my boss’s wife wants me to organize their house, employee wants a demotion, and more

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

1. My boss’s wife wants me to organize their house

A few months ago, I started a job as a paid intern at a small marketing start-up. When my boss (the CEO) hired me on, he did say that the job sometimes involved not-so-glamorous tasks that everyone, including me, would complete, like cleaning and sorting the company’s storage unit, maintaining office space, taking out trash and recycling, packing and shipping, etc.

But recently, with his blessing, his wife has asked me to help her clean out all of her two children’s toys and sort them, organize a massive closet space including replacing shelves, clean out and organize her children’s art cabinet, clean out their “drop off” bench where they throw together jackets and purses and dirty socks, hang a bunch of hooks, and clean and organize her office. This is all at my boss’s home. The wife said this work would take three days to complete, and that I wouldn’t be able to do her work and the office work at the same time.

I feel like this work clearly crosses the line of what my job entails me to do. This isn’t for the company, this is my boss’s family’s personal, home life. On the other hand, I would (presumably) be getting PAID to do all of this work. Am I right in thinking this is wrong? Am I being taken advantage of? Or do I need to check myself? If it’s a problem, how would you mention it to my boss?

Yep, this is ridiculously inappropriate. You didn’t sign on to be a personal organizer in someone’s home. It’s true that jobs can sometimes shift, and sometimes you’ll be pulled into something you didn’t explicitly sign up for — but being asked to help someone with their personal tasks in their home is way out of side of that.

It would be entirely reasonable for you to say to your boss, “I’m going to tell Jane that I can’t help with the personal tasks at your house. I really want to focus on the work I took the internship to do. I of course understand that tasks may shift and that I’ll need to do some cleaning and organizing here, but I’m not comfortable doing that for someone’s personal home rather than for the company.”

If your boss is at all reasonable, he should accept this. But if he’s not reasonable, there’s a chance that he’ll be unhappy, so you’ll want to go in knowing that’s a possible outcome. If it does happen, you can say, “I’ll certainly do whatever you need me to do here as part of my work, but I’m not comfortable helping anyone manage their home.” (Frankly, I also kind of want you to say “I would charge significantly more for that kind of work than what I’m being paid as an intern” — because I bet you’re getting a much lower hourly wage than what personal organizing normally costs.)

2. Will I be tarred with the same brush as my unprofessional counterpart?

I just recently started my first post-grad job and I’m loving it. I have been working since I was 14, so while this is my first full-time job, I consider myself fairly well versed in professional behavior. I’m aware that I am very young, but I’m willing to learn and take cues from my colleagues, and I think I’m balancing the fact that I’m inexperienced and need advice, with my ability to read the room and abide by office norms.

I started alongside another brand-new employee doing my same role, also fresh out of college. She does not seem professionally aware and she’s very chatty, often talking over people to share her personal stories and not letting others talk, quick to loudly chat about personal stuff when we should be getting our heads down, and generally she seems young and focused on things that seriously don’t matter. I see older employees roll their eyes when she interrupts them to talk at length about sorority dramas and college deadline disasters. She’s incredibly nice, and competent too, but I’m worried we’ll both be seen as the same. I really don’t want to be tagged alongside her as “annoyingly young and unprofessional” by the rest of the office, which might mean I don’t get invited to sit in on and observe higher stakes meetings/decisions, etc. which would be really useful to learn from.

I wondered if you had any advice, other than just being as professional as possible, to make sure I’m not seen in this same light? I can’t really give her advice because we’re the same age. (And also, I’m not 100% sure what’s acceptable, so what would I even say!) We work closely together so we are always in the same conversations, and her behavior is never truly separate from me – conversations about her sorority pals always happen with me right there and I’m worried I’ll inadvertently get labelled as having the same attitude. Any advice?

You’re underestimating your coworkers! I promise you that they can separate the two of you and can tell that you’re not the one talking over people, interrupting them, talking about sorority drama, etc. The fact that you’re the same age isn’t going to make them think you must be like that too, since they can see that you aren’t. In fact, it’s likely to do the opposite and make you look better by comparison.

One thing I would watch out for, though, is to make sure that you don’t exclusively pair up with her for the social parts of work — like having lunch with her all the time, always grabbing coffee with her, or so forth. It’s fine to do that occasionally if you want to, but if you do, make sure that you’re forming relationships with other people too. If people see you socializing primarily or only with her, there’s a danger that they’ll associate you with her a bit more — not that they’ll think you’re overly chatty, etc. if you’re not, but just that they may see you as having less mature judgment just by association. That’s not really fair, but it’s also not always a conscious process — people just often assume when they see two people hanging out together that they have the same values and worldview. That’s not to say you can’t socialize with her — you definitely can! — just make sure that you’re spreading your time around to others as well.

3. My employee wants a demotion

My direct report is a truly exceptional worker. Let’s say he’s a teakettle builder, and about a year ago, he completed a master’s program in teakettle prototyping, which was great — we didn’t have a prototyper in the company, and it was a career path for him that offered some great possibilities. I went to bat for him, and got his job changed to kettle builder/prototyper.

A couple days ago, he came to me and confessed that he hates prototyping and wants to go back to just building. Prototyping makes him miserable, and he feels that moving into prototyping was a big career misstep. There are a few problems with this: (1) We don’t have anyone on staff who prototypes. I can do it, sort of, but I’m stretched pretty thin as it is, and I don’t have any formal training or certification in this. (Although it looks like I could pursue an online certification that would take me about a month to complete, and wouldn’t be a bad thing to add to my own resume.) (2) Without a prototyper on staff, those responsibilities will fall to the kettle designers, who are prone to doing things like designing kettles without handles because they look cleaner that way. (3) I went to bat for him, and (uggghhh) am afraid this is going to reflect poorly on me. What do I do?

It’s not ideal, but sometimes this stuff happens. You should assume that if you don’t let him go back to just building, you’re going to lose him entirely — because if he hates his job and you tell him he’s got to stay in it, it’s pretty likely he’ll look for a new one. So the choice isn’t between keeping him where he is or letting him move back. It’s letting him move back or not having him at all. So either way you’re going to end up with problems #1 and #2 on your list.

That means that you’re really just left with #3, that it might reflect poorly on you. And sure, someone might second-guess the decision a bit, but reasonable people are going to understand that you couldn’t have predicted this and you’re just playing the hand you’ve been dealt. It will help to frame this to your own boss as logically as possible: “Cecil was initially really excited about prototyping and is very grateful we broadened his role up to include it. Unfortunately, he’s come to me to say that he’s realized, despite his master’s in it, that he hates the work — I think because of XYZ. He’s desperate to move back to his old role. Obviously this means ABC, which I’m not thrilled about, but he’s one of my strongest people and I think it’s very likely that we’ll lose him entirely if we keep him in prototyping. I would rather keep him as a builder than lose him entirely, so my proposal for filling the hole this will leave is ___.”

4. Is constant knuckle-cracking acceptable at work?

I am about to act on the #1 lesson from your blog — speak up! — but before I do, I want to make sure my request is reasonable. Is knuckle-cracking an acceptable office behavior?

One of my team members sits in the next cubicle over, about six feet away. At least once an hour, she loudly cracks her knuckles. It is often 5-10 loud pops over 2-3 seconds as she cracks each knuckle. If she is talking to someone, she will reflexively start or end the conversation with cracking her knuckles, using her hands to crack her neck, or contorting her torso to crack her back.

This behavior makes my skin crawl. I am generally more sensitive than others to noise, and I have tried to mitigate my sensitivity to office chatter and other distractions with ear plugs and headphones. But there are times when I cannot use these tools to avoid the knuckle-cracking, like when someone stops by my desk to ask a question, when I’m on the phone, walking to or from my cubicle, or when I’m between songs on my playlist! Inevitably the knuckle-cracking will happen right at those times, and I am utterly repulsed and angered by it. On several occasions, she has done it in front of me and I’ve winced, then told her clearly that I am bothered by the sound. Now when she does it in front of me, she quickly says, “Oh sorry, Jane!” and then continues with our discussion. I’ve noticed that she does not crack her knuckles in large meetings with executive staff, but she does it at her desk or in small peer-to-peer meetings, so I get the sense she knows it is not appropriate behavior in some contexts.

I fully understand that I must tolerate some level of noise in the office, but knuckle-cracking seems akin to burping or farting — most of us know that we should refrain from doing it in front of others (unless a medical condition makes it unavoidable). I know that some joint cracking happens involuntarily, like when you move your foot or shoulder, and that doesn’t bother me. It’s the purposeful, repetitive, loud POP-POP-POP-POP-POP in a quiet office that makes me what to stab my ears with a #2 pencil. At times it is so irritating that I get short with her, or try to escape a conversation because I want to get away from the popping and cracking, so it has now crossed the line into impacting my working relationship with her. Am I being unreasonable? Is knuckle-cracking a normal, necessary bodily function within the scope of acceptable office/cubicle behavior? If so, I will continue to cope with my mild misophonia and find ways to block the noise. If not, should I say something?

I don’t think you’re being unreasonable. The sound of repetitive, intentional knuckle-cracking would bother a lot of people — it’s a pretty common irritant. It’s reasonable to say something like, “Hey, I’m not sure if you realize this, but you crack your knuckles really frequently. I’m sorry to ask, but is there any way you could stop doing it so often? The sound gets under my skin in the same way nails on a blackboard would, and it takes me out of what I’m doing every time.”

That said, you might not be able to get her to completely stop it because it sounds like a pretty deep-rooted habit and you can’t really press it beyond the initial request.

{ 553 comments… read them below }

  1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    OP 5 – I actually find myself knuckle-cracking at times. I wish I hadn’t developed the habit, but I have, and I actually find that if I *don’t* crack them with some level of frequency that my fingers hurt and are less flexible than normal. I work from home, so I’m sure my knuckle cracking doesn’t cause any problems for my co-workers, but I would try to be understanding as long as it’s not all the time/all day long that it may be something that she does to avoid pain/discomfort.

    I totally get that it may be grating/annoying, but I wouldn’t press the issue too hard, especially if she says that’s why she’s doing it. I think it may be one of those things that both you and she can compromise on. Perhaps she could do it less frequently, or try to make sure that she takes care of it when she’s on her lunch break, etc, so that it’s not needed as often when she’s in your general vicinity.

    1. Jasnah*

      I definitely understand that stiffness feeling, as an occasional knuckle-cracker. That said, it seems like it’s the kind of semi-conscious habit she does reflexively during pauses or breaks. If she’s typing away furiously or mid-flow, it doesn’t occur to her, but if she pauses to consider what to say next, or to address a coworker who comes over, she does it. So more like stretching or taking a drink, than scratching an itch or something. This is supported by her apologies to OP, though she doesn’t seem to have changed her behavior.

      OP, I think you can definitely approach it as Alison suggested, but it sounds like you’re at the so-called BEC point where anything she does will drive you crazy. If that’s the case then I think it’s up to you to find a way to not be so irked by the sound (moving seats? changing jobs? find her pet peeve and start doing it back at her? getting to know her as a person so she’s more likely to change for you and you have positive interactions with her to counteract the bad? I dunno…)

      1. uranus wars*

        She might apologize after becuase she’s still doing it reflexively but then realizing midway through what she is doing. Kind of like when I reflexively turn left to go home and immediate remember “oof! I am not going home!”

        I think doing it in small settings or while thinking doesn’t mean she is aware of when it’s appropriate and not as well. I know I am more comfortable and less likely to fidget (my nervous tick) when I am in a meeting becuase I am more prepared than when someone asks me an off the cuff question and expects an answer/my input.

        All that being said, I definitely think the OP should mention something again and be a little more adamant about how much it bothers her to see what she can do to lessen the knuckle-cracking.

        1. Emily K*

          I think doing it in small settings or while thinking doesn’t mean she is aware of when it’s appropriate and not as well.

          Yeah, this veers into a rule I try to make for myself to not get mad about the why I think someone is doing something unless they’ve directly said that’s why they’re doing it. As humans we tend to be way more certain of how accurately we can impute motive or someone else’s thought process than we are actually capable of. We are really bad at knowing what’s really happening inside someone else’s head and we tend to assume that, “If I see a person doing Behavior X in Context A, I assume they are having the same thoughts I have when I do Behavior X in Context A,” and that’s simply not true much of the time. Often the other person is processing ideas or working with schemas you aren’t even aware of and they’ve arrived at their behavior via a completely different mental pathway.

          There could be lots of reasons why she doesn’t seem to crack her knuckles in certain meetings but does in others, and not all of them relate to her making an assessment about “appropriateness.”

    2. Mommy MD*

      She should try to cut it significantly. Lunch time and bathroom breaks. It’s probably not just the OP who is bothered.

      1. Van Wilder*

        I’m a knuckle cracker and most of the time I don’t even know I’m doing it. I would definitely try to tone it down if a coworker asked me but I doubt I could make much of a dent in the habit. I tried to quit the very day after I started it in high school and I never could.

        1. Anonym*

          Same. Count me in as one whose joints crack on their own. If I’ve sat too long, the hips and knees go off when I stand. Stretching a bit (like sitting up straight all of a sudden when I’ve been hunching towards the computer screen) without trying to crack anything can produce all sorts of fireworks.

          And the hands become really uncomfortable if I don’t do it, stiff and tight, especially if I’m doing a lot of typing. I try to avoid it when talking to people, but sometimes discomfort leads to automatic cracking without it ever penetrating my consciousness.

          I think OP needs to accept the possibility that this person isn’t going to be able, even if they’re willing, to entirely eliminate the habit.

          (My wrist just cracked while writing that.)

      2. Jerseys mom*

        Also, OP notes that knuckle cracker seems to be able to control this behaviour when in meetings with executive staff. So K.C can clearly control their behaviour and understands when it is not appropriate.

        K.C. needs to learn and put into practice that this behaviour needs to occur away from other employees – walk into the hall, bathroom, lobby, stairwell, wherever. Besides, no one should sit at a desk for 8 hour stretches, so this gives K.C. a simple reason to take a brief 2-5 minute walk each hour or so.

        If I were OP, each time K.C. does this while talking with OP, I would reiterate that “you know that sounds like fingernails slowly screaming along a chalkboard to me, and perhaps other people in the office”. This may help K.C. remember to stop it while talking to people, at least.

        I don’t recommend this approach in meetings with other people, but just to start at least with baby steps so K.C. can begin to readjust her personal noisy, distracting habit in order to allieve her discomfort while not causing discomfort to others.

        1. sunny-dee*

          It could be like someone who cusses a ton, though. They are really strict about policing their language around, say, young children or their mother, but they can’t keep that level of vigilance up in normal conversations.

        2. Jadelyn*

          So…I have a repetitive strain injury in one hand. One of the few things that helps ease it when it’s flaring up, is cracking my knuckles and my wrist on that hand. On days when it’s really playing up, your recommended approach would mean I’d need to step away from my desk every 20-30 minutes or so, or in every break in typing, just for a 10-second thing that allows me to continue working relatively unimpeded. That does not strike me as a reasonable request OR an efficient use of my time, since it would mean breaking my concentration/train of thought, getting up, walking away, coming back, trying to get back into the flow, then having to rinse and repeat again half an hour later. If a coworker made this request, I’d be willing to try to do it quietly-ish (holding my hands under the desk as I do it to muffle the sound a little, for example) – but I wouldn’t be able to stop or start taking breaks all day, and reiterating “I hate that sound, do you remember how much I hate that sound, that’s an awful sound, etc.” every single time you hear me do it is only going to make me hate you. It’s not going to make me stop.

          1. Trinity Beeper*

            Okay, but you don’t know if that’s KC’s case. It’s good for OP to know this as a data point for the reasons why KC could be cracking her knuckles so much, but it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s an unreasonable request for OP to make.

            1. Trinity Beeper*

              I reread the letter and didn’t realize that she had already stated that she was bothered by it. I’m not sure if that means she’s made the request before or not, but if she hasn’t, I would argue that she can ask, once. I still think my point stands that it is reasonable to ask once, though.

              1. Tara2*

                Absolutely. I think asking once like Alison suggested is fine. It sounds like Jadelyn is, like me, only really disagreeing with this phrase:

                “If I were OP, each time K.C. does this while talking with OP, I would reiterate [that I hate the sound]”

                Every time? That seems excessive.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I have the same problem, Jadelyn, and as Amy FF noted, I begin to lose dexterity if I don’t crack my knuckles. I try to muffle the sound (I find wrapping in clothing and cracking below the desk helps) or go to a private area (e.g., my office with the door closed) to do it when needed. I agree that folks who do this should take every effort to minimize the noise and impact on others. But OP is unlikely to reach a solution where KC completely stops cracking their knuckles; when it feels medically necessary, someone can try to minimize how often and how impactful the cracking is, but they usually can’t 100% stop the behavior for a full work day.

        3. IT is not EZ*

          My fingers and neck ache from time to time (several times a day, say a half-dozen or so) and the only relief I get is when I stretch and crack them.

          It’s rough that this annoys you, but I’ll take annoying people over chronic discomfort.

      3. (another) b*

        No. As a knuckle cracker, it is subconscious and you can’t plan your day around it. I don’t even know when I’m doing it. OP needs to realize she can’t police other people innocuous behaviors. Add a noise machine or something.

    3. Gen*

      My physiotherapist recently advised me to do it more often! It’s a massive pain relief for stiff swollen joints that I used to avoid doing in company after a humiliating public dressing down from a teacher about me ‘being gross’. A number of my joints crack or clunk from pretty basic gestures, I can avoid them but my joints then stiffen up from unnatural/limited movement. I’m an artist and all the stretching routines you’re supposed to do every half an hour to keep your hands healthy will make every joint in my hands crack. Someone watching me would probably think I was deliberately cracking my joints so I’ve neglected it for years. The pain relief it brings didn’t seem worth triggering other people’s misophonia, but my physio disagrees now my pain interferes with my work :/

      1. Rainy*

        If I’ve sat still for a while, just inhaling makes my back pop loudly, and with my wrist and finger arthritis, if I stopped cracking them they’d be so stiff I wouldn’t be able to type or write, two things that are major components of my workday!

        I try not to do it when it’s going to be disruptive, but not doing it at all is unrealistic.

        I think of it like this: I have a mild misophonia that’s triggered by people breathing loudly. Most noises don’t bother me, but loud breathing is distracting and makes my entire skin itch. But asking people around me not to breathe is A) impossible and B) a fucking asshole move. So I control myself.

    4. misspiggy*

      I have to crack my knuckles to relieve pain and stiffness, but I try not to do it during conversations, or all at once if others are around. I go out to a corridor if I need to have a session.

    5. Foreign Octopus*

      I’m also a knuckle cracker but I disagree that it’s something that should be compromised on.

      I put it in the same category as burping in public. I wouldn’t do it. If I need to crack my knuckles then I step away because I actually hate it when people do it around me – I know, strange but that’s the way I am.

      I would say that this sounds like it’s a long standing habit and those are difficult to break so don’t be too irritated with her if she slips up and does it again for a while. I think it takes a month to properly break a habit so just have a conversation with her and politely ask her to stop/limit the amount of knuckle cracking as it’s distracting. I probably wouldn’t say it’s disgusting but if you frame it as interfering with your work, that might be better.

      1. Cindy Featherbottom*

        I’m also a knuckle cracker and hater of certain noises. The coworker may not even realize that she’s doing it, that is until she sees that really annoyed look on your face as soon as it starts. I agree that its totally ok to ask her to stop doing it (or at least decrease the frequency). If shes anything like me though, I’ll warn you it may not tone down as much as you’d like. My husband hates the sound so he’ll casually grab my hands to make me stop if its driving him particularly nuts, but I don’t realize I’m doing the majority of the time. If someone is annoyed by it, I’ll certainly try and make more of a conscious effort to tone it down but if I get busy and get in a groove, I’ll do it without realizing it. Just be patient with her. If you’re nice about it, she will probably make a good effort to try and not do it so much. I’ve tried to tone down the habit over the years, but its definitely a hard habit to break.

    6. solar flare*

      I disagree with Alison, agree with this, and would add that personally, if I need to crack my knuckles and am trying to refrain, I literally am not able to think about anything else. So having your coworker not do it during a meeting is reasonable, but having your coworker not do it throughout the day is not. As for excusing yourself to do it elsewhere, it is NOT analogous to burping or farting; to me, it’s more analogous to stretching. I would not get up and leave the room every 10-15 minutes just to crack my knuckles in isolation.

      I recommend that if it’s an issue for your concentration, you look into the possibility of working with headphones/earbuds. In our open office floorplan, many people plug in and listen to music or podcasts when they need to focus, and ambient noise/conversations continue around them without affecting their ability to work. I know that this depends on the culture of your company and whether management would see it as a professionalism issue, but it is pretty common as far as I can tell.

        1. solar flare*

          yeah, caught that almost immediately after writing, my bad. I wish we could edit comments, even if only up until someone replies to them

      1. solar flare*

        this is embarrassing – I read the letter, and then I read the responses to the letter, and I guess I forgot what was said specifically. LW5 clearly addressed the music/podcast suggestion… sorry for my unhelpfulness. :( point stands though that while it may not be the cast for LW5’s coworker – if she’s only doing it ~once an hour, which is… really not that much – this can be a physical need as opposed to a bad habit

      2. Smarty Boots*

        Stretching is quiet. It’s not going to bother anyone. Knuckle-cracking is loud. It’s going to bother someone and it already bothers the OP a lot because it’s happening a lot. Perfectly reasonable to bring it to the coworker’s attention and to expect the coworker to at least cut back on how often it’s happening.
        And, if my stretching IS bothering someone (I’m making gross noises while I do it, I fling my arms into a coworker’s space, etc), it’s reasonable to ask me to minimize it or to do it in a way that doesn’t drive my coworkers crazy. I can stretch in the bathroom, it’s not going to kill me to do that — knuckle cracker can do the same.

        1. Smarty Boots*

          And yes, I do crack my knuckles because my hands get stiff and painful. I pop my neck, too, which really squeeves people out. I don’t do it in meetings, at lunch, when others are around because I know it’s an obnoxious sound.

        2. a1*

          Stretching often results in popping and cracking even w/o trying. Hard to guess which times it will and which times it won’t so I’m not going to go elsewhere every time, It’d be a huge waste of my day.

          Also, to all the others saying to get up and go elsewhere, sometime the mere act of getting up causes the cracking/popping, especially in knees or ankles.

          This said as someone who does NOT crack or pop often, voluntarily or involuntarily, but am understanding to those that do.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            this. ALL of my joints crack. Always have; my dad teases me that I could never sneak up on anyone because of my noisy toes. Stretching? More cracking!

            I wouldn’t put this in the same category as burping or farting, either. It’s short, and it doesn’t leave a lingering odor.

            I would say that unless the LW is able to conduct her day in complete silence, she needs to find a way to get over this, because she is almost certainly also making noises that might annoy somebody else (does she type? I once worked with a woman who got in a yelling fight with another coworker who was a “loud typer”).

                1. Tired*

                  My new laptop has a quiet keyboard setting that stops tapping. I also have seen a setting in Windows or something that does this. There’s a zillion products out there, undoubtedly they may not all do this, but some do. It’s a thing.

              1. Jadelyn*

                That depends entirely upon what kind of keyboard you have. If you’ve got a mechanical keyboard, there’s no changing the sound, as it’s not a sound generated by the computer or keyboard for feedback purposes but a literal effect of the mechanism inside the keys moving (vs a membrane keyboard).

            1. Rat in the Sugar*

              LW does say that incidental popping and cracking doesn’t bother her, only when her coworker does all her fingers in a row deliberately.

              And as a serial knuckle-cracker myself, I’ll usually just tuck my hands under my desk and crack them with a slower pulling motion, which is usually quieter. I can’t handle not popping them all day but I know it bothers people, so I’ve adjusted. I think if LW says something to their coworker (maybe suggest the methods I use?) they could find a way to lessen the noise throughout the day so it wasn’t so noticeable.

            2. Psyche*

              It really depends on how they are cracking their knuckles though. I also am bothered by the noise but understand the discomfort. Most of my friends when they crack their knuckles do it very quickly and all at once. That doesn’t bother me as much as when people do it finger by finger 5-10 seconds apart. It does not have to be a long drawn out thing.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I’ve been chastised for typing too loudly :(

              In my experience, it was a combo of the kind of keyboard and the fact that I learned to type on those old keyboards where you really had to press down (not quite typewriter-level pressure, but certainly more than what’s required for a laptop keyboard). It’s hard for me to type any lighter, especially because it usually requires me keeping pressure on loud keys as I release them, which slows down my typing speed.

      3. kittymommy*

        I actually am not fond of the sound of knuckle-cracking but I don’t think I’d put it in the same category as burping or farting. Most crackers I know do it to avoid stiffness in their fingers that negatively affects their work, so yeah, it’s more of a needed action versus something they can avoid. Personally, I would not make someone get up and leave the room every time to crack their knuckles when their doing so to avoid pain just because it makes me twitch.

        1. Anon E. Mouse*

          Yeah, This.

          Seeing people putting it on a level with belching or farting made me raise an eyebrow as I was reading. Definitely not something I agree with at all.

      4. Tardigrade*

        I wonder if OP could ask to move to a different cube. While that seems extreme, if it’s true that this bothers her so much, headphones don’t help, and the knuckle-cracker can’t really stop and/or excuse herself to the restroom all the time, then I can’t think of another option besides the unhelpful “deal with it.”

      5. LSP*

        OP#5 has said she does often listen to music with earbuds or use ear plugs, but as there are times in her work when she cannot have those measures in place, they are often ineffective in blocking the sound.

        I don’t have any additional advice for this OP, because when someone is sensitive to a certain sound, it’s very difficult to just get over it, probably just as difficult as it is to stop such an ingrained habit as cracking ones knuckles all the time.

        For what it’s worth, the sound that goes right through me is the sound of someone clipping their nails. It doesn’t bother me if I’m doing it, but my husband is compulsive about keeping his nails short and I often have to leave the room so I don’t have to hear it. Too bad OP doesn’t have that option in this situation.

      6. Torch*

        I find it more akin to coughing or throat-clearing. I’ve got a coworker who sits two cubes behind me who clears her throat what seems like every other minute. It is a GRATING sound and I often have to put my headphones on to try to get some focus. I understand that she needs to clear her throat. I need to crack my knuckles or I feel like I can’t type or move my fingers properly. So I deal with her noises and she deals with mine.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          YES. This is a much more analogous noise. It’s like coughing or loudly blowing your nose.

      7. VAkid*

        hmmm. I have some habits and compulsions that I can’t do at work because they are unprofessional or annoying to other people. I realize this is a habit, and she may feel uncomfortable not doing it but…..she should try and change it for the sake of other people.

      8. Classroom Diva*

        I’m going to agree here. Knuckle-cracking is most definitely not on the same level as farting, and I wouldn’t even put burping here. (Burping loudly and with an open mouth? Sure. But, burping quietly and with mouth closed…really?? It too does not generally rise to the offensive, must-be-done-in-private thing.)

        I also don’t see knuckle cracking as gross, and was actually surprised to discover in this thread that anyone would see it that way. It is like stretching. Not something to do loudly and in public, but certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

        I do get being bothered by noise, however. I can’t stand the sound of people chewing, and it is like nails on chalkboard to me. Still, I realize that is *my* issue, and I don’t expect others to forgo snacking because I’m bothered. I will ask them to please keep their mouths shut if they loudly botch in my presence, but I’m not going to expect them to avoid chewing all day because of me.

        1. Hamstergirl*

          Yes! I get sooooooo amped up and annoyed when I can hear people chewing. I don’t stop people at work from snacking, or having food focused social events, or having a meeting over lunch of whatever it may be. When I can feel myself getting triggered by it I do my best to take deep breaths and focus on the sound of my breathing, or super intensely on the sound of whoever is talking or the sound of my own typing… literally anything else that I can give very specific, undivided attention to.
          OP 5 should practice some of their own calming techniques when they can sense themselves getting frustrated by the noise and also take stock of how often it’s actually happening in a way that’s noticeable to her throughout the day. If I know anything about my experiences with misophonia it’s that someone having a snack now and then feels like they’re eating FOREVER but in reality it’s just someone eating like…5 pringles.
          However I’m ALSO a knuckle (and everything else) cracker. My body gets very stiff and sore if I don’t crack, particularly my fingers and neck. I try to be mindful of when/where I do it, but sometimes it just can’t be helped which is often the case with people who do it habitually. (As an aside though, dending on OP’s relationship with KC, it may be worth mentioning to KC to talk to their doctor about arthritis if they haven’t already, excessive cracking can be a sign).

          Also OP there’s a setting on iTunes to not have a pause in between songs, I’d suggest turning that on.

          Good luck to OP and KC!

    7. Alice906*

      I am an inveterate knuckle cracker. I try really hard not to do it in meetings or quiet settings, but it indeed becomes really uncomfortable when I haven’t done it for a while! It’s absolutely the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning, and I would estimate I have to crack my knuckles at least once an hour all day long. I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought it could be quite that irritating to others, so I promise the OP and others like her that I’ll try a bit harder!

    8. Van Wilder*

      Side note: my knuckles also feel uncomfortable if I don’t crack them. But on top of that, it’s a nervous habit. I also do it when I am struggling with a work problem. And once I get it in my head, I feel really tense if I don’t do it. But like I said above, I don’t even realize it most of the time.

    9. Cranberry_Red*

      I really don’t think these comments get it. She equates this noise to nails on a chalkboard. That’s not a mere annoyance. At my last job a coworker did what I call a ‘five point throat clear’ – eh eh eh eh hum! LITERALLY every 30 second (I started timing her) eight hours a day. She never stopped. Months and months went by. I invested in noise cancelling headphones and turned the volume up as high as it would go and I could STILL hear her. It caused me massive anxiety and anger problems. I actually talked to my therapist about her multiple times, and I left work early more than once because I couldn’t take her anymore. I had to take tons of breaks during the day and more than once stomped out of the room to cry in the bathroom in frustration. Like, just hearing her clear her throat sent me into a mental rage. I can’t even explain it. And what would I say to her? It was clearly a health issue like allergies or something. My misophonia group on facbeook has members that describe similar responses to their triggers. She was literally part of the reason I left that job (like a solid 20% of the reason, the rest was just feeling stagnated and held back).

      The big thing of it is feeling trapped. One throat clear or knuckle pop is a brief annoyance. But being stuck near someone who does that ALL DAY LONG is excruciating. Its the constant repetition. It’s really hell. I feel for the OP. My advice is to see if you can be moved.

      I honestly think you might end up having to find another job. Just reading her cracking her neck and knuckles made my stomach flip. Ugh.

      1. TK*

        I completely sympathize with you – I feel the same way about a chronic cougher who sits near me at work. It seriously makes my skin crawl and it’s SO frequent – big, wracking, phlegmy coughs several times an hour. Sometimes it goes on for a full ten minutes. And no effort to cover her mouth, leave the room, or otherwise stifle the noise.

        I understand that there is physical discomfort for that person (knuckle cracker or cougher), but it really should be on them to consider how they’re causing discomfort for many more people, and try to be more respectful – either doing it less often, if possible, or doing it in the restroom/break times.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I mean, gods forbid anyone prioritize their own comfort over your comfort. Heaven forfend anyone should not be interested in rearranging their entire workday and suffering their discomfort in silence the rest of the time so that they’re not infringing upon your sacrosanct right to a perfectly noise-free space.

          I’m being a bit over-the-top here, but honestly, this sounds wildly self-centered. “I know you’re in physical discomfort, but I expect you to suffer that discomfort in a way that “respects” me, by suffering silently anytime I’m around and only allowing yourself to do something to relieve your discomfort when you’re not in my presence.”

        2. Considerate*

          No we aren’t underesting how annoying sounds are. Leaving work early or getting frustrated to the point of tears over sounds is not a rational response.

          We are also pointing out that while you consider it rude and something people should do only during breaks or away from their desks. That is easy to say if you have no health issues.

          I am not a knuckle cracker. But I dont think they should have to leave every time they do. Why should it be on them to consider how their physical discomfort impacts others? Like seriously? That is one step down from “Have you thought about how your cancer affects me?”

          They are in physical discomfort and doing an activity to releave that. It happens to make sound. Part of working with other people is that you have to learn to deal with it.

          With the exception of nails on a chalkboard because there is no medical or physical need to do that. But coughing and cracking and sneezing is just part of people?

          1. Trinity Beeper*

            Yes, misophonia isn’t rational. That’s precisely why it’s so disorienting: it provokes a fight-or-flight response in a generally mundane environment.

            As someone with misophonia, I believe that it’s unreasonable to ask someone to stop doing something that relieves their discomfort just because it’s a trigger (though oh, I wish it were acceptable!). So I totally agree with you there, but I just wanted you to understand that misophonia is a very real and very uncomfortable thing – instead of just writing Cranberry_Red off as irrational.

            1. Rainy*

              I said this upstream, but my (very mild, thankfully) misophonia is triggered by people who breathe loudly in a very specific way that is usually related to asthma or chronic sinusitis.

              But I cannot just tell people to stop breathing. That would be ridiculous.

              1. Jennifer H*

                I agree with rainy and trinity beeper. As a child I was bothered by my beloved grandma’s asthmatic mouth breathing and throat clearing. But I loved her so I learned to overlook it. I use the same workarounds now for my misphonia (genetically diagnosed no less!) and I am not nearly so bothered as the other posters seem to be. I also take deep breaths, and focus on compassion for the person who is upsetting me. I feel deeply sorry for them and I find this makes the misphonia melt away.

    10. AmethystMoon*

      There is science that says the popping is actually fluid building up in the joints, and it’s the sound that bubbles make. As someone who types literally all day, I find that my fingers also get very stiff if I don’t. She may actually not be able to stop it.

      My suggestion would be to bring your MP3 player & listen to music to block it out.

        1. msk*

          That… really limits your potential work environments, and seems unreasonable to hold coworkers to?

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Well, I’ve worked at the same company for 10 years, and the company policy is we can listen to music as long as we use headphones. So if you’re in a support position, sitting in a cube, I can’t see why you couldn’t bring an iPod unless it dealt with phone work all or most of the time.

    11. Seacalliope*

      I agree. It is physically uncomfortable to go long periods without popping. I had a roommate who would chide me every time I popped my knuckles and I tried to cut down due to that and ended up with more physical discomfort for it. I honestly still resent her because of it.

      The upshot is, you can ask, but be mindful of how much you are policing someone else’s physical habits, especially ones that give them relief from pain or may even be involuntary (such as joints cracking when you stand or stretch). Finding a way to avoid the sound would probably be a better and more consistent solution.

    12. JulieCanCan*

      Was just coming here to say the same. I regrettably started cracking my knuckles when I was about 10 or 11 and playing the piano a lot. It would relieve something- either anxiety, physical stiffness in my fingers……most likely both. Now, 35 years later, I can’t stop. I’ve gone for periods of up to 8-9 months refraining when I made an effort to quit (it was harder than quitting smoking for me personally, which says something about how much of an addiction/habit it is.) It’s such a habit and it’s an actual physical need – THAT is one major reason why (for me at least) I can’t seem to stop altogether. I hate it, I know it’s gross, my knuckles are swollen, but if I don’t crack them, my fingers are stiff and achey. It’s such a release/relief!!

      I try not to do it at work but whenever I’m with a coworker who’s cracking THEIR knuckles, I’ll say “Oh, yesss!” and crack mine along with them. Then we laugh, because we know it’s so frowned upon. It’s like the shameful knuckle-cracking club.

      But my main reason for commenting is to make sure OP realizes it’s an actual physical need. And if you don’t have that need, you can’t understand it. Kind of like any habit – if you’re lucky enough to not be in the cycle of a bad habit, it’s very hard to understand why people can’t just stop.

      I also have OCD so i think it might have to do with that. The various things I do that I am compulsive about (including, but definitely not limited to, the actual act of cracking my knuckles, neck, toes, and knees…. ) become more frequent and more of an obsession when I’m stressed or going through stuff….so one day i’ll crack my fingers, say, 6 times total over the course of a day, and some days I’ll crack them 4 times an hour every hour for 12 hours straight. It depends on my brain that day.

      Ugh! I really wish I never started. I’m sure most people stuck in this habit do.

      1. GQueen*

        I’m another OCD person who has to crack constantly! I honestly don’t know if I see a path in life where I could have avoided picking the habit up. I do wish I could cut back on it somehow. Recently I realized I was cracking my toes in a meeting, eeek.

      2. Aerin*

        Same here! I started young and there’s no possible way I could stop now. Sometimes my neck pops when I just turn my head. I don’t have OCD but I do have ADHD, and if I’m not actively doing something with my hands that’s just how they fidget. Usually the pops that way aren’t loud (pushing the finger side to side so the middle and distal joints pop, all one-handed stuff), but there are a couple that just pop louder. My knees also tend to bug me if I don’t pop them. Honestly, I think if I had to make a conscious effort to refrain from doing it I’d work myself into an anxiety attack. It would be all I could think about, and my hands would get stiff enough that I wouldn’t be able to use them at all.

        Look, we’ve all got our stuff we can’t stand. For me it’s ticking clocks and similar sounds. The world is annoying. We’ve just gotta cope.

    13. Youngin*

      Yes! This is me as well. My fingers, wrist and neck occasionally “lock up” from sitting and typing all day. The crack is the only way I can get some relief and keep up my productivity. Something feels tight and I crack it pretty much immediately without thinking. Its a habit, and a bad one, but a necessity for my comfort nonetheless.

      My particular cracks also come from previous sports injuries, so between my knees, ankles, hips and lower back all cracking on their own and my pops to relieve some pain and discomfort in my fingers and wrists, I probably sound like bubble wrap.

    14. J. E.*

      Same. I didn’t realize it was so annoying to some people, but my hands do feel relief from discomfort when I occasionally crack my knuckles. It’s a habit that’s almost completely unconscious.

      On the other side of the annoyance scale, strong scents are physically uncomfortable for me and certain noises (whistling) give me an almost uncontrollable surge of irritation and rage. But those are things that I have to control, manage, and find solutions for. If someone else’s innocent actions make me feel enraged or unable to focus, I feel like I need to find better coping options (and I have). So while yes, your co-worker should (and probably will) try to change I honestly think you are unusually sensitive and what seems to you to be extremely rude and disruptive may be as unnoticeable to the majority of people as the cologne that makes me ill or the whistling that sends a knifelike pain through my head.

      An acquaintance of mine has misophonia (look it up – fascinating!) and spent years being miserable/angry at meals. Just knowing that it’s a syndrome shared by others has helped him a lot, and knowing that OK, this noise is triggering, and I can feel myself getting angry, helps him to deal with it.

      Short version: Other people mostly likely aren’t trying to hurt or annoy people who have unusual sensitivity.

  2. GT*

    I started cracking my knuckles 25 years ago. It was a bad habit then, still a bad habit – but I’ve found that my fingers are in actual discomfort if they aren’t cracked regularly – they stiffen and then if they bend, they crack automatically. It may be that she is at a similar point as me. I wish I’d never started, but it seems that I can’t actually stop. I’m sorry the sound bothers you so much, but it does seem like more misophonia than anything else.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I wonder if I’m the only one who loves doing it and don’t hope to stop…i crack often and I’ve had people reach out and physically touch me gently on the hand to get me stop in meetings. It’s okay to ask them to stop. They’ll try I bet!

      1. Mookie*

        I love doing it, need to do it very often in my line of work, but because it can annoy people I treat myself to a bout if it in private whenever I can. The upside is it’s quicker, comparatively quieter, and less messy than other fun, body-manipulating activities we ought to keep to ourselves and trusted loved ones.

      2. Flower*

        I have widespread chronic joint pain (since my early teens) and started cracking many/most of my joints after they each started developing regular pain. It relieves them *so much* and if my pain stopped and the cracking followed, that’d be great. But until the pain ceases, the regular cracking won’t. I do make an effort to keep the cracks quiet, muffled, or away from others and if someone tells me they don’t like it I try to avoid doing it around them – but sometimes it’s just critical and it *needs* to happen, and sometimes I drastically underestimate how loud a given crack/pop will be.

        As an interesting aside, my partner can actually tell when a single vertebral space that needs to pop didn’t in a given twist – if he rests a hand on my back while I’m twisting and not all need to pop but one that does didn’t, he can identify which one it is. I’m not sure what he’s feeling, but I’m feeling pressure and pain.

    2. SS Express*

      I don’t think it counts as misophonia if a huge number of people hate that sound (and if it does, it’s still against commenting rules to diagnose people), but I don’t see the logic there anyway. Your knuckle cracking should be accommodated because it’s a health issue and her hatred of that sound shouldn’t be accommodated because…it’s a health issue?

      1. Mommy MD*

        It’s not necessarily a health issue. I can’t even think of one case where it has been. Most times it’s a habit. And everything is not an ADA accommodation. I knew it was only a matter of time before this was brought up. You could also go in circles over this. It creates anxiety. Anxiety is a health condition. And on it goes. Sometimes things are just annoying habits.

        1. krysb*

          I believe there are now theories that knuckle cracking is a sign of future arthritis (not a cause of arthritis, but a sign of it). I would assume that the compulsion to crack your knuckles began not because of desire but because of some irritation. I only crack the knuckles on my middle fingers, which are also where my psoriasis attacks me when I’m not taking poison to prevent it, so that’s two strong signs that my middle fingers are going to suck in my later age.

        2. GQueen*

          For me it would be a health issue. I have OCD and as part of it, have a lot of nervous habits, including cracking most of my joints. I actually wrote a letter to Allison about it, because I worry it’s hurting me professionally. I have been to therapists about it, and taken medication, but at this point, knucklecracking isn’t even near to being my worst symptom and it’s unlikely I’m ever going to be able to stop it.

          1. JulieCanCan*

            Gosh. Are you me? The only difference is I haven’t written to Alison about it. I’m able to crack my knuckles behind closed doors but there are other compulsions of mine that prevent me from being able to wear certain articles of clothing because of what I’ve done to areas of my body that would freak the living eff out of people if they saw it (but are easily hidden, and when [always] hidden I look like the most boring/bland/”basic” person alive.)

            Please don’t take this the wrong way but it’s kind of nice knowing I’m not the only person dealing with this crap. It can be very isolating -and exhausting- if allowed to fester mentally, physically and psychologically.

      2. GT*

        I wasn’t diagnosing. She says she has mild misophonia in the last line of her letter. She can ask the knuckle cracker to stop, same as someone can ask a gum chewer, throat-clearer, hyena-laugher, or beverage slurper to stop. It doesn’t mean that they have to stop. If she wants, she can try for a medical accommodation and try to get a quiet workspace. Neither person seems to have grounds for a medical accommodation, it’s just workplace/people/interpersonal issues and quirks. If I were asked, I’d try to be more mindful, but my ability to type and write is going to come first over someone’s irritation at a sound that happens once per hour (per her letter).

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        “…and if it does, it’s still against commenting rules to diagnose people…”

        No one was diagnosing the OP. She said it herself:

        “…I will continue to cope with my mild misophonia and find ways to block the noise.”

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          It’s possible she’s just misusing the word to indicate hatred of a sound that is not that uncommon to hate. (I find it a step down from chalkboard screeching.)

      4. peachie*

        OP did say that they do have misophonia, though. Interestingly, some researchers did a study of people with and without misophonia where they played different categories of sound (linking in my name):

        They all rated the unpleasantness of different sounds, including common trigger sounds (eating and breathing), universally disturbing sounds (of babies crying and people screaming), and neutral sounds (such as rain). As expected, persons with misophonia rated the trigger sounds of eating and breathing as highly disturbing while those without it did not. Both groups rated the unpleasantness of babies crying and people screaming about the same, as they did the neutral sounds. This confirmed that the misophonic persons were far more affected by specific trigger sounds, but don’t differ much from others regarding other types of sounds.

        Misophonia is an odd little thing, especially since it seems so irrational. I have it for certain eating noises–thankfully, it’s not triggered very often, but when it is it’s the weirdest thing. I’m not a very angry person, but it’s like something snaps and I’m filled with fight-or-flight rage. It makes no sense. And I get annoyed with myself, because it really doesn’t make any sense and truly doesn’t make me think worse of the person who’s causing the sound. I spend a lot of time puttering, going to the bathroom, doing dishes, and talking a lot when I eat around certain people.

        1. peachie*

          All that’s to say that I recognize the way OP is describing their reaction to these sounds–it seems distinct from regular annoyance. (The “makes me what to stab my ears with a #2 pencil” is funny to me, because when I was a kid and couldn’t always get up during dinner, I used to snap pencils under the table to try to keep calm.)

          Also, I meant to quote this part, because I think it helps give context:

          The researchers also noted that persons with misophonia showed much greater physiological signs of stress (increased sweat and heart rate) to the trigger sounds of eating and breathing than those without it. No significant difference was found between the groups for the neutral sounds or the disturbing sounds of a baby crying or people screaming.

          This absolutely tracks for me. My heart rate, not exaggerating, doubles when I hear sounds like this; it’s not the same as regular-being-annoyed, which I also get. If this is similar to OP’s reaction, it’s kinda irrelevant whether or not cracking knuckles is acceptable public behavior (which, not gonna lie, I never thought about it until today). I wonder if OP could get their desk moved–it might sound “silly” to their manager, but honestly, the reaction isn’t going to go away so it might be worth it.

        2. Aitch Arr*


          My trigger sounds are knuckle and neck cracking and chewing.

          I love my partner to bits, but I’ve had to ask him to warn me in advance of a purposeful crack of joints, so I can leave the room.

      5. Close Bracket*

        > Your knuckle cracking should be accommodated because it’s a health issue and her hatred of that sound shouldn’t be accommodated because…it’s a health issue?

        Yes, the tone of “it does seem like more misophonia” is extremely dismissive. “Sure, it bothers you, but it’s just this minor thing that I clearly don’t understand the impact of having.”

    3. What’s with Today, today?*

      I’m the same with my back. If I don’t pop it regularly, it begins to ache. I know this will likely be unpopular, but I’d find the request unreasonable.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        Yes but you can step to the bathroom and do that. It needn’t be in the office or cube.

        1. What's with Today, today?*

          Yes, but stepping to the bathroom to pop my back seems ridiculous. It’s just really not that big of deal.

          1. What's with Today, today?*

            Popping is akin to stretching. It’s normal. It doesn’t smell and there is no reason it should be done in a bathroom.

            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

              Think of it as being kind to your suffering co workers. It’s an easy courtesy. Nail clipping doesn’t smell either but it’s frowned on. Same with adjusting underwear.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Stretching or popping your back is not the same as grooming, nose-picking or touching clothing that is on areas of the body that are considered inappropriate to touch in public. Drawing a false equivalency is going to make a knuckle-cracker retrench, and it will increase OP’s adverse reaction.

            2. strawmeatloaf*

              I didn’t know stretching made loud noises while doing it.

              Have I been stretching wrong this whole time?!

        2. Rumbakalao*

          As other commenters have mentioned, sometimes just the act of moving after sitting at a desk for a long period of time will set off the cracking and popping even if it’s not intentional. I don’t agree that it’s reasonable to ask the coworker to have to get up and go elsewhere however many times a day this happens. Also, there are many offices where going to and from the restroom can take a long time (needing to get a key or passcode, or it’s located on another floor or in another building) and this way not even be feasible just in terms of productivity lost.

          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

            OP isn’t bothered by the unintentional. It’s the deliberate knuckle cracking.

        3. bonkerballs*

          I would have to live in the bathroom then. Every joint in my body cracks. I crack my knuckles, my wrists, my elbows, my hips, my knees, my ankles, my neck, my back. It’s a bummer that it’s something that annoys people. I can be sympathetic to that. I’m also not going to go to the bathroom to do it.

        4. Flower*

          If my back is in bad enough need of a crack, no I can’t. Not without hobbling badly, moving very slowly, catching a lot of weird looks, and having actual difficulty bending down to pick up the keycard I need to get back into the workspace. I’m in my early 20s. I’ve have chronic joint pain since my early teens. My original diagnosis (of a form of early-onset arthritis mostly affecting the spine) has been rescinded recently so I’m diagnosis-less again, but the pain, stiffness, and means of relief are still the same.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Yeah, I agree. LW said coworker does it once an hour. I sit next to a squeaky copier that is used constantly all day long so I guess I am not feeling all that sympathetic about something that happens infrequently and lasts about 2 seconds. To me, that just seems like a normal workplace annoyance and not something that should be mentioned to the coworker.

      3. Bunny Girl*

        Yeah same here. I was in an accident last year and it damaged my back, neck, and shoulder. I swear every time I get up I sound like a barrel of fireworks. I don’t really sit near anyone, so I hope I’m not bothering anyone, but honestly if I don’t crack my back/neck once in a while, it really hurts.

      1. Genny*

        I hate it as much as I hate the sound of gum chewing (which is to say, I hate it a lot). I actually find the sound quite distressing and it makes me physically uncomfortable when people purposefully crack their joints. Oddly, it’s less physically uncomfortable when the cracking happens unintentionally.

    4. Could be Anyone*

      My fingers get stuff when typing, especially in a cold office (and they’re always cold, aren’t they?). I really don’t think I could do anything to stop myself from subconsciously cracking my knuckles periodically.

  3. Greg NY*

    #3: For what it’s worth, you don’t have an employee who you promoted who is doing badly in that position, you just have someone who no longer wants to be in it. That won’t reflect nearly as poorly on you. You didn’t make a mistake in promoting him, he (not even you) just realized that it’s a bad fit. And really, you aren’t in any worse a position than you previously were, because you didn’t have anyone on staff who could assume that role. You can start from where you would’ve started if he didn’t get the degree, whether it’s you getting the certification or trying to hire someone from the outside. He’s a good employee and has been honest, so this shouldn’t be a big deal. Just work on a transition plan with him and ask him to stay in that role until a replacement is ready, and then he can go back to the building role he likes. He could also mentor some of the designers, and share the workload for the time being. This is a piece of cake compared to a problem employee or an ineffective one.

    I also wouldn’t refer to this as a “demotion”. A promotion is made on merit, and a demotion is also made on merit (not doing a good job). This is a bad fit for his likes and dislikes, not a bad job being done.

    1. Jasnah*

      Good point! It’s not like you picked the wrong person, they just changed their interest so it’s not a reflection on your judgment.

    2. Unreal*

      Can’t OP also transition this worker out of the job- ask them to cover the role for the time period it takes for OP to get the online certificate, it seems silly for this person after only a couple of days to say they hate the role when they completed a masters in it – how did they not know at multiple stages that they wouldn’t enjoy this job? Why did they agree to do it? Why did they finish the masters? I think OP should get more clarity on what exactly they don’t like about the role and whether it can be mitigated. But also in any role you’d have to give notice, and this worker expects to keep their original role – so I think you can ask them to cover at least the month while you get the certificate.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        I’ve got to agree. Finding out why your employee hates the work is a big deal here. For example, is there someone he has to work with who he didn’t work with before and that person is difficult? Maybe some issue of documentation or paperwork? It would suck to see him quit and become your competitions teakettle prototyper because you didn’t find out what the problems were.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I don’t think it is a few days,is it? He completed the Masters a year ago, and has asked to step down from the role a few days ago.
        I do agree that it would be worth talking to him about the specific elements of the job he is struggling with, and also explore whether he would be willing to continue to over it for a transition period . OP can then go to their boss with a clear plan involving them doing the certification, a transition period and the employee returning to their previous role in a planned way.

        1. sunny-dee*

          He may not like the work. I had a cousin who went to law school and absolutely despises being a lawyer. She just does not like the work, but with over $100,000 in student loans, she didn’t really have a choice about not doing it. But it isn’t like there’s a fixable aspect to it; it’s just not a career option that she likes.

      3. EPLawyer*

        I third (fourth?) talking to him about what he doesn’t like. Not in an effort to talk him into staying in the role, but just to see what is up. Even if you transition him out, it will be helpful for the next person in the role.

        For transitioning him out, give him a firm deadline. Don’t ask if he can stick it out a little longer while you work on the transition. We don’t want him writing in a year saying “they said they would transition me out of a role I hate, and I am still in it.” giving him a firm deadline will help him soldier through until he can be transitioned out.

        It happens. I don’t think this looks badly on you because it shows you actually MANAGE your people. You found a career path for him. It didn’t work out, now you are readjusting to have a functioning team with good morale.

        P.S. Go get the certificate. At the very least it will help you assess future candidates for the role.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Adding to the chorus of finding out what he hates about it. What I picked up on was the company hadn’t had a prototyper before, so that makes me think the problem could be with your processes rather than the role itself.

          1. samiratou*

            Agreed. Particularly the comment about the designers would remove handles because it looks cleaner. If he’s spending all of his time arguing with designers as to why handles really are necessary on teapots (or whatever), I can see that being a serious drag.

            1. Assistant (to the) regional manager*

              Also, maybe since the words being used are promotion and demotion, perhaps he expected a pay raise. Or maybe this new role means more hours (if he is the only one to do it vs. being part of a team of kettle builders) for the same pay. Could be it’s not the job in itself, but the remuneration of it.

      4. Tardigrade*

        Can’t OP also transition this worker out of the job- ask them to cover the role for the time period it takes for OP to get the online certificate,

        That’s what I was thinking, that or have him cover until they can hire in a prototyper.

      5. AnotherAlison*

        I came here to say the same thing. I apparently make the same mistakes repeatedly. In my company, I have taken on brand new roles three times — one I created, one I applied for, and one I was asked to do. The duties, hierarchy, and career path were poorly defined every time, which I really hate. I’m enticed by the work, but the way the job functions makes me miserable. It could be the growing pains of defining a new role, rather than hating the work. Definitely get to the root of what he doesn’t like!

      6. beth*

        This was my thought. OP, asking your employee to cover it for another month while you get ready to take over the role (or find someone else for it, if your workload can’t be adjusted to make time for it even if you get certified) is pretty reasonable, and much less likely to send him job hunting than asking him to stay in the role indefinitely would. And that way you do keep coverage on the role, which it sounds like you need, and which will help prevent any damage to your reputation.

        On a separate note…Unreal, it looks like this employee has been in the role for about a year, not a couple days. That’s definitely long enough to assess if it’s a good fit. It does sometimes happen that someone thinks they’ll love something, gets a degree in it, and only realizes it’s a bad fit once they’re working in it–school is different from work (unless you’re in a field like academia where the line inevitably blurs at some point, but that’s not the case for most people), and there are some things you can’t know until you try it. This situation isn’t ideal, but I really don’t think it’s because the employee is being ‘silly’–it just hasn’t worked out, which happens.

        1. Been There, Done That*

          Yes! Years ago, I heard a man talking about being unhappy in his field and saying he was stuck in it “because 20 years ago an 18-year-old thought this would be a cool thing to do.” I applaud OP; I was once in the same situation and blamed myself for not being happy in a field I had aspired to, gotten educated in, finally found a job in, and disliked actually doing.

    3. Demotion-question-haver*

      Hi! Thank you, all. My report and I have had numerous conversations about why he doesn’t want to stay in this position. I asked if it was the clients (no), the people he worked with in this capacity (no), was it too hard (no). He just doesn’t like prototyping; he doesn’t find it as personally rewarding or engaging as building.

      Some perspective on my part has also been really helpful; I’m supposed to meet with my boss this afternoon for a regular catch-up, and plan to bring this up at that time. I think the way I’m going to introduce it is not, “There’s a problem I need to talk to you about!” but rather, “There’s an issue about the division of responsibility in my department that I’d like to talk about, but I have a plan…”

      1. Observer*

        Gaining perspectiv is always good. And having a plan in place is definitely a good thing. As annoying as this is, you’re in a pretty good place.

        I would suggest asking him two things. Having been in the role, what does he think you should be looking for in a person to fill the role and what does he think would improve the process and job. After all, it’s a new job so the likelihood of it being a perfect job is pretty close to zero.

      2. Clay on My Apron*

        In my line of work, teapot builders are often drawn to the adjacent role of prototyping. The prototyping process requires research, analysis and design and many people find it exciting. However most companies don’t understand the prototyping role and don’t want to invest in the process, so the prototyper is forced to take shortcuts, not follow the process they’ve been taught and the work is far less rewarding than expected, with sometimes poor quality outputs.

        If I haven’t guessed correctly at the OPs field, this may make no sense at all, but if my guess is correct it could shed some light on the problem.

      3. KimberlyR*

        Keep in mind that if you come up with a timeframe on when to transition him out of prototyping, you need to stick with it! I’ve been stuck in limbo where I was supposed to transition into or out of a role and they left me there way longer than I wanted. He’ll eventually quit. You sound like a conscientious boss who wouldn’t deliberately do this, but if your uppers stall, it can happen. If you get the greenlight to let him transition out of that role, give him the timeframe and (assuming he agrees), stick with it and you’ll be able to retain your excellent employee.

      4. giraffe*

        If it helps you to think about it this way, this whole situation illustrates that you’re a great boss and doing a lot of things right already. He obviously trusts you and wants to continue working with you! I’ve been in slightly similar situations before as the report, but felt unable to approach my boss with my concerns — I just left for a new job without admitting it wasn’t a good fit. Trust your instincts; they’ve been serving you well thus far.

    4. BradC*

      Regarding a transition plan, I’m wondering if OP #3 could have the employee return to his original job as builder but retain the role of “design sanity checker” for the teapot designs with no handles coming out of the design team?

      But since we’re only talking in abstract analogies, I can’t say whether this role split would work in practice, nor do I know if it would make employee happy, but its an intermediate step worth discussing.

    5. Decima Dewey*

      It sounds like the employee gave the position a fair shot, realized it wasn’t for them, and approached OP for a change. There are people who discover the hard way they really don’t want to manage people, fore example, and that getting away from doing that is best for them. Plan for a transition, but let the employee have the “demotion” before they have a nervous breakdown.

      1. Demotion-question-haver*

        This — “employee gave the position a fair shot, realized it wasn’t for them, and approached OP for a change” — is a pretty good summary of what happened.

        The plan that I’m going to pitch to my boss, for what it’s worth, is this — I’m going to pursue a professional certification online, to be completed by the end of the year. Beginning in January, we’ll start transitioning the prototyping responsibilities from report to me. I’ve discussed this timeline with my report, and he’s happy with it. I also like the idea of making part of his transitional role the “design sanity checker,” and it was a scenario we discussed. However, he is not interested in having that be part of his role long-term, so it’s strictly going to be part of the transition plan while I get comfortable in the prototyping role.

        1. sunny-dee*

          That sounds like a really good and fair approach.

          Don’t beat yourself up over this (or blame your employee). Sometimes you just can’t know if something is a good fit or not until you’re actually in it. It’s why we have dating. :)

  4. Aphrodite*

    OP #1, I think Alison’s suggestions for responses are good. Let me tell you that professional organizers, in my area, charge around $40-$80 per hour and for good reason. It’s hard, emotionally and physically, more so on the organizer because you have to be the leader and keep the momentum going.

    I was a professional organizer/de-clutterer for about three years. In all that time, I had only one client who was a joy to work with. She was determined to clean out her office–she was a small publisher and had a lot of paperwork–and with my help she did. We went at it for three 8-hour days. By the end we were both completely worn out, but her office was much cleaner and far more organized. I took two carloads of papers to the recycling center.

    Every other client was … less so. They thought they wanted organizational help but they had a harder time letting go. We got so much less done because they couldn’t make a decision or wanted to think about it. It’s very, very difficult to work with such clients. When I finally decided I couldn’t do it any more, I was insistent that I wouldn’t help “one last time.” I was burned out. My office job by comparison is easy.

    So do not let her or him talk you into this. Don’t let them persuade or threaten you into this. I agree with Alison that this goes far beyond professional boundaries so for that reason alone you must be firm about your no.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Totally agree. I once allowed myself to be taken advantage of by a single dad who owned a b&b next door to his home. Cleaned his kid’s room while he played video games. Still resent my boss and am still angry at myself.

      1. valentine*

        OP1: Saying no will be easier than recovering from this gross couple taking advantage of you, hurting your reputation, and not paying you enough/properly, including from their personal, not business, accounts. People who want to spring dirty socks on you don’t follow with 40+% for taxes.

    2. Ender Wiggin*

      I like Alisons idea of OP saying she would charge more for that type of work. OP, you could point out to your boss that that type of work is clearly outside of the scope of the internship, that professional organisers charge $40+ an hour, but that you are willing to do it for $30/hr (or whatever amount you would actually do it for). Be prepared to haggle a bit but I bet you will end up with a nice little earner for yourself!

      1. The Original K.*

        If she does it, she should charge full market value and bill for it separately. However, I’m leaning towards a firm no because I’m getting a strong “give an inch, take a mile” vibe from the letter and I suspect if she does it, she’ll be detailing her boss’s AND his wife’s cars in no time.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Oh for real. I mean, boss wife is already at the phase of borrowing an intern from her husband’s company to use as a maid. The OP should make zero assumptions about these people’s ethics, good sense, or basic decency. And OP will totally be doing house cleaning. Calling it “professional organizing” smells to high heaven. That’s what people say when they don’t intend to pay you “because it’s really good experience for you.”

      2. Genny*

        I wouldn’t suggest this at all. Professional organizers need to have the ability to tell the clients what they don’t want to hear. These people are never going to see LW as someone who as that standing. She’ll just be the intern we hired to tidy up the place. The potential for this to create hard feelings, which could then torch her reference from the company, is high enough that the money she’d earned from the organizing job wouldn’t be worth it.

        1. Student*

          This here. You can’t be a professional organizer for the boss because the power dynamic is wrong. What they want from you is just straight up housekeeping. Don’t do it. No internship is far better than an “internship” that is just a grossly underpaid cleaning gig.

      3. Kes*

        I actually think that telling them that is risky, that it implies the problem is just that OP is unhappy with what they’re being paid/feel they’re not paid enough for this, when really the problem is that it’s outside of the scope of their work (which should be at work, not personal organizing at their boss’s house), and OP quite reasonably doesn’t want to cross that boundary.

    3. NotoriousMCG*

      Came here for this. I hired a professional organizer to help me organize my house and then again to help me pack to move to grad school. She cost $60/hour and was WORTH IT.

    4. Piper*

      This. And you were an actual professional with the authority brought by your credentials, which is essential when gently (or more firmly) convincing clients they have to make decisions. This is the intern. They have no authority.
      OP1: If the wife is the kind who thinks this is appropriate and not a power play/exploitation, and who on top of that figures organizing clutter is something anybody can do, she’ll probably have very little respect for your opinions if it comes to conflict as to what to throw out or how to clean or just plain needing to hurry up to be efficient. If you accept to keep the peace, you may well be shooting yourself in the foot (as in, if the wife ends up unhappy).

      It might be worth approaching it with unreasonable boss in terms of decluttering other people’s spaces being an actual job, that you don’t feel you have the authority to tell your boss’s wife what she should let go of and what she should keep, and that he and his wife would be much happier with professional help.
      But in any case, you should do your best to refuse.
      This blows, I’m sorry.

      1. Miso*

        It doesn’t really sound like the wife wants OP to tell her what to throw away though anyway…?
        I could be wrong obviously, but I’d think she just wants another pair of hands because it’s so much work. Now, I’d still never do it and it’s ridiculous to think you can use your husband’s intern for something like that, but I’m pretty sure the “no authority” argument wouldn’t work at all.

        1. Genny*

          A lot of times people ask for organizing help when what they really need to is de-cluttering help. They have too much stuff and no organizational system in the world will effectively keep the place tidy. There’s a reason the spaces aren’t functioning properly. Having worked with a family member in the professional organizing business, I can’t tell you the amount of people who are shocked when we tell them the reason their clothes are all over the floor is because their dress is so packed there’s nowhere to put the clean clothes. They thought they just needed a better organizational system when they really needed to get rid of stuff.

        2. Heather O'Sullivan*

          Cleaning out, sorting, installing systems (probably also designing based on this description, especially the drop zone and the office)… all of this is what I do as a professional organizer. Also all of this takes WAY more than 3 days. It’s exhausting work. Rewarding if you like that stuff, and getting paid for it. But nothing I’d do for free. Hell I don’t even do work for my friends for free (we may barter work however.)

    5. RUKiddingMe*

      It seems to me that they want to take advantage of the intern, the person at the absolute bottom of the pecking order in order to get personal stuff taken care of. Additionally I would bet money that if they are paying for it they are planning to pay only at her intern rate of pay.

      1. coconut oil*

        I bet they are taking advantage of more than just the intern. They never said it was a one time thing or was in any way apologetic, and they didn’t even ease her in by having her pick up dry cleaning. I am betting they use the office and office staff like a personal staff. If OP stays which I am guessing when she says no they are going to let her go, I think she is going to find a lot of this type of stuff going on.

        1. Rumbakalao*

          I would encourage this OP to mention the “added job duties” in a Glassdoor review to caution any future interns. Unless these people are looking to become professional organizers or maids- which considering they’d be applying for an internship in what seems to be a completely different field- they probably won’t get what they’re looking for out of their time with this company.

          1. JulieCanCan*

            I was thinking OP could do a little research and maybe print out 3-4 examples of actual professional organizers (just the home page of their websites), with the hourly pay written in the corner (“$50/hr”) if it’s not included on the printout. OP could either hand them over to boss as a favor and say “I don’t think I can do the work, but I found some good, highly rated options for you online” OR, if OP actually wants to try it out, use the the professionals’ details and say “I did some research and believe that if I’m going to be working as an organizer in your home, I’d like to be paid $50/hour minimum, which is more in line what professional home organizers earn.”

            But if OP has zero desire to help the boss’s wife with cleaning their home (totally understandable!), either handing over or emailing a few names of professional organizers in their area to the boss would be a good way of saying “that’s not really my thing, but I’m happy to help you find an appropriate professional to do the work it sounds like you need help with.”

      2. Tardigrade*

        Yeah, it just seems so unfortunately common to take advantage of interns in this kind of way. I wonder if there are any other interns that OP could consult with to see if they’ve been asked similar things, or the employees themselves as coconut oil suggests.

        1. Kat in VA*

          I thought this was the case too. I found out that at my company, they pay interns in my department the equivalent of $40k a year (over three months, obviously, but the hourly rate is around $20/hour).

          I was astonished, to say the least.

    6. Kuododi*

      Oh sweetie…my beloved sister is a credentialed professional organizer. She specializes in elder care. She works with families who need help organizing/downsizing their older family member either to move to a smaller residence, or some kind of assisted living/nursing home facility. She loves what she does but will be the first to tell you that to successfully accomplish this type of job she has to be part “Mary Poppins” and part “Drill Sargent!” (Fortunately, that’s right in her wheelhouse!).

      I am sympathetic to working in offices with low budget and minimal $$ for extras such as a cleaning service. I’ve certainly done my time on plenty of clinics staff sign up sheet to help take out trash etc. If a supervisor, or clinic director (much less a spouse!!!) asked me to come over to their home and clean, organize… whatever….I think I’d pop a blood vessel. This is crossing way too many boundaries and is a set up for a big problem.

      I’d echo the other suggestions to use Alison’s scripts for jumping off points in your discussions to quickly nip this in the bud as quickly as possible. If not…find out the market rates for organizers in your area and set a fair hourly rate for this task (in writing of course). Best wishes and please keep us posted on how it goes!!!

      1. PhyllisB*

        This may be addressed further down because I haven’t read all the comments, but refusing to do this will probably have consequences. Why has no one advised her to reach out to her intern coordinator (not sure of the exact title, but whoever at her college that sends out interns to this company?) I’m sure they would not want their interns to be doing this type of work. If I understand the concept of internship correctly, the interns get credit for successfully completing an internship. How can they give credit for doing personal household chores?

        1. Artemesia*

          This. The internship coordinator should step in and forbid this taking the heat off the intern if this is a for credit experience. A certain amount of scut work around the office comes with the territory although an internship should be much more than that, so if the only work is scut work then a new internship is in order. But this intern should absolutely draw a bright line between personal service work and professional work. And the coordinator should help her do it if necessary.

          1. Fergus*

            she is an intern at the office, not a personal assistant, she should say no and let her co-coordinator definitely be in the loop. This should be a NO, NO , and F#CK NO moment.

        2. OP1*

          OP here – I graduated 3 years ago, so I received this internship through my own job search. We don’t even have an HR department here, we’re so small.

          1. Anna*

            Am I way off base to think this is a job being titled internship so they can pay you less? I haven’t really heard of internships that are offered for people who are not still in college or right out of college and trying to get some experience.

          2. Fergus*

            at this point you should be working not interning, interning is for school credit. There is no school credit, and low pay, and they want you to clean their house. RUN NOW

            1. OP1*

              True, but it’s because I was trying to get my foot in the marketing field, which is a huge career change from the work I was doing before. I’ve found that the marketing world here is chock full of paid internship positions.

              That said, I am applying for new jobs as we speak.

      2. Mrs. D*

        “find out the market rates for organizers in your area and set a fair hourly rate for this task (in writing of course)”

        Absolutely get EVERYTHING in writing and signed by your boss. However, I’m not sure I would want to consider actually doing the organizing, regardless of whether or not they would pay more. These people don’t strike me as particularly honest, and I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for them to stiff you in the end or find another way to take advantage of you (like drawing out the project for 10 days instead of just the estimated 3).

        Honestly, you may be better off giving this a hard “no.”

    7. VintageLydia*

      I charge about $50/hr and I’m the cheapest in my region (currently not taking any new clients but when I do I’m definitely raising my prices, too.) The CEOs wife is WAY out of line. There is a reason this work is expensive to hire out. It’s the most emotionally exhausting job I’ve had.

    8. EPLawyer*

      Not to mention the power dynamics here. If you are an independent professional organizer, you have standing to direct the organizing. Here, you can’t really tell the Boss’s wife that the moth eaten clothes that her child took his first steps in need to GO.

      They see free/low cost help not an intern. Next thing you know you will be asked to pick up the kids after school and watch them. This is not what you signed up — unless you are interning to be a nanny.

    9. Falling Diphthong*

      Great FSM, this comment resonates so much. I have been organizing one room at a time on long weekends when I visit my parents, and it is grueling and exhausting. And much easier when they aren’t in the room.

      My mom, as we sorted bedroom clutter: “This plastic spork is still in a sealed plastic wrapper! It could be useful.”
      Me: *as soon as your back is turned, it’s going in this trash bag*

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        My mom is *just* like that, she keeps anything and everything. When an elderly relative passed away, my mom and I cleaned out her apartment. I raced over early in the morning the day of the cleaning (my mom gets up late) with a box of trash bags and just threw so much stuff away and by the time my mom got there I had made 10 trips to the dumpster already. I knew my mom would agonize over every little item, so I made sure to get in before her to toss all the junk, even the still wrapped sporks.

        1. Marthooh*

          Hey, those mint-condition sporks are gonna be worth something someday!

          * Broods lovingly over collection of still-wrapped plasticware.*

    10. MK*

      While I agree that the OP’s manager and his wife are out of line to ask her to do this, I think this whole thread might not be relevant. It’s not clear to me that the wife wants the OP to do the work of a professional organizer or simply to help her with the grunt work.

      1. WellRed*

        Yes, the wife is taking advantage, which has me wondering just how reasonable the boss is. I am guessing, not very and this is simply the most egregious example.

        1. Fergus*

          The wife has no say to ask for squat, she is no one to you and if it was me I would definitely let the intern co-coordinator know ASAP

    11. kittymommy*

      I would also not assume they plan on paying you (LW). When I was in school I’ve actually done side work for bosses and co-workers, eery single time, the other person introduced it as “I know this isn’t something that’s part of your job,… feel free to say no….. here’s what we are looking to pay you, would that be acceptable?” If nothing like this happened, your boss, and his wife, may just be thinking of the LW as free labor since she’s an intern and this is part of her internship work.

      1. Old Biddy*

        I assumed that boss and wife would have her be paid by the company for personal work at their house. The CFO at my former company was infamous for doing this.

    12. Dr. Pepper*

      I’ve helped relatives clean out their junk and ohhhhhh boyyyy there is no way I’d be doing that for anything other than A LOT of money for someone I wasn’t close to. It’s hard. Not just physically moving stuff around, but the emotions involved. To you, it’s just stuff; to them, it’s their personal things, each with their own memories and stories attached. It’s a far easier job when you have free rein to keep or throw away anything you find, and a herculean task when you’re just there essentially to be a mule carrying stuff around while they emotionally labor over ever decision.

    13. General Ginger*

      I’ll admit, when I first read this question, my immediate thought was, “my grandboss asks the facilities manager to do stuff like this all the time, why does everyone think it’s weird or shouldn’t be done”, and then I remembered I work in, let’s nicely say, an “off-beat” environment. Small businesses are unfortunately, often like this.

    14. Salamander*

      There’s the added risk, in this situation, if something is discarded or comes up missing (even if it isn’t really – boss and his wife sound unreasonable), that the LW is going to get into hot water for it. These folks have no boundaries, and I’m sure that if a paper in the wife’s office got misplaced or a kid’s favorite stuffie winds up in the closet, LW will be getting an angry call after hours. This is not a good situation.

      1. Kbell*

        ^this for sure.

        There are SO many things wrong with this and I would be calling this an “oh HELL no” moment. Cleaning the boss’s house is absolutely not related to either the marketing field in general, or the success of this company specifically and is about 400 miles past the line of acceptable requests of staff.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        I worked for a woman who had no boundaries. The office was in her home building and once or twice she had me do things like sort stuff in the basement. I was on the clock and paid my regular hourly rate.
        A few times she had me go into her personal house – behind the building with the office – and I was *so* uncomfortable, I tiptoed and whispered. Just to get something or check something, I was never there more than a few minutes.
        She would call me and my colleague after hours and yell at us. Once she called at 10:30 am on a Sunday and yelled at us for something we didn’t do. After that I didn’t pick up her calls. If I’d let her, she would have ruined my life. I agree OP should be firm about these boundaries.
        The only thing is, as someone upthread mentioned, they might fire OP if s/he says no. OP should be prepared for that. I was lucky, I set boundaries and didn’t get fired. Awful as she was, my former boss did seem to try to be professional.

    15. Not A Morning Person*

      This reminds me of a saying my coworker has about consulting “never work harder than the client.” Words to live by.

  5. Greg NY*

    #4: You can certainly try, but I would be prepared to be unsuccessful. Cracking your knuckles is like eating with your mouth open or speaking loudly on a phone call. They’re behaviors that have become a habit over time and are difficult to break. I admit it’s really annoying to have to be subjected to any of that. Consider taking all your phone calls elsewhere (such as a conference room) if possible, and asking for others to email or IM you to ask questions so you don’t have to take off your headphones to field questions at your desk.

    1. Mommy MD*

      No. She should not have to leave her desk for phone calls and plug her ears all day. The Crackler can also make an effort. ALL her phone calls elsewhere?

      1. What’s with Today, today?*

        You’ve posted this or something similar on almost every thread. We get it, you don’t like it. But popping is not like burping, farting or the other things you’ve described. There is nothing wrong with it. I would never go to a stinky bathroom to pop my back, and would tell anyone that made such a request they were being unreasonable. Popping ones knuckles, neck or back is not a big deal.

        1. strawmeatloaf*

          I guess I don’t get it. I would equate burping with knuckle cracking. Both make noises that are just really really really not nice to listen to. There’s nothing wrong with burping or farting or knuckle cracking, but they are all pretty rude overall.

          I mean, I even hear the “burping” noise in songs nowadays and it makes me nauseous.

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I don’t think it’s anything like either of things–at all. Knuckle cracking becomes required for most. Chewing with one’s mouth open, like most true habits, is absolutely a breakable one unless it’s due to a deviated septum or the like.

          1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

            Hmm. It gets to where it’s ‘physically uncomfortable’ not to pee but she’s not doing that at her desk!

            1. TechWorker*

              Aha +1

              I’m absolutely on the side of OP here, knuckle cracking makes me feel physically sick. I could probably deal if it was someone a while away but if the person sat next to me started doing it is have a serious problem. I don’t think it falls into the category of things that it’s reasonable to assume are fine to do at your desk.

            2. Agatha's Biggest Fan*

              Mhm, but peeing is not a habit. It is a biological necessity. Knuckle-cracking is a habit. I don’t think we can really compare the two.

              1. Blue Eagle*

                But I don’t want either done at the desk next to mine. Would it be too much to ask for the knuckle-cracker go to the bathroom to crack their knuckles?

                1. Rosemary*

                  Yes, it absolutely is too much to ask. Would you ask someone to go to the bathroom to clear their throat? to clean their glasses? to yawn?

                  I’m sorry that you’re inconvenienced by the fact that your coworkers live in physical bodies.

                2. Yorick*

                  Yes. We get potty-trained so we have advanced notice that we will need to urinate and we have a room designed specifically to do it in. Knuckle cracking is something that you often don’t even notice when you do, and even if you felt it coming it would be disruptive to walk to a bathroom to go do it.

                3. fposte*

                  @Rosemary–it’s about the noise and the frequency. If they’re loudly clearing their throat/passing wind/burping/cracking their knuckles multiple times a day every day, that’s an issue for co-workers, and it’s on the person causing the issue to help mitigate it. That doesn’t mean that the assumption is that they can simply stop it, but they don’t get to say “makes me feel good so too bad, so sad for the rest of you,” either.

                4. What’s with Today, today?*

                  Yes! I’m not going to a space that likely has an odor to do something that isn’t bad or gross! No way I’m going to the bathroom to pop my back. It wouldn’t work anyway. I need leverage to pop it, so I use the arm of a chair to hold onto.

                5. JHunz*

                  If everyone in every company went to the bathroom every time they needed to do something that would be mildly annoying to their coworkers, the inconvenience of never being able to get into the bathroom when you need to use it for its intended purpose would drastically outweigh any of the other inconveniences listed in any of the threads on this page.

                  The bathroom has an intended purpose. It’s not a meeting room, a private knuckle-cracking area, a place to use the telephone, a place to spread your makeup across 3 sinks for 20 minutes every morning. It’s a place for people to relieve their biological necessities when they need to, and sometimes that need is extremely urgent.

        1. JulieCanCan*

          If you crack your knuckles it’s because they’re stiff and achey from, well, cracking your knuckles. Or because you use your hands for work, or other reasons. It’s absolutely a physical need. I don’t think anyone is debating that.

          When pressure builds in your joints the only way to relieve the pressure and release the stiffness is to crack your knuckles.

          If you don’t already crack your knuckles, this won’t be a physical need. Only those who crack their knuckles need to crack their knuckles.

          1. JulieCanCan*

            Sorry I was replying to the person who questioned knuckle cracking as being a physical need. Believe me, it is.

            1. Kat in VA*

              I started out with arthritis in two fingers at the ripe old age of 14. It’s progressed to most of my fingers now. Sometimes cracking them is the ONLY thing that will loosen them up and ease the pain. If my coworker complained, I’d try to keep it to a minimum, but I type – a lot.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Knuckle cracking is not required. It’s a habit that becomes a compulsion for some people. With enough willpower, you can stop doing it. Look into stretches that will give a similar – but silent – feeling of relief.

        1. Dankar*

          I have poor joints and hyper-extended ligaments in my hips, which leads to loud (and painful) pops when I shift position. There is no silent relief for some of us.

          I’m lucky enough to have an office, so I can avoid cracking my joints in front of others. If I didn’t (and even if I cut down on my compulsive knuckle-cracking), I would still make noise at least a few times a day.

          1. Annie Moose*

            That doesn’t appear to be the letter writer’s situation, so I’m not sure that this is helpful. Sure, if their coworker has some sort of medical reason why their joints pop a lot, that’s one thing, but LW’s description makes it sound very much like this isn’t “their joints crack when they move sometimes”, but rather “they are actively cracking their knuckles and other joints”.

            1. Dankar*

              I guess my point (and others’ up and down this thread) is that most joint-popping is an office noise that happens for a variety of reasons, some medical and others just comfort-related. OP’s coworker is doing some really over the top stuff, like cracking her neck and back during conversations, and that’s what she should push back against.

              I also wanted to point out that stretching is not a silver bullet for everyone, which is what it seemed Ann was suggesting.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Yeah so I have RSI, I have stretches that my physical therapist gave me, and I also crack my knuckles. Those are two entirely different kinds of relief, and the stretches alone wouldn’t work to keep me out of pain and working all day. I’ve tried. Unless you’re a physical therapist that is literally working with every single person who cracks their knuckles, you really don’t have the authority to say whether it is or isn’t required, or can or cannot be replaced by stretches.

        1. Anna*

          And where? This is getting into a weird “my comfort is more important than yours” area when there’s a middle ground to be had.

  6. Lacroix*

    OP #1 – Question – Would you actually be willing to do this for 3-4 days if you were paid the appropriate premium for what an arm’s length employee would get? If so, you may wish to approach it by saying to your boss : “I think we both know that a contractor would charge $x for this work. If you really want me to help, how about we compromise and I’ll assist for (say) $x-10%.” That means you are not literally ‘refusing’, but you are also showing that you will be not be taken advantage of.

    1. Sara M*

      I think that would go badly. Because the pro organizers are usually experienced and worth the salary they request. The intern might have a knack for organizing, but that’s not the same thing.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          Yeah, saying one will do it, but for an extra fee, is weird. An intern has an ongoing arrangement with an organization, and this doesn’t fit in with that.

          If the intern did the job, the organization would be sponsoring the boss’s household. If they did it for an extra fee, the organization would still be sponsoring the boss + the intern would be earning extra money during a time they should really be doing their internship.

          Don’t respond to a weird and unprofessional request with an even weirder and less professional suggestion, OP!

        2. Willis*

          I agree with this. It didn’t sound like OP was interested in doing the organizing work, so why even bring up the idea of doing it for $X amount of money? This boss seems to have trouble with boundaries, and I think the way to react to that is by setting a firm boundary using Alison’s script, not by trying to negotiate a way to accommodate the weird situation he suggested.

    2. MLB*

      I wouldn’t go there. It’s wildly inappropriate to ask her to organize his home. When people say they shouldn’t have to do something because it’s not their job, my response is that is falls under “other duties as assigned”. This does NOT fall under that category. She needs to use Alison’s scripts and just say no.

  7. ABK*

    Regarding #1: Can we have an ask the readers post about terrible ways bosses have treated interns? The complement to the “terrible intern” stories?

    1. Blue Bird*

      I’m all for it. I understand interns often violate work norms and stories about them can be hilarious, but I feel it’s time to even the playing field.

    2. Friday afternoon fever*

      Oh for sure!! Maybe even comment asking for stories in today’s open thread? Good lord, I saw managers do some infuriating things when I worked with interns.

    3. ElspethGC*

      I’m 100% here for this thread, not least because it’ll be useful for people to go “…wait, the way my boss treats me is considered wrong?” I’ve seen so many people (not necessarily interns, but people low on the food chain) put up with being treated terribly because they think it’s part of the job, myself included.

  8. Circe*

    I have super loose joints and they crack and pop pretty often, and that’s including my fingers, hands and wrists. Sometimes I pop my knuckles on purpose, but I try to take regular stretch breaks at my desk and sometimes stretching/rolling my wrists results in the popping sound. I’m occasionally embarrassed by it, but I’d also like to stave off carpal tunnel, so… if it bugs any of my coworkers, I’d hope they’d bring it up, but also understand.

    1. Sami*

      Plenty of my joints crack inadvertently far more frequently than I’d like. And sometimes I have to do it myself due to arthritis.
      Sure, sometimes I can hold off, but it’s painful.

      1. Les G*

        Sure, that happens to me and most of us born before this millennium from time to time, but this isn’t what the OP is describing. Deliberate, one-by-one cracking =/= inadvertent, can’t help it one-off, either in intent or effect.

      2. BookishMiss*

        Same – I have multiple chronic injuries that means that my joints crack frequently. My knee will slide out of alignment and, if I want to keep walking, I have to slide it back in. My shoulders crack on their own, my wrists and ankles have to crack or, again, they don’t function… And to someone who doesn’t know, it might seem like a compulsive habit.

        When I can help it, I try not to crack joints around other people, but there are times when I can’t if I want to continue to physically function. I completely understand that the sound disturbs a lot of people, so I do try to minimize it, but often there’s nothing I can do about it. Trust me, if I could find a way to stop it while still being able to function, I absolutely would.

    2. Mary Connell*

      A good physical therapist should be able to provide you with exercises to help with that. My shoulders and neck feel so much better and don’t crack much if at all when I do the prescribed exercises, and in my case, they’re less than a minute a day.

    3. Mary Connell*

      Previous comment went into moderation. Not sure which word triggered it, but recommend seeing a PT to help with that.

    4. Mookie*

      I mentioned above that I’m a lifelong cracker who sticks to cracking in private, but you’ve brought to mind the fact that my (healthy, comparatively young and strong) knees pop and creak whenever I do so much as a quarter-squat. My job involves a lot of physical labor, so there’s no way to avoid subjecting people to this, but I wonder if I’m driving some of my colleagues mad with the sound. It’s not really occurred to me before.

      1. Birch*

        I’m also a “crunchy” person (as my mom says) and honestly I don’t think people notice it happening when you’re involved in a task. I think it’s the nature of knuckle cracking specifically that’s so irritating because it’s usually done in quiet moments (i.e. you can’t type and crack your knuckles at the same time) and tends to be rhythmic and repetitive. It’s the repetitiveness of the habit that makes it so obnoxious to listen to because it sets up a predictability factor to a distressing noise, which makes the wait for the next pop suspenseful and awful and then you get this bittersweet satisfaction of hearing the hated noise you were waiting for! Same is true for gum cracking, leg shaking, finger-drumming, and all sorts of other annoying sounds people make by habit. SO don’t worry about the unintentional body pops!

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, I’m in complete agreement with Birch here. Both of my part-time jobs are physical and I’m hard-pressed to think of even one time where I’ve heard any of my coworkers’ joints pop; might be that I only work with particularly un-crackly people, of course, but I think it’s much more likely that I’ve just never registered it because when you’re cracking in the course of doing something else, the “something else” is usually also something that makes noise and will easily override any joint-popping that might be going on.

    5. Who Knows*

      Same! My knees have cracked since I was a kid. So if I’m standing somewhere for more than a minute, and then shift, it’s likely my knees will crack. Similar with my wrists – they start to hurt after I’ve been typing too long, and I need to crack them. Also been doing that since I was a child and had to write constantly for school. If a coworker told me these habits were making them feel ill, I would do my best to keep it quiet or not do it around that person. But my personal opinion is that commenters here are way overreacting to the knuckle cracking. I understand some people have a physical reaction to it (gagging, nausea, etc) but I feel like noises like this are just part of life. We’re not talking about farting or a loud burp, or even like, taking off your shoe to scratch your foot, or something else that’s an objectively “private” activity.

      Suggesting that knuckle crackers go to the bathroom seems a little off base to me.

  9. Engineer Girl*


    We work closely together so we are always in the same conversations, and her behavior is never truly separate from me – conversations about her sorority pals always happen with me right there and I’m worried I’ll inadvertently get labelled as having the same attitude.

    Any chance you can get up and leave during these conversations? Maybe find some copying and filing to do? Go talk to another coworker about a report? Don some headphones to do some training? Even go to the toilet?

    That way you don’t become a part of the socializing.

    But AAM is correct. The coworkers have eyes in their head and can see then differences. Just don’t socialize too much at work with her.

    1. Jasnah*

      Yeah, I think if she escalates by starting to rope OP into her derails to show they’re on the same side, a quick “I don’t agree” should suffice.
      Boss: So the deadline is–
      Coworker: OMG this is just midterms, midterms suck, right, OP?
      OP: Yeah, sorry Boss, what were you saying?

      Coworker: Ugh I need coffee, I know OP can’t live without coffee LOL
      OP: Not sure what you’re getting at. Let’s focus on X.

      1. Leslie knope*

        This seems super unnecessarily blunt/rude to me. I’d feel really put off if someone talked to me that way.

      2. Leslie knope*

        A lot of these comments re: #2 and the suggested replies seem super blunt/rude to me in regards to a pretty easy to clear up issue. The coworker isn’t doing anything malicious, turning monosyllabic and acting like you can never associate with her at any cost is kind of weird.

        1. Izzy*

          Agreed. I get why the OP feels this way, but some of these comments seem really OTT – like, is it really a good idea to be this rude to someone who you work with closely all the time?

          1. Jasnah*

            That’s fair, OP could add more softening language and adjust the tone if it feels rude. But the basic idea is to reject or deflect her reach out so that OP can focus on work.

    2. OP 2*

      This is helpful! I think one of the problems I am having is that when we’re approached by superiors handing off work, and asked if we know how to handle this yet, even if we’ve had extensive training she’ll claim we haven’t- I think she’s scared to attempt stuff until she’s 100% clear on it, whereas I would much rather learn by doing once I’ve had the training. Obviously then the supervisor will arrange ANOTHER training session (she’s benefiting from us having several managers each responsible for different areas to whom we report). In future, I’ll hit start saying “actually I’m clear on this protocol – if Sansa needs more training, I’ll just get started on the work if that’s ok?”

      1. Jasnah*

        That sounds like a great idea to me. Be aware that Sansa may feel resentful–she might be reaching for an ally if she feels uncertain about her job or position. You don’t have to help her manage her insecurities, but just something to be aware of!

      2. Bagpuss*

        I think that’s wise. or even “Yes, . I’m clear on this protocol and I’m happy to get started on the work ” i.e. don’t comment comment on whether Sansa needs more training. She can speak for herself.
        It would, I think, also be OK to say something like “I haven’t actually done this task before but name gave me some training, so I’m happy to get started on the work. Should I speak to you or to trainer if I run into any problems?”

        If this is happening a lot, and particularly if you are always approached as a pair, you could also consider whether to speak to your supervisor to ask whether you can move forward with starting to do these tasks and get more experience, even if Sansa isn’t yet comfortable doing so.Since you also mentioned that Sansa is chatty when you need to get your heads down, it’s also OK to say to her ‘I can’t chat now, I need to focus on [task]. You can’t stp her talking, but you don’t have to join in just because she is talking in your vicinity.

        1. OP 2*

          Thank you, this is very useful! I’ll use this going forward. And good tip on not mentioning her training. I just need to talk about me: “I’m confident on this, I’ll start and I know where to find you boss if I have questions”

          1. LKW*

            Exactly -you don’t have to compare the two of you and it’s better if you simply focus on what you know or offer to help her if she still doesn’t get it.

          2. CM*

            I think you have to tread a fine line when you do this — you don’t want to seem like you’re trying to make her look bad, but you also don’t want to be silent about your ability to do the job. Your response is perfect, though. It’s just about you, and it doesn’t imply that there’s anything wrong with her.

            1. CleverName*

              But also keep in mind – if she is speaking for both of you, that IS something you could talk to her about. As I try to figure out what you should say, though, I would love to get Alison’s opinion. It’s definitely tricky. And if she’s speaking for you, that CAN associate with you more.
              In general, though, when I’ve had entry-level staff who are inappropriate, it casts those who are professional in a better light. Like, why is that guy so immature, when OP can function like an adult.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        Absolutely speak up and do not let her speak for you. She has no right to hold you back just so she feels comfortable. You each need to work at your own speed. It’s work, not a social situation.

        1. Observer*

          I’d be willing to bet that it’s not deliberately trying to hold OP back. Nevertheless, you are right and she should speak up.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            It’s more “please don’t leave me behind”. “Please don’t let me deal with this alone”. Which is still holding the OP back. It’s probably not intentional but still has a harmful effect.

      4. Observer*

        I think you have hit on a good response. In fact this is pretty much what I was thinking as I was reading. I might leave out that “if Sansa needs more training” and go with “Actually, I’m clear with this. I’ll just get started, if that’s ok.”

        If the boss then mentions Sansa needing more training, you can ask there is any reason you two need to be working on the project at the same time. The idea is not to make Sansa look bad, but to highlight the differentiation – ie it’s not “the two Juniors” but OP 2 and Sansa, with their different needs and characters.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      You run more risk of being lumped in with her if you sit silently while she rambles or don’t speak up for yourself when she speaks up for both of you. Very often lack of protest or disagreement is taken for condoning or agreeing with the actions of others. Fair or not, if you’re quiet while she yammers about nothing, you run the risk of coming off like you think her behavior is fine. As others have said, speak up for yourself. If you are clear on a process and wish to get to work on it, say so. If she turns you to for agreement on an inane comment, disagree. Or calmly and blandly say something like, “I don’t see the relevance here”. You don’t need to go on the offensive, but don’t allow yourself to get swept along in whatever she is saying if you disagree with her. Who knows, perhaps she’ll rein it in a bit if she’s not getting any support from your quarter.

      1. Kes*

        Agreed, if OP doesn’t speak up to say differently others may assume she agrees. OP, you need to speak up for yourself, both to avoid being lumped in with her and because right now you are missing opportunities to work on things because you aren’t speaking up when she says she’s not confident

  10. Sorority Woman*

    Sorority woman and advisor of 25+ years here. I feel compelled to defend against the sorority stereotype described of the excessively chatty and flighty co-worker. One of the things I learned from my sorority membership was when and how to speak up and when to keep my mouth shut. It was the best training ground possible for professional life! Many of the things your readers complain about in this column (disrespect for others, lack of common courtesy, unwillingness to pick up after yourself) are tackled head on in a sorority house. You can’t live with that many women and fail to improve your “play nice with others” skills. While this co-worker may be annoying, she’s probably very nervous about finding her way. She may be uncertain about her role in “the real world” and missing the less stressful college days. If you feel comfortable, why not talk with her about how she might be perceived? “Jane, I know you are very enthusiastic and want to connect with people, but if you talk over people, they tend to feel disrespected.” Trust me – she heard this from her sorority sisters and she’ll most likely want to break that pattern sooner rather than later. Good luck!

    1. Les G*

      …aaaaaand, there it is. As soon as I read the extremely brief mention of sororities I wondered how soon it would be before some white knight trotted into the comments to defend the good name of sororities all over this fine nation. Look, I’m glad your sorority taught you everything you knew, but a) most of us manage to learn the skills you mentioned without being in one, and b) clearly the OP’s coworker did not learn some of these lessons and needs to now. The issue isn’t that she talks about her sorority, it’s that she talks about personal issues related to college and comes off as immature. Sub “ultimate frisbee league” for “sorority” in your head and quit using the comments section as a recruitment event.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Whoa, I think that’s pretty harsh for a relatively mild comment. That said, the letter isn’t about sorority stereotypes; it was mentioned only in passing, so Sorority Woman, I don’t want to derail on this.

      2. Sorority Woman*

        Les, I assure you I had no intention of recruiting for sororities here – our intake demographic of 18 year olds would not seem to be the majority of AAM’s readership. The tone of your response, however, justified my original defense.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          The actual gist of Les G’s response still stands, though: This is not about what exactly is being talked about, but about it not being suitable for her place in the office (the frequency, the tangents, the interrupting).

          1. Em*

            I thought the point of Sorority Woman’s comment was that having been in a sorority, the co-worker would be open to a peer addressing the issue with her.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              I guess I just fail to see what their “original defense” (their words of sororities had anything to do with the actual question. Except to say that sororities apparently teach you not to do the things described in the question … which doesn’t make that much sense in the context of the behaviour described.

            2. Sorority Woman*

              Yes, thank you – that was part of my point! Women helping other women is always a good thing – whether in sororities or the work world!

      3. Jadelyn*

        …was it really necessary to go nuclear on SW? I’m sorry you’ve apparently had bad experiences with sororities or something, but that’s a You Problem, and not one that needs vented all over the comments section.

    2. OP 2*

      OP 2 here! I was in a sorority too actually! That’s sort of why I mentioned it as an example, just because it’s something I COULD also join in on in these conversations but opt out of because I don’t think it’s professional! Wasn’t a comment of “sororities in particular are unprofessional or teach bad habits”!

      1. TechWorker*

        I think it’s completely normal for people to talk about their time at college (because that’s the only experience they’ve got..) especially if they’re around other colleagues of a similar age and it’s what they have in common. Where it crosses the line into unprofessional/tone deaf is when it comes up in non-social contexts – or where someone’s talking about x thing at work and the new colleague is like ‘oh yes I ran into exactly this problem at college’ – cos chances are, they didn’t :)

        1. OP 2*

          Yeah this is more the issue: this task we’re doing is completely different to how you organised you spring formal, so please don’t bring it up. I bet you did learn a lot about planning and organisation from planning spring formal (I did too!) but this isn’t really the time to mention it. Just apply what you know.

      2. Sorority Woman*

        Glad to hear it! If you feel comfortable, please speak up about your sorority experience in a positive way (not every minute or interrupting others, of course!) You probably agree that sororities are wonderful, unique opportunites to cultivate women’s leadership potential – something badly needed today, IMHO, so please don’t feel that it’s unprofessional to speak well of this important experience! Best of luck to you! :-)

        1. Tedious Cat*

          What? No. OP’s there to start her career, not correct perceptions of sororities. This isn’t her responsibility and since you yourself pointed out the workplace isn’t a recruitment area, I don’t see how it possibly could be. Leave the publicity to sorority members who are already established in their careers.

            1. fposte*

              And I think there actually *is* a risk of it being unprofessional to bring this up at work. Not that it never has to be mentioned, but in general how cool any college experience was has really limited applicability to a workplace. Since the OP is just out of college she really doesn’t want to seem overly tied to her college experience, and it’s also not appropriate to treat your workplace as a venue for such PR. If people bring up Greek life or college experience it’s fine to say your sorority experience was positive and meant a lot to you, but don’t go deeper unless somebody specifically requests to know more.

          1. JulieCanCan*

            Agreed, Tedious Cat, x infinity.

            OP, please do not use your new and more established coworkers’ ears as sounding boards to wax poetic about your sorority or any other sorority, or life in a sorority or the benefits of a sorority, ever. You will almost definitely come across as “not quite ready to be in the grown up world of working for a living” and quite possibly will appear tone deaf if sorority-speak is interjected randomly throughout conversations. Please don’t do this.

            Now, if your supervisor was in the same sorority as you and asks you a question specifically about your experience in the sorority, that’s an entirely different issue. OP you sound mature and very self-aware, and you definitely seem to understand how to behave within a professional environment. I’m sure you can trust your gut when it comes to this type of thing. But please – PLEASE- do not follow Sorority Woman’s advice above. I’m not anti-sorority, but I would absolutely be put off if a new and very young employee brought up her sorority days more than once during her entire length of being employed at a company.

            It’s just not something you should do. I don’t want to come across as negative or argumentative, but Sorority Woman’s suggestion should probably be disregarded.

          2. Sorority Woman*

            Again – not looking to evangelize – just be who you are. Be proud of your experiences. In the workplace, none of us need to go on and on about our personal lives.

        2. Dr. Pepper*

          The best way to promote sororities as the type of institution you describe is for members to demonstrate all these good qualities and skills they supposedly learned there. Show, don’t tell. The last thing I want to hear about at work is how wonderful your sorority was and how much you learned there. I don’t want to hear about it; I want to see it.

          1. Observer*

            The OP actually seems to get it. In a comment above, she says “ I bet you did learn a lot about planning and organisation from planning spring formal (I did too!) but this isn’t really the time to mention it. Just apply what you know.

            I am impressed.

            1. Dr. Pepper*

              I think the OP is spot on and definitely has her head on straight. My comment was directed toward Sorority Woman and her desire that the OP and anyone in her position speak highly of their sorority experience to others.

          2. DreamingInPurple*

            I agree with this so much. Sororities (and fraternities) have a complicated and elitist history, and to someone who’s not on the inside the members can come off as overly evangelical. It’s likely that not everyone in your workplace will be positive about them. It’s a better work decision not to go out of your way to discuss it, in the same way that it’s a better work decision not to try to come up with ways to bring up your religious affiliation or alumni group – not that you can’t discuss it, but that it’s annoying for someone to continually manufacture opportunities to talk about it.

            1. all the candycorn*

              At my college, we referred to anyone who did Greek life as:
              “Awww, your mommy and daddy had to buy you some friends? You couldn’t make them on your own?”

              Greek life participants had a reputation for being sloppy drunk, irresponsible, flighty, immature, spoiled/affluent followers who were not focused on their schoolwork and were academically weak. Boys/men who participated in Greek life, in particular, were viewed as potential sexual predators.

              I am not saying this to slam Greek life: I’ve met many nice and smart people who participated in sororities and fraternities in college. I’m saying it to illustrate the hazards of evangelizing Greek life in the workplace, because many people hold these negative views of fraternities and sororities, and it will color their view of an employee.

              1. Dr. Pepper*

                I’ve seen both. Having attended my share of frat parties in college, there were definitely the frats you stayed away from and the frats that were cool (i.e. not full of sexual harassers). I’m sorry to say I was pretty snarky about the whole Greek life deal as an undergrad, now I simply don’t care one way or the other. However, if someone goes out of their way to talk about their frat life, especially at work, it’s not going to positively color my opinion of them. At best I’m going to think they’re living in the past, at worst, well, you described it quite well.

              2. Sorority Woman*

                Let me be clear about my point in mentioning sorority / fraternity experiences in the workplace. I mention it at work only when taking time off for a volunteer activity hosted by my sorority. I don’t have my Greek letters all over my cube wall because there are people who view us as “elitist” and I don’t wish to make those people feel uncomfortable. That said, I am working for a living, so it should be fairly clear that I’m not independently wealthy. If I’ve learned leadership and people skills from my 25+ years of sorority involvement and volunteer work, and people notice it, I’ll be happy to give credit where it’s due. And much of it is due to my (ongoing) sorority experiences.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            I’d like to add that not everyone got the opportunity to be in a sorority or go to college full-time. Going on about your sorority at work could come off as stuck up or entitled.

            1. Sorority Woman*

              That is correct – and not everyone got the opportunity to become a parent – but we can be happy for those who are.

              1. Dawn*

                Wow, that’s a really off-base and tone-deaf comparison.

                No, I am not going to be happy for a coworker who benefited from a wildly unjust economic system the way I’m going to be happy for a pregnant coworker. The fact that you think they equate kind of shows the exact privileged tone-deafness that rankles many people about Greek life.

                How about this? Instead of putting the burden on those of us in the unwashed majority to open our hearts and minds to the fortunate privilege of the sisters and brothers of Greek life, how about y’all make more of an effort on behalf of equity? Maybe listen to the people here who, through no fault of their own, were not afforded the same privileges as you and, instead of saying, “Well, you should be happy for me!” make an effort to understand *why* they are angry and bitter and put those considerable skills you acquired planning spring formals toward making sure that every college-able kid in the U.S. has the same opportunities to reach their fullest potential?

                See you talk about *that* in this comments section might change my mind about Greek life. As it is, you’ve only cemented the stereotypes that I read this thread, in part, in hopes of complicating.

                1. Sorority Woman*

                  Thank you for taking my inability to bear children and make me the one who is “tone deaf”. I got the opportunity to go to college and join a sorority due solely to my WORK – not some trust fund that you imagine. I did not get the chance to have a child – which was heartbreaking to me. But when co-workers go on and on about their offspring and we have baby shower after baby shower, I am happy for them instead of being bitter about an opportunity I did not get to have.

                  It’s funny how you equate Greek life with “wealth” and yet I do not have the money for infertility treatments. Your judgement of a total stranger in an online blog is truly tone-deaf, vicious, completely unhelpful and shows a lack of empathy that I hope is not indicative of your true character.

                  We all have a cross to bear in this life. Now you know mine. I suspect yours is a chip on your shoulder the size of Texas.

            2. Kat in VA*

              And some of us didn’t go to college at all. My parents split up when I was 18 and I had to start working, immediately. No time for college, and no money either.

              1. Sorority Woman*

                I’m sorry you did not have the chance to be a traditional college student, but I hope you are able to or were able to further your education as you wished to. My parents also split up when I was young and, as you note, that does the family purse no favors! My college and sorority were financed by me (another misconception out the window) but I went to a state school that was affordable. (Not so affordable today!) If you have a desire to go to college, think about taking some classes at a community college to start with. I work at a community college and they have amazing scholarships and opportunities! We have a lot of great programs for non-traditional students and many people start one class at a time. Just see what you think of it – and consider online classes, too! Good luck to you!

      3. grace*

        Yeah, I was in one, and the only time it comes up at work is when it’s directly related – ie, we’re talking about our college experiences. I do think you could say something to her, though! Don’t belabor the point and don’t repeat it if she doesn’t take it well, but I know I’d like to know if I was doing something that a colleague knew was being taken the wrong way.

        Though honestly it takes all types to be in sororities, and I’m not surprised at all that someone nervous and in a new job is reverting back to what they knew. :) (I don’t necessarily think it’s unprofessional to talk about college, either, but it is when it’s not related to the point or goes on to the point of interrupting others’ work – which is what you should tell her.)

  11. Mommy MD*

    When Chatty Cathy starts in with her Sorority stories and other nonsense, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to interrupt and say “I want to concentrate on work tasks when I’m here” in a pleasant manner and then go tend to one. You are right in being worried others will lump you in with her. Especially if you appear to be listening to her ongoing chitchat.

  12. Les G*

    OP#4, as someone who hates knuckle cracking with the passion of a thousand burning suns (and whose better half has an uncanny sixth sense that causes her to crack every.single.knuckle just as I’m coming into the room, without fail), I feel compelled to give you some advice.

    Look, a lot of folks hate knuckle cracking. It’s just one of those things, and because of this, 99% of people will react graciously if you ask them politely, with something resembling good humor, to do their best to stop. But OP? Good humor and a light touch are key ingredients in that particular potion. And given that you just laid down four thick, piping-hot, angry paragraphs about a commonplace annoyance virtually everyone deals with, I have to suggest you wait to speak up (if, indeed, you decide to at all) until you’ve simmered down enough to approach the situation with the aforementioned good humor. You feel me, one anti-cracker to another?

    1. sacados*

      It’s all about tone. If you come at someone aggressively, acting irritated, it will just put them on the defensive and shut them down toward any kind of request you make. That’s just human nature.
      But if you are able to step back and relax enough that you can approach the knuckle-cracker with something similar to Allison’s script, then they are much more likely to make an effort to be more aware of the behavior.
      And I say this as someone who has mostly recovered from a knuckle-cracking habit that used to drive my mother up the wall.

    2. Ender Wiggin*

      I have to say what op describes is not a commonplace annoyance. I’ve never worked with anyone who did this thankfully, but I have a relative who used to do this all the time and it is awful.i don’t have any sort of misophonia or anything like that but the noise would make you want to throw up! Intentionally cracking your knuckles one by one is not commonplace workplace behaviour, nor is intentionally cracking your neck. My relative got some sort of treatment and doesn’t do this anymore thankfully, so it’s not just inevitable you have to put up with it for your whole life. I believe the treatment was mental health focused which underlines that this was more of a habit than a physical necessity for my relative at least.

      1. thankful for AAM*

        I guess I am lucky, I have not heard anyone cracking knuckles like that since high school. Has anyone said, ask to get your desk moved, maybe something like that is possible?

        I do think the overall advice here is the OP can ask but the habit probably won’t stop. I always wonder in these situations why the person doing the thing gets a bit more leeway than the person offended by the thing. If it is misphonia or just annoyance, why is that trumped by someone else’s engrained habit. Like someone else said, you dont pee at your desk even when holding it gets painful, you go to the bathroom.

        I have a finger picking habit that I really cannot stop, dont know I am doing it, etc. But I work really hard at not doing it when I am at the shared public desk. I go to the point of inconveniencing myself by focusing on it enough to notice it so that I don’t bother others. I think that should be the expectation for the knuckle popper.

        1. JulieCanCan*

          But as opposed to urinating, one can absentmindedly crack ones knuckles while sitting at a desk because their hands/fingers are sore and achey, and it’s something that a knucklecracker will be halfway through doing before they even realize they’re doing it, if they realize it at all.

          I know you have no way of understanding it – those who don’t crack their knuckles are baffled by the act – but it is a habit/compulsion (reinforced or brought on by physical need) that often becomes so ingrained (for me at least) that I’ll be on my last finger (having cracked the first 9 thoroughly at every possible joint in each finger already, hahaha…gross, I know) and my mother will scream “JULES!!!” and I’ll literally “wake up” to the fact that I was just cracking my knuckles. Yet during the entire 10-15 second act of cracking I was 100% unaware and totally on autopilot. Kind of like when you’ve driven home from work for the 500th time and when you get home, you try to recall certain portions of the ride that *you* were driving during, and you can’t remember it – but you know that you did it because you were driving and you arrived home.

          Often knuckle cracking is done on autopilot. Seriously – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve completed a “Full 10 Finger Crack” (lol) and I’ll hear “GROSS!” from a coworker or family member or friend. It’s only when I hear their screams of horror that I realize I’ve cracked my knuckles. And I can be having a full-on conversation while I’m doing it – it’s not taking up any room in my brain while it’s happening.

          I wish I could think of a perfect analogy for a non-knuckle cracker, because it’s both physical AND mental, I believe. It’s impossible for people to understand if they don’t have the compulsion/habit/inclination/physical need.

          I’m not saying it’s OK and people need to put up with it if it truly drives them mad. I’m just trying to explain why it happens and why logically thinking of getting up and going to a different area to complete the act may not be a thing. Because it’s over and done with by the time the cracker realizes they cracked. : /

    3. Blueberry*

      For the knuckle cracking, I totally understand how wildly irritating little noises like that can be, but the fact she cracks her neck and back too make me pause because that kind of regular behavior can at times be indicative of a medical issue or past injury, as I had a teacher once who did many similar things because of a terrible car crash. He told the class repeatedly to not copy him as it’s a habit you usually can’t escape, and many didn’t listen, but I recommend approaching with that in mind in case it is medically related.

    4. epi*

      This was pretty much my reaction.

      Lots of people crack their joints, lots of other people hate it, and barring situations where you randomly get way more of one type than the other, no consensus is coming on whether this is acceptable behavior. All anyone can do is try to accommodate one another with a good attitude.

      I pop my joints and would absolutely try to stop if someone told me it bothered them. However, the OP’s level of anger is not reasonable and I would find it super inappropriate if they displayed *any* of it at work over a common irritant. The OP comes across like they have waited too long to address this behavior, it’s festered, and now they are furious. It isn’t reasonable to compare joint popping to some of the grosser bodily functions, just because the OP doesn’t like it. This may be a conversation for them to practice with a friend, to ensure that their reaction is coming across as reasonable and proportionate.

  13. Mommy MD*

    Knuckle cracking falls right in with toe nail clipping, flossing teeth at your desk, and gum crackling. I just don’t get why people think it’s ok. Sorry for you.

      1. Smarty Boots*

        Yes they are. Obnoxious body noises that are better done where no one has to be subjected to them.

    1. Yay*

      Uh… I’m not sure if that’s true? I’ve never been bothered by knuckle cracking, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one.

      1. BRR*

        I think it’s pretty split on people who don’t mind and people who do. As a knuckle cracker, it doesn’t really bother me but I also know that enough people find it disgusting that I need to try and watch myself. It’s habit at this point and if I don’t crack them I get extremely uncomfortable. But I can do like a mild crack that’s pretty discreet.

      2. Blue Bird*

        Same. I don’t crack my knuckles, but it also doesn’t bother me. It’s definitively not on the same level as toe nail clipping for me.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        Sure, and there are lots of people who aren’t bothered by loud gum smacking, or nail clipping. But enough people *are* bothered that it makes sense for considerate people to try to avoid them in the workplace.

      4. MsChanandlerBong*

        Doesn’t bother me at all. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to go to work every day if every little noise bothered me. Most unpleasant, I would think.

    2. Micromanagered*

      Don’t forget excessively loud sneezing and yawning.

      (I’m talking about men who do a booming “ah-CHOOOOOOO!” or women who do a shrill screaming “ah-CHIIRRR!” and Chewbacca-level yawning–not sneezes and yawns that are a normal side-effect of being human.)

      1. Loud Sneezer*

        Wow, I can’t help my loud sneezes. I don’t do it very often, but I don’t sit close enough to the bathroom to get up and run there when I feel a sneeze coming on. What else am I supposed to do? I didn’t cultivate this sneeze to annoy people– I sneeze like my mother and her mother before her.

        1. The Tin Man*

          I’m with you, Loud Sneezer. I don’t play up my sneeze volume for attention; they just come out that way! I’ve heard my father sneeze from a solid 200 yardmeters away!

        2. Birch*

          I think the point is that the polite thing to do is to try and stifle the noise because you realize that sound is irritating to others. There’s a huge difference between naturally loud sneezer who emphasizes it by smacking the desk or adds a whoop to the end that’s totally unnecessary, and the naturally loud sneezer who sneezes into their arm (as you should be doing anyway, for hygiene), and says “excuse me” afterward. All anyone has to do with any of these irritating but necessary noises is to acknowledge that they’re irritating to other people and not make them any more noticeable than they have to be.

          1. Loud Sneezer*

            Yeah, I always sneeze into my elbow. Last time I had an avalanche-causing sneeze, my coworkers got a guy who works from home to skype me and say “bless you” as if he could hear me too. Hardy har har, guys.

        3. JulieCanCan*

          Well, Loud Sneezer, now you know how us Knuckle Crackers feel. Not much fun, is it?

          ; )

          Actually sneezing and yawning aren’t things you have ANY control over, so unless you’re creating building-shaking earthquakes when you sneeze, don’t give it a second thought!

          1. JulieCanCan*

            And that skyping story made me LOL. I might use it in the further if the opportunity arises.

      2. Etak*

        do you have any recommendations for how we should change our sneezes? What is and isn’t acceptable for men or women sneezing? How does coughing fit it? When a coworker is sick, do you provide guidelines of acceptable levels of shrillness and volume and trust that they understand your needs are more important right now?
        (I kid but seriously, humans make noises. Sometimes you just have to deal)

          1. PB*

            Yep. I just managed to sneeze hard enough to knock my own headphones off. It wasn’t performative. There’s no one around to witness my sneezing. That’s just how I sneeze. If I stayed home any time my allergies were acting up, I’d probably come into work 10 days a year. Of course I wish it were different, but it’s just the way it is.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Seriously. Until we figure out how to transfer our consciousness into androids, we are going to continue to have human bodies that Do Things sometimes, and the level of self-righteous judgment from a bunch of people here is literally making me want to find them and go crack my knuckles *at them*. Repeatedly.

            (Maybe not the most mature impulse, but really guys, this level of pearl-clutching over something as harmless as cracking joints is ridiculous.)

        1. Artemesia*

          Most people manage to muffle sneezes into a tissue or something and not do the full out orgasmic every time they sneeze. No one is that upset with the one off noise if on occasion that doesn’t work but part of being civilized is to learn to burp, sneeze etc quietly and not inflict your grossness on other people. If it is a bad habit e.g. knuckle cracking then change the habit or take it where it won’t bother other people. To me it is like the one person in 100 who can’t contain their arms and legs in their space at the movies; it is a matter of being considerate not some impossible demand.

        2. fposte*

          You ask sarcastically, but in fact it absolutely is possible to reshape sneeze or yawn utterances. I don’t personally think it’s a big deal if people don’t, but these sounds aren’t immutable, either.

        3. Micromanagered*

          I do! If you’ve ever managed to sneeze without screaming in a work meeting, a conference, a funeral, a movie, a library–any situation where one might be expected to be as quiet and as non-distracting to others as you can…. Do whatever you did in that situation to modulate the volume of your sneeze!

          All jokes aside, of course I realize that some sneezes will be louder than others, some people just “do” sneeze louder than others, etc. However, I’ve known enough people who scream-sneeze at the top of their lungs in one the office, but somehow manage to not-scream-sneeze in another situation. I do think some people do it for attention or lack of consideration for others, and that’s obnoxious.

          1. MagicUnicorn*

            I have a loved one who does the scream-sneeze if it will garner them attention. Weird how it doesn’t happen when they think no one is within earshot when a sneeze hits.

        4. e271828*

          I taught myself to suppress most sneezes when I was attending a lot of classical music concerts. If you pay attention to what you do when you sneeze, you will find there’s a moment when the sneeze is incipient but not happening, and you can catch it and stop it by tightening your nose and throat (it is hard to describe, but don’t let the big inhale happen, and don’t exhale) and turn it into a slow sigh, sort of thing. It’s a response to a physical irritation and it’s controllable.

          If my sneezes are so juicy that they cannot be squelched, I shouldn’t be out in a crowd, so I don’t go.

          As for the knuckle-cracker, she could wear gloves, and the presence of them might break that “unconscious” habit, just as for nail-biting and nose-picking. Interrupting the train of actions that form the habit (or sneeze) is the trick to preventing it.

          1. Lucy*

            You seriously think people who sneeze a lot should put themselves in isolation and avoid crowds? What about hayfever sufferers?

      3. WellRed*

        I had a coworker (female) who would loudly vocalize her sneezes like this. Until we were on a flight somewhere and she managed to tone it waaaaay down. After I realized that she could do that, I had no problem asking her do so. Or at least try. Actually, she did the yawning thing too.

        1. Micromanagered*

          This. I’ve known plenty of people who claimed they “couldn’t help” scream-sneezers until they had to sneeze in a meeting, conference, funeral, or some other situation where you’d be expected to modulate the volume of a sneeze. Then suddenly, they miraculously have this ability…

      4. Kaboobie*

        Loud sneezer, can’t help it. Still terrifies my husband after 15 years of living together. If I’m lucky I can get out a quick warning, but there is physically no way I can suppress it.

        1. Kaboobie*

          Let me specify I am not spraying phlegm everywhere, I do sneeze into my elbow or a tissue if I have time to grab one. It is loud no matter what, and if I try “swallowing” the sneeze it is physically very painful to me. And of course I say “excuse me” if anyone else is in the room.

        2. fposte*

          It’s not about suppressing, usually; it’s about vocalizing while we sneeze, which, ironically, is more helped by relaxing than by trying to suppress. Keeping your jaw loose and your tongue from pressing against the roof of your mouth helps, too–you’re reducing the explosiveness.

          1. Kaboobie*

            I don’t think I exactly scream-sneeze as people are describing it, it’s not a fully vocalized AHHH-CHOOO, but it’s a loud, sudden noise. As someone who startles easily at other things, I really do sympathize, but I hope people on the other side sympathize with how unpleasant year-round allergies are and cut me a little slack.

      5. Theory of Eeveelution*

        What the heck? I can’t control my sneezes! If I try, it really hurts. Sneezing is a part of life and I guarantee you do it too!

    3. Etak*

      If I don’t crack my knuckles, they crack as I’m typing. Today I’m learning that this is apparently a ghastly faux pas, and one best hidden from polite society.
      Seriously, this is not the same category as a coworker deliberately being gross or offensive at their desk.

      1. Book Lover*

        There is a really big difference in the sound between cracking that happens naturally and people who deliberately crack. I don’t believe I have misphonia, but knuckle cracking (on purpose, one at a time) is just absolutely awful. I have never been bothered by the cracking that occurs just in the course of normal activities. And I am not bothered by chewing, etc, either.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I actually LIKE the sounds of joints cracking. It feels so good when I do it, so I guess I’m just having a second hand appreciation for it. Especially since mine don’t crack as well as they used to.

          1. only acting normal*

            I was thinking the same. I’m jealous of my colleague who still has nice freely cracking knuckles; my cracks seem to have migrated with age to my larger joints.

    4. Tardigrade*

      People have bodies. Bodies make noises. Some of them are unintentional and can’t be helped, and it seems like a lot of knuckle-crackers are saying that this is the case for them. I can understand how the sound is gross to you and many other people, but it is not the same thing as choosing to floss or clip your nails at your desk. That’s a false and excessive comparison.

      1. Artemesia*

        Knuckles cracking and joints popping in the normal course of going about one’s business can’t be helped. Systematically cracking them one by one many times during the day is a choice they make and can take somewhere else.

        1. Tardigrade*

          If you are aware of yourself doing it and also know that it’s bothering someone else, then sure, excuse yourself elsewhere if that’s possible. But behaviors like this might not always be quite the active choice you’re imagining it to be.

          1. fposte*

            Definitely agree that it’s not necessarily an active choice–it’s the kind of bodily habit that’s more of a self-stim, which is super-ingrained and also rewarding, so very hard to quit. So I don’t think that somebody who hasn’t managed to cut it out is cracking for deliberate annoyance, and I do think the OP is coming down with some excessive force here.

            That doesn’t get people with such self-stims off the hook for trying to change, remove, or redirect either, of course. The person with the annoying behavior makes a good faith effort to reduce its annoyance; the person annoyed makes a good faith effort to accept that imperfect effort or find another way to protect herself.

      1. Al*

        HARD AGREE. Imagine thinking human bodies are, by default, silent all the time and that any loud noise is intentional.

        Absolutely absurd.

    5. OP 4*

      I agree with this and just feel certain things are best done in private and certainly not at a work desk. It’s about consideration for others. But as I said in my update below, I’m doing my best to cope, and in general folks in my office are conscientious and considerate of others.

    6. (another) b*

      It really doesn’t. Performing PRIVATE HYGIENE things at work is different than cracking your knuckes. Come on.

    7. JulieCanCan*

      I don’t think you’re kidding but I do know you’re going wayyyyyyy overboard. Knuckles being cracked don’t produce any piles of dead skin, it doesn’t spread germs, doesn’t involve bodily fluids or pieces of partially-eaten food…..and it’s done because there’s a LEGITIMATE DISCOMFORT that needs to be relieved. It doesn’t produce a stinky gaseous spreadable scent, and there are no private parts or human mucus membranes being manipulated.

      So, yeah……no.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        + another 1.

        It’s amazing how many people think we should endure discomfort or pain to avoid annoying them.

    8. Starbuck*

      I’d put it more on the level of sneezing or coughing- if it’s only happening once per hour, totally normal and not something you need to change or leave the room for. Doesn’t seem that gross- there’s not even any bodily fluids or gases involved.

  14. HA2*

    OP#3 – you probably need to give him a path to get back to job he wants, otherwise he’ll leave. He’s clearly someone who was successful at his old position, and is ALSO apparently successful at his new position, and just doesn’t like it; I suspect, based on how competent you’re making him seem, he’ll have little trouble moving on.

    That said, you CAN do the transition in an orderly manner. You have the advantage that he’s worked with you a long time – so he’ll probably stay as long as you give him a timeline for when he’ll transition back.

    So do that. Think – what would you do if he gave his two weeks notice, tomorrow? And do that. Except he’s not giving his two weeks notice, so you get to make an orderly transition for him into the job he had before, which may take longer than two weeks, could even be a few months, and as long as you’re transparent about the plan (and maybe even develop it with him!) he’ll be fine.

    The option that seems to make sense to me is to to immediately start the job search for a prototyper, and have you start the month-long certification process. (So then, ideally, your company will have redundancy – you’ll have the prototyper you hire, as well as backup prototyper expertise in you and in the guy who’s transitioning back to being a builder.)

    1. Lucille2*

      This was my thought too. This doesn’t seem like an either/or type situation. I’m not sure why Alison didn’t suggest making a transition plan with the employee while OP hires a new prototyper, or staffs up to allow OP to get certified to do the work. That way, the employee has an end date for the role that he doesn’t enjoy, but OP also has some experience in-house in case the need arises.

      I also wondered if the employee has given the new job enough time to settle in. It seems like a big investment in $ and time only to decide to go back to the job they were doing before. The employee was taking steps to advance for a reason. Would they really be happy going back to their old job?

  15. PermAnon*

    #1 – your story reminded me of an experience that happened to me when I was finishing up a professional graduate degree to be a doctorate-level practitioner in the health sciences (think: MD, DDS, DVM, etc.). I wasn’t getting paid – I was paying tuition – and I had arranged to spend a rare free week shadowing a senior person in my field. Over a month in advance, I had communicated to them that I was about a year out from finishing my degree and very interested in going into their subfield, and so I was hoping to spend some time shadowing them and learning about their day-to-day work and the subfield in general, and they readily agreed. Unfortunately, once I arrived, this senior person spent very little time actually doing work and kept making increasingly questionable requests of me, such as:

    – “could you show me how to add a publication to my LinkedIn profile?” – and once I had shown them that – “oh, I’m leaving for lunch now; while I’m gone, could you go ahead and add the other 20+ publications from my CV onto LinkedIn?”
    – (upon hearing about my side job working in a paid, copyright-protected education project in my field, for which I had signed a contract with a 2-year non-compete clause) “oh, but that stuff really should be made free to everyone. Why can’t you just bring the content you’re creating over, and we can put it on my website?”
    – “can you go get me coffee and a pastry from that place across the street?” (with no offer to pay for it)
    – “my friend across the country just got engaged and sent me an invite to their engagement party, but I can’t make it. Here’s my credit card. Can you go out and buy them a nice gift and arrange to have it shipped to them?”

    After two days of putting up with this, I told them that my plans had changed and that I would have to spend the rest of the week doing something that had just come up (which was true). I discreetly sought out some more senior (male) colleagues who had also worked with this senior person, and they were appalled and said this was not their experience with this person but that I should not tolerate it regardless. Several weeks later, I confidentially approached an administrator in my degree program whom I trusted (since this senior person was loosely affiliated with my degree program) and told them what had happened – and they were horrified and said they would escalate and follow up appropriately.

    In your case, I worry that you’re getting taken advantage of, especially since you write that your boss’s wife asked you to do this task “with [your boss’s] blessing.” Is this the first request of this nature, or have their been others? If there have been other similar requests, and/or he is cavalier/unabashed when you speak to him about this one, is there anyone you might be able to speak to in confidence about this to get their take on the commonness/appropriateness of this? I.e., did you get this paid internship through a business contact or a professional program? In any case, I agree with Alison that asking you to spend your work time acting as your boss’s wife’s home organizer/maid/personal assistant is generally Not Appropriate, and you’re right to push back on this.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I discreetly sought out some more senior (male) colleagues who had also worked with this senior person, and they were appalled and said this was not their experience

      And I assume you aren’t male, which is why you became Assistant in this guy’s mind instead of Protege? Nice.

      1. PermAnon*

        Yes. During my short time there, I also observed him exercise similar behavior with the support personnel in the workplace, who were incidentally all female.

      2. nonymous*

        There’s a Big Name in my graduate field that will regularly expect females – grad students, post docs, junior faculty – to lend a hand with briefcases and like when transitioning locations with a “walk and talk” vibe. Of course this frees him up to chat with the males in the same category who are not being asked to practice their best pack mule impersonation.

        1. PermAnon*

          Ugh, that sounds awful. Before I had the experience I wrote about above, I had already completed a PhD in a different field, and I didn’t experience any of that sort of behavior then, thankfully. I think having been in work environments that demonstrated healthy interactions in that aspect helped me clue in very quickly to the fact that being treated like this was Not OK.

          Do the women subjected to this kind of behavior put up with it, or do any of them give pushback? If I were in that scenario, I would definitely demur by saying something like “oh, I’ve already got my hands full with (my purse/bag/whatever), so I’m not able to help out, sorry!” and flash a polite smile, but depending on my seniority to him, I may or may not call out the behavior to his face as inappropriate.

          1. nonymous*

            My PI made a big push for adding undergrad volunteer positions, which really worked out great. The undergrads help with the drudge work for a couple days and then get to attend the conference for free on a couple days. They wear a specific color bright conference t-shirts when they’re volunteering and then normal conference attire otherwise, so it’s very easy to flag someone down for extra hands without the issue of bias. With the particular individual I’m referring to, I think part of the issue is that he really likes having an entourage to do petty tasks, so we just make sure to have someone officially designated to that role, but who is clearly doesn’t have the credentials to expect networking.

    2. Sally*

      I keep thinking that an internship is supposed to have value for the intern and teach them about the work that is done in their field, NOT to do personal tasks for the boss.

      Until this letter ran today, I didn’t think anything was wrong with stuff like this in my first office job. I worked in the field office for a State Assemblymember, and I had to pick up my boss’s dry cleaning and get his car washed. I thought those sorts of things were OK because it meant he could have more time to do his job. And maybe they were… But I did get really annoyed once when he told me to go to his house and wait for a repair person. I remember thinking, “I’ll show him!” by sleeping late, going over there in sweats, and ironing my work clothes at his house and getting dressed for work there (no one was home, and I already had the key, so I knew I wouldn’t see anyone). I’m not sure how that “showed” him, but somehow it made me feel better.

      Turns out he was a jerk (no surprise). When the election came around, he was having a bunch of us do campaign work on state time. Seriously NOT OK.

      1. Not A Morning Person*

        When it’s an internship for credit with an educational institution, then it’s supposed to have value for the intern and not so much for the organization and those are very often unpaid positions because it’s considered educational. For paid positions, it too often sounds like it’s like what you are describing, a way to get someone to do grunt work or be a personal assistant and pay them less than a regular professional or employee.

      1. PermAnon*

        No apology. Then again, I didn’t have the guts as this was happening to address the situation with him directly. I was afraid of getting blackballed, since this is a very small subfield.

        As far as consequences, I don’t think there were any, unfortunately.

        1. Logan*

          You tarnished his reputation amongst his peers – it’s not a tangible consequence, but in many places it would have at least some effect.

          1. PermAnon*

            That’s true. The main reason I told my administrator about this is so he might able to steer future (female) students away from working with him and being on the receiving end of this inappropriate behavior. (And I did also privately talk about my experience to one female student who was a few years behind me, after she had reached out to me for advice on whom to seek out as potential mentors in the field/spend time shadowing, because she was interested in this subfield also. But I didn’t broadcast these experiences to anyone else.)

  16. RG*

    > (2) Without a prototyper on staff, those responsibilities will fall to the kettle designers, who are prone to doing things like designing kettles without handles because they look cleaner that way.

    I don’t know what field you work in OP #3, but that is a perfect description of the tension that can pop up between business, design, and development.

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Or you get issues where Department A purchases stuff without asking for certain specs from Department B.

      And ten years down the line, when you have to clean up the mess, you want to crawl through the phone and strangle the PM while shouting ‘I cannot change the laws of physics!’ at the top of your lungs.


    2. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s a perfect description of looking around the art museum gift shop for a kettle. I recall one description that stated outright that the function part had pretty well been mastered for kettles, which was why they had ignored it in designing one that looked striking but couldn’t be picked up. (Our current home kettle has a little mitt to go over the handle, because the handle is low enough that it gets hot whenever you use the kettle to… boil water.)

    3. Lynn Whitehat*

      Oh God. Software engineer here. I’m working on a new feature that should have shipped by now, but instead we just got round 4 of mock-ups. Rounds 1-3 were so nonsensical that spending time with them to explain what was wrong felt like a bad experience with hallucinogens. “Ok, and these teeny line graphs, within the table, what do they represent?” “Oh, nothing, we just thought it looked cool.” “And this part, where you plan a journey with no end date? Like, you’re permanently traveling to New York, but never arrive?” “Yes”. “But… trips have ends. Even walking from Texas, you would get there EVENTUALLY.” (Hand-waving motion) “Oh, don’t get so hung up on minutia!”

      1. ArtK*

        I hope these weren’t professional UX people with this crud.

        A useful phrase: “Just because you *can* do something, it doesn’t mean that you *should*”.

      2. Kyrielle*

        I was once explicitly told that gui design was a non-software-engineer job and that it wasn’t a technical path.

        I…it…but when you have the design piece *and* the what-can-be-done piece….

        It did explain some of the things we worked on there, though.

      3. Gloucesterina*

        goodness, I’ll never imagine industry as this magical refuge from all that is frustrating about academia ever again!

        (actually, I never believed this, in part because in my field there is no ‘industry’ route to speak of, but . . )

  17. MassMatt*

    #1 this is beyond the pale at least for most industries but it doesn’t surprise me that a CEO would view an intern as someone he can order to do whatever, especially for a small business.

    Asking for more pay and the fact that personal organizers make more than interns is beside the point if your big objection is that you took the internship to get hands on knowledge by working in the business, not cleaning the CEO’s closets.

    If you really need this internship, I would try to tread carefully, it doesn’t sound like your boss is reasonable. Maybe a pushback would go fine, or maybe he goes ballistic. Maybe get advice from your university?

  18. HannahS*

    OP4, I disagree with Alison, you need to drop it. You have already told the coworker, clearly, several times, that you don’t like it when she cracks her knuckles. She knows. She apologizes to you for it. It seems pretty clear from your letter that she cracks multiple parts of her body at times when she takes a pause from typing, and because she’s doing her back and neck as well, I’m guessing she does it to help alleviate discomfort in those areas, not as an absentminded habit like pen-clicking. Some people can stretch quietly, other peoples’ bodies make noise. Cracking and popping joints is not something people usually retreat to restrooms to do. Even if it was, there comes a point where it’s not fair to expect it from your coworkers.

    We see letters a lot from people with coworkers who have the sniffles chronically, or cough chronically, or even have medical conditions where they fart chronically. Yes, it can be annoying, but there comes a point where their ability to stay at their desk is more important than other peoples’ discomfort. Yes, she doesn’t crack her knuckles in big meetings with executives. People hold in farts to the point that it’s painful or choke as quietly as they can or focus intently on not fidgeting to avoid doing anything that would draw negative attention to themselves in those settings. It doesn’t mean it’s easy or comfortable for her.

    If you’d never said anything to her in the past, I’d agree that one single, “Hey, I find the noise of cracking joints really distracting. Could you hold back a bit?” maybe would be fine, but if you’ve told her clearly several times that you don’t like it and she hasn’t stopped…I mean, if there’s a medical issue at play, you don’t have the right to know about it, and I’m not sure what you expect to gain by telling her, again, that the sounds her body make bother you. She’s not cracking her knuckles at you, she’s not doing it to spite you or piss you off, she’s not in disgusting violation of the social contract, and while I get that you can’t control how you much the sound bothers you, getting mad at her and letting it impact your working relationship is really on you.

      1. Ehhhh*

        2-3 seconds, once an hour = 16-24 seconds per day of annoying sound. That’s less tha a ringing phone. A single coughing fit. Someone saying “happy hump day.” And that’s assuming that you happen to hear it every single time. Lots and lots of things are annoying. For people who crack knuckles/backs/necks, it’s not really possible to not do it. Just seems like a weird hill to die on.

        1. Mary Connell*

          Your point definitely stands about putting it in perspective, but as I said elsewhere, consider seeing a PT. Strength training may help.

          1. Mookie*

            Lifters crack same as anybody, even that Supple Leopard geezer probably. If there’s no accompanying pain, tenderness, or sudden loss of ROM, it’s just one of those things that doesn’t inherently need fixing and that mobility and stretching drills may not make a dent in.

            1. cataloger*

              I agree; this is not a strength thing, or really even a thing that needs to be fixed. I was a figure skater as a teenager, and at one point a bunch of us all took a ballet class together. Every time we did a pliet, the room was a sea of popping and cracking. We weren’t weak or in pain or bothered by it; we just had noisy joints.

              1. ElspethGC*

                Oh god, the ballet class joint popping. A fond memory. I have a dodgy knee that clicked every time I did a développé. One click as I drew my leg up, another as I extended it. Another friend had ankles that clicked every time she pointed her foot or went onto demi-pointe, which you can imagine made for a noisy class.

        2. Joielle*

          Agreed. I get it, it’s an annoying noise – one in the sea of annoying noises that comes with being a person who interacts with other people. Of course you can push back on annoying noises that go on long enough to be disruptive. I’m thinking 15-minute coughing fits, or ignoring a loud cell phone ring over and over. But a few seconds a day… you’ll seem like a crazy person if you push back too much. Like Ehhhh said, a weird hill to die on.

          1. HannahS*

            But she’s not blowing a whistle. It’s her body. This is not just about the noise, but also about the source.

    1. Huddled over tea*


      I’m honestly baffled about the vitriol over cracking knuckles on here. I have to click mine out once or twice an hour because they’re painful and the two bones grate against each other if I don’t – and I also have to click my neck and back in the same way every so often too – and I’d never think to go to the bathroom to do it when it just takes 2 seconds to pause my typing, click out and then go back to typing.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I’m baffled on an almost daily basis about the vitriol here over lots of things I feel are part of Life at Work. Annoying, sure, but not always a hill to die on.

        1. grace*

          +1. This really isn’t something to focus on – I guess if you think it’s really interrupting your work day?

          Either way, I’ve cracked my knuckles 10 times while reading this post, to be honest … kind of like how reading about yawns makes me yawn. :P

          1. JulieCanCan*

            Funny – I’m actually making a concerted effort *not* to crack my knuckles as I scroll through the comments – so far (since I’ve actually been thinking about not doing it) so good. I’ve caught myself starting to crack them about 12 times – each time I’ve stopped.

            I have, however, cracked my neck about 40 times so far today. : / I’m home right now so at least I know it can’t be heard.

      2. Theory of Eeveelution*

        Same! I also have some weird chronic pain in both my hands that no doctor can seem to diagnose, so, like… maybe the 2 seconds of cracking noise is annoying to someone else, but I’ve been dealing with pretty severe chronic pain for four years, so at least they’re not feeling that??

    2. Anon From Here*

      I agree completely with this comment.

      Years from now, LW4 will look back on this era in their work history and say, “Wow, that knuckle-cracker who used to be my cubicle neighbor. They totally drove me up the wall!” If the LW can find some self-calming coping strategies at this point, that would really be the way to go.

    3. CheeryO*

      YES, thank you. I’ll admit I could be OP’s coworker – I do my knuckles, neck, and back several times per day, partially out of habit but also because I have RA and can get extremely uncomfortable sitting at my desk, and cracking helps a bit. Maybe it’s just a habit for OP’s coworker, but either way, this seems like one of those minor annoyances that comes with the territory of working in an office.

    4. Turquoisecow*

      Yes, thank you! I’m somewhat sympathetic to people with misophonia but…noises happen in an office. If a person has joints that pop periodically, you can’t ask them to go and use a bathroom whenever they need to crack their knuckles.

      As a person who spent a lot of time dealing with allergies, I used to sniff and sniffle anf blow my nose and sneeze more than the regular person. If I’d had to get up and go into the bathroom each time, I wouldn’t have gotten any work done. I suspect it’s the same with the knuckle cracker. Are these sounds annoying? Maybe. But my cubicle neighbor droning about his kids is annoying also. And the coworker who dramatically sighs. And the guy who starts every sentence with the same phrase. And the guy who constantly says a different phrase. You just have to deal with it, because people make noise, and life makes noise, and you can’t control other people’s noises.

      1. JulieCanCan*

        Yes! I’ve always had busy/loud work environments and can tune almost everything out, but the one thing I couldn’t handle was the coworker who would SCREAM for entire conversations whenever she was on the phone. She had some kind of phone anxiety and would turn beet red and her neck would get splotchy and from our end it would appear as if she was on the phone with a person she had a horrible connection with. Like she was trying to compensate for a poor cell connection by raising her voice so much that people in our area or anyone walking by would turn quickly and stare in disbelief. When I first started the job I really thought she just had a horrible phone line and was always talking to someone she could barely hear. Soon enough it became clear that she had no control over her voice when on the phone and it was living hell for anyone in a 15′ radius of her desk having to listen to it. I would sometimes jump out of my skin if my back was to her and I didn’t see her dialing the phone; having to listen to extended conversations with clients while she yelled into the phone as if she was in the stands at a football game (my work area was next to hers – about 6 feet away) made me wonder where I had gone wrong in life and ask for forgiveness from whatever higher power was trying to punish me by making me work with this person.

        Sometimes we’d have contract workers in our shared space at one of two extra computers and I always got a kick out of watching their reactions to this phenomenon. The first few times the new person would always say something after the call ended like “wow, that guy needs a hearing aid!” (assuming she was talking to an older client and had to yell so they could hear her) or they’d say “Bad connection, huh?” Soon enough they’d realize she was that loud on and we’d kind of look at each other with raised eyebrows.

        It was half hilarious and half hellacious. But that’s the only thing I’ve been distracted or annoyed by as far as noises from coworkers go.

    5. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

      Problem is with this, OP also has a medical condition and her co worker’s actions are aggravating that. OP has used headphones and done her part. Now co worker can do her part and go to the bathroom to stretch, especially since she’s doing this repeatedly. Co worker knows it aggravates, we have know idea if this is a medical condition or not, and co worker won’t make the slightest move to take a break and do this is private?

      1. Name Required*

        Yes, coworker won’t … because having to go to the bathroom to crack your knuckles is ridiculous. Asking for coworker to do that is not a reasonable accommodation. Cracking your knuckles is not like farting, burping, clipping your nails, flossing your teeth, or picking your nose.

        I’m cracking my knuckles in solidarity for coworker right now. It’s no louder that typing on my keyboard. If I looked one cube over and saw my coworker white-knuckling it through the day because I cracked my knuckles a couple of times, I would be seriously concerned about their mental health.

        1. Sensory Overload*

          There are a lot of medical conditions where sounds that are fine for 95% of the population do have an identifiable, provable physical reaction in the brain (misophonia, sensory processing disorders, and overlap between sensory processing and things like the autism spectrum); referring to it as a mental illness can be very hurtful.

    6. August*

      Agreed. She’s already asked, and she can ask once more, but after that I’d drop it. Honestly, looking at this letter, the fact that OP4 is “angered and repulsed” by knuckle cracking that occasionally happens when she’s in between songs in a playlist makes it seem like the issue is more on her side. Getting this worked up about knuckle cracking that coincides with the 30 seconds noise isn’t coming through your headphones is…not totally reasonable.

    7. Dankar*

      I agree with the LW that it’s ridiculous to be starting and ending conversations by cracking her back and neck(!!) in front of the other person. She’s well within her rights to ask that the coworker not do that when they’re face to face.

      That being said, I am NOT going to the bathroom to crack my knuckles. I do a lot of typing, and I reflexively pop my wrist and fingers by making a fist whenever I pause to look over something I’ve just written. It helps loosen up my joints, and I don’t think I could even notice it often enough to stop.

      The level of horror in the comments is kind of staggering to me. I get that no one wants to hear all the vertebra in my back cracking, but knuckle cracking is unavoidable for a lot of people who aren’t even trying to make it happen.

  19. Been There, Done That*

    LW #1 – I cringed when I read your situation because small-business owners often just. don’t. get. that working for their co. isn’t the same as working for them personally. One concern would be workplace safety and whether the co. workers comp would cover if, heaven forbid but accidents to happen, you were injured working in this home. Also, are they prepared to provide any mandated breaks and lunch periods just like any other job, and pay you legally with mandated tax and any other deductions? If not, follow Allison’s guidelines for turning this one down.

    1. ThankYouRoman*

      I’ve never had a boss request I do anything without the intention to pay me. I clock the hours spent washing their dogs butt the same way I clock the hours spent doing paperwork.

      You’re correct that the lines are blurry and boundaries trampled but assuming you work for free is not the norm.

      1. Artemesia*

        Internships are commonly uncompensated — work in exchange for professional development. It shouldn’t be that way but it is and when they are paid, it is rarely at the level of even minimum wage.

        1. ArtK*

          IIRC they’ve cracked down on this. An unpaid internship can *only* benefit the intern and *cannot* benefit the company. If the intern does anything that helps the company, they have to be paid for it.

      2. Been There, Done That*

        To clarify, I was bringing up the concern that they might see the home work as different from the office work and try to pay under the table w/o taking the tax withholding, etc. These sound like people who might try to get away with anything. Heaven knows I’ve experienced enough of it myself (like the time I did some additional research work for an author whose manuscript I word-processed, presented my invoice, and got an incredulous “I didn’t know you were going to charge me for THAT…”).

  20. Blueberry*

    I meant to post this as it’s own comment so sorry for replying to the previous comment:

    For the knuckle cracking, I totally understand how wildly irritating little noises like that can be, but the fact she cracks her neck and back too make me pause because that kind of regular behavior can at times be indicative of a medical issue or past injury, as I had a teacher once who did many similar things because of a terrible car crash. He told the class repeatedly to not copy him as it’s a habit you usually can’t escape, and many didn’t listen, but I recommend approaching with that in mind in case it is medically related

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, I have a long-time dodgy shoulder that cracks much more than the other whenever I do my stretching exercises. (Like the example above of popping pliés.) I strained it a week ago and since then my shoulder regularly makes a bunch of pops–which are indicative of ‘ah, okay, the right thing let go there, that helps’ shifts happening, so a relief.

  21. Rez123*

    Back in school we used to talk about the cracking. The cracking comes from gas bubbles that are formed in the capsule that surrounds joints. So the cracking releases pressure from the joints and makes fingers more flexible. Once you feel the relief, you get addicted to it and need to do it when you feel the pressure build up. I read somewhere that streching hards and fingers regularly can reduce the ne cracking needs.

    I know some people hate the noise, but I find it satisfying even when I hear someone else do it. Chiropractor is a pure heaven. I’m a cracker and.for me it is subconcious and I’m trying to be aware of it and I’ll try to do it when nobody is around. Sometimes it is a reflex to do it and sometimes it just happens when i’m lifting mysef up etc. I personally don’t think it’s as gross as some other bodily functions, but we all have pout own limits. That being said, you can talk to your colleague and ask them to be more considerate of you.

    1. Seifer*

      I learned about that when I took anatomy and physiology in college. My hands actually hurt if I don’t crack my knuckles. I’m lucky though, that my cubemates think it’s funny. I’m a tiny woman and they always ask if I’m getting ready for a fight.

  22. Clay on My Apron*

    Hi OP1. This is a ridiculous request from your boss.

    In your shoes I would explain that the internship is intended to help you develop your career skills, learn workplace norms, etc, and that helping his wife reorganize their house is not at all aligned with that.

    Your boss is probably not going to be all that reasonable about it, because he obviously doesn’t see the inherent stupidity of the idea and he’ll have to deal with his wife when he tells her she’s going to be doing it by herself.

    If your internship is organised through your university or some other organisation, you could approach them and ask them for guidance or just ask them to push back on your behalf if you don’t feel comfortable doing it.

    Or tell him your career adviser recommended against it. He doesn’t need to know that Alison is your career adviser :)

    1. Utoh!*

      I think an important career skill is learning to say “No” to unreasonable requests that are clearly outside any boundaries of an intern (or other) position. OP has an opportunity here, I hope they take it.

      1. Tired*

        Yeah, like that OP who ended up losing her job because she didn’t refuse her bosses request to put a work related note on a gravesite.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      In the OP’s shoes, I probably would have laughed at the request. Not the most professional response I know, but I’ve done plenty of “clean out” work for relatives and I know *exactly* how difficult it is. This is no minor task, and they probably arrived at the conclusion of having you do it because you’re young and your time (to them) is cheap. “Ah yes, what we need here is a young, strong back attached to somebody we don’t need to pay very much…. ah! I have the perfect person. The intern can do it!”

    3. Artemesia*

      I’d make is clear that ‘I can’t do that; it isn’t allowed on our professional internships to do personal work outside the workplace.’ Period. Not that you won’t. You can’t, can’t possibly do that; it violates internship rules.

  23. g*

    #3 – have you had a full discussion about what he hates about the prototyping job? Make sure it’s not just something about *this* prototyping job he hates, maybe something that could be changed…

    From what you’ve described, this is his first professional experience in this role and the company has never had anyone formally in this position. Is it possible that he hates it because the company is not supporting him properly? What do other employers provide their prototypers: time, resources, systems, software, support staff, budget etc.?

    1. Bulbasaur*

      That was my immediate reaction as well. It sounds like he was the only one doing the job at this particular company – not only that, but it may even have been the first time anybody was doing the job. Creating a whole capability from scratch is a tough ask for someone whose only background in it is academic, no matter how talented they might be. Perhaps if you hired an experienced prototyper who was well respected in the industry, then ‘apprenticed’ the guy to him/her, he might end up with a totally different experience.

      Or he might just have decided that he hates it and doesn’t want to continue under any circumstances. But I think it’s still worth considering possible alternatives.

  24. Glomarization, Esq.*

    LW#1, what you’re being asked to do isn’t “home organizing” at all. It’s nothing but a clean-out.

    Your job is not housecleaning, nor is it home organization, even if what you end up doing from time to time (or most of the time!) is cleaning, sorting, and putting the office and office storage unit in order. There is absolutely no legit reason for you to go to your boss’s home and do these tasks there. And I guarantee that the company’s insurance won’t cover anything that happens while you’re off-site at a private residence doing work for them. If the company has HR or a legal department, they should know that the boss asked you to do this, so that they can alert him that it could end up being a problem for the company.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      That was my second thought, after “WTF??” The OP said it’s a small marketing firm, but unless the CEO is also the sole proprietor, he’s also misusing (stealing, really) company resources by having a company employee spend THREE DAYS doing personal work for his sole benefit. Even if she was an unpaid intern, their labor is still a company resource.

    2. chickaletta*

      This. I’m not sure that OP can get away with charging home organizing fees…it sounds like the boss’s wife just wants someone to pick up her house for her. Nonetheless, say no. I had a boss when I was in my 20s ask me to dog sit for her over Thanksgiving and I said yes because she was going to pay me to do that. However, a few weeks before Thanksgiving my plans changed and I couldn’t do it anymore. She was so upset at the news and told me that she had nobody else to ask (really?) and that I was ruining her Thanksgiving. Lo and behold, by the next day she had found someone else and all was well. Your boss’s wife will figure out plan B too, she’s an adult and can handle it despite whatever stories she might tell you.

  25. Izzy*

    OP2: I have to say I don’t fully understand why you can’t address at least some of this directly with your colleague, even if you are the same age. If you have so much more experience than her, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with saying something casually, eg “haha, I don’t think Boss is a big fan of your sorority stories! I know my last boss wouldn’t have been!” or whatever. You say she’s competent at the job, so this really just sounds like lack of experience and maybe nerves or attempts to relate to you as a fellow recent grad/sorority member.

    And didn’t we have a post literally yesterday about silly/unprofessional things commenters here did early in our careers? It might not work and of course it’s not your job to manage her! But just casually pointing out this behaviour seems both kinder and more productive to me than going around desperately trying to distance yourself from her.

    1. Anon From Here*

      Yes, some compassion and (dare I say it) solidarity with the peer here seems like a much nicer way to go than backing away and essentially ending the relationship with this colleague.

    2. Cosette*

      I thought about yesterday’s posts too, when reading #2. Partly because OP may not be as self aware as she thinks. Recall that many of us posted that we thought we were a lot smarter than we were? I don’t know, so just throwing it out there … it’s something we all should be mindful of.

      And on that note… Allison, we play the cards we’re dealt, not deal the cards we’re dealt. ;-) (Winky emoji makes it playful, right?!)

      1. OP 2*

        Yeah, it’s definitely possible that I’m also making mistakes/irritating colleagues as a brand new employee who’s pretty new to a business-formal atmosphere, but that’s a lot of the reason why I feel uncomfortable giving her this type of advice – I myself am not best versed, so I don’t want to steer her wrong or possibly make her uncomfortable by establishing myself as “professional new employee giving you wisdom and life advice”. It’s just sort of uncomfortable all around, because she behaves so incredibly differently to me, and to most of our colleagues, and so I can’t see how she wouldn’t notice that she’s the most chatty, interruptive person in the office…

        1. Genny*

          I think on the things that are bright lines like interrupting co-workers, it would be fine to nicely point out to her that it’s rude and effecting the way her co-workers interact with her. I’d leave the stuff that’s less a bright line like talking about her sorority alone.

          1. Zweisatz*

            I don’t know. Imo that’s a manager or mentor conversation, not a peer who’s also new conversation.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      Based on OPs reply above, I would say coworker is NOT competent. OP states that coworker isn’t understanding the training and needs more training. The coworker isn’t coming up to speed. Worse – coworker is trying to make it look like they both need training in order to cover her lack of understanding.

      OP absolutely needs to separate herself from that.

      I do agree that redirecting childish conversations is a good tactic.

      1. Izzy*

        The lumping herself and the OP together is bad, yeah, although I doubt it’s some malicious attempt to hold OP back. As to her competence, I disagree – it sounds as though she isn’t picking things up as fast as OP says she is herself, but we don’t know if that’s unusually slow for this role or if it’s just slower than OP. (We also don’t know how well the OP has actually picked up the training, as opposed to how well she thinks she’s doing – there are many tasks where “okay done the training let’s go! I just wanna jump in and learn as I go!” isn’t actually a desirable approach.) She may also just have a different learning style to OP, who just wants to dive in and get started – not everybody learns that way and wanting to be clear on the training before you start doesn’t automatically denote incompetence.

        1. OP 2*

          Yeah, I think this goes to the heart of why I would struggle to give her advice. I truly don’t think she’s malicious, she just wants to have the exact same training session repeatedly to ensure she’s fully clear. However, our trainers have been very clear that if we have questions, we can go to find them easily, and I’ve realised that most new starters only do each session once: so in that circumstance I like to do the training, then start an example and ask questions if they arise. But that’s obviously not to say that taking the same training session is “wrong” or “incompetent”. The question I posed to Alison wasn’t about “my coworker is holding me back!” It was more about her attitude in conversing with the supervisors coming to give us tasks. I’m not uncomfortable that she asks these people for more training that I don’t need, I’m uncomfortable that she does it by cutting them off to say “me and OP don’t know how to do this yet! Agh, it’s so much to learn – it’s midterms all over again haha! #KillMeNow lol”. So I just don’t want to be lumped into that last part. Advice above was handy: I’m just going to start making it clear when I’m ready to handle something!

  26. Francine*

    OP #3: It seems that the one-month certification in prototyoing is something that you could use, and the objection is that you are stretched thin already. Would it be possible to give some other duty on your plate to your direct report to free you up for prototyping?
    I agree with all the commenters above though, that the first step needs to be to find out whether its a changeable “side aspect” of the prototyping role that is driving their wish to return to their old role.

  27. Anonymoose.*

    Today I learned that knuckle cracking is akin to burping or farting. I truly wouldn’t even blink if someone cracked their knuckles or neck in front of me. Huh.

    1. Micromanagered*

      I think the comments might be a bit overboard on knuckle cracking.

      I mean, I get that any loud, repeated, distracting noise is going to be annoying after a certain point, but I think this is more of a side-effect of spending lots of time in a work setting with people you didn’t necessarily choose to be with. It doesn’t mean knuckle cracking is “do it in the bathroom” behavior. For that matter, if I have a burp after lunch that I can quietly throat-stifle at my desk, hell no I don’t get up and go to the bathroom!

      1. Tired*

        It depends on the overall level of ambient noise in the room. The quieter it is, the more noticeable and distracting the cracking might be. Perhaps the OP can be moved further away so she can concentrate on her work?

        1. OP 4*

          Yes, this is the issue — very quiet room (unless people are talking) and I’m stuck in the same place 40-45 hours a week, though I do have options to take calls elsewhere or take my work away from my desk for a few hours, which I do a lot. But sometimes I just need to be at my desk. It’s not being able to get away from it for stretches of time that makes it difficult. But I’m coping!

          1. Micromanagered*

            One thing I’ll say to you is: You’ll never completely eliminate sounds that drive you up a wall. There will always be knuckle-crackers, loud-yawners, constant-coughers, loud-talkers, etc. anywhere you work.

          2. schnauzerfan*

            I’m reminded of old Beetle Baily cartoons, where Sarge’s chair creaking used to drive the Lt. crazy. I’m sorry you have to deal with this, but the problem is really in the range of “you can’t control what others do, your reaction is the only thing you can control…” I sometimes think our modern offices are too quiet. When I first started working their were a dozen or so people in the same room all typing on loud manual typewriters, dialing rotary phones, and sitting in noisy chairs and it didn’t bother me a bit. Now, my nearest neighbor drives me crazy clicking her pen… Maybe a white noise machine or a fan would help?

  28. McWhadden*

    Paid interns are obviously very different from unpaid and menial tasks are sort of part of the deal. But I still think there is an obligation to actually teach interns your craft and that should always be their primary purpose even if they are paid and that’s not legally required. What is being asked here is totally unacceptable.

    1. Observer*

      The problem here is not the menial tasks that are PART of the office work. The problem is asking her to basically be the cleaning lady – and probably for free.

  29. Mookie*

    I will probably always have to rely on income from mom and pops and small, home-based family businesses, so the figurative incest LW1 is being asked to partake in doesn’t shock me in itself and I’ve done worse and for longer periods, but the fact that she’s an intern makes this pretty egregious for me. This is job-training and skill-practice work, on top of the ingerent gopherism (ON SITE) one expects out of internships. She does not, however, need to flex her color-coordinating toy-shifting skills during her working hours. There’s a special transactional and mutually-beneficial nature to these set-ups that, for me, precludes minor abuses of authority like this. There is no reason the LW needs to waste three days doing this when she can be using her (invariably under-compensated) duties as negotiated in preparation for a future, fairly paid full-time gig. There’s clearly enough work to be had that she’ll actually have to catch up if the boss insists this happens.

  30. Labradoodle Daddy*

    Oh god, I crack everything and didn’t realize some people had a misophonia-type reaction to it. Will try to cut down :X

  31. Falling Diphthong*

    Kettle designers, who are prone to doing things like designing kettles without handles because they look cleaner that way.

    As a user of tea kettles I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this example.

  32. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP #2, if anything I think your coworker’s issues probably highlight your maturity. Those of us who have been working for a while in established, stable, healthy workplaces often take for granted that people know the basics of work etiquette. (At least, people who don’t read Alison’s blog probably do!) So your colleague’s behavior might be jarring, but without her they might easily forget that you’re also at a similar stage in your life and that not everyone is as professional as you are, especially at that stage in life. They may see you as more of a peer, even a junior one, as opposed to her, who needs to be managed more, behaviorally speaking.

    1. OP 2*

      This is the vibe I’m getting since submitting the question – colleagues seem to be doing more handholding with her than me, and throwing me more into the deep end. So really Alison seems to be right (as usual) in that people can see the difference between us already. At least, that’s the impression I’m getting! Hopefully I’m right!

      1. Czhorat*

        It might even be to your advantage; part of your identity in people’s heads will be “that new, young employee”. With another, worse version of “new, young employee” next to you that identity becomes “the GOOD youngster”, as opposed to “the not-so-good youngster”. Contrast creates a greater impression than your good work would in a vacuum.

  33. The Tin Man*

    #1 – I’d be tempted to play up the fact that you’re in an internship to get experience in the field, not to clean your boss’ house. The internship is temporary and you need to get as much relevant experience out of it as you can!

    #5 – Oh boy, I am not bothered at all by people cracking their knuckles but I think just the frequency of this would drive me up a wall! That sounds like it’d be a hard habit to break, so good luck to you

  34. Stabbity Tuesday*

    Urgh, OP1’s whole situation sounds so similar to my mom’s workplace. Her boss’ wife keeps bogarting the maintenance staff, which means when things actually have to be fixed for work reasons that they’re all too busy cleaning up her yard or getting her house fixed up for company or a wedding or the local garden tour, and it’s super unprofessional for everyone involved. If possible, you may try to ask someone else to give you a time-consuming and slightly more work relevant assignment. She’s way out of line trying to get you to basically clean out her house, but if your boss is less than completely reasonable it might help soften the “dude no” if you have a technically legitimate previous commitment.

    1. Artemesia*

      She is better off drawing a boundary between personal and professional than trying to make excuses that can be argued with. ‘I have this other task’ — ‘well I relieve you of that as we need to get our toilets sparkling for the party.’

  35. Smarty Boots*

    OP #1: if your internship is for college or graduate or professional school credit, you *really* can’t be doing housework for the boss’s wife. You should have documentation outlining just what you are expected to do during the internship (I know, some schools don’t do this and shame on them; future internshippers, insist on writing this up before you start your internship). Contact your advisor or the internship coordinator.

    1. Gilmore67*

      That is a good point and what I was wondering as well. The OP should absolutely contact her advisor and let them know what is going on.

      OP, do you check-in with the college regarding how you are doing with the internship ?

      You might not have to actually push back on her own but have the help college intervene and state this is not a part of the internship experience or whatever needs to be said.

    2. OP1*

      OP here – I am graduated and in my mid-20’s, so I got this internship through a job posting. There’s no university or program I’m going through, just for clarification, and no HR either. I’m on my own here. :(

      1. Artemesia*

        So then ‘internship’ is just an excuse to pay you little for the work. Since they call it an ‘internship’ you need to focus on not doing non professional work. Or bite the bullet and find something else.

        1. Armchair Analyst*

          OP1, it is totally ok to leave this position or to “burn bridges” – these are not people who are going to help you in your professional career; they are only going to take advantage of you being willing to work/learn for little pay. I’m sorry to tell you this. I wish someone had told me this 15 years ago.

        2. Been There, Done That*

          Yes, the word “intern” gets tossed around a lot, like “independent contractor,” when a dinky crummy company or so-called start-up wants work done cheap by someone they can push around and take advantage of. I realize that sounds pretty acid, but I’ve been there and done that. It would take a gun to my head to get me to work for a family-owned company again.

      2. Aphrodite*

        Then unless you know you are really getting something that will be professionally valuable out of this, leave now. Because it sounds like you aren’t. Bosses who know what an internship should be and give would never think of asking this. So my advice is nothing more than “get out now.”

      3. Observer*

        Start looking for something else THIS minute.

        Your boss is deeply unreasonable – and that’s really the problem with Allison’s advice. With a reasonable person her scripts would be perfect, but there is no reason to think this guy is reasonable. If you can find something, you shouldn’t feel the need to stay out the internship term. And, it will mean you don’t have to worry about a reference from this guy.

    3. Armchair Analyst*

      Came here to say this. Glad someone already did. If this is a true internship through a school, then go to your internship advisor or career coordinator or really almost anyone who can advocate on your behalf – your professor, dean, whomever. This is NOT appropriate at all.

  36. Alfonzo Mango*

    #5 – I crack my knuckles a lot. I know it’s not cute, but a lot of people in our shared, open-office of 10 do a lot of annoying things. We all extend each other some grace for personal quirks. Please remember you probably also do things that are ‘nails on a chalkboard’ to her that you may not realize, since you’re plugged into your headphones.

    I’m not saying compromise isn’t possible, it just may already be happening.

  37. Blue Hair is My Fave*

    OP#1: Are you me? I was hired as an “office manager” (a bit above minimum wage) at a “start up” landscape company. It was going to be all fancy with online bookings and an app to let homeowners know when they’d be serviced. The owner was a software guy but saw a need in the landscaping industry to be more “techy.” It sounded like a a great job for me; I had just graduated from junior college with a business associates and thought it would be awesome with chances for growth.
    The owner was good to work with, but the office was in his home. I had the entire “study” to myself while he was out with the crew on jobs. The wife took advantage of that. “Oh, I need to run an errand, can you just keep an ear on (2 year old).”

    Um, you can’t just “keep an ear on a toddler, and I didn’t sign up to be a babysitter, but I figured it was an emergency and I managed to do my work and watch the kid for that 2 hours. But still said something to my boss like “I can’t do my work and watch your kids, so I hope that was an anomaly.”

    He said it was, but then it started happening with more frequency, until the summer when the older two kids were out of school. I was basically demoted to nanny on a garbage salary because if I had been babysitting these kids, I would be charging at least $15/hr. After one week of me trying to be an office manager AND run a summer camp, I quit.

    The wife was pissed and threatened to “ruin my chances of another job.” Whatever. Didn’t happen. Got another job soon after that wasn’t me being a nanny for $8/hr.

    Though, to this day, the words “start up” make me cringe in terror reliving this nightmare. No joke. I hate those words.

    1. JulieCanCan*


      As I read your story I said “NO!!!” out loud to myself. That’s ridiculous! I am so glad you got out of there.

      Those people have some bad karma coming their way.

    2. Been There, Done That*

      Ah, the child care issue. I worked for family-owned design companies back in the day where both spouses worked in the business. They didn’t get professional child care, they’d bring their toddlers to work and turn them loose for the staff to mind. In places with hot wax and Xacto knives and a gazillion other hazards! One kid used to play at the base of my chair where he could’ve gotten his fingers caught and crushed in the swivel mechanism. Just try to write copy or design a brochure with a three-year-old screaming next to you.

  38. Combinatorialist*

    OP3: can you hire a prototyper? If you tell your employee that you heard him and you are going to hire a prototyper (or see if someone else on your staff wants to do the online certification and move into that) and you lay out a clear timeline for this process, your employee would probably be willing to stick out the prototyping while you fill that spot. If he is a top performer, he is going to have options and he is going to stop works he hates one way or other. This way, you can work out a plan with him (but write it down and don’t bait and switch) that lets you keep your top performing employee, keeps coverage for prototyping, and makes him happy. And who’s knows, perhaps there is someone on your staff who would jump at the opportunity to take some training and grow into that role.

  39. BadWolf*

    On OP3, I think you could point out that having someone trained in prototyping go back to development can be a real asset. He can probably even combat handle-less teapots from the “inside.”

    If your employee transitions back, I would hope it would be good for the organization to see that you can try things and if it doesn’t work out, you aren’t trapped there forever. It might encourage someone else to try out the role that might not have before.

    At my job, having some coworkers who went into manager, decided it wasn’t for them and came back to a technical role is actually really handy. On more than one time, they’ve been able to explain or at least point out that there are things going on that we don’t see for some decisions we’re frustrated about.

  40. MissDisplaced*

    I’m amazed at how people seems to think Interns are their own personal domestic help. Just NO!

    1. ThankYouRoman*

      This happens frequently to any kind of Assistants as well (executive, administrative, office and even as an accounting assistant). The power dynamics are so twisted. I used to have to babysit Pomeranian show dogs for my first boss.

      Granted I’ve gotten hella far after all of it but it still sucks that it’s still common practice.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I used to work at a very small company, and the owner would commonly have the office admin run some personal errands like grocery shopping (for the office and personal but items all being brought back to the office), going to bank, filling his car with gas, getting it washed and/or serviced, and booking airline flights for his kids.

        I found those very borderline, but possibly still within the realm of an admin if they had that understanding and the errands were still contained from/to the actual office. But cleaning/organizing the closets or cleaning the personal house are a big nope!

    2. Blue Hair is My Fave*

      Also, employees at a “start up.” Gwah. See my note above. I got turned into a nanny. Then I quit. Ridiculous.

  41. PhillyRedhead*

    I know knuckle-cracking can be a common irritant, but I’m going to disagree with Allison. This line by the OP: “Inevitably the knuckle-cracking will happen right at those times, and I am utterly repulsed and angered by it.” is not a reasonable reaction. You can try pointing out that she cracks her knuckles frequently and ask politely to reduce the frequency, but if that’s your reaction, then you’ll still get repulsed and angry each time, even if it is less often, and that’s on you to deal with, since as others pointed out, most knuckle-crackers do it for relief of stiffness (myself included).

  42. Never*

    Follow-up question to #3: Am I understanding correctly that interpreting an employee saying “I hate this” to mean “and I might quit over it” to be a quality of a good manager, or is it specific to this example? I’m trying to gain a better understanding of what’s happening when I tell a manager I don’t like something and they don’t do anything about it – am I not being clear enough that it’s enough to make me quit, or do they not care?

    1. Joielle*

      My manager is very open to feedback, and I occasionally will tell her that I really hate an office procedure or the way something was handled or whatever… but I’m always careful to say that it’s not an “I’ll quit over this” level of problem (unless it is, I guess). I just figure it’s better to be absolutely clear that I don’t have one foot out the door. The other side of this is that yeah, if something was bad enough that I’d quit over it, I’d make that absolutely clear as well.

    2. ArtK*

      If somebody says “I hate this job” to me, I’d be an absolute fool to not assume that they would quit over it. Frankly, I’d be a fool to not do something about the situation. An unhappy employee is an unproductive employee whether they stay or go.

      The real trick in management is discerning when someone hates their job but doesn’t say anything.

      1. Jennifer*

        Well, it’s not always safe to say anything, or you can’t get another job anyway, or they aren’t going to change anything.

    3. Demotion-question-haver*

      I think it depends on the manager, and how the initial thing was communicated. My builder came to me and said, “I feel like I made a huge mistake in pursuing this degree, I’ve given the hybrid role a year, and I hate doing this work. I want to go back to just being a builder.” We talked about it a bit; would he quit if he needed to do both roles for three more months? Six? 12? It wasn’t 100% conclusive, but three months seemed acceptable/expected; 12, not.

      But if he’d just come to me and said “I hate this part of my job,” I’d have talked to him about it in order to try to figure out if the solution was “and I need to vent from time to time,” or “and I need to be able to stop doing it.”

  43. boop the first*

    I don’t get this… You said that a year ago you were happy to enlist this person as a prototype builder because the company didn’t have one at the time. And since you had to “go to bat” for him, it doesn’t sound like it was a desperate situation. So how did you all deal with it then?

      1. Demotion-question-haver*

        There was a senior kettle builder above me who was doing this, but not all that well, and not in any kind of dedicated capacity. So when we got the opportunity to have someone be dedicated to it, and who had an education in it, I went for it.

  44. Annie Moose*

    OP3: I haven’t seen this mentioned yet in the comments, but would it be possible to talk to the employee about splitting the prototyping work with you? Or perhaps to go back mostly to kettle building, but will review prototypes from other builders to catch issues quickly? Even if the employee doesn’t like doing prototyping full time, if he was willing to do some of the work, that could help his dislike of prototyping (because he has to do less of it, and perhaps you can arrange things so he does the parts he likes more) while also saving you from having to take on the entire prototyping responsibility.

  45. ThankYouRoman*

    I’d put money on boss #1 not being reasonable and strongly discourage pushing back unless you’re comfortable with being fired.

    This is a paid internship, a small start up and he’s all about “everyone has to do chores!”. He sounds already wildly inappropriate and these people don’t take challenging them lightly. Especially from an intern.

    1. Alfonzo Mango*

      Yes! I see the situation in #1 as a huge red flag for other bad practices that are likely to happen at that company. Intern, beware!

  46. Genny*

    LW 1, I have a family member in the professional organizing business. Her rates start at about $55 an hour and go up from there depending on the type of job. As Allison said, I suspect you are being paid far below the market value of a professional organizer, which tells me they’re just trying to get a discount on the work they want done.

    Something else to consider, organizing/de-cluttering is a deeply personal thing. People are really attached to their stuff. They need someone objective to help them let stuff go and to advise them about better ways of doing things. That sometimes requires the organizer to share unpleasant truths with the client (the beanie babies you’ve been saving for 25 years aren’t worth anything, you don’t have the space to keep all of mom’s Hummel figurines no matter how much they remind you of her, your closet if filled with clothes with tags still on them and you need to get ride of some of them for this system to work, buying yet another set of storage devices isn’t going to fix your problem, etc.). As an intern for husband’s company, you can’t be that objective person, and it’s not fair to put you in that position. I’d decline to do the job even he offered to pay you market value.

  47. The Other Katie*

    OP#3: Maybe ask exactly what he doesn’t like about prototyping and see if that could be resolved? I’ve had experience in past jobs where I was really excited to learn a skill like, say, llama wrangling, but after a while the shiny wore off because I was the only person who wrangled llamas and I was tired and covered in llama spit and sometimes my co-workers let the llamas out seemingly just for fun or no reason at all and I had to run around and catch them again. This could have been resolved by appointing a backup llama wrangler or telling co-workers not to let the llamas out without checking with me, but instead I struggled on and got increasingly annoyed. Going back to llama grooming and forgetting I ever learned to wrangle llamas would have been a relief!

  48. OP 4*

    Thank you, Alison, for the response to my letter, the reassurance, and the script! And thank you to everyone on both sides of the great knuckle-cracking debate who’ve provided sympathy and some perspective.

    Here’s my update: My co-worker is leaving soon for another job, and I never said anything to her about her habit. We have a really good working relationship and even socialize occasionally outside of work, and the last few months especially have been pretty frustrating in our department, so I weighed whether to say something and concluded that I should just avoid an awkward/upsetting conversation with everything else going on, and appreciate everything else about our relationship.

    If my four-paragraph letter seemed, um, passionate, it was written at the end of a particularly frustrating day about this and other issues. I understand how it could come across as irrational. I will say that knuckle-cracking in public, like the grocery aisle or train, while annoying and noticeable, doesn’t anger me because I can get away. I think the issue here is that I’m stuck at my desk in Cubicleland for 40-45 hours a week, it’s otherwise a very quiet office with no ambient music or chatter, and her cracks are VERY loud. I would be able to hear them anywhere in the room where my department is located, which is about the square footage of a home’s second floor with 3-4 bedrooms. The sound is just SO grating, repetitive, piercing, etc. and it really is hard to do my work, which involves a lot of writing and concentration. I’ve found solutions to this too, like taking my work elsewhere in the building for a couple hours or taking advantage of our telework benefit (1-2 times a month), but I still spend the majority of my time at my desk.

    I appreciate hearing from people on this thread who have this habit, either because of the relief it gives or just because they’ve always done it. It does put it into perspective and make me understand it a bit better. Based on this comment thread, it seems like others share my aversion to the sound, and family/friends who’ve heard me complain about this issue generally react with “Oh, that’s so annoying!” I guess like anything in life, a good deal of understanding on both sides — tolerance and conscientiousness — goes a long way.

    1. Tardigrade*

      I’m glad you’ll have some relief from it soon! I have found that if I at least like the person and/or have the kind of perspective that you now have (maybe this is medical or such a deeply ingrained habit) that sounds like this become a bit less irritating, which I hope is the case for you until she leaves.

    2. fposte*

      That’s a really nice summary, OP, and I think everybody understands how greater stress can magnify the irritation level of something like this. (Now I’m thinking that probably the stress was, unfortunately, making your co-worker crack her knuckles more, too.)

      But it really would be okay to outright ask somebody to try to dial it back if you encounter it again.

    3. Lucille2*

      Knuckle-cracking doesn’t bother me, but I really hate when people blow their noses loudly in the office. I know my aversion is pretty unreasonable, especially if someone is suffering from a cold or allergy, so I just let it be. I used to work with a guy who would blow his nose so loudly every morning at the same time every day. You could set your watch to his timing. It mostly became a joke around the office, “Sounds like Fergus is in today!”

  49. Employment Lawyer*

    3. My employee wants a demotion
    Play ball, but stretch it out:

    “Worker, we don’t want to lose you, and I would like to accommodate your request. We want you to be working here in 5 years.

    But we made a lot of changes to put you in the prototype position and we don’t currently have your old position open. We want to work with you, but it will be difficult to make a switch back rapidly or easily.

    The most likely solution will be for you to continue for few months solo–giving us time to find, train, and hire someone else–and then work with them for another few months of overlapping and training. Certainly within 9-12 months we can have you back at your old position without doing any prototype work.

    Would that work for you? If not, I’m open to ideas: We want to keep you, but we can’t make the switch with ease.”

    1. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

      Ugh, I can see how this could work, or I could see how it could backfire into the employee feeling jerked around and not wanting to continue working for the company in *any* capacity. “One more year” of work you hate is a cold comfort! Especially if the skill is in high enough demand that he could jump ship at any time (which isn’t clear from the letter, but it’s a better market for jobseekers than it has been in years).

    2. Genny*

      I think it’s reasonable to ask him to stay in the position for maybe a month or two while they try to transition him back to his old role/find someone to fill his current role. Anything over that and I think the employee starts job hunting. I know that’s what I’d do if I were told nothing about this job I hate is going to change for a minimum of nine months with no guarantees of it ever changing. I’d be weighing how quickly I can find a new job versus the time-frame they give me for transitioning to my old role.

      1. Kes*

        Yeah, I think telling the employee they need to stay in a job they hate for almost a year is likely to lead to them job searching/leaving. You have a couple of months to come up with a new solution.

  50. TootsNYC*

    Asking someone to do personal work like that on their INTERNSHIP is especially egregious.

    An internship is intended to teach you about that field. So spending 3 days doing housework means 3 days of not observing or doing marketing work. Aren’t internships normally a finite amount of time, and a SHORT finite amount of time at that? 3 months, 6 months, etc.?

    That experience is supposed to be part of your compensation as an intern, whether you’re paid or not. If it weren’t, then you’d just be an administrative assistant or something.

    I’d suggest rolling that into the response:

    “I only have a short time to learn about the marketing field. I’m here to work, of course, but I’m also here to learn about marketing, and spending that time on tasks for your personal household takes away from that.”

  51. TootsNYC*

    #2, with the immature colleague:

    Make sure not to sit by her at meetings.

    If you tend to get there before her, make sure to deliberately pick someone else to sit by–maybe the wisest person in the group. Even if she comes to sit by you, you’ll already be linked with someone else, mentally.

    1. Emilitron*

      Great point! And the chat going on as the meeting room fills up can be more work-related for you if she’s not your neighbor.

  52. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

    LOL. I was worried for a minute that the knuckle-cracking disliker was one of my actual literal coworkers (I don’t do the neck or back popping, though… neck popping actually kinda freaks me out. But I crack my knuckles all the time, usually multiple times per finger). I get the picture, I should not crack my knuckles loudly at work!

  53. kcat*

    #1 – The owner at my husband’s old job had him help at his personal residence- often lifting/moving very heavy things. His normal, day to day job did not require lifting more than 50 pounds. He would come home aching. I’m still mad about it.

    I hope you can find a way to say no to this, because if you don’t, it likely won’t be the last time they ask, especially if you do a good job!

  54. BigSigh*

    #1 Surprisingly common, this type of nonsense.

    When I was fresh out of college, supporting myself with a Monday through Saturday gig at a local grocery store, I got a paid internship interview for an office job. Very much the type of place with their values plastered over the walls and 3 hours of IQ/personally tests. When I went to leave, the interviewer (and would-be boss) insisted on driving me downtown (45 minutes…).

    I’m leaving out a lot of the absurdity of the trip, but one thing he did is about the same. His wife was on speaker phone, and they began attempting to hire me to come to their home the next day, a Saturday, and have me clean and reorganize their kitchen and storage. I awkwardly turned it down because I already had a job where I worked Saturdays (and also WUT?).

    Never heard from the company again after he finally let m out of the truck.

  55. Could be Anyone*

    #1 – the whole point of an internship is gaining experience in the field in exchange for working at a much lower than market rate. It’s one thing to be asked to make coffee before a meeting or something, but you can’t add organizing toys to your resume, and you won’t learn anything while you’re at their house instead of in the office. I think they are absolutely taking advantage of you.

  56. Liz T*

    OP1, I once had a paid internship at a theatre, as an assistant director. One day early on the Associate Artistic Director, a great though intimidating guy, saw me washing out a director’s tupperware while she was downstairs in rehearsal. He was, in his flat-affected way, furious. At the director. He made clear to me that my internship was about learning how directors work, and I was supposed to be IN rehearsals, learning–not in the kitchen scrubbing. I don’t know if he talked to her about it but no one asked me to do that again.

    Sure, sometimes it was part of my job to pick up a director’s lunch or something, always during breaks. But the emphasis with any internship should be on learning. OP, if you take three days off your actual work to do this, you are not learning. Interns learn.

  57. LadyPhoenix*

    OP 1: is this a school-run internship (like are you doing it through the college or for a credit in college?). If so, please report this to your internship advisor so that the school can take measures to protect you should this guy and his wife.

    Colleges vary in care for the students, but all thenonws I went to wanted to make sure you were actually LEARNING about your job and not just being the designated coffee deliverer or maid.

    You have a good head on your shoulders to realize this is an overstep in professional boundaries and all you need to do is make sure you are protected.

    1. LadyPhoenix*

      And yes, Indid have to clean and move stuff during my internship. The only difference was the following:
      1) I and the other interns were cleaning the photography studio at the start and end of the day—including setting up the photography equipment.
      2) We had to move photofraphy studios, not stuff from someone’s house… and we had a team to do it
      3) We were still learning how to be photographers. We would participate And watch the actual shooting and then we would sit down for the editting.
      4) The only time I was not helping hin in studio, I was helping him with a “Career Day” event at a local high school.

      We never cleaned the dude’s house, and I would bave given him an earful if he forced me too.

    2. Aphrodite*

      She said in a post (above) that it is not through a college but she found it as a job posting. So my suspicion is that it is not an internship so much as a cheap job by a small business owner who thought he could get away with calling home and office chores an internship.

      I advised her to walk away right now. This is no internship.

      1. LadyPhoenix*

        I saw the update too. I highly doubt you can learn much “marketing” from anplace with what sounds like only 1 employee and no HR.

        Ditch this place and find a legit marketing firm.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I see this doesn’t apply to the OP, but in case someone else is reading this question later:

      Or if it’s organized through some other aegis, like a professional association, etc., take this to them as well.

      I interned though a very prestigious program run by a professional association, and on my year, an intern was reassigned because he was only doing filing. The program director (and chief administrator of the association) was FURIOUS.

      And also: If you apply for something labeled “an internship” that’s standalone, this is something to bring up: If it’s going to be an internship, what is their plan for actually teaching you? Of course you will do lots of low-level stuff as part of your contribution, but how will they teach you? Will you shadow someone? Will you get briefings from people in the office at the start of a project, halfway point, end, even if you’re not working on it?

    1. Been There, Done That*

      My personal amazement –the assumption that the authority of My Spouse The Boss extends to me. Like, both names on the home checking account, both names on the house deed, both names on the kids’ birth certificates–it’s all part mine, and I want that intern/admin/teapot appraiser in our house on Saturday running our vacuum cleaner so I can go the mall!

  58. Theory of Eeveelution*

    Are the people complaining about knuckle cracking not doing any typing, ever? I’m a professional writer and typing for 8+ hours a day makes it physically necessary to occasionally crack my knuckles. I ain’t gonna stop!

    1. fposte*

      I’m a professional writer/editor and I’ve never had a need to crack my knuckles, and there are plenty of knuckle-crackers who don’t type. It’s anatomy and habit that govern on this.

    2. Lucille2*

      I think the OP is a bit dramatic in comparing it with burping or farting. It’s not nearly as offensive, IMO. I can easily ignore an occasional knuckle crack. But once an hour seems excessive. Some people are just fidgety or have nervous habits and working with them in an open concept office can be very distracting. I don’t think the coworker will be able to easily stop altogether, but recognizing how the frequency is a huge distraction might be helpful.

    3. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impaired Peep*

      I write a lot but I can’t crack my knuckles no matter how hard I try. So I do a ton of stretches. :)

    4. Myrin*

      That’s… really not true, at least not as universally as you are making it seem in this comment. When writing my dissertation, I’m usually typing for about five hours a day, have for two years now and even before that I’ve always been writing a lot a lot, and I’ve literally never in my life cracked my knuckles (I don’t even know how it works, honestly).

    5. Someone Else*

      I type for 8+ hours a day and never feel the urge to crack my knuckles. If anything this comments section has proven there are tons of people on both sides.

    6. Tired*

      I’m 63 and don’t crack knuckles or anything else, never have. On the keyboard all the time and wrote extensively longhand before that.

  59. Ben H*

    #3 I would start by having a discussion on why he hates the work. If he went straight from the academic training to the real world application and hasn’t had the chance to work with someone experienced in the process, there could be a couple of resolvable things going on:

    A. He could be frustrated with trying to anticipate what he needs to do to further along the design process. Someone experienced in the work could spend time with him to build confidence, or even just offer themselves as a source to provide clarity.

    B. You say that you don’t have anyone else on staff that prototypes, so I’m lead to believe you outsourced. Could this mean that too much prototyping is expected of one person? It’s very easy to misjudge workloads when you stop outsourcing to a firm that can spread this over many persons. You also say that he’s now a Builder/Prototyper, I feel that further highlights that he may be overworked.

    C. From your writing, it sounds like you’re likely an engineering firm of some sorts. In his role as prototyper, he is acting as liaison with the designers and builders, communicating the frustrations of each side to one another in addition to his work as Builder/Prototyper. So you may look at this process and see how efficient this chain is, and possibly how the team members of each side behave when communicating their needs. If there’s any amount of unnecessary aggressiveness, it could unduly stress him out.

    And I totally understand C, if that is what’s causing him stress. I’m a trained engineer that works in healthcare, helping to optimize the use of resources to provide better patient care. During my time in engineering, I found that most young engineers were interested more in flexing than working cooperatively. I pulled myself out of that environment, as I didn’t feel like I could deal with it on a daily basis.

  60. Lucille2*

    #2 – OP, like you, I’ve been working since I was 15. When I started my first professional office job after college, I worked with a group of peers of similar age. I was more responsible and professional than the average early 20-something, but I attribute that to the need to always have an income so I had to take every job seriously. That doesn’t mean I was one of a kind, but responsible, perceptive young adults tend to stand out among their immature and unprofessional peers.

    Fast forward about 10 years, and you’ll start to notice who advances and who stays stagnant. Some people need a little extra time to mature and figure out office norms, while some never figure that out at all. The latter become the office nightmares that make up a lot of the letters we read here. Don’t worry about being looped in with the young and the clueless when you very clearly are not that. But you don’t need to keep your distance from your age-group peers either. Like all business relationships, there are times when being involved helps your network and times when you need to tactfully back away slowly to avoid being part of the drama. I think you understand the difference already.

  61. Pennalynn Lott*

    Re: OP #1 — I worked for a mom-and-pop property restoration company for 8-9 months, doing marketing work for them. They guaranteed a minimum hourly wage for the cleaning technicians, which means they got paid even when there weren’t any jobs to work on (because it’s a feast-or-famine business).

    So mom-and-pop decided that, hey, since they were paying for the young men’s time, then the young men should wash mom-and-pop’s cars, mow their lawn, trim their hedges, pressure wash the driveway, clean out the gutters, do minor repair work on mom-and-pop’s house, etc. It was so demoralizing. And what a bargain for mom-and-pop, since most home laborers charge 2x-3x what they were paying the technicians.

    No surprise that they had trouble keeping employees.

  62. Jam Today*

    I have boundless sympathy for the employee in #3. I am that employee. Many years ago I had a job that I *LOVED*. Loved. Like, really actually enjoyed my day, stressful though it was. I was “promoted” out of it into a job and subsequently a career track, that I hated. My awesome job was given to someone else and everything has spiraled down since then.

  63. Ok_Go_West*

    OP#2, I definitely agree with the advice to be sure to spend time with coworkers other than the other intern. This year my organization’s summer interns formed a small, tight-knit clique, exclusively spent time with each other (to the point that they would leave workspace that other staff members occupied and go work in another room), and none of the staff got to know them at all. They were all pretty competent and got their work done, but I’d have liked to get to know them a bit better so I could pass on any opportunities that seemed professionally relevant later on. As it is, I don’t even know what they’re interested in.

    Of course, I also recognize that it’s on staff members to be welcoming to interns–I remember being an intern at a large organization and feeling full-time staff coolly withdraw from conversations once they found out my status :/.

  64. Stick to the job description*

    OP #1, the only time I’ve ever been fired was when I was nannying and the mother tried to make me act as her personal office assistant when she was working from home. After one day of walking Office Depot three times in the snow because the printer paper I bought her “wasn’t the right shade of white” I told her I was only there to care for her child. She said my reaction was “disturbing” and that she was no longer comfortable having me around her daughter. Good riddanced! Luckily it was a side gig so I wasn’t losing my primary source of income. I only regret not reporting her to the nanny agency.

  65. LadyPhoenix*

    LW #1: Seeing as you are not doing an internship for a school or university, my advice is to GTFO now.

    You are being takwn advantage of, and ypu have NO one to go to to keep you protected. Not only that, but this is supposed to be a marketing “Start Up” with now HR?!

    … Just run. Do not walk. Just run from this craphole and find a LEGIT marketing firm where you can actually learn. This “start up” is a joke. It will only get worse the longer you stay there.

  66. Richard*

    “You’re underestimating your coworkers! I promise you that they can separate the two of you and can tell that you’re not the one talking over people, interrupting them, talking about sorority drama, etc.”
    I think you might be overestimating them here, which is surprising as I believe you get tons of emails and comments with blanket generalizations about how horrible millennials are to work with. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts there’s at least one middle-aged guy in that office that loves to whinge about the new millennial hires based on the one’s behavior and isn’t nuanced about which ones are good and which ones aren’t. Confirmation bias is a powerful force, and I think the OP is right to worry.

  67. Jojo*

    1 tell your boss you are not his wifes intern. You are the companys intern. His house is not on company property. And home decorators make more than minimum wage.

  68. Jojo*

    4 knuckle cracking is like farting. A body noise. And she controls it around management. Tell her to quite because her body noises are gross. Tell her loud enough so others can hear and agree with you to her.

  69. Chelsea*

    Hey Alison! I’m wondering if there is a way to make the comments for each individual post separate, in posts that include five answers at a time? I ask because in this thread it seems like half of it is allocated to the knuckle-cracking one, but I’m more interested in comments on the other answers. Might be a cool new feature!

    1. Zweisatz*

      Using the collapse option I find it quite easy to jump over threads that are less interesting.
      I mention this because there might be no quick way to automatically separate stuff.

  70. Alison gives the best advice. Might I add:*

    Re: knuckles: I suggest you request to move cubicles if she can’t or won’t stop and talk about it to HR as distracting to a point of impeding your productivity.

    1. Alison gives the best advice. Might I add:*

      I read more comments and feel compelled to write in support of the LW again. You did everything to try to mitigate the sound and hopefully speaking to Knuckles will help. It is clear from the comments and my own experience how few people understand how disabling noise sensitivity can be. Loud popping at random times is nothing like the background lull of a copy machine or other “normal” office sounds. Good luck!

  71. Kerr*

    Not a question, just a vent. I’m at BEC stage with my (pretty good) job. I’m trying to mentally reframe things so I can appreciate the good points and not fall down a BEC rabbit hole, but I don’t think I’ll ever be in the same place with this company again.

    Also realizing that no matter how hard my department tries, we’re STILL going to get asked to pull rabbits out of hats, and our reward will be…to pull out the rabbits faster next time and in multiples. SMH

  72. Jay*

    O.P.#1: Have you at least talked to your boss about this? I’ve worked for any number of small businesses over the years and found myself in this situation a couple of times. The thing is, about half the time, the owners were actually trying to be KIND. As the newest employee/intern I was not in the loop about things such as work slow downs. Sometimes, the kind of slowdowns that would mean law offs. And my name would be first on that list. Not wanting to do that, they began assigning me a variety of increasingly non-business related duties. It made me furious the first time, until my parents clued me in on what was going on, as they had seen that kind of thing before.
    So, talk to him.
    It could be that you are getting this assignment because he has nothing else for you and thinks he is doing you a favor by keeping your paycheck coming rather than laying you off.
    Or, he might be an s.o.b. looking for a cheap way to get out of organising his closets.

  73. Bowserkitty*

    OP #2 – this could have been me in my first post-college job. We even had the same name. The only difference was she had been there a few years longer than me when I came in! I don’t know how my coworkers felt about her, but I was annoyed by that sort of banter even though I continued to hang out with her because she was a good lunch buddy. I don’t know if people lumped us together but we did get called “the Tahanis” for example every now and then.

    I second what Alison said as a precaution – try to spend time with other workers!

  74. LadyCop*

    #1 Im sure someone else mentioned this…but I’m surprised Alison didn’t…and that is the whole thing is extra icky because while you would be paid for it…it’s the company’s funds that would cover it. Funds that are meant to pay your wage for your regular tasks, not the boss’ personal fall cleaning…yuck

  75. I Am The One Who Sounds Like PopRocks*

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but OP #4, I have a genetic disorder that affects my joints, and unfortunately they often lock up and become unusable until they’re cracked back into joint. My joints also tend to spontaneously crack on their own, for example, when I turn my head my entire neck will crack all the way down. I actually have been chastised for it by a boss before, and it was before I was diagnosed so I was a bit mortified. Hopefully this isn’t the case with your coworker, but I wanted to offer a different angle!

    1. I Am The One Who Sounds Like PopRocks*

      Haha, after taking the time to go back through the 500 some comments, I see it was VERY much mentioned! But it is worth reiterating that it’s an unfortunate side effect of an overall disability (I am classified as disabled due to the disorder), and that it’s a fairly underdiagnosed disorder that may be affecting people without their knowledge.

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