that bad and solutions are readily available! It does lend them a reputation for being unpleasant to work with, and it’s hard to keep out of the negativity-mire. Worth keeping in mind how your approach to work complaints can leave impressions on your coworkers.

  62. echidna*

    Everyone has covered the downside of slagging off about other people, so I will cover the other side of the coin.

    Early on in my career, it was clear that people just didn’t get good feedback from colleagues very much at all, but there was a lot of grizzling going on about everyone. It makes for a not-great culture. Even as a person low on the totem pole, I made it my mission to make sure that if person A said something good about person B in my hearing, that I would pass it on to person B.

    Sometimes, person B would wonder what I was up to, so I learned to explain my self-imposed mission first. I was passing the praise on, because anyone can say something flattering to your face, but if someone says something good about you behind your back, you know it’s real. I would do it for everybody – up and down the hierarchy – but only for positive comments. Once their suspicions were tamped down, peoples faces lit up.

    The end result (after a year or three) was that I ended up the manager of a highly functioning team, where people knew they were appreciated and why. And the unintended side-effect? The trash talk just withered back to nothing.

  63. Kat*

    Someone at my work was fired for this. Now THAT was fun. She was extremely self-centred and seemed to enjoy being mean about people who were nothing but kind to her since she started.

    I don’t usually like to see that kind of thing happen but when you’ve wasted hours of your life training someone only for them to be rude and make your work life more difficult…

    We all have colleagues we don’t like much or want to gossip about. Do it away from work. Get it out of your system away from work.

  64. Colorado*

    “Talking badly about someone else while they aren’t there to defend themselves says more about you than the person you’re talking about.”
    Grow up and get back to work.

  65. ArtK*

    For those of you saying “but it’s my *private* GMail or my *private* Facebook and I didn’t grant the company access,” you are putting yourselves at risk. If it’s a work computer and going through a work network, they can see what you’re doing. A packet sniffer on the corporate router is one way — HTTPS isn’t *that* hard to break. Or key loggers. Some companies install key loggers to track productivity. I suppose that you *could* go through a private VPN, but even that would be obvious to the IT department and might raise some flags.
    Being a jerk isn’t worth the risks.

  66. Frankie*

    So, like…why is it fun for you to do this? It’s a genuine question. Do you have a need to feel superior? Because if you do, I bet that comes across to your coworkers in other ways, even if they don’t know you’re talking crap…which they might.

    Not to come across all judgy. I’ve just seen this kind of thing at work and it really can have a detrimental effect on any workplace. Are you compensating for a job you’re bored with? Are you annoyed by your coworkers and does it make you feel better than them to criticize them like this? Ordinary “I can’t believe what Dwight just did” aside, that’s not a healthy dynamic and it won’t help you build functional, healthy working relationships with people, because you’re basically training yourself to disrespect them.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh I have quit jobs over this type of thing. One little group ran the entire place by maligning everyone in the place. People would try to get on their good side but you really couldn’t because they kept moving their good side. It ended up that the only people who thought they had friends with the little group. But they’d sell each other if the price was right.
      And topping it all off the little group did not carry their weight. They did not even come close to doing their share of work.

  67. Lumen*

    OP: enjoy this beautiful innocent time before you accidentally send a nasty message about someone… to that person. I promise, that will take a lot of the fun out of this for ya.

  68. essEss*

    I’d like to remind you of a basic observation….”Ethics is how you behave when you think no one is watching.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Right on.
      And it’s much harder to give ethics advice to others if we have not been practicing it ourselves.

  69. Alli525*

    When I was working in the financial industry, all of our emails were monitored by a combination of our in-house controller and an external firm we’d hired. They actually had key words and phrases flagged so they could be extra aware; once I was scolded for emailing my roommate to look up John Smith on FB because he had just come in for an interview and was EXTRA HOT. (I was 25.)

    Always assume that your communications are being monitored.

  70. alana*

    Look, there’s a decent chance you’re not going to get in trouble. (The warnings are worth taking seriously. But lots and lots of people get away with this. Maybe there won’t be a lawsuit, maybe your boss won’t find out, maybe your company doesn’t monitor your keystrokes.) It doesn’t matter. This is a bad habit that feels good in the moment but bad for you long-term, and should be managed like any other bad habit, even if you can’t get rid of it completely.

    I have a close group of work friends who all started at the company in the same cohort. We have a private Slack room that started as a way to make after-work plans, evolved into a way to keep in touch with friends who were remote, and eventually became a space to vent. And then the venting started getting too personal — instead of occasional messages about an annoying interaction that someone needed to blow off steam about, there started being People We Didn’t Like.

    At that point I decided to change my own behavior. When something annoys me, I don’t immediately rush to complain to my friends. I redirect conversations when they’re getting really petty. And I make sure my positive contributions (whether “hey, Coworker K has really stepped it up lately — she’s killing it, I worked with her on my latest tea cozy and I was so impressed” or “here’s a hilarious Onion article”) were more frequent than my complaints. I also explicitly told coworkers, if appropriate, what I was doing: “Hey, I feel like we’ve gotten really negative as a group lately and it’s bumming me out, and I’m trying to deal with my frustrations in another way.”

    A few months later, the tone is much more constructive. It feels like we’re lifting each other up rather than tearing everyone else down. We’re also almost all happier. My coping skills were atrophying: if I constantly vent to my coworkers, my friends, my partner, etc., I’m actually much less happy than I am just dealing with the frustration on my own.

    And yeah, we’re not perfect. We sometimes whine about our bosses having the audacity to, like, make us do work, or roll our eyes collectively at a truly dysfunctional coworker doing a truly dysfunctional thing, and we gossip too much, and there are messages in there that I wouldn’t be thrilled to have pasted up on the walls of the company, but it’s *way* less frequent, we move on way faster, and there’s a lot more perspective and compassion involved. I know talking crap with people you like is fun, and it can bring you closer together, but it’s good for your work relationships and for yourself to find other ways to bond and cope.

    1. alana*

      also, lol at all the commenters who are clutching their pearls about WHY anyone would EVER do such a thing yet definitely have lots of spare time to have opinions about letter writers’ coworkers who they’ve never met. If you think it’s fun with and about strangers, let me tell you, it’s way more fun when it’s people whose foibles/mistakes/horribleness actually makes your working life worse!

      “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” —Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

      but yeah, Mr. Bennet was kind of a jerk, try not to live your life that way.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I was kind of thinking the same thing. I wonder how many people have thought of what they’ve posted here about coworkers, bosses, and their company and what they would think if their internet history was pulled and their comments were recognized/they were outed.

        1. Specialk9*

          Haha me too. If you’re on this site, at some level you like gossip. Personally, I love gossip about strangers, but generally not people I know.

        2. AnonymousInfinity*

          Oh, geez, I worry about that all the time! And I don’t even post from my work computer or any device connected to company WiFi.

  71. Quinoa*

    Every place I’ve worked in the last 10 years has notified me when I started that they SAVE ALL EMAILS. Because I work in industries where it’s required by federal regulations. The latest employer also made sure I knew that our Slack channels are also archived. I’m always surprised when people go ahead and say horrible things anyway.

  72. Miss Elaine e.*

    Just my two cents:

    1. I wouldn’t want to work with the OP. I’d be perpetually wondering what he’s saying about me.
    2. Remember the person you’re talking crap about today could be your boss tomorrow. If that person finds out what you said (or IM’d or whatever), you wouldn’t be in very good graces in the future.

    1. TeacherNerd*

      Also, doing so might hurt one’s own credibility; if you (the general “you,” not specifically “you”) are talking smack about people, it can make others wonder how seriously to take you. (I’m not sure what’s fun about talking trash about other people. I’m not looking for anyone to answer that and tell me what’s fun, but it does strike me as unhelpful at best.) Like you, I’d wonder what would be said about me and how seriously I can take you.

  73. Like what even*

    Everyone in this comments section is so preachy, like none of y’all have never smack talked someone when you’ve gotten frustrated with them.

    I’ve been on both sides of it, it’s shitty, I’ve cut it out, but pretending like this is some mystifying concept that only deeply cruel people fall into feels a littl holier than thou and disingenuous, and probably isn’t doing much but to shame the LW… who, let’s remember, we’re reminding to be kinder.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think a lot of people are making helpful distinctions, actually. Like if you’re going to do this, don’t put it all in writing on your company device. And that you can occasionally vent about annoyances, then move on; what OP is describing is being the cloud of negative energy oozing disdain in the middle of the office, and that’s likely not as invisible as people deluded about their poker faces think.

    2. Karyn*

      I think what is bothering people is that the OP KNOWS what they’re doing is wrong, but is just continuing to do it because “it’s fun.” It’s not that they’re complaining about occasional annoyances or frustrations. It’s that they find it fun to gossip about people behind their backs.

    3. alana*

      the AAM commentariat tends toward aloofness at work, I think (in ways that are sometimes “yay professionalism!” but also sometimes “why would ANYONE ever want to EAT with their coworkers, ugh, horrifying”) and I think that can affect how this behavior is perceived.

      talking crap can be a form of mutual support and bonding and an expression of trust. if your experiences with those things in the workplace are mostly negative — say, everyone was bonded into a clique and you were outside it — or nonexistent, it’s understandable that this behavior would seem inexplicable and cruel rather than as a bad habit but essentially a venal workplace sin, like complaining about your boss or cooking fish in the microwave.

      1. alana*

        and to be clear, it can be cruel, and it is always thoughtless! but there’s a big difference between occasionally taking 10 minutes to vent about your boss or that one dude who’s always mansplaining to you, and constant, personal viciousness.

        1. Lindsay J*

          I think, if it’s regular, even if it’s not personal or viscous, it still winds up being more damaging to morale in the long term.

          Every once in awhile is one thing.

          But what good does saying, “Ugh, Jane is late again,” or “Ut oh, here comes Manny the Mansplainer?” or “I can’t believe they’re so strict about the TPS report covers. As long as it has the same information on it, why does it matter what order it’s in?” every day do except keep you dwelling on it longer than you need to.

          I’ve been in workplaces where constant venting brought morale down. I’ve been responsible for creating environments where constant venting happened and it brought morale down. It’s something I have to police myself vigilantly for because I like doing it it the moment.

          But it seems like it almost always is either the result of, or creates some serious problems in the department. (And generally I think it’s sort of a self-reinforcing thing. It happens initially because of dysfunction, but by happening on a regular basis it brings morale further down.) And I know personally I’m happier when I don’t engage in it.

      2. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

        I hear you. Having a trusted colleague with whom you can vent occasionally is a good thing. Talking trash about coworkers because it’s fun is another story.

      3. Courageous cat*

        I agree with the aloofness aspect. Some people can’t even fathom telling their boss an iota about their personal life, or jokingly insulting each other (literally as a joke), etc. I have gotten into many discussions with people about this in the past and I think it’s kind of unusual/maybe regional?/still unusual.

      4. Seth*

        Agreed. This blog attracts the most hive-minded, same-thinking collective I’ve ever seen. It took me too long to realize that but I enjoyed the posts and comments more once I did. A big part of that homogeneity comes from the strong tendency to reject opinions that differ from Alison’s initial feedback, which is a sign of an unhealthy online community.

        I also don’t get the obsession posters here have with letting everyone know that a response caused them to snort.

      5. Geillis D*

        Alana, since there is no upvote button, please accept a general bunch of enthusiastic likes to all your posts in this thread.

    4. TeacherNerd*

      Yeah, it’s true that when I was a teenager and extremely early in my career (early 20s), I’d spread gossip and talk about people behind their back, and then I learned not to. It led to a toxic workplace culture (“everyone else is doing it”), and it led people to be generally unable to trust their co-workers, probably (definitely) led to others not being able to take ME seriously, and all other sorts of negatives. I learned not to talk trash about my colleagues, generally keep quiet(er), and if someone tried to bring me into that type of conversation, either I’d disengage/not respond (via e-mail, for example, I simply wouldn’t respond to those comments), or say – as kindly as I could – that I’d had good experiences or different experiences and that I wasn’t comfortable talking about people like that. I want to be taken seriously, and to be as kind as I can. If a colleague is genuinely doing something to frustrate me, I might seek out a third colleague to ask for advice in handling it, if I think the issue needs to be addressed, or I let it go and minimize my interactions with the annoying colleague.

      It’s not necessarily done by deeply cruel people, as you imply, but I do think people don’t consider how their actions might be seen.

    5. loslothluin*

      It may be fun, but those IMs and emails you’re sending belong to the company and can be read by anyone. There have been court cases that decided this kind of thing and that the employee has zero right to expect privacy in such matters.

    6. LCL*

      I believe the vast majority of people saying you shouldn’t do smack talk at work did it themselves earlier in their careers. Then realized how hurtful it can be. And because we are all human, and work with other humans, the temptation is always there. So we speak against it as a reminder TO OURSELVES not to fall into this way of relating to people again.

    7. Marthooh*

      I think people are mostly falling into two groups here: “Haha that’s tempting but a bad idea” from those of us who remember doing something similar; and “No that’s horrible, what were you thinking” from those who have been victims of ugly gossip.

  74. loslothluin*

    Always assume its being saved and can be accessed later by someone else.

    I learned this the hard way. A friend that used to work for my current law firm sent me an email at work that was “hey, what’s up? Anything new going on n you world?” I tolder he I was going back to school, blah, blah, blah, and she asked me what I was intending to do with my degree when I was finished. Accidentally replied to an email my boss sent, and I said “To get a new job at some point, duh!” He sent one back with “this meant for me?” in it, and I could have died. I apologized and just said that I’d been thinking about moving out of state at some point and thought the degree would help. He dropped it, and I was lucky he didn’t boot me out the door.

  75. Copper Boom*

    7+ years ago I was working in HR for a company and had to go through one of the manager’s email threads to access information they couldn’t be bothered to send me themselves. I came across an email between the manager and supervisor talking crap about me because one of their employees had come to me in confidence. I was not at all looking for issues with this manager, but found it. These things can come out in the unlikeliest circumstances and leave lasting impressions. I echo Alison’s comments that this will likely come back to bite you.

  76. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Has OP learned nothing? If you want to talk crap, do it in a foreign language!

    (I am mostly joking. I very rarely do it since it’s a terrible habit, but my mother taught me German and would always speak it in front of people. This meant she could say whatever she wanted, even right in front of the person, and unless they were her advanced students, they would have no idea).

    1. Not a Mere Device*

      That would feel very risky to me. Maybe it’s because I’m from New York City, where there’s a nontrivial chance that some stranger on the subway car knows whatever relatively obscure language you’re using. (If you’re speaking German in New York, you may also be understood by Yiddish-speakers, of whom there are many.)

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      That was so rude of your mother!

      (And I have read so many stories of people who don’t “look it” speaking fluent Spanish, and being able to respond to the snarky comments about them that the counter people made in Spanish.)

  77. sfigato*

    I am a somewhat reformed crap talker, and here’s the thing: It just feeds the negativity, and if someone is willing to talk about a colleague behind their back, they are willing to talk about YOU behind YOUR back. And it also distorts how you view and treat the person. Sure, Heinrich is loud and always repeats a few lame catchphrases, but he is also pretty good at teapot coordination, and if you focus on how loud and lame his catchphrases are, you’ll start treating him worse which is no good.

    Also, never put professional trash talk in writing. Look at what happened to sony.
    Now I try to keep my crap talking in a more positive spirit (ie something you wouldn’t mind someone saying about you, or that you would feel comfortable saying to their face), and mix in compliments with the criticism (“I think it is amazing he is so organized, but man can he be intense in his project management sometimes”) etc.

  78. NyaNya*

    My manager and director absolutely do monitor chats. I made a comment that a new project had come in (I was already so busy I developed an ocular migraine from stress) and I wanted to cry. I wasn’t actually crying btw, just being a little dramatic. The very next morning my manager pulled me into a meeting. Never acknowledged that the reason for the meeting was my comment on chat, but it was very clearly the trigger. I don’t know why they are so paranoid or how they have so much time on their hands.

  79. nora*

    Never put anything in writing that you don’t want read out loud in court. My employer is transparent about the fact that everything we do on our work devices is monitored but not everyone is that lucky.

  80. HR that Cares*

    I actually just had this happen. We termed a person who likes to talk crap with another but the one is still here and said things about their manager. She now knows as she was given access to their computer. Yikes- it’s always best to not do it on company property!

  81. Keen bean*

    We had a chat program just like this at my last job – Skype for Business. It was a huge organisation and they weren’t monitoring people’s logs but it was made clear that IT could access your logs if necessary. It wasn’t the best solution but some coworkers and I used initials when talking about bosses instead of their name so it wouldn’t come up in any kind of automated search. We also made sure not to talk about anything too nefarious via chat – always in person.

  82. HR Here*

    A firm I worked at became very big-brothery. At some point it surfaced the boss was having his teenage kid read emails and chat logs trolling for stuff like this. I still can’t really figure out why he bothered.

  83. I heart Paul Buchman*

    Another point is that on chat you do not have any non verbal cues from the other party. You may be mouthing off about someone and the other person could be offended or horrified. At least face to face you have the option to backpedal if you sense you have gone too far. Just a thought.

  84. Tad03102*

    Some of the best career advice I ever got was “Don’t email anyone anything you wouldn’t want on the cover of Time magazine”

    Now that companies have internal IM I find myself forgetting that rule more than I should though.

  85. kay*

    I’m always surprised by the hard line Alison and many of the commenters make about gossip and complaining about bosses/co-workers. I get that it’s maybe not ideal, but I’ve worked in quite a few positions and industries and I’ve never experienced where co-workers don’t gossip and don’t occasionally trash talk people. And this is not me leading the situation- in my current place of work I’m new and the teapot execs and teapot assistants have different tea rooms and the teapot assistants always complain about the execs. My experience is that it’s really common in work places. Is my experience not average?

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      I don’t see any point in gossiping about coworkers. I may have the occasional gripe about one coworker who takes too long, but I don’t bother creating a big gossip fest like some people do with coworkers.

      I was the kid who was bullied and had awful, untrue things pasted on me by every person. Why would I do a thing to my coworkers, or want mycoworkers to do that to me?

      If I want drama, I will watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race. But at work, I want to get my work done and I think any person that views gossip and drama as “fun” at work is probably not doing much work at all and should be the first to go in a downsizing, and I will be happy when they are gone.

      In other words, prople like the OP need to get a life and grow up.

  86. Cassandra*

    OP, another reformed trash-emailer here: I stopped when, after I left a job, the company called my best friend at that job on the carpet over exchanges they found in MY email. Did our mutual target deserve some static? Yeah. Did I regret getting my best friend in trouble? Very, very much.

    One thing it’s edifyingly horrifying to do is poke through the publicly-released Enron email. (It’s out there. It was used as an email-forensics case study in a class I took.) Holy horribles some of those people were awful — and now the entire world knows it.

  87. Media Monkey*

    don’t put it in writing! a guy in my industry wrote an arrogant, self-aggrandising email to a group he worked with at an industry training course telling them all how stupid they were and how glad he was that he didn’t work with them on a daily basis. it’s a small industry where everyone knows someone who knows someone, and of course, the email was forwarded on until everyone had seen it and cringed at it. sent from his company email to his team’s company emails. his company took a dim view and i don’t know if he jumped or was pushed but i have never heard from him in the industry since (unusual name and he’d be fairly senior now so i expect i would have come across him).

  88. Lady Phoenix*

    Acting like a mean girl is gonna affect how people see you and treat you.

    No one likes mean girls. They are seen as vapid, immature, and annoying. These people will not want to have any partnof you and you are likely to be the first to be let go of there is a downsizing because your manager will see you as a worthless extra weight, not someone to fight and die for on the team.

    1. HS Teacher*

      I agree. We had an instructional coach who talked smack about every teacher on staff to me. I assumed if she was talking crap to me she was also talking crap about me.

      Yes, people do it, but most of us take it to reflect badly on the talker.

  89. boop the first*

    I remember so clearly the moment my manager found out that I had been offended by his bigoted comments the entire time we knew each other. He’d turned such an interesting shade of red.

    We were both kind of shocked, actually. I would usually give him side-eye or kill the conversation whenever he’d try to drag me into sudden racist conversation (he was management and I was new, what do??). It was annoying, and I thought he knew this and was just escalating for kicks.

    As uncomfortable as I was learning that I looked like a safe person to rant to, probably pales in comparison to being that person who has entire incriminating conversations flashing before their eyes.

  90. Ashleigh*

    This is gross and petty. I understand the need to vent, but you rip on people just because it’s fun? This is your work hobby? That’s really unkind, and it veers beyond unprofessional. Find a place, whether a new job or a personal paradigm shift, where you can be better.

  91. Artemesia*

    Interns at an international firm placed by my organization used company Emails in ways they shouldn’t and got busted. They were not only fired and lost a semester of work, graduating late and annoying their parents and grandmothers, the organization lost a wonderful international placement for everyone, forever and there was a serious possibility that we would lose all of our great places in this European city which was a highly desirable posting. The incident was notorious locally and it took a lot of clean up after these incontinent elephants. Nothing on work email, chats or whatever is secure from supervision.

  92. StanislastheManislas*

    Case in point, we had a communicator system at an previous job where some members of staff (I wasn’t a member of this clique) were talking about a manager doing some Very. Illegal. Things.

    All hearsay but it found its way back to another manager who asked IT to pull the conversations and lo and behold, there were 5 new vacancies by the end of the week.

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