my employee keeps venting to his coworkers but won’t talk to me

A reader writes:

I have an employee with whom I have made every attempt to keep open lines of communication, be there for him, offer assistance, be a sounding board, etc. However he repeatedly confides in a coworker when he wants to vent about something, rather than coming to me. I end up hearing about his frustration or concerns secondhand, and sometimes his venting is misdirected or uncalled for, because he is making assumptions and building a story in his own mind without having all of the details. If he would come to me first, he would have a better feel for whether it’s something he really needs to get worked up about. When I have confronted him about this before, he has even admitted that he struggles with coming to me to vent, but he can’t explain why, and he says that it would be very difficult to change his behavior. I don’t have this issue with any other employees. They all feel comfortable coming to me about anything.

What can I do to get my employee to open up to me and to see how his current MO is negatively affecting the team?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I work with my husband and we’re not allowed to show affection
  • Can I speak up about my concerns about my boss’s possible replacement?
  • Our board president keeps rewriting my work
  • I’m not sure if my past manager will be a good reference or not

{ 189 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules

    OP 2,
    If you are at work or around coworkers, do everyone a favor and don’t do PDA. Regardless of being on the clock or on break. Just don’t. Whether you are married or not, it’ll make people feel uncomfortable (I absolutely would be uncomfortable). Save it for when y’all leave work.

    1. EditorInChief

      +1000. So inappropriate in a work setting. It’s not just about the PDA, it also sets up the boundaries that save your co-workers from having front row seats to your drama when the two of your are having personal conflict, which can be even more uncomfortable than witnessing PDA.

      1. JokeyJules

        this is a great addition. If you’re willing to display how well things are going, I imagine it would be very obvious to everyone if things weren’t going well. Nobody needs that extra dynamic added into their workplace.

      2. Bend & Snap

        Ugh yes. I’ve worked with married couples at two small companies and while there was no discernible PDA, the dirty laundry of their home life made everybody uncomfortable.

        Just don’t. Actually maybe branch out and make some friends to have lunch with?

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        Yup, I would absolutely wonder whether the day would come when I’d have to witness marital arguments and take sides.

      1. topcat

        I cringed at the PDA, and then cringed at the fact they’re brand new to the company, and then cringed a third time at the fact they’re making an issue of this and talking about their legal rights.

    2. Falling Diphthong

      Even though the PDA is quite mild–OP, I was at a gathering of people from my husband’s office this weekend, at one of their homes, relationships ranging from couples with grandchildren to the college interns and their dates. No one held hands or exchanged cheek kisses. It is possible for that just to be quite out of line with prevailing norms in the lunchroom.

    3. Cat Herder

      Yep. My spouse works in a different dept and we almost never see each other at work. When we do, we say hello, introduce the spouse to any new colleagues, and either take care of the reason we are visiting (forgot lunch, need to sign bank papers, or even just stopped in to say because we were in the vicinity) or leave for lunch.
      Everyone knows we’re married and has seen adorable pictures of us together, but we don’t do any pda at work. Ick.

    4. roisin54

      I agree, no PDA at work. There’s a married couple in my department and I don’t think I’ve ever once seen them so much as hug and they’ve certainly never kissed here. They rarely ever even take lunch at the same time, I think they like having a break from each other.

      1. Lavender Menace

        I’m betting they do. My husband and I work at the same company (different teams), and I’m in his building 2-3 days a week depending on my work. A lot of people have asked if we commute together or have lunch a lot, to which we’re like nooooo. I love my husband, but if I had to see him all day at work AND all day at home, I might kill him.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

          For real. I love my husband but I’d kill him if I had to work with him all day.

    5. Little Girl Blue

      I’ve worked with several sets of married folks in my career…there are two sets of married couples in my immediate department of 25 people right now. In the 5 years I’ve worked with them I’ve only ever seen each couple kiss their spouse one time and that was because they were leaving from the office to head to the airport for at least an overnight trip, so I don’t mind that.
      Specifically, I don’t mind that unusual PDA because they behave so professionally the rest of the time. It is no secret they are married, they occasionally discuss home life logistics in front of others, but they always stay on the correct side of the PDA line.

    6. Ron McDon

      I currently work with two sets of married couples.

      One set you wouldn’t know are a couple – they behave towards each other like they do with everyone else, they don’t do PDAs or talk about their home life at work.

      The other couple – OMG! She is his supervisor (which is a huuuge issue in and of itself), she interferes in his work relationships (so if someone has a problem with him she will get involved and trash-talk the complainer), they talk about their home life all. the. time, and she has sat on his lap at work functions… I could go on but I think this gives one a flavour.

      Please, for the love of your co-workers, don’t bring your personal relationships into work!

      1. Middle School Teacher

        Wow, how on earth is this allowed to go on? There’s no one higher up who can tell them this whole situation is totally inappropriate?

        1. Ron McDon

          There is someone higher up, but the female part of the partnership seems to have convinced all the senior folks that she’s a vulnerable, gentle, caring little thing, who needs looking out for and protecting. I don’t know how that is, as I have personally been asked to attend meetings to support two co-workers who have made formal complaints about her bullying them…

          I feel confident saying that no-one else would get away with this behaviour, and I have no idea why she does.

          Her husband is leaving to work somewhere else, which was a very surprising announcement, and I think she’ll be bereft without him. They spend *a lot* of time together at work.

          Perhaps he wanted to escape!

    7. Diamond

      Totally. I worked with my husband for a little while, we were actually one of 3 or 4 couples working in the department, and there was a father and son as well. There was no drama about any of that at all. We wouldn’t dream of even holding hands while in the work building, let alone kissing. Everyone knew we were married but PDA is just not for a professional environment, whether you’re clocked on or not. My husband even got antsy about holding hands through the carpark. There’s plenty of time for that at home!

      1. Database Developer Dude

        Diamond, did the son call his father by his first name while they were at work?

  2. Database Developer Dude

    Honestly, leave the area during lunch and don’t be on company property. Seriously. Pretending you guys aren’t married to each other is about as idiotic as the two guys in the office I currently work in pretending they’re not father and son.

    If they’re going to regulate PDA to that degree, and you’re expected to treat each other just like any other co-worker, then why have a policy of couples not working with/for each other?? After all, you’re supposed to treat each other like any other co-worker, right?

    Having said that, this isn’t the hill you want to die on. Leave the area during lunch, and save the PDA for when you get home.

    1. JokeyJules

      yes!
      Even if I knew that Bill From Accounting and Jane From Purchasing were married, seeing them kissing or holding hands or anything is still awkward.

      1. Specialk9

        I think you’re saying the opposite of DDDude, if I read The Dude correctly. I think he’s saying it’s an idiotic policy and you’re saying it’s a good one, I believe.

        1. Database Developer Dude

          No, I think we’re saying the same thing: while the policy is stupid because it’s overly draconian in scope, this isn’t the hill they want to die on. Off company property and on their own time, they can be as discreet or indiscreet as they wanna be.

          1. JokeyJules

            I think we are on the same page, as well. Knowing they’re married is fine, PDA is not fine.

    2. NerdyKris

      It’s not a matter of pretending they aren’t married, it’s creepy and unsettling to see people kissing at work. It’s just not professional. It’s no more idiotic than requesting employees at a bar not come in to drink on their days off. When you’re on company property, you’re representing the company, even if you’re off the clock.

    3. MicroManagered

      OP2: I work with my partner and even if we go to lunch *off* company property, we don’t do any PDA. We work for a large employer, so lots of people are in the same areas/restaurants during the lunch hour.

      I think I read on here once: you can tell if you’re successfully navigating a work relationship if nobody can tell it exists.

      1. JokeyJules

        I agree.
        I once worked with 2 separate couples.
        couple A would casually arrive to work together, wave goodbye, and go about their days. They might sit next to each other at lunch, but would talk to everyone freely about all kinds of stuff.
        couple B was a hot mess. The wife would request her husband to call her over the PA system repeatedly until he did. She would call coworkers to see where he was if he came home late. If you walked in on the two of them alone in the room, he was always touching some part of her (arm, back, hand, leg). It was gross.

      2. Chicken Situation

        And it’s really not that hard. Hell, I dated a coworker when I was 20 and he was 21. No one there had a clue.

      3. Turquoisecow

        When I was working retail in college, two of my coworkers were dating. They’d been together for a while and were both mature and quiet people, so it took me some time to even know they were dating. Lots of people didn’t know. Once, he came in off the clock to pick something up and she was off the clock at the time and they briefly kissed as he was leaving. But otherwise, they spoke to each other no more or less than any other coworkers.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          I sadly had the opposite experience. At OldJob, a guy who sat across from me and a woman in our department really hit it off, and started dating. I had to work late every evening and she’d come visit him and sit in his cubicle for hours and there’d be all sorts of lovey-doveyness going on. Our workplaces were open cubicles with low walls, so I had front-row seats to a show that I did not want to watch in the first place. It was so awkward and so hard to concentrate on work with all that going on in the corner of my vision (and within my hearing range). It just made me extremely uncomfortable to be sitting at my own desk, trying to do my work. The funniest part was when they both walked up to me at a happy hour months later, looking mysterious, and informed me that they were dating. I had to pretend to be surprised, I guess? Pretty sure I failed.

          1. Turquoisecow

            Some people think the illusion of privacy in cubicles is a real thing. No, I’m pretending that I can’t hear you, but I really can hear you, even without trying to be nosy!!

          2. Jennifer Thneed

            I wouldn’t have pretended. I mean, not on purpose but because I can be a little slow on the uptake when people are being indirect. I think my response would have been along the lines of “Well, yeah”.

      4. Database Developer Dude

        Micro, I think if you’re off company property, no matter how large your employer is, you’re fine. You’re with your spouse, off company property, on your time. If you want to kiss your spouse before going back to work, kiss them. Hold hands. Gaze lovingly into their eyes…and then when lunchtime’s over get back to work.

        Of course you’re not going to do anything in public that wouldn’t normally be done. Anyone objecting to you and your spouse being affectionate with each other on your own time and off company property has a screw loose.

        1. MicroManagered

          We don’t avoid PDA because we think we’re “not allowed.” It’s more how we choose to maintain discretion. It started when our relationship was new–we didn’t want people to find out until we knew it was going to work out, etc.

          There is also some overlap in our duties (not in a way that violates any employment policy or creates a conflict of interest), so we’re just doing what we can to not-feed the rumor mill. We have plenty of time to kiss, hold hands, and gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes away from coworkers, in the car on the way to where ever we’re going, at home, etc.

            1. Micromanagered

              It absolutely works quite well! We actually kind of enjoy the “change” from our work personae to our private ones at the end of the day. I don’t prescribe what anyone else should do, so you probably shouldn’t either.

              (FYI “If it works for you” comes across kind kind of back-handed and off-putting. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, so… for future reference!)

          1. Pollygrammer

            Please don’t gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes in the car if one of you is driving :)

    4. Engineer Girl

      It’s about acting professional in a professional setting. There are many activities that we don’t do at work because they aren’t “professional”.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      So, personal anecdote, my parents worked at the same manufacturing plant (several thousand people) for their entire career. They met at work, got married, had me, and continued working together. Half the people in their departments, while they knew both of my parents and interacted with both for their work, did not know that they were a married couple; simply because they treated each other professionally while at work. They were married 49 years and had the best marriage of everyone I’ve seen.

      I also worked on the same team with a married couple that had all their arguments at work. They’d fight in front of us, she’d give him the silent treatment and sign all the work papers with her maiden name for a couple of days, then they’d make up and things would be fine until the next argument. This feels very weird when both people are your teammates that you share an office with and have to work on the same projects with. Admittedly, this couple is also still together, so I guess it worked for them? It certainly didn’t work for the rest of us who were stuck in the role of their captive audience while trying to get our work done.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        Adding to the previous comment, the wife from Couple #2 once tried to share with a few of us in the office that “(husband) was unusually frisky last night”. She was ready to go into details! Several people spoke up at once and told her to stop “because he is our coworker too and this is awkward and we do not want to know”.

        1. Database Developer Dude

          Just….ew… my current PM is smokin hot and I *still* wouldn’t want to hear about her activities…too awkward…. it’s bad enough that my entire office talks about going to a spa and getting naked (No, I don’t go. Yes, the naked areas of the spa are segregated by gender. Spa World in Centreville VA if you’re curious. Google it, bamas!)

      2. Specialk9

        She’d actually SIGN WITH HER MAIDEN NAME at work when mad to punish him?! Omigosh. That’s just triflin. And fraudulent? Or was it not-binding stuff like signing in at a training session?

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          Can’t remember what it was, we are talking way back in the late 80s-early 90s. Probably nothing binding (I really hope!)

          1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager

            A woman’s maiden name is still legally usable for the remainder of her life (except for some circumstances in which she renounces her name in order to do a non-life-event name change) but it’s still petty as all get out to refuse to use your married name simply because you’ve had a fight.

    6. Assistant Chick

      I agree. I think it’s kind of dumb to just pretend you have no relationship. Otherwise, like you say, there’d be no point in having rules for couples not working together.

      But this is why I don’t work with my husband–because I couldn’t just pretend we have no relationship. Even if we had no PDA, I would naturally respond and interact differently with him than I would with other coworkers that I don’t have sexual activity and share a home with. So, luckily, we work clear across town from each other!

    7. Specialk9

      I expect that a parent and child would address each other by first names if they worked together, certainly not “Dad”, “Mom” etc.

      I have an intern now whose dad I work with, and I refer to his dad by first name to the intern, not “your dad” because I respect him as an adult and am not inclined to infantilize someone. (Especially not someone who has earned so much of my respect.)

      1. Database Developer Dude

        And that’s fine -for you-, Specialk9. If I were to ever work with my Mom, if I’m talking to you, I’ll call her Dolores. If I’m talking directly to her, though, I’m calling her “Mom”. Anything else isn’t happening, and it’s not unprofessional to not ignore that.

        Now, I’m her son, so she’d call me by first name anyway, so that point is moot.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          My mom and I work for the same company in the same location (in different departments). Our work doesn’t connect in any way, so I don’t have the issue of how to refer to her.

          However, a lot of times when we’re out in public, I will call her by her first name anyway, just because it’s easier to get her attention.

          1. Database Developer Dude

            I’m 51, Amy, and Mom is 75. I *still* wouldn’t do that. Fear the Shoe! (go back to Eddie Murphy’s standup if you don’t know what I mean).

          2. JokeyJules

            your last sentence made me laugh.
            My mom has come to tune out “mom” or other similar names for moms, so often times if i’m looking for her in a store or trying to get her attention in public I’ll find myself saying “mom….mom…MOM….Wanda?” and then she responds.

            1. Jennifer Thneed

              I did exactly that in an airport once. She walked right past where I was waiting for her. “Mom? Mom, mom! SUSAN!”

          3. Justme, The OG

            Yes, because when you say “Mom” out in public, so many people turn around. I do even when my kid is not with me (like when I’m shopping for work when on the clock). But calling my mom by her first name gets fewer people turning to look at me.

  3. fposte

    On #1, I’m not seeing any mention of one-to-one meetings in this workplace. If OP isn’t doing this, they need to start ASAP; sometimes employees don’t come to you because you haven’t made space to come to them.

    1. designbot

      +1 to this. I’ve got a meeting on the calendar with NewBoss tomorrow, and was super nervous about it because it’s just not a thing we do here outside of the formal review process. This means that things that have really been impacting me have been building up because there’s no good time/place/way to say them.

    2. AnnaBananna

      Amen.

      I do remember that the older generations lived by the motto of never giving bad news up the chain. Is he older? Or maybe he’s getting his advice from an older person. Or maybe he had a really toxic workplace before and so his instincts are incorrect and need retraining.

      “…He says that it would be very difficult to change his behavior.” Part of his job is communicating to leadership when something isn’t working so that she can quickly address it. He needs to be informed/reminded of that, perhaps with increasing consequences.

  4. Not All Who Wander

    Seriously? You can’t keep your hands to yourselves for a 9 hours?

    I’ve worked with a LOT of married couples over the years…there have been several in every office I’ve been at because dual-career federal couples are very common. In all that time, I’ve only encountered one couple (either dating or married) who engaged in PDA around coworkers, on or off the clock. That particular couple both turned out to be incredibly unprofessional on multiple fronts but the thing they were known for far & wide was their PDA. If either name came up in a professional context, instead of clarifying “is X the person who worked on Y project last year?” it would be “is X the person who thinks they are still in high school?” or “is X the one who can’t be separated from Y?”

    Do you REALLY want to be known for not being able to maintain separation of work and personal life rather than for the quality of your work?

    1. KR

      Honestly this is where my mind went too. That’s not to say the married couple can’t eat together or enjoy spending time together at lunch, but they don’t need to be holding hands or giving each other little kisses.

      1. Not All Who Wander

        Yes exactly. Many of the married couples I work with eat lunch together but if you didn’t already know they were married there wouldn’t be anything to signal they are more than work friends. They aren’t hiding it or pretending…there are plenty of discussions about vacations, kids, home projects, etc. But never any PDA or gushy terms of endearment!

        1. TootsNYC

          I never liked to eat lunch w/ my husband when we worked together–we see each other at home!

            1. Persimmons

              Honestly, I would have a lot MORE to talk about at night if I worked with spouse! If we were under the same IP agreement, work conversations could happen freely. As it stands, I make generic sweeping comments about inane drivel, since I can’t talk about actual work.

            2. President Porpoise

              I guess that really depends on the kind of relationship you have, but I think the conversations about our relative days usually last for about 5 minutes, and then we get onto much more entertaining subjects.

          1. Bea

            This is essentially my response to people who think it’s strange my partner and I aren’t perma-attached to each other. “You do things separate???!” “I plan on being with him the rest of my life, I don’t need to be attached to him every waking moment…wtf.”

    2. NerdyKris

      It’s also been my experience that couples who engage in PDA at work also push boundaries in other areas. It’s a good sign that they have a problem following professional norms elsewhere as well.

  5. Anon for this

    I’m guessing the venter just doesn’t want to actually have to talk to the boss about what is bothering him and then have action taken on it. Maybe he worked somewhere where that wasn’t cool before and he got burned.

    1. KR

      This is what I’ve seen in the past. A coworker vents, I ask them if they’ve talked to the manager about their concerns or suggested they do so, and they calm down and say nah.

      I also think OP could give their other team members strategies for dealing with this person when they vent, including tuning them out, suggesting the person talk to OP, or whatever.

    2. London Calling

      Perhaps the venter’s office is like mine, where you can talk to the boss about what’s bothering you and see no action taken whatsoever.

      1. Elmyra Duff

        Or it could be like my old one, where if you talk to the boss about what’s bothering you, they’ll find an excuse to fire you.

        1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

          I’ve worked in places where it’s both – no action is taken AND it’s used as ammunition against you later on. Good times!

          1. Elmyra Duff

            Ooh, we had a situation at the same OldJob one time where someone went to vent to HR about all of the (seriously illegal!) things our manager was doing, and the HR guy went straight to her to tattle on the employee. I miss that place so much.

    3. Falling Diphthong

      I do feel like it’s weird to tell your boss “That behavior of mine that’s really bugging you, I think it’s just an ingrained part of my personality that I can’t change.”

      It also stands out to me that this isn’t her only report–the others seem to have hit the right balance of when to vent to coworkers about annoying thing that won’t be changed by venting, and when to go to their manager and ask if there’s a reason annoying thing keeps happening.

      1. Specialk9

        Right?
        “Sorry boss, I’m just not ever going to do that thing you told me to do.”
        “Oh. Uh. Ok.”

        OP, that’s some grade A bullhockey. And I have a suspicion the guy’s manager is a woman. It’s the only thing that makes sense why he thought he could just tell his manager nope, and the manager would just accept it but continue being deeply irked.

        1. STG

          Well, you can ask that the negativity stop in the workplace (although I guarantee that they’ll just make sure they do it when they aren’t around or with people don’t care enough to report it) but you can’t really force them to talk to their manager either.

          1. Jennifer Thneed

            But even that is a win. If some people are saved from having to listen to negative crap for even an hour, it’s an improvement. Listening to negative stuff isn’t just this thing that happens, it’s actively bad for the people who have to hear it AND for the venter.

    4. MLB

      I might agree with that if LW hadn’t already spoken to him and encouraged him to come to her with his complaints. I’m thinking he just wants to vent, not to resolve anything, but just to complain. LW needs to follow Alison’s advice and nip it in the bud ASAP.

  6. Engineer Girl

    #1 – It sounds like you have a passive aggressive employee. The story telling, the “venting” (gossip, especially when it is wrong), the story telling, the taking offense. This kind of activity can really disrupt a group and drive off your highest performers, who have zero tolerance for this type of crap.

    The employee stated it would be very hard to change. This isn’t an acceptable excuse. Hard is not impossible. The behaviors will only become more of a problem as the employee spends more time in the workforce. This behavior, like any other toxic behavior, needs to be addressed.

    1. TootsNYC

      The employee stated it would be very hard to change. This isn’t an acceptable excuse. Hard is not impossible. The behaviors will only become more of a problem as the employee spends more time in the workforce. This behavior, like any other toxic behavior, needs to be addressed.

      My first thought when I saw that line was, “Change anyway.”

      1. irene adler

        Exactly.
        Perhaps if the employee were made aware of how his venting adversely affects everyone he works with, it might get him to change.

        I’ve worked with a few like this. One co-worker would have these wild stories about how the upper management was trying to avoid him or get rid of him. Turned out he was having some mental issues. One day he just didn’t show up. Then he filed a lawsuit against the company. It didn’t go far.

        Another co-worker would get with two other employees and constantly vent about how unfair management was because they didn’t offer benefits akin to what a large company offered. This gal told me that the company has money to offer such benefits, but the managers were too cheap to offer them. Meanwhile, the CFO was struggling to keep the bills paid on time. I offered to make an appointment with the CFO so this employee could show the CFO the location of this supposed cache of money. Offer declined. She and the two other employees were all laid off shortly after.

        And let me tell you, the environment, morale all improved greatly after these folks left.

      2. Jadelyn

        Seriously, this. We all have aspects of our personalities that don’t play well at work, and they are not always easy things to change.

        I don’t tend to take criticism well – between my anxiety, depression, ADHD, and assorted other personal issues, my garbage-brain interprets “you did something wrong” or even “I’d rather you did X instead of Y in the future” as “you’re the literal worst person who has ever existed, they all hate you, everyone is wondering why they haven’t fired you yet, etc.” I either instinctively want to withdraw completely, or get defensive and prickly about it.

        But those are not appropriate ways to respond to criticism at work. So I can’t just let myself react the way I naturally do. I had to work at learning how to tamp down on my knee-jerk responses, how to stay present in the conversation, how to really take in and critically evaluate the feedback I was getting so that I could honestly figure out whether or not it was a criticism that had merit – and whether I feel it has merit or not, I had to learn to calibrate my responses on a range from “Thanks for your input [which I have no intention of following, go away]” for busybody coworkers to “I disagree that X would be better than Y, and here’s why – but you’re the boss, and if you want us doing X instead of Y then that’s your call and I’ll abide by it” for my boss and grandboss.

        None of those things were easy to learn! I’m fighting an uphill battle against my own brain in order to be able to behave professionally despite my “natural personality”. It’s been hard. I haven’t always succeeded. But I keep working on it anyway, because it’s necessary if I want to be taken seriously as a competent professional.

        Don’t let your employee off the hook because “it’s haaaard” to change how he acts. Sure, it’s hard. DO IT ANYWAY.

        1. Specialk9

          Right?

          “I am aware it’s hard. Are you going to have an issue with complying?”

          1. Snark

            “I understand this will be a challenge for you, but as of now, I will begin regarding how you deal with grievances to be a performance issue. If you continue to take your grievances and complaints to your coworkers instead of me, that may mean I have to reconsider whether you’re a good fit for this role. Will that be too difficult for you to work with?”

        2. Anonymosity

          Yep.
          I’ve gotten in trouble because of the same exact issues (and my stupid anxiety jerkbrain cost me my last job). It’s worth working on.

  7. Antifashionista

    I’ve been in OP#1’s position, except that often (but not always), the venting was about issues outside my control. I encouraged Grousey McGrousepants to come to me and had regular meetings with them, but they would wave those opportunities off because there’s not much I could do about the university’s parking policies or how my boss worded his emails or etc. I did point out that constant grousing about things outside our control led to an unnecessarily negative environment, but in retrospect, I should have pursued this further. It wasn’t until GMG left that I fully realized how toxic their venting had been. In their absence, morale noticeably increased .

      1. Falling Diphthong

        I think there’s a socially acceptable level of grousing, and in functional groups it’s limited. People don’t pretend that there are no problems with the university’s parking policy, but they make their token mutter, or contribution to the running in-joke, and move on. In dysfunctional groups, there is no limit to how long you complain about the parking policy, because it hasn’t changed since the person started grousing.

        1. Jadelyn

          Agreed. It can be helpful for people to briefly vent their annoyance at something, just to get it off their chest – but the key there is BRIEFLY.

    1. memyselfandi

      To me the definition of venting is going on about things that bug you but don’t really have a resolution. I do it to my friends who have no connection to work and they ask me, “so, what are you going to do about it.” If the answer is, “nothing to be done” then we both know that part of the conversation is at an end! It usually is better to use my time talking with friends discussing things that take my mind off the things I would like to vent about.

    2. Lynn Whitehat

      I had a co-worker like this. It was kind of different, because some of the things he was complaining about, our department could in principle have changed. But for instance, our company uses the Scrum development process. And this guy would *constantly* complain to his co-workers that we shouldn’t have “such a heavyweight process”, that we should “just do stuff”. I guess *to a point* it’s not a bad thing to make sure something actually makes sense for your group and you’re not just cargo-culting. But at some point you need to accept that the answer isn’t going to change.

      Oh yeah, he didn’t like unit tests either. (Unit tests are quick tests that demonstrate some small piece of code works as intended. Like, “oh, if I call AVERAGE(1, 5, 6), I get 4 as intended”. And “if I call AVERAGE(banana, potato), I get an error, because you can’t average words”). So *every time* he looked at someone’s code, he would have to crab about why they “wasted time” writing unit tests. Personally, I am pro-them. More importantly, management is pro-unit test, and actually had unit test coverage goals in our annual goals. It’s not bad to take a step back occasionally, and ask whether unit test coverage has become an end in itself. But at some point it just drags everything down.

      I actually liked the guy, and at first I was upset that they fired him. But over time, it was such a relief not to have the same tedious arguments again and again.

  8. Observer

    #2, I know that “why can’t you keep your hands to yourself for 8.5 hours?” sounds harsh. But the idea that you would seriously consider lawyering up for the right to kiss at work is pretty mind boggling. I’d say that even if you did have legal recourse. But I don’t understand why you would even think that you have such recourse. Why on earth do you think that your employer needs to allow you to kiss etc. on their property?

    1. fposte

      I think the legal question was more the notion that work has any say about your behavior in your unpaid time.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Oh, that’s interesting. I read the legal rights part as “can they control my PDA when I’m off the clock but on company property.” But my initial reaction was like Observer’s (I was taken aback that someone felt so strongly about the no-PDA warning that they wanted to know their legal rights).

        Of course, employers can impose conditions on a person’s behavior when they’re off the clock and off site. But that’s even doubly so when on-site. OP is going to have to let this go and remember that the lens through which to view this is “we are coworkers who need to behave professionally” instead of “we are a married couple who are loved up.”

        1. fposte

          Yes, I think there are two answers: one, your work can tell you what not to do while you’re on your break, and two, you don’t want to do this anyway.

          1. Pollygrammer

            I had a job where I wasn’t allowed to leave the building on my unpaid break. If they can demand that, they can definitely tell you to nix the smooching.

            1. Database Developer Dude

              If a break is not paid, morally, you should be able to go where you want. One big reason why I will never work retail again willingly…

  9. KayEss

    I agree that PDA at work is not the hill you want to die on as a new hire, but… “no one should be able to tell you’re married”? That’s weird, y’all.

    Obviously spouses working together shouldn’t be necking in the hallway, but anything that would be fine to say on a quick phone call from your desk (“see you later for dinner, love you,” etc.) should also be acceptable in person. You do have to be more aware of the context–any time that it would be weird and inappropriate to whip out your phone and call your spouse, such as while waiting in the conference room for a meeting to begin, it’s also a no-go to have the exchange in person. But I do think it can be navigated in an appropriate manner without workplaces having to be draconian about it.

    1. NerdyKris

      That advice isn’t meant to be literal. It’s just a standard you should aim for, that a casual observer would have no idea you’re married to eachother.

      1. KayEss

        I still feel like this is a weird double-standard, unless the employer would also hand down write-ups for having a schmoopy “no, I love YOU more” phone conversation with an off-site spouse during a break. The OP likely has no recourse, legally or otherwise, but that doesn’t make it not an obnoxious letter-of-the-law policy designed to abdicate the employer from any effort or responsibility to use discretion in maintaining a workplace that doesn’t feel like a prison.

        1. fposte

          It’s not a double standard, because the schmoopy conversations in your example aren’t with a colleague. I work with a lot of married couples (that’s universities for you) and they really don’t find it a prison-like existence to treat each other as colleagues while they’re here for that purpose.

          It’s not just about PDA; it’s about the perception that their togetherness is important to them in the workplace and that work decisions and actions aren’t separate from their marital existence. That complicates dealing with either of them individually, since it makes it likelier that anything you do or say to one will affect the other.

          1. KayEss

            I guess I’m very naive in giving my coworkers the benefit of the doubt on being able to act professionally in contexts where professionalism truly matters, because I’m honestly having a hard time seeing how “Bob and Jane are married, therefore if I do something that annoys Jane, Bob will also be mad at me” is different from completely ordinary annoying office politics with no marriage involved.

            1. Observer

              Well, if they act professionally whenever they are at work, most people will give them the benefit of the assumption that they can act like mature adults. But if they absolutely can’t go all day without getting all over each other, well… It’s not unreasonably that they are a bit more tightly coupled than most. Lets face it, PDA in public and especially in the workplace is not a great look.

              Notice how people react to coworkers who have frequent shmoopy conversations with their SO’s that everyone else can hear.

            2. fposte

              Because other people aren’t legally entangled entities. Parent and child would have the same problem.

              You don’t have to pretend you don’t know them, but when you’re working with them the co-worker hats are on. Fortunately, this really doesn’t seem to be that hard for most people I’ve worked with.

            3. Emilia Bedelia

              But two coworkers with a particularly close relationship would probably elicit some of the same worries. It’s really not a double standard.
              I know several coworkers who have close personal friendships with other coworkers here – as in, they’ve been in each others’ wedding parties, they hang out after work, they go on vacation together. I get along well with all of them, but if I had any kind of conflict with one person, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other heard about it, and it would cross my mind before doing something that I knew would cause problems with one of then.

            4. CM

              As one example, I had to do an HR investigation of Bob, but also dealt with Jane on a regular basis as part of my job. Ordinarily Jane would have zero knowledge about Bob’s investigation and nothing to do with it, but since they’re married, obviously she knows all about it and she is directly affected, both emotionally and financially, if Bob gets fired as a result. So that’s a big difference.

          2. Micromanagered

            You said it perfectly. (And +1 on large universities.)

            It’s not that it has to be literally a secret. That’s taking what I said to its absurd extreme. But yes, I do think people should feel largely unaware of a relationship, doubly so if they have a reason to ever deal with both of you in a work context.

        2. Jadelyn

          The difference there, though, is that you’re looking at two people in the schmoopy situation: your coworker, and your coworker’s spouse.

          In the OP’s example, or other married couples working together, you’re looking at two people: your coworker, and your other coworker.

          That’s why it’s different. If you have a schmoopy conversation with your spouse who doesn’t work here, I can roll my eyes and ignore it because I don’t know your spouse, I don’t have to interact with your spouse. But if you do that with a spouse who I also work with, now I’m seeing you both as spouses-who-are-coworkers, not my coworkers who happen to be married to each other. That’s where the issue is.

        3. NerdyKris

          Actually I do expect people to refrain from PDA with partners who aren’t employed there as well.

          1. Specialk9

            Yeah. What the heck. Professional people act professionally at work. That includes having somewhat constrained personal calls at work, if you do them at all within hearing of co-workers.

            1. Clare

              Right?! If I overheard a coworker having an “I love you more Schmoopy” phone call at work I would definitely be rolling my eyes at them and quietly noting that they don’t seem to understand professional boundaries.

      2. Persimmons

        This. You don’t have to turn it into a game of Clue. (Wait! Bob in sales and Jan in IT both mentioned a daughter with the same unusual name…I wonder…)

        1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager

          I work with my sister, but many people meet us in different contexts and have no reason to know we are related (our last names are different). I think there were folks who didn’t understand her interest in my children until well after baby #2 started preschool (“Hey, how come our technical writer has pictures of the secretary’s kids playing at the beach? Should we alert HR?”)

        2. Someone else

          I recently had a funny conversation where a coworker made some hush-hush comments to me to the effect of “hey, I think something’s going on with Jane and Dan”. I was confused, and asked what she meant (initially thinking she suspected one or both were resigning). She’s gets whisperier, “you know…going on…” And I realized she thought she was gossiping, suspecting them of being in a secret relationship. Then I replied “well, they’ve been married for five years.” which I knew because I knew them outside of work as married people before they were hired, not because anything they do at work makes them seem married other than showing up in the same car.

        3. Anonymous Ampersand

          Oh my god you just reminded me. If been working at my old job over a year when I realised that the facilities manager’s husband “Terry” was the same “Terry” that was director of performance. I just presumed it was someone else! We had a very weird cross purposes conversation and I was very embarrassed.

      3. Justme, The OG

        I work with a married couple. I didn’t know they were married until they told me. I think that’s what people should strive for, not having people know the relationship until they are told.

        1. Database Developer Dude

          I think that’s awfully extreme. I would question the motivation behind that on two levels:

          1. Married couples – people pair up and get married. It’s a fact of life. As long as they’re not trying to play grab-ass at work or licking each other’s tonsils, if they arrive together and give each other a quick kiss before going off to their respective departments…I fail to see the issue.

          2. Parent-child – I want to know, because if I get in a conflict with one, the other jumping in is *NOT* objective. This has actually happened to me…getting ganged up on.

    2. ExcelJedi

      This! I’m totally down with no kissing in the office, but no touching? (I don’t touch any of my coworkers, even on the arm when passing, so that would be a clear difference for me.) No talking openly about where we just went together for dinner or vacation, or other (drama-free) family news?

      (I would add that I could NEVER work with my spouse. We’ve been together for the better part of a decade, and I can’t imagine saying hello or goodbye to him without a kiss. It’s just completely foreign to me. Maybe it’s the Italian-American upbringing? The boundary issues would be impossible to navigate…but at least I’m self-aware about that.)

      1. designbot

        I don’t think it’s a problem to bring up say, where you went on vacation together (or why you happen to always take the same vacation days). But couples who PDA tend to find more reasons than actually relevant to bring these things up, so if they aim to not bring it up, maybe they’ll wind up bringing it up a normal number of times instead of an overwhelming number.

    3. fposte

      I’m not finding that anybody said that phrase here–where are you quoting it from?

      I wouldn’t go as far as that sentiment myself, but no, you don’t say “Love you” to your work colleague, whatever you and your colleague are outside of work. Same as if your kid takes a job in your workplace she doesn’t call you “Mom” there. It’s not about the words but the workplace status of both people in the conversation.

      1. KayEss

        Literally the second comment has an entire thread talking about whether or not to pretend you aren’t married, and how some couples navigate this by behaving in ways that if you didn’t already know they were married, you wouldn’t be able to tell. Is there a problem with paraphrasing, here?

        1. fposte

          Paraphrasing is fine; thanks for clarifying. You put in quotes, which indicates a verbatim transcription, so I wasn’t clear where you were getting it.

      2. Falling Diphthong

        I checked the Inc page, and it’s not quoted from there.

        Though that did remind me of an important point in Alison’s answer–one or both of them are new to this office. Which makes “who? oh, that couple who plan to die on the hill of kissing in the lunchroom” even weirder, as it’s now a way to establish a reputation at their new job.

          1. fposte

            I think FD was, like me, confused by the fact that it was in quotes; KayEss has subsequently stated that it was intended as a paraphrase.

      3. Queen of Cans and Jars

        I mean if you REALLY HAVE TO say “love you” every time you leave each other’s company, just text them that part or something. Jeesh.

      4. Database Developer Dude

        As long as one of you isn’t supervising the other, what’s the issue? I’m not calling my mom Dolores…it’s not happening. If that’s a problem, it’s your (generic) problem. I will still act professionally at work.

        1. Specialk9

          That’s pretty unprofessional. I would expect you to call your mom Dolores at work, or if you really couldn’t manage that find another job. I think that’s a pretty standard expectation.

          That said, I think that you, my dude, will get far less of the career hit from using the term Mom at work. Dolores will get most of it, as a woman – both because it undermines her professionally (mommy-tracking is career death, bc of a whole sexist cultural perception about women), and because it makes her look old (old is also worse for women than for men).

          Food for thought.

          1. Database Developer Dude

            And I think that’s a pretty ridiculous expectation. It’s about how you act, not what you say. Plus, since I’m her son, she’d call me by first name anyway. That side of the point is moot.

            1. Turquoisecow

              Yeah, but if you’re acting lovey dicey with your spouse? That action is going to overwhelm your good work actions. You’ll be remembered as the person who is always lovey dovey with their spouse, not the person who does an excellent job.

              You’ll be remembered as the dude who works with his mom. She’ll be remembered as “Dude’s Mom.” The distraction from your work is the unprofessional part. You can decide to do it anyway, but it’s come up here before and the consensus is that calling your mom “Mom” at work is unprofessional, so it’s more likely you’re going to work with people who think that way than not. Be aware.

              1. Database Developer Dude

                Here’s the thing, though. I only call Mom “Mom” when addressing her directly. If we worked together, and I had to talk *to* you *about* her, I would say “Dolores can….” etc.

                That’s the difference.

                And there’s a whole spectrum of actions between “let’s pretend we’re not married at all and ignore each other at work” and “let’s bend each other over the desk”. Lots of the commenters here are formulating their statements as if it’s a switch to be flipped rather than a spectrum where you want to be a lot closer on one side than the other.

                Acting professional with a spouse doesn’t mean you need to hide that you’re married to each other. If spouses arrive for work together, and kiss each other once in the morning before heading off to their respective departments…what’s the big deal? Are we the students in this scene from Kindergarden Cop? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZACERNomuA

                [Youtube video from the cited movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – safe for work]

            2. Specialk9

              Why is it moot? It’s not. As soon as women get pegged at work as a Mom, instead of just Jane from Accounting, people start applying all kinds of sexist crap.

              Again, this is hypothetical. But you’re awfully comfortable with holding your ground despite having a woman explain that what you’re thinking is a-ok for a woman can actually harm women. Maybe be open to learning from someone who’s walked in these shoes.

              1. Database Developer Dude

                So maybe deal with the sexist crap. I’m awfully comfortable holding my ground because I’m not ever going to disrespect my mother. The woman gave birth to me, for crying out loud. It is not reasonable to expect me not to call her “Mom” when I’m talking to her.

        2. Persimmons

          Same here. I worked with a parent and the first-name thing was not happening.

          Honestly, though, it’s incredibly easy to sidestep the issue in the first place. Unless you’re calling out to someone about to wander into traffic, it’s pretty simple to gain someone’s attention in other ways before initiating conversation.

        3. Cat Herder

          DD Dude, if my son worked in my office he would not call me “mom” more than once. So unprofessional and undermining.

          1. Not A Morning Person

            I personally think that it should be between DD Dude and his Mom to negotiate their workplace communication choices. And also just my opinion, but I don’t think it is necessarily unprofessional or undermining to call mom, “Mom”, on the occasions where they are together at work. It would be weirder to me to know they were related that way and to hear him call her by her first name. YMMV.

      5. Observer

        In my opinion, that’s very different. A lot does depend on the culture and what people already know about your relationship. But, “Mom” is not a term of affection and has very different connotations. I’ve seen people call a parent Mom and FirstName. It’s worked well either way, because in no case were the children in the chain of command, and whole Child called Mom “Mom” there was never any cutesy stuff or tons of personal conversations.

        Now, of someone had been going “MomPom” or “Sweetie Pie”, that would have been way inappropriate. Fortunately, I’ve never encounter that!

    4. Bend & Snap

      My sister and my dad have worked together for 6 years, and most of their team *just* found out they are related.

      It let my sister build her own reputation separate from my dad’s (he’s been there 15ish years) and generally gave her freedom to do things her own way.

      1. KayEss

        My dad and I worked for the same company for five years, and unfortunately EVERYONE knew it because we have the same very unusual last name. (Unusual enough that anyone who didn’t already know we were related would immediately ask if there was a connection when I introduced myself.) If he had a meeting in my building, he’d sometimes drop by my desk and say hi, or invite me out to have lunch–both things that would have been weird and inappropriate if we WEREN’T related, given our age/gender/hierarchy difference, but no one cared because we were otherwise able to navigate the relationship professionally.

        We were in fairly separated departments, so I wouldn’t say I ever worked “with” him, and I don’t think I had any problems standing on my own while I was there that weren’t inside my own head–I grant that it would be different in a smaller company or if our positions had interacted more.

        1. Marion Ravenwood

          If you’d said eighteen months rather than five years I’d have asked if you were me, because that was almost exactly the same situation I was in when I started my first job (dad worked in HR and I worked in PR). I agree that not working ‘together’ helped, as well as the professional boundaries – other than driving to/from work together we didn’t interact much, and I never referred to him as ‘Dad’ to colleagues – but everyone knew and no-one cared because we didn’t make a ‘thing’ of it.

          1. Database Developer Dude

            And that’s the key: You never referred to him as ‘Dad’ to colleagues, but you called him ‘Dad’ when you spoke to him. I wouldn’t refer to my mother as ‘Mom’ to colleagues, but if I worked in the same place, there’s no way in hell I’m calling her ‘Dolores’

  10. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

    I feel like I’ve been taken down a peg or two by proxy re: the venting, because I am often guilty of the same thing – but the reason I don’t vent to my manager, is that it is usually my manager that I want to vent about.
    However, I am also in the ‘fortunate’ position that the coworker I am venting to is my husband (but, unlike OP2 PDA has never been a consideration – we have always been very professional, although I do joke that I get to pull rank occasionally!) We’ve worked together for about 8 years in total (different companies at different times), and PDA is rare even outside work. I got a bit embarrassed when he put his arm around me at an offsite office party once, but that was steadying me after a slightly ‘tipsy’ colleague fell into me. I can’t quite fathom not being able to keep it together, or apart for that matter, for 8 hours!
    I have vented to my manager and others at her level (while she’s absent) about things that have subsequently been fixed, so it’s not like the venting is just blowing off steam for the sake of negativity, but I’m not sure how to address being disgruntled to the main source of disgruntleness (is that a word)

    1. AnonyMouse

      +1 First thought when reading that was “… maybe he’s venting about you?” I agree with others that there were some other things about the venter that were fishy.

      But reading this I realized in my workplace, I am the venter. And I’m venting about dysfunctions of our team that are going to take years to fix (I vent mostly with another coworker who has similar frustrations) so it’s not really worth it to bring it to my boss (a lot of times, I’m also venting with said coworker about my boss).

  11. LibraryBug

    I wonder a little about OP#1: how long have they been the venter’s manager? Has communication always been free-flowing or did it used to be very closed off? Does management talk about how communication is open but actually doesn’t do anything to facilitate communication?

    I do think complaints and concerns should be brought to the manager. But I do wonder if the venter has had really been given the opportunity to share ideas. I’ve worked at places that say they are very collaborative and big on open communication and yet I’ve found out things relating to my department at a company-wide meeting. Pushing back on ideas or asking questions had been shot down by a few departmental big-wigs.

    Perhaps a few different ways to submit input and questions would be helpful? An email? Anonymous suggestion box? Maybe the venter is just stirring the pot. If the venting is causing distress to other coworkers, or is factually wrong, I’d sit the venter down and talk about how it’s not appropriate.

  12. Database Developer Dude

    I’m sorry, but I find the idea that no one should be able to tell that you’re -married- to be completely ridiculous. You can act professional, not be sticking your tongue down each others’ throats in the hallways, and still be openly a couple. There are innocuous things that couples do that aren’t strictly PDA that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a matter of degree.
    A peck on the check, or a quick kiss goodbye in the morning as you arrive together and part to your separate desks/departments isn’t a huge deal.

    Having said that, if the company forbids it to that degree, THAT is definitely not the hill you want to die on.

    1. KayEss

      The cynic in me suspects that a company being that strict about it is trying to avoid having to deal with a possible discrimination issue in how they deal with complaints about low-impact PDA between same-gender employee couples versus different-gender employee couples.

      1. Database Developer Dude

        I never thought about that. Thank you for bringing that up. Plus, I’m giggling at the concept of low impact PDA vs. high impact PDA…. though I’m not sure Alison would appreciate it if we started speculating on the differences…it might get out of hand in a very silly way very quickly. (Think WWE).

        1. KayEss

          Ha ha, I was thinking of how some people react to fairly innocent hand-holding or a closed-mouth kiss between a same-gender couple the same way they would to a heterosexual couple licking each other’s tonsils while having their hands in each other’s pockets. Couldn’t come up with a quick way to make that distinction without examples.

          (The chair! Give ’em the chair!)

      2. Sally

        I feel like it’s more that no one wants to be in the business of regulating what PDA is appropriate and what is inappropriate. Like, if Jan pecks her spouse on the cheek, Marsha may think she can give a full tongue kiss to her spouse, and point to “well there’s no rule about it and Jan does it!” Just having a simple overly-cautious rule makes more sense to me.

        1. Database Developer Dude

          yeah, when you put it that way, Sally, it makes more sense to me too. It’s jacked up, because the other extreme gets to take over, but it makes sense. I’m all about balance and moderation, though, that’s why I throw the bs flag on draconian things that don’t appear to have a good reason behind them.

    2. Former Admin Turned Project Manager

      I worked with my husband for the final year of our engagement and first year of our marriage. If we could keep our hands to ourselves and act professional, any can! :-)

  13. Database Developer Dude

    And I made this a separate comment to address non-married family members (parent-child specifically, but it applies anywhere).

    It’s all in how you act, not in what you say. If I worked with my Mom, I’m never going to supervise her, nor she me. She’s more administrative, and I’m more technical. I’m not calling her Dolores, I don’t care what anyone says. If that’s a problem, that’s a problem for the beholder, not for me. That WOULD be a hill I would die on, but I wouldn’t die on it.

    I successfully, when I was active duty in the Army, once I became a noncommissioned officer (a sergeant), stood up to the Sergeant Major who decided it was fraternization if I went to go hang out with my cousin, the Specialist, or my other cousin, the newly graduated private. Family is family.

      1. Database Developer Dude

        When words like “unprofessional” are thrown around, yes, I do feel strongly. “Unprofessional” is a value judgement.

        It’s just as much as when I’m pulled aside by some well-meaning senior officer (I’m a US Army Reserve Chief Warrant Officer 3) and told “Officers don’t have mustaches, it’s not professional”, even though Army regulations allow it, and no one says anything of the sort to enlisted personnel. If you can’t articulate why it’s unprofessional, it just becomes a personal whim being enforced long after the senior whose whim it was is gone.

        I bring your attention to the well-known experiment about the group of monkeys in the cage with the bananas suspended from the ceiling above a stepladder. Any time one of the monkeys would try to climb for the bananas, they’d get blasted with a water hose. After a time, none of them tried.

        The experimenters then swapped out one of the monkeys for a new monkey. The new monkey tried, and the others beat him up.

        One by one, the experimenters swapped out all the original monkeys with new monkeys. Soon, they had none of the original monkeys left, but none of them would go for the bananas, for fear of getting beaten by the other monkeys….

        Same deal here.

        1. CM

          I don’ t think the mustache example is the same at all. That’s a matter of appearance. Having one coworker call another “Mom” brings to mind a completely different relationship — one where the child may be influenced by what the mom said or expect the mom to take care of the child, even if the coworker relationship wouldn’t normally lend itself to that. The “child” in this situation is an adult, but is still the child in the relationship. I think seeing a married couple kiss in the office is similar to seeing one coworker call the other coworker “Mom” or “Dad” or “Little Jeffy” — it’s bringing an outside relationship, and one that has very different dynamics, into the workplace.

        2. Specialk9

          I’m not sure I follow. You believe that my saying that your failing to comply with a common professional norm, in the hypothetical, means I’m a monkey who just wants to pull other monkeys down because of social forces?

          Ok Dude. This was fun.

    1. Madeleine Matilda

      Many, many years ago I worked in my mother’s office in the summers while in college. She wasn’t my supervisor but she did assign me work on occasion. I remember asking her if I should call her by her first name in the office and she rather forcefully told me I would not call her by that. Of course she and most of the people in the office had worked together for years and I knew all of them quite well so there were no issues with me calling her Mom.

      1. Porcupette

        When my sister and I hit adolescence, mama insisted we address her Carolyn out in public. She thought we made her look old. Apparently this was also the reason she didn’t invite us to her wedding to a man we had never met.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

        I worked with my dad for a while before he retired. Where we worked was a noisy environment, which often resulted in my initiating shouted conversations as “Dad! DAD! STEWART! (not his real name)” which finally got his attention. I’m was also in my early 30s, and no-one else we worked with would have any qualms about me calling him Dad, Steward or Mr WonderingHow as the situation called for it.

        I call my husband James, not sweetie, or babe or any other pet name. He calls me Won (the shortest possible derivation of my name, without resulting in just W!). He’s the only one allowed to call me that and expect a response – everyone else calls me WonderingHow or Wonder, if they’ve earned that privilege (i.e. have known me long enough to be considered a work friend).

    2. fposte

      Now I’m just curious–would you call her “Mom” if she supervised you or vice versa? Or if she were your senior officer in the military? Or is this getting too far into the hypothetical weeds for you to have a read?

      1. Database Developer Dude

        fposte,
        Since you mentioned military, I’m going to assume that was directed at me. My Mom would never supervise me. Her field is a lot more administrative, and mine is a lot more technical. The closest we’d get is that she might be the boss’ secretary in an office where I’m a database admin/engineer.
        I would also never supervise her. I supervise other technical people.

    3. Dr. Johnny Fever

      My son wants to work with me in my career. I will have been established for 30 years by that point.

      He will NOT call me Mom in the office. I won’t allow it.

      Maybe it’s because you’re a dude, but women work hard to bee seen professionally at work. Any kind of modifier – mom, sister, whathaveyou – chips that away and makes her less than a professional.

      Please, for the sake of Dolores, call her Dolores. You’ll never have to work as hard for your reputation of being her son as she will being your mom.

      1. Lavender Menace

        Different mothers feel different ways about this. My mother would never be happy with me calling her by her first name…in fact, I would just avoid working with her, ever. Look at Madeleine Matlida’s comment up thread as well.

      2. Marion Ravenwood

        I think it cuts the other way as well. I worked in the same organisation as my dad in my first ‘proper’ job after uni, and I didn’t call him Dad (even though most people knew we were related because of our uncommon last name) because I felt it undermined me as a new graduate and would have made me look like a little kid rather than the ‘young professional’ image I wanted to project. I’m not sure if it would be different in a father-son context though.

    4. Shelby Drink the Juice

      I worked at the same company as my mother for a few years. We worked on completely different programs, were on different sides of the campus and had completely different job duties. I once ran into her, while I was walking with my boss, in a completely different building (none of us worked there, but my boss and I were headed to a specific meeting and she was headed to the cafeteria). I was so dumbfounded I didn’t even introduce my boss, who afterward said “was that your mom??”

      I get what you’re saying. I don’t even like that my shared Netflix says Dolores and not Mom. On Hulu I set up an account for Dad not Donny. :)

  14. Madeleine Matilda

    OP 2 – At my previous job, I had two married co-workers in my department on different teams. PDA wasn’t an issue but the never ending discussions of non-work, family manners drove me nuts. I sat next to Jane and at least 3 times a day, usually more, she would call her husband Bob to talk for long periods of time about the kids, what was for dinner, what they had to do after work, his mother, etc. Some mornings she would arrive at her desk and call him to talk about something non-work related even though they had just ridden into work for 30 minutes together, could talk at lunch together, and talk on the drive home together. The day she had long talk with Bob about having nothing in the house to prepare for a last minute dinner with her MIL, I finally spoke with our boss and asked her if she would ask Jane to cut back on these conversations. Unfortunately my boss was pretty non-confrontational about it and chose not to say anything. All this to say, keep your relationship out of the work place as no one wants to be even a sidelines observer.

    1. WellRed

      Nothing like having a manager who would rather have two(!) unproductive employees than just one.

    2. Lindsay J

      OMG yes.

      I’ve had this issue with coworkers, though mostly with long calls to their children.

      Like, you can’t figure out what the kid is going to eat and communicate that to them the night before?

      Like, I’m not talking about a 5 minute conversation from the kid saying he’s gotten home from school and them saying “Okay, glad to know you’re safe. Do your homework and you can heat up the leftover mac & cheese for dinner. See you at 5:30.”

      I’m talking 2 hour blow-by-blow conversations over getting the homework done, finding the mac and cheese in the fridge, what bowl to use, how long to heat it up, don’t use too much salt on it, blah blah blah. Every single day.

      I always felt like either the kid needed a nanny or babysitter or the parent needed to let go a little bit. Either way I didn’t like having to listen to their extended family conversations for hours at work.

      Plus, how could they possibly be getting any work done when they were spending so long on the phone?

  15. Chaordic One

    At my previous job, there was an awful lot of PDA, not just between married couples (of whom there were a lot of), but between colleagues. A member of a department would go on a conference for a week and when they got back they would hug everyone in their department (and the receptionist). It struck me as being a bit excessive, however I’m afraid that other people thought I was cold.

  16. STG

    As long as you’re off site and off the clock, I see zero issue with PDA from the company’s perspective.

    I work with an older couple who sit outside on their breaks on the same bench every day and hold hands while they talk. It would never occur to me to view them as unprofessional for it and I’ve never once seen them do that in the building. They aren’t cuddling up to eachother or giving kisses. It seems a little ‘pearl clutchy’ for folks to be up in arms about it honestly but it is the reality of the common view of professionalism.

  17. voyager1

    LW1: He doesn’t trust you, doing all that you claim then it clearly isn’t your fault. Your employee has probably been burned a couple of times by managers I am guessing

  18. Anonymosity

    I have no issue with discreet PDA (a hand touch, a quick peck of a kiss) but OP #2, your company has indicated they don’t want to see this at work. It’s their space and they control it. IANAL, but the only thing I can think of that might be a legal issue is if they forbade affection between gay couples but not straight ones. If the policy applies to everyone, you’re out of luck.

    Rather than getting mad, I’d just use it. Pretend you’re spies or something and having a secret affair is forbidden at your spy agency and you have to save it for your secret meeting place (i.e. home).

  19. Argh!

    OP 3: Wow, you really know how to borrow trouble! Don’t get three steps ahead of things that haven’t happened. Even if the back-stabber gets the job, there’s the possibility that added responsibility will cause them to act more professionally. If the backstabbing was a serious issue for you, it will probably have been a serious issue for others.

    Try to stay in today and not worry about stuff. Tomorrow may never come, and life is full of surprises.

  20. topcat

    # “Our board president keeps rewriting my work”

    This is a lose-lose situation. If you manage to draw someone’s attention to the issue, or if someone else spots the mistakes the president has made, the chances are that you will have to take the blame, EVEN IF you have a clear paper trail that someone else added the mistake. It’s all about saving face.

    Given his behaviour is escalating, I would start looking around for a new job. Unless he’s close to retirement.

  21. Database Developer Dude

    The idea that calling a parent at work “Mom” or “Dad” when you’re talking directly to them is unprofessional….has been put forth because of the reaction -other people- would have to that. It has been said that this causes people to see the son or daughter as a kid instead of as a coworker in their own right, and the parent as more the parent than the coworker..and in the “Mom” case, applying sexist crap to the Mom and derailing her career.

    This is pretty much victim blaming in my eyes. If a mother-son duo are acting professionally, but when he speaks to her, he calls her “Mom”, and you’re going to judge either of them for that, something is wrong with YOU, not them. You’re basically saying that knowing someone is a mom leads you to think less of them as a coworker.

    This is absolutely ridiculous, though I can acknowledge that it is a norm….it’s a norm that needs to go away.

  22. Jack Russell Terrier

    I’m concerned that your Board President is *working* in the office. The Board is supposed to provide oversight for the employees. I worry about your office’s Organizational structure.

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